JUNE 2017

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

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Friday, February 18, 2011

WHO ARE THESE GUYS!?!


I would not have gotten along with John Birch. Probably, whatever your politics, neither would you have. One of his college professors described Birch as “a one-way valve; everything coming out and no room to take anything in”. Honestly I think the odds were pretty good that eventually somebody somewhere was going to shoot him for shooting his mouth off at the wrong time. Politics had nothing to do with it. It just so happened that this  bull artist finally met his china shop on a road in northern China, and that the hot head who pulled the trigger happened to have been a communist. It was just as likely the shooter would have been his next door neighbor.
“Oh, we're meetin' at the courthouse at eight o'clock tonight. You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right. Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft. But we're taking down the names of everybody turning left. Oh, we're the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society. Here to save our country from a communistic plot. Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks. To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks.” (lyrics and music by Michael Brown) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG6taS9R1KM
His commanding officer in the forerunner of the CIA, Major Gustav Krause, described the situation rather simply; “Militarily, John Birch brought about his own death.” Birch was a life long missionary on a military mission on August 25, 1945, when he ran into a patrol of Mao’s Red Army. The commander asked Birch to hand over his revolver, and, surrounded by nervous soldiers, Birch decided to argue about it. Eventually, embarrassed and frustrated, the officer shot him. The other members of Birch’s group were held for a few hours and then released unharmed. But the role of the missed opportunity for the application of simple common sense in John Birch's death did not stop candy-king Robert Welch from building an elaborate conspiracy theory around Birch’s death; a virtual black hole of paranoia and invective that eventually sucked into it everything Welch came in contact with, including the Republican Party, the Republican President and former five star general and war hero Dwight David Eisenhower –whom Welch accused of being a “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy” - tooth decay and, believe it or not, the entire state of Alaska.
I’m not kidding about the Alaska thing. Conservative deity William F. Buckley even mentioned it in a column posthumously published in March of 2008, entitled “Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me.” In discussing how to distance conservatism from Welch, Buckley made a joke, which he explained this way; “The wisecrack traced to Robert Welch’s expressed conviction...that the state of Alaska was being prepared to house anyone who doubted his doctrine that fluoridated water was a Communist-backed plot to weaken the minds of the American public.” I like to think of Alaska as the new Texas, that way.
The John Birch Society is part of a long line of insanity that stains the American psyche, from the anti-French and anti-Irish ‘Alien and Sedition Acts’ of 1798, through the “Order of United Americans”, the “Know Nothing Party”, the Immigration Restriction League, the anarchists scare, the “Yellow Peril”, the imaginary Pearl Harbor betrayal plots, the Black helicopters hiding in our national parks, the militia movement and the mythical bombs planted in the twin towers. Well, the John Birch Society cemented all that lunacy together on a firm foundation of anti-Semitism. And this legacy of lunacy and head up your exclusion duct paranoia officially began in Indianapolis on December 9, 1958.
Robert Welch organized and financed the meeting. He had made his fortune by inventing “Sugar Babies”, “Junior Mints” and “Pom Poms”. And that wealth along with his intimate knowledge of sugar's effects on children's teeth gave him the authority to lecture to 12 true believers for two days straight, about the worldwide communist conspiracy. Welch spewed out such gems of wisdom as, “When Woodrow Wilson, cajoled and guided even then by the collectivists of Europe, took us into the first World War, while solemnly swearing that he would never do so, he did much more than end America's great period of happy and wholesome independence of Europe. He put his healthy young country in the same house, and for a while in the same bed, with this parent who was already yielding to the collectivist cancer. We never got out of that house again. We were once more put back even in the same bed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, also while lying in his teeth about his intentions, and we have never been able to get out of that bed since.” You might notice this disturbing repetition of bed (and parent) analogies throughout Welch’s ideology, whether the commies are in the bed or under the bed, alone in the bed or sharing the bed, there are a lot of beds. And cancer - he refers to cancer a lot.
Warned, Mr Welch, “…both the U.S. and Soviet governments are controlled by the same furtive conspiratorial cabal of internationalists, greedy bankers, and corrupt politicians. If left unexposed, the traitors inside the U.S. government would betray the country's sovereignty to the United Nations for a collectivist New World Order, managed by a 'one-world socialist government.'” Did I mention that the JBS was anti-Semitic? Ayn Rand, no Semitic lover herself, complained, “What is wrong with them (the JBS) is that they don't seem to have any specific, clearly defined political philosophy.” She might have been talking about the Tea Baggers, who, in fact, have been encouraged and funded by the JBS. In fact, ideologically, the John Birch Society was (and is) a sort of thinking man’s Klu Klux Klan, where the KKK remains a sort of the idiot's version of the “Tea Baggers”.
In 1966 the New York Times described the JB Society as “…the most successful and 'respectable' radical right organization in the country”, which, if you think about it, is the equivalent of being named Miss Congeniality in a mental institution; she even brings smiles to the invisible people. Robert Welch died in 1985. He left most of his still accumulating candy fortune to the John Birch Society, which continues to produce cadres of indoctrinated Johnny Apple Seeds, planting fear in every dark nook and cranny where it might take root – sort of like tooth decay.
But the thing about Johnny Appleseed was that the all the apples which grew from his seeds were sour. Edible apples are possible only through a science of grafting – but then the John Birch Society never believed in science - too many Jews.
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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A LIFE IN THE SERVICE


I would say the 1870's were a very hard time for the women of Fort Abraham Lincoln. First there was the Saturday of June 25, 1876, when over two hundred and twenty of their husbands and lovers were left dead and mutilated on the windswept hills overlooking the Little Big Horn River. They called that Custer's Last Stand, and it killed several members of the Custer family. But the horror of that day was simple to deal with compared with the trauma that followed in 1878, when the fort's women gathered to bury one their own, a resident of "Suds' Row".  And on that day those poor women saw something they had never expected to see where they found it.
Picture America as she was approaching her centennial year - a nation of about 45 million people. And even though they had no Internet,  no electricity,  no antibiotics and no gummy bears, these people were no   different from the 310 million who reside in America today. 
In 1875 the moralizing "Our Boys" opened on Broadway.  It followed the adventures of an Englishman and his butler and their pair of disappointing sons. A century and a quarter later the sitcom "Two and a Half Men" mined this same comedic vein.. And like a latter day series "Lost",  Jules Vernes' 1875 novel, "The Survivors of the Chancellor" told an episodic science fiction adventure story of a British passenger ship, lost at sea. And ala "Who Let the Dogs Out", the most popular song of the day consisted of the repeated lyrics, "Carve dat possum, carve dat possum, children."  It's title was "Carve dat possum"  
Oh, the future was coming. Just the year before, in far off Germany, Dr. Ernst von Brucke had suggested that all living organisms obeyed the laws of thermodynamics. He was wrong, course, since very few humans, other than politicians, behave like big clouds of hot gas. But Doctor von Brucke had a student who would make sense out of  Burke's thinking - that student was Sigmund Freud.
But Freud's discovery of the subconscious mind and repressed psychosomatic phobias and dreams about locks and keys and milk maids and bows and arrows was still a decade in the future in 1878 - which was a shame because a little Freud sure would have helped those poor ladies at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Or maybe not.
The fort was on the west bank of the Missouri River, across from Bismark, North Dakota. In that  town the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the telegraph lines ended,  making the army post the very edge of the frontier. The Army post was home to about 650 men and some 300 women attached to the U.S. Seventh Cavalry regiment. Robert Marlin tried to describe what kind of desperate people would sign up for a year's service in such a place. “Immigrants, especially those from Ireland and German, filled the ranks. Others came from England, France and Italy. While most of the American recruits did not read or write, the immigrants who did not speak English compounded this problem…."
A trooper started off at the pay of $13 per month. Should he be such a glutton for punishment as to re-enlist, this was raised to $15. The trooper was now a “50-cent-a-day professional” soldier.  And it was a very long day, starting "...at 5:30 a.m.,” wrote Marlin, “with the dreaded call of Reveille, and ended at 10:00 p.m. with the bugle sounding Taps.” 
The average recruit in the Seventh was in his mid-twenties, and stood about five feet eight inches tall. He suffered from bad teeth, a bad back, and about 10% had suffered from some form of healed head trauma even before they enlisted.  Twenty-two percent of the privates had been in the service for less than a year.  And few of them would re-enlist. Lord knows, the diet did not encourage them.
Each day every soldier received 12 ounces of pork or bacon, 22 ounces of flour or bread and less than an once of ground coffee. Every ten men were to receive per month; 15 lbs of beans or peas, 10 lbs of rice or hominy, 30 lbs of potatoes, 1 quart of molasses, 15 lbs of sugar, 3 lbs 12 ounces of salt, 4 ounces of pepper and 1 gallon of Vinegar. This was not a diet, it was a ration, and had as much flavor variation as "Spam, spam, spam and spam". 
As the army needed soldiers, it also needed laundresses. They were as much in  the service of their country as the soldiers they served. And in a culture without a social safety net, the reasons a young man might join the cavalry were similar to the reasons a young woman might become a laundress; a roof over her head, and food in her belly. But even tho it needed them, the army did not encourage these women to stay a single day longer than necessary.
Linda Grant De Pauw lays out the vulnerability of such women in “Battle Cries and Lullabys; “…a laundress wrote to Major L.H. Marshall at Fort Boise, Idaho, describing how she had been arrested, charged as an attempted  murderess, and confined in a guardhouse for hitting her husband with a tin cup that he claimed was an axe…(she was) sentenced to be drummed off that post at fixed bayonets …she and her three children then had to live in a cold house, without the food ration they depended upon." 
But the scramble to hold onto the fragile level of security which a blue uniform provided only partly explains the woman known to history only as "Mrs. Nash". Shortly after the Seventh Cavalry regiment was formed in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1866, she took up residence along “Suds Row” as the laundresses’ quarters were commonly called. She always wore a veil or a shawl, and it was assumed this was because of scaring from smallpox or one of the many other skin diseases common at the time. Besides earning a small income as a washer woman, Mrs. Nash showed talent as a seamstress and tailored officer's uniforms for extra money. She was a noted baker and her pies were much sought after. After she built a reputation as a dependable mid-wife “few births occurred (on the post) without her expert help”. 
But there is no record Mrs. Nash ever served as a prostitute. This was something not uncommon for those laundresses who could neither bake nor sew, and who showed more talent for the other half of the midwife equation. And as a practical matter, prostitution by laundresses was not actively discouraged by the officers. This was the frontier and the only other option for amorous release by a trooper was with either his fellow troopers or the horses. Homophobic troopers tended to shoot first, and just say no afterward. And although the horses never complained, they were kind of important to survival on the plains and so that form of animal husbandry was discouraged. Thus prostitution by the laundresses was tolerated as long as the woman did not become really good at it or "notorious".
Quickly Mrs. Nash was a valuable member of the unit, and had even amassed a tidy little nest egg. In 1868 she married a Quartermasters Clerk named Clifton. But a few days later he deserted with her money and was never seen again. Still it was natural that Mrs. Nash would be encouraged to follow the regiment when it moved to Fort Abraham Lincoln, in Dakota Territory, in 1872.
 
That was the year she married Sergeant James Nash, the “striker”, or personal servant, to Captain Tom Custer, younger brother of the regimental commander George Armstrong Custer. Although James and Mrs. Nash were seen to argue a great deal, still they seemed happy enough for a year or so.  During that year Libbie Custer, wife of the General noted “…a company ball...(was) organized...Officers and ladies attended....Mrs. Nash wore a pink Tarleton (which she sewed herself) and false curls, and she had “constant partners”.
Then, unexpectedly, Sergeant Nash stole his wife’s savings and deserted her and the service. Libbie wrote that Tom Custer was very “put out” by this desertion. Presumably, so was Mrs. Nash.  But she did not remain so for long. In 1873, the lady, now called “Old Mrs. Nash”, married Corporal John Noonan. She kept a bright and tidy home for John, planting and maintaining flowers in front of their modest quarters. And she restored her nest egg. And for five years they were a contended and happy couple, the center of the social circle of Suds Row east of the Fort Lincoln parade grounds, and they were both a significant part of the post’s social life.
Then, in the fall of 1878, while Corporal Noonan was out on patrol, Mrs. Nash fell ill. As her condition  quickly worsened she called for a priest, and after seeing him she told the ladies caring for her that she wanted to be buried as she was, without the usual washing and re-dressing. The ladies reluctantly agreed. Who would dare to argue with a dying woman. But after “Mrs. Nash" died on November 4th,  the women decided they could not show her such disrespect.
Two of her closest friends began to strip her, in preparation to washing and re-dressing her body. And that was when they made a most unexpected discovery. Underneath the veil and the dress and the petticoats Mrs. Nash was a man. The Bismarck Tribune was blunter:  “Mrs. Nash Has Balls As Big As a Bull!”
Although the story was based on hearsay and unqualified medical opinion, the eastern papers picked it up, and soon every yahoo with access to a printing press felt obligated to pontificate. The less they knew of the facts the more opinions they had. Public morality, it seems to me, is an excuse for being ignorant, loudly. And in this case the volume was a thunderclap in a drought.
When poor Corporal Noonan returned from patrol all his protestations of ignorance fell upon deaf ears. Quickly his grief, and the ridicule, stated and unstated, became too much to bear. Two two days after returning from patrol to find his" wife” dead, John Noonan deserted his post and on November 30, 1878, shot himself to death with his rifle -  not an easy thing to do.
John Noonan now lies buried now in the National Cemetery adjacent to the Little Big Horn Battlefield, his tombstone identical to all the others who died in the service of their country on the Western Frontier.  And rightly so.
But there is no headstone (and no public grave) for Mrs. Nash. There is no memorial of her years of service to the unit, of the babies she delivered, of the hardships she endured. And there is no recognition today that without a "liberal" media to encourage her, at least one human being found it preferable to live in constant fear of being revealed, in exchanged for the chance of living as God made her, internally and externally, perfectly and imperfectly. She was living proof that with all our technology and insights and smothered under blankets of public morality, we are today just as screwed up as our ancestors were, not more and not less. And always will be. God bless us, every one.
 
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Monday, February 14, 2011

NOMINATIONS: IDES OF MARCH AWARDS - 2011

I have been making "The Ides of March Award" for almost ten years now. In this incarnation March 15th is the political holiday. It commemorates the day, 2,055 years ago, when Roman Senator Gaius Cassius Longinus brilliantly settled a political standoff by imposing term limits upon Julius Caesar, presenting him with the "Laurel and Dagger" award and the "Knife-in-the-Back" plaque.
What started out as a local Los Angeles contest, was converted to a national award when I moved to Indiana. There are only two rules governing nominations- all nominees must have stood for election. Political journalists and writer want-a-be's do not count. Secondly, the politician must have made a major jerk of themselves in the past year. A life time of being a stinker is impressive but not enough. The award is for a singular achievement this year.
WHO ARE WE LOOKING FOR? 
The winner for 2010 was Republican Senator Jim Bunning.
The winner for 2009 was Illinois Democratic Governor Rod Blagonevich. 
The winner in 2008 was New York Democratic Governor Elliot Spitzer.
The contest has been growing in popularity, and beginning last year I opened the nominating process to you, the readers. And now I need your help again. With a month to go, its time for you to name your preferences. I will offer you a few guidelines to help you weed out the flash in the pan jackasses and incompetents from the truly deserving egotistical political hacks. You do not have to follow these guidelines, but applying them to possible choices may sharpen your nominations.  Remember, Caesar is the mold. He was warned what was coming, and he walked into it anyway.  
GUIDELINE NUMBER ONE: ARROGANCE.
The contender must display an inability to realize their own limitations. Most politicians who achieve national fame are arrogant. It allows them to sell themselves repeatedly to large groups of people without laughing. But we are looking for the handful who, over the past year, have displayed a self-destructive blindness. This may be insolence in a singular category or an expansive sweep of foolishness  But arrogance is an essential component for any nominee.
GUIDELINE NUMBER TWO:  GREED
The contender must be driven to over fill their plate, with power, with money, food, booze, sex, or sanctity. If  they had just stopped earlier, they would have been a successful politician. But being caught while reaching too far, is a to be expected of all nominees.
GUIDELINE NUMBER THREE:  SELFISHNESS
Does this political gasbag deserve to be deflated? Has he or she left a trail of damaged careers and smashed hopes and dreams in their wake? Has he or she built their success upon the efforts of others? Then they deserve to win the Ideas of March Award. 
So let me know what your choices are. Let me know which politician you believe has in the past year achieved their "Level of Incompetence" and blazed beyond into the stratosphere of political insanity.  The Award will be announced Sunday, March 13th, 2011. The final choice is mine, but the nominations are yours.
Please, have at it! Name names.
  - 30 -

Sunday, February 13, 2011

COXEY'S ARMY; PART SIX

I would say that it is a dangerously romantic concept, this idea that government can be petitioned directly by its citizens. It had not been tried in America since the revolution. Still, working class Americans came out to have a look at Coxey’s Army, which was doing this odd thing, and they were not frightened by what they saw. But the same images did scare congressmen and presidents, infuriated the wealthy and powerful, and worried local police officers and mayors. But it also provided a sense of excitement for those with a rebellious spirit. In the latter category was 14 year old Albert Hicks, of East 83rd street in Manhattan. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, Albert had a fight with his mother and ran away from home, saying he was going to join Coxey’s Army. Albert made it no farther than the Brooklyn Bridge, where a police officer took him into custody, and called his father to come to collect the boy. It was a common story, an angry fourteen year old running away from home, not worth repeating on the front page of a large newspaper, except for the name in the headline “Coxey’s Army”.
"Once, indeed, the Tin Woodman stepped upon a beetle that was crawling along the road, and killed the poor little thing. This made the Tin Woodman very unhappy, for he was always careful not to hurt any living creature; and as he walked along he wept several tears of sorrow and regret. These tears ran slowly down his face and over the hinges of his jaw, and there they rusted. When Dorothy presently asked him a question the Tin Woodman could not open his mouth, for his jaws were tightly rusted together. He became greatly frightened at this and made many motions to Dorothy to relieve him, but she could not understand. The Lion was also puzzled to know what was wrong. But the Scarecrow seized the oil-can from Dorothy's basket and oiled the Woodman's jaws, so that after a few moments he could talk as well as before."
On Sunday, April the 22nd , the Philadelphia recruits which the Army had been waiting for, arrived in Hagerstown. There were just 18 of them. This day, too, the Chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police publicly announced that if the Army entered the Federal City, he would enforce an 1830 regulation making it illegal for anyone to enter the District who would likely become a “public charge’. It was an absurdly pompous threat on the face of it, since being arrested for violating the 60 year old ordinance would achieve the very object the ordinance was designed to discourage. Prisoners were by definition, in the public charge. There is a reason the practice of criminalizing poverty has been discarded. But, it seems, every generation must relearn it on their own.
But the commission that ran the District of Columbia went even further. Henceforth, they announced,  it was illegal to solicit funds without a license, even though no procedures had yet been written to qualify for such licenses. And it would now be illegal for there to be any public assembly on public property without a license. (ditto) And no obstruction of public roads would be permitted, either. If these regulations were meant to discourage Coxey’s Army, they failed. In fact, the confrontational approach probably added to the Army’s numbers, as the unemployed who before had just been desperate, now began to get angry.
Bright and early on April 23rd some 300 plus members of Coxey’s Army marched out of the Hagerstown camp, with flags and banners flying. But they only made about six miles that day, stopping for the night at the little community of Hyattstown, where some of the men were provided with home cooked meals by locals, and the rest were welcomed to camp along Little Bennett Creek. Thousands of people turned out for speeches and general festivities in the Army’s camp that night
One of the reasons the welcome was so strong for Coxey’s Army in Hyattstown was that the area had for generations suffered with what was described as “the deficient link of the Great National Western Road.”. This was the central cause for which Coxey’s Army marched, the desperate need for improvements in the nation’s roads, and work that was desperately needed by the millions of unemployed. The section of the National Road beyond Hyattsville, between Rockville and Gaithersburg, Maryland had been described this way; “Deeply rutted and dusty in dry weather, it became a muddy morass after a heavy rain. Often it was nearly impassable, and its dismal condition was disparaged and deplored by the local press and public.” English General Braddock had almost been defeated by this very stretch of road long before he was killed in Pennsylvania, a generation before the American Revolution. A generation after that war, Thomas Jefferson’s road improvements bill had failed to fix the problem. Now, four generations later, the problem persisted. (In fact, this section would not be fixed until 1925 when it was finally paved)
The mayor of Frederick, Maryland (above), one John E. Fleming, boasted that Coxey's Army would never set foot in his town. Forty additional deputies were sworn in to keep them out. However, on the 24th , Coxey’s Army, now 340 strong, marched into town, escorted by the deputies. And the world did not end. That night the press reported a “drunken brawl”, but the details were never confirmed. And the next day, when the Army marched out, their numbers were now 400 strong.
It was on Saturday, April 28th that Coxey’s Army, reached the doorstep of their goal, Brightwood Riding Park – now the Brightwood Recreation Area - along Rock Creek, just outside of the border of the District of Columbia. Here they established what they called Camp Stevens. They were greeted by a crowd of 10,000 people. Also on hand were 1,500 federal troops (3 for every member of the Army), with more in position in Baltimore, Annapolis, and Philadelphia, ready to rush to the capital to put down any rebellion. There was none.
Instead, over Saturday and Sunday an estimated 6,000 unarmed curious citizens visited the encampment in peace. Coxey was quoted in the papers as explaining the march this way; “Congress takes two years to vote on anything…Twenty-millions of people are hungry and cannot wait two years to eat.”
On Tuesday, May 1st, 1894 perhaps 15,000 people crowded around as the Army of 500 left camp (above) for their final seven mile march on the Capital. The Baltimore Herald said “Such a fantastic aggregation never paraded itself in seriousness before the public.”
First came Mrs. Annie L. Diggs, carrying the American flag. She was followed by Jacob Coxey’s 17 year old daughter, representing the goddess of Peace. Then came Carl Browne, dressed in his buckskin fringe. Then came Coxey in his carriage, ridding with his second wife and their infant child, “Legal Tender Coxey”. They were followed by an actress on horseback, Ms. Virginia Le Valette. She was draped in an American flag. And only behind this final exhibit of female pulchritude, did the public at last get a view of the object of the entire discussion, the army of the unemployed, totting banners and signs. It must have been the most bizarre procession that ever walked down Washington's 16th street, not excepting the parade formed by Dolly Madison as she fled the White House in 1813, with wagons piled high with silverware and paintings, just ahead of the British arsonists.
As they had formed up for the final march, Carl Browne had told the men, “The greatest ordeal of the march is at hand. The eyes of the world are upon you, and you must conduct yourselves accordingly.” And they did.
Ahh, if they only knew the high drama and low comedy that was about to descend upon their heads.
"This will serve me a lesson," said he, "to look where I step. For if I should kill another bug or beetle I should surely cry again, and crying rusts my jaws so that I cannot speak." Thereafter he walked very carefully, with his eyes on the road, and when he saw a tiny ant toiling by he would step over it, so as not to harm it. The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything. "You people with hearts," he said, "have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful."
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