Archive for June, 2015

When did the American Civil War end?

Could it really have been late June or early November of 1865?

April 9th is the date widely accepted, and for good reason: it marked the surrender of General Lee’s army at Appomattox, Virginia.

It was a foregone conclusion that other field commands would quickly follow suit.  In fact, they did, with very little violence. A short skirmish at Palmito Ranch in Texas resulted in the death of one soldier, a Union private.

By May 26th, all organized units except for two had capitulated.

One was a cavalry brigade that slipped across into Mexico and eventually disbanded after an adventurous journey, which involved brief action in the war between Archduke Maximillian and the followers of Benito Juarez.  Many of its men eventually returned to the United States.

The brigade was effectively finished as a sustainable fighting force not too long after crossing the Rio Grande in June 1865.  It is worth noting that the unit buried its battle flag – the object connected to the South Carolina murders -.sensibly recognizing the Confederate cause was finished forever.  The commander, General Jo Shelby, returned to the United States in 1867 and renounced slavery. He was later appointed as US Marshall for Western Missouri by President Grover Cleveland.

The other combat unit was the CSS Shenandoah, a commerce raider purchased by the Confederate government from Great Britain.

The ship was at sea when the Confederacy collapsed.

The captain, James Waddell, an Annapolis graduate, was feasting on Union whalers in the Bering Sea in June 1865.  No one was ever killed in his actions against commercial shipping.  Crews would be consolidated on a few ships for safe transport home; the other vessels set afire.  Waddell even recruited sailors from his prizes, with money and adventure being the lure.

On June 22nd, the Shenandoah fired a warning shot across the stern of a ship, part of a whaling fleet. It was probably the last shot in the war.

Waddell and his crew went about their business, but they learned of Lee’s surrender from newspapers provided by the captains of the whaling fleet.

Unfortunately, the newspaper articles lacked any information on the overall status of the South and its other armies. Furthermore, the newspapers reported President Davis as being committed to a continuation of the conflict.  As far as Waddell was concerned, a state of war still persisted.

It wasn’t until August 2nd  when he learned of the complete surrender from the captain of a British merchant ship.

It was not a moment too soon since Waddell had thoughts of sailing to San Francisco to shell the harbor.

Now he had to make the most critical decision – surrender his ship to the first US naval vessel he encountered, cruise to a west coast port and turn it over there, or head to a neutral port to attain immunity from possible prosecution for piracy. It would seem Waddell could have mounted a credible defense against charges of piracy, given the lack of timely communication about the end of the war.

He chose to make a run for it.

Waddell knew it would not be long before the Shenandoah would be targeted as a rogue by every navy  in existence. He had his crew stow the deck guns and camouflage the ship, changing the appearance of its profile.

The ship sailed from the North Pacific, around Cape Horn and then on to Liverpool, where it entered the River Mersey on November 6, 1865, almost seven months after Lee’s surrender. British authorities insisted that the ship show its colors to establish official recognition. So the date not only marks the final formal surrender of the war, but the last time the Confederate flag was raised by an organized unit.

Neither Waddell nor his crew were detained for long.  An investigation by the British government determined they had not violated the rules of war.

The crew was largely international and returned to their respective homelands without fear of arrest. The officers, on the other hand, were American and had to wait for emotions to settle down back home.  They eventually returned to the United States; most pursued careers in commercial shipping.  Waddell was one of the last to return, waiting until 1875.

The Shenandoah logged 58,000 miles in its one-year voyage and became the only Confederate ship to circumnavigate the globe, and the only American warship to conduct punitive military operations during the rebellion in the faraway waters off Alaska, then a possession of Russia. Putin, had he lived back then, would not have been pleased.

One interesting footnote to this saga:  the Shenandoah unknowingly contributed to saving the whales.  The destruction suffered by the whaling industry at the hands of southern raiders forced the United States to rely more heavily on kerosene for lighting. While the battle to save these grand creatures continues today,  extinction would have been a distinct possibility had our growing nation continued to consume their oil.

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For all the wrong reasons, it is good news that the battle flag of the former Confederate States of America might be removed from the grounds of South Carolina’s capitol. It took the deaths of nine innocents to finally deal with this controversy.

Perhaps these nine will be the final casualties of the American Civil War, adding to the roughly 700,000 who fell as a direct result of the four-year rebellion.  Of course, many others died in the decades that followed from criminal lawlessness and racial hatred.

Legislative action to remove the flag, with the full support of Governor Nikki Haley, has commenced and stands an almost certain chance of passage.

The battle flag, a Saint Andrew’s cross with thirteen stars – one for each of the states represented in the Confederate Congress (the eleven who officially seceded, plus the deeply divided states of Missouri and Kentucky), was not the official flag of the rebel government. It was not even the battle flag in other regions outside of the eastern theater of war until almost 1864, but it was the one that became the symbol of southern belligerence long after the surrender of the south’s armies.

It’s distinctive design probably was the main reason for its endurance over the last 150 years. It was also the reason why it was used as a battle flag.  The original national flag of the CSA looked too much like the Stars and Stripes from a distance. In those days, generals had to rely on flags to identify troop positions. The “Stars and Bars,”  as the national flag was described, created confusion in the field.

Had the battle flag not been created, it is possible some other symbol would have been used to promote discord or provoke racism.

The flag may never have become a divisive beacon had southerners reflected after the war and accepted the obvious – that slavery was the root cause of the conflict and was morally indefensible.

Too many attempted to skirt the issue by saying the war was over states’ rights.

Ironically, among the first well-known Confederate veterans to take a stand against the states’ rights excuse was Colonel John SIngleton Mosby, also known as the Gray Ghost.  His cavalry was the scourge of the Union Army in Northern Virginia, sometimes operating within sight of the US Capitol, or Washington City as it was called then.

He attended the University of Virginia before the war, but was expelled for engaging in a non fatal duel with a classmate. Mosby went on to study law before joining the Confederate Army, and afterwards served in the Grant Administration as US Consul to Hong Kong.  While in the foreign service he fought against rampant corruption in its ranks.

He wrote, “The South went to war on account of Slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her Secession proclamation – because slavery would not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding. . .”

Not enough of his former comrades backed him up.

Too bad,  Life still would have been oppressive for former slaves and their decedents, but maybe some innocent lives could have been saved.

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Farmers and family businesses in the San Joaquin Valley have been fighting the High Speed Rail Authority’s efforts to acquire property through eminent domain.

That battle will continue.

Now, local residents of communities along the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and Monument are opposing all route options for the Palmdale-Burbank leg of the expensive project. They have allies in key elected officials at all levels of government, including Congressman Adam Schiff and State Senator Carol Liu.

It is not that these two representatives are against the project as a whole, but their reticence on HSR’s route through this strategic passage could force planners into studying equally controversial routes, including one through the Tejon Pass following I-5.

The in-fighting between communities will create political havoc for the HSRA. Undoubtedly, courts will become involved.

This is actually good news.

The more obstacles the bloated project faces, the longer the delays and the more likely support and money will dry out before the state blows the full $68-billion that could be applied to far more critical capital improvements. Regardless, $68-billion is probably a lowball estimate with or without the cost of extensive tunneling through the Angeles Mountains.

Already, the prospects of long-term federal financial support are weak. While Congressman Jeff Denham’s amendment that would force the HSRA to prove they have the funds required for federal matching against the current commitment may or may not make it through the US Senate, it is evidence that future federal support will not be forthcoming.

Diversion of cap-and-trade tax revenue – an important piece of the state’s funding plan – will not be enough to complete the train in anyone’s lifetime. The only benefit will be to whisk untold thousands of commuters between the vital Bakersfield to Modesto corridor.

Don’t get me wrong – I like trains. Some of my commutes through the greater LA metro area have relied on MTA, Metrolink and Amtrak.

But as I pointed out in a widely-read article a few years ago, capital investments in intra-regional rail systems will yield a far greater reduction in road congestion and pollution.

HSR is simply Governor Brown’s vanity project, but we are the ones paying for it.

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The LAUSD board is considering lowering the passing grade for college prep courses from a C to a D. A vote is scheduled for this Tuesday.


Because three-fourths of 10th graders will more than likely fail to attain a C or better.

A lack of resources delivering additional instruction to students in need is assumed to be the underlying reason for the 75% who do not make the cut; not a word about lack of parental involvement. Parents need not be subject matter experts to be an effective force to improve classroom performance, but they need to supervise their dependents’ time management.

As far as available LAUSD resources to assist with tutoring or other special instruction, how about reallocating the $73 million for required ethnic studies to help students in need of extra attention?

The board has had a problem with setting priorities. Using construction bond money to buy iPads was the most publicized example in recent years, along with turning classrooms into breakfast facilities.

All of us need to accept one important fact: even if we apply every form of assistance possible, some students – perhaps a significant number – will fail. One important factor is motivation. Some kids have no desire to pursue a rigid academic discipline.

Guess what? It’s their right!

The students who prefer an unchallenging path are smart enough to realize the rewards will be far less, absent some special talent. Some may change their minds after they have been in the workforce as an unskilled laborer. There should be adult education available for those who do.

Also, some students – perhaps many – will have an aptitude better-suited for other worthwhile pursuits. So why not identify those with other inherent abilities and offer them a different track not involving all of the college prep curriculum?

This is not a new concept; it has been batted around for years.

Instead, the LAUSD simply wants to lower the bar.

That is not doing a favor for the D students who will then be ill-prepared for college or any form of skilled labor.

It is also not fair to the C or better students whose academic learning environment is diminished by slackers or classmates disinterested in the subject matter.

Neither is it fair to society. The economy needs a wide variety of skills to support an acceptable quality of life for all. Solving quadratic equations is not necessary for success in many careers.

On a related note, newly elected board member, Scott Schmerelson, has opined on the subject of social promotion. He wants the education community to consider ending it.

I do not assume for one moment that Schmerelson’s view is an all-or-nothing proposition. There are cases where students are struggling with one or two subjects, but are otherwise proficient. They deserve extra assistance and should be allowed to advance at least one time without having satisfied all of the requirements for promotion. However, students who are deficient in more than a couple of subjects should be held back – for their own good and the sake of their classmates and teachers.

The issue of social promotion would not be as controversial if the school system offered an alternative course for students whose interests were a poor match for the college track.

I believe Schmerelson’s presence will bring this issue to the forefront.

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I wrote an article in January 2014. It covered the ever-increasing human life span in this country (if not most of the developed world) and what it meant to projecting post-retirement benefit costs.

A recent report by CNBC cites the projections of respected financial advisers regarding life spans and retirement planning.

“The first person to reach age 150 has already been born,” exclaimed Ric Edelman,chairman and CEO of Edelman Financial Services.

Obviously, while 150 will be the exception rather than the norm, 120 is within the reach of anyone under 40 with decent health care and a semi-active lifestyle. The number of people making it to their 90s tripled between 1980 and 2010; it is expected to quadruple between 2010 and 2050.

No complaints about living longer, assuming we can avoid undue pain and suffering, but think of the effect on Social Security and public pensions, both defined benefit plans.

Governments are thinking about it. They are just not doing anything about it.

California, Los Angeles and all other cities in the state will face dire consequences as pension and healthcare contributions will have to be increased mush faster than revenue growth to just stay above water. There is only so much the taxpayers will be able to afford. For that matter, we are already contributing too much while public employees provide too little.

In a city like Los Angeles, for every year a retiree lives beyond mortality expectations, the combined cost of health and pension costs could easily exceed $100,000 per year. A thousand retirees exceeding actuarial estimates of life expectancy would cost the city $100 million extra per year.

A court decision that exposes public pension benefits to cuts from municipal bankruptcy will undoubtedly loom larger in the years to come.

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