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FOX NEWS during the 1890's


Friday, June 25, 2010


I know nothing practical about automobiles. So if I had to build one I would climb into my time machine and ask Henry Ford; the man who conceived of, designed and built the Model “T”. But if I had questions about Judaism, the American publisher of the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ would be the last man I would waste my time with. Of course the engineering genius, and the vicious adherent to the anti-Semitic claptrap in the “Protocols” (actually written in 1902 by the Czar’s secrete police) shared the same brain tissue. And that illustrates the trouble you can get into trusting experts, very far outside of their area of expertise.
Take Mr. James Rand, Jr., who started an office supply company in 1915, and turned it into Remington Rand, which dominated the market by the mid-nineteen twenties. A genius in his field, in 1933 Rand co-started "The Committee for the Nation", which lobbied President Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust” of advisors to take the U.S. off the gold standard - a decision that helped America climb out of the depression. So far Mr. Rand sounds like a genius. He also pulled three drowning girls out of the ocean off Long Island, so he was also a hero. But then Mr. Rand publically endorsed some ideas of a Dr. William Albert Wirt, and overnight he went from hero to zero.
William Wirt was a Hoosier farm boy, who had made a name for himself as superintendent of schools in Gary, Indiana. He espoused a return to teaching traditional family values, or what a modern sociologist might term  'educational nostalgia'. What? You thought nostaliga was something invented in 1980, or 2010?
What William called for was “'the ennobling of daily and common work”, which he proposed to achieve via his “platoon system”. He was not espousing bad ideas. They had value and his advocacy of them made him famous and popular, for awhile. They were not the ultimate educational solution, but William can be excused if he thought they were. Pride is human nature, but it is not our best nature. Anway, what got William Wirt into trouble was not his educational theories, but a little fifty page document he wrote and mimeographed, and handed out all by himself. He called it “America Must Lose”, and it had nothing to do with education. Basically it was William's addition to the arguments against the gold standard in foreign monetary exchange, a subject you might think was a bit esoteric for a superintendent of schools. But then we all think, at times, that we have the answer to everything, if people would just listen to us. William was just prideful enough to put his into print.
The real trouble came when William sent a copy of his tract to Mr. Rand. Now, Mr. Rand, who was a Republican, had received criticism from his Republican friends for supporting something the Democrats had agreed with. And he was looking for support from any place he could find it. So in March of 1934, Mr. Rand brought William's little paper about the gold standard to the attention of Republicans on the House Interstate Commerce Committee. And they latched onto just 12 pages of the wisdom from Dr. Wirt, and turned those pages and Dr. Wirt, into an anti-FDR political cause-celeb.
I will rely on Arthur Schlesinger, from his book “The Coming of the New Deal”, to explain. “In the summer of 1933, according to the manuscript, Dr. Wirt had asked a group of ‘brain trusters’ how they planned to bring about their proposed overthrow of the social order. They replied that by holding back recovery they could prolong the countries troubles until people would realize that the government had no choice but to take over everything. What about the President? Wirt asked. Roosevelt, the brain trusters said, was in the middle of a swift stream, with current so strong he could not turn back. ‘We believe we can keep Mr. Roosevelt there until we are ready to supplant him with Stalin. We all think Mr. Roosevelt is the Kerensky of this revolution.’ But would Roosevelt not see through their schemes? “We are on the inside’, they told Wirt. We control the avenues of influence. We can make the President believe he is making the decisions for himself.’
Just a little explination;.when Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in March of 1933, he faced 26% unemployement, and a collapsed economy. He had no solutions. He was not an economist. He was a politician. So he gathered a group of experts across a broad range of knowledge which the press dubbed his "brain trust". The members were well educated, usually young minds who had no idea of how things were usually done, so they were willing to break the rules to get the econony moving again. By 1936, unemployement would be reduced to 11%, an indication that many of these new ideas were actually working. However, in March of 1934 that arguement could not yet be made.
Now, Kerensky was the guy who had overthrown the Czar.
Most people have never heard of him because in November of 1917 Lennin and the Communists had overthrown Kerensky, charging that he had not been radical enough. This scary Soviet stuff was all still recent history in 1934, and there were still plenty of people who thought Communism might yet work. The harsh reality would set in for most of them over the next decade. But everybody knew in 1934 that calling Roosevelt a 'Kerensky' was calling him a fool and the tool of the socialists and communists, who the opponents were convinced were pulling the strings from behind the curtains in the "New Deal".
Now, in the summer of 1934 the Republicans, having just been drubbed by Roosevelt in November of 1932, were throwing a lot of spaghetti against the wall, hoping some would stick, (sort of like today). And Mr. Wirt had just become some of that spaghetti. Remember, his self published tome had actually supported the idea of getting off the gold standard, But still feeling the tug from his old stall, he still wanted to get back in the barn, and the 12 pages the Republicans had latched onto were his clumsy way of saying so. But none of that mattered. Politics is not reality. Politics is theatre.  
Time Magazine set the stage on April 23, 1934, “In the big caucus room, while flash lamps winked, newsreel cameras purred and squads of radio engineers and reporters elbowed through the jam packed spectators, a special committee of Representatives sat down to investigate charges of the utmost gravity: that the President's intimate advisers were plotting to overthrow the Republic… Impatiently the audience waited while the committee of three Democrats and two Republicans haggled along strict party lines over the rules of procedure…with 60-year-old Dr. Wirt nervously chewing his index fingernail...Chairman Alfred Lee Bulwinkle of Gastonia, N. C. put the epic question: "Doctor . . . you stated . . . that you 'asked some of the individuals in this group what their concrete plan was for bringing on the proposed overthrow'. . . . Who were those persons?”
And it was right there, with the charge of treason by members of the "Brain Trust", which had been so trumpeted by the Republicans, that the charge of "treason" began to fall apart. It turned out that none of the actual attendees of the dinner party were actual members of Roosevelt’s brain trust. The gathering had been a dinner party thrown on Friday, September 1st, 1933, by Miss Alice Barrows, “a curly-headed blonde...a school building expert in the Office of Education.” (ibid) The other two women, Miss Hildegarde Kneeland and Miss Mary Taylor, were both“…bright, obscure incumbents of small Government jobs” (ibid). Also at the dinner party were Mr. Richard Bruere, a specialist in industrial relations, and Mr. David Coyle “… a theoretical writer on business and finance...(who had) just finished planting a nut farm in New Jersey.” (ibid)
But the most interesting person at the dinner (to the conspiracy believers at least) had been Mr. Laurence Todd, a correspondent for TASS, the Soviet news agency. But then, of course, Todd was the only person at the party who had no actual connection to the government, and was certainly not a member of Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust”. Wrote Time magazine, “To the nation, which had been waiting…the names of Dr. Wirt's "brain trusters" meant a little less than nothing”.
Worse was to come, for Republican hopes; “Dr. Wirt, the glare of Klieg lights pitilessly burnishing his baldish brow, confessed that he had "done a great deal of the talking” (ibid) at the party. And, on that issue, at least, the other attendees agreed. Miss Barrows recalled, “As a dinner it was not a success. Dr. Wirt talked practically all the time.” According to Miss Kneeland, “It was impossible for either myself or anyone else to take a considerable part in the conversation.” Miss Taylor said, “Dr. Wirt really had no conversation. The monologue continued.” Said Mr. Breure; “I listened to Dr. Wirt for several hours discoursing on money.” And according to Mr. Todd, the reporter for Tass, Dr. Wirt had “…talked for nearly five hours continuously”.
So Dr. Wirt's memory of the fateful dinner party had been faulty. He thought he had been the life of the party. He had killed the party. He thought others had said frightning things. He had been talking to himself. And his ego had reconstructed events to his own benefit and to confirm his own opinions; what a typically human form of behavior. And this was how the Republican party spent their summer of 1934, throwing poor Dr. Wirt against a wall, to see if he stuck. He didn't.
The outcome was that Dr. Wirt (and Mr. Rand, who was now associated with him) became fodder for the Democrats. And they were just as merciless toward these men as the Republicans had been. Roosevelt observed that the Republicans had "gone from Wirt to Wirt". FDR advisor, Donald Richberg,  was moved to poetry. “A cuttlefish squirt, Nobody hurt, From beginning to end, Dr. Wirt.” The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized, “Dr. Wirt opened that basket containing that famous catch he has bragged so much about and, as suspected, it contains nothing but Minnows. Not a fish in the lot worth talking about.” Said Time magazine; “Thus, flatter than a crepe Suzette, fell the Red Scare of 1934.”
But perhaps the strongest response, and the one most needed, to the Republican noise machine of 1934, was a speech made by the poet, Mr. Richberg “'There are a great many stuffed shirts who have access to avenues of great publicity”, he said, “and so they pour their hysterical fears and their warped views of economic recovery into the public ears. They cannot use facts, even if they recognize them, so they create myths and hobgoblins and repeat nonsense over and over again. . . . We are not in the slightest danger of a political revolution so long as we preserve our national sanity….When any man ventures to scoff at the use of brains in government, he should be asked to explain by what part of the anatomy he believes human affairs should be conducted.”
Dr. Wirt received a telegram of support from the Klu Klux Klan. But the Republican party had little use for him, now that his story had deflated and he had become unstuck. It is what happens to all amatuers from the right or the left who get to close to professional politics.
Quietly Wirt returned to Indiana and wrote no more on economic affairs. In 1938 he died of a heart attack, and his visions of education were gradually discarded, the good with the bad. Mr. Rand’s business achievements after 1934 were, in many ways, even more impressive than those which preceded his involvement in politics. But after the summer of 1934 he avoided publicity for his political views, and died in 1968, a wealthy and powerful man. Even today, If I were assembling a corporation I would use my time machine to ask his advice. But I would certainly not seek out his opinion about plumbing.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I would say the odds were that young “Rocky” Sabbatius was destined to die unknown, within 50 miles of his birth place, in the village of Tauresium on the banks of the Varda River, in what is today Macedonia. He was a very smart lad, and handsome, in a shy sort of way, a bit small by all accounts, but, his biggest failing was that Rocky was not overly ambitous. See, when Rocky was born the world still answered to bloodlines, brawn and ambition. But he was to be blessed by two strokes of luck in his life, which saved him from anonimity and failure. The first one was that he had an uncle who was very ambitous.
Flavis Iustinus arrived in Constantinople sometime around 470 A.D. barefoot and hungry, an ignorant adolescent. His only posession was his ambition. He joined the army because soldiers were fed, and he rose in the ranks because war favors compentancy over blood lines. Iustinus was eventualy made commander of the palace guards. That made him wealthy, by normal standards, which enabled him to bring his sister’s boy to the capital of the Byzintine Empire, and adopt him under the name of Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus - Rocky. It turned out this may have been the smartist thing Iustinus ever did, because when the emperior, Anastasius I, died in 519 A.D, the precousus lad advised Iustinus to take on the purple himself. And he did, becoming the Emperior Justin I.
Now, palace politics being what they are, being the adopted son of the emperor made Rocky as likely to be posioned as he was to be the next emperior. But this was when Rocky had his second stroke of luck.
One night at the theatre he met a lovely comedian, talented, gorgous, and just about his size. Her name was Theo, and Rocky was smart enough to recognize that she was as smart as he was, and twice as ambitous.
Her father had been an animal keeper for the Greens. These were one of what were the strongest most influencial social groups in the Roman Empire, sports fans. Although Christianity was the offical religion of the Empire, and since politics was off limits for everybody except the upper classes, the real religion and the real politcs in Constantinople had become the choice of supporting etiher the Venti – the Blue - or the Pasini – the Green.
Each of these “clubs”, supported charriot races held in Constantinople’s Hippidrome, and were a sort of NASCAR, roller derby, ice hockey and Russian roulette all rolled into one, and with soccer hooligans thrown in for spice.
The drivers dressed in their club colors: leather helmets, knee and shin pads, and a leather corset. They were all young, and one of the most famous lived to the ripe old age of 27, before he died in a crackup. The horses had even shorter life spans.
Each of the 24 races held each day of the season (which lasted only 66 days) pitted up to six Greens and Blues against each other for five crash filled laps. The Christian emperiors found this crash ‘em, smash ‘em preferable to old gladiatoral games because they were slightly less gory.
Everybody in town wore their team colors, usually a stripe along the legging or the hem of a dress or tunic. This started out as friendly rivalry, but the partisianship turned increasinly bitter until the fights between Venti and Pasini in the stands required that each group be given their own cheering sections. These fights were then morphed into gangs of Greens and Blues roaming the streets after dark, mugging and killing each other and random passerbys. The politicans got involved for the votes, and used the thugs to intimidate their political opponents. Screaming at the opposing side, and even at the Emperior in the Hippidrome became the only chance the common folk had to make their voices heard.
The Greens were the largest and strongest club, and when Theo’s father died, her mother begged the Greens for a job or at lest a pension to support herself and her three daughters. The Greens turned her down. And that was why Theo had gone to work as an actress.
Rocky was smart enough to want to marry Theo, but he was prohibited by the law from marrying any woman below his social station. As an actress, Theo was a half step above being a prostitute, a recognized profession but you wouldn’t want your son to marry one. So, Rocky pushed his uncle to change the law. In 525 A.D. the happy couple became a happy couple, legally. This infuriated the nobility politicians, who spread false rumors about Theo’s shamless behavior, and noted that the Greens had tossed her out. Over night Rocky and Theo became rabid fans of the Blues. This may have been a mistake, because on August 1, 527 A.D., Rocky’s uncle died, and the shy kid from a backwater of the Empire, and an actress from nowhere, became joint rulers of a big chunk of the known world, the Emperor Justinian and the Emperous Theodoria..
Rocky had big plans to rebuild the empire, but to do that he had to increase taxes, and that again offended the nobilit, who were the only ones who paid taxes. Things came to a head on Saturday, January 10, 532 A.D., when seven gang members, both Blues and Greens, were hanged for the murder of a minor city official. What brought things to a head was that only five of them died. Somehow two survived, one Green and one Blue. They took santuary in a monestary, which was quickly surrounded by soldiers, waiting to arrest them when they came out. Of course there was always the chance the entire thing was a set up, a little public play staged by the nobility to manipulate the masses. What we know for a fact is that the masses of people wanted those two men, one Green and one Blue, pardoned and freed.
All day long, on Tuesday, January 13th , the crowd at the Hippidrome glowered at Rocky, sitting up in the royal box. As the 22nd race of the day was run, the Blues and Greens began to chant in ominous unison, “Win! Win! Win!” ("Nika", in Latin). Rocky thought it was a good idea to remove himself as an irritant and sneaked back into the palace, which was adjacent to the stadium.
As soon as that happened the crowds exploded out of the stands and filled the nearby streets, in a full riot, burning, looting and killing. Almost half the city went up in flames. With nightfall, the gangs occupied the Hippidrome, which allowed them to keep an eye on the palace.
As if it had been planned in advance, bright and early Wednesday morning, Senators appeared at the palace to offer their advice. It seemed to them, said the politicians, that what would calm the crowds would be to pardon the two surviving thugs. Rocky agreed. Well, suggested the politicians, how about also dismissing the tax collector?  Rocky agreed, again. And that was clearly a mistake. The Senators now decided they were in contol, and on Thursday the mob from the Hippidrome marched through the streets to the home of Hypatius, who was a nephew of old Anastasius, and proclaimed him Emperor.
In the palace, Rocky was contemplating a safe retreat by boat, urged on by some of his adivsors. And then Theo stood to up. She may not have been much over five feet tall, but it was instantly clear she was the tallest person in that room.
Legend gives several versions of what Theo said, but in essence they all boil down to this, “Purple makes a fine burial shroud.” I guess you had to be there. But however she said it, Rocky and his advisors were embolden. Being powerful is a risky existence. And sometimes staying in power requires that you un a little more risk. Rocky and Theo decided to stay and fight it out with the nobility, and to fight smart.
On Friday morning, a royal advisor (a eunuch named Narses), slipped into the Hippidrome. Quietly he met with the leaders of the Blues, not their poltical masters, the nobility, but the gang leaders on the spot. He revealed his presence and displayed his badge of office, a ring with the royal seal. Then he reminded the Blue leaders hat the Emperor had long supported them over the Greens. He reminded them that their “new” emperior, Hypatius, was a Green. And then he handed out the gold, and retreated. Within a few hours, after talking the situation over amongst themselves, the Blues, en masse, filed out of the Hippidrome. There was no confrontration, and no arguement. The Greens were stunned.
And while they remained stunned, two masses of soldiers stormed into the Hippidrone from both ends and slaughtered the Greens, all of them. The soldiers then tracked down Hypatius and hacked him to death as well. Those helpful noble Senators who had offered their advice to the Emperior were arrested, their wealth was siezed and they were exiled. And then, of course, the leading Blue leaders were slaughtered as well. In all some 30,000 people were butchered. No one dared to oppose Rocky again.
Rocky became known as “the Emperior who never sleeps.” He was constantly in motion, and seemed to  be everywhere, paying attention to everything. And he trusted Theo so much he offically made her his co-Emperor. He got his higher taxes. He rebuilt the city of Constantinople, building perhaps the most magnificent church in all of Chistindom, the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), which still stands to this day. He rebuilt much of the Roman Empire as well, but the only parts of that which remain, are the ruins.
His lady love, Theo, died on June 28, 548 A.D., not yet 50 years old. She was made a saint in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Rocky lived for another 17 years, dieing on November 14, 565 A.D. So succesful was his reign, that he was also made a saint. And in a very odd way, his greatness was estabished by the riot that almost dethroned him. And by the woman who loved him. A little ambition at the right moment, can be a very good thing.
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Sunday, June 20, 2010


I have been in love and this stupid. You, probably, have been in love and just as stupid as this "triangle of delinquency"in our story. Or you will be. It is part of the human condition to be in love and be this stupid at least once in your life. And there is little shame in doing it twice. And although Edward Stokes had the opportunity to break free from his love sick stupidity when the judge threw out his arrest for embezzlement in early 1871, he did not. He could not. Like a Tom Cat with his eyes locked on a caged bird, Edward Stokes had lost what the Buddhists refer to as his third eye, the ability to see himself from afar, detached from the emotion of the moment. Edward Stokes was in love with Josie Mansfield, and love makes you stupid. Edward and Josie were both in love with money. And greed makes you doubly stupid. That made Edward a triple threat.
The judges’ decision was based on a technicality, that the Brooklyn Refinery was not a corporation but a partnership between Edward and “Big” Jim Fisk. As a partner Edward could not steal money owed to the refinery, which he had pocketed, since he would have been stealing from himself. So Edward walked out of court a free man. And if Edward had just left it there, he might have stayed a winner. But being Edward, it was in his nature to carry things too far. That was one of the things that made Josie fall in love with him. That made her a triple threat, too.
So Edward sued “Big” Jim for slander, asking for that $200,000 again. “Big” Jim counter sued, demanding that his love letters be returned. Why Josie had given them to Edward passes beyond common sense, but I think we are well beyond sense of any kind in this case. Edward's lawyers argued that the letters might provide evidence of Erie railroad stock fraud, and might be needed in some future criminal trial. In truth, the only crime the letters were proof of was blackmail, which Edward and Josie were attempting to commit, with the letters. And that was what “Big” Jim’s lawyers argued. So the judge ordered the letters be read by an arbiter, to determine just what they proved, if anything.
The arbiter came to the conclusion that the love letters were maudlin, melodramatic, meretricious and – surprisingly – mundane, and contained no evidence of stock fraud. Given that the letters had only prurient value, the judge issued a restraining order preventing anyone, including the newspapers, from publishing them as long as the various court cases continued. And with that their value as blackmail material against “Big” Jim, evaporated. After all, as James Gordon Bennet, Jr., publisher of the New York Herald, used to say, “The purpose of a newspaper is not to instruct but to startle.”
It was at about this point that Edward’s wife took their daughter and fled to Paris. And "Big" wife, living in far off Boston, did the same. Clearly the married women in this case were smarter than their husbands, because they thus escaped being tainted with what that blue-nosed blue-blooded lawyer George Templeton Strong described as “a special stinkpot”. All of New York was snickering about the tr-cornered stench. The newspapers kept fanning the stink, even without the letters, and day after day they mocked the participants’ peccadilloes. But “Big” Jim had long ago chosen to ignore the opinions of others, and Josie never had even the pretense of virtue. The only member of the triumphant with any self respect left, and with a super abundance of that, and thus the only individual wounded by the continued public mocking, was Edward. And he was being sorely tested.
Having lost the letters, Edward was forced to settle out of court. “Big Jim allowed him to keep the $27,500 he had filched from the refinery, plus $10,000 compensation for the weekend he had spent in jail, and $5,000 for his legal fees. Edward exchanged all of that for his half of the refinery. Edward was now freed from his immediate financial difficulty. Of course he was still $38,000 in debt to five different attorneys, all for lawsuits against “Big:” Jim Fisk, and Edward had yet to win a single one. But being a pompous popinjay, he was convinced that he deserved to win at least one. And so he urged Josie to push ahead with her lawsuit against “Big” Jim. Not that he could have stopped her.
Josie was claiming that during their multi-year affair James Fisk had invested $25,000 for her, and now she wanted it back, with interest. “Big” Jim’s lawyers were arguing that the cash had never been hers, and that Josie’s entire life had been one money scam after another. On the witness stand Jose began with another lie. “I will be twenty-four years of age on the 11th of December next.” She was actually 28.
It was perfectly predictable that under cross examination her past would be used to impeach her. She was asked if, in California “a pistol was pointed in your presence at a man's head?” Reluctantly Josie replied, “There was a circumstance of that kind happened.” “Was it a man by the name of D. W. Perley…Was (the gun) pointed at him by (Josie's stepfather)? (And) did (Perley) sign a check before he went out?” All of this, Josie was forced to admit, was the truth. The jury, and the press, knew a badger game when they heard one.
Over three hours on the stand Josie was also forced to admit that Fisk had bought her the house on 23rd Street, from the knocker on Josie's front door to the curtains in the parlor and the commode in the bedroom. She was even forced to admit that she had handed over her love letters from Fisk because Edward thought they “would benefit him in the case…pending between him and Mr. Fisk.” All of this was predictable, as her lawyer must have predicted. But Josie had insisted on proceeding. She was also three times stupid; she was in love with Edward, and she was greedy.
And then, on January 6, 1872, Edward took the stand in Josie’s case. Even under friendly direct examination, the spectators could not suppress a giggle when he insisted he and Josie were “just friends”. When court broke for lunch at 1:00 p.m. Edward stormed out, infuriated. He lunched at Delmonico’s on 14th street, and it was there that he learned from "a friend" that he and Josie had been indicted for blackmailing “Big” Jim Fisk. It was the last straw.
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