Thursday, May 10, 2018

I’ve been working on the railroad

Long before the Sandhills Sixteen released the first version of the song shown about in 1927, a railroad-connected event occurred on this day in 1869.

Since at least 1832, statesmen on both the East coast and the West coast had realized a need to connect both coasts. The California gold rush of 1849 further emphasized the need, and Congress finally authorized funds 4 ears later to survey several routes for a transcontinental railroad. Increasing tensions between the North and South delayed the start of the railroad for a few more years, but Congress still managed to pass the Pacific Railroad Act only a year into the Civil War.

Congress chose two railroads, the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, to build the railroad, and construction was finally started a year after the Civil War ended. The Union Pacific line started building west from Omaha, and the Central Pacific  line started building east from Sacramento. Despite extremely difficult working condition, the project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. The two lines finally met in Promontory, Utah, and a gold spike was pounded into the ground to connect the two ends.

Despite the technical success of the railroad, it started to make apparent our country’s tortured relationship with immigrants. The workforce of the Central Pacific line consisted almost entirely of Chinese immigrant, and the Union Pacific line was largely Civil War veterans of Irish descent.

One of the reasons that Chinese laborers were used on the railroad is that the United States and China signed the Burlingame Treaty in 1868, which established formal friendly relations between the two countries. Not long after the treaty was signed, resentment of Chinese immigrants started to build. The Page Act was passed in 1875, and was followed by the Fifteen Passenger Bill in 1879. The Angell Treaty of 1880 temporarily suspended immigration of skilled and unskilled laborers, but still allowed white collar professionals.

And then it got worse.

On May 6, 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited ALL immigration of Chinese laborers. Although it was only supposed to be effective for 10 years, it was not repealed until December 17, 1943, when the Magnuson Act was passed. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first (but not the last) law implemented to prohibit a specific ethnic group from immigrating into the Untied States. One of the most infamous laws was Operation Wetback (signed in 1954), which targeted Mexicans, but the current administration has tried to slam the door on a group that Trump calls “mooselums”.

Although the Irish potato famine vastly increased the number of Irish people immigrating to America between 1845 and 1849, Irish immigrants before that time period also experienced discrimination.

Starting in the 1840’s, it became more difficult for Irish people to find jobs in America, and “no Irish need apply” signs started to appear not long after. The last such sign did not disappear until 1909. As a result, many Irish found the prospect of military service during the Civil War more attractive than not working at all.

On June 17, 1885, the French steamer Isere arrived in New York harbor. In its hold were crates holding the disassembled Statue of Liberty, a gift from France to the United States. Although the arrival of the statue was greeted with enthusiasm by the American people, it took until April of 1886 to raise enough money for the pedestal, and the completed statue was dedicated six months later, on October 28, 1886. In 1903, a bronze tablet containing the words to Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Collosus” (which was used to raise money for the pedestal) was mounted inside the pedestal. During the 1986 renovation, it was moved to the Statue of Liberty museum in the base of the statute.

The complete poem is listed below, but most of us are only familiar with the closing lines, which have been highlighted for emphasis.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
OTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Despite those encouraging words, immigrants have come under attack at various times in our country’s issue.
Ellis Island was opened to receive immigrants on January 1, 1892 (the first person to arrive was a 15 year old Irish girl named Annie Moore), but it didn’t take long before restrictions started to be put in place. Concern over security during WWI prompted Congress to pass literacy test requirements in 1917, but Congress felt a need to further restrict immigrating by the imposition of quotas, which were codified in the Johnson-Reed Act, which is better known as the Immigration Act of 1924.

Restrictions loosened after WWII, when the United States admitted displaced persons from Europe in 1948 and 1950, but we’ve become a lot less friendly since the election of November 2016.

We are a land of immigrants, and our strength comes from our diversity. To the chagrin of old white Americans, though, it won’t be long before Caucasians are a minority. It may not happened in my lifetime, but it already HAS happened in our schools. As of 2016, babies of color outnumber white babies, and minority children will be the majority by 2020.

The long standing prejudice again those early Irish and Chinese workers has long since faded away. Irish politicians have done well over the years, and the Chinese, especially in recent years, have become a financial powerhouse in our country.

On November 7, 2016, debt held by the public was $14.3 trillion or about 76% of the previous 12 months of GDP. Intragovernmental holdings stood at $5.4 trillion, giving a combined total gross national debt of $19.8 trillion or about 106% of the previous 12 months of GDP. As of December 2017, $6.3 trillion or approximately 45% of the debt held by the public was owned by foreign investors, the largest being China (about $1.18 trillion) then Japan (about $1.06 trillion).

Think about that for a minute.

Communist China how holds over $1 trillion dollars of our national debt. As of April of 2018, the United States is still the world’s largest economy, but the Chinese are gaining fast. According to Fortune magazine, China will be the THE world’s largest economy before 2030. Japan is still a distant third, as it was in 1990, but China was a lot smaller in the year that the Soviet Union was the 2nd largest economy.

In October of 2014, the iconic Waldorf Astoria was purchased by a Chinese holding company called Anbang Insurance (one of the world’s wealthiest companies) for $1.95 billion. At the time of its purchase, it was the most expensive hotel ever sold.  In February, Chinese authorities took control of the private held company due to the fact that its chairman had been accused of financial crime. A few days ago, chairman Wu Xiaohui, was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of fraud and embezzlement.

The Chinese STILL have a connection to our railroads, but it is a lot different than it used to be.

In the fall of 2015, a consortium of Chinese rail companies teamed up with Las Vega based XpressWest to build a 370 kilometer high speed rail line in California. When completed, the project will have consumed $5 billion of capital.

I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over China’s growing financial impact on our economy, since there really isn’t much we can do to stop it. For now,  just relax by listening to an old railroad song:

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