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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, June 17, 2011

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

I miss the old smoke filled rooms – sometimes. In the old days there were no passionate amateurs willing to bring on a political doomsday, just to muck things up. The process was dispassionate, calculated and handled by people who saw politics as a job, aided, of course, by political writers who supplied the passion in print. From such combinations, legends were born -  such as this one I shall now relate.
On April Fools Day, 1920, bland faced Ohio political manager Harry Daugherty (above) was hastily packing his bags in his room at the old Waldorf Astoria hotel on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Into the room sauntered two reporters, seeking a quote. They taunted Daugherty on his boastful support for the turgid and mediocre Ohio Senator, Warren G. Harding for President. Nobody else thought Harding stood a chance. Just who were these senators that Daugherty claimed would support Harding at the Republican Convention, come June? When Daugherty refused to take the bait, the reporters suggested he must be expecting Harding to win the nomination in some hotel back room, by a small group of political managers, “reduced to pulp by the inevitable vigil and travail” of a deadlocked convention. Daugherty said nothing. So the reporter suggested r that Daugherty must be expecting the managers to collapse about 2:00 A.M. in a smoke filled room. Weary of the dialog, Daugherty responded off handed, “Make it 2:11". Then he grabbed his bags and headed out to catch the train back to Ohio.
The reporter turned that one sided conversation into this quote, which he stuck into Daugherty’s mouth; “I don't expect Senator Harding to be nominated on the first, second or third ballot, but I think we can well afford to take chances that about eleven minutes after 2 o'clock on Friday morning at the convention, when fifteen or twenty men, somewhat weary, are sitting around a table, some one of them will say, "Who will we nominate?" At that decisive time the friends of Senator Harding can suggest him, and can afford to abide by the result.”
And amazingly, that is almost exactly how it really happened. Except that the back room was a suite of meeting rooms in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Balboa -  room numbers 408 through 410, with Room 404 set aside as the reception room.
The suite had been rented by Will Hays, the big-eared big-talking “mighty little ear of corn” from Indiana. He was the Republican National Chairman, and had hopes of being President himself in 1920. And maybe the greatest compliment you can pay the professional politicians of that era is that at least they did not let Will Hays become President.
The Republican Convention that June was officially taking place 9 blocks south of the Blackstone hotel, in the old Chicago Coliseum on South Wabash Avenue. This cavern had been home to every Republican Convention since 1904. It is worth noting that the building had originally been constructed to house a prison, Richmond’s Libby prison, bought lock, stock, and barrel by a Chicago candy millionaire and shipped north to form the centerpiece of a Civil War Museum. The museum went bust in 1899, and the owner “re-imagined” the space as a public meeting center.
It was into this den of iniquity that some 2,000 delegates and their alternates marched on Tuesday June, 8th, 1920, sixty years after Republicans had first met in Chicago to nominate Senator William Seward for President, but instead chose Abraham Lincoln. It was an ominous bit of history to consider if you were General Leonard Wood or Illinois Governor Frank Lowden, as they were considered the front runners for the 1920 Republican nomination.
The dour faced Lowden (above) wanted to be president so badly that when Governor, when both houses of the Illinois state legislature voted to abolish the death penalty, he had vetoed the bill, proving again that politicians are even willing to kill people to win a few votes.
In contrast, Leonard Wood (above) claimed to have little political hunger. He was a  Medal of Honor winner who had graduated medical school and then risen to Army Chief of Staff. He said he wanted to be President out of a sense of duty.  While Will Hays had not entered any of the twenty primaries held that year, he still had hopes that Wood and Lowden would deadlock, and the convention would turn to the little Hoosier to beak the tie. There were in fact a number of candidates with the very same plan.
The convention finally got down to the balloting on Friday evening, June 11th, and immediately things started looking up for Hays. On the first ballot Wood led with 285 votes, Lowden showed 211, Senator Hiram Johnson, of California, a Teddy Roosevelt progressive, was third with 133 votes. Far behind was Governor William Spool of Pennsylvania with 84 votes, followed by New York’s Nicholas Butler with 69 votes and Ohio’s favorite son, Senator Warren G. Harding, who had lost in the Indiana primary and could muster just 65 votes. Six other candidates held the remaining 132 delegates.
On the second ballot Wood gained just ten votes, while Governor Lowden’s total grew by 40. But still nobody was close to the 439 votes needed to nominate. General Wood reached his peak on the fourth ballot with 314 votes, and then his support started to slip. Governor Lowden beat him with 311 votes on the fifth ballot. Still, no one seemed to be gathering enough support to win it all. And the longer this went on, the less confidence actual voters would have in any eventual choice. So the professionals stepped in and the convention adjourned for the night. The negotiations shifted to the infamous fourth floor rooms at the Blackstone hotel.
Actually political junkies were meeting all over Chicago that night, but Hays’ rooms at the Blackstone got all the publicity because that was where Associated Press reporter Kirke Simpson was working. He was there to cover Harry Daugherty, because, as you have seen, Harry was always good for a quote, even if you had to spoon feed it to him.
Also present was George Harvey, who ran Harper publishing, and Republican Senators Wadsworth, Calder, Watson, McCormick and Lodge, Governor Smoot, political fixer Joe Grundy, and Lawyer Charles Hillers, counsel to the R.N.C., as well as his client, R.N.C. Chief, Will Hays. Their problem was that none of them could agree upon who the party should rally around, either.
It was, by general agreement, the original “Smoke filled room”, and the 130 pound Hays was the host. Even though he neither smoked nor drank himself, Hays kept the cigars lit and the booze flowing “Neighbor”, he and once said to Herbert Hoover, “I want to be helpful.”  It was his natural instinct.
Harry Daugherty’s (left) natural instinct, on the other hand, was his drive for his man. He said of Harding (right), “I found him sunning himself, like a turtle on a log, and I pushed him into the water. “
Since the top three vote 'getters' were not willing to compromise with each other, the Senators were now looking for “The best of the second raters.”, and Daugherty suggested that Harding was their man. There is no indication that anybody even mention Will Hays - not even Will Hays, who was in the room..
They dispatched a small delegation upstairs to  Hardings’ room, where they roused the stunned Harding from his bed.  While he stood before them in this pajamas, they asked him point blank if there were any embarrassing episodes in his past. Harding might have said that giving a job interview while standing in his pajamas might qualify as an embarrassing moment, but he did not. Instead Harding swallowed and said, “No”. He was lying of course, but that would not come out until Harding was long dead.
It wasn't as if the party managers issued orders and the party regulars fell in line. It would take five more ballots before the crowd at the Colosseum would give up out of exhaustion and hand the nomination to Harding. But as of 2:15 A.M., the decision has been made, just as the reporters in New York had written that Daugherty had predicted - if f nobody seems to be winning, we will rally around Harding and make do.  What a way to pick a president! And it worked.
At 5 A.M. on Saturday June 12, 1920, Kirke Simpston filed a story that included the following phrase, “Harding of Ohio was chosen by a group of men in a smoke-filled room early today.” And that is how the phrase "smoke filled room" entered the vernacular. The connotation became negative because after Warren G. Harding won in a landslide, he and his “Ohio Gang” - his buddies, including Harry Daugherty - moved to Washington D.C. and started selling everything  that wasn't nailed down.  Many of them ended up in jail, or disgraced, or at least spending a lot of the graft they had collected on lawyers.
Harding appointed Harry Daugherty (above) as his Attorney General. And after three heady years, Harry was forced to resign when his chief aide, Jess Smith, was caught taking kickbacks from bootleggers. Smith had been collecting the kickbacks for his boss, Harry Daugherty, but the professional politicians in Washington decided not to prosecute Harry.  And luckily Smith committed suicide, so Harry was allowed to just resign, Besides, Harry was just one of a dozen Harding appointees who either went to jail, or ought to. As Forest Gump might have put it, Presidents are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. Take little Will Hays'
Will Hays served as Hardings’ Postmaster General. But after only one year he smelled the impending scandals coming and he got out. In 1922 Hays took another job, running the Hays Production Code office, which set standards for on-screen morality in the Hollywood film industry. It was the Hays Commission which gave us forty years of married couples sleeping in twin beds, no acknowledgement of drug use (which was going on),  no adultery in marriage without retribution, and endless stories with sacerin sweet "Hollywood" endings. It was the Hays' Commission that turned Rhett Butler’s exit line as he walked out on Scarlet O’Hara into a major social crises, even though the line appeared in one of the most widely read books in America, "Gone With the Wind". It seemed that Mr. Hays had built his entire career selling smoke and mirrors, and he was not going to get out of that business just because he had gotten out of politics.
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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

ONE NIGHT IN DODGE CITY

I suppose the way these three men crossed paths could be called fate, or kismet. To label it a mere chance encounter could be seen as denigrating the life of one who died and the one who killed him. And, yes, there were great invisible social forces guiding events that hot summer night, and cold blooded economic factors as well. But there was also poetry, and the wild card of alcohol. But in 1878 when a “rather intelligent looking young man” named George Hoyt, a young vaudevillian named Eddie Foy, and a young assistant sheriff named Wyatt Earp collided in Dodge City, Kansas, they made history.
Dodge City owes its fame to a tiny tick, the Boophilus microplus, which carries anthrax. The tick and the disease were endemic amongst the herds of Texas Longhorns, which had developed a resistance to the fever. But in 1868 anthrax on imported Longhorns killed 15,000 cattle across Indiana and Illinois. So as the sod busters plowed across Kansas they insisted the state restrict the rail heads for Texas cattle drives further and further from their farms.
In 1876 the demarcation line was moved to the 100th meridian, which made the town on the north bank of the Are-Kansas River, the new “Queen of the cattle towns”, the ‘Wickedest Little City in America’, "The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier": Dodge City, Kansas.
Like the other ten to fifteen cowboys in his crew, George Hoyt had just ended two months of hard, dusty, dangerous and monotonous work. He now had $80 cash money burning a hole in his pocket. And it was the business of the merchants of Dodge City to separate George from as much of that cash as possible before he left town. In essence Dodge City was a tourist trap, dependent for its yearly livelihood on the May through August ‘Texas trade’.
The little town of less than 1,000 year-round citizens could boast, during the season - June to September - 16 saloons. And south of the “deadline” (Front Street, which bordered the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad) it was worse. On the wrong side of the tracks there were assorted brothels and dance halls where “anything goes”.
All the bars served the latest mixed drinks and ice cold beer, and enticed customers with a piano player or, in the case of the Long Branch saloon, a five-piece orchestra. The cavernous Ben Springer’s Theatre “The Lady Gray Comique” (com-ee-cue), at the corner of Front and Bridge Street (modern day 2nd Avenue), was divided between a bar and gambling parlor in front and a variety theatre in the back.
In July of 1878 the Comique featured an entire vaudeville show headlined by “…that unequalled and splendidly matched team of Eddie Foy and Jimmie Thompson.”Eddie Foy had been dancing and clowning in Chicago bars to feed his family since he was six. He was now 22, and this was his second swing through the western circuit, telling such local jokes as “What's the difference between a cow boy and a tumble bug (a dung beetle)? One rounds up to cut, and the other cuts to round up”. Hilarious. Eddie had an appealing V-shaped grin, and a comic lisp, which he offered each night in a solo rendition of the plaintive homesick poem, “Kalamazoo in Michigan”
At about 3 A.M. on Friday, July 26th, while Eddie was just beginning his reading, George Hoyt and several of friends were leaving the Comique. They saddled their horses at a nearby stable. Then, since no one was allowed to wear guns while in town, the cowboys buckled on their gun belts and mounted up. As they rode up Bridge Street on their way back to camp, they passed the Comique. George suddenly wheeled his horse and returned to the side of the theatre.
George pulled his six shooter and banged out three quick shots into the side of the building.
According to Eddie Foy, inside the hall “Everyone dropped to the floor at once, according to custom.”  Amongst the crowd of 150 gamblers and poetry aficionados in attendance was lawman Bat Masterson and gambler Doc Holiday, both of whom, according to Eddie, beat him to the floor. “I thought I was pretty agile myself, but these fellows had me beaten by seconds at that trick.” The Dodge City Globe agreed. “A general scamper was made by the crowd, some getting under the stage others running out the front door and behind the bar; in the language of the bard, “such a gittin up the stairs was never seed”. Observed Bat Masterson, “Foy evidently thought the cowboy was after him, for he did not tarry long in the line of fire”.
But in George Hoyt’s impulsive decision to blast away at the Comique, he had failed to notice two men lounging in the shadows on the sidewalk. One was Jim Masterson, younger brother to Bat and a fellow city deputy. The other shadow was legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.
Wyatt on this night was 30 years old. He stood about six feet tall, weighed about 160 pounds. He had pale light blue eyes. But what friends and opponents remember most about Wyatt was his manner. The editor of the Tombstone Epitaph would later note his calm demeanor, saying he was “…unperturbed whether...meeting with a friend or a foe.” Bat Masterson described him as possessing a “… daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger.” But those were later descriptions. On this night Wyatt
did not seem legendary at all.
After serving in an Illinois regiment during the Civil War Wyatt became a teamster between the port of Wilmington, outside of Los Angeles, and the desert mining town of Prescott, Arizona.  He had then managed houses of prostitution in Peoria, Illinois for several years, before becoming a lawman in Wichita, Kansas. He lost that job in 1874 for embezzling county funds, which he probably used to finance his education in gambling.
Moving on to Dodge City along with the railroads, Wyatt was hired again as a police officer. But he took time off to travel Texas and Dakota Territory to continue his schooling in poker and games of chance. As a “cop” in Dodge City Wyatt's fame did not extend beyond stopping spit ballers disrupting an evening’s performance at the Comique, and his recent slapping of a prostitute named Frankie Bell.
For the incident Frankie spent the night in jail and was fined $20, while Officer Earp was fined $1. But the incident made clear that the nominally bucolic Wyatt Earp would not sit idly while his honor or his life was insulted, not even by a woman.
So when George Hoyt began blasting away in the dark, Wyatt made the immediate assumption that the cowboy meant to kill him. As George galloped his horse back up Bridge Street, Wyatt drew his own weapon and fired after the fleeing cowboy; once, and then a second shot. The second bullet hit Hoyt in the arm.
Bat Masterson claimed years later that George Hoyt fell from his horse, dead on the spot, but that seems embellishment. Bat, as we now know, was on the floor of the gambling parlor. His brother Jim was outside standing next to Wyatt, but he never spoke of the shooting. But other accounts agree that the two lawmen ran up the street together after Hoyt.
Given the lack of adequate street lighting in the frontier cattle towns of 1878, as he rode up the street Hoyt would have soon disappeared in the dark. And that makes it seem likely that Bart got that much right; Wyatt fired only twice. And George Hoyt just wasn’t fast enough in escaping. The cowboy fell from his horse, and either from being shot or from the fall, he broke his arm. Wyatt and Jim Masterson ran after Hoyt, and after he was disarmed him, they sought out Dr. T. L. McCarty to treat the wounded cowboy.
The Globe commented that George Hoyt “…was in bad company and has learned a lesson “he won’t soon forget”. He didn’t. Gangrene set in and the cowboy died a slow and foul death, passing at last on Wednesday, August 21st, 1878; 26 days after Wyatt shot him. The Legendary Wyatt Earp had killed his first man.
Eddie Foy would later claim that his suit, hanging back stage, was punctured twice by the gunfire, but that too seems an embellishment. The Dodge City Times said the bullets went through the theatre’s ceiling.
Eddie Foy went on to a successful career on the vaudeville stage, appearing for several years with his children in an act billed as “Eddie and the Seven Little Foys”. He was the last of the great vaudeville entertainers before the advent of film, and so is almost forgotten today. Eddie Foy died of a heart attack in 1927 at the age of 71.
In September of 1878 a cattle broker and gunman named Clay Allison came to Dodge looking for a showdown with Wyatt Earp. One story told is that Allison was a friend of George Hoyt’s, and was looking for revenge. But again there was no classic street shoot out. It seems that Wyatt sensibly stayed out of sight until Allison left town, despite Wyatt's later stories to the contrary.
In 1879 Wyatt and his brothers moved on to Tombstone, Arizona. There, in October of 1881, he took part in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K Corral, which in fact was a gangland brawl which occurred in a vacant lot down the street from the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral. But none of that reality stopped the fight from becoming the most famous twenty seconds in the American West.
Wyatt remained a professional gambler all his life and died in Los Angeles of a chronic bladder infection at the age of 80 years, in January of 1929. He is mostly portrayed today as a hero, mostly it seems to me because he had no aversion to spinning tall tales and because he was that true rarity, a gambler who usually won.
After the railroads penetrated south Texas in the mid 1880’s the need to drive cattle a thousand miles to Kansas came to an end. And with it the “Queen of the Cattle Towns” became just another small American town of some 25,000 people. It’s connection to its past is the Dodge City Cargill packing plant, whose 2,500 employees can slaughter up to 6,000 head of cattle a day, turning them into four and a half million pounds of meat shipped all over the world.
That was always the unpleasant underside of Dodge City. The town depended for its fame and fortune upon the death of so many.
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

THE LITTLE GREEN HOUSE ON K STREET PART EIGHT

I present you now with a partial list of the current residents of the original site of the little green house at 1625 K street, now the Commonwealth Building: The National Petroleum Council, The George C. Marshall Institute, The Coalition For Employment Through Exports, AMS Consulting Group, The Environmental Literacy Council, National Foreign Trade Council, The Media Access Project, The American Association of Blacks in Energy, The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology, The Heritage Preservation, Biotechnology Industry Organization, The Response Group, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, The Benton Foundation, The National Network for Woman's Employment, The National Organization on Disability, and The Hill, a conservative leaning daily newspaper reporting on events on Capital (or Jenkins) Hill.
“Almost any important Republican who ... says they didn't know me is almost certainly lying.”
On Monday, January 8, 2001, the still 42 year old Jack Abramoff joined the 1,800 lawyers working for the lobby/law fjrm of Greenberg Traurig. The firm boasted that their new Senior Director of Government Affairs had been “deeply involved in the Republican party and conservative movement leadership structures.” Once settled in, Abramoff assembled his “dream team” of lobbyists, including Shawn Vasell, previously an aide to Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mt), Tony Rudy, previously the Chief of Staff for Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Todd Boulanger, previously an aide to Senator Robert Smith (R-NH), Amy Berger, previously an aide to Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), Padgett Wilson, previously an aide to both Paul Coverdell and Nathan Deal (both R-GA), and Kevin Ring, previously an aide to John Doolittle (R-CA) and John Ashcroft (R-MO). Tommy “The Cork” Corcorhan's pathway to fame and power by selling his experience in working for the people had become a four lane highway to wealth and power for “Team Abramoff”.
“If I read the articles about me, and I didn't know me, I would think I was Satan.”
Jack Abramoff
Over the next two months members of Team Abramoff appeared in White House logs 200 times. Over that same time span Greenberg Traurig went from $1.7 million in billings to $8 million. Over the first three years of the first Bush administration, “Casino Jack” himself had 345 meetings with White House staffers, including ten face to face meetings with President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove. It was during this time that Jack also acquired the monikers of “The Mayor of Capital Hill” and “Super Lobbyist”.
“All of my political work is driven by philosophical interests, not by a desire to gain wealth.”
Jack Abramoff
If you wanted Team Abramoff as your lobbyist, the fee was $500 an hour. Jack was paid by the Chitimacha Tribe and the Coushatta Tribe, both of Louisiana a total $1,820,000. The Hopi Indians paid him $60,000. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians paid him $1,040,000. The Saginaw Chippewa Tribe paid him $150,000. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands paid him $600,000. The Samoan Garment Manufacturers Association paid him $160,000. Primedia paid him $440,000. And Voor Huisen Project Management paid him $300,000. Omar Bongo, the President of Gabon, paid Jack $9 million for a meeting with President Bush. He was paid another $1.2 million to arrange a meeting between Bush and the Malaysian Prime Minister. And yet, still, for Jack – just as for Tommy Cocorhan, it was never enough.
“I have chatted with Ralph (Reed) and we need to get the funding moving on the effort in the 10 congressional districts, ... Please get me a check as soon as possible for $150,000 made payable to American Marketing Inc. This is the company Ralph is using.”
Jack Abramoff
It was inevitable that someone like Jack Abramoff's would come to dominate this new fourth branch of American government – the lobbyists. He was an ignoramus about gourmet food or wine – in fact he did not drink at all. But he had a chameleon's talent for impersonations, and a quick broad sense of humor. Born Jewish, Casino Jack converted to orthodoxy. He carried his affinity for inflexible convictions into every aspect of his life – he was an absolutest in all things. His college roommate described Jack as always “driven to excess”. “He really did not have a malicious bone in his body. But if he sought something, he would not be deterred or impeded in his effort to acquire his goal.” (http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2005/12/18/jack-abramoffs-brandeis-roommate-remembers/ )
“Can you smell money?!?!?!”
Jake Abramoff
I present to you now a partial list of the people convicted of corruption in “The Abramoff Scandals”; Jack's business partner Adam Kidan, Bob Ney (R-Ohio), David Safavian (White House staffer), Italia Federici, Lobbyists, Mark Zachares, aide to Don Young (R-Alaska), Michael Scanlon, lobbyist and former aide to Tom Delay (R-Texas), Neil Volz, lobbyist, Roger Stillwell, Interior Department, Steven Griles, Deputy Interior Secretary, Tony Rudy, lobbyist, William Heaton, aide to Bob Ney, and Thomas Hart, aide to Bob Ney.
They realize that spending millions to save billions is just good business.
Jack Abramoff
The crimes of Jack Abramoff had been previously committed by the rich and powerful themselves, ala Mr. Colt, or facilitated by hosts such as Mr. Ward. They have gotten more skilled by following the career path of Tommy Corchoran. Almost half of all retiring members of Congress now see their government service as preparation for a profitable career as a lobbyist. And in the age of corporate America, they may not be mere facilitators, but ideologically proselytes, who are driven to bribe and seduce in search of a cultural holy grail. And since Casino Jack went to jail at the end of March 2006, the situation has only worsened. In 2009 alone, the Center for Responsive Politics records that $3.47 billion – BILLION – was spent on lobbying by the 30,000 registered lobbyists in Washington D.C.
“Only a genius like Abramoff could make money lobbying against an Indian tribe's casino and then turn around and make money defending that tribe against himself. Only a giant like Abramoff would have the guts to use one tribe's casino money to finance a "Focus on the Family" crusade against gambling in order to shut down a rival tribe's casino. Only an artist like Abramoff could suggest to a tribe that it pay him by taking out life insurance policies on its eldest members. Then when the elders dropped off they could funnel the insurance money through a private school and into his pockets.”
David Brooks New York Times March 22, 2005
Jack Abramoff was sentenced to 70 months in prison and ordered to pay $22 million in “restitution” to the American Indian tribes he had bilked. To his other clients, corporate, municipal and state governments, he was just the cost of doing business. He finished serving his sentence on December 13, 2010. And at 1625 K street, you can still find some 24,000 square feet of floor space available for rent at just $40 a square foot. The lobbying business on K Street is still green.
You can't beat somebody with nobody.
Jack Abramoff
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