Is Another Civil War Inevitable?

Some on the right believe so. To examine that dire possibility, it’s necessary to look at history – the issues that led to the Civil War and the issues created by the defeat of the Confederacy. As any school child knows, the cause of the Civil War was slavery. The primary reason the Union won was its manufacturing power. And, following the war, the South was left in poverty, even resenting the attempts of the North to help restore its institutions and economy.

While the South suffered and chafed at what it considered northern meddling, following the Civil War, the North went back to business as usual, happy that its boys were no longer dying. It never believed that its culture was all that different from the South. Sure, there were the stereotypes that anyone with a southern drawl was slow; that they didn’t believe in education and hard work. There were jokes that, in the South, a family reunion was a great place to pick up chicks. But few people in the North held a grudge.

Attitudes in the South were entirely different. Rather than admitting the war was initiated by slavery, it called the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression.” And though the Confederacy surrendered, the South has never really admitted defeat. It kept its own identity; its distinct culture; and, of course, its racism.

You’ve heard the phrase, “The South Will Rise Again?” Well, it has – at least politically. The states of the old Confederacy are now almost completely red, with Republican governors, Republican-controlled legislatures, Republican US senators and mostly Republican congressional representatives. Like the Confederacy, today’s elected officials from the South believe in states’ rights and they have an almost universal contempt for the federal government.

In fact, the second Civil War has already begun. But, so far, it has been confined to a culture war. Rather than build their own business, southern states seem intent on taking corporations and jobs away from the North. And, to some extent, they’ve succeeded. In search of low-paid labor and lower taxes, many corporations have abandoned their places of origin and moved south, leaving the cities and former employees to wallow in poverty. Southern states have even succeeded in swaying the nomenclature to their benefit. While northern states are now known as the “Rust Belt,” southern states are known as the “Sun Belt.”

Yet the biggest differences can be measured in terms of faith, poverty, education and tax contributions to the federal government. Most of the northern states contribute far more in federal taxes than their southern counterparts. Indeed, most of the southern states receive far more in expenditures than they contribute. The southern states routinely rank among the most underfunded public schools and at the bottom with regard to the level of education. And most of the people in the southern states are devout followers, believing that their impoverished circumstances are an act of God; that they will succeed if they only pray harder.

While the South has a relatively uniform identity, the North is much more diverse. States like California, New York, Minnesota and Washington have little in common with Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and New Hampshire. About the only thing they share is the climate.

And though the Civil War represented a clash over slavery, it was also urban versus rural; manufacturing versus farming; the educated versus the uneducated. For the most part, those differences haven’t changed. Certainly, there are large cities, large manufacturing plants and large universities in the modern South. But the culture divide remains and, following the last 4 national elections, the divide seems to be widening.

For example, Arizona (now part of the South) has already passed a nullification bill that would challenge any federal law or regulation its legislature deems “unconstitutional.” Can the rest of the South be far behind? Even though the bill is likely to be vacated by federal courts, the attitude will remain. The southern states would rather spend the millions of dollars required to challenge the federal government than to spend the money improving their schools, nurturing business start-ups, maintaining the environment and creating jobs.

Where all of this conflict will end is uncertain.

Greed Versus Poverty.

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option of becoming enduringly successful.” – Buckminster Fuller, 1980.

I recently spotted this quote on Facebook and it made me think: What is the true state of the world in 2014? How far have we come since 1980?

Well, here are the sobering statistics:

– According to the human rights group, Walk Free, 36 million people live in slavery worldwide.
– In the US, approximately 250,000 women and children are held as sex slaves.
– In the US, nearly 2.5 million children were homeless at some point in 2013.
– In the US, 48 million people live in poverty.
– Worldwide, more than 3 billion people – nearly half the world population – live on less than $2.50 per day.
– In the US, 1 in 6 children don’t have enough to eat.
– Worldwide, 1 in 8 people suffer from chronic malnourishment and approximately 5,000,000 children die of malnutrition each year.
– Worldwide, many millions of people don’t have access to clean water.
– Worldwide, billions of people don’t have access to modern medical care.
– In the US, approximately 12 million people don’t have access to affordable health care even after implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
– Worldwide, climate change causes 350,000 deaths each year and that number is certain to grow.

As Fuller stated, it is now possible to solve these problems. Yet too many voters still believe in the fraud that is called “trickle-down economics”…a trickle that never comes. Too many politicians would rather give the wealthy and large corporations another tax cut than help these “freeloaders.” Others are too busy campaigning for office to be troubled with real problems. And the political problems aren’t just in the US. The rest of the industrialized world is not much better. Much of Europe has fallen back into recession as the result of economic austerity programs. In response, their populations have taken a nasty turn toward fascism.

We should all strive to avoid blaming others for our lack of progress and, instead, look for solutions.

Imagine what could be done to improve lives if the US corporations that have $2.1 trillion stashed in offshore tax havens paid just 10 percent in taxes on that money. Imagine if corporate CEOs devoted just a portion of their multi-million dollar annual salaries to pay their employees a living wage. Imagine if all of the world governments agreed to cut in half the $1.75 trillion in annual military spending and dedicated it to giving people access to health care, food and clean water. Imagine if our politicians weren’t bought and paid for by corporate lobbyists who are rewarded with billions in government contracts…more than $4 trillion between 2007 and 2012. Imagine if the billions dedicated to lobbying was used, instead, to help end human suffering.

We certainly have the means to achieve Fuller’s vision. All we need is the will (and the heart) to demand it.

How To Make White People Roll Their Eyes.

Bring up the subject of reparations for the descendants of slaves and for Native Americans as Ta-Nehisi Coates recently did in the May edition of The Atlantic and most white people will roll their eyes and sputter, “But that was generations ago! I didn’t have anything to do with slavery or genocide.” Such a response is certainly understandable for Americans of European descent. But it fails to recognize the fact that our nation was built on slavery or that African-Americans and Native Americans have been fighting an uphill battle for generations.

Indeed, those minorities are still being denied the opportunity for economic equality.

Just 3-5 generations removed from the end of the American Civil War and the end of the Indian Wars, entire populations of African-Americans and Native Americans are suffering from our nation’s past sins. If you think reparations are unfair for those who were not directly involved in the crimes, imagine what the victims of those crimes feel! If nothing else, modern America needs to have a sincere and objective discussion of the lasting impacts of slavery and Jim Crow. To think that, after 200 years of slavery and 100 years of discrimination, we could pass the Civil Rights Act and everything would suddenly be okay is absolutely ludicrous.

Consider the fact that, when the slaves were freed following the Civil War, most had no education, no savings, few possessions and no place to go. It’s true that General Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 15 which called for former slaves to be given 40 acres and a mule. But those orders were quickly suspended. It’s true that the Freedmen’s Bureau collected 800,000 to 900,000 acres of land with the intention of redistributing it to former slaves, but most of that land was eventually returned to the former slave-owners.

In an attempt to help the former slaves, many were given guaranteed contracts for field labor on the plantations which they previously worked. Others were contracted as sharecroppers to farm the land. However, it was the white landowners who determined how the shares would be distributed, resulting in a new form of slavery. Despite all of this, some African-Americans were eventually able to purchase land. By 1910, more than 15 million acres of farm land were owned by African-Americans. But as a result of the Great Depression, predatory practices of whites, and other circumstances, the number of landowners rapidly declined. By 1997, just 2 million acres were owned by blacks. Of course, the number of white farmers declined, too. But not nearly as fast as blacks.

Those African-Americans who chose not to work the fields following the Civil War moved north to large cities in hopes of finding work – mostly as low-paid, unskilled laborers. But they were often taken advantage of by their new employers. As they struggled, the white factory owners thrived. So, too, did the banks and property owners. They were often victimized by white slumlords. And their schools were underfunded, perpetuating the problem for new generations. Many African-Americans were denied the right to vote, either by law or by tricks, and most faced overwhelming discrimination, especially in the South.

Perhaps the most crushing blow came after World War II during which African-Americans and Native Americans fought alongside whites. When the soldiers returned home, they rightfully expected their fortunes to change. But they soon found themselves back in the same circumstances; in neighborhoods that were “red-lined,” meaning that the residents of the area were not eligible for loans from banks. Of course, con artists and predatory lenders were there to take up the slack with contract mortgages that allowed the lender to take the homes with all of the accumulated equity if only one payment was late or missed. This made it nearly impossible for minorities to acquire wealth.

Of course, most white people are quick to point to our African-American president as evidence of racial equality. But the sad fact is we have used and abused our laws to prevent most African-Americans from attaining equality. There are as many African-Americans held in prisons today as there were slaves at the beginning of the Civil War. Studies show that our nation is as segregated today as it was before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Further, many African-Americans are still being taken advantage of by unscrupulous businesses. For example, prior to 2008 blacks were targeted by sub-prime lenders and when the mortgage industry imploded, blacks were disproportionately affected by foreclosure. They were also affected more by the Great Recession. Their unemployment rates are higher. And to prevent them from influencing elections, Republicans have recently passed voter ID laws designed to suppress the minority vote. In addition, they are further reducing the number of polling places and cutting back on voting hours in black neighborhoods despite the fact that, in 2012, many black voters were forced to stand in line for six hours or more in order to vote.

Obviously, the United States is far from a post-racist society. In fact, we seem to be trending backwards as evidenced by the rapid growth of white supremicist hate groups and voter suppression laws.

Despite all of this, I don’t believe the US Congress will ever agree to any form of reparations for African-Americans and Native Americans. Nevertheless, I think we should try to find some way to make things right. An objective discussion in a court of public opinion regarding the fallout of slavery, the Indian Wars, and the consequences of our nation’s actions is long overdue. Giving victims the opportunity to enumerate the costs, to express their feelings and to discuss the problems they face could be extremely healthy for everyone.

And it would be highly educational for most whites.

Our Ongoing National Shame.

Teapublicans are fond of saying that racism is no longer an issue. Conservatives on the US Supreme Court have echoed that sentiment in decisions that weakened and overturned affirmative action. Indeed, many conservatives cite affirmative action as a form of reverse racism. And whenever a politician or African-American speaks out against discrimination, conservatives are quick to label them as racists.

Some conservatives, especially those in the media, are simply unabashed racists that will never listen to reason. Unfortunately, even the more thoughtful and open-minded conservatives have fallen into the trap of assuming that racism was ended by Martin Luther King, Jr. What they fail to comprehend is that the US is only 3 to 5 generations removed from emancipation and that slavery has left a lasting legacy.

Following the Civil War, the largely uneducated population of African-American slaves (for most slaves, education was forbidden) was freed to fend for themselves. Many of those given 40 acres and a mule had their property stolen by whites. Many were still abused. Most found low-skilled, low-paying jobs and were herded into ghettos with little opportunity for advancement. Their children were sent to substandard schools. Even those who struggled to excel in school were discriminated against and given few job opportunities. In many states, African-Americans were not even allowed to vote until a generation ago. As a result, most laws have been used to bludgeon African-Americans. Police forces have used drug laws to disproportionately incarcerate African-Americans even though African-Americans use drugs at roughly the same rate as whites. Virtually every African-American has been stopped for driving or walking while black. And we’ve all seen the TV “reality” crime shows that focus almost exclusively on minorities. (A producer for one of the shows admitted that no one wanted to watch a show that focused on police busting young, white men for the same crimes.)

In the 1960’s many white families abandoned our cities for the suburbs to enroll their children in white-dominated schools and leaving African-Americans with the burden of paying for the infrastructure of the central cities, for police and fire protection, for luxurious sports venues, and for the freeways used almost exclusively by suburbanites. Cities redistricted their schools along racial and economic lines. So today, on the 60th anniversary of the US Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education which ordered the desegregation of schools, many of our schools are more segregated than they were at the time of the ruling.

Moreover, a Center for American Progress study found that, nationally, we spend $334 less for the education of each black student than for each white student! We may be unwilling to pay for the education of African-Americans. But we sure don’t mind spending millions more to send them to prison. According to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, there are now as many African-Americans in some stage of our “justice” system as there were African-American slaves at the beginning of the Civil War!

Yet the GOP somehow believes that the playing field has been leveled…that the problems faced by many African-Americans are simply the result of laziness, broken families and a culture of welfare dependency. Some, like Cliven Bundy, even suggest that “the Negro” would be better off as slaves.

Here’s an idea: Why don’t the Teapublicans who believe this nonsense trade places with those they so demean? Let’s see how Rep. Paul Ryan would fare in a ghetto with few prospects for anything beyond a minimum wage job. Let’s see how he fares in landing a job in a suburb with no car and no public transportation to get to that job. Let’s see how Justice Roberts’ children would fare in a school with significantly fewer resources than their peers. Let’s see how white Teapublican suburbanites like standing in line for hours to vote. Let’s see how Cliven Bundy would fare at picking cotton.

Let’s Try To Become The Nation Our Founders Imagined.

In reading The Untold History Of The United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (a gut-wrenching, powerful and well-documented book), it’s clear that, contrary to what we were taught in history classes, the US has long been a cruel and greedy empire.

For more than 200 years, we have engaged in wars of choice with no other purpose than to capture territory and extract resources. We have brutally murdered, tortured and subjugated indigenous peoples, all the while patting ourselves on the back for bringing them “Christianity” and “civilization.” We perfected mass murder and water boarding in the Philippines. We forced China, Japan and Korea to bow to our wishes for trade. We exerted our will in the Caribbean and South America in order to claim their resources and protect the interests of our corporations.

We occupied Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama and the Philippines. After World War II, we occupied Germany, Italy and Japan. We have sent our troops to every corner of the Earth and have long ruled the air and the seas. According to Stone and Kuznick, “by 2002, we had some form of military presence in 132 of the UN’s then 190 member nations.” And, by my best estimates, we have been at war for all but 33 years of our history.

Why? It mostly has to do with business.

We forced our will upon nations in order to control their gold, silver, copper, aluminum, rubber, sugar, fruit, land, even drugs. More recently, on behalf of our industries, we have pursued oil in the Middle East. We helped to overthrow democratically-elected governments in Chile, Iran, Iraq and elsewhere. We supported and trained death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua. And we have bullied almost everyone else.

All the while, we celebrated our victories along with our good intentions.

Is it any wonder, then, that our people have long admired the Romans? In reality, we are them; a power-hungry nation of avarice and cruelty. Like the Romans, we believed that the gods or, in our case, God was on our side. We called it Manifest Destiny; the God-given right and responsibility to govern all those people we considered incapable of governing themselves. Of course, “those people” just happened to be people of color.

We have become the kind of empire our forefathers fought to escape. The Founding Fathers had high ideals; that all people are equal and have a right to life, liberty and happiness. Yes, many held slaves, but many wrestled with that fact and sought a way to end slavery while holding the states together. For example, although he was a slave holder, Thomas Jefferson wanted to bring slavery to an end. In recognition of the complex politics of the issue, he likened slavery “to having a wolf by the ears. You can neither hang on nor let go.”

We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. We must strive to be better; to lift people the world over out of poverty; to support and restore freedom; to end hunger; to rein in greed; to help educate children; to create jobs; to increase the sustainability of our all-too-fragile planet.

We may never be able to end wars, but we should make them increasingly rare. We should have a strong defense, but we cannot and should not be the self-appointed police of the planet. That was never the intention of the Framers. Rather, they believed that we should be an example to others; a model of liberty and justice for all.

We haven’t been, but we still can be.