AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

A WOODEN LEG NAMED SMITH

I recently read that the historian Bernard Lewis was once considering writing an essay on economics, but confessed he couldn't get past his own first paragraph. He had written, “In the history of human thought science has often come out of superstition. Astronomy came out of astrology. Chemistry came out of alchemy. What will come out of economics?” Its such a good joke, Lewis figured saying anything else would just be repeating himself. Luckily, I have no such inhibitions. But then I also have no problem describing the World War One slaughter of Armenians as a holocaust, which Professor Lewis refuses to do. I guess we all tend to underestimate the power of our own psychology to confuse us...much as the ideologues of economics continue to do.
“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”
The Wealth Of Nations
The godfather of capitalism was the fatherless Scotsman, Adam Smith (above). He presented to the world a “large nose, bulging eyes, a protruding lower lip, a nervous twitch, and a speech impediment” He had no love life that we know of, admitting “I am a beau in nothing but my books” And he wrote just two books – which was good because he was a really boring writer. He may be the most quoted lest read author since Moses. He wrote “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, first published in 1759, and “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, first published in March of 1776 - a month before the start of the American Revolution.
“If [justice] is removed, the great, the immense fabric of human society... must in a moment crumble into atoms.”
The Theory Of Moral Sentiments
I give the date for the first publications of Smith's books because he never stopped re-writing them. Where the modern author fixes his mistakes by issuing an entirely new manifesto, yearly, Smith reworked his books until he ran out of time. There were four editions to “Moral Sentiments”, and five editions of “Wealth of Nations”. And with each edition they got longer, and more verbose. More than one reviewer has described “Wealth of Nations” as“tedious” and Thomas Jefferson recommend readers consult another author because he “treats the same subject on the same principles, but in a shorter compass and and more lucid manner” than Smith did.
“To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers…who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
The Wealth Of Nations.
The defining moment in American economics was the great depression. Fundamentalists adhere to the Old Time Religion of Roosevelt's New Deal; in time of business down turn, government should prime the pump, putting money into circulation to fuel a business recovery. Reform Theorists, like the Chicago School, contend the New Deal was actually a total failure. The key to economic stability, in their view, is faith in private enterprise and distrust of government enterprise. Why the generation which actually experienced the depression and recovery refused to believe the New Deal was a failure, is never explained in their ethos. And they expend a great deal of energy ignoring the godfather of capitalism, Adam Smith, when he virtually screams in both of his methodical works, that private enterprise, if left to its own devices, may be relied upon to destroy its own markets. To paraphrase Karl Marx, capitalism will bury itself. 
“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities...”
The Wealth Of Nations.
Of course the first thing you notice when reading Adam Smith is that he never uses the word “capitalism ”. It had not been invented yet. And neither had the word psychology. But both were Professor Smith's subject when he wrote: “Every individual... intends only his own security; and...intends only his own gain, and he is in this...led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.” And thus we meet Smith's magical “invisible hand”, used ever since he wrote that sentence to justify the greed, waste and “gluttony of the wealthy”, to also quote Adam Smith. But that same invisible hand, says Smith, must also be guiding the tyranny of a socialist majority - for the greater good. It is the balance of the two which Smith promotes in his works, not a domination of one over the other. At times he seems to be channeling thinkers like Karl Marx - from a century in front of the original Commie
“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods....They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”
The Wealth of Nations..
Dubious legend says that Adam Smith was once awakened from a muse to the sound of church bells. Dressed only in his nightshirt, he had walked, lost in thought, fifteen miles from his home on High Street in Kirkcaldy (below), to the outskirts of Durnfermline (above), Scotland. To have made that journey he would most likely have followed the Invertiel Road southwest to the village of Dalgety, before turning north west to Durnfermline. If he had done so, why did no one from Dalgety stop the lunatic wandering about in his night shirt? The story reads like the old joke about the man with a wooden leg named Smith. The punch line is "What is the other leg called?"  But the two towns did play an important role in Smith's thinking.
“The man of system…seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that...every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might choose to impress upon it.”
The Theory Of Moral Sentiments,
Durnfermline had been the ancient seat of Scottish royalty, and had caught the first wave of industrialization, growing rich by mass producing the luxury damask weaves. But the feudal center had been outstripped by the hand looms of the port city of Kirkardy, which had tripled its output of simple linen over ten years (1733 -1743). As a youth Smith had thus seen first hand the power of capitalism to create and to waste, both markets and the lives of the workers and consumers. The citizens of Durnfermline were now left without work, starving and abandoned by a social structure designed for a field workers, who grew what they ate. Smith admitted that his invisible hand was always ready to pick a pocket, even if only its own. And the legislature he derided in the above example might be a liberal “socialist” body, or a conservative body protecting its wealth. Neither brand of political theater impressed Adam Smith. He  believed in the bible, and in particular its ancient warning about the love of money being the root of all evil. He knew, and preached, that capitalism was not about the "job creators", but about the consumers, the middle class - created by capitalism and feeding capitalism. They are the wealth of a nation - not gold or stock values or stock brokers. Without a healthy, growing middle class there can be no capitalism.  That was the lesson Adam Smith was trying to teach.
“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
The Wealth Of Nations
- 30 -

Friday, August 18, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Thirty-Five

I can empathize with 49 year old Lieutenant General John Clifford Pemberton. (above) That spring of 1863, the chain of command dictated he report to and take orders from 56 year old full General Joseph Eggleston Johnston, 600 miles away in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But he was outranked by the President of the Confederate States of America, 57 year old Jefferson Finis Davis, 1,000 miles away in Richmond, Virginia. Davis's his orders to Pemberton conflicted with Johnston's orders so often that the Pennsylvania Confederate had begun to avoid even communicating with Chattanooga. It was just another example of how everything to do with Vicksburg was complicated.
The complications began with the word “state”. The southern slave owners had rejected the
1789 Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8 of which tasked the Federal legislature to “...make all laws...necessary and proper...” for the national government to function. That made the Federal authorities sovereign, and the state authorities subservient. So, despite their complete failure, the slave owners sought to return to the 1781 Articles of Confederation, Article Two of which said that “Each state retains its sovereignty...”. It was why the slave owners called their rebellious government The Confederacy.
This theory meant the Army of the Confederate States was not a national army. The approximately 700,000 flesh and blood 18 to 45 year old white males in Confederate service were paid $11 a month – when they were paid - by their home counties in their individual states – their uniforms, shoes, weapons, ammunition, blankets and eating utensils were all supposed to be supplied by their states. So in December of 1862, Davis was forced to remind the Mississippi legislature in Jackson on, “...the necessity of harmony between the Confederate Government and the State Governments. They must act together...” Except they often did not.
As large swaths of Missouri, as well as counties around Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee were lost to the Yankees, Confederate Generals were forced to cajole local farmers out of their crops, local merchants out of their goods and local bankers out of their money, to support troops from those lost counties.  
The Confederate system required that every inch of Confederate territory be defended in order to defend any of it.  It was a matter of faith to the firebrands like Davis who had brought on this war, that the north's industrial and population superiority, as well as their centralized civil authority, would be overcome if the southern people took heed of the greatest military mind of their time. 
He was the genius whose amazing victory at Austerlitz had inspired Beethoven's fifth symphony, the conqueror of Europe from Moscow to Madrid, the Emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte (above). And Napoleon had said, “The moral is to the physical as three to one”, and prophesied “...the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.”
But the military genius whose campaign's Napoleon studied was the King of Prussia, Friedrich “Frederick the Great” Holenzollern (above). And Friedrich said, “Little minds try to defend everything at once, but...He who defends everything defends nothing.” And then there was that other Napoleon quote, “An army which cannot be regularly recruited is a doomed army”.
After Grant's army had popped the cork at Port Gibson on 1 May, 1863, Pemberton ordered the 2,000 men at Port Hudson to join his army defending the main point - Vicksburg. But Confederate President Davis (above) had countermanded that order - "To hold both Vicksburg and Port Hudson is necessary to a connection with Trans-Mississippi.”
And Pemberton remembered that in 1862 he had been removed from South Carolina because he favored abandoning Fort Sumter (above).  And the man who had removed him was President Jefferson Davis. So the troops remained at Port Hudson.
But Pemberton still had reason for confidence that first week of May. He had direct command over 33,000 men – the gunners for the batteries defending Vicksburg (above), and 5 infantry divisions. Holding some 11,000 men to defend the city and Haines Bluff above the Yazoo River, Pemberton pushed 17,000 men in three divisions forward 20 miles to the Big Black River. 
For the first time in his career, Pemberton took direct command over combat troops in the field, including those of the argumentative 44 year old Major General William Wing Loring's division , as well as that of 45 year old Major General Carter Littlepage Stevenson and 32 year old Brigadier General John Stevens Bowen's battle scared veterans from Port Gibson.
That force seemed sufficient to defend the 4 crossings of the Big Black River against Grant's 30,000 men. The Yankees had already forced the bridge at Hankinson's Ferry, and pushed a mile or so toward Warrenton. But they showed few hints of continuing that advance. Farther north were Hall's Ferry and Baldwin's Ferry. But Pemberton suspected Grant would prefer the crossing closest to Vicksburg, and the one farthest north, the Big Black River Bridge on the Vicksburg – Auburn - Jackson road. Because as far as Pemberton saw it, Grant's army was living on borrowed time.
Everyday the Yankees spent in Mississippi they were consuming food and ammunition. Their supply lines ran 40 miles down the tenuous cordoryed road from Millikan's Bend to Hard Times Landing. Their cargoes then had to be transferred onto 2 weary steamboats to be transported across the river to Grand Gulf. They then had to be reloaded onto wagons to carry the precious supplies another 20 to 30 miles over bad roads to Rock Springs and the Big Black River crossings. Any break, even a temporary one,  in that line and Grant's men would be left starving and defenseless. Even if the supply line held, Grant could afford maybe one big fight before his ammunition ran out. And his food would very likely run short even before then.
So, as Pemberton slowly shifted his divisions northward along the Big Black, watching for an opening to cut off any dangling parts of McClearand's Corps, while being careful not to offer any vulnerable parts of his own  divisions.  Where ever Grant tried to cross the river, Pemberton intended to  bleed Grant's army.  
President Davis had promised 10,000 more men were on the way from South Carolina. Those reinforcements and the 5-6,000 men Pemberton had already ordered to assemble in Jackson, would sweep up the remnants of Grant's ambitions when his army melted away in the Mississippi interior. So encouraged was Pemberton that he telegraphed Richmond on 3 May that everything was under control.
However, at Rocky Springs 41 year old Lieutenant General Ulysses Simpson Grant was also confident, because he had seen something Pemberton evidently had not.
As his 30,000 plus men edged north along the Big Black River, Grant found himself to be 40 miles from Vicksburg, and 60 miles from the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi. He had achieved what Napoleon called “The Central Position” via “La maneuver sur les derrieres”, or 'A March on the Enemies Buttocks”.
If Grant turned west and successfully forced a crossing of the Big Black, he would drive the rebels into their entrenchments at Vicksburg. Those siege lines would multiply the rebel's numbers. But it would also give the Yankees access to Haines Bluff and re-establish Grant's supply line up the Mississippi to Memphis.
If Pemberton was too vigilant and the Big Black River crossings seemed too strong, Grant could always use McClerand's Corps to screen an attack eastward on Jackson. Destroying the railroad shops and telegraph lines in Jackson would isolate Vicksburg and Pemberton's entire army.  But to attempt that, McPherson's Corps would have to turn their backs on Pemberton's forces, making him vulnerable to being taken in the rear.  In order to improve his chances in either direction, Grant needed Sherman's Corp on the Mississippi side of the river as quickly as possible.
Until then, for the first week of May, 1863, the two armies were like a pair of cobra's locked in a caduceus, both just one bite from total victory or total defeat.
- 30 -

Thursday, August 17, 2017

FUNDALENTALIST CREED

I began reading “The Fundamentals; A Testimony to the Truth”, the seminal work of Christian fundamentalism, because I wondered how such a document had come to exist. The very first sentence of the very first of the 90 essays sought to explain it all. “In 1909 God moved two Christian laymen to set aside a large sum of money for issuing twelve volumes that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith…” Of course, being a skeptic, that explained nothing to me. But, upon further investigation, I discovered that the two anonymous Christian laymen were Lyman Stewart and his younger brother Milton. And their personal history provided some insight into the movement they had fathered.
Lyman Stewart (above) was the deeply religious eldest son of a tanner. He hated his father’s business and wanted to be a missionary. But, as Jesus before him, Lyman found he would need funds to support his ministry. Then, on the morning of 28 August, 1858, almost in Lyman’s own backyard, the foreman of the Pennsylvania Oil Company spotted fresh oil standing in the 69 foot drill hole he had decided the night before to abandon. Within a few weeks this almost abandoned well, outside of Titusville, Pennsylvania, would be producing the unheard of  bounty of 20 barrels a day. Jonathan Watson, the man who had leased the site to Penn Oil, became the first oil millionaire. In that sudden wealth, Lyman  Stewart saw the hand of God.
Yet, it was a risky business, looking for oil. The towers of Ancient Babylon had been constructed in part with asphalt, but even by 1859 there was no explanation of how petroleum, or “rock oil”, was created, nor why it was found where it was. Even today, three out of every four oil fields are discovered because of surface “seeps” of asphalt. Searching for oil beneath the ground remained in 1859 a matter of pure luck - and, if you asked Lyman Stewart, divine intervention.
On 5 December 1858, Layman used his life savings of $125 (equivalent to $3,000 today) to buy an option on a section of land not far from Penn Oil’s big score. But alas, Lyman’s lease proved to be a dry hole. It took this man of faith two years of had work in the oil fields to save up enough cash to finance a second try. In 1861 he joined with other investors in buying another lease. This time Lyman hit oil. But by then over-production had driven the price of oil down to ten cents a barrel, and Lyman and his partners lost their oil stained shirts.
By now chemical analysis had determined that oil had once been living plants and animals. From this it was theorized that oil would never be found in the rocks in which it had formed, the “source rock”.  Instead it was theorized that once having formed (some how) it then flowed into a permeable “reservoir rock”, and might be trapped beneath an impermeable “cap rock”.
If there were no cap rock and the oil made it to the surface, it formed a seep. But geologists still had no way of measure how old oil was. But connecting the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton and the English Naturalist Charles Darwin, whose “Origin of Species” had been published in 1859,  it seemed it might be unimaginably old, hundreds of thousands or even millions of years old.
In 1866, after serving in the Civil War, Lyman Stewart returned to the oil fields. This time, however, he opened an office in Titusville, helping other wildcatters negotiate leases from local farmers. On some of the better looking leases, Lyman waved his fee in exchange for a share of any oil found. By 1868 he had amassed a small fortune on the gambles taken by others, and from that he had somehow acquired a reputation as a savvy oil man. Still, by 1869, he was broke again. But he remained convinced that God would not let him fail.
In 1877 Lymen teamed up with a roustabout from the Pennsylvania and California oil fields, named Wallace Hardison. Hardison had made enough money in California oil to fund Lyman for one more try. And Layman hit the black gold again. This time, when they were on top, the pair sold out to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil of Indiana. In 1883 the Stewart brothers and Hardison packed their bags and moved to California.
The desperate search for oil drove capitalists to take a hard look at the only empirical evidence they had, the pulverized rocks drawn up from both dry and successful drill holes. In that broken and shattered rock they found the fossils of single celled aquatic creatures called Foraminifera. There are some 4,000 species of Formaminifera in today’s oceans, living from the surface to the bottom mud, from the Arctic to the tropics. But the fossils of 275,000 different Foraminifera species were found in the drilling cores.
Obviously the vast majority of these little creatures and plants had gone extinct. By studying which species  had been found the wells that had produced oil,  these practical capitalists could better judge their chances of finding oil in any new drilling hole. Eventually, oilmen found they could depend on Foraminifera fossil species in the cores, to lead them toward unseen oil.
The move west did not change Lyman Stewart's core beliefs. He forbade his normally profane roustabouts from cursing on the drilling site, which earned his first drilling site in California the title of “Christian Hill”. Still, even with the Lyman’s piety, it took seven dry wells before Lyman and Harding produced their first gusher in Santa Clarita, California. But by 1886 the Hadison and Stewart Oil Company was producing 15% of all the petroleum in California.
In 1890 they merged with three other local oil companies controlled by Thomas Bard, to form the Union Oil Company of California. Bard was named President of the new company, Lyman was named Vice President, and Hardison became the treasurer. The company’s headquarters was established in the pretty little town of Santa Paula, at the corner of Main and Ojai streets, surrounded by the nodding mechanical donkeys, pumping oil.
Success and wealth merely confirmed Lyman’s faith in his own righteousness. He had no doubt that God meant him to be wealthy and wanted him to expand his empire. Wallace Hardison was not so certain, and in 1892 he sold out. In 1894 Bard resigned over fights with Lyman. And finally Lyman Stewart had reached the top of the mountain. He kept drilling new wells, to feed the growing demand for his product. He built pipelines and refineries. He built a fleet of tankers to carry Unocal oil up and down the West Coast. He opened a string of service stations, to sell his gasoline. Company profits went from $10 million in 1900 to over $50 million in 1908. California wells were now producing almost 78 million barrels a year. The following year, Wallace Hardison died in Sun Valley, California, when his car was struck by a train. It seemed that God was eliminating all of Lyman's competition.
Now at last Lyman Stewart had the fortune to fund his ministry. Lyman and Milton endowed $300,000 for the publication of 12 volumes (90 essays) in defense of what they believed were the five fundamental tenets of the true faith; the total absolute accuracy of the bible, the divinity of Jesus, his death for humanities’ sins, and his second coming, which was expected soon, perhaps in the lifetime of people then living.
However there were a few other points made in The Fundamentals, in particular a listing of the enemies of Christianity. These enemies included “…Romanism (Catholicism), socialism, modern philosophy, atheism...Mormonism, spiritualism,...and Darwinism, which appeared to undermine the Bible's authority.”  Formed originally as a response to "modernism", the foundations of Fundamentalism are primarily negative, insisting upon what they are against, rather than what they seek to build.  It is impossible to decipher early 21st century conservative politics without an understanding of “The Fundamentals; a Testimony to the Truth”.
The first target of the Fundamentalists was the growing acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection. William Riley, writing for the World Christian Fundamentals Association in 1922, declared “We increasingly realize that the whole menace in modernism exists in its having accepted Darwinism against Moses, and the evolutionary hypothesis against the inspired word of God." There are hundreds of teachers, Riley argued, who were pouring the poison of Darwinism into youthful minds where their evil teachings could "take root in the garden of the Lord.”  Except....
By the 1920’s Union Oil's own  geologists had come to realize that the various species of extinct Foraminifera could be used to measure ancient ocean temperatures, and the amount of oxygen present in the ancient seas. And by mid-20th century they came to understand that the multi-billion dollar petrochemical industry depended upon a detailed understanding of the ancient pre-historic,  pre-biblical, fossilized shells of extinct microscopic creatures found in drilling cores. It was upon the evolutionary lines of those long dead life forms that the profits of the  big oil companies, including Union Oil, were founded.
And thanks to Layman Stewart’s largess, millions of dollars in those profits from this oil provided for the Los Angeles Mission, (above) which has helped to feed and shelter tens of thousands of homeless and lost souls, and a Fundamentalist Christian collage, which explicitly taught its' graduates that evolution, such as that exhibited by those microscopic creatures used to find all that wealth, had not occurred.
 It is that conflict at the core of Fundamentalism which renders it a schizophrenic philosophy, with little positive to teach, but only blinding, dead-end beliefs that lead only into the dark.
  - 30 -

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