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"You can report on whichever aspect of this you want, although the resulting story is probably more reflective of the culture of the reporter than that of the afflicted country."

" Our new Government is founded upon…the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. "


Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861

First, he makes it fairly clear that the Civil War was fought over slavery, even though there were no promising federal proposals to abolish it at the time.

The entire “cornerstone speech” is here, and well worth reading in full, because there are other points he raises that are still being debated, beyond the issue of slavery.

One of the things most fascinating to me about the speech is the rejection of the idea of national common wealth and federal rules or regulations, which dovetails in many ways with today’s conservatism. The idea of subjecting all commerce and improvements to local municipalities is, in my mind, counter to the idea of the United States being an actual cohesive nation (which was likely intentional, as the CSA was to be a confederation of states), and seems to me the basis for claims that the Civil War was about states’ rights.

States’ rights, however, were not the foundation of the revolt, but rather a conservative cause that was written into the new constitution, on par with presidential term limits, unrestricted corporatism (under a different name at the time, of course), and allowing cabinet officials to debate in the new congress. It is fascinating that most of those issues are still key conservative causes today.

Destroying the federal government’s power has risen and fallen in importance as a conservative goal for decades and decades, but has always been debated. Grover Norquist has been the most outspoken recent proponent, and his Club for Growth has succeeded in making it an integral part of the GOP’s mainstream base concerns today.

To me, this is nothing other than an “anti-patriotism,” and an idea that holds our entire country back from being as great as it really can be. It cripples our capability and willingness to respond to national crises, alienates whole communities from each other, undermines our health policies, and exacerbates our fiscal problems.

This is why I am opposed to nuclear power in the US. It’s not because I’m opposed to nuclear power per se, but because Congress and the GOP continue to undermine the federal government’s power to regulate. Comparing our regulatory abilities to those of Japan, I simply do not believe nuclear facilities in the US will be properly maintained over the long term.

This approach to government needs to be finally called what it is: destructive, anarchic, and frankly anti-American.


Social solidarity & cultural civility

I’ve seen several mentions today of how civil the Japanese have been during these past few days, along with questions about why there are no scenes of looting. While the preparation and response in Japan is impressive, something about these comments doesn’t sit right, and not only because the crisis in Japan is only about four days old.

I don’t believe the looting we’ve seen in the past stems from cultural issues, but societal ones, which are very different things, yet comparisons have tended to be cultural.

Looting is more likely to occur when groups of people feel they have been abandoned or trapped and anarchy has resulted, or simply when desperate people are afraid of starving or dying of exposure. After Katrina, we had the first situation, along with a bit of the second. After the Haiti earthquake, we had both in full force.

The devastation in Japan has been horrific, but their stable society so far has fortunately not become anarchic. The huge amounts of poverty in Haiti, and in New Orleans for that matter, by comparison to Japan, make those societies much closer to anarchy and revolt (and looting) even without an earthquake or flood. A society’s relationship with its government is also extremely important. Looting is more likely if people believe their government is corrupt and not trustworthy—both valid beliefs in New Orleans and Haiti—and if there is either a real or perceived history of government oppression.

For the first several days after both of these events in the Americas, people worked hard to rescue and to help each other. As I recall it took several days for desperation and fear to set in; along with this came the realization that sufficient outside help could not or would not come, residents were trapped, and the government had essentially broken down. At that point most major looting and violence began.

I expect to see many columns and articles in the coming weeks about how civil the Japanese are, relative to the devastation in Haiti or New Orleans, and most are likely to be thinly veiled racist comparisons between cultures, instead of the actual societies in which people live. To look at past disasters and suggest that less-prepared, less-stable, less-equal, less-wealthy societies should expect to engage a similarly coordinated response to the Japanese is simply foolish.

Cultural civility lies in the preparation for the common good before the disaster and supporting each other afterward. Recalling how many people all around this country, including several even in Congress, called for abandoning New Orleans immediately after Katrina suggests that the amount of social solidarity and concern for the common good in this country is, sadly, quite low.


It’s still not clear how they confused a dance club with a nuclear power plant.

Following the March 11, 2011 earthquake in Japan, this terrified giant panda grabs the leg of a policeman.