Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gov. Perry Opposes Confederate License Plates

Texas Governor Rick Perry told a Florida TV station that he opposes a vanity license plate honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  He said that, "We don't need to be scraping old wounds."  His announcement runs counter to Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson who proposed the plate on behalf of Sons of Confederate Veterans to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

We commented in a recent blog on this issue.

The public outcry over the proposed plate includes a petition of 25,000 signatures and a letter signed by seventeen state lawmakers.

Perry's position is in contrast to his opposition to remove a pair of bronze plates with symbols of the Confederacy that were in the state Supreme Court building.  Perry said, "I believe that Texans should remember the past and learn from it."

It is uncertain whether Governor Perry was influenced by his fight for the Presidency or he feels that the plates are not the same as allowing Confederate plaques, monuments and memorials from public buildings.

As seen in our post on this subject, we regard them as different issues.  It is right for Texas to honor our Civil War dead and remember that sad time in our history.  Associating Texas with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, especially relative to the opposition, is an entirely different situation. Perry decided that it was not appropriate for Texas to link its name with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

We applaud Governor Perry on both positions.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bryant Gumbel Insults African Americans

First, let me say that I am not a fan of Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel.  As I far as I am concerned, he is a member of the IASWICHSI* Club who blesses us humble beings with his words.  When he sticks to sports, he is merely annoying.  However, his latest comment comparing NBA labor-management conflicts with slavery is way off the mark.

David Stern
He said that David Stern's "efforts were typical of a commissioner, who has always seemed eager to be viewed as some kind of modern plantation overseer treating NBA men as if they were his boys." Gumbel said, "It’s part of Stern’s M.O. Like his past self-serving edicts on dress code or the questioning of officials, his moves are intended to do little more than show how he’s the one keeping the hired hands in their place." 

NBA Owner Jordan
How can anyone in the world feel sorry for these athletes whose average salary is $4.8 million.  According to Rich Walcoff in the San Francisco Examiner, "in the last quarter of a century while the typical American saw his annual compensation increase about 160 percent, NBA players pay shot up 1,500 percent."

Any comparison with the horrors of slavery is absurd.  Heck comparing the NBA players to any working man or woman is absurd.  Gumbel's remarks are an insult to Black Americans and others who fought long and hard to free themself from slavery and gain their civil rights. 

This is the third time Gumbel has played the race card in sports commentaries.  It is most unfortunate because sports has played such an important role in improving race relations and breaking down racial barriers.  Are we there yet.  Absolutely not. 

In addition, Gumbel's remarks were laced with anti-Semitic undertones.  Attacking Stern and other NBA owners who are Jewish.  This dispute is not a black and white thing or a black and Jew issue.  It's a labor and management conflict. We do have white players in the NBA and some of them actually lead their team to a championship. 

In an ESPN editorial Shaun Powell said that "It always annoyed Stern that the company he controlled, and the men in the owners' club, didn't reflect the same color of the players on the floor. And so not long after he became commissioner, Stern went about fixing the flaw. The NBA offices took on a different complexion, but that was small stuff. Stern wanted black representation at the highest level. He wanted to crash the old-boy network. He wanted to go where no commissioner had gone before (or since). And so Stern sought black ownership, even at the risk of his own reputation."

Gumbel and HBO should apologize for his remarks to both the Jewish and African American community.

* I Am So Wonderful I Can Hardly Stand It

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fort Donelson Celebrates 150th Anniversary

In February and March of 2012, Fort Donelson will present several exciting programs on the historic battle.

Fort Henry
During the weekend of February 4-6th, Park Rangers from Fort Donelson National Battlefield will introduce visitors to the Fort Heiman story and will interpret the Battle of Fort Henry, which happened 150 years ago on February 6th. A unique living history event will commemorate the Confederate evacuation of Fort Henry towards Fort Donelson.

Fort Donelson
The following weekend, a living history encampment will interpret life at Fort Donelson from the Confederate perspective. This event will explore why men chose to join the Confederate States Army, how their lives were changed, and how their decisions affected their families. The encampment, held in much the same weather they experienced 150 years ago, has the potential of exploring the hardships soldiers on both sides faced. On February 11th, Kendall Gott, author of Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862, will share his unique insights on the battle.

USS Carondelet
On February 13 and 14, 2012, Park Rangers will offer programs at the River Batteries to share the incredible stories of Confederate guns exchanging fire with US Navy ironclad boats. On February 15, 2012, Park Rangers will offer programs to explain the daring Confederate attempt to escape from Fort Donelson towards Nashville, and Ulysses Grant’s eventual retaking of his demolished line. On February 14th, Myron J. Smith, author of a new history of the USS Carondelet, will mark the 150th anniversary of the gunboat battle on the Cumberland.

On February 16, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Fort Donelson, a historian portraying Ulysses Grant will be at the Dover Hotel to share his thoughts on this, one of his great personal triumphs. The Civil War Singers will share their talents with us that day, as the community commemorates this important event.

The weekend of February 18 and 19 will witness a Union living history encampment, interpreting Union life inside Fort Donelson and the town of Dover after the Confederate surrender.

On February 25th, noted author and former park historian, Benjamin F. Cooling, will talk about the campaign and the aftermath. On March 24th, legendary historian, Ed Bearss, will walk the grounds with visitors and share his gift for storytelling.

Please contact the park (931-232-5706) or visit their web site for more information.

To learn more about the battle, see the Battle of Fort Donelson and THE Turning Point in the Civil War.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Texas License Plate

(Source The Dallas Morning News, October 14, 2011)
The Sons of Confederate Veterans have asked the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to issue license plates that contain the group’s logo featuring a Confederate battle flag. As might be expected, there is opposition to proposed vanity plate. More than 22,000 people have signed petitions opposing the Texas license plate. The Dallas Morning News of October 14th has urged DMV board members to vote no. The editorial, DMV Should Wave the Flag, concluded that approval of the Confederate plate would only reinforce the “backward-looking” stereotype of Texas and that would be a “distorted representation of what this state stands for.”

This is more than a freedom of speech issue. No one will dispute an individual’s right to display his beliefs in support of a political, social, recreational, collegiate or environmental cause. Texas has more than 200 specialty license plates with these motives. In addition, cars are adorned with stickers in support of these same causes. License plates with the logo are available Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

So why is this proposal different?

First, the Confederate flag is considered by many black Americans as a symbol of slavery. I have commented on this issue before and it is important to differentiate the use of this flag to honor the service of Southerners who fought for what they believed in. While the war was about slavery, most Confederate soldiers served to defend their homes from “Northern invasion” and the “Yankees” telling them how to run their businesses. Honor the men, but not the slave owner’s cause.

Second, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans may be regarded by some as a closet racist organization. This same attack could be made on any Southern-based Civil War group including Civil War Round Tables and battlefield preservation groups. The majority of members are history buffs, re-enactors, and, most importantly, ancestors of civil war veterans. Like all social, national and religious organizations, these groups have bigoted members. However suspicious outsiders may view these groups, we need to respect their rights to their opinions and the motivations of the majority of their members. According to their web page, the “Sons of Confederate Veterans is preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.”

Third, this group’s proposal is offensive to many people. The twenty-two thousand who signed the petition exceeds the 2,300 members of the group. The wishes of the majority do not override the rights of the minority. Because this license plate represents Texas, the DMV must decide what is in the interest of all Texans.

We cannot and should not do away with the Confederate flag. It is a part of our history and culture. Allowing the license plate should serve not as reminder to where we were as a country but to honor the sacrifices that all Americans made to become the nation we are. Texas has become a unique state --- not southern, not western --- with a blend of cultures --- Hispanic, African American, German, and even Yankee. However, the State of Texas must determine, not if this license plate is an historic tribute, but if it is offensive to the majority of Texans, its fit with Texan culture and values, and if Texas wishes to have its name publicly associated with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Role of Tariffs in the Civil War - Part 4

We conclude our series of posts on The Role of Tariffs in the Civil War by commenting on the current economic situation and the possible role of protective tariffs.

Do we need tariffs today?

My answer is a resounding Yes!

One of the greatest lies perpetrated on the American people is that we are operating on a level playing field as far as international trade.  Our leaders say we are exporting low skilled jobs so we can focus on high skilled positions for Americans.  I guess our public officials assume that we are stupid. 

The American educational system is not preparing our young people to compete for jobs with candidates from other countries.  Students in India, China, Japan and other countries are better equipped.  The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a system of international assessments that measures 15-year-olds' performance in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy every 3 years. On the 2009 PISA, U.S. 15-year-olds’ average score in reading literacy was 500, which was not measurably different from the OECD average of 493.   In mathematics literacy, U.S. 15-year-olds’ average score of 487 on the 2009 PISA was lower than the OECD average score of 496. The average mathematics literacy score in the United States was lower than the average score in 17 of the 33 other OECD countries.  In science literacy, the average score of 15-year-olds in the United States was not measurably different from the OECD average score. The U.S. average science literacy score was lower than the average score in 12 of the 33 other OECD countries.  The average scores for the US are 500 in reading, 487 in mathematics, and 502 in science.  Japan scores are 520, 546, and 538; Russia 459, 468, and 478; China 556, 600, and 575; and Singapore 526,562, and 541. 

The labor costs are, of course, much lower. The hourly compensation costs in manufacturing in 2009 were $33.53 for the US, $30.36 for Japan, $17.50 for Singapore, 14.20 for the Republic of Korea, and $7.76 for Taiwan. 

Taking these statistics at face value implies that companies can get higher skilled workers for lower pay in countries outside of the US.

If we include in these figures the added costs that US companies incur for government regulation, the level playing field tilts decidedly towards the Chinese and other non-US manufacturers.  We have regulations that protect the health and safety of workers, provide for equal hiring opportunities, guarantee a minimum wage, prohibit child and prison labor, protect the environment, and insure safe products.  Low cost foreign products are not produced under these constraints.  US corporations driven by the holy grail of shareholder value or return to investors, have little choice but to move operations to other countries.  US corporations unlike Chinese are not controlled by the government and are not an instrument of foreign policy.  Additionally, where government and industry are at loggerheads in the US, they work in concert in many parts of the world.  Foreign governments actually try to protect their growing industries much as the US did in the first half of the nineteenth (and perhaps the entire century).

Our politicians want us to wait until our foreign competitors enact legislation that protects workers, consumers, and the environment.  They don't want to upset foreign governments.  Waiting for China to enact legislation to level the playing field, is like waiting for the Dallas Cowboys to win a Supper Bowl.  It might happen, but don't write for game tickets this year.

What is needed is legislation to protect American workers and create a real level playing field.  Without it, our standard of living will continue to drop and the legacy to our children will be poverty.

I wrote to both major political parties today asking for their positions on tariffs.  I'll let you know if I receive an answer.  I did this three years ago on another issue facing the candidates and I'm still waiting for answers.  While waiting for answers, I found these "positions" on  2012 Presidential Candidates.

Romney advocates free trade with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea and sanctions on China for unfair trade practices.  The US should reach out to China and charter a course that is equivalent to a free economy and a free society. This goal should be at par with those of the US.

Perry is a firm believer in the power of the free market, and is convinced that excessive regulatory control stifles the ability of the private sector to grow.

Paul advocates free market but didn't specifically address tariffs and he believes that trade with China should not be tied to human rights. The US should reach out to China and charter a course that is equivalent to a free economy and a free society. This goal should be at par with those of the US.

On his 2009 visit to China Obama looked for concessions on climate, currency, trade and human rights but all he got was a bland statement promising no firm commitments without any mention of Internet censorship or Tibet.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Role of Tariffs in the Civil War - Part 3

Why didn't Southern entrepreneurs take advantage of the protectionist tariffs to increase their manufacturing base?

This question may be the most perplexing.  Most historians are familiar with the industrial disparity between the North and South at the beginning of the Civil War.

  • 28% of the 120,000 US manufacturing establishments were in the North
  • 92% of the nation's 1.4 million factory workers were in the North
  • 72% of America's railroads were in the North
  • The value of Southern farm land was $1,871,000,000 in 1860

The Confederacy's industrial workforce was characterized by its wide and extensive use of slaves. In the 1850s, anywhere from 150,000 - 200,000 slaves were used in industrial work.  Nearly 80% of these slaves were owned by industrial owners and, the remaining were rented out by plantation owners. Often, manual labor performed by slaves would be combined with skilled white artisans in order to better compete with northern and foreign industry.

Despite the profitability of slave industry, Southern industry had been under capitalized for years by the time of the outbreak of the war.  Besides a social preference for ownership of real property (slaves and land), agriculture in staple goods (cotton, tobacco, sugar cane) was considered the easiest route to profitability. Therefore agriculture always outbid industry when it came to capital allocation. As early as 1830, Southern industry was a generation behind, and by the Civil War, was vastly inferior to northern and foreign manufacturing. [Source: Robert S. Starobin The Economics of Industrial Slavery in the Old South The Business History Review, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer, 1970), pp. 162 as quoted in Economy of the Confederate States of America]

With the Southern economy tied to agriculture and slave labor, it is no wonder that the influential plantation owners refused to end the practice.   Their failure of foresight in funding manufacturing and building a more diversified industry, lead to the Civil War and the loss of the Confederacy in that war.