The Perils of Everyone Thinking Alike – Part 3

The third article that appeared that day was a Wall Street Journal section called “Squaring Off ” on Big Issues on Energy.  They had people who were for or against the proposed activities presented.  The people were wiling to tell “why” they thought the way they did.  There were six questions – or issues – that ranged from oil & gas to electricity generation.  On each question, they asked one person on each side of the issue to explain (the “why” ) of his or her position.  The section was 6 pages long.  Each page had a brief description of the question and a few related statistics.  But the majority of each page was taken up by each persons explanation of “why” he (or she) had come to their position.  Had they just asked the questions and asked each of the people “what ” his position was, they probably could have done it in one page or less.  It takes much more time and space for news media to report the “why” than the what.  But it was a useful exercise for me.  Even though I thought I had positions on about half the issues, reading the opposite opinions may not have changed my position, but it gave me some ideas and knowledge that I had not had before.  The other articles gave me from useful information to think about.  Their probably is not a perfect answer to either side of any of them, and the explanation provided by both sides of each question seemed logical and thought out.

I think that news media have at least 3 major problems today in doing what they say their mission is.  The argument they put forth for the public is that they provide accurate and objective reporting of facts that are needed by people in a politically free society.  they need to understand the issues of the day so they can vote intelligently.  But I don’t think they do a very good job of any of that for three primary reasons.

At some point OXY Oil & Gas, USA, which was headquartered in Tulsa, decided that they needed someone reasonably high in management designated and trained to deal with the news media in case we had a catastrophe .  I’m not sure why, but I was selected for that – to be the Crisis Communication Manager.  When this happened in the 1990’s, Tulsa had a metropolitan area with a population of about 600,000.  We had 3 or 4 TV stations belonging to major national networks and still had two local Newspapers.  The training was from a training company based in Washington D. C. which was founded and headed by a lady who had been a CNN news reporter.  Our class trainer, who came to Tulsa from that company, was also a former CNN news reporter.  We had a fairly small class.  It included  me, our environmental manager, our environmental lawyer, and H.R. manager who was my back-up.  She said the purpose of the class was to teach us how to handle suddenly being in front of TV lights and a TV camera with a reporter asking pointed questions. The class was both lecture and mock situational practice.  One thing I remember from the lecture was that she said, “beware the 10 second sound bite”.  TV news can use anything you say and a sentence or less taken out of context can sound like something entirely different than what you are trying to convey.  She also talked about “loaded questions” which can generate 10 sec. sound bites that can sound sensational.  She said that the best way to avoid this is before you get in front of the camera, decide the message you want to convey.  Figure out how to say it quickly and succinctly (an “elevator speech”).  And whatever question you get asked, that’s your answer.

The news media defends themselves by saying that they only report facts, and provide the public with information they need to hear to be informed.  I decided some time ago, that the newspapers have the equivalent of the TV sound bite with a short quote.  Sound bites are factual things said by someone being reported by the news.  But can they be slanted by the news media?  Yes.  And it was a former national news reporter who first told me that.  The other thing that newspapers and TV news can do is select what is reported.  One of the things I have learned from some of my news paper reporting friends is the saying “If it bleeds, it leads”.  Sensational news tends to get reported on the front page or as the lead story.  Other news is reported on the back page or not at all.  TV news shows which are relatively short, also have no choice but to be selective.  And what gets reported and where can slant the news.  So even though news media is reporting “only facts” can they be distorted and not balanced?  Absolutely!!

So if the news media are not doing what they claim – why?  The first problem the news media is that the Universities they hire journalism students from have all ready inundated them with a single point of view.  (and we are more comfortable with people who think like we do.)  The Universities, in general tend to be more left-wing than they used to be. The worst areas are probably outside the Business and Scientific degree areas.  In science, there is enough information to cover that their might not be time for a lot of policy discussion. The faculty may be too busy attempting to give them the whole scientific picture.  In business there is still considerable conservative thinking.  But since the Federal Government has become responsible for the macro-economy (in the 1930’s and 40’s) Economic departments can have political positions in the area of Macro-economics.  But still today, the most open political opinions probably come from areas where the Journalism Schools are.  So big news media tend to hire Journalism majors as news reporters who tend to report the news in line with their thinking, so the news may be distorted without their necessarily realizing it.

The second problem papers have that reporters know how to write, but don’t know much about the subjects they are writing about.  When I was an under-grad in college we had to take mostly required courses in our 1st two years.  The required courses included some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) courses.  So graduates – regardless of major – had at least an introduction to science and math.  But, I think, Universities have mostly done away with those required freshman and sophomore courses.  The colleges have gotten more competitive is recent years and this probably helps attracting students. So the chances are good that most of the journalist majors haven’t had any education in those subjects.  Most of today’s political issues are in these subject areas.  So I decided sometime ago that the journalists knew how to write, but did not know much about the subjects they were writing about.  If that’s the case, then they don’t have the knowledge to ask the right questions or make a reasonable evaluation of the answers.

The third problem is that the big news media is under considerable competitive and financial pressure.  The newspapers and TV media have to make money to survive.  Private ownership should make them independent of government politics and more balanced.    But in today’s high-tech world they have a lot of competition with cable and satellite TV (not to mention social media).  Revenue comes from being able to draw viewers and readers.  Sensational stories are thought to do this and I wouldn’t argue with that assumption.  Costs for newspapers include paper, ink and staff.  The daily papers are getting thinner which saves costs.  Even the Wall Street Journal is getting thinner.  Some that may be loss of ads with more on-line shopping.  But with the idea that sensationalism sells news papers and draws TV viewers,  news has become more sensational and less informative on the issues that matter.   Because of reduced space in newspapers there is less “why” reporting.  TV news has always been constrained by time, so there has never been much “why” reporting.  But it’s become more “sensational” as well.

I don’t know what the fix for all this is.  If you have any ideas, please let me know.




eM (

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The Perils of Everyone Thinking Alike – Part 2

If you read part one when it was 1st published, it’s pretty obvious that I wasn’t a Journalism major.  I have recently made changes to correct sentence structure, spelling, and some wording to make it more readable and understandable.  But I did not change the basic thrust that I think Universities today are of one mind and not allowing diverse opinions and “free speech”.  The second article was written by a man named Gary Abernathy who is Publisher and Editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette.  I have never been there, but apparently Hillsboro is a small town (~6,600 pop.) in Southern Ohio.  The area went heavily Republican in the recent Presidential election.

Because they strongly supported Trump in the election they have become a confounding factor to “Big Media”.  His starting assumptions is that “Big Media” is far left in it’s thinking and could not understand how the people in the area voted the way they did.  So (mainly BBC) were sent to Hillsboro and set up shop.  He thinks they probably expected to find “racist, misogynist, and uneducated” people – a collection of “hillbilly’s”.  Instead he says they found residents who are”welcoming, industrious, smart, interesting” and “opinionated”.  He thinks people there are well-informed and ready to defend their politics while still respecting the opinions of visitors with different view points.  He thinks that the people who spent time there probably left without changing their political views, but they liked the people and probably changed their views on the people they met and respected them.  It sounded like he would like to thank them for coming.

The story reminded me of an experience that I had in the “real world” when I was much younger and not long out of college.  I grew up in a small town in Florida, but was a new (ROTC grad) 2nd Lt.  in the Basic Artillery Officer training course in Ft. Sill, OK . (Just outside of Lawton, OK.)  The class room material was reasonably technical – required some physics and math to fully understand.  There was a Marine Lt. from a base in Cal. who – in class – seemed like one of the smarter students.  In Lawton, OK there is not a lot to do on Saturday night (we had Sunday off) and so the first couple of Saturday nights a group of us ended up in a bar at the local Ramada Inn.  We were about the only people in the place so we ended up talking to each other.  Since this was a presidential election year (the election was only about 6 months away) the conversation turned to politics.  It took only a few minutes for me to realize that this Marine Lt and I disagreed on most of the political issues of the day.  I could not figure out how he arrived at his positions – they seemed totally illogical to me.  But he seemed like a smart guy, so how could he come to such “dumb” conclusions.  But we had little else to do and I was curious about how he got to his conclusions.  So I started asking him “why?”  Why do you think that?  It had taken only a few minutes to understand what he thought but it took several hours to understand “why?”.

Once I understood “why”, I realized that growing up was a whole difference experience for us.  His experience growing up was a lot different than mine.  He grew up in a working class neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA.  I grew up in a small town in central Florida ( population about 9,000).   Philadelphia was much bigger, had big industries which employed a lot of working class people.  My home town had no big industry, but mostly farmers, cattle ranchers, and shop keepers.  The starting point (what I came to call “beginning assumptions”) for both of our conclusion was our experience growing up.  His experiences growing formed the start of his logic that justified his political positions. his conclusions were perfectly logical once I understood his starting point. (He was probably as smart as I thought he was from class).  I learned some life long lessons from this experience.  While I did not change my basic positions, I learned some things from his experience and realized that neither of us could prove that what we thought was the right alternatives for the country as a whole.  And we became good friends.

Big media people showed up in Hillsboro because they wondered “why” people thought what they thought.  The “what” they thought in the election was pretty obvious from the election vote counts.  It’s interesting that not all of the big media companies showed up there.  So not everybody wanted to know “why”.  But knowing “why” someone comes to the conclusions or supports the things they support are how we learn things.  They know things that we don’t know and/or they have thought of things we haven’t thought of – like unintended or possibly undesirable consequences.  They have different beginning assumptions because they have experiences that we haven’t had.  And given their beginning assumptions, there conclusions are perfectly logical.  We understand them.  Stephen Covey’s best-selling book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, habit 5 is “Seek First to Understand – then be Understood.  I agree with Covey, if we first try to understand where other people are “coming from” and why they think the way they do then we have a chance of them hearing our point of view.

Before I read Covey’s book, I thought the moral of my story was that if we are willing to understand that people who have different view than we have is because they have had different experiences than we have.  We may not change our opinion, but we can learn things and be friends.  So the “why” people have the positions that they have may be more important than “what” those positions are.  But we need to be willing to take the time to understand and listen to them.

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The Perils of Everyone Thinking Alike – Part 1

There were recently several articles in papers that I thought dealt with the same basic subject – “How did we get so polarized?”  Of the three that I would like to comment on in the next three parts to this blog, two were in the The Wall Street Journal (which recently had several articles that I thought dealt with the same basic subject).  The third was in our local paper – The Tulsa World – but was written by a man from Hillsboro, Ohio.  The first WSJ article was an op-ed article written by a John M. Ellis who it says is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  The headline of his piece was “Higher Education’s Deeper Sickness”.  He started with the observation that even “moderate-to conservative speakers coming to college campuses can trigger “near riots”.  This is the symptom, but “what then is the disease?  the problem he thinks is that “in most humanities and social science departments – especially those central to a liberal education, such as history, english and political science ” students hear only one opinion.  And the more people hear only one opinion, the more “incoherent and irrational” they will become.  He says “more than half of the spectrum of political and social ideas has been banished from the classroom, and what remains has degenerated as a result.”  So “no matter how many statements supporting free speech are released” it doesn’t matter.  He believes that higher education must involve learning to evaluate competing ideas, to analyze the pros and cons of rival arguments and concepts.  So treating only the symptoms of student unrest is pointless,  so how do we treat the disease?  If this is the problem, the obvious answer is to get more diversity of opinion on campus.  But how do we do that?

I agree with his conclusion that higher education needs to include different ideas.  It needs to teach people to think, and that is dependent on analyzing different viewpoints of rational alternatives.  And accepting and analyzing different view points is not happening like it should on college campuses today.  Free speech should be not just a publication statement – it should be what all on campus believe and practice.  But I don’t agree with how he thinks we got to this point.  He seems to think that it has happened by design and by a plot of the “radical left”.   I don’t think it was a plot, but by a couple of natural and unintended causes.  First is the fact that we are more comfortable with people we agree with and are like us.  So if more department heads have progressed to be liberal thinkers, they are more likely to hire people who think like they do.

The other problem is that Universities have become very competitive in the last few years and the rating groups and ratings more important.  When I was in school, there were several professors who did not have phd degrees and had worked outside of college or even if they did have phd’s,  they had worked in the private sector for a while.  These were generally my best professors.  The rating agencies today apparently count only doctorate degrees in making their ratings.  But one doesn’t stop learning when one gets out of the classroom.  The “real world” may have some of the best lessons.  But I think because of the competition for students and the rating agencies only counting classroom work, that colleges today are much more prone to hire only people with Dr’s degrees and it doesn’t matter if they haven’t done anything out of the classroom.  In the “real world” outside the classroom you are guaranteed to have differences of opinion and learn that there are no guarantees and – regardless of logic – there are no one guaranteed way to do things.  And sometimes things that you don’t think will work – work well.  So having people who don’t have anything but classroom experience and who are “like us” probably results in a single mind- set faculty.  And today’s is probably left – of – center with all the problems that he cites.  Our college education system would probably be better off with a lot more divergence of opinion and experience that we have today.  It was not a plot that got us here, but how we get out is an interesting problem.  Since we are more comfortable “with people like us” it’s probably not going to happen without outside intervention of some kind.  But some of the other Wall Street Journal articles would help us in that direction if they had more “popular news” support.

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Liberals and Conservatives – Pt. 2

There’s an old saying:  “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”   I used to think that meant that I did not do something that I intended to do and maybe promised someone that I would do.  Then more recently I decided that it probably happens when I do something that I may have promised, but the action results in unintended consequences.  Politicians make a lot of promises to voters that they will do things to help them. But it’s hard to avoid unintended consequences.

When it comes to social issues, Liberals make lots of well-intended promises.  There is often more than one way to fulfill these promises.  But not understanding or thinking through the economic effects of how one addresses these social issues, often causes things that could be avoided.   Conservatives, on the other hand are frequently accused of not doing being motivated to do things that help people.  They want to do things that help the economy but are not specifically aimed at helping people who need help.  We would probably be better off if the two sides would work together.  Helping the economy may not always help the people who need help the most.  On the other hand, trying to help people without considering the economic effects often leads to unintended consequences.  And sometimes people just need to be motivated to help themselves.

Walter Williams who is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes a syndicated column, had a recent column in the local paper.  In it he goes through the  possible economic effects of raising the minimum wage from $10 per hour to $15 per hour.  He points out that a person making minimum wage of $10 per hour makes about $21,000 per year which is “no great shakes”.  But it’s an honest job above the poverty line in most areas, and requires a minimum of skills.  In today’s world many jobs can and are being replaced by automation, and he cites a few.  There is a good possibility that if the minimum wage was raised to $15 per hour that it would give company’s more incentive to automate the work, and the number of jobs would be fewer.  While some people would make more money, a lot would not have jobs at all.  So if some people are helped, but a lot of others hurt, how compassionate is that?  The supporter of a higher minimum wage may have the best of intentions, but it may not be the best way to improve the most lives.  The best way to help people have more money would be to have them qualified for more than a minimum skilled job.  And according to things I see in the news, a lot of companies are having trouble finding people with the skills they need.

In case you are wondering about his logic  (He’s dealing in micro-economics which my good friend and economics professor told me – several years ago – not as important as Macro – economics, but I took his course in Micro anyway and have used it much more than macro in nearly 40 years of work in industry.  But I haven’t been interviewed like he has by news media on actions by the Fed and congress.)  An article in the Wall Street Journal the first of July talked about Seattle, Washington which a few rears ago raise its minimum wage from $9.47 to $13 per hour as a first step to $15 per hour.  Since then, a Washington University study found that, on average, workers getting a raise in hourly dollars had their incomes fall by a net $125 per month because employers cut their work hours.  Another Wall Street Journal in last May, had a story about a steel mill being built in Ashland, Kentucky.  The average pay at the plant will start at $50,000 per year and average $70,000 per year – about twice the median house hold income in Ashland.  It is located in Ashland because labor is available and Kentucky is a “right-to-work” state – so they could not have unions and union rules.  A lot of people in these areas voted for Trump because he promised to get industry back in their area.  But union’s usually support Liberal Democrats because they want higher wages and more rules.  With this and new technology, it is expected to be competitive with international steel companies where most of the steel production has gone over the last several decades.  I don’t think that Trump should get any credit for this plant, but the well-intentioned union should not either.

Apparently a lot of people making minimum wage are working in the food industry.  In San Francisco a lot of restaurants went out of business when the minimum wage went up.  (As reported in the news) So this is not “greed” on the part of the business owner, it’s survival.  An article in the local paper last week said that although Americans like American products if asked, they will by foreign imports if they are cheaper.  They will buy lower priced products regardless of where they are made.  So if company is using a lot of minimum wage workers whose price went up, they would have to look for ways to cut costs to stay competitive.   It’s not necessarily “greed”, it’s “survival”, and low prices – and more jobs, help all of us.

A better way to help minimum wage workers would be to give them skills for a better paying job or make them more productive in the job they are in.  Industry – according to the news media – is having problems with finding skilled workers.  The answer is not necessarily more people attending college.  I heard a guy speak recently who is with a company that trains air plane mechanics.  The training takes some time, but the time and cost are much less than college costs and the Airlines have a shortage of mechanics.  The starting pay is $20 per hour (about $42,000 per year, which is probably comparable to a lot of college grads) and with some experience that can increase to $100,000 a year or higher .  If one’s intentions are to help people with low pay jobs, that sounds like a much better alternative to me.  But to get there would involve some discussions of both well-meaning conservatives who know something about economics and liberals interested in helping people do better.  It’s not so much a matter of wanting to help people, but which is the better alternative.  And we probably won’t get there, today or tomorrow, unless liberals and conservatives start talking to each other.


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Liberals and Conservatives – the Differences? (pt. 1)

There have been several opinion pieces lately that say we have become too tribal.  The tribes seem to be called “Democrats and Republicans”.   A lot of us do not fit very comfortably into either tribe.   But I think there are definitely two tribes and most of us are forced into identifying with one or the other.  On the one hand, tribes are a natural kind of thing because we are all most comfortable with people like us.  Groups of people who associate with each other and talk to each other eventually tend to think alike and draw the same conclusions.  This is true of people in the same professions, and have the same associates on a regular basis.  I once heard a manager of a news network say that people who reported Washington news inside the beltway tended to go to the same press conferences, but they also went to the same bars and the same restaurants.  In that environment, one starts to believe that everyone should think like you do.  After awhile they could not understand why anyone outside the beltway thought differently than they did.  In the 1970’s and early 80’s I saw the same thing with people working in the oil patch in the mid-continent area.  They could not understand why people on the East coast had different conclusions than they did – many of these folks had bumper stickers that read “Let the Bastards freeze in the dark”.

Most of the issues that we have today have no perfect solutions.  We need to understand the pluses and minuses of each potential solution.  To do this I think we need to listen and have open discussions with each other.  But who encourages us to do this?  Not the news media.  The front page stories and the lead stories on TV news are the sensational stories.  With most of  the political stories they do a pretty good job answering who? (said what), what? (did they say), when? and where? (did they say it).  But if it’s a political position the most important thing is why? (have they come to that conclusion).  “Why?” is usually a longer explanation than the news media has space and time for.  The op-ed page of the paper usually gets more in-depth.  But most columnist have a “tribe” and on most issues they have an opinion and they may say “why”.  However, with many, their emphasis is to convince the reader of their conclusions, so they only present stuff that supports their opinion.  There are a few syndicated columnist who have the knowledge and the desire to give the reader the pluses and minuses of both sides of a possible set of solutions and I try to find those, but on a lot of days there aren’t any.

In fairness to the news media, we need to recognize that they are in an incredibly competitive environment.  News papers seem to be going out of business and TV news channels have many competitors for the same advertising dollar.  Not only that, but the internet is a constant source of news stories.  In order to survive, news papers need people to buy their papers and pay for ads.  “If it bleeds, it leads” has been something I’ve heard from my newspaper friends for a long time.  Sensational stories help sell news papers.  And today, most papers that I see are, understandably, trying to save money.  Fewer pages in the paper, less ink, and fewer staff all effect their ability to survive.  Answering the “why” question takes time and space and will not often attract more readers.  Nightly TV news is only 30 minutes for most stations – 20 minutes with advertising.  That isn’t enough time for much more than headlines.  And the reporters no doubt spend the most of their time with each other, so they are probably a “tribe” of their own.

There was an op-ed piece in the paper today by a lady who is probably Democratic, but is usually pretty balanced.  Near the first of her piece she says that she thinks our country has slipped from our founding values of a democracy toward “authoritarianism  and mob rule”.  I was with her at this point.  But before she is done, she has taken more shots at the Conservative right than the Liberal left.  But the fact is we’re all in this together and we need to work together.  Taking shots at each other is not the answer.  She defines what she thinks are the social issues all Liberals believe in and what Conservatives don’t seem to support.  Interestingly,  she makes no mention of economic issues, but she does say that she thinks colleges have gone too far toward shutting down non-liberal speech to which they disagree.  She on the whole I think, has tried to be fair, but she seems to think that the term republicans is synonymous with conservatism and all democrats are part of the same liberal tribe.   I think this is an oversimplification.  Economic and social issues are often connected,  and we need to understood how they are or aren’t related.  I’ve thought about how I think Liberals and Conservatives differ, and they may not be as much as a lot of us think.

Several years ago I was sitting at diner with a man who asked, “Was I a Liberal or a Conservative?”  I told him that I did not like stereotypes but if he had an issue he would like to discuss, I would be happy to give him my opinion.  He asked again, “Are you a liberal or a Conservative?”.  I told him again that I really did not want to be stereotyped, but if he had an issue he wanted to discuss, I would be happy to tell him what I thought.  We never did get to an issue, but he said to me that he had some friends who said that they were conservative on economic issues, and liberal on social issues.  I have thought about that since then and I think that would fit a lot of us.  I don’t think many of my Liberal friends would be too upset if we managed to balance the Federal budget as long as we did not take help away from people who need it.  Most of the conservatives I know would like to help people who need it.  The majority of us may agree more than we think about a lot of things, but our emphasis is different.  Some think it’s more important to keep the economy in line, and some think it’s better to focus on social issues.  But the two things are inter-related in many ways and maybe we should look at both together.

The news media stereotypes people and our two political parties.  Stereotyping tends to drive people into tribes.  We believe that people in the opposite tribe are against us and so there is not much discussion.  The assumption is that people from the other tribe don’t care what we think – they won’t listen and understand.  But we are all in this together, and we need to listen to each other and understand “why” people may think what they think.  If we did, I believe we would end up with better alternatives and be closer together.



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The Racial Monument that Probably Should be Demolished

The South after the Civil War had an economic crisis.  The Plantations on which the Black Slaves were employed were pretty much destroyed by the war.  There were probably not enough other jobs to accommodate the population.  The white soldiers were pretty much treated as criminals and any money that was made was probably made by the carpet baggers.  Fortunately by the turn of the century, reconstruction was over and things had stabilized somewhat.  In the early 1900’s the automobile was invented.  The south was segregated by schools and living space, but Blacks were allowed to compete with Whites for jobs.  My Mother’s family moved from Knoxville, Tennessee to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1920. They still had relatives in Knoxville and they went back to visit some.  They had a car, but I remember her telling me that a lot of the highways were dirt roads and not good.  But the cars had brought a challenge to government to improve the infrastructure.  Roads needed to be paved for the automobiles.  That brought jobs for Black laborers – at least in the South – working for contractors who paved roads.

I was not really familiar with the Davis-Bacon act passed by the U. S. congress in 1931 until George Will had a piece on the Op. Ed. page of the local paper last week.  It appears that the Davis-Bacon act was passed in 1931 to protect Union Labor from Black Labor.  Will’s column says:

Davis-Bacon was enacted in 1931 to require construction contractors to pay “prevailing wages” on federal contracts.   Generally this means paying union wage scales.  It was enacted as domestic protectionism, largely to protect organized labor from Competition by African-Americans who often were excluded from union membership but who were successfully competing for jobs by being willing to work for lower wages.

It seems that US Rep.  Robert Bacon – a Long Island Republican was upset because in 1927 the low bidder for a construction project in his area was an Alabama contractor who used black labor.  The law was passed in 1931 with the support of the American Federation of Labor.  Will said that the congressional debate on the law is “replete with references to “unattached migratory workmen”, “itinerant labor”, “cheap bootleg labor”, and “labor lured from distant paces for competition with white labor throughout the country.”  Will also says that:

In 1931, the unemployment rate of blacks was approximately the same as the rate for the general population.  Davis-Bacon is one reason the rate for blacks began to deviate adversely .  In 1932 there were about 3,500 workers building what became Hoover Dam.  Never more than thirty were black.

The law is still in effect today and in 2011 a Heritage Foundation study estimated that the Davis-Bacon law would add about $11 billion to that year’s construction costs.  If we increase infrastructure spending in the next few years, it will add even more at a time we should be trying to decrease our deficit.  And it was apparently introduced by a Northerner for racially biased reasons.   That might be one historic monument that could be destroyed.  And who would have thought that a Northerner from Long Island would ever had any racial bias.  But in fact, we are all biased in some way, which is why there are numerous articles being written today saying that our society has become Tribal. We like to associate with people like us – either based on political thinking or race, or religion, etc.  We are in different “tribes” which can lead us to not get along.  But the way to getting along is not for one tribe to attack another, but to sit down with a “peace pipe” and to talk and understand each other.  Attacking people’s monuments and beliefs without understanding how they think or feel and why, will only lead to fighting.  I think we can learn a lot from each other.  If we understand each other and why we might believe as we do.  We might be able to distinguish fact from theory – what can be proved and what is only opinion.  And because a lot of things are based on theories, we might continue to disagree.  But we would still be friends.

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Secession from the Union of States is Legal?

One of my favorite syndicated columnist is Walter Williams who is a Black Economics Professor at George Mason University.  He apparently wrote a column several weeks ago on the dismantling of Confederate Monuments.  I was not in town to get the paper that ran the article, but apparently he is against the abolishment of the monuments.  In the past week he reported that his column generated quite a bit of mail.   Some of the responses apparently said that there “should not be statues honoring traitors such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis, who fought against the Union”.  In this week’s column he addresses the question, “Did the South have a right to secede from the Union?”.  If it did, he thinks that the confederate generals should not be labeled as traitors.

He presents a pretty good case for the Southern States having a right to secede, starting with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which recognized the thirteen colonies as “independent states”.   Apparently at the Constitutional Convention there was a discussion about whether the states should be allowed to secede or not.  The result was not to write into the Union papers any prohibition against, or punishment for, secession.   The first threat of secession was apparently in 1803 by the New England States who were upset over the Louisiana Purchase.  A Massachusetts senator wrote that “The principles of our revolution point to the remedy – a separation”, and ” that the people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West.”  The call for secession was shared by other prominent Americans including John Quincy Adams.  On the eve of the Civil War in 1861 many unionist politicians saw secession as the right of states, and many Northern newspapers editorialized in favor the South’s right to secede.

Growing up in the South, I never heard some of the evidence he puts forth.  I guess I grew up thinking it’s legality was a question, but there was not a lot of discussion of that.  I had ancestors who fought in the war and who may not have owned saves (one became a Christian minister after the war).  I believe they were all thought, by those who knew them, as “good people”.  I don’t believe that they thought that the Confederate States did anything illegal by seceding.  And they, or their children, never saw themselves as traitors.  They were fighting for their homeland, and the right to solve their own problems.  But if Walter is right that secession was legal, then the Union must have started the war – not the South.  I always have heard that the war started in Charleston, S.C. when Confederate Troops fired on the Union Army in Ft. Sumter.  But if Walter Williams is right, then they had a right to do that because the Union should have vacated the Fort.

But growing up in the South, I believed that people were glad that we did not leave the Union.  The United States of America is a great country, and it would probably not have been so great if the states had not stayed together.  I had relatives who fought in the U.S. army in WWII and believed in their country even though their ancestors were Southerners who fought for the Confederacy.   As Walter Williams pointed out, history is written by the victors and often “does not reflect the facts”.  At least it’s not all the facts and it’s not always balanced.  And the ones that they remember are those that support their position.  Reconstruction tended to treat the people who fought for the South as Traitors and Criminals so I was brought up to believe.  The people who fought for the confederacy might have been wrong, but they were not criminals or traitors.  And I think Walter Williams is right, they did not think they were doing anything illegal.

A book review in this week’s Wall Street Journal there was a review of a new book about Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty).  The review was written by another writer of history – W. H. Hay.  Hay said that before the 1970’s, books on Jefferson “treated him with sympathy and celebrated his enlightenment ideals”.  Then in the mid – 1970’s a book by Fawn Brodie “changed Jefferson’s public image by highlighting his relationship with slave Sally Hemings”.  After that writers started characterizing  Jefferson differently.  Mostly as a “slave-owning elitist whose class interest as a Virginia Planter, trumped his egalitarian rhetoric.””  In the book under review, John Boles, a history professor at Rice University, offers a series of arguments, based on the  standards of Jefferson’s day, that he should be viewed differently.  In fact, much of what he did went against the accepted standards of the day.  What he did was bold for his time and he should be appreciated for much of what he did.  (P.S. Jefferson was also the President who made the Louisiana Purchase, which despite the fact that it was not liked by some of the Northerners helped make the U.S. what it is today)

History should be remembered with balance and in its entirety, and judgments should be made relative to the standards of the time – not today’s standards.  And at some point, you need to let the past go and move on.  I think the monuments should stand and it’s time to move on.

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