Thursday, May 30, 2013

Updating the Trends on Iran

For starters, the people there are still screwed by a Khamenei dictatorship that basically hand-picks puppet Presidential candidates.  Hell, at least here in the U.S. we go through a pretense of GOP primaries before getting the same result (puppets for Fox Not-News that is), but still...

As for my once-incredibly popular Iran: Day Six article, having changed the URL from killed its' traffic.  So I gotta restart it.  Here, Google Stats (whistles) Here boy, good puppy!  Gimme my traffic back...

Just in case, lemme re-insert the photos that made it such a hit:

College Roommates funny pic Iran

Cat Solidarity for Iran

Axe Spray for Rioters
I've got several more:
In Honor of Tank Guy

Iranian Lady In Black Will Eff You Up Man

and for some reason this one got a lot of hits:
Obama Pranking on Rush
Oh yeah this one will never get old.... >:-)


And to the Iranian people: I'm real sorry your political leadership has to kow-tow to a moron like Khamenei.  Unless you can get 50,000 Revolutionary Guards to walk away from the jerkass, he's protected... :(

Peace to you, people.  I know it's not you: it's Khamenei and his paid cronies.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Three Things to Note About Rick Scott As We Gear Up for 2014

1) He's still a total douche towards in-need people like the elderly, low-income families, victims of domestic abuse and kids.

2) No, really, he's a total douche towards the unemployed forcing them to jump through so many hoops and pass so many requirements and all the while cutting back on benefits from 26 weeks (much needed considering long-term unemployment is a REAL AND SCARY thing) to 12 weeks (think you can find a good job in 12 weeks after getting down-sized?  Even with unemployment down to single-digits in the state, that's not nearly enough time...).

3) He's focused on gutting the corporate income tax that will benefit more companies but at the expense of revenues our state still needs.  So, all in all, keeps him in douche territory.

The 2014 gubernatorial election cycle can't come fast enough.  I hope to God the Democrats field a strong candidate and I hope to God people try to remember this time around that RICK SCOTT IS A MEDICARE FRAUD!  /headdesk

Sunday, May 26, 2013

I Think By Changing My URL I Just Killed My Traffic

Oh lordy people, please note I've dropped the address and switched it to the new  The keyword searching should remain the same!

...oh wait, people may have actually linked to the older articles still stuck to that URL.  Oh NOES...


Presidential Character: Week Eighteen, Good Men Don't Always Make Good Presidents

You would think - or you would want - a good man to serve as our nation's leader.  But 'good' is a broad term: it covers such concepts as decent, friendly, amenable, just; it also covers such concepts as capable, competent, effective which may require skills that the earlier concepts cannot perform.

Some of our nation's best Presidents had to them a level of ruthlessness.  Obviously they all had some ambition - even the Passive-Negative who runs for the office out of a sense of obligation has a competitive urge to win - to achieve the office.  And in office even our 'good' Presidents wrestled on the political battleground against their enemies, winning with more than a little finesse and a lot of trickery.  These are traits - ambition, deceit - that are not often described as 'good' and yet they get the job done.

The inverse is just as sad: some of our nation's worst Presidents were on a personal level and even at a profession level 'good' in terms of being decent, honorable men.  They were just lousy at politics; and worse, such as the case of Ulysses Simpson Grant our 18th President, they were horrifically inept at choosing their political allies.

Grant rose from obscurity through an appointment to West Point working towards a career in the military.  He wasn't the best graduate out of the Army academy but did well making friends.  Grant served with distinction during the Mexican-American War (although a higher-ranking Robert E. Lee once berated him for inappropriate attire, one of Grant's little quirks), but couldn't handle working the frontier separated from his wife and family and fell into depression and the drink.  Drummed out, he tried farming but failed, tried business but failed, ended up by May 1860 working as a clerk in his younger brothers' shop in Galena, Illinois.  He was one of those men whose heart was good but just couldn't find a place in the world.

When the Civil War began he was the only one in his community with a West Point background, which quickly made him the only qualified man to organize the local volunteers and offer up his services to the governor's office.  He promptly got placed in charge of an unruly regiment he drilled into shape, and then led that regiment into a handful of skirmishes on the Western theater of war that resulted in victories and for him higher promotions.

His unexpectedly decisive victories at Forts Henry and Donelson - which essentially secured most of western Tennessee for the Union and key defensive points on the rivers needed to travel into Confederate states - made Grant a national hero.  Where the war was floundering in Virginia, Grant was securing victories along the Mississippi River (the key to the Anaconda Plan that eventually won the war for the Union).  Even the setback of Shiloh - a surprise Confederate attack that turned from debacle to bloodied victory for Grant's forces over a two-day battle - was temporary.  Once other generals proved incapable compared to what Grant could do - well-organized, sustained attacks under confident conditions; well-organized stubborn defensives that Grant could turn into a battlefield win - he was back in charge with even more armies at his command.

His masterwork of the Vicksburg campaign - cutting himself off from direct supplies, marching through enemy territory with drive unmatched by his Confederate opponents, laying siege on the last key stronghold of Vicksburg to secure the whole length of the Mississippi River for Union forces - led to Grant getting placed in charge of the whole U.S. armed force.  He spent some time finishing up some work on the Western theater - to ensure his trusted colleague Sherman had a strong position from which to finish the job there - before focusing his attention on the Virginia theater, where general after general failed to capture General Lee's forces or at least drive the Confederates out of their own capitol in Richmond.

Grant succeeded against Lee from 1864 onward where the earlier generals failed because of one thing: Grant did not treat a battlefield loss like a disaster.  Confident that he had the men and resources, Grant did not retreat the second Lee's forces bloodied his: while this led to bloodier battlefields, it meant Lee could not enjoy a moment of rest or time to restock on men and material.  Grant also saw a bigger picture: as long as he tied down Lee's army in Virginia, Sherman's forces in Tennessee were free to march into Georgia... and then through Georgia in a move that shredded even more of the South's infrastructure and ability to support their own war efforts.  It was messy but it got the job done: by March 1865 Grant had stretched Lee's defenses at Petersburg to where a frontal assault on April 2nd broke Lee's entire army.  Richmond had to be abandoned.  Two weeks later Lee surrendered to Grant.

Grant ended the war a national hero.  He served as capably as possible as head of the armies during the Johnson administration - even serving as interim Secretary of War during the dust-up involving Stanton - before going on to be the Republican candidate for President in 1868 and winning handily over a Democratic Party still demoralized by the Civil War.

And sad to say for Grant and for the nation it was all downhill from there.  There's a reason why before Watergate Grant's tenure was considered the most scandalous in American history.

Grant's Cabinet appointments - some of them personal acquaintances from his days in Galena - were either driven from office for corruption or conflict-of-interest charges within three months.  Pro-business allies of the Republican Party dealt with government cronies all through the executive and legislative offices to get insider information, with those cronies enjoying kickbacks and favors.  Read up on the Union Pacific Railroad.  Look up Whiskey Ring.  Most damaging was how Grant's brother-in-law got involved with Jay Gould's attempt to corner the gold market.  It crashed the economy, and a lot of people were ruined by it.

Grant's history and habits make a decent case for his having a Passive-Positive character.  Just his getting enrolled at West Point alone makes the case: when a clerical error had his name changed from Hiram Ulysses to Ulysses Simpson (Simpson being his mother's maiden name), Grant didn't correct the error and lived with it (another such person was Eisenhower).  Even more so, his classmates nicknamed him "Uncle Sam" from his new U.S. initials... and later more favorably called him just "Sam".  And he didn't mind one whit what his friends called him.

This is Compliant behavior: someone who seeks friendship and to be loved.  But the chart on the four types shows a serious negative trait about this behavior: Pass-Pos Presidents can be easily manipulated.

Grant presided over a time when "anything goes" was the motto of business.  Government contracts to be had for the asking: a stock market unregulated and ripe for abuse.  The Spoils System of the Democrats carried over to the Republicans who relished in the power and money and none of the responsibility.  The urban legend was that Grant was so swamped at the Willard Hotel lobby (Grant liked to go there to get a whiskey and cigar) with job-seekers that he took to calling them "lobbyists" (actually, the word origin came from British Parliament of the 1600s).

Grant himself personally didn't profit from any of these dealings - in fact post-administration he got burned by a couple of con artists that left his family broke on the eve of his finding out he had inoperable cancer - but he was reacting more to the scandals than doing anything to stop them (another Pass-Pos trait).  It didn't help that he had a political party neck-deep in all that corruption, sharing power with a Congress that viewed him as a puppet, and with an opposition party in the Democrats so currently unpopular that the voters had nowhere to go to vote the crooks out.  It was a perfect storm of corrupt politics.

Worse, Grant's truest accomplishments in office - his handling of Reconstruction in the South and doing his best to ensure civil rights for freed Blacks - were not free of the corruption.  Attempts to get Blacks started on their own farms were twisted into land deals to others: the schools and colleges the Freedmen's Bureau opened across the South to help former slaves learn much-needed educations were left under-funded.  His greatest success - sending the army out against the Klan - wasn't consistently applied: by 1875 as the corruption of his administration pretty much fatigued the whole nation, Grant wasn't getting any pressure to stop a wave of violence engulfing Mississippi.  By 1877 the North did not care for civil rights anymore: the long-term ramifications of giving up on Reconstruction did not cross their minds... and we all got stuck with Jim Crow for 100 years while the Deep South - for Whites and Blacks - regressed into a backwater.

Grant's Presidential legacy remains a mess.  There is no excuse for it.  But what made it worse was the revisionist pro-Confederacy historians who wrote our nation's histories and biographies for the century following his term of office.  The saying is that "history is written by the winners" but the Lost Cause supporters - the losers - remain a clear exception to that: and in order to make their personal heroes - the slave-owning oligarchs, the Jefferson Davises, the post-war Klansmen - into saints those historians tarnished Grant's reputation - as a drunkard, as a butcher, as a corrupt politician - far lower than it deserved.

In that time, we as a nation needed a great President.  We instead got a good man... who just happened to be a terrible President.  'Tis the pity.  Grant deserves a better legacy.  Maybe if more people read his memoirs: it is considered, then and now, one of the best military and personal autobiographies ever wrote.  Project Gutenberg ebook link here.

Next Week: Bush the Lesser wasn't even the first President to win office by just one vote.  It was this guy...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Changing the Blog's Address to Match The Name

This can get messy.  Linking to this blog is through the URL name, so I'd have to get a lot of my fellow Hordians and associates to update their links on their sites (I just finished yelling at Emily to change the link's name at her site, now I'm thinking of doing this to her?  Sigh).

Anyway.  Has to be done, since the tenor of the site has changed, the URL needs to as well.

Working on it.  Don't be surprised if it gets worse... :insert foolish grin here:

UPDATE: This blog's address is now

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shorter Translation of Obama's Speech on Counter-Intel, Gitmo and GWOT

David Weigel at Slate broke it down pretty succinctly, but I can bring it down to one sentence.

"We as a nation are not going to reclaim our moral standing in the world until we stop listening to the fearmongers and we start focusing on pragmatic resolutions such as upholding our international treaties, closing down overseas detention cells used to hide our transgressions, respecting the rule of law to free the innocent and convict those found guilty in open courts, improving our intel to locate and isolate those who promote terrorism across the globe, and getting Congress to do the job IT has to do by passing the legislation our nation needs to get this all done."

Okay, it's a bit wordy but I promised to get it down into one sentence.

Monday, May 20, 2013

If a Scandal Fell In The Forest And No One Heard It, Would the GOP Still Impeach Obama?

Yes, because any excuse to impeach will do in the eyes of the Far Right wingnut brigade.

Basically, the Republican Party spent the last week screaming about three scandals - and even tried jumping on a "fourth" - claiming Obama was guilty as sin concerning Benghazi, the IRS auditing of Tea Party groups in 2010, and the Department of Justice going after AP News internal e-mails.

The nation basically bumped Obama's favorable numbers up by four points.  Maybe two points if you average it out.  In short, nobody's hating on Obama that hasn't been hating him already, and the middling group that wavers between Maybe/Maybe Not leaning more Maybe.

In the grand scheme of scandal-mongering that keeps the Beltway media well-fed outside of the election cycles, at what point does the media realize they've lost the narrative again and that they're out-of-step with the nation's majority?

'Cause last time the Beltway media types picked up on Scandal Fever while the rest of the nation yawned was in 1997-98, when the 4 years of Whitewater investigating turned up no criminal land-dealing but instead found a college-age intern with Clinton's body fluids on her dress.  As the GOP raced to impeachment, the nation sided with Clinton and voted more Democrats into Congress, essentially killing Newt Gingrich's career as Speaker (as well as his replacement Livingstone who didn't even have the joy of being Speaker longer than, what, 8 hours?).

I mean, in 2005 the downturn of Iraq into a Vietnamesque quagmire and the tragic mishandling of rescue and relief after Hurricane Katrina made the Bush the Lesser administration squirm a bit and suffer in popularity with the media types.  But that happened to sync with the nation's mood as Bush's popularity slid into the mid-20s.  Here, the media is all aflutter about Obama finally (Finally, say the scandal-mongers who live for such things)... and they're making the mistakes they made in 1998.

I can still remember Sam Donaldson, the aging Alpha Male leader of the White House press corps, openly predicting a Clinton resignation over the Lewinsky Affair by the end of the first week.  The media jumped from observer status to public judge and jury, without making sure first the public was with them.  Thing is, the common sense of the nation's majority takes in the outrage and then reads into just what the hell the issue is all about.  Sure, the first day or so they'll be a lot of angry people, but as the more accurate follow-up reports dig deeper and find out exactly what did happen (for example, the early reports on the Benghazi "smoking gun" e-mail said one thing but follow-up reports revealed that "smoking gun" was edited by someone on the outside) the people calm down and take a more objective look at things.

Part of this is the desire by the media elites to have another Watergate.  The scandal - that proved to have legitimate misdeeds worth reporting - that broke the Nixon adminstration and turned journalists into rock stars.  Everyone in the Beltway wants to be the next muckraker with a 5-book deal.  And so they jump on each scandal with equal ferocity but little judgment.

Each scandal right now has a legit issue... but so far NONE of them touch Obama.  The real scandal involving Benghazi isn't the internal State and West Wing bickering over post-attack talking points, the real scandal is that our overseas embassy security funding has been slashed the last 2 years by a Republican-controlled Congress.  The real scandal involving the IRS investigation of Tea Party groups is that the IRS is working from confusing legislative instructions that can't differentiate between non-profit groups and political fundraising outfits (Obama hasn't been directly linked to this anyway: there are buffers between a White House and the IRS to prevent any intimidation in the first place, one of the legacies of Watergate by the way).  And while the media will be outraged about the Justice Department investigating the AP, there was a substantial security leak being investigated: the DoJ had done this kind of thing before actually, it was just this time around a particular bureaucratic step seemed to get overlooked (note: there is a recent revelation of another such leak investigation focusing on a Fox Not-News reporter which looks to be more troubling in grey legal territory.  But again this isn't on Obama it's more on the Attorney General).

As for the "fourth" scandal, a late-in-the-week outrage over Obama asking a Marine to hold an umbrella over his head during a rainy outdoor press conference.  Dear wingnuts: Are you out of your goddamn minds?  Acting like Obama was embarrassing that Marine, or somehow violating a military code?  And that something like that never happens under other Presidential administrations?  /headdesk

This is, sitting not so comfortably from the outside of a Beltway social-professional circle of talking heads who are stuck both in a high school clique mentality and in the mistaken belief that it's still 1985 in America, just a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing.  If they keep pushing this on a public who isn't buying it, will they ever figure it out?  Will they ever get called on it?

Here's hoping the wingnut media and their GOP congressional buddies overreach and lose control of the House and even more Senate seats in the 2014 midterms.  I doubt that would slap some reality into them, but at least the damage they're doing with all their damned obstruction would desist (as long as the Senate Dems carry through on getting rid of Secret Holds and that damned Cloture rule).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Seventeen, A Vice President That Never Should Have Been Tapped In the First Place...

...except for the fact that President Lincoln and the Republican Party wanted to present a Union ticket in the midst of the Civil War, and so tapped a Senator in Andrew Johnson from a rebelling state (Tennessee) to fill the not-so-important job of backup pitcher Vice President.

Which, as history is so fond of pointing out, is never a good idea.  Picking a Vice President not on merit but on ticket balancing always comes back to bite ya in the ass (and rarely is that ever a good thing.  Maybe once in our history has it worked well to the nation's benefit).

I've railed against this before, in my talks about Vice Presidents being both a redundancy AND a headache in the worst of circumstances.  What happened here - with Lincoln dying on the eve of victory over the Confederacy, and Johnson promoted to the Oval Office at the beginning of a serious Reconstruction moment - should always be used as Exhibit A on getting rid Veeps and replacing them with a more Senate-oriented office.  It should certainly makes parties and Presidential candidates go with Best-Possible-Choice as Veep with regards to getting someone who complements (not contradicts, which is what most ticket-balancers are) the head of the ticket and the party.

Whereas Lincoln was "liberal" in the small-L sense - pro-government, for one thing - Andrew Johnson was more conservative.  Whereas Lincoln showed a propensity for deal-making, compromising, and maneuverability, Johnson was upfront and bull-headed.  Where Lincoln was Active-Positive, Johnson showed every trait of being Active-Negative.

That A-N trait was easy to spot: Johnson had a habit during his congressional career of making himself disliked and advocating for positions that were popular among the gentry - he supported direct election of Senators, which at the time was a radical anti-state party position - but not among the elites.  As President he quickly developed an Uncompromising reputation, which at first the Republicans in Congress thought would mean Johnson being harsh towards the rebel South.

The problem was that the Northern Republicans mis-interpreted Johnson's hatred of the Southern political machinery.  Johnson hated the oligarchs - the landed slave-owners - but not his fellow Southern whites that made up Johnson's voting base.  Worse, Johnson sought to re-secure that power base by appealing to those Southern white voters... which meant Johnson wanted the Southern state governments back up and running and also meant Johnson didn't give a rat's ass about the newly freed Blacks.

Gotta read Eric Foner's Reconstruction, a review of this era, to get more understanding of the damage Johnson did to post-Civil War American history.  Johnson during the post-war period vetoed against any federal efforts to improve freedmen rights.  He openly campaigned against financial or educational aid, claiming it would make Blacks "indolent".  He argued that aid to the Blacks meant punishing the Whites.  Rather than see the benefits of having a newly emerged voting bloc - freed Blacks - as part of a voting base that would have included moderate Whites, Johnson decided to throw all in against Blacks... basically creating a campaign method the Deep South would utilize for another 100 years (and in some parts even longer).

His veto of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 was the break with the Republican Party that had brought him into the Union ticket.  Congress overrode that veto: the first time a vetoed bill had been overridden (other veto overrides were negotiated into compromised deals).  From then on they were in full opposition... and Johnson's mishandling of the political stage - his A-N view made him arrogant enough to think he had more support across the nation than he did - led to massive Republican gains in the midterms, creating an environment where a hostile President and hostile Congress were at political war.

That Johnson was impeached should not come as a surprise: when you have an A-N President - habitually conservative by nature - opposing a technically liberal Congress - the Radical Republicans of that era were Leftist (albeit pro-business: unions were not a vogue thing for liberals yet) rather than Far Right of this era - the urge to remove the A-N President is pretty high (and given how liberal/left have pro-government leanings, relying on government rules to fix a problem is a basic instinct).  That Johnson really wasn't a Republican (echoes of Tyler) while Congress was made up of Republicans added to the likelihood.  Problem was Johnson may have been a pain-in-the-ass and a g-ddamn racist, but he wasn't as corrupt as some of the other impeachable A-Ns tend to be.  So Congress created a law they knew Johnson would break - the Tenure of Office Act - and basically dared him to break it.

Never dare an A-N President to do anything, because he will do it despite the trap.  Using the moment to get rid of a Cabinet troublemaker - Secretary of War Stanton - Johnson fired a member of his administration without getting Congressional approval.  Arguing that since the Senate had to approve Presidential nominees, the Republicans claimed they needed approval of firings as well, a right never spelled out in the Constitution.      With their excuse in place, the House voted to impeach Johnson, the first impeachment vote to pass against a President.  It then went to the Senate for what most Republicans saw as a fait accompli.

That Johnson survived the impeachment by one vote remains a major surprise in American history.  What happened were a series of other factors: Johnson's lawyers were able to argue - rather correctly - that the Tenure of Office's wording meant that Johnson could not fire his own nominated Cabinet members, and since Stanton wasn't (he was held over from Lincoln's) the law did not apply; Johnson, facing his own political demise, finally offered up concessions to the moderate Republicans that wavered their vote; and given the nature of politics (then and sadly now) there were reports of bribery (never proven).  It also helped Johnson that the potential replacement - at the time, new Vice Presidents were not installed as they would be under the 25th Amendment, it would have been the Senator Pro Tem (oldest member of the majority party) - was such a Radical Republican (Benjamin Wade was on record supporting Women's suffrage which horrified even the Radicals who supported the right of voting for Black (men)) that the moderates preferred Johnson over Wade.  One other fear that had to have been in the backs of many a Republican Senator's mind was that a successful impeachment would have broken the independence of the Executive branch: from then on any President would have been terrified of getting impeached if he didn't do what Congress - even controlled by his own party - asked.  While impeachment is a legitimate mechanism for removing from office someone who could abuse the office, there has to be a legitimate reason for doing so.  And the Tenure of Office Act wasn't legitimate (future Supreme Court rulings confirmed the law was Unconstitutional).

Johnson's remaining tenure after the impeachment was brief and relatively uneventful, due to it being an election year.  As for his impact on the nation, Johnson left a lasting legacy of racial politics that could have ended in 1865 instead of perpetuating until 1965.

Next week: A Really Bad President... But NOT for the Reasons His Critics Argued for a Century

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Real Scandal In DC: No One Cares

For all the yelling and screaming we've heard about Benghazi... for all the yelling and screaming we're gonna hear about the IRS investigating Tea Party groups... the real problem in Washington DC is that no one in power really gives a crap about the long-term unemployed and even the lucky-for-now employed average Americans struggling through this austerity-cramped "recovery".

To wit, from Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

On April 24, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar scheduled a hearing. Fun story, right? A hearing in Washington is like a fern in the rainforest. But this hearing was notable for both its subject and its attendance. It was a meeting about the most important economic crisis facing America today: long-term unemployment. At 10:30am, the hearing began. She was the only attendant...I have two stories for you about Washington and the economy. Both true. But very different.The first story is called: How Washington Saved the Economy. You might begin in 2008, when the Federal Reserve went on an unprecedented spree of asset-buying to un-gunk the banks, push down interest rates, and spur investing in mortally weakened economy. This was followed, in 2009, with an equally historic stimulus package aimed at filling holes in state budgets and sending cash back to families and businesses... There is little question that monetary and fiscal stimulus blunted the recession -- and saved the economy.The second story is called: How Washington Permanently Scarred the Labor Market. You might begin this story in 2011, when Congress (led by Republican obstructionism) embarked on a historic quest to crush deficit spending by any means necessary. Hold the economy hostage over the debt ceiling? Check. Kill the American Jobs Act while scheduling a too-awful-to-be-a-real-law sequester? Check. Allow the too-awful-to-be-a-real-law sequester to become a real law? Checkmate... The deficit fell fast. As unemployment ebbed, the ranks of long-term jobless calcified, creating two separate job markets. One broken market for people out of work for more than six months. And another slowly healing market for everybody else. But the combination of a thermostatic recovery and a deep aversion to stimulus crushed any hope that the long-term unemployed would get the help they needed. Long-term unemployment isn't special just because it's longer; it's special because it's self-perpetuating. Skills atrophy, networks dry up, and employers discriminate, creating a vicious cycle of joblessness that can't be cured by normal economic growth...

Enough to make one rage, don't it?  Pity of it is, there's no lobby group for unemployed people.  It costs money to hire a lobbying firm: unemployed people by sheer fact of no job/no money means they can't afford one.  Meanwhile, banks and anti-union business owners and rich people can afford lobbyists by the limo load, meaning they can drown out the local echo chamber to their hearts' content.  Without dedicated political activism in the place where it really matters - the halls of Congress - the unemployed are screwed.

To the seven people reading this blog: Swear upon your personal honor to find and support any and all political candidates pledged to pass a jobs stimulus bill campaigning for 2014.  Swear it!  Not to me.  Swear it to the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans who need our help.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Putting Scandals In Perspective

We're going to be getting this for the next three months or so between summer movies.  Link is to Balloon Juice but from there it's the No Mister Nice Blog site:

I know what Public Policy Polling should ask in its next national poll, based on results from the latest PPP poll:
... there's no doubt about how mad Republicans are about Benghazi. 41% say they consider this to be the biggest political scandal in American history to only 43% who disagree with that sentiment. Only 10% of Democrats and 20% of independents share that feeling. Republicans think by a 74/19 margin than Benghazi is a worse political scandal than Watergate, by a 74/12 margin that it's worse than Teapot Dome, and by a 70/20 margin that it's worse than Iran Contra.
This poll was conducted Friday through Sunday. I bet if you polled Republicans today through Wednesday, they'd have a completely different answer -- because they'd say that the IRS scandal is the biggest political scandal in American history. (Please, PPP, survey that, and prove me right.)But yes, over the weekend, Republicans were at Defcon-1 about Benghazi. However:
One interesting thing about the voters who think Benghazi is the biggest political scandal in American history is that 39% of them don't actually know where it is. 10% think it's in Egypt, 9% in Iran, 6% in Cuba, 5% in Syria, 4% in Iraq, and 1% each in North Korea and Liberia with 4% not willing to venture a guess.
Cuba! Love it.

When your polling providers can't win a ninth-grade geography quiz, you might want to question the shared wisdom of the morans upright citizens getting quizzed.

But the thing bothering me is that there doesn't seem to be much honest perspective here.  The Benghazi attack bigger than Watergate?  Worse than Teapot Dome?  Worse than Iran Contra?

They not only flunked out of geography class, they flunked flank, uh flunked American history.

Let's try this as a little perspective.

Watergate was a catch-all for a series of Nixon Administration backed "plumbing" operations aggressively hunting down leaks and also working to sabotage the 1972 Democratic primaries and general election.  Involved dozens of upper White House admins, ex-CIA spooks, illegal wiretapping (before FISA), and millions of dollars in slush fund / money laundering operations.  With the President of the United States himself urging obstruction of justice and payoffs to sweep it all under the rug.  Granted, Watergate had no body count - that we know of - like Benghazi did.  But the main focus of the Far Right's ire on Benghazi is how the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton State Department tried to "cover up" their questionable response to the tragedy: there is no hush money, no obstruction, no Cubans breaking into offices with G. Gordon Liddy at look-out duty, nothing on the scale of Watergate.  The original arguments about Obama and Hillary's failings to secure the Libyan consulate are getting a lot of push-back from people with more solid credentials who are pointing out A) embassy attacks under Bush the Lesser were WORSE, and B) budget cuts pushed by Republican-controlled Congress are a big reason why our embassies are under-defended.  But they've got a winner here, people, so they're pushing Benghazi as BIGGER THAN WATERGATE...

...even though Watergate is the measuring stick by how all other scandals are measured.  If it's bigger than Watergate it's gotta be in the Top Freaking Three All-Time list.  Does Benghazi - a failure of proper security budgeting if anything - rank that high?  Really?

Teapot Dome, if anyone didn't sleep through Early 20th Century American history, was a massive kickback scandal involving the Interior Department higher-ups leasing oil-reserve lands to their buddies during the Harding administration (another Republican, by the by).  We're talking corruption at a high level of government involving millions of dollars.  Again, no discernible body count for Teapot Dome like there is for Benghazi, but then again Benghazi does not involve millions of dollars (in today's money) in bribes.

And for the third item on the list - Iran Contra, which is a Reagan-era scandal (and another Republican administration scandal.  It's official, I'm noticing a trend...) - this gets a little complicated.  The first half (Iran) is where the Reagan administration sold weapons to Iran during a period when the Iranian government were officially opposing us and in fact backing a handful of embarrassing hostage-takings and attacks in Lebanon and across the Middle East.  The second half (Contra) is where the Reagan admin took the funds raised from those arms deals and used it to fund Contra rebel forces fighting a civil war in Nicaragua, which was disallowed by Congress through the Boland Amendment, a series of laws limiting direct U.S. funding.  To be fair, this one's actually a bit bigger than Watergate: Iran Contra directly challenged the checks-and-balances between Congress and White House, it involved illegal financial dealings in the millions of dollars, and it does have something of a body count (hundreds if not thousands of people killed during the civil war).  At least eleven White House officials indicted, some convicted... and all covered by a pardon from Bush the Elder when he left the White House in 1992, effectively putting a lid on the whole thing.  THIS mess, where Iran Contra was an intentional willful act of criminality, is worse than an mid-sized level of incompetence and a small-sized level of fine-tuning press releases like Benghazi?

Here's the perspective: Benghazi is tragic, yes.  People died, especially those who had a genuine interest in stabilizing an unstable war-torn nation.  But it is NOTHING compared to the attacks on the Constitution and rule of law like Watergate and Iran Contra were.  Benghazi is nothing compared to financial criminal misdeeds of Teapot Dome, or ABSCAM, or the Savings and Loans collapse, or the various scandals of the Grant administration.

I admit to bias here.  I'm a backer of Obama, and I am wary AND weary of the yelling and screaming about him by the goddamn wingnuts these past five years.  There are, yes, calls for Obama's impeachment.  Never mind the fact that the Far Right had been struggling for years to find anything to impeach yet another Democrat they despise - remember Solyndra?  Other than the Breitbart crowd, most don't - and now act like they've finally got an excuse to break out the Impeach Stick.

Part of me is actually glad the Far Right is pushing this as a major scandal.  The concept of "over-reach" still seems beyond their comprehension.  If they try to take this to the people, they're going to find out that everyone's skeletons on the issue - especially Congress's role in killing off funding for embassy security - will be on the table.  And that Congress - already less popular than some diseases - is not going to get a lot of sympathy from the average American on that.  And the last time they tried this during a mid-term season, the Far Right got their asses kicked.

That said, the stuff about the IRS investigating Tea Party funding issues... that could be an embarrassment for Obama.  Except for the fact that the Far Right is already over-reaching on this...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Presidential Character: Week Sixteen, Lincoln

Do you know how hard it is to come up with a quirky blog entry title for a man whose eloquence made him possibly the greatest orator/wordsmith this nation's ever produced?  I mean, I could have gone with "The Better Angel of Our Nature" or "Time is a Great Thickener of Things" or "Honey, You Sure We Couldn't Take This Evening to Avoid The Theater and Go Shopping Instead?"

...okay, that was rude.  I'll start over.

In my railings about the failings of the 14th and 15th Presidents - Pierce and Buchanan - I pined for the intervention of an Active-Positive (or a pro-Union Active-Negative) President.  In the facts of the slow slog towards a civil war I noted that an Active-Positive - with the character traits of Adaptive forward-thinking, willingness to Compromise, eager to take great leaps of action - could well have delayed or countered the move to civil war... or at least hang the SOBs trying to start one before it got underway (yeah, even an A-P would do that.  An Active-Negative surely would have blunt and to the point, but at least an Active-Positive would have done it with some style and panache).

Pity of it all it, in the end it was the election of such an Active-Positive character in the form of Abraham Lincoln that basically gave the Southern agitators the excuse they needed to secede from the Union.

In reviewing the materials James David Barber came out with to categorize Presidential Character, I found at least one place online where a fellow student of Barber's work listed Lincoln as an Active-Negative.  Which I found odd.  While Lincoln's personal habits veered toward chronic depression - I'll grant you serving as President during the nation's bloodiest war would make such depression worse - Lincoln's character traits fit well into the corner for Active-Positive.

Lincoln was first and foremost self-deprecating ("does not take himself too seriously") and quick to tell humorous tales.  Lincoln may have committed such acts as suspending Habeus and issuing a Emancipation Proclamation that had questionable legal authority, but he exercised such use of power not to his benefit but to that of others (again, A-P traits).

Lincoln also got his opponents - both the Southern oligarchs and rivals within his own party - to self-immolate, usually by him taking flexible positions on an issue and then waiting for his opponents to either stake a radical claim against it that would fall under its own weight, or else using that flexibility to isolate that opponent and end the debate.  His handling of an inter-Cabinet squabble between his biggest rivals - Seward, who was competent but ambitious, and Chase, who was ambitious and... well, with a sizable faction backing him - was a very shrewd, adept political move that only an A-P could pull off.

As for getting the Southern slave-owners - the power-brokers that sought secession if there were any threat to their political dominance of the past 40 to 60 years - to self-immolate, it was easy.  In his own Cooper Union speech, Lincoln noted full well the South threatened to rebel if any Republican won the White House that election year of 1860: 
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events.
Likening it to extortion - "My way or the highway" - Lincoln was able to carve out a moral high ground against the true radicalism of slave-owners.  He was able to constantly find a moral high ground against a group that resorted more to mob mentality and violent bullying, and in a way far opposite of other abolitionists like John Brown who succumbed to violence as a first action and thus lost any moral authority to speak against secessionists.

You can argue when or where the Civil War technically started - maybe Lincoln's election, maybe Bleeding Kansas, maybe the Mexican-American War... if you follow the argument back far enough you could take it all the way back to 1776 when John Adams predicted the Founding Fathers' failure to end slavery as they signed a Declaration of Independence would doom the nation in 100 years (he was off by a decade) - but the fighting itself started with the South firing on Fort Sumter.  Up until then peaceful resolutions could be had.  Whereas Lincoln's predecessor Buchanan allowed seceding states to seize land forts, seaborne forts such as Fort Sumter in Charleston and Fort Pickens in Pensacola were still under Union control... and Lincoln wasn't about to surrender them as he could claim they were federal land thus federal control.  And, crafty that he was, he settled on the forts being supplied with non-weapon material (food, potable water, construction) and let the South know that it was all he was sending, just to keep the troops properly stocked.  All he had to do was wait for his Southern rival Jefferson Davis to get an itchy trigger finger... and Davis, facing a situation where inaction would cost him and his nascent Confederacy much-needed membership of Virginia (which both voted against secession YET also voted a resolution noting they would join the Confederacy if fighting started) as well as weakening resolve of member states (every state save South Carolina had its pro-Union movements), decided to take the shot and go to war (Davis would have done better to wait for the shooting to start at Fort Pickens because that fort was being relieved with a gunship whereas Fort Sumter wasn't, but I digress).  While the South did - and still does much to this blogger's continual annoyance yo rednecks WAR'S OVER YOU LOST - claim a war of "Northern Aggression", Lincoln and the Union/Abolitionists could well argue it was the South that wanted a fight - and the track history of Nullifiers like John C. Calhoun is Courtroom People's Evidence A - and by gum they got one.

Above all, the forward-thinking: Lincoln was an ardent abolitionist.  Although he wasn't a pure Radical in the regards of "full equality" (and his early Presidential attempts to have freed slaves relocate elsewhere wasn't a very enlightened position), Lincoln viewed slavery as abhorrent to the Republic's principles of freedom.  And yet even there Lincoln demonstrated his Adaptive, compromising nature: while he couldn't before 1864 make an open move to free the slaves (lest he lose border states like Kentucky, Missouri and Maryland), he worked his way towards the Emancipation Proclamation where he only declared the slaves in the Confederate states freed and only as a means to fight and end the civil war.  As he wrote to Horace Greeley, the Glenn Beck of the age:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
I highlighted that last bit.  I see in that statement the view of an A-P with Adaptive tendencies.  Not a flip-flopper who tries to say one thing and then another without cause or merit, but someone who would seriously consider the issue, and change his mind where and when it needed to change.

Lincoln also presided over one of the earliest liberal federal government tenures in history.  Even during the time-consuming and life-devastating Civil War efforts, Lincoln and a Republican Congress - freed rather ironically from the obstructionist forces of Southern states - passed a slew of forward-looking bills and oversaw more growth and expansion of the nation's economic power.  He signed the Homestead Act to encourage settlers into the expansive Western territories; he signed the Land-Grant act establishing state public colleges and universities, the first major expansion of higher education across the nation; he signed the funding for the Transcontinental Railroad, a major transportation bill akin to previous acts that created roads and canals that benefited trade and industry and made it easier for the nation to become connected to itself.

Of course, the signature element of Lincoln's administration was the Civil War, and the conduct thereof.  In leadership as Commander-in-Chief he acquitted himself well: unlike Davis who meddled frequently and made  command decisions often by personal bias favoring ill-suited generals over more competent ones - the lone exception was with Robert E. Lee, who proved himself the best commander they could hope to have on the Virginian front - Lincoln relied on the military advisers he had - General Scott for starters, Secretaries Gideon Welles and Edwin Stanton later - to conduct the war.  If he meddled it was because he had to: his East Coast army generals were not a desirable lot with flaws aplenty.  The first one McDowell proved unready for battlefield command.  McClellan was a better organizer, but proved cautious to the point of cowardice and even worse treated his civilian boss with disdain (and occasional open contempt).  Pope was headstrong but foolish.  McClellan got promoted back up... and then still screwed up, even WITH one of the luckiest breaks of the war landing right into his lap (Lee's plans to invade Maryland and northward by recklessly dividing his army at their most weakest).  McClellan delayed for 18 key hours, and by the time he confronted Lee at Antietam all advantage had been lost.  McClellan's army won the battle but failed to follow up, driving Lincoln to go with Burnside next.  Nice guy, lousy general.  Joseph Hooker was next, a better general than the previous lot but still got his ass handed to him by Lee.  Meade replaced him, with Meade finally being the general who knew what he was doing and secured a Union victory at Gettysburg (the point of the war where the South truly lost: sheer stubbornness over slavery, outright racism, and fantastical belief that France and England would recognize a slave-owning Confederacy kept the war going for two more bloody years).  But even Meade proved too slow to stop Lee's escape, leaving Lincoln to bring up U.S. Grant.  And from there on Lincoln had the right general for the job.

One thing to note about Lincoln's A-P trait was the leniency he showed towards troops charged with desertion, sleeping at post, and cowardice.  A good number of officers hated it that he let so many cases be pardoned - they wanted discipline and the occasional punishment they felt would get it - but rules were rules, such matters had to pass the President's desk... and in his own words "Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wiley (sp?) agitator who induces him to desert?"  To me, in the whole madness of the war itself, is the best measure of the man.

Much can be said about Lincoln's eloquence.  Much to be said about his compassion for others.  Still more to be said about his hopes of what he would do once the bloody business of the war had ended: he spoke of traveling west to California and be the first President to reach the far coastline and measure the size and strength and diversity of the nation itself.  It had become a massive place even with the strife... and with the binding of the nation's wounds it would have been again.  If only...

Of his Active-Positive traits, I have no doubt.  What would have happened with that trait had he avoided that fate waiting for him at Ford's Theater... speculation is all we have now.  That and the better angels of our nature which he sought to introduce to ourselves.

Next time: Another Reason Why Vice Presidents Really Aren't That All Needed...

Sunday, May 05, 2013

A Serious Reason to Celebrate Cinco De Mayo

Here in the states we gringos* get our Mexi-CAN attitude up during May 5th for all things Mexican... mostly Mexican food (TACOS), Mexican drinks ('RITAS), and terrible attempts to speak like Speedy Gonzales.

But there's a good reason to celebrate this day of Cinco De Mayo, in honor of the Battle of Puebla, not only a positive moment for Mexico but for the hemisphere as well.

You see, back in 1862 the nation of Mexico was a huge mess.  The aftermath of the Mexican-American War left the government divided and the people's spirits broken.  From 1857 to 1861 they suffered a civil war (see? another one) that wrecked their finances and made it difficult to pay off their debts to overseas creditors... which happened to be France, Spain, and England.

Around this time France had fallen under yet another would-be dictator in Napoleon's nephew who declared himself Napoleon III (there really wasn't a II, but III needed to include his dad into the equation for his claim to stick).  Itching for an overseas empire of his own, and wary of the United States - even in the middle of its own civil war - growing into a global power if it ran unchecked across the western hemisphere, Napoleon III used the default to convince the Spanish and British governments to jointly send troops to Mexico and force the Mexican government to capitulate and pay off those debts.

When the overseas force reached the shores of Mexico the Mexican President Benito Juarez had sent envoys to negotiate a deal to pay off the debts at a prolonged period with favorable rates to the creditor nations.  Thankfully, neither Spain nor the UK wanted to start a fight - they were also pissed to find out this was an excuse by Napoleon III to invade, not reclaim debts - and accepted the terms.  Napoleon's forces, however, were ordered to march in and take over no matter what.

Into this mix came Ignacio Zaragoza.  Growing up to become a priest, during the civil war unrest of the 1850s he quit seminary studies and offered to join any army supporting the struggling republic.  At first unqualified for officer rank - he was from the peasantry - and then barred from signing up for foot soldier duty, Zaragoza was able to join a ragtag team of misfits and proved himself with them, working his way into the regular ranks.  By 1855 Zaragoza was the officer in charge of the military that ousted Santa Anna - where Zaragoza should be considered Mexico's greatest military hero, Santa Anna should be considered the worst - and helped establish the Liberal Party's control of Mexico.

Zaragoza was serving in Juarez's cabinet as War Secretary when the armies landed in 1862.  He promptly resigned his post and took charge of the eastern defenses.  As the French moved inland towards Mexico City, Zaragoza's early forays convinced him to pull back to a fortified position and get the French to do something stupid (being the French army he was facing, this was doable).  That meant tearing up the fields in a scorched earth policy and pulling back to the city of Puebla, where two forts were already built and all Zaragoza needed to do was carve out a horse path between the two for his cavalry to maneuver.

I just noted that the best way to defeat the French was to let them do something stupid, which seemed a common occurrence   It was.  While the French troops themselves are as good and hardened as any other army on a battlefield, the French leadership leaves a bit to be desired more often than not.  The general in charge of the invading French force for example - Comte de Lorencez - had been told (and believed) to expect the Mexican citizenry to welcome his forces as liberators (gee, sounds familiar) and so expected any Mexican opposition to get turned over by their own people the second French troops paraded nearby.  He also wasn't too familiar with weather conditions in that part of the world and so didn't think to get his fighting done before the afternoon thunderstorms would roll in.

Lorencez started his artillery barrage just before lunch and didn't send his ground troops to attack the forts until right after lunch.  Zaragoza kept his troops on the defensive, using the terrain and patience to keep his troops fresh and ready, forcing the French to keep charging uphill into a swarm of machete-wielding - yes this part is real - Mexicans.  When the French started their third wave, they were low on ammo, their artillery was useless, and the weather turned wet (hello, afternoon rainstorms!) and the terrain muddy.  During their pullback from the third failed assault, the French forces were confronted by Zaragoza's meager cavalry and a concealed flanking contingent that turned the pullback into a retreat.  Lorencez retreated from the battlefield, and spent the next few days trying to get Zaragoza to chase after him (hoping to get Zaragoza's smaller force into an open field for easier stompage).  Zaragoza wouldn't bite, forcing Lorencez to retreat all the way back to the Gulf of Mexico and call for reinforcements.

Zaragoza sent word back to Mexico CityLas armas nacionales se han cubierto de gloria.  The national arms have been covered in glory.  After the massive humiliations suffered by the Mexican-American War, the Mexicans had won a battle against a foreign army.

Sadly, they didn't stop the war.  Napoleon III wanted his overseas empire and so sent more troops expecting a bigger fight.  By 1863 they had seized control of Mexico City and inserted a puppet "emperor" Maximilian (some guy from the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty).  As to why Zaragoza wasn't there to stop them... well by September 1862 Zaragoza died of typhoid fever, leaving a vacuum of military leadership and skill.

But Zaragoza's victory was a big one: for both Mexico and the United States.  It gave Mexico a year to organize and prepare for further hostilities, which became the resistance fighting that continued the war into 1867.  It gave time for the United States to finish up their civil war by 1865 to give the Republic forces much-needed weapons and a 50,000 strong veteran army led by Philip Sheridan - think Patton on a horse, about 3 inches shorter and 3 times more blood-thirsty - that hampered French resources.  By 1867 Napoleon III's dream of empire was over and he abandoned Maximilian (who foolishly stayed behind thinking he could appeal to the Mexican people) to his fate.

Mexico retained its national identity and its honor.  The United States no longer had a hostile European-backed empire in its backyard.  The Western Hemisphere was no longer under threat of hostile takeover by France or any other European nation with imperial ambitions like Belgium or the emerging nation-states like Germany or Italy (sadly, the Central and South American republics still had - and have - to contend with a meddling US government instead...).

And that, kids, is why we raise a drink in honor of General Zaragoza.  A toast... on this Cinco De Mayo!

* Mexican for "Crazy White Tourists".  I'm not kidding.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Three Things: Geekery, More Geekery, and Caturday

Point One: It's FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!  FREE ALL THE COMIC BOOKS YOU CAN!  ...what, it's not about emancipating graphic novels?!  It's free-giveaways at comic book stores of selected items only?  ...well that ruined the mood...

Point Two: It's May the 4th, so May the Fourth Be With You.

Point Three: It's Caturday.  So you get Tehya.
This is MY BED.  You just borrow it for a few hours.

And tomorrow, it's Cinco De Mayo.  Fun weekend, kids, FUN!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Was The Civil War Unavoidable?

(updated note 9/14/2014: I'm noticing that this blog article is getting a steady stream of viewers and I am slightly worried that there's a bunch of high school and college students looking at this article as a researched source.  To all viewers: this is an opinion from an amateur historian and political agitator.  I'd much prefer that you get your articles from JSTOR or from a scholarly, peer-reviewed book/journal.  This is more a stream-of-consciousness riff by a guy on the Intertubes.  I don't wanna be responsible for giving you info your teacher(s) might not view as reliable.  If you want, leave a comment here and I'll see about finding more scholarly works to add here that you can use instead of this.)

In my previous descriptions of Presidents I've reviewed for their character - Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan - I made note of the fact that these were men caught in a tumultuous time.  The 1850s was basically a decade building up to a fight between two halves of the United States: the North and the South.  But even that was the final stage of a prolonged historic struggle between two opposing ideologies, two opposing economies, two opposing cultures that had been joined together in matrimony in order to make a new nation - the United States - live and breathe.

I mentioned during Buchanan's article about "the tides of history were flowing towards conflict."  How much of that statement is actually true?  Were the tides of history flowing irrevocably towards war between states? Was the United States doomed one way or another to fight a civil war?

The broad answer, and in some ways the simplest, is Yes.

All of history is replete with examples of nations (and empires) rising and falling, with a civil war a key component to that nation's darkest moments.  To look to America's most direct ancestry, Great Britain/UK, one could count at least two civil war eras: the War of the Roses (not always counted because it was more dynastic in-fighting between cousins than a broad ideological struggle), and the English Civil War between Charles I (divine right of kings and Catholicism) vs. Cromwell and Parliament (the right of free men to self-representation and Protestantism).  One of the earliest relatively documented civil wars was the Peloponnesian War, and that quite honestly did not end well for the Greeks (the Macedonians marched in after the dust settled).  The Roman Republic ended with a civil war that led to an Empire, with that Empire wracked by civil wars and divisions throughout its reign until the western wing of the empire collapsed at the start of the Dark Ages.  China wasn't immune to internal strife: look to the Taiping Rebellion in the 19th Century, or uprisings during the Ming dynasty.  There aren't a lot of nations that don't have some form of rebellion or uprising in their placid histories: my Gods, Switzerland has at least one in recent history.

The inevitability of a civil war is another matter.  The odds of it happening are quite good, but under the right circumstances - almost always through moderated leadership and a minimum of economic corruption - a nation can avoid the conditions that lead up to civil war.  Even nations with histories of messy civil wars - hello again England! - can have periods of prolonged internal cooperation between tribal forces (usually because they're busy fighting the French and Germans instead).

One thing historians like to note is how a nation (or empire) forms in the first place: usually through a series of localized conflicts where a particular military or political leader can forge a national identity via military victories and successful treaties with allies that get absorbed into the growing nation.  For the United States, it came about through a centuries-long period of European colonization between various powers - England, Spain, France, Netherlands - working in conflict and sometimes in concert with each other AND with native peoples who themselves were working with and against each other in a complex chain of events.  That all culminated in a grouping of 13 English-controlled colonies that realized one day they and their British overlords really couldn't comprehend each other and that the colonies were a completely separate "race" of people.

The colonies were forced by necessity to ally with one another to make a strong case to other nations that they were a separate nation in rebellion against England ("Hang together else hang separately," to paraphrase the wise man).  The original form of national government - a confederation - simply didn't work, threatening a split then and there (and a possible future where the separated states became the Third World states - puppets - to the Euro powers): the response was to form a stronger federal system under the Constitution, which still gave the states identity and power... and seeding the future conflicts that would arise from the cultural and economic differences that existed even then.

At nation's birth, the nation had its sections:  The North mostly maritime and merchant based economies - and later an industrial economy - that required strong finances, high tariffs, an eye to foreign dealings, and a reasonably open class system between poor, middle and wealthy.  The South was mostly agriculture - first tobacco, then cotton - with a focus on low tariffs, internal politics, and a strict division of class between rich and poor (and white and black).  The spread into the Midwest and West created other geographic cultures, but North and South dominated and reflected as such during the westward expansion: the Midwest in particular influenced by the industrial economics that originated in New England / Upper Atlantic states.

The divisions between North and South flared up at key moments in American history: the Alien and Sedition Acts (when the idea of state nullification first appeared); the War of 1812 (when northern states refused to support a war backed by Southerners and then-Western states); the issue of letting slavery spread into territories (resolved first by the Northwest Ordinance which kept the northern territories free-state no matter what, then by the Missouri Compromise by 1820); and then the tariff fighting of 1832 (where Jackson resolved it by offering a lenient tariff deal with the very strong suggestion to John C. Calhoun that Calhoun would hang if he didn't agree to the deal).  It says a lot that Jackson himself noted: "the tariff was only a pretext, and disunion and southern confederacy the real object..." (reference: Correspondence by Andrew Jackson, vol. 7, p. 72)  Even he could see what was coming...

So, in the simplest sense, there was always a good chance the United States would have faced a civil war at some point in its history.  The deal was, it didn't have to: wise leadership (an Active-Positive like James Monroe) could have resolved tensions between extremists to let the moderates have their day; forceful leadership (an Active-Negative with an attitude to boot) could have resolved tensions by hanging the SOBs itching for disunion (pretty much one of the few things Andrew Jackson was right about).

By the 1850s the political elites of the Democratic party were not beholden to moderates or pragmatists: they were beholden to wealthy Southern plantation/slave owners who represented an increasingly smaller portion of the nation's population while holding much of its lopsided wealth.  In terms of moderate leadership there were a handful - Stephen A. Douglas the most likely candidate - but too few and far between.  Worse, leaders on the national stage were increasingly incapable of controlling forces at the state level (not without the force needed to impose such will).  And in terms of forceful leadership, the only ones in the Democratic ranks were clearly on the side of slavery by that decade: and the problem was, slavery was a losing argument...

Slavery was a losing argument because the population of the overall nation was leaning more and more towards Free-State beliefs.  This can be clearly noted by the population trends of 1850 and 1860: Northern states were increasing their population numbers (with a solid boost via immigration) while the Southern states were relatively stagnant.  This had a serious impact on their representation in the House of Representatives, based on population proportions.  One of the early ironies was that the South benefited from their Three-Fifths Rule counting non-voting slaves, which helped them dominate the House for almost 70 years: by 1860 the slaves outnumbered whites in some places which meant the lack of full counting hurt Southern states that failed to keep control of Congress.  And there's a reason why Lincoln won a clear Electoral victory in 1860 without even having his name on the ballot in most Southern states: the Electoral count for Northern (New York: 35, Pennsylvania 27 and Ohio 23 the top three) and Midwestern states dwarfed Southern states (the top three were Virginia 15 Kentucky 12 and Tennessee 12... and they went for a pro-Union candidate).

Another reason slavery was a losing argument was because the western territories - acquired through war - wasn't as fertile a place for a slave-based agriculture that the slave owners desired.  Cotton was a land-hungry crop: they needed to spread but were confined first by law (the various Compromises) and then by culture (there would be no way the Free States of the North would allow slave-owners to set up slave plantations in oh, Illinois or Iowa).  When California went quickly to Free State - the one place between Texas and the Pacific where cotton could conceivably grow - the cotton growers were running out of options.

The final reason slavery was a losing argument was "the tide of history": the Christian Awakening movements of the 18th and 19th Century brought with it a spiritual push that lent itself well to the abolitionist movement not only in the Northern states but also in places like England: when Great Britain abolished slavery across its empire, slavery on a global scale - the British Navy put a serious crimp on the African slave trade from 1833 on - was doomed.

Was a civil war unavoidable by this point (the 1850s)?  Possibly... like I said it would have involved the right leadership and the best decision-making.  But in the real world, both are rare.  So a civil war over a divisive sectional issue - slavery - was due.

Could either side - North or South - done more to avoid war?  In most respects for the North, No.  Politically, they had bent over backwards on various issues such as the Mexican-American War, the Fugitive Slave Acts, and previous compromises for decades with no sign that the Southern slave-owners were placated with each deal.  The Fugitive Slave Act was being abused to Northerners' disgust.  And the Dred Scott decision overreached by trying to negate Northern states' rights to define citizenship.  To the North, if they said as a whole "enough was enough" I wouldn't blame them.

In most respects for the South, I would say "yes".  Their over-reliance on a single crop - cotton - proved in the long-term to be a bad idea: not only during the civil war when they had no usable land to grow food, but also afterwards when they kept cotton as the primary crop until the boll weevil invasion of the early 20th century proved they were better off with a diversified crop system.  They could have implemented an employment model that didn't rely on slavery (the costs of maintaining a slave compared to maintaining a paid employee: what honestly would have been the difference back in the 19th Century before worker unions?).  Northern politicians - even abolitionists - offered up the idea of paying slave owners federal money to voluntarily free their slaves, getting reimbursed with each slave freed.  Manumission could have, in hindsight, gone a long way towards ending slavery without the South's economy getting wrecked or their cultural heritage (outside of Mighty Whitey attitudes) shredded.

I would have said yes but the Southern culture forced an arrogant No as their answer.  Cotton was the only crop they knew and the source of their political oligarchy's power/wealth: growing other crops (you know, barley could have helped the microbrewery market in the Southeast a century before it caught on) was seemingly beneath them.  Decades of winning major compromises over Northerners, and having pro-slavery Southerners in key federal government positions made slave-owners cocky and reckless.  And worse of all, the Southerners feared their slaves even as they perpetuated the desire to own them.  Slave uprisings in Haiti convinced Southerners that given the chance their African black slaves would rise up and enact vengeance for all the wrongs the White Southerners enforced upon them: Nat Turner's uprising merely confirmed such fears.  And John Brown's attempted raid at Harper's Ferry by 1859 to get Virginian slaves to rise up was for the slave-owners the real start of the 1860 civil war.  What can you say about a culture that feared something so much (their slaves) that they couldn't even consider an alternate possibility (gradual end of slavery via manumission) that could have resolved that fear without bloodshed?

This isn't the clearest argument one way or the other, I know.  This is the best that I can say it: by 1860, no actually by 1850 the United States was set for Civil War.  Couldn't be avoided.  If we had any strong and sane leadership by then (we did have President Taylor as a strong leader: if he had lived there would have been civil war during his tenure) it still would have been war because the slave-owners would have refused any "threat" to their economic and cultural dominance.  In that environment, the best hope our nation had as a Union was the presence of an Active-Positive leader who, lacking the true compromises needed to end a conflict, would have used his skills to lead all efforts to win that conflict on the side of the angels.

There is, by the by, an ongoing blog about Disunion in the New York Times discussing the march towards civil war and its influence then and now.  It's worth a read.