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Milestones: Monday, August 14, 2023

August 14, 2023 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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MAJOR BLACKOUT HITS NORTHEAST — A major electrical outage knocked out power across the eastern United States and parts of Canada on Thursday Aug. 14, 2003. Beginning at 4:10 p.m. EDT, 21 power plants shut down in just three minutes, and lights dimmed across office buildings in the entire region. Fifty million people were affected, including residents of New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto and Ottawa, Canada. Although power companies were able to resume some service in as little as two hours, power remained off in other places for more than a day. The source of the problem was traced to a power plant in Eastlake, Ohio, which sits on the shores of Lake Erie about 20 miles from Cleveland. 

Compared to the 1977 blackout during which violent looting and arson broke out, the Aug. 14, 2003 outage was friendly and congenial. Merchants grilled steaks in front of their restaurants and stores, and gave away free ice cream. The New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles (8-5) that night at Camden Yards in Maryland, which the Northeast blackout did not affect. 

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RUSSIA SETTLED ALASKA FIRST — Former Alaska Governor  Sarah Palin once asserted,  “I can see Russia from my house.” And it was Russia who first settled Alaska, on Aug. 11, 1784, before the land became a U.S. territory. Grigory Shelikhov, a Russian fur trader, founded the first permanent Russian settlement in Alaska. Called Three Saints Bay.  European explorers had “discovered” Alaska some four decades earlier when a  Danish navigator named Vitus Bering — who was leading a Russian expedition, sighted the mainland. Russian hunters were quick to enter the territory and they exposed the indigenous Aleut people to unfamiliar diseases, decimating that population. Russia expanded its hold on Alaska, but later the 1850 Crimean war bankrupted the czarist government, which offered to sell Alaska to the United States, an offer that  Secretary of State William H. Seward accepted in 1867 — to much ridicule.

“Seward’s Folly,” as Congress called it, proved a shrewd decision, thanks to the discovery of gold in the Yukon. Rich in natural resources, Alaska offered chances for prosperity (and, as in other cases, exploitation). The United States’ desire for expansion led to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Proclamation that made Alaska the 49th State.

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BITTER RIVALS — China declared war on Germany on Aug. 14, 1917, three years into World War I, thus ending the Asian country’s neutral stance. The Great War was fought in the Far East as well as in Europe; and Japan and China were bitter rivals. Three years earlier, Japan, which was a British ally at the time, invaded the Tsingtao naval base on China’s Shantung Peninsula, significant because this was Germany’s largest overseas military base. Japan and British battalions captured Tsingtao later that year when Germany surrendered, and Japan forced from China the 21 Demands, including Japanese control over the peninsula China declared war on Germany to reassert itself in negotiations.

However, at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919, the Allied Supreme Council favored Japan over China, leading to much bitterness in the latter nation.

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RESISTANCE TO JAPANESE SURRENDER — Exactly two years later, on Aug. 14, 1945, Japan made public to the world its unconditional surrender to the Allied forces, which called the occasion Victory Day. In the West, the date was still Aug. 14, but because of the time zone differences, Aug. 15 had dawned on Japan. Emperor Hirohito ordered an end to hostilities. Japan’s surrender actually developed over the course of five days, Aug. 10-15, because there was actually one condition: that Hirohito remain as ceremonial head of state. A conflict of interest arose because the Japanese military were honor-bound to both obey the emperor and to refuse surrendering. With the emperor having ordered the surrender, the military revolted and continued hostilities against American ships.

It would take three more weeks until Japan formally offered its surrender, which took place aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

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SOCIAL SECURITY TURNS 88 — Social Security marks its birthday on Aug. 14. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug. 14, 1935 signed into law the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935. This historic legislation guaranteed an income for the unemployed and retirees. FDR commended Congress for what he considered to be a “patriotic” act, to help Americans rebound in the wake of the Depression. The Social Security Act was aligned with President Roosevelt’s other “New Deal” programs, including the establishment of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, which helped create jobs and new income for Americans.

Social Security is now a vital safety net for retirees and the disabled, and provides death benefits to taxpayer dependents. The Social Security system has remained popular and relatively unchanged over the past 88 years.

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KING OF POP OUTWITS FORMER BEATLE — Former Beatle and prolific musician/songwriter Paul McCartney discovered on Aug. 14, 1985 that it doesn’t always pay to offer sound advice. It was on this day that pop star Michael Jackson outbid McCartney on the purchase of publishing rights to the large Beatles catalog, paying $47 million. This was based on a conversation two earlier, in which McCartney had advised Jackson to invest in music publishing, in what was a complicated and often cutthroat industry of publishers and royalties. Jackson, who was at the height of his financial wealth, thwarted McCartney on his own music.

It was the royalties from those rights that helped keep Jackson afloat when he encountered financial and legal difficulties. After he died, Sony took over the publishing rights. And as a testament to staying power, Paul McCartney has not only outlived the King of Pop, at age 81 he still maintains a touring schedule that will take him to Australia and Brazil this fall.

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CORRECTION: “The Milestone “Russia Settled Alaska First” (Monday, Aug. 14 edition) contained a quote incorrectly attributed to that state’s former governor, Sarah Palin. It was actually comedian Tina Fey who spoke the words, “I can see Russia from my house,” during a Saturday Night Live parody of Sarah Palin’s vice presidential campaign. The Eagle regrets the error.

See previous milestones, here.


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