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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, July 29, 2011

THE LEGACY OF MR. YANCEY

I recently heard a Tea Party politician called a "fire brand". The original definition is a piece of kindling, a piece of burning wood used to start a larger fire. It is a phrase you don't much hear anymore, in part because we are losing contact with the warmth and the agony fire can provide. It can easily consume our homes and our lives.  And thus, a firebrand is also a perfect description of a dangerous politician. And the original firebrand of American politics, the first self described political fire starter, was William Lowneds Yancey.
Yancey’s (above) South Carolina family were strongly pro-Federalist, and at an Independence Day celebration in 1834 the young man told a crowd, “Listen, not then...to the voice which whispers…that Americans…can no longer exist…citizens of the same republic…”  He also championed the Federal Union as editor of the newspaper the “Greenville Mountaineer”  - at least until 1835, when he married an Alabama widow with an Alabama plantation and 35 slaves. The ownership of human beings converted Yancey to pro-slavery. And then the Panic of 1837 wiped out cotton prices and with them William Yancey’s new found fortune and social status. This traumatic event also converted Yancy into a radical.
Yancey went back to the profession that he knew best, and in 1838 he bought a failing newspaper. Needing to make money quickly, Yancey's very first editorial was a passionate defense of slavery. In a followup editorial he even favored reopening the slave trade with Africa, which had been closed down by British Naval patrols since 1819. Yancey publicly opposed the compromises of 1850, which sought to establish a balance between slave states and “free” states within the Union. By now anything short of total domination by slave states was not a victory, in Yancey’s view.
Also in 1838 the true nature of the man was revealed, when an alleged political insult led to a street brawl between Yancey and his wife’s uncle. Yancey shot the man dead on the street. He later justified this hot blooded murder, writing he had been,  “Reared with the spirit of a man…and taught to preserve inviolate my honor…”,  which seems to me like lousy justification for murder. He was convicted of manslaughter but served only a few months before being pardoned. His reputation as a murderous hot head did nothing to prevent him from being elected to first the Alabama legislature and then, in 1844,  to the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1858 Yancey wrote what Horace Greeley called, ‘The Scarlett Letter’, in which he invented the term "fire eater" to describe himself.  He pledged that with like minded southerners, he would, “…fire the Southern heart – instruct the Southern mind - …and at the proper moment, by one organized, concerted action, we can precipitate the cotton states into revolution.” This was why Yancey was called the “Orator of Secession”. He worked hard to split his own (Democratic) party on the issue of slavery, believing the election of a Republican (anti-slavery) presidential candidate in 1860 would radicalize the south. He was, in the words of that genius Bruce Catton, “…one of the men tossed up by the tormented decade of the 1850’s (John Brown was another) who could help to bring catastrophe on but not do anything more than that.”
That the North had twice the population of the South, that the North had ten times the industrial and agricultural capacity, that slavery was already dieing in the South, that the North would not fight to end slavery but would fight to preserve the union, that Lincoln did not believe the Federal government had the power or the right to outlaw slavery, all this meant nothing to Yancey. Yancey wanted secession not despite the destructive effects it would have on the South, but, it seemed, almost because of them. President-elect Abraham Lincoln described the problem of dealing with hot heads like Yancey. "Not only must we do them no harm, but somehow we must convince them that we mean to do them no harm".
Once war broke out Jefferson Davis sent Yancey (above) to England to seek recognition. The Prime Minister eventually met with Yancey, but then asked if he had been serious about his call for a resumption of the slave trade. Yancey denied it, but that question indicated there was no chance that England would recognize the South. Yancey returned home in frustration and defeat. He now served in the Confederate Senate, opposing Davis’ power to draft troops and blocking Davis’ attempt to form a Confederate Supreme Court in the spring of 1863.
It was during debate over the court when Yancey and Benjamin Hill of Georgia got into a brawl on the Senate floor. It was almost a repeat of the 1838 shooting.  When the hot headed Yancy reached for his gun,  Hill grabbed the only weapon he had at hand - an inkstand. He beaned Yancey on the head with it, cold cocking him.. The Confederate Senate censured Yancey and took no action against Hill.
So it seemed that even his political allies and friends did not like William Yancey very much. And this was the man the South had staked its future upon. I believe it was William Yancey whom Jefferson Davis was thinking of when he said the epitaph of the Confederacy should be, “Died of a Theory.’
After censure, Yancey returned to Alabama,  where he died in July of 1863, just 2 weeks before his 49th birthday. He had lived just long enough to see the twin defeats of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, which together sealed the doom of the Confederacy. But even then the fire brands kept fighting.
The product of William Yancy's life’s work was the death of 500,000 young men and perhaps a million civilians - the vast majority of them southerners -  the  total abolition of slavery in America and the ultimate victory of Federalism over State’s Rights. It is an estate today's firebrand's of the right ought to take note of.
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER


I learned early in life not to worry about what was going on in the my bedroom closet, because the number of children eaten by monsters hiding in their closets is miniscule when compared to the millions of five year old's consumed by the monsters hiding under their beds. The deciding factor, I decided, was dust bunnies. If your mother was some kind of obsessive compulsive clean freak who vacuumed under your bed ever week (which mine wasn't) not only were you more likely to develop asthma, but the monsters were driven out to look for food, and there you were right over their heads, a nice plump five year old, all tasty and tucked in tight like a burrito. Having a mother who qualified as anything better than a mediocre housekeeper was almost a death sentence. I thought it was just common sense.
Gun control is also common sense. People with guns kill people, that seems clear and obvious. In 2009, the lasts year for which figures are available, almost 30,000 Americans were killed after a gun went off. However most of those (55%) were suicides. And in 2009  the number of people killed when a gun went off accidentally was a grand total of 776. The remaining 12,600 deaths by guns were all homicides, out of a nation of 310 million.  Pardon me, but is controling every single gun really an economically viable approach to solving this problem? Even considering the most horrific scenario, the odds of a child being killed while playing with a gun are about 1 in 5,000. Zero would be far better, but how much money are we willing to spend to preserve the gene pool of saps susceptible to the gun industry's twin marketing ploys of fear and machismo?
Guns are only responsible for 1.2% of all deaths in the United States last year. Five thousand more Americans were killed in automobile accidents. And deaths by gun violence are dwarfed by the number (616,000) who died of heart disease or cancer (563,000) or strokes (135,000). I can not escape the feeling our fears (liberals and conservatives) are focused on media friendly horrors while the monsters hiding behind the dust bunnies are not getting nearly enough attention. You have a 1 in 128 chance of falling off a ladder or a step stool or slipping in your shower in any given year. That means if you live to be fifty, the odds are you are going down.  It turns out the last words you ever hear are less likely to be, “Stick 'em up” than they are “I've fallen and I can't get up”.
Last year more people died of spticemia than from being shot. You have a far better chance (1 in 1,000 ) of dieing in a house fire than being murdered in a home invasion robbery. And yet liberals don't seem willing to admit that gun control is largely a waste of money, while conservatives won't admit that (even in Montana) that guns for personal protection are at best ineffective and at worst arming your assassin. You want to really play Russian roulette? Try short changing the public education system. Oh, wait, we're already doing that.
Consider what happened in 1552, when Henry Pert of Welbeck, Nottinghamshire England was practicing his archery, as all freemen were required to do by law. Henry drew his bow, aimed at his target and released his bolt, only to have it hang fire. The arrow stuck against the bow's shelf. This was so unusual a hang up that Henry turned the bow around to examine the impediment from the other side, and that movement broke the friction and released the arrow. Henry shot himself in the head. With an arrow. He died the next day. A coroner's inquest adjudged Henry's death to be a misadventure. I would agree. But would England have been safer if peasants were required to be licensed before being allowed to possess a bow and arrows? Oh, wait, they were.
Shortly after 1560, deaths by black powder fire arms surpassed deaths by arrow, so perhaps this discussion will be clearer if we consider a firearm tragedy a little closer to our own time. In the summer of 1871 in Lebanon, Ohio, Mr. Thomas Mcgeean was arrested and charged with killing Thomas Myers in a bar fight. Mcgeean hired famous lawyer Clement Vallandigham, who was famous because he was a convicted traitor, who had been expelled to the Confederacy during the Civil War. And this was the most public case Vallandigham had gotten in years. On the evening of Friday, June 16 Vallandigham was joined in his hotel room by Ohio Governor Andrew McBurney. At about 9:00 PM, the governor asked Vallandigham if he had any surprises for his closing arguments the next day, and the 53 year old lawyer sprang nimbly to his feet. “I can show you”, he declared.
He jammed a .32 caliber pistol into his pocket and then abruptly yanked it out again, as if in the midst of an argument. As was intended the pistol went off all by itself. As was not intended, it was loaded. Later that night Mr. Vallandigham dictated the following telegram to be sent to his doctor. “I shot myself with a pistol in the bowels. I fear I am fatally injured. Come at once.” The doctor did, but the lawyer died anyway at 9:45 the next morning. Mr. Vallabdigham's sacrifice was not for nought though, as the jury considered it proof of Thomas Mcgeean's innocence. And the meaning here is that all guns are loaded, and so are all lawyers, but loaded guns usually win. Now,  how many gun control arguements mention the late Mr. Vallandigham?
Okay, let us consider a non-violent alternative. In April of 1558 Mr. Thomas Alsopp of Coventry, England, was killed by a falling maypole. Should medieval liberals have pushed for strengthened regulations on maypole erections? If they had tried, I'm sure the maypole industry would have been eager to remind people that maypoles were part of the cultural heritage of every Englishman and woman. But were maypole safety regulations (fighting and defending them) worth the effort, as opposed to, say, discouraging witch burning? Just because the 16th century lame stream media (town cryers) could gin up profits by playing off alcoholic circular en dehors enthusiasts and rigid anti-circumspection-ists, were their profits (if any) worth the loss of civil focus?
Several years ago a Red Cross report on Kenya compared the death rates from AIDs there to the “equivalent to two 747 jets crashing every day.” Listen, The Republic of Kenya wishes it had two 747's crashing there every day. Every hotel room in Nairobi would be filled with media big foots, eager to get their faces smeared with as much blood as possible. It would be big news, lots and lots of big news. Money would be pouring in and there would be political pressure to design safer airplanes, better air traffic control. And any idiots who wanted to waste time claiming all that twisted aluminum and gore was God's will or divine punishment would be politically isolated and ignored. Kenya's tragedy is that AIDs victims die individual deaths, 150,000 individual deaths last year.  Just like the victims of gun violence. But many, many more.
America does not have a gun control problem. We have a mind control problem. And as long as there is a profit to be made from our National Attention Deficit Disorder, the news media will continue to be obsessed with news that has not been new for decades.
Think we should tell them?
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

THE SECRET LIFE OF CAPITALISM Part Four


I would say that William Ralston (above) had scaled the summit of delusion. In order to stand atop the very precipice of fallacy, this founder of the Bank of California, owner of much of the Comestock Silver Lode and respected member of the monetary elite, had sold $10 million in shares in his new diamond company in a single morning, and had then, with the ruthlessness efficiency he was respected for, had duped the two Kentucky country bumpkins into selling him their lucky find for little more than a half a million dollars. And having done all of that, he had now ascended his ultimate tower of phantasm. He was now poised to come plummeting to earth.
It is easy to see how Ralston had reached his precarious perch. The entire nation was tripping on inflated  dreams, even if they weren't their own. The Alta California newspaper reported, “We have seen a report written by Henry Janin, a mining engineer of an established reputation, who had visited the mines, examined them and reported favorably on them. He has accepted the position of superintendent and has expressed the opinion that with twenty-five men he will take out gems worth at least $1,000,000 a month...Most of the diamonds found by Mr. Janin are small, weighing a karat. One obtained previously weighed over 100 karats... Some of the sapphires are as large as pigeon eggs....The diamond mines are the property of the San Francisco and New York Mining and Commercial Company, which has...100,000 shares of stock and they have been selling at $40, making the present market value of the whole property $4,000,000.”
In fact there was no 100 karat diamond. Janin was not the new superintendent. In fact that gentleman had recently sold his 1,000 shares in the claim for $40,000, to maintain his expensive lifestyle. Still Janin had faith in the venture, so perhaps the first man to realize that Raliston was actually a man on the verge was
Mr. Clarence King (above). But then it was easy for Clarence because he had no money invested in the mountain. As a trained and thus disinterested geologist, Clarence King knew from the second he saw those lurid headlines that the diamond mountain was a fraud. He knew that diamonds and sapphires are never found together, if for no other reason than that diamonds are formed at temperatures and pressures which would crush and melt sapphires. Proof of this, common knowledge even in 1872, was that you could cut a sapphire with a diamond, but not the reverse. Only later would it be established that diamonds were made of carbon while sapphires were corundum, a form of aluminum.  But more than that, Clarence King knew the area around the alledged diamond mountain as few other people in the world could.
What made the 30 year old Professor King such an expert was that he had just completed (pun alert!) his groundbreaking work on the 40th Parallel Survey. This massive seven volume catalog of the natural resources made accessible by the transcontinental railroad, had only been completed in September of 1872. As its centerpiece it produced a topographical geological map centered on the 40th east /west parallel, and covering 50 miles on either side, on a scale of four miles to an inch. And nowhere on this map or in its thousands of pages of supporting geological and biological compendiums, was there even a hint of such a place as Ralston's diamond mountain.
Over dinner at the Pacific Union Club in San Francisco (above), King carefully grilled Henry Janin about the claim. He was stunned to discover that even now Janin was not sure of the exact location of the mine. “I was taken a long distance on a train, about 36 hours. Then we left the railroad at some small station where there was no attendant. We were brought out of the station blindfolded and put on horses” For two days, explained Janin, they had ridden with the sun in their faces.
The consulting mining engineer described the claim itself as a curious place, “...a desert with a conical but flat topped mountain rising right out of it, and on the mountain you find everything from garnets to diamonds!” Familiar with the country, King realized that 36 hours on the train would have taken Janin into eastern Utah territory or Western Wyoming territory. And the sun in his face for two days, meant Janin had been ridding south from the railroad. After lunch, King consulted his maps.
And 36 hours later he arrived at Rawlings Springs, Wyoming. He hired an aging German emigrant prospector and together they set off for a mountain he had surveyed just the year before, in what is today northwestern Colorado. On November 2, 1872 they crossed a creek with a sign marked, “Water Rights – Henry Janin”. Immediately, King began to set up camp while the prospector went off exploring. King was hardly finished pitching the tents when the old man came back holding a gem. He proudly announced, “Look, Mr. King. This diamond field not only produces diamonds but cuts them also!”
The two men working together quickly became adept at finding gems. They had only to look for tool marks on the surface, to find a diamond pushed into the ground, or a sapphire jammed into a crevice in the rocks. And indeed, many of the gems showed signs of having been worked over by lapidary tools. It appeared that the great diamond mine had been “salted”.
The term was an invention of the colonial American frontier. At a time when salt was vital in the preservation of food, poor farmland could still be sold at a premium if the seller poured salt down a well on the property, to give the impression of a “salt lick” or mineral deposits just below ground level. Gold and silver claims were even more easily salted, with a shot gun loaded with the appropriate mineral dust. But salting this diamond mine had required a more labor intensive approach.
A week of examining the property provided King with all the evidence he would need. On the the sixth of November the two men headed back toward the railroad, barely 20 miles away. (It seemed Mr. Harpending had actually heard the Union Pacific engine's whistle, after all!) King did not wait for a scheduled stop at Rawlings Spring, but flagged down a passing train, parted company with the sharp eyed prospector and composed a quick cable to William Ralston, which he dispatched at the next station. The message was short and sour. The great North American Diamond Mine was a hoax.
The sound reverberating out of San Francisco that day was of a hundred egos suddenly deflating - one in particular. How had such wise men been so completly dupped?
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