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JUNE  2017
J.P. Morgan as a young man in his own words - "The Public Be Damned."

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Friday, March 19, 2010

HOLLYWOOD ON TRIAL, TAKE ONE

I would call it a dress rehearsal for the O.J. Simpston and Phil Spector cases. On the afternoon of Thursday, September 3, 1903, Mr. Griffith Jenkins Griffith walked into his wife’s bedroom in the Presidential Suit of the Arcadia Hotel in Santa Monica, California and locked the door behind him. Christina Griffith, who was writing last minute thank-you notes had no reason to feel threatened. The couple had just spent a pleasant sea-side holiday and she was expecting to take a stroll along the boardwalk with her husband of 16 years. She must have been perplexed when he handed her a bible. But when he pulled a revolver from his coat pocket and ordered her to her knees, in that terrifying instant, Christina must have realized that he meant to murder her.
As poor Christina cowered trembling on the floor,  Griffith (above) calmly asked if she had ever been unfaithful to him. Christina sobbed in terror, “Oh, Papa, you know I have always been true to you.” Griffth was convinced that the Pope in Rome, working through his Catholic wife, wanted to have him murdered. Christina tried to reason with her husband but the only sounds she could force from her throat were horrified sobs. She felt the cold steel of the barrel press hard against her temple. She flinched. And as she did, Griffith pulled the trigger. The bullet exploded into her left eye, blowing her eyeball apart. She screamed in terror and agony, and impulsively threw herself out the nearest window.
She tumbled helplessly down two stories, landing on the hotel veranda’s sunshade, breaking her leg. Fear drove her to crawl through an open second story window into an empty room. She pressed a towel into the bloody cavity in her head, and only then did she scream for help. Two men responded. By chance the first to arrive was the hotel’s manager, Mr. Wright. The second was her husband, the murderous Mr. Griffith. Christina screamed, “He shot me! He’s crazy!” Griffith calmly assured the manager that Christina had accidently shot herself. But the manager insisted upon calling the sheriff.
In a couple of hours the 100,000 residents of the young metropolis of Los Angeles were electrified to hear newsboys on every street corner shouting that one of the town's most prominent citizens, the man who just seven years earlier had donated 4,000 acres for a city park, a generous supporter of the temperance league and a well respected and well connected businessman, was so “crazy drunk” that he had tried to murder his wife in broad daylight.
Over night the 51 year old Griffith became the most hated man in Los Angeles. On Tuesday September 8th. Griffith was unanimously removed from the city Parks Commission and the Los Angeles Times suggested that “Griffith Park” was “handicapped so signally by its name” that it should be returned to its donor. The park’s highest peak, Mt. Griffith, became Mt. Hollywood. People now remembered Griffith as “…a roly-poly, pompous little fellow”, a “midget egomaniac” and a “vain little Napoleon” who wore heel length coats and carried a gold headed walking cane.
He was also the man who had held the city’s access to drinking water from the L.A. River hostage for a $50,000 payment. The land he had used in this maneuver was the very same Rancho Los Feliz that he later donated to the city as Griffith Park, for which he was awarded a significant tax deduction. And Griffith’s behavior after the shooting did little to quell the public’s outrage. Released on bail he repeated his allegation that Christina had shot herself, and then assured the public that his social position would protect him. When Christina, now called "the society wife who refused to die", filed for divorce the “Colonel” contested the custody of their son, which made Griffith appear not just crazy but cruel. His lawyers did their best to repair the damage, leaking to the Los Angele Examiner that “Mrs. Griffith…believed her husband was insane and she thought he should be locked up, but she was averse to a swearing of a felony complaint against him....” Christina did not take the hint.
By this time Christina's family, as wealthy and powerful as Griffith, had hired a team of lawyers, including Henry Gage, a former governor, and Isadore Dockweiler, a powerful trial lawyer. They immediately went on the offensive. The victim, now blind in one eye and forever disfigured, submitted to a deposition under oath, saying, “…. her husband was sober on the night of the shooting… (and) had not been drinking during the day…” In other words, they were not going to accept a diminished capacity defense.
Now beginning to panic, Griffith’s lawyers sought a change of venue. That was quickly denied.  Just five days before the trial was scheduled to begin Griffith hired a young new lawyer named Earl Rogers (above). He immediately filed for a delay, and the prosecution prepared arguments to smack Rogers down. But on the first day of the trial, the day after Valentine's Day, Monday, February 15th., 1904, Rogers caught the prosecutors off stride by suddenly withdrawing his motion. The trial games had begun.
The L.A. Times described the jockeying in the court room amongst the mob of lawyers. “Rogers would ask a question; the District Attorney would object; retort to the D. A. would follow from (defense lawyer) Maj. Jones; slap back at Jones from Dockweiler; dig at Dockweiler from (defense lawyer) McKinley; swat at McKinley from Mr. Gage; crack at Gage from Luther Brown (yet another defense lawyer) .” Meanwhile, on the witness stand, there were battling psychiatrists and battling bartenders.
Griffith’s doctors said he was insane and his bartenders swore that he drank two quarts of whiskey a day. Griffith, it seemed, was a man of many paranoia. A devout Methodist, Griffin had often lectured his club on the conspiracies of the Catholic Church. Combined with his ego, these beliefs convinced the “Colonel” that through his devoutly Catholic wife, the Pope was seeking to assassinate him. Restaurant waitresses testified of his habit of suddenly exchanging dinner plates with his wife. When asked, he explained "...you never knew when a meal might be poisoned". A local doctor testified that many years before Griffith had come to him with a bottle of wine and said he thought it was poisoned. Asked what he did with the wine the doctor blandly replied, “I drank it.”
There were so many lawyers in the courtroom that it was barely noticed when the defense called another as a witness. A member of the county Republican Committee, Oscar Lawler, described a lunch at which Griffith promised not to run for mayor, because, he said, no one else would stand a chance. Griffin even expected the Democrats to stand aside for him. Lawler thought Griffith was joking and suggested that Griffith should run for President. Griffith replied seriously, “I think so myself.” Lawler testified that from that moment on, he believed Griffith to be insane.
It turned out, so did the jury. After two days of deliberations, on March 3rd., 1904, they rejected the charge of attempted murder, and instead found Griffith guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor. The frustrated judge then sentenced Griffith to the maximum allowed, just two years in prison. The public was outraged all over again.
Earl Rogers became famous, and was the inspiration for Erle Stanley Gardner’s character, Perry Mason. Such talent in the courtroom did require some moral compromises. After hearing himself declared not guilty one client rushed to shake Roger’s hand, but the lawyer responded, “Get away from me, you slimy pimp. You know you’re guilty as hell!” And perhaps Rogers understood Griffith’s alcoholic paranoia so well because he himself was an alcoholic. Rogers died in 1922 “broke and alone in a Los Angeles boarding house" of liver failure at the age of 52. His daughter, famous L.A. newswoman in her own right, Adela Rogers St. John, wrote his biography, “Final Verdict”, which was published in 1962.

Griffith served his time in San Quentin State Prison. Once denied access to alcohol, his insanity evaporated. He turned down a job in the prison library, and instead made burlap sacks. Released in late 1906 he returned to Los Angles, living quietly. The only subject he lectured on now was prison reform. In 1912 he offered the city $100,000 to build an observatory, saying, “Ambition must have broad spaces and mighty distances.” A prominent citizen responded that, “This community is neither so poor nor so lost to a sense of public decency that it can afford to accept this money.” The next year Griffith sweetened the offer with $50,000 to build an outdoor Greek theatre. The city even protested his planning for the project. So Griffith put both bequests in his will.
Griffith J. Griffith died of liver disease on July 6, 1919. His bequests were carried through and overseen by his son, Van, - as was the erecting of a statue of his father near the park’s main entrance. Today the observatory and the Greek theatre are highlights of Griffith Park, the jewel of Los Angeles.
Today it is impossible to imagine Los Angeles without Griffith's Park.
- 30 -

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

HUNTING THE BIG UMBER BIRD

I have to tell you a very dull story. It relates no shootouts, no hangings, no burnings at the stake. This story would make a really bad comic book, er, sorry, graphic novel. Heck, it would make an uninspiring regular novel. And as a television series it is just a non-starter. So it must not be important, huh. And because it lacks all of those dramatic threds to string you, the reader, along, it will never make it on the news networks - which are in fact rarely new. But it really is an important story. And if I try and gin it up a little bit, you may agree. The facts, I assure you, are all accurate.
The central character is a guy named Charles Pollock. He lived in Boston in the 1890’s, a dull town in a dull time. And Charles worked in a bank; dull, dull, dull. But at least he was narcissistic. That made him a little interesting, if only to himself. Then, in 1894, dull dull Charles took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court. It was that case which made Charles the hero of the modern anti-tax movement. And here let me suggest you imagine a really big explosion, a sucide bombing maybe, with piles of innocent people dead and dismembered laying all over the place, because, really, the anti-tax movement is just a looney tunes version of suicide bombing- you blow up yourself and everybody around you.
I don't like paying taxes. I never have, I never will. There are some things my taxes have helped pay for that I don't approve of; a couple of wars, subsidies to a few domestic monopolies and some foriegn dictators, to name just a few. But those pale in comparison to the sin of not having a state to protect me and you. And, call them libertarians or anarchists, those who oppose the power of the state to tax its citizens resemble, to borrow a description from Tom Wolf, “…the logician who flies higher and higher in ever-decreasing circles until, with one last, utterly inevitable induction, he disappears up his own fundamental aperture and emerges in the fourth dimension as a needle-thin umber bird.” (“From Bauhaus to Our House”) To whit:
The U.S. government has been taxing income since 1861, as permitted in the Constitution under Article 1, Section 2 ("Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several states…") and Article 1, Section 8 ("The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes,…"). But in 1862 Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, the author of the Dredd Scott decision which had helped to bring on the Civil War, became incensed that money was actually being taken out of his paycheck to help pay for the Civil War. Taney was a very strong believer in slavery and in being treated as somebody special.
And Taney’s objections to paying taxes for the Civil War also struck a cord with those who might not like slavery but who thought they were also special and did not deserve to be paying taxes. We're talking about rich people here, very rich people, who had no compunction about buying politicians to get what they wanted. Buying politicians is what is currently known as free speech, if your logic can somehow equate "buying" with "free" in the same thought without your head exploding.
Anyway, in 1872 the rich people had the income tax laws repealed. Unfortunatly for Taney he was already dead and he wasn't getting his money back. Or his slaves. For that he would have to wait until the "Inheritance Tax" could be redefined as the "Death Tax". But I digress...
For the next twenty years the Federal government struggled along supported by import duties alone, which amounted to less than 2% of the nation’s gross domestic product.  And yes, that is how we funded government before 1861. But before 1861 we were primarily an agricultural economy, where farm workers do not require much education, where populations were scattered and where all health problems were local, bcause transportation was by foot and horse. After 1861 we were a growing industrial economy. Factory workers required a high school education (or better). They were concentrated in population centers, and railroads were making  public health a regional problem. In other words, economic conditions had changed.
Now, besides being unable to support an effective government, import duties (taxes on imports), raised the price of all consumer goods, imported and domestic. In fact, during the 1880's import duties added as much as 48% to the final price consumers paid, for milk, for steel, and for everything in between. This protected domestic companies and allowed them to keep their prices high enough to ensure high profits. Are your eyes glazing over, yet? Picture this; you walk into your local 'speak easy ' and discover that overnight the price of a beer has gone up 50%. You ask the owner what gives. He tells you that he has new suppliers, and the cost of beer from them is 50% higher than it was from the old suppliers. You ask why he switched suppliers, and he explains, "They made me an offer I couldn't refuse."
Congressman William Jennings Bryant of Nebraska labeled high tariffs “socialism for the rich”. “They weep more because fifteen millions are to be collected from the rich than they do at the collection of three hundred millions upon the goods which the poor consume.” But it ain't like they did it in secret.
Between 1871 and 1891 sixty separate bills were introduced in congress to reestablish an income tax. That's right, people were actually fighting for the right to pay taxes. The Republicans, the party in power at the time, beat all of those efforts back. And then in 1893 a new tariff reform bill was introduced by Democratic Rep. William Wilson of West Virginia. Wilson's bill was primmarily intended to lower the import duties on foreign iron ore, coal, lumber, wool and sugar. But the bill also included a minor amendment, introduced by Rep. Benton McMillan from Tennessee, which read, “That from and after the 1st day of January, 1895, there shall be levied, collected, and paid annually upon the gains, profits, and income of every person residing in the United States, derived from any kind of property, rents, interest, dividends, or salaries…a tax of 2 per cent on the amount so derived over and above $4,000” during any five year period (equal to $88,400 today).
The pundits paid little attention to Mr. McMillan’s amendment because so many income tax measures had been introduced so many times before, and none of them ever came to anything. This was because the rich and powerful had a secret weapon, sort of a human tommy gun, a Homo sapian Chicago typewriter, if you will.
His name was Senator Arthur Gorman of Maryland, and he was a tool of the rich and powerful. Gorman helped the opponents of the Wilson bill attach more than 600 amendments which reinstated almost all of the import duties the bill had attempted to lower. It was a St. Vaentine's Day Massacre on the floor of United States Capital building, right in front of God and everybody, as my father used to say.
With the “Tariff reduction” bill thus bullet ridden and bleeding on the floor, no one believed that President Grover Cleveland, who had campaigned on a lower tariff platform, would ever sign the misbegotten bill into law. And he didn’t. He simply let the bill become law without his signature. It didn't cost him anything. At least the tariffs had been marginally lowered. At least he could claim that he had done everything he could to lower prices for working class Americans, while not having to actually do anything to openly offend his rich campaign donors.
But imagine the mobster's shock the next morning to discover that Al Capone had beat the rap for murdering the Bugs Moran's gang, but he was going to jail anyway for income tax evasion. That was the shock felt amongst the rich and powerful. America had returned to a national income tax. And the response was just what you would expect it would be from the rich and powerful. They sued.
The fine print of the accidental income tax law required that all stock companies pay the income tax for individuals before distributing any dividends to them. Dividends were income. And when he received his notice from the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company (because he owned all of ten shares of stock in Farmers’ Loan and Trust) Mr. Charles Pollock was very angry. He was angry enough to hire high priced Wall Street top gun lawyer named Joseph Choate, who filed a lawsuit against the bank claiming the income tax was unconstitutional.
The Massachusetts courts disagreed, as did the Federal courts. They both upheld the law. But somehow Charles Pollock found the money to appeal his lawsuit all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which, to everyone’s surprise, agreed to hear the case immediately.
On April 8, 1895 the court ruled 5-4, in favor of Mr. Pollock. That slim majority saying in essence that the source of income mattered; salary could be taxed, but income derived from property – rent, interest on savings or dividends paid on stock - were not “apportioned” by population, and thus the government was denied the power to tax it.
The dissenting opinions were intellecutally devstating. Justice Brown wrote that “This decision involves nothing less than the surrender of the taxing power to the moneyed class…Even the specter of socialism is conjured up to frighten Congress from laying taxes upon the people in proportion to their ability to pay them.”
And Justice Harlan argued that the court's majority opinion, “…declares that our government has been so framed that,...those who have incomes derived from...bonds, stocks and investments...have privileges that cannot be accorded to those having incomes derived from the labor of their hands, or the exercise of their skill, or the use of their brains.” These were bother powerful arguements. But then the greedy have always been willing to lose the intellectual arguements, as long as they get to keep their money.
Middle class Americans were outraged. They were infuriated. They were fighting mad. And it would still take 11 years before the will of the people could overcome the power of the “moneyed classes”.
In 1909 President Howard Taft proposed a Constitutional Amendment (in part because he thought it would never pass) to allow a Federal Income Tax. On July 12, 1909 the 16th amendment passed the Congress and was submitted to the states, in part bcause the congress never thought the states would pass it. The amendment was brutally blunt and short. It reads in total, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” Period. End of Amendment.
Alabama took less than a month to vote for the 16th amendment. Kentucky, South Carolina, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Maryland, Georgia and Texas all passed it in 1910. Twenty-three more states followed in 1911, three more in 1912, and six more in 1913.
It was with the vote of the New Mexico legislature, on February 3, 1913, that made the 16th amendment the law of the land. Six states either rejected the amendment or never took it up, but that did not matter. The Constitution only requires that two-thirds of the states approve of an amendment to make it the law.
And so, when some lunatic or confidence man or woman tries to seduce you with a magical scheme to avoid paying taxes, you can now explain to them that, by placing the source of support for the government in the people’s hands, income taxes places the power there as well.
The relevancy of this tale of narcissism to your life may become clearer when you realize that on June 1, 1929 the Farmers Loan and Trust Company named in the lawsuit changed their name to City Bank Famers Trust. And then in 1976 they changed their name again. This time they shortened it to Citibank.
This is the same Citibank that in 2009 swallowed some $320 billion of taxpayer (meaning your) bailout dollars. Oh, as of 1894, Charles Pollock was an employee of Farmers Loan and Trust in their Boston branch. And it seems likely to me that he sued his own employer with their connivance. Looking at history it seems to me that the limits to which the rich will go to avoid paying their fair share of government remains endless. These people just think they are top of the world, ma!
- 30 -

Sunday, March 14, 2010

AMAZING RACE; PART I

I think the "Amazing Race" was  a good idea. There were three serious contestants, and a $50,000 first place award. What was amazing was that nobody collected a dime in prize money. It was 1911. Flying was still brand new and the world’s first two pilots were still flying: Wilbur and Orville Wright. The third pilot was Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, and he had died on September 17, 1908, in a crash that also badly injured Orville. The second pilot to die was Charles Rolls (of Rolls-Royce fame), in a 1910 crash. Considering there were only about 100 men (and one woman) with flying licenses in America in 1911, two percent was an appalling death  rate, bad enough to make you wonder why anybody would have wanted to try flying.
The world’s 49th licensed pilot was a shy, cocky, 6’4” thirty-something, cigar smoking, playboy and adrenaline freak with a hearing loss named Calbraith Perry Rogers. He was a romantic who favored action over words, as proven by the way he met his wife, 20 something Mabel Groves (left). He saw her drowning, jumped in, pulled her to safety and later married her, despite the hat. He approached flying with the same spontaneity. Having seen his first airplane on a visit to Dayton, Ohio, in June of 1911, Cal took the full Wright Brother’s flight course, all 90 minutes of it. Then he talked his mother, Maria, into loaning him $5,000 so he could buy a Wright Model B Flyer “E-X”; the "E-X" was for experimental – which was a joke because every “aeroplane” was experimental in 1911. But Cal may also have been the origin of the phrase to “take a flyer”, because just two months later, in August, he entered his Wright Flyer in an air show in Chicago and took home third prize, worth $11,285. Not bad: Cal had been a pilot for 60 days and already he had made six grand profit. He suspected there might be money in this flying thing. In October of 1910 the Hearst newspaper chain had offered $50,000 to the first pilot to make it across the continent in 30 days or less. The offer was set to expire on October 10th , so with his self supplied confidence, Cal decided to go for it. 
 What Cal needed, as any NASCAR driver can tell you, was a sponsor. He found his ‘sticker sucker’ in a new soft drink, “VIN FIZ”. Allegedly it was grape favored soda water but one critic noted that it tasted like “…a fine blend of river sludge and horse slop” With a product like that the Amour Meat Company, proud owners of Vin Fiz, were going to need a heck of an advertising campaign. Enter Cal and his flying bill board.
With a guarantee of $23,000 from Amour, which also provided a three car support train (complete with a repair car and a reservoir of spare parts, a motor car to track down Cal whereever he had crash landed, and sleeping car accommodations for Mable, Cal’s mother Maria, his cousin, his head mechanic Charlie Taylor, two other mechanics, two assistants and assorted reporters from the Hearst news service), Cal figured he had it all figured out. The first problem was that, before Cal even got airborne, his "Vin Fiz" was already in third place.
First off, from Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, was motorcycle racer Bob Fowler. There were 10,000 cheering people there at 1:35 P.M., on September 11th to see Bob off.  Like Cal, Bob was piloting a Wright “B” Flyer, except his sponsor was the Cole Motor Company, of Indianapolis, Indiana, and they had supplied him with one of their engines and a little cash. The Cole engine  more powerful than the Wright engine, but it was also 200 lbs heavier. Plus they were only paying Bob $7,500.00 for the whole trip. Making an average speed of about 55 miles an hour, Bob reached Sacramento in just under 2 hours, and after spending a couple of hours schmoozing with California Governor Hiram Johnson, Bob flew on to Auburn; for a total distance on the first day of 126 miles. On September 12th he reached Alta, California, where he crashed into some trees. Bob was now out of the race until repair parts could be rushed out from Frisco.
Second to start was James J. (Jimmy) Ward,  pilot's license #52, and previously a jockey. He was flying a Curtis Model D. James took off from Governor’s Island in New York harbor on September 13th. He immediately got lost over New Jersey, and made only twenty miles before crash landing. Then he too had to wait for repairs. The basic tone of the entire race for everybody had thus been set right away; take off, crash, wait for repairs, take off, crash, wait for repairs, and repeat as necessary. It was going to be very hard to finish this race, let alone win it.
Before starting himself, Cal Rogers tied a bottle Vin Fiz to one of his wing struts (white circle on the left), “for luck”. For reality, he tied a pair of crutches to another strut. Before a paying crowd of 2,000, a chorus girl poured a bottle of grape soda over the landing skids and proclaimed, “I dub thee “Vin Fiz Flyer””. Cal actually called his plane “Betsy” but he recognized the value of naming fees even back then.
Cal took off from the race course at Sheepshead Bay, Long Island at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, September 17th. And if anybody noticed it was the third anniversary of the crash that had killed Lieutenant Selfridge, they were polite enough not to mention it.
After take off Cal buzzed Coney Island and dropped coupons for free Vin Fiz soda. Then he flew across Manhattan “…with its death-trap of tall buildings, ragged roofs and narrow streets”, as the breathless reporters reported breathlessly. Cal landed in Middleton, New York that night to a cheering crowd (reported as 10,000 – not to be bettered by San Francisco). He had made all of 84 miles that first day.
That night the reporters claimed that Cal claimed he would be in Chicago in four days. But Cal was shy, because of his bad hearing, the byproduct of a scarlet fever attack in his childhood. So he didn't like talking to reporters because he often barely heard their questions. So the reporters just made up heroic quotes for Cal. They invented more heroic quotes for him the next morning when, on take off,  the "Vin Fiz" hit a tree and ended up in a chicken coop. The bottle of Vin Fiz was miraculaously undamaged but now it was Cal’s turn to wait for repairs.
The race was on!
NEXT WEDNESDAY: HEADWINDS

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