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"MyDD" - 5 new articles

  1. The Party of Jefferson Davis
  2. It Defined Us as a Nation
  3. What Obama Did Save
  4. Around the World
  5. Third World America
  6. More Recent Articles
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The Party of Jefferson Davis

CNN has an interesting poll out on the views of Americans on the Civil War and its causes.

Roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.

When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americas said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

"The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exists a century and a half later," CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.

When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union. Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.

In my earlier essay, I noted on how the Civil War is the defining event in American history transforming our sense of nationhood and what it means to be an American. From saying the United States are to saying the United States is encapsulates what the War ultimately accomplished in cultural and political terms. That change in our speech is transcendental underscoring the nature of the country as one country and not fifty separate sovereign states. 

But there has been a second transformation, albeit one more recent, that is truly rather remarkable though frankly bizarre to this observer and that is how the Republican party has gone from being the "Party of Lincoln" to the "Party of Jefferson Davis."

That transformation really began in the wake of World War II when the Democratic Party, long the dominant political force in the South, began on the national level to move legislatively against the quid quo pro that had existed since Reconstruction that allowed segregation to form the bedrock of Southern life. By 1948, Storm Thurmond of South Carolina had bolted to form his Dixiecrat insurgency candidacy. In the early 1960s when the Civil Rights Movement brought the undemocratic nature of Southern race-based institutions crashing down, white Southerners began a mass exit towards the Republican party. That exit would largely be completed in 1980 when Ronald Reagan in his first campaign speech as the Republican nominee went to Philadelphia, Mississippi where 16 years before three civil rights workers had been brutally murdered to invoke the cause of "states' rights" which for white southerners translates into nothing more than their presumed God-given right to discriminate against anyone who isn't like them.

Southerners have always been more conservative than the rest of the nation. And while in the era before the Great Depression, one could find liberal progressives and conservatives in both parties in the post Civil Rights era that fixture of the American political system began to unravel as white Southerners joined en masse with other conservatives to take over the Republican party. Even as late as the early 1980s, it was possible for men like Jacob Javits, Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Mathias, and Edward Brooke to be part of the GOP. Today, a GOP moderate like Lincoln Chafee is unwelcome in the Republican party.

The fact that both two long dominant political parties in the United States had liberal and conservative wings is something that allowed for grand bipartisan coalitions to be formed at critical junctures in the nation's history. Indeed, the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not have passed if not for the support it received from liberal Republicans. 

The filmmaker Ken Burns notes that "American think themselves an uncompromising people but our greatest strength is compromise and when it broke down we killed each other in great numbers. This is the lesson the Civil War at its heart. Compromise is the essence of democratic conversation." Unfortunately, compromise is not word in the vocabulary in the Party of Jefferson Davis.

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It Defined Us as a Nation

One hundred fifty years ago today, the American Civil War began in earnest when Confederate forces fired upon the Federal fort at Fort Sumter that guarded the approaches to Charleston. While the two day battle that led to a Union retreat marks the formal start to the War between the States, fighting had already been raging between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces in Kansas and Missouri on and off beginning as early as 1854. And while formal hostilities would cease in April 1865 after over 600,000 lives lost, the secessionist states would be occupied by Federal troops until 1877. And for some in the South, it sometimes seems that War has not yet ended.

While there are still a few people who first think themselves citizens of a given state, a custom perhaps most egregious in Texas, and then a citizen of the United States second, most Americans now, I would hope, see themselves as Americans first. Before the Civil War, this was certainly not the case. For John C. Calhoun, his country was South Carolina.

The War is no doubt the watershed event in American history. The most fundamental transformation brought forth by the Civil War is that before the War one would say that the United States are essentially defining the country as a collection of independent states but after the War, it became the United States is. In this regard, the War becomes the catalyst for a tightening of the American bond. Our conception of nationality was forged through the course of that bloody conflict. Indeed, the Civil War ushered in the first constitutional definition of US citizenship.

How that "are" became an "is" is the defining story of the country and that debate in the minds of some conservatives is not yet settled. The Tenther Movement is but one example how issues seemingly resolved by the Civil War continue to permeate our politics.

There is no escaping that the Civil War left an indelible mark on the South. It scarred the psyche of the southerners where the War is still to this day called the War of Northern Aggression, the War for Southern Independence, or alternatively the Slaveholders' Rebellion. Nor do all southerners considered the War a conflict over the issue of slavery but rather a war over states' rights.

Southern apologists often go to great lengths to paint the War as anything but a conflict over slavery. Southern revisionism remains a cottage industry to this day. Take for example, Llewellyn H. Rockwell, president of the Ludwig van Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama who writes "the South was being looted to pay for the North's early version of industrial policy." Rockwell isn't even a historian nor an economist but rather a proponent of the Austrian School of Economics. For that matter, he isn't even a southerner but rather from Boston with a degree in English from Tufts. But for free traders, the South is a cause célèbre because the cotton exporting, finished goods importing South was against a high tariff policy. Taxes, then as now, are not a Southern thing.

But no historian views tariffs as the cause for the war in part because in 1857 tariffs were actually lowered in response to the financial panic of that year. If there is a single cause for the dissolution of the Union, and hence, the War it is the prolonged debate over expansion of slavery into the territories. If at independence, the political balance of the country was tilted in favor of the South by 1850 that balance was decisively moving in the North's direction as more free states entered the Union and as the North's population simply exploded. By 1860, the South was headed towards a permanent status as a political minority having failed to elect a southerner to the White House in three successive elections.

There can be no denying that the South that by 1865 was a defeated force whose culture was shattered. Economically, the region was devastated. The destruction of slavery meant that the entire Southern economy had to be rebuilt. Cotton exports would not match their pre-war high until 1879. Its share of US GDP would fall over the next 75 years as the North and Mid-West industrialized while the South remained an agricultural backwater. Overall, the region did not fully recover until the post World War II boom. To this day, Mississippi remains the poorest state in the Union and lowest socio-economic indicators are most prevalent in the South.

Still politically, the South has held together more than any other region of country giving it an outsized influence in national affairs even if no southerner would be elected to the White House between Zachary Taylor and Lyndon Baines Johnson (Woodrow Wilson was actually born in Virginia but he was elected from New Jersey and Andrew Johnson was from Tennessee but he was an accidental President). Its dominance was most acutely felt in the Senate during periods of Democratic control when southern Senators through use of the committee system effectively controlled that branch of government. And they would use that power to protect a race-based southern culture well into the 20th century.

Here are some collected thoughts of historian Shelby Foote on The Civil War:

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What Obama Did Save

It is not unsubstantial. From the Associated Press:

A close look at the government shutdown-dodging agreement to cut federal spending by $38 billion reveals that lawmakers significantly eased the fiscal pain by pruning money left over from previous years, using accounting sleight of hand and going after programs President Barack Obama had targeted anyway.

Such moves permitted Obama to save favorite programs — Pell grants for poor college students, health research and "Race to the Top" aid for public schools, among others — from Republican knives.

And big holes in foreign aid and Environmental Protection Agency accounts were patched in large part. Republicans also gave up politically treacherous cuts to the Agriculture Department's food inspection program.

The full details of Friday's agreement weren't being released until overnight as it was officially submitted to the House. But the picture already emerging is of legislation financed with a lot of one-time savings and cuts that officially "score" as savings to pay for spending elsewhere, but that often have little to no actual impact on the deficit.

As a result of the legerdemain, Obama was able to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when the chamber passed a bill slashing this year's budget by more than $60 billion. In doing so, the White House protected favorites like the Head Start early learning program, while maintaining the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for Obama's "Race to the Top" initiative that provides grants to better-performing schools.

Still the two DC related riders and the appalling sacrifice of the not-for-profit healthcare centers are hard to swallow. The Pentagon had $2 billion cut from its budget meanwhile the entire $2 billion slated for these non-profit healthcare centers was cut. Recall that these centers were a consolation prize for not including a public option in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. 

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Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Japan Raises Nuclear Crisis to Highest Level. Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater. More on this story from the Mainichi Daily News and from the BBC.

In related news, Japan's Economic minister says the damage to the country's economy from last month's earthquake and tsunami is worse than first thought. Economic minister Kaoru Yosano said the blow to the Japanese economy is "larger than our original expectations" which were originally estimated at $295 billion dollars. The International Monetary Fund has lowered its 2011 economic growth forecast for Japan, the world's third biggest economy, from 1.6 percent to 1.4 percent. But one economic research company (Capital Economics) says Japan's economy may shrink by 1.5 percent this year. The Voice of America has a full report on the economic impact while Germany's Der Spiegel files a story comparing the northeast of Japan to the Roman ruins of Pompei.

The Libyan Conflict. The rebel held Libyan city of Misurata has come under heavy fire hours after Gaddafi said he would agree to a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, says alliance should be doing more to take out heavy weaponry targeting civilians in Misurata. More from Al Jazeera.

Côte d'Ivoire President Urges Reconciliation. In a television address to the nation, President Alassane Ouattara calls on fighters in the Côte d'Ivoire to lay down their arms and promises dignified treatment for Laurent Gbagbo now in custody. The story in The Guardian.

Hosni Mubarak Hospitalized. Former Egyptian President currently under house arrest at his resort home at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula has been hospitalized. No details yet as to the cause. Mubarak is 82. Meanwhile, Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Tuesday said that legal steps were underway to probe veracity of charges of corruption and excesses against the deposed leader. The Times of India files a report.

Inflation in the UK Drops Unexpectedly. The Bank of England reported  that Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate of inflation in the United Kingdom was 4 percent in March, down from 4.4 percent in February. The figures came as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed the biggest sales drop in its 16-year history, with total sales in March dropping 1.9% on a year ago. The full story from The Independent.

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Third World America

Nathaniel Popper has written a tour de force piece for the Los Angeles Times about the US labor practices of Ikea, the iconic Swedish brand now owned by INGKA Holding B.V., a Dutch conglomerate, at their Danville, Virginia manufacturing facility. The long and the short of it is that Ikea is abusing the rights of its American workers because it can whereas in its European manufacturing sites, the company is held to much tighter pro-worker standards set by progressive governments.

The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it's front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea's code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.

"Ikea is a very strong brand and they lean on some kind of good Swedishness in their business profile. That becomes a complication when they act like they do in the United States," said Sjoo. "For us, it's a huge problem."

Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days -- eight of them on dates determined by the company.

What's more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.

Swedwood's Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. "That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries," Steen said.

Bill Street, who has tried to organize the Danville workers for the machinists union, said Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded to U.S. workers.

"It's ironic that Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico," Street said.

The line that should gnaw at you is "Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded U.S. workers." American manufacturing has been in decline for some time now as an assault on unions and as free trade deals allow corporations to globalize their production. These two forces have combined to shed high paying American manufacturing jobs which more than any other factor has led to the decline of the middle class. 

Still despite this war on American manufacturing, it was only last year that we reached a tipping point. After 110 years of the leading global manufacturing output, the United States was at last surpassed by China. China accounted for 19.8 percent of global production in 2010, slightly higher than the 19.4 percent of the United States. But it is not just quantitatively that we have lost our lead. What we have seen in the United States is a general degradation of labor standards and worker rights since Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers strike and their union, PATCO, in 1981.

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