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The Capitalist Crucify the Old Man - 1880's


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Friday, February 24, 2012


I now relate a passionate political ménage à trois, a story loyalty, intrigue and infidelity, a tale so legendary that sixty years later the broken hearts are still tender. It is the story of three men - one who loved only money, a second who loved only himself, and a third who loved the man he might have been. Two of these men came from poverty and one was born to wealth. All three died wealthy, but only one was so honored in death that he lay in state for two days under the rotunda dome of the U.S. Capital. And he was the loser.
The paramour of these three suitors was the national appendage that is Florida. It became a state in 1845 and then again in 1868. But it was always two states, the northern third, familiarly tied to the insular deep South, and the southern third, more worldly. In 1950 Florida was a Democratic citadel, with one million registered Democrats to 69,000 Republicans, making victory in the Democratic primary tantamount to election. But there was change on the wind and it began in the string of small coastal towns, from Port St. Luicie to Palm Coast, where the two Florida's blended, each rudely intruding upon the politics of the other.
Politics, to Edward Gresham Bell (above). was a merely a means to an end. Said Edward, “"I suppose some people might call me tight with a dollar.” Not even Midas had a purer love of money than Edward. He had sought gold in Alaska, but struck it when his sister, Jessie, became the third wife of heir Alfred DuPont in 1921. DuPont took on Edward as an assistant and together they built a fortune in Florida real-estate, lumber, and banking. Alfred died in 1935 leaving behind a $26 million trust fund. His widow Jessie became a philanthropist and within three years Edward had tripled the value of the trust.
Edward was ruthless, a “hard-nosed conservative financier", who began each evening with a glass of Jack Daniels and the toast, “Confusion to our enemies!”. He had no personal life, only a business existence. He tried marriage once, but reduced it a multi-clause contract which even defined “nagging”. After ten years Edward bought his wife out for $250,000. He once said , "When I go across the creek, it will be because I can't help myself or can't work any longer." By 1950 the 68 year old Edward was a still working, still a political king maker. And he had begun looking for new king.
The old king had been a troublesome liberal, Claude Denson Pepper. He was a fifty year old horse-faced,  glad-hander who admitted, “I was a New Dealer before there was a New Deal. And I remained one when the ideology came under bitter attack.” Born to Alabama sharecroppers, Pepper's ambition got him into Harvard Law School. Moving to Florida in the twenties, in 1936 Claude won a U.S. Senate seat in a special election. He was staunch defender of F.D.R, and a good friend of Roosevelt's Vice President, the 'uber' liberal, Henry Wallace.
But Roosevelt dumped Wallace in 1944, and Pepper was unhappy with his replacement, Harry Truman. In the '48 Democratic convention, Pepper tried to form an “Anybody but Truman” uprising, but it never caught fire. And then, to everyone surprise, Truman beat Dewey in November. And now Truman was also looking for somebody to run against Claude Pepper.
George Armistead Smather earned the nickname 'Smooch' at the University of Florida because of his womanizing. During the late 1930's Senator Pepper had helped him get an appointment as an assistant U.S. attorney. But coming home from the Marine Corps in 1945, the handsome 37 year old lawyer had won his own seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the fourth district of Florida. There he befriended the equally young and handsome Jack Kennedy.
In 1949 President Truman summoned the two term congressman to the White House, where he asked George for a favor. “I want you to beat that son-of-a-b-tch Claude Pepper.” To hear George tell it, he tried to warn Claude. “I went to his office one day and said, "Claude, I'm getting a lot of encouragement to run against you. Everybody in Florida thinks you're off your rocker with this Joe Stalin bit." He said, "Oh, no, no I'm not. I'm not worried about it anyway.” At least that's the way George told it.
The “Stalin bit” was a 1946 speech Claude had given to a pro-Russian group, in which he said that nowhere in the world were “minorities given more freedom, recognition and respect than in the Soviet Union.” In a later speech Claude said Stalin was “a man we can work with” Such inane pandering had earned Claude the title “Red Pepper”. And that was just the opening Edward Bell and other money interests were looking for. Bell was not worried about the Red menace, so much as the blue collar menace. He was determined to stop the New Deal labor movement at the Florida boarder. So he opened his purse strings to support George Smathers.
Speaking in Orlando at a January 12th rally George opened the 1950 primary campaign by warning the 3,000 supporters of “a deliberate conspiracy, hatched by the labor overlords in Washington. Working with them, and lending their evil, unsavory arts, are communist agitators....Negro organizers who have learned how easy it is to inflame the hates and prejudices of their own race...a mixed mob of political saboteurs who has invaded Florida.” And he ask if his listeners “liked the idea of Florida elections being controlled by the negro vote, by labor bosses and communist sympathizers....”. That's what George actually said.
What George did not say was what Time magazine claimed he said. "Why, J. Edgar Hoover, the whole FBI, and every member of Congress knows that Claude Pepper is - a shameless extrovert! Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper before his marriage habitually practiced celibacy.” Some reports even added the charge that “Pepper matriculated with coeds.”
It was a political joke, and as old as the hills, far older even than Edward Bell. It was a good joke, but it only masked the vile standard stump speech that George Smathers (above) actually used. After comparing intergration and labor unions to treason, George would build to his crescendo. "The outcome (of this election) can truly determine whether our homes will be destroyed, whether our children will be torn from their mothers, trained as conspirators and turned against their parents, their home and their church.”
Meanwhile, in his slow, exgaserated southern drawl, Claude Pepper would ask, “How . . . can . . . you . . . vote . . . for . . . someone . . . from . . . NEW JERSEY?” The Sumter County Times editorialized that “the boys in overhauls are pretty much his (Pepper's) boys, and an overhaul vote counts as much as the ballot of a DuPont.” The working class supported Claude because he supported universal health care, but that earned the enmity of the American Medical Association. But Pepper did not support integration. He complained George was telling “white people I am too friendly with the Negroes and he is telling the Negroe I have betrayed him.” He accused Smathers of misleading campaign literature, spreading race and religious prejudice.
It was the last pre-television campaign in Florida, when Claude could joke, "If it had been a Hollywood contest, I wouldn’t have put up a qualifying fee”. And he was right. It was the traditional politics of rally's with barbacues, fish frys, hush puppies and square dances. But in the end, it was also revolutionary.
The results were a landslide. George Smathers took 55% of the vote, winning by 64, 771 votes. And his win had not come from the “crackers” of north and west Florida. Claude Pepper had carried those counties. What threw the election to Smathers were voters along the east coast, blue collar workers who cast their lots with the manager class, who they expected to shortly join. Ran the banner headline in one Florida east coast newspaper, "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow . . . We Have Won....And Staved Off Socialism.” It even appeared that more than a few Republicans had registered as Democrats just to defeat Claude “Red” Pepper. It was the very first whisper of the shift to a solid Republican hold in the South.
When Ed Bell died in 1981 the duPont Trust he ran was worth $2 billion. By 2006 it was was valued at $4.5 billion. George Smathers served on the Warren Commission, investigating the murder of this friend, President Jack Kennedy. Even after, he remained a Kennedy supporter. In 1968, one of his ex-secretaries, Mary Jo Kopechne, was killed in an accident while riding in an automobile driven by Ted Kennedy. By then George had decided not to run for re-election.. George and his wife divorced, and he sold his Key Biscayne home to Richard Nixon. He then became a successful lobbyist and car dealer. When he died in 2007 'Smooch” left $24 million to the Univeristy of Florida.
Ten years after his defeat Claude Pepper won a seat in the House of representatives, where he established a strong anti-communist reputation. Winning re-election every two years, in 1977 he became chairman of the Select Committee in Aging, collaborating with Alan Greenspan on a plan that saved Social Security. He joked that he and Speaker Tip O'Neal were the only Democrats who drove Ronald Reagan crazy. When he died on May 30, 1989 his coffin lay in state under the Capital dome for two days.
Today, in Federal elections, Florida  is again two states, and firmly in the fold of neither political party.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I guess it all goes back to the bubbles. They are what attracted that feckless paranoid lunatic Philip IV. As King he was responsible for the economic collapse of medieval France. And the recovery, which finally came after 700 years of poverty and travails, can be traced directly to the Blanc de noirs stained front door of the Abby of Hauntvillers, bottlers of the monastic barfly’s inebriate of choice, the cheap bubbly booze of the pre-bubonic Benedictine generation, champagne.
You see, the Champagne plateau (about 100 miles Northwest of Paris) is so far north that the grapes ripen very late in the year. Now, in standard fermentation, the yeast eats the sugar in the grape juice. The sugar is converted into alcohol and the yeast farts carbon dioxide, until all the sugar is consumed and then the yeast dies. But the wine produced in Champagne was different in two ways. First, the grapes were very sweet to begin with, so sweet that the yeast farted so much CO2 that the wine was filled with bubbles. And second, the wine was bottled so late in the year that there was always yeast still surviving when temperatures dropped low enough to stop the fermentation in each bottle.
Usually the monks drank the juice while it was still saccharine, and what a sad bunch of alcoholics they must have been. But in the bottles and the casks the monks could not consume over the winter (and they tried to drink it all), the spring temperatures re-started the fermentation. Occasionally so much more CO2 built up in the bottles that come summer, they exploded.
Also, the stuff just did not taste very good. And other than the few souls who would have drunk aftershave if aftershave had been invented yet, the residents of Champagne mostly drank Burgundy, from the south. The local stuff was so bad, they took to dumping it all into large vats, trying to kill the taste of the worst of it. Even the vino impaired English resisted consuming the “weird and foaming” wine the Counts of Champagne tried to unload on them. I suspect, if the locals could have drunk the water without dieing, they would have ripped up the champagne grape vines by the roots. But they couldn't, so the vines themselves only survived because of lack of an alternative.
Once every generation a new French King was crowned in Reims, 37 Kings in all between 816 A.D. and 1825 A.D. They used the local effervescence to anoint their new monarch, and to drink a toast in his honor, a real test of their gag reflex, no doubt. But beyond that passing tribute, “dry and beggarly” Champagne remained a stagnant social backwater –until the importation of capitalism.
Did you know that the Muslims invented capitalism? The original dollar was the dinar. Muslims formed the first stock companies, the first banks and offered the first lines of credit. Very astute, these Muslims; because they were promoted based on talent rather than on blood lines. So the hereditary kings of Christendom were behind the eight ball on this one. Which is why it wasn’t until after the Northern Italians profited from the capitalist tricks they picked up from their Islamic trading partners that Northern Europe was finally opened for business.
The Champagne Fairs really got running smoothly about 1270, and they resembled the NASCAR season. Every January the season opened at Lagny. This was followed by the Fair at Bar-sur-Aube, the May Fair in Provins, the “hot air” Fair at Troyes, then back to Provins for a second fair, a fair at Reims, and the “cold air” Fair at Troyes in November. Six towns and about a five weeks for each fair - a week for the set up; stocking the warehouses (the Fairs were strictly wholesale), establishing bank credit (everything was financed by the Italians), partnership contracts were signed, rates of exchange were agreed upon and stalls set up, where the actual business would be conducted. Then there would be a week concentrating on cloth sales (60 European towns sold their wool only at the Fairs), followed by a week of leather sales, a week for spices, and a closing week of hard commodities, grains, salt and metals. Then there would be a week taking delivery and paying debts and sharing profits, before moving on. It was a huge clockwork enterprise that developed over a century. But what made it all possible was that evil, evil, evil horror of all horrors to any modern puesdo-capitalists – BIG GOVERNMENT!
As is noted in Wikipedia, the Counts of Champagne guaranteed “security and property rights of merchants…ensuring that contracts signed at the fairs would be honored throughout (Europe). The Counts provided the fairs with 140 Guards who heard complaints and enforced contracts…weights and measures were strictly regulated.…” The French King even granted free and safe conduct to merchants traveling to and from the fairs, for a cut of the profits, of course. It all functioned because the Counts of Champagne established the fundamental structure and regulations without which capitalism cannot exist.
It seems, having grown up in a capitalistic system, we assume a free market is the natural state of affairs. It is not. Regulations create the market. Regulations define the market. Regulations maintain the market. And when the regulations are not maintained and enforced, the market collapses. When one group of individuals, such as nobility, or bankers, can exclude competitors from profit, that is the death of capitalism. And the dinars hit the fan when control of Champagne passed from the reliable Counts to the King of France, Philip IV; the George W. Bush of medieval Europe.
You see Philip was drunk on his own hot air. To finance his dependency he spent his entire life looking for the next bank account to plunder. He gained control of Champagne province when he married 13 year old Joan I, the Countess of Champagne, in 1284. The Fairs supplied him with enough money for wars against the English and two wars in Flanders, one of which he won. The Fair's Guards became political appointees, who bought their offices from the King, and who became addicted to bribes just like the King. Tariff’s were now levied on every wagon load of goods bound to and from The Fairs. And internal border crossings, each exacting a tariff, began to multiply across France as Philip’s losses increased. Philip destroyed the Fairs by removing the regulations that defined the market, and piling on taxes not tied to their profits. And just as the profits from the Fairs began to drop off, about 1306, Joan died. There is some mystery as to why she died. . Some say it was while giving birth; some say that Philip had her poisoned. I’ll bet it was both.
A year later, Philip expelled the Jews from France - after seizing their property of course. A year after that, on October 13, 1307, Philip wiped out his debts to the Knights Templar by arresting all of them – and seizing their property, of course. Later, when their Grand Master refused to admit to even more hidden wealth which Phillip was certain the Knights had, Philip had him slowly barbecued, Texas style.
And then, because there wasn’t anybody left still doing business in France to steal from, Philip began seizing Church property. The church objected but that only slowed Philip down, it did not stop him. And when a French Cardinal was elected Pope, Philip had him placed under house arrest in Avignon, thus ensuring Philip could now plunder all the church accounts he could reach.
By the time Philip died of a stroke in 1314, he had reduced France and Champagne to a disaster area. The Fairs were history, France and the Champagne were broke. A bright, brief shinning light had been snuffed out by greed and stupidity wearing a crown.
Things did not begin to improve again for the backwater province until 1688, when the Abby of Hautvillers received a new treasurer and cellar master, Dom Pierre Perignon. Pierre did not invent champagne. He did not discover it. In fact he saw it as his personal obligation to turn the bubbly into a dull flat dark wine. He failed miserably – Thank God. Because it was Perignon who made champagne drinkable.
I should point out here the obvious, which is that until the 20th century far more people died drinking water than from drinking booze. Every drop of water was filled with pathogens, bacteria and assorted filth. ‘Passing water’ was not an idle description. You were safer drinking your own urine than from a clear rushing mountain stream. You still are. Without the addition of alcohol or chlorine, quenching your thirst with water is playing Russian roulette with bullets in four of the chambers.
Farmers, working the best soil available, grew wheat and hops to brew beer. And monks, who usually established their monasteries on poor soil, grew grapes and fermented wine. Without a source of potable water, meaning a drinkable fluid, a village could not survive. Without a decent tasting wine to consume and sell, a monastery could not thrive.
After 47 years of – dare I say it? – religious attention to detail, Pierre turned the haphazard blending of wines in the Champagne region into an art. He perfected the making of a white wine from the best of dark grapes, the Pinot Noir mixed with the Chardonnay. Under Father Perignon the cuvee, or the vat, in which each blend was made, became the measure of champagne, the equivalent of its vintage. He mixed the juice from various fields and vinters to produced the perfect blend. He added an English bottle, stronger than the French ones, to restrain the 90 pounds of pressure per square inch generated by all that carbon dioxide farted out by the yeast. And by the time he died in 1715 Dom Perignon had created something close to the champagne we drink today.
Today, just down the road from the Abby of Hauntvillers, lies the village of Epernay, on the banks of the river Marne. Within a few square miles of L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, in some 200 million bottles yeast is happily farting away. Those bottles of that “weird and foaming” wine, make Epernay in “dry and beggarly” Champagne, the richest little village in France.
And they might have made it there sooner if Philip IV had just stuck to the rules, and gotten drunk on the vino, instead of the bubbles.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I wish I could have seen at least one of the parades in the first week of September, 46 B.C..E. They lasted over four days and the spectacle must have been magnificent. Each morning the units formed up on property once owned by the last King of Rome - renamed the Field of Mars. There were cohorts of unarmed soldiers, battalions of slaves, wagons piled high with booty and treasures, and bizarre animals from distant conquered lands. All four parades were to exalt just one man, Julius Ceasar. When all was ready each day, Ceasar, dressed in his Senatorial robe (called in Latin "a candidus") edged in divine purple and with a laurel wreath atop his bald head, would climb into his chariot, and enter the usually bared Gate of Triumph.  Just inside the city walls Ceasar would symbolically surrender his command to representatives of the Roman Senate and the Urban Praetir – the mayor. But if he bothered to notice each day, Ceasar would have seen increasing tension on the face of one man in particular, the Praetor and Senator, Marcus Junius Brutus.
The politician Cicero described his contemporary Brutus as having “the courage of a man but the brains of a child”. You see, Brutus suffered from daddy issues. His father had been a first rate lawyer and a second rate politician. In 78 B.C.E. Brutus the elder had gotten involved with the Catiline Conspiracy. How much Burtus the elder actually knew of the murky plot is debatable, but he ended up in the Cisalpine city of Mutina (modern Modena), besieged by an army loyal to the Senate. The elder Brutus worked out a deal to surrender the town and switch sides. But the Senate army commander, Pompey the Great, decided he couldn't trust the elder Brutus, and had him executed. Thirty years later Brutus the Younger took up to the sword to fight for the Senate and for his idol, Pompey - the man who had orphaned him.
The senators now led the Triumph along the Sacred Way, between cheering crowds. Behind them came the trumpeters, followed by the carts of booty, the slaves, and two white sacrificial bulls. Then came the stacks of captured arms, and then the political prisoners, the generals, kings and queens, staggering in their chains. And only then came Ceasar, under a shower of flowers. He was over 50 now, but still handsome to Roman eyes. Behind him came men from his legions, singing obscene soldier songs, mostly about their commander.
The widow of Brutus the Elder had become the mistress of the young Julius Ceasar. Their affair was so well known in Rome that it was rumored Ceasar was the younger Brutus' real father. It was an absurd claim. The year Brutus was born, Ceasar was just 15. Still, the rumors reufsed to die, and even gained popularity after Pompey's defeat at Physallus in 48 B.C. After fighting alongside Pompey in that battle, Brutus had written Ceasar a letter of apology. And amazingly, Ceasar had forgiven him, even adopting him and appointing him governor of TransAlpine Gaul, one of Ceasar's old posts.
Now, Ceasar's policy of magnanimity was an obvious attempt to make his one-time enemies beholden to him. But in the case of Brutus, Ceasar was also trying to avoiding hurting his old girlfriend, Burtus' mother. I get the feeling this is what passed for love with Ceasar, dispensing favors as a substitute for affection and intimacy. And if you were expecting more from the great man, you were certain to be disappointed. Open affection was not Ceasar's style. Besides, after Pompey's death, he was pretty busy.
Once each Triumphant parade had reached the Capitoline Hill, Ceasar climbed the steps to the Temple of Jupiter. Before entering he removed his laurel wreath as a sign of humility. Then, inside, he watched the two while bulls sacrificed, and their blood was smeared on his face. Then he handed over his political prisoners, such as Leader of the Gauls, Vercongetroix. In fact the big Gaul had spent the last five years held a few hundred yards away, in the prison atop Tullianum Rock. Now he was returned to the prison, lowered back into the dungeon, and tied to a post. A strung bow was slipped over his head and twisted until he was slowly strangled to death. Not all political prisoners were sacrificed during Ceasar's four triumphs. On day two Celepatra 7's younger sister, Arsinoe 4, was spared, but sent to a temple in Greece, which she was not permitted to leave for the rest of her life.
In October 48 B.C., after learning of the death of Pompey, Ceasar had taken possession of the royal palace in Alexandria, Egypt. He then destroyed the army of the Pharoah Ptolemy 13 and his younger sister Arsinoe 4. He drowned, she had been captured. Then Ceasar set Cleopatra 7 on the throne, making a firm alliance with her to feed his armies and refill his purse. After a fertile diversion with Cleo, on June 23, 47 B.C., Ceasar set off on a forced march, reminiscent of his quick invasion of Spain two years earlier. Ceasar crossed the Sinai, marched through Judea and Syria, and the eastern half of modern day Turkey, covering 800 miles in just 47days. On August 2nd at Zile, Ceasar crushed an army under the the rebellous King Pharnaces, and captured his Roman Senate advisor, Gaius Cassius Longinus. So smashing was his victory, that Ceasar's message informing the Senate was reduced to only three words - “veni, vidi, vici”. The translation reads, “I came, I saw, I conquered.” But in this case, Ceasar proved to be slightly optimistic.
His mistake was underestimating Cassius, a smart and feisty aristocrat. Cassius had warned against the invasion of Parthia back in 53 B.C. The few legionnaires who survived the debacle of Carrhea, were saved because Cassius lead them to safety. But after his own capture in 47 B.C., when Caesar offered Cassius a command in the expedition to destroy the last of the Senates' forces in Tunisia, Cassius said no. Almost any other Roman politician would have killed Cassius for that refusal. But again, Caesar was being magnanimous. He even decided to risk leaving this hot head unattended, loose in Rome.
Leaving the Temple of Jupiter, Ceasar now stood at the top of the steps while Marc Anthony held the laural wreath over his head. The crowd cheered this ritual, meant to display the hero's rejection of an offer of Kingship. But it seemed to those with suspicious minds that on each of the four days, Ceasar waited a little longer before rejecting the laurel wreath. Brutus wasn't certain he noticed such reluctance on Ceasar's part. But his brother-in-law Cassius, assured Brutus that he had indeed seen it.
From the Capitaline Hill, the Sacred Way and the the Triumpate parade led to the Circus Flaminius, adjacent to the Tiber River and Mars' Field. Here the city held amateur chariot races, and public meetings. Now long tables were set for a banquet, where thousands of average Roman citizens could feast on exotic foods from the newly conquered lands. But this had been a civil war, Roman had killed Roman, and other than the first days triumph to celebrate Ceasar's conquest of Gaul (50 B.C.), the lands Ceasar had recently conquered had already been Roman lands. There were many within the Senate who did not feel Ceasar should have been granted a triumph for his victories over Egypt (48 B.C.), King Pharnaces (47 B.C.) and the Senate Armies in North Africa and Spain (46 B.C.)
But the promise of parades and free meals, and the hundreds of new Senators Ceasar had appointed, had swayed the Senate to vote to approve the unprecedented four Triumphs. As the sun set on the final Triumph, as the last tipsy guest staggered off to the vomitorium, Julius Ceasar was at the pinnacle of his power.
But of all men, Ceasar was the most likely to have known, there was nowhere left to go from here but down.
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