Four ways we’re still fighting the Civil War
  • The United States marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War
  • Americans still argue over many issues that led to war, scholars say
  • Scholar: «There are all of these weird parallels»
  • Southern historian: Confederate leaders are American heroes

CNN — He stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 145 pounds. His face was gaunt and sunburned. Ticks, fleas and lice covered his body.

Before battle, his lips would quiver and his body went numb. When the shooting started, some of his comrades burst into maniacal laughter. Others bit the throat and ears of their enemy. And some were shattered by shells so powerful that tufts of their hair stuck to rocks and trees.

Take a tour of a Civil War battlefield today, and it’s difficult to connect the terrifying experience of an average Civil War soldier — described above from various historical accounts — with the tranquil historic sites where we now snap pictures today.

But you don’t have to tour a battlefield to understand the Civil War. Look at today’s headlines. As the nation commemorates the 150th anniversary of its deadliest war this week, some historians say we’re still fighting over some of the same issues that fueled the Civil War.

«There are all of these weird parallels,» says Stephanie McCurry, author of «Confederate Reckoning,» a new book that examines why Southerners seceded and its effect on Southern women and slaves.

«When you hear charges today that the federal government is overreaching, and the idea that the Constitution recognized us as a league of sovereign states — these were all part of the secessionist charges in 1860,» she says.

«Living history» on Civil War battlefields

These «weird parallels» go beyond the familiar debates over what caused the war, slavery or states’ rights. They extend to issues that seem to have nothing to do with the Civil War.

The shutdown of the federal government, war in Libya, the furor over the new health care law and Guantanamo Bay — all have tentacles that reach back to the Civil War, historians say.

They point to four parallels:

The disappearance of the political center

If you think the culture wars are heated now, check out mid-19th century America. The Civil War took place during a period of pervasive piety when both North and South demonized one another with self-righteous, biblical language, one historian says.

One of the biggest debates during the Civil War was how far should governments go in dictating our lives. We still debate those politics.
–William Blair, Civil War historian

The war erupted not long after the «Second Great Awakening» sparked a national religious revival. Reform movements spread across the country. Thousands of Americans repented of their sins at frontier campfire meetings and readied themselves for the Second Coming.

They got war instead. Their moral certitude helped make it happen, says David Goldfield, author of «America Aflame,» a new book that examines evangelical Christianity’s impact on the war.

Goldfield says evangelical Christianity «poisoned the political process» because the American system of government depends on compromise and moderation, and evangelical religion abhors both because «how do you compromise with sin.»

«By transforming political issues into moral causes, you raise the stakes of the conflict and you tend to demonize your opponents,» Goldfield says.

Contemporary political rhetoric is filled with similar rhetoric. Opponents aren’t just wrong — they’re sinners, Goldfield says.

«The erosion of the center in contemporary American politics is the most striking parallel between today and the time just before the Civil War,» Goldfield says.

In the lead-up to the war, political campaigns were filled with religious fervor. Political parties paraded their piety and labeled opponents infidels.

«Today’s government gridlock results, in part, from this religious mind set that many issues can be divided into good and evil and sin and salvation,» he says.

A Union artillery crew poses before battle. Each side underestimated the opposing army, historians say.
A Union artillery crew poses before battle. Each side underestimated the opposing army, historians say.

How much power should the federal government have?

Nullification, state’s rights and secession. Those terms might sound like they’re lifted from a Civil War history book, but they’re actually making a comeback on the national stage today.

Since the rise of the Tea Party and debate over the new health care law, more Republican lawmakers have brandished those terms. Republican lawmakers in at least 11 states invoked nullification to thwart the new health care law, according to a recent USA Today article.

It was the kind of talk that led to the Civil War, historians say.

«One of the biggest debates during the Civil War was how far should governments go in dictating our lives. We still debate those politics,» says William Blair, director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Pennsylvania State University.

The Southern answer to that question ignited the war. When they seceded, their leaders said that they were protecting the inherent rights of sovereign states. They invoked the 13 Colonies’ fight for independence.

We wanted to be left alone. What actually caused the war was Lincoln’s insistence that, no, we can’t let these people go.
–H.W. Crocker III, Southern historian

H.W. Crocker III, author of «The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War,» says Southern secessionists were patriots reaffirming the Founding Father’s belief that the Colonies were free and independent states.

«If the Southern states pulled out of the union today after, say, the election of Barack Obama, or some other big political issue like abortion, how many of us would think the appropriate reaction from the federal government would be to blockade Southern ports and send armies into Virginia?» Crocker asks.

He says men such as Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy, are American heroes.

«Jefferson Davis was not trying to force anything on the people in the North,» he says. «We wanted to be left alone. What actually caused the war is Lincoln’s insistence that no, we can’t let these people go.»


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Latino Population Surge Poses Challenge to GOP

Race and Hispanic Origin Population Density of...

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The explosive growth of the Hispanic population reflected in the 2010 census will remake the electoral map—and could present Republicans with a challenge.

Regional Remix

Republicans have broadly benefited from the nation’s continued population shift from the Northeast and Midwest to right-leaning Sun Belt states in recent decades, and those states are again expected to add seats in Congress in the next election.

But to take full advantage, Republicans will have to win over Latinos, who have fueled much of the population growth, and who lean Democratic in their voting. They accounted for 65% of the population growth in Texas over the past decade, 55% of the growth in Florida and nearly half of the population increase in Arizona and Nevada, census figures show. Those four states alone are due to add a combined eight congressional seats in the next election.

Republicans control the process of drawing the boundaries of congressional districts in Florida and Texas, which account for six of the new seats, while a Republican governor will spar with a Democratic legislature to draw a congressional seat in Nevada. A commission will decide the new lines in Arizona.

Hispanics have historically voted in lower proportions than blacks and whites. In 2008, they voted for President Barack Obama by nearly 2-to-1.

But some GOP leaders say Hispanic voters like the party’s message of low taxes and family values. They also note that a new cadre of rising Hispanic stars, among them freshman Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, has the potential to draw more Hispanics to the party.

In Texas last November, a pair of Republicans—one of them Hispanic—beat incumbent Democrats in majority-Hispanic districts, and Nevada voters elected Republican Brian Sandoval as their governor, even as Latinos voted overwhelmingly for the U.S. Senate’s top Democrat, Harry Reid.

The risk, analysts say, is that tough language from some GOP officials on illegal immigration risks turning off Hispanic voters, many of whom view that rhetoric as a cultural affront.

«The Hispanic vote is increasingly important, and Republicans are going to need to do substantially better with this community to keep our majority for the long-term,» said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Democrats say they are best positioned to benefit from the demographic changes. «Even in typically Republican states, it’s the Democratic communities that are growing, and there is nothing Republicans can do when drawing lines that can alter the demographic realities they face,» said New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.»

Complicating the process, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 may require officials to draw the House district boundaries in such a way that some of the eight new seats have a majority Hispanic population. Democrats and Hispanic advocacy groups argue there should be as many as four new majority-Hispanic districts in Texas and Florida, while some Republicans say they see at least one.

The law and related court rulings make it hard for officials to undermine existing districts in which minority groups hold a majority. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas’s prior redistricting process violated minority rights by diminishing Hispanic representation in the 23rd House district, a protected majority-Hispanic district. That ruling had the effect of forcing state officials to redraw several districts in addition to the 23rd district.

In Texas, among states that must clear their new House maps with federal officials, Hispanics make up 38% of the population. Yet only six members of the state’s 32-member congressional delegation—fewer than 20%—are Latino. Although Republicans control every aspect of redistricting in the state, even some GOP lawmakers privately at least two of the new seats should have a majority of Hispanic residents to avoid dilution of minority voting strength.

Florida will add two new U.S. House seats in the next election, but a legal tussle over self-imposed redistricting requirements has delayed the process. Hispanics make up nearly a quarter of the state’s population, but Hispanics hold only three of the state’s 25 congressional seats. All three are Miami-area seats occupied by Republicans of Cuban descent.

Cuban Americans, unlike other Latino groups, tend to vote overwhelmingly for Republicans.

While Hispanics represent at least a quarter of the population in four other districts in the state, their overall population may be spread across the state in ways that do not force an additional majority-Hispanic district.


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The dark side of chocolate

CNN’s Richard Quest talks to filmmaker U. Roberto Romano, whose documentary «The Dark Side of Chocolate» investigates child labor and cocoa fields in the Ivory Coast.

Read a statement from the Global Chocolate and Cocoa Industry |
From the International Cocoa Initiative

But before you bite into a chocolate bar or take a sip of hot cocoa, consider, where did it come from?

It may be that the treat is the product of someone else’s hard labor. The person who may have sold it or who may have made it may not even be an adult.

The International Labour Organization estimates between 56 and 72 million African children work in agriculture, many in their own family farms. The seven largest cocoa-producing countries are Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameron, Brazil, Ecuador, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. Those last two together account for nearly 60 percent of global cocoa production.

And right now, you can still find children working in the cocoa fields as Romano and his crew did to film «The Dark Side of Chocolate.»

So, what should you as a consumer do? […]

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How to Get a Real Education

Princeton University buildings

Image by readerwalker via Flickr

Forget art history and calculus. Most students need to learn how to run a business, says Scott Adams


I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship?

I speak from experience because I majored in entrepreneurship at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y. Technically, my major was economics. But the unsung advantage of attending a small college is that you can mold your experience any way you want.

There was a small business on our campus called The Coffee House. It served beer and snacks, and featured live entertainment. It was managed by students, and it was a money-losing mess, subsidized by the college. I thought I could make a difference, so I applied for an opening as the so-called Minister of Finance. I landed the job, thanks to my impressive interviewing skills, my can-do attitude and the fact that everyone else in the solar system had more interesting plans.

The drinking age in those days was 18, and the entire compensation package for the managers of The Coffee House was free beer. That goes a long way toward explaining why the accounting system consisted of seven students trying to remember where all the money went. I thought we could do better. So I proposed to my accounting professor that for three course credits I would build and operate a proper accounting system for the business. And so I did. It was a great experience. Meanwhile, some of my peers were taking courses in art history so they’d be prepared to remember what art looked like just in case anyone asked.

One day the managers of The Coffee House had a meeting to discuss two topics. First, our Minister of Employment was recommending that we fire a bartender, who happened to be one of my best friends. Second, we needed to choose a leader for our group. On the first question, there was a general consensus that my friend lacked both the will and the potential to master the bartending arts. I reluctantly voted with the majority to fire him.

But when it came to discussing who should be our new leader, I pointed out that my friend—the soon-to-be-fired bartender—was tall, good-looking and so gifted at b.s. that he’d be the perfect leader. By the end of the meeting I had persuaded the group to fire the worst bartender that any of us had ever seen…and ask him if he would consider being our leader. My friend nailed the interview and became our Commissioner. He went on to do a terrific job. That was the year I learned everything I know about management.

At about the same time, this same friend, along with my roommate and me, hatched a plan to become the student managers of our dormitory and to get paid to do it. The idea involved replacing all of the professional staff, including the resident assistant, security guard and even the cleaning crew, with students who would be paid to do the work. We imagined forming a dorm government to manage elections for various jobs, set out penalties for misbehavior and generally take care of business. And we imagined that the three of us, being the visionaries for this scheme, would run the show.

We pitched our entrepreneurial idea to the dean and his staff. To our surprise, the dean said that if we could get a majority of next year’s dorm residents to agree to our scheme, the college would back it.

It was a high hurdle, but a loophole made it easier to clear. We only needed a majority of students who said they planned to live in the dorm next year. And we had plenty of friends who were happy to plan just about anything so long as they could later change their minds. That’s the year I learned that if there’s a loophole, someone’s going to drive a truck through it, and the people in the truck will get paid better than the people under it.

The dean required that our first order of business in the fall would be creating a dorm constitution and getting it ratified. That sounded like a nightmare to organize. To save time, I wrote the constitution over the summer and didn’t mention it when classes resumed. We held a constitutional convention to collect everyone’s input, and I listened to two hours of diverse opinions. At the end of the meeting I volunteered to take on the daunting task of crafting a document that reflected all of the varied and sometimes conflicting opinions that had been aired. I waited a week, made copies of the document that I had written over the summer, presented it to the dorm as their own ideas and watched it get approved in a landslide vote. That was the year I learned everything I know about getting buy-in.


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