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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, March 09, 2012

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 with 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 further 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 handedly, “Make it 2:11,” grabbed his bags and rushed out to catch the train back to Ohio.
The reporter turned that 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 they did not let Will Hays become President.
The Republican Convention that June was officialy 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 centerpice 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 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 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 to win a few votes.
In contrast, Leonard Wood (above) had few political skills. He was a  Medal of Honor winner who had then graduated medical school and then risen to Army Chief of Staff, and had even won the New Hampshire primary. And while little 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 break the tie.
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, then his support started to slip, and 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 the 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.
They dispatched a small delegation to Hardings’ room up stairs, and asked the stunned man in his pajamas if there were any embarrassing episodes in his past. Harding swallowed and said, “No”. He was lying, 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 Collisseum would give up and hand the nomination to Harding. But as of 2:15 A.M., the decision has been made, just as Daugherty had predicted; if 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.  There, 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 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. Harry was taking kickbacks too, but the professional politicians decided not to prosecute him, the important thing was that he was gone.
Will Hays served as Hardings’ Postmaster General. But after only one year he smelled the impending scandals and 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, no adultry in marraige 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, March 07, 2012

GOD AND EGO

I believe that if Uthman ibn Affan had been a cruel and heartless man, millions of lives might have been saved, and history would have been kinder to today's followers of Islam. This is ironic because for most of his life Uthman had been a successful merchant, with a real talent for the cold heartless logic of an account book. It was only after he accepted the migrating embrace of Islam, and became the third Caliph, or “Commander of the faithful”, in 644 C.E.., that Uthman’s compassion for his fellow Muslims, inspired directly by the teachings of his friend and leader, the Prophet Muhammad, that Uthman's humanity lead to the greatest threat facing Islam today.
Muhammad died peacefully in 632, leaving his followers to make what they could of his life’s work. Abu Bakr, the first man to issue the public call to prayer in Mecca, was elected the first Successor of the Messenger of God, or Caliph,  Rasul Allah. During his two year reign he managed to put down rebellions, invade and begin the conversions of Iran, Syria and what is today Palestine. Abu Bakr died on Monday, August 23rd , 634, naming Umar as his successor. Umar, also known as Farooq the Great, ruled as the second Caliph for ten years, conquering the Persian Empire. He was attacked by an assassin at morning prayers in 644, and lived just long enough to name a committee to pick his successor. And as we all know, no good could can come from a selection committee.
The choice of the next Caliph fell to an election, or shura, amongst five men. Two stated publicly that they were willing to take on the burden of being Caliph; Mohammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Uthman, known as the “man of two lights” because he had married two of the Prophet’s daughters. In the shura among the remaining three, two split, one supporting Ali and the other supporting Uthman. This left the choice to Abd al-Rahman. He announced his decision at a public meeting at a mosque - Uthman. The general acclimation left Ali with little choice but to support his competitor. But he felt cheated.
Uthman was from the Umayyad clan, one of the 15 families within the Quraysh tribe of Arabs. The Umayyard were patricians, merchants and power brokers in the city of Mecca, a holy city long before the rise of monotheism. Nestled amongst mountains, 50 miles inland from the Red Sea, this oasis had been founded by Abraham himself. But the center of government for the new empire was in Medina, 200 miles north of Mecca. Here the power lay in the hands of the Hashemite clan – the family of Ali ibn Abi Talib..
Once in Medina, Uthman found himself in charge of a growing military and religious empire. But Uthman saw himself as primarily a religious leader. His behavior was so pious that even the Prophet himself had said of Uthman that “angels feel bashful before him.” Uthman was a handsome man and vain enough that he dyed his beard. Every time he smiled he flashed gold, a hint of his wealth. He was a patrician, and most of his close friends even within the faith, were also wealthy. And that was to prove his blind spot.
From the first day of his 10 year reign, Uthman was the target of complaints of graft and favoritism. Some of those complaints were probably true - in an expanding empire such growing pains were to be expected. And grumblings are always heard even under good government. But there was an undercurrent of discontent nurtured by the man who might have been Caliph, the Shiat Ali Talib. And in the eleventh year of Uthman’s reign, the whispers sparked into action, just across the Red Sea, in Egypt.
In 656 Uthman called for a special Hajii, the holy journey to Mecca each Muslim is expected to make at least once in their lives. This special Hajii was to be for those unhappy with Uthman’s reign. The Caliph publicly promised to listen to any complaints, and promised to solve the legitimate ones. For the shiat Ali this was bad news. Uthman possessed the personality to sway any dissident in his immediate presence. Something would have to be done about Uthman before the holy winter months filled Mecca with hundreds of thousands of his supporters.
In the summer of 656, 1,000 Egyptians arrived in Medina, and publicly begged Ali to accept the Caliphate; publicly he refused. It was a fine show of humility, and the Egyptians next moved on to Uthmans’s house and surrounded it. They announced that no harm would come to any Uthman supporter who did not resist them. And Uthman countered by instructing his supporters to offer no resistance to the Egyptians. He even freed his slaves, saying he did not wish any blood shed in his defense.
Thus began the most amazing 20 days in all of Islam. It reminds me a bit of Thomas Becket, calmly conducting vespers while the four knights closed in to slaughter him. At first Urthman was allowed to travel to the mosque and lead prayers, the Egyptians even praying with him. Then, angry words were exchanged between Uthman’s supporters and the Egyptians. Stones were thrown, one of them striking Uthman in the head. He was carried back to his house, bloody and unconscious.
Even now, when his supporters begged to be allowed to defend him, Uthman refused, insisting he did not wish to spill the blood of Muslims. But with the Hajii beginning, there remained the possibility that the thousands gathering at Mecca would be induced to march to Medina and rescue their Caliph. At least that was what worried the Shiat Ali. The decision was made to take action.
The siege of Uthman’s home became complete, shutting off even food and water. Finally, one night, as the Caliph was saying prayers with his wives, three Egyptians burst into the bedroom and began to strike the old man in the head with clubs and swords. His wife Naila attempted to block the blows, and lost her fingers. She was tossed aside, and Uthman was beaten to death.
It had been a political assassination, and the trauma it caused burdens Islam to this day. The supporters of Ali ibn Abi Talib, now called Shi'ite (from Shiat Ali) believe that Ali had been chosen by Mohammad, and that the Caliphs who preceded him, especially Uthman, were false leaders. The supporters of the murdered Uthman believe that the Prophet himself wished the leadership to be chosen by elections, by shura. And they take their name from that concept of a democratic religion: Sunni.
Ali finally achieved the rank and office of Caliph in 656, but it brought him little comfort. First he had to put down a rebellion by one of Muhammad’s wives, Aisha. Then, he quickly faced a more serious rebellion led by Mu'awiya Ummayad, the governor of Damascus and Uthman’s cousin. This time the battle was a draw, and in order to hold onto his hard won office, Ali was forced to compromise with the Sunni’s. But this offended the more radical shi'ites, who, in God’s name, had already murdered one Caliph. It was a small step for them, in 661, to murder a second, the very man they had committed the first murder for.
The Ummayad clan would later be almost wiped out by the Shi’ites of the Hashemite in the year 750 at the Battle of Zab. And while the Sunni are today the majority in Iraqi, the Hassemite Shi’ites are the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, and guardians of Mecca and Medina, ensuring that the majority of Muslims across the rest of the world today, are Shi’ites.
The reasons and justifications for and even the truth about the death of Caliph Uthmen would seem difficult to see clearly,l  fourteen hundred years later. But what is important is that his murder stands as yet another example of humans thinking they hear the voice of God, when in fact they are only hearing the echo of their own ego. And Muslims do not have the patent on that.
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Sunday, March 04, 2012

ET TU Seven A NIGHT AT THE THEATRE



I would like to have attended the Lupercalia, in 44 B.C.. It was the beginning of the Roman holiday season, and the city probably never looked (or smelled) better than it did every Ides (15th) of February. In part this ancient festival of cleansing and renewal celebrated Fanus, the Roman incarnation of the Greek god Pan. Young children ran naked around the Palintine Hill, striking married women lightly with palm branches. This was supposed to increase fertility, or, if you were already pregnant, to induce an easy birth. Women lined the hill and offered up their bottoms to be spanked. This was the beginning of our Valentines Day.
But the festival was named for Lupe, the mythical she-wolf, and that was the major thrust of the official celebrations. Two children were given the honor each year of entering the temple cave on the Palatine Hill where Lupe had supposedly suckled the abandoned human twins Romules and Remes. There the honored boys witnessed the sacrifice of two goats (representing Pan) and a dog (representing Lupe), and their faces were smeared with the animals still warm blood. It was a joyous day, reminding the citizens of their heritage. After killing his brother, Romules had gone on to found the city of Rome. But it also reminded citizens that change was a challenge that made you great, and not something to be feared.
There were several city fathers who feared the future, at this year's Lupercalia. Standing outside the temple, Julius Ceasar (above), newly elected dictator for life, was offered a crown three times by his lieutenant Mark Anthony. It was a piece of political theatre. The crowds cheered every time Ceasar rejected the crown, but to a dictator for life any crown would have been a meaningless ornament. Still the few remaining aristocrats in the Senate thought they saw the fifty-three year old Ceasar hesitate a little longer each time the laurel crown was offered, as if hoping the crowds would call for him to accept the title of king.
Rome had not had a king for 500 years. The last, Tarquin the Proud, had been driven from the city by Lucius Junius Brutus, who had then founded the Republic. The mayor of Rome in 44 B.C., Marcus Junius Brutus, liked to claim ancestry from that ancient republican. But that seems to have been just more theatre, politics as usual in the first century B.C., which was also the last century B.C. Change was coming. And if you were a member of the top 1% of the population of Rome, like Brutus, at the peak of the money pyramid, the peak of the privilege pyramid, the peak of the power pyramid, nothing about change would have been appealing.
Immediately after the festival, Ceasar threw himself into preparations for his expedition against the Parthians. He had already sent the first legions marching from Germany toward the Parthian borders, under the command of his young nephew, Octavian. But Ceasar himself could not depart Rome until after the festival for the goddess Anna Perenna, on the Ides of March, even though it seems unlikely Ceasar was planning on participating in the Anna (year) Perrena (perennial) festivities himself.
Until Ceasar's new calendar, this had been the Roman new year's eve. Celebrants pitched tents among a peach tree grove next to the Tiber. Both sexes wore blossoms in their hair and drank and danced into the night. There was an aura of sexuality and licentiousness. But that was, again, a young man's game, and Ceasar was no longer a young man. He did not spend the night beside the Tiber. But the holiday crowds were also good cover for secret movements and meetings by the Senate aristocrats. Crasius, Brutus' brother-in-law, had decided that something had to be done before Ceasar left Rome.
What Crassius expected to be done was obvious to anyone familiar with Roman politics over the previous century and a half. A hundred forty years before this Ides of March, Tribune Tiberius Gracchus was beaten to death by the Senatorial aristocrats and his body thrown into Tiber. Ten years later Tribune Gaius Gracchus died along with three thousand of his supporters at the hands of the Senate elite. Gaius Memmius was assassinated just for standing for election as Tribune in 100 B.C. Two of his allies, Lucius Appuleius Saturninu and Gaius Servilius Glaucia, were actually elected Tribunes, but they were arrested on trumped up charges and while in jail a mob of Senate aristocrats had stoned them to death in their cell. In 91 B.C. Marcus Livius Drusus was murdered. Tribune Sulpicius Rufus lost his his head in 88 B.C. Then Counsel Marius Gratidianus was literally sacrificed by aristocrats, and thirty-two years ago Cnaeus Sicinicus had been murdered. All of these men and thousands of their supporters had been killed in the alleys and back streets of Rome, even in the Senate House itself, just to keep money and power in the hands of the rich and powerful.
And now the Senate aristocrats were faced with their greatest enemy, Gaius Julius Ceasar. They charged Ceasar with wanting to be king, the same charge they had made against Graacchus, against Memmius, against Saturninu, against Drusus, against Rufus, against Marius and against Sicunicus. The Aristocrats knew they had to act before Ceasar left Rome, because once surrounded by his loyal legionaries, there would be no chance reaching him.
The historian Nicokaus of Damascus described the conspiracy. “The conspirators...assembled a few at a time in each other's homes....Some suggested that they should make the attempt along the Sacred Way, which was one of his (Ceasar's) favorite walks. Another idea was to do it...(when) he had to cross a bridge...A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show...because...no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen. The majority opinion, however, favored killing him while he sat in the Senate. He would be there by himself, since only Senators were admitted, and the conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.” And there was an appealing irony in this plan, since the Senate House had been burned down after the murder of Tribune Publious Clodius Pulcher, the Senate was now meeting in the Pompey's Theatre.
It was a massive complex (above), a multi-use facility, like a sports complex in 21st century America, and had been funded by the late Pompey the Great. Besides a magnificent stage for public performances, it also had, behind the stage, a large walled enclosure containing several meeting halls and markets, and beyond that temples, connected by shaded walks and fountains. It was a protected island of calm and beauty, seperated by walls from what had become a violent and ugly city. The Senators saw no irony in the need for those enclosing stone walls, even though a large percentage of the criminal gangs that had become pervasive in Rome, were financed by their own members, and used to terrorize each other and the Plebians, the working class citizens of Rome. Contained within the surrounding walls were meeting rooms, ringed by a covered portico. In the largest if these rooms, just behind the stage, stage right, stood a statue of Pompey the Great. That room was called the Curia of Pompey.
Curia was an ancient term in ancient Rome, referring to a gathering of the tribes of Rome. The Curia of Pompey was thus the perfect place for the Senate to meet. The only drawback, to the Senate aristocrats, was that the room shared a common wall with what the theatre patrons at the time described as a “monumental public latrine”. And it was in this room next to a toilet, that the Senate would meet with Ceasar for the last time.
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