Friday, January 31, 2014

Senator Stephen Benton Elkins: Carpetbagger or Savior?

West Virginia is closing in on the 120th anniversary of a milestone achievement in the life of one of its most important figures.  In early 1895, the West Virginia State Legislature chose Stephen Benton Elkins to represent the state in the United States Senate.

Elkins did not have to win in a popular vote.  Before 1913, legislatures chose senators.  His career, however, had been remarkable.  Elkins had helped to build one of the most powerful coal companies in the United States, extended railroads deep into the West Virginia countryside, and had served under President Benjamin Harrison as Secretary of War.  Since 1888, he had guided the once lowly state Republican Party to the brink of decades of political dominance.

He officially came to West Virginia in early 1888.  The Republican Party paper Wheeling Intelligencer rhetorically rolled out the red carpet, announcing his arrival almost like royalty.  Civil War veteran and POW Nathan Goff of Clarksburg had capably led the party through much of the 1880s while a congressman.  Elkins' arrival coincided with a tightly contested Goff run for governor.  When Goff lost, many state Republicans switched their allegiance to Elkins.

Goff handled the shift with grace, likely consoled by appointment to the federal bench and eventual elevation to the US Senate.  Meanwhile, Elkins and his regional allies strained to make the party and county Republican committees and clubs more active and effective.  Elkins recruited Preston County newspaper editor W. M. O. Dawson to help run the day to day affairs of the state party.  With the onset of free public school in West Virginia in the 1860s, experience and knowledge of the new media environment was crucial to helping build coming Republican majority.

Not everyone supported the new party leadership.  In 1890, rumors swirled of an Elkins run for Congress.  One Preston County Republican promised future congressman Alston Gordon Dayton that "If Elkins is to be the nominee . . . there will be many 'stay at homes' when election day rolls around."  Despite Goff's quiet acceptance and willingness to work with Elkins, his former allies resented the new guard.  They expected to be ignored and rejected by the newly minted West Virginia, but more often than not Elkins extended his hand to former Goff men willing to accept it.

Elkins' businesslike administration of the state party built on the prior work of the charismatic Goff.  By 1894, the GOP had gained ascendancy in voter registrations, fundraising, and elected offices.  West Virginia remained a Republican state until 1932.

Unlike his father-in-law Henry Gassaway Davis who was a powerful Democrat from West Virginia, but spent most of his time at a Maryland residence, Elkins embraced his new state.  In 1890, he built for himself and his family the beautiful mansion Halliehurst.  Not long before construction, the site of the home was near wilderness.  Starting in 1890, the Randolph County city bearing his name grew up around his home and the new railroad connection.

On reaching the Senate, Elkins kept his eye on both state and national issues.  During the 1896 presidential campaign, Elkins resisted considerable pressure by William McKinley advocates on the West Virginia and national level.  While he could have gained personally by joining the McKinley bandwagon, Elkins was trying to obtain federal funds to dredge the Monongahela River.  Other presidential aspirants sat in the Senate and Elkins feared antagonizing them.  He explained "You know what is pending here and the reasons that move me to my opinion . . . Hope you can trust my judgment."  He won the improvements and also ensured that a new United States Weather Service tracking station would be built in the state.

In national and foreign affairs, Elkins also had influence.  In 1898, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst conferred with Elkins on ideas about national war policy.  Several years later, Elkins authored legislation that ended the use of free passes by railroads to buy influence with politicians, editors, and others.

Rivals in his day and leftist historians later harped on Elkins' origins.  John Alexander Williams called him New York's senator in West Virginia.  In his personal and public correspondence, however, Elkins demonstrated his love for the state, concern for its people, and willingness to work very hard for the betterment of his adopted home and its Republican Party.  West Virginia owes Elkins for much of its early 20th century prominence and prosperity.

He was certainly no opportunistic carpetbagger, looking for short term gains with plans to abandon his new home.  Elkins brought his family to West Virginia to serve his new state and to grow along with it.

Unfortunately, Democratic machine rule cancelled out many of his achievements.

But now it is a new century and a new day for West Virginia Republicans.  It is only right to occasionally honor the transplant from New York who worked so hard and did so much good for the Mountain State.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Red China: A 21st Century Imperial Anachronism

Even though the most recent reports indicate that Chinese economic momentum is slowing, many still see it as a colossus that could outpace the United States in production and influence sometime this century.  China, however, faces considerable challenges.  Rapid industrialization has polluted entire regions.  Rivers have grown unusable, some large cities are too hazardous for  life.  Corruption and debt hamper its growth, just as they did France before its Revolution.  

China also must face a serious anachronism.  Despite its repeated revolutionary convulsions over the past century, it remains a multinational empire filled with ethnic groups chafing under government control.

This makes it resemble some of the polyglot empires facing trouble before World War I.  The Ottoman Empire, dominated by ethnic Turks, kept an uneasy control over Christian Greeks and Slavs.  It also ruled clans and tribes of Arabs, Kurds, Jews, and other groups.  Czarist Russia strained to control Muslims in Central Asia, Catholic Poles, Protestant Christians in Scandinavia and along the Baltic. Austria-Hungary tried to split power between its two major ethnic groups under one ruling family, but mainly alienated the other 13 peoples.

Decades later, the "nationalities problem" erupted under Gorbachev to help drive the Soviet Union into the dustbin of history.

China has to face this problem too, which may explain why the past year has seen them following in the path of the empires of old.  Trying to prop up internal unity by gaining risky external successes against old rivals. 

According to the 2000 Chinese census, published in the CIA World Factbook, 91 percent of the country's population is Han Chinese.  While this may look overwhelming, it must be remembered that the remaining nine percent add up to 140 million people, approximately the same population as the Russian Federation.  

Also, as the map shows, Han Chinese are concentrated into the eastern part of the country.  The southwest contains the formerly independent, Buddhist, and oft persecuted Tibetans.  The resentment of northwestern Muslims, mostly Turkic Uighurs, against the atheist regime occasionally boils over.  In the last few weeks, Chinese authorities imprisoned a prominent Uighur academic and advocate. 

Inner Mongolians side by side with independent Mongolia.  Traditionally this is a recipe for discontent. Three years ago, authorities feared the effects of major protests against Chinese rule.  Manchuria in the northeast has a high concentration of Han, but has traditionally been considered a separate people from the rest of China.  Much like Sicilians often do not consider themselves to be true Italians.

Significant divisions exist between the non Han 140 million.  But an economic downturn combined with the continued repressive policies of Beijing could unite them in hostility.  

China's aggressive moves against Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the United States in the past year follow the pattern of the old imperial multinational states.  Concerns about economic decline and ethnic upheaval push their attention outward.  Although the imperial power usually fears the effect of war, it assumes the risk anyway, gambling that it will emerge stronger in the long run.  Unfortunately, such risks often do actually lead to war.  

Regardless of how strong China actually is, or is estimated to be, these kinds of actions have historically pointed to a perception of weakness.  China may perceive itself to be weakening relatively or absolutely.  Or think that it is vulnerable on other fronts.  Multinational empires tended in the past to believe that external shows of strength, aggression, and even bullying, would protect it externally and domestically.

And China is weakening.  Since 2010, each of its major ethnic groups have pushed back against government persecution and abuse.  Its economy, while certainly growing, likely was not developing nearly as fast as reported.  Authoritarian and totalitarian states accidentally encourage falsehood in economic reports because officials fear reporting unpleasant truth.  China also pours resources into ridiculous mammoth projects, much as the old Soviet Union, to try and prove its advancement.  

Most economic forecasts for 2014 predict problems for the Chinese economy.

Knowing the history of states in the situation and condition of 21st century China is helpful in predicting how to respond to emerging problems.  China may be pushing to join the modern economies, but it still is weighed down by problems of decades and even centuries ago.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

West Virginia University Joins Over 100 Schools Protesting Israel Boycott

Last December, the American Studies Association, which describes itself as the oldest American history and cultural organization in the nation, voted to boycott Israeli academic and other institutions.  This sparked protest from over 100 colleges and universities against its action.

West Virginia University interim president Gordon Gee, formerly of Ohio State and other schools, condemned the ASA's action.  In a press release today, Gee reminded the ASA that "lively and varied discussions often lead to innovation, discoveries, and leadership."  He then said "we strongly oppose the boycott" and urged all institutions of higher learning "to remain places where divergent ideas are encouraged and exchanged freely."

WVU joins colleges such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and others condemning the boycott.  Four universities withdrew from the association altogether.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Indianapolis Star, UK's Daily Mail Report Cases of Possession in Gary, Indiana

It seems like the stuff of cable television and Hollywood films both good and bad.  But a case of demonic possession has now been reported by one of the most respected newspapers in Indiana and the most read news site in the world.

The Indianapolis Star, in existence for 111 years, two time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, published an exhaustive story about the possible torment and possession of a mother and her three children.

What makes this story different than typical tabloid fodder is the credibility of the sources coming forward.  These include Captain Charles Austin of the Gary Police Department and a veteran Roman Catholic priest.  Official Department of Child Services and medical records also form part of the story.  Each source reports unexplainable phenomena such as threatening voices over the radio, a young boy walking backwards up a wall, and other signs.

A hoax of this magnitude would require local cross agency coordination and respected local figures willing to risk their reputations for a story bound to make international headlines. It would have to be a good enough tale to hoodwink a reporter from one of Indiana's papers of record.

The story has a happy ending.  After police supervised exorcisms, the involvement of psychologists, and child protection officials, the children and their mother are together, safe, and living in another city.

Whether one believes or not, from many different angles, this is a story worth reading.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Short History of Ukraine

Protests and civil violence have rocked the Eastern European nation of Ukraine for several days now.  The Texas sized country of nearly 45 million is physically one of the largest in Europe.  Its plains have some of the world's best farming soil outside of North America.

Here is a brief description of its history.

In the early Middle Ages, Slavic tribes resided on the Dnieper River, a stream flowing roughly from north to south and emptying into the Black Sea.  By the 800s, the kingdoms and principalities of Scandinavia had grown rich from both plunder and trade.  They traded with those too powerful to plunder, like the Byzantine Empire.

A Swedish trading nation called the Varangians began using the river system in what is now Russia and Ukraine to build commercial ties with the rich Byzantine Empire which straddled the Balkans and Middle East.  The Byzantines were the remaining rump of the old Roman Empire, much more compact, but still rich and still formidable.

The Varangian trade with the Byzantines drew more Slavs and Varangians to the river banks.  Some combination of the two formed a state around the town of Kiev.  Originally the state was called the Kievan Rus.

No one can say for certain how much of the original state was Nordic and how much was Slavic.  Regardless, Slavs quickly dominated the early state.  In the 800s and 900s, Kiev grew into a wealthy trading state, extending their rule along the rivers and to the east.  It traded heavily with the Byzantine Empire and established dynastic connections with the impoverished European kingdoms emerging in central and western Europe.

Modern observers would find the early structure of Kievan rule unnecessarily complicated since they did not practice true primogeniture.  The Grand Prince ruled at Kiev.  Brothers, sons, or cousins could rule under him at other prominent cities.  Succession was complicated and sometimes contentious.  Hostile groups from the flatlands and Caucasian Mountains to the east often tried to play different princes off against each other.

One of the momentous moments in the history of Kievan Russia came during the reign of Grand Prince St. Vladimir the Great.  He ruled from 980-1015, modern calendar.  During his rule, he determined that his state ought to be Christian.  By this time, however, Christianity was very close to its first major permanent schism.  St. Vladimir had to choose between the Pope of what would be the Roman Catholic Church and the Emperor controlled Patriarch in Constantinople.  Vladimir may have stacked the deck.  He sent emissaries to describe each church to him so that he could decide.  Some went to the glittering capital of Constantinople to survey what would become the Eastern Orthodox Church.  They saw the mighty St. Sophia Church set in a dynamic metropolis.  Others went to examine the Western church in not Rome, but the Holy Roman Empire. Its poverty had not yet produced the fantastic cathedrals that would appear later in the Middle Ages.

St. Vladimir tied the fortunes of his nation to the East, selecting Orthodoxy.  This would form one of many barriers between Russia and the West for centuries.

Kiev met its ruin in the 1200s when the Mongols came.  Kiev chose to resist and was annihilated much as Carthage in the Third Punic War.  A papal nuncio to China who had seen Kiev intact wrote back on seeing the devastation.  His letter recounted the leveling of numerous beautiful churches and other buildings.  All that remained of the once thriving metropolis was a few mud huts and a few hundred Slavic slaves under the Mongol yoke.  To the east of the city, he saw endless fields of bleaches bones and skulls.

The Mongols controlled Eastern Europe until the 1400s.  Toward the end of its rule, some Russian cities started to assert themselves.  Chief among these was Moscow.  One of its successes lay in convincing the Orthodox patriarch to move the office of Metropolitan (analogous to Catholic Archbishop) from Kiev to Moscow.  That gave the future Russian capital spiritual predominance in Eastern Europe.  When it freed itself of the Mongols, it became the only Christian ruled leadership city in Orthodoxy.  That happened because Constantinople finally succumbed to the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

By now, Russian civilization had split into three parts.  The country around Kiev now had the name "Little Russia," or Ukraine.  To its north sat Belarus or "White Russia."  Moscow expanded to the north and east, becoming the center of "Great Russia."  But Ukraine was not yet fated to come under the rule of Russia.

As the Middle Ages closed and the modern era commenced, the great power in the East was Poland.  This Roman Catholic Slavic state united with the also Catholic Germanic state of Lithuania.  Through the 1400s until the 1700s, this state ruled a vast area of plains and swamps.  During the early 1600s, it even aspired to conquer Russia itself.  Southern Ukraine fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks who controlled the northern coast of the Black Sea.

From the rule of Peter the Great down to the end of the 18th century, Russia and its czars labored to gradually bring Ukraine under its own imperial rule.  Despite the changes in government, Ukraine developed its own culture and language.  It remembered the traditions of old Kiev and took pride in its heritage.

World War I ushered in significant changes.  First, the Germans steamrolled Russian forces and in 1918 made Ukraine a protectorate under its guidance.  This short lived situation dissolved with the German defeat in November, leaving Ukraine to the ravages of the Russian Civil War and eventually Bolshevism.

The Communist Soviet Union exacted a devastating toll from Ukraine.  Stalin, who had run press gangs in the city of Tsaritsyn, later Stalingrad, now Volgograd, determined that Ukraine's wealthy and productive peasants must surrender their lands.  The peasants, as they had done under the czars, resisted.  They burned their homes, slaughtered and ate their livestock, and denied the Soviets the fruit of their labors.  Stalin ordered millions rounded up and shipped off to the open plains of Siberia where most froze to death.  Resulting famine killed millions more.

When Hitler invaded in 1941, many Ukrainians welcomed his Wehrmacht as liberators.  Instead, they found the Germans more ruthless than Stalin.  Hitler's Einstatzgruppen teams rounded up professionals and other leaders to be massacred, often by burning churches around them.  Hitler's defeat brought more suffering.  The Soviets demanded from British and American allies the return of all expatriates, many of whom had fled the Communists right after World War I.  Shamefully, British and American officials approved the "return" of these people, most of whom suffered torture and death.

Ukraine's own Nikita Khrushchev  succeeded Stalin as Soviet leader.  His schemes and risky policies, however, led to his being removed from power.

Communist control led to disaster when a series of foolish decisions led to the late 1980s meltdown of the Ukraine located Chernobyl nuclear power plant.  Soviet authorities for days refused to order a mass evacuation, exposing hundreds of thousands to contamination.  Even today, Ukraine and Belarus still suffers high levels of cancer and birth defects as a result.  Chernobyl broke down what was left of loyalty to the Communist system.

In 1991, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia seceded from the Soviet Union, marking the end of its existence.  Ukraine since has wavered between its former Russian masters and would be Western mentors.  In the meantime, it has allowed its system to grow increasingly corrupt and authoritarian.  The present and future is unclear.  The resources and strength of the people, however, mean it still has potential to thrive.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lincoln Day Dinners Set in Mineral, Putnam, and Monon

Putnam County's Lincoln Day Dinner is scheduled for Thursday April 3rd at 6 PM at Putnam County Community Center in Hurricane.

Mineral County's Lincoln Day Dinner is scheduled for Friday April 25th at 6 PM at the Keyser Moose Lodge

Monongalia County's will be on May 1.  Shelley Moore Capito will speak.  All other information TBA

I will be happy to publicize more information and updates as they come in.