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The Rise of the Billionaires Leaves the Middle Class Stranded

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Friday, July 09, 2010

BARBARIANS

I admit that the Celts of Scotland were a colorful bunch. They got off to a rough start in 839 A.D. when Viking invaders wipped out most of their nobility. The survivors spent the next century battling with the invaders, raiding their English neighbors to capture horses and slaves, and of course, butchering each other whenever life started to get dull. They were a violent, dirty and rowdy bunch of primitives, but contrary to their popular image, they were not unsophisticated.
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Domnall II was the first man referred to as “ri (King of) Alban”, the ancient name for Scotland, and was crowned about 890 A.D. Of course people also referred to him as not being in his right mind. He was followed by Constantin mac-Aeda, who ruled until 943 A.D. when his nephew, Mael Coluim mac Domnaill, shipped the old man off to a monastery at swordpoint. When Constantin died in 954, he was succeeded by his two sons, first by the colorfully named Dub, who was murdered on July 20, 966, probably by his brother, Cinaed, who was king until 995 when he was murdered by his own soldiers.
Cinaed was succeed by Mael Coluim mac Cinaeda the “Glorious”, who died in 1034, and was succeeded by Donnchad mac Crinain, also known as “the man of many sorrows” and as “Duncan, the not feeling well”. In the spring 1039, the 18 year old Duncan led a raid on the Saxon-English city of Durham, south of the old Roman wall. But Duncan got it backwards; first his cavalry charged the city walls. The Saxon archers easily cut them down. Then Duncan ordered his infantry forward, whereupon the Saxon cavalry burst forth from the city and slaughtered his foot soldiers. The Saxon villagers gathered 3,000 Scotish heads off the battlefield, washed and braided their hair and then mounted the skulls on spikes around the market square, presumably because they lacked bunting.
For some reason Duncan decided to blame this disaster on his most trusted advisor, Mac Bethaad mac Findlach. And the next spring the king marched his army north, to attack Mac Bethaad’s hill fort outside of Elgin. There, on August 14th, 1040, young Ducan was caught in an ambush and killed. Duncan’s sons were too young to be kings, and besides Duncan had been such a failure the nobility decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort to wait for the boys to grow up. They were trundeld off to exile in the Saxon court of Edward the Confessor, and the tartan-wearers elected themselves a new king.
It is a hard truth about kings that only rich nations can afford the divine right to rule by any inbred moron who happens to float to the surface of the gene pool. Poor nations, - that is to say most nations - have always relied on some form of election to select the best qualified leaders. And Scotland, in the first centrury of the second millieniam, was so poor, that the only saint they had was a cave dwelling hermit named Gervadius, who at night ran along the beach waving a torch. And since Mac Bethaad mac Findlach had engineered that clever ambush, the Scotish nobles put the crown on his head.
Like most people in antiquity, his name told his story. “Mac” in Gaelic means “the son of”, and “Bethaad” means life, so he bore an early Christian nomen. His father, Findláech, had been murdered by his brother’s sons in 1020. Mac Bethaad got revenge in 1032 when he trapped one of his cousins in a manor house along with 50 men and burned it, and them, to cinders. This may be why they nicknamed Mac Bethaad “Ri Deircc”, or the “The Red King”, rather than the usual inspiration for such a nickname, since amongst Celts red hair is almost the default setting.
So Mac Bethaad became the King of Scotland, even though his authority did not extend much beyond the northern highlands. This rolling mountainous region, separated from the rest of the British isles by the Great Glen, is actually an extension of the the American Allegheny Mountains. South are the rolling central highlands of Northumbria, settled by the Vikings at this point for three centuries. Beyond that was the Strathclyde, the traditional battleground between Celts, Norsemen and Saxons, extending down to the old Roman wall, built to keep the barbarians away from the green and forested England to the south.
To strengthen his claim to the throne, Mac Bethaad married the widow of Duncan’s predecessor, Coluim, and adopted his son, Lulach. And for almost ten years, while the Saxons and Vikings concentrated on fighting each other, Scotland had a chance to recover. Each year of peace allowed the next generation of warriors grew a little taller. But Mac Bethaad, “The red, tall, golden-haired one”, and called the “reknowned and generaous King”, knew that eventually one of his enemies, foreign or domestic, was going to notice that poor Scotland was still vunerable. He began to look for allies.
The Viking King of Northumbria, Siward, paid homage to his godfathers back in Norway and Sweden, so that door was closed. The Irish Celts and the Saxon English were both, as likely as not, to be the next invaders. Mac Bethaad did manage to hire some soldiers from the Normans, in France, but he could not afford very many. So in 1049,Mac Bethaad made the long and risky trip to Rome, seeking the support of the Pope. On Easter of 1050, this Socttish Son of Life spread some silver aound the capital of the "Prince of Peace", but foolishly gave it to the poor. I’m sure they appreciated the food and firewood, but the gesture of Christian selflessness failed to impress the Cardinals. You should never believe the PR of any large corporation, be it a church, a government, British Petroleum or even Microsoft. In politics, everybody looks out for themselves.
Mac Bethaad’s trip to Rome set off alarm bells in Northumbria and England, and in 1054 the two enemies managed to bury their differences long enough to combine under the titlar command of Canmore, meaning the Big Head, who was Duncan’s son. Siward actually led the army, which, on August 4, 1054, on the Feast of the Seven Sleepers, met Mac Bethaad’s forces on Dunsinane Hill, between modern day Perth and Dundee.
The battle was a disaster for Mac Bethaad. He lost some 3,000 men, and all his Norman mercenaries. Siward quickly returned home, as did the English troops, both to protect their own provinces from the other. But they left Canmore balanced atop the Scottish midlands, while Mac Bethaad retained control of the highlands, raiding and making a pest of him self.
In 1057 Canmore struck again at Mac Bethaad, who was visiting Aberdeen. Mac Bethaad and his bodyguards ran for the Grampian Mountains, 20miles away. They climbed over the barren windswept Cairnmounth Pass, filing sullenly past the 4,000 year old gathering of stones that give this passage its name.
On the other side of the mountain, Mac Bethaad’s party paused to catch their breath outside the tiny village of Lumphanan. And it was here, just after dawn on August 15, 1057, that Canmore’s cavalry fell upon them in ambush, and in this violent shock, Mac Bethaad was killed, and his party scattered. After the fight, Mac Bethaad’s body was dragged to a convenient rock and his head hacked off, as proof of his death.
Mac Bethaad’s stepson, Lulach “The Simple”, also known as Lulach “The Foolish”, was named King at his father’s funeral, on the sacred island of Ionia.. Just seven months later, Lulach himself was killed by Canmore, who crowned himself Malcom III. With the death of Mac Bethaad, had come the end of the Highland Scottish Kings.
It was this sad, haunting demise which inspired William Shakespere, to build his darkest tragedy around, the bloody, relentless tale of Macbeth.
“Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.
Macbeth, Act V, scene v
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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

DRAMA QUEENS

I may have stumbled upon the explination was to why people would bring guns to a public meeting. This story really starts with the sudden death of the Governor of the Colony of Virginia, Samuel Mathews, Jr, in January of 1660. He had been born in America, and there were high hopes he would be a brave new leader of a brave new world. Instead, on March 13, 1660 the Burgesses, members of the Virginia colonial assembly, decided to take a step back to the future by appointing “the honorable Sir William Berkeley” as their Governor, again.
Eight years before “Will”, as his friends called him, had been a popular Governor. Now, at the age of 55, Berkeley again accepted the responsibility of leading the 35,000 English settlers in the “Old Dominion”. Will was a playwrite and a fighter, a Cyrano, who Mary Newton Standard has described as, “Every inch a gallant soldier, every inch a gentleman, yet haughty, unsympathetic and unlovable; narrow in mind and in heart.” (The Story of Bacon's Rebellion, Neale – 1907 ©, Jeffrey C. Weaver, 2000) She might have added he was also a drama queen.
His supporters were the FFV, the First Families of Virginia, including the bloodlines of Lee, Spencer, Washington, Randolph, Fitzhugh, Harrison, Custis, and others. And in 1674, there landed in the midst of this fraternity Will’s nephew, the impatient and ambitious 24 year old, Nathaniel Bacon.
Will welcomed his nephew warmly, giving him property and a trading concession with the Indians. Being a politician, Will also took the opportunity to shore up his own political support by naming his nephew to the Colonial Council, thus assuming he could count on the support of his family. However Will did not appoint his nephew as a commander of the local militia, and it was the appointment he did not receive which Nathaniel took note of.
But why had this young man traveled to America? Well, Nathaniel had recently married. And his new in-laws had quickly realized he was a pretentious, pompous fraud. They promptly disinherited their daughter. And that was why Nathaniel had come to America. He needed cash. But Nathaniel had picked a bad time to make a new start.
Beginning in 1670 Virginia had suffered from a string of hailstorms, floods, and droughts. Years of bad harvests were followed by the ‘bitter winter’ of 1672-73 when half the colonies’ livestock starved to death. By the spring 1676 wheat and corn or so scarce that Will had to ban their exportation even to neighboring colonies.
In cash-poor Virginia colony, where debts and salaries were often paid in tobacco and crop futures, this created a credit crunch which hit the newer settlers, like young Nathaniel Bacon, much harder than their bankers, who were usually members of the FFV, and close friends of William Berkeley.
The newer settlers were known as ‘freeholders’, and these men, such as William Drummond, wanted more cash in the colony, and they didn’t like paying taxes, and they wanted a war against the Indians, which, of course, would have required more taxes; logic was not their strong suit.
Like his inlaws before them, the freeholders took quick measure of Nathaniel Bacon. But these men were not looking for an addition to their families. They were looking for a tool. And Nathaniel was a perfect tool. The freeholders figured the boy didn’t know enough about Virginia (or Indians) to argue with them if they made him a general. So they did, without the Governor’s approval. Nathaniel immediately marched his little army off to butcher some local Indians. As the freeholders intended, that put the Governor in a bind, because the dead Indians had signed a peace treaty with the Governor. It looked like the entire frontier would erupt in an Indian war. Will demanded an apology from his nephew, who proudly refused.
Then in June of 1676 Nathaniel arrived in Jamestown for the opening of the House of Burgesses, and Will took the opportunity to arrest the little snot. Nathaniel was dragged in front of the council and required to apologize. Then Will magnanimously pardoned him. It was great theatre, but if the Governor thought he was directing this little melodrama he was mistaken. He was now facing an actor just as capable of historanics as himself.
Overnight, Nathaniel slipped out of town and returned the next morning in front of an ad hoc audience, er, army, of 300 freeholder militiamen. They marched into town, with flags flying and drums pounding. The members of the house hung out the windows of their parliment building, mesmerized by the preformance.
Never one to let an audience go to waste, Will came stomping out of the hall and ripped open his shirt. Baring his chest, or at least his ruffles, Will declared to the spectators, “Here I am! Shoot me before God! (It’s a) fair mark, a fair mark! Shoot!” Nathaniel calmly said no, thank you. Instead he wanted the Governor to name him overall commander of the entire Indian war. Since the Governor’s didn’t want any Indian war, he exited at once, stage right. Nathaniel, with no actor to play against, went over the top. He started screaming. He ordered his men to surround the meeting house, and announced he would kill everyone inside if he were not given total command at once. For a few minutes it looked as if there would be a wholesale slaughter just for the sake of a theatrical effect. But a touch of reality was supplied by the supporting players and reason eventually prevailed - or at least self preservation. Will was persuaded to sign his nephew’s commission. He did not mean it, of course, and as soon as the little snot was out of sight, he said so.
The lesson here I would say is that people who bring their own matchlock black powder muskets to public meetings have a “flare” for the dramatic. They are looking to play to an audience in an in-appropriately dramatic fashion. 
Where were we" Oh, yeah. Twenty-five year old Nathaniel Bacon had just bullied the royal governor of Virginia. But what was next. What would happen in Act Two? On July 30, 1676 the boy General published a “Declaration of the People”. “If virtue be sin, if piety be guilt, all the principles of morality, goodness, and justice be perverted.” It might be poetry (and it might not) but Nathaniel was now addressing a skeptical audience. The declaration went on to demand the arrest of Will and 19 other FFVers as “traitors to the people”. Nathaniel then announced a general war on the Indians and demanded an oath of allegiance from all government officials. It was signed, Nathanial Bacon, General, “By the Consent of ye People”, and was made without any of ye people present. The paperwork thus complete, Nathaniel marched off with 1,000 men to attack the nearest Indians.
About now it dawned on the more thoughtful freeholders that they had hitched their fortunes to a rather temperamental artist. But Mr. Drummond, for one, would listen to no such warnings. “I am in over (my)shoes”? I will be over (my) boots!” He soon was in over his neck. The governor gathered his own supporters at Jamestown, and counter-proclaimed his nephew a traitor.
Nathaniel then marched his army back to Jamestown, (the Indians were suddenly not such a threat) and on September 19, 1676 Nathaniel burned the capital of Virginia to the ground. It was a sorry end for the “Old cradle of an infant world, In which a nestling empire lay” (Ode to Jamestown, James Kikke Paclding). But it was also the defining moment of Nathaniel Bacon’s performance. The very set he was preforming upon, the edifice painfully constructed over a century of painful effort, at the cost of thousands of lives, had been put to the torch in one adolescent thespian outburst. There was no third act. Forty days later the upstart actor was dead.
Nathaniel Bacon died of the “bloody flux”, which is the old name for dysentery, on October 25th, 1676. With him “Bacon’s Rebellion" also died, leaving Will free to hunt down the freeholders. When William Drummond was brought before him, the governor greeted him by saying, “I am more glad to see you than any man in Virginia. Mr. Drummond. You shall be hanged in half an hour.” And he was. Twenty-four men in all were executed for their roles in the uprising. Charles II back in London would later observe, “That old fool (Berekely) has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father.” A year later the curtain dropped on William Berekeky. He died in England, having been recalled to explain himself.
Historian Susan McCulley has noted, “Bacon's Rebellion does seem at first glance to be the beginnings of America's quest for Independence. But closer examination of the facts reveals what it really was: a power struggle between two very strong personalities.” Strong personalities? I would call them two of the biggest hams in American history.
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Sunday, July 04, 2010

KEEPING BOOK; 01

I believe the phrase originated on May 12, 1849. Mr. Thomas McDonald was approached on a New York street by a fashionable dressed man who greeted him as if they were old acquaintances. After a few moments’ pleasant conversation the man abruptly asked, “Have you confidence in me, to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” Without thinking Mr. McDonald handed over his gold watch, valued at $110. However, Mr. McDonald did the see the old friend “tomorrow”. He never saw the stranger or his watch again…until July 7th of 1849, when he spotted the man on a street corner in lower Manhattan and had him arrested. According to the New York Herald the villain was quickly identified as William Thompson, lately of Sing Sing prison, and the paper invited victims of similar thefts to visit his cell at the Tombs to identify the suspect. When they did Mr. Thompson identified himself boastfully as, “I am the Confidence Man.”
As is proven by the pervasiveness of “con men” on Wall Street, success in business is no more a measure of personal intelligence or integrity than the ability to snake a sewer pipe or repair an automobile - as the script for the 1940 film “Citizen Kane” pointed out.
BERNSTEIN: Thatcher! That man was the biggest darn fool I ever met -
THOMPSON: He made an awful lot of money.
BERNSTEIN: It's not a trick to make an awful lot of money…if all you want is to make a lot of money…That kind of fellow you can fool every day in the week - and twice on Sundays!”
And that goes a long way to explain the career of con man Anthony ‘Tino’ De Angelis, the one time so-called “Salad Oil King of Wall Street”. In the words of Roger Lowenstein, Anthony was “…a familiar type in American finance, possessed with a combination of brilliance and moral flexibility that produces a first rate white collar criminal” (“BUFFET” page 80). Of course that aslo describes many first rate captains of American finance, as well.
Time Magazine described "Tino" this way; “His five-foot-four-inch frame was burdened by 240 fleshy pounds, making him seem wider than he was tall. Thin wire-rimmed black spectacles perched precariously on his round face…His rumpled (ready-made) suits usually looked as if he had slept in them…(He) drove around in a large Cadillac and always ostentatiously carried a thick wad of bills.”
Norman C. Miller, for the Saturday Eveniing Post,  tried to explain Anthony’s charm as a con man. “There is something contagious about (his) guileless, open-handed manner….It infected people far outside of his usual social circles. A variety of big businessmen were happy to have a part in Tino’s expansion plans… It pleased him to distribute largess among his retinue of lieutenants and hangers-on, often in the form of cash”. .”(Miller; http://www.mafianj.com/saladoil/tino1.shtml).  In Anthony’s own words, he was “...a man born and raised in the poor section of New York, (who) rises to the point where he runs ten, fifteen businesses or plants around the country.”
While still in his twenties Anthony had “…an exceptional ability in knowing how to process hogs. Some of my methods,” he claimed, “cut the cost of processing hogs enormously.” Anthony opened his own meat packing firm in the midst of the Great Depression and turned a $100,000 profit the very first year. By the end of WWII, like much of the rest of America, Anthony had a pile of capital ready to invest.
He bought controlling interest in Adolf Gobel Company, a deli and sundry wholesaler, and by 1953 he was large enough to be charged by the Federal government with selling them two million pounds of un-inspected meat. Anthony paid the fines and took Gobel into chapter 11, bankruptcy.
Then, in 1955, Anthony borrowed from his two biggest customers, Continental Grain Co. of New York and Bunge Corp. of Buenos Aires, to set up “Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Refining Corporation”, and related companies, which owned warehouses and storage tanks on Constable Hook, New Jersey. The business shipped olive and soybean oil world wide, oil produced from soy beans and olives owned by Continental and Bunge. The investors – slash - customers - charged Allied 15% interest on the loan, but they also took the soy and vegetable oils which Allied had in storage, as collateral, which meant that Anthony didn’t have to risk a dime of his own money to create the company or stock its inventory.
As proof that the oil existed in Allied’s storage tanks Anthony hired American Express. The banking firm had recently started a new division, AMEX Wharehousing, in order to take advantage of the budding market of commodities futures. For a fee AMEX provided receipt's which validated the existence of the oil. Everything depended on that verification. But in 1955, when American Express was charging Allied $20,000 a week to verify the soybean and olive oil in Allied’s tanks, the futures market was not yet regulated. So, when American Express hired “custodians” to verify the product, they hired people such as John Bongardino (the brother-in-law of Anthony's secretary), and Thomas Ckarkin, who was paid $500 a month by American Express as a custodian, but was also paid by Tino $1,600 a month as a “messenger”.
How could Anthony afford to pay his employees such salaries? Because the wizards running American Express had given their customer, Anthony De Angelis, a $3.7 million credit line. And once he had those receipts with that most hallowed of Corporate names in his hand, Anthony was bankable; he had become part of that amoral world of corporate capitalism, where success is the ultimate gauge of moral superiority and can be purchased on margin.
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