JUNE 2017

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

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Friday, April 06, 2012

SISYSPHUS ON THE WABASH

I want to take you back to a time when there were just two million Hoosiers in the whole world, and yet Indiana had 13 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 15 electoral votes. Today they have just eight seats. Even more improbable to modern ears, this smallest state west of the Allegheny mountains was a crucial "battleground" state, oscillating like a bell clapper, clanging first Republican and then ringing Democratic, six times between 1876 and 1888, swinging each time at the whim of some 6,000 fickle independent voters.
Things came to a head over the winter of 1885 when the dynamic Democratic Governor Isaac Gray (above), seeking a lasting majority for his adopted party, jammed through a gerrymander redistricting of state legislative offices, by re-designing ten traditionally Republican state Assembly seats so they would elect Democrats instead. This would prove to be such an outrageous power grab, a Federal court would declare it unconstitutional in 1892.  However, the savvy Gray knew that the voters would take their revenge much sooner than the courts.
So, in the summer of 1886, Grey convinced his Lieutenant Governor, Mahlon Manson. to take early retirement. Then he scheduled to re-fill that post in the mid-term elections, midway through his four year term. And as Gray had expected, the Republican base was so energized by the gerrymander, that their party was swept back into power that November with a 10,000 vote majority, recapturing seven of those redistricted Assembly seats. (The state Senate, serving 4 year terms each, remained 31 Democrats and 19 Republicans.)
But more importantly for Governor Gray, the newly elected Lieutenant Governor was a Republican, Robert Robertson. Thus, should Gray offer his resignation in exchange for the Republican dominated legislature appointing him an United States Senator , they were likely to agree, since that would make the Republican Robertson the new Governor. And that would move Gray to the United States Senate, one step closer to the White House. This was not an impossible dream, as another Hoosier politician would shortly prove – one, Benjamen Harrison.
Yes, Grey (above) had a nifty plan, clever enough to be worthy of Machiavelli. But it faced one seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Governor Isaac Grey was without doubt the most hated Democratic governor amongst Democrats, in the entire history of the state of Indiana. He was the original DINO, Democrat in Name Only.
Twenty years earlier, at the close of the Civil War, this same Isaac Grey had been the Republican Speaker of the state Assembly (above). To achieve that task Gray had literally locked the doors, preventing Democrats from bolting the building, and thus denying a quorum to the Republican majority. While the trapped Democrats sulked in the cloak room, Speaker Grey staged votes for the 13th, 14th and 15th reconstruction amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It had been another scheme worthy of Machiavelli. But loyalists in the Democratic party never forgot Grey had counted them as "present but not voting". And as the Assembly session for 1887 opened, these hard liners were willing to set the state on fire if they could also burn up Isaac Gray's Presidential dream boat.
The Indiana State Senate (above)  was about to come into session at  9:35 on the morning of Saturday February 24th, 1887, when Lt. Governor Republican Robertson entered the second floor chambers to take his seat as President pro tempore of the Senate. The Democrats physically blocked him from reaching the dais. He shouted from the floor, "Gentlemen of the Senate, I have been by force excluded from the position to which the people of this state elected me.” But at this point the acting-President pro tempore, Democratic Senator Alonzo Smith, ordered the doorkeeper, Frank Pritchett, to remove the Lt. Governor, “...if he don't stop speaking.”
As the doorkeeper and his assistants advanced on Roberts, he announced, “They may remove me. I am here, unarmed.” Smith testily responded, “We are all unarmed. We are fore-armed, though.” That belligerent mood was now general in the chamber. Republican Senator DeMotte from Porter county shouted something from the floor, and acting President Smith ordered him to take his seat. Responded DeMotte, “When he gets ready, he will.”
As the Lt. Governor was dragged toward the front doors of the Senate Chamber a Republican Senator shouted that if he went, all the Republicans were going with him. President Pro-tem Smith shouted back, “They can go if they want to. They will be back, ” he predicted. At this point Republican Senator Johnson challenged the chair directly, telling him, “No man will be scared by you.” “You're awfully scared now, “ said the Democrat. “Not by you”, answered the Republican. It was a shouting match any ten year old could sympathize with. 
A general fight now broke out in the Senate chamber, with the outnumbered Republicans giving such a good account of themselves that one Democrat drew a pistol and – BANG! - shot a hole in the brand new ceiling of the still unfinished statehouse. Into the acrid gun smoke and sudden silence this unnamed Democrat announced that he was prepared to start killing Republicans if they kept fighting -and winning.
With that, Republican Lt. Governor Robertson was bodily thrown out of the Senate and the doors were locked and bolted behind him. As the official record notes those were “...the last words spoken by a Republican Senator in the 55th General Assembly.” The Senate then tried to get back to business, appropriately taking up Senate bill 61, setting aside $100,000 for three new hospitals for the mentally insane. It was decided it was self evident the state was going to need them, and the measure was approved by a vote officially recorded as 31 Ayes, 0 nays and 18 “present but not voting”. Ahh, revenge must have seemed sweet – for about half an hour.
Outside in the central atrium, the gunshot had attracted a crowd, mostly from the Republican controlled House on the East side of the capital. Faced with a bruised and enraged Robertson, the Republicans caught his anger. Similar fights sparked to life in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and a “mob” of 600 angry Republicans descended upon every wayward Democrat in the building, punching and kicking them, and, if they resisted, beating them down to the marble floors of the brand new “people's house”.
Eventually, the pandemonium returned to its source; the Republicans laid siege to the Senate chamber. They beat against the doors, and smashed open a transom. Vengeful Republicans poured into the great room. The haughty Democrats were assaulted in their own chamber and thrown out of it. By now Governor Grey -  you remember him? The guy who had engineered this melt down.  He was down in his offices on the first floor. He heard the  ruckus, and had called in the Indianapolis Police. Four hours after the legislative riot had begun, order was restored to the capital of Hoosier democracy. History and many newspapers would record it as the “Black Day of the Indiana Assembly.”
The following Monday the triumphant Assembly dispatched a note to the battered Senate Democrats, informing them that they would have no further correspondence with the upper house. The Senate counter-informed the Republicans in the lower house, ditto. State government in Indiana ground to a dead stop. Republican Lt. Governor Robertson never presided over the Senate, and Democratic Governor Gray never served as a U.S. Senator. He came to be known as the “Sisyphus of the Wabash”, after the legendary Greek king, renown for his avariciousness and deceit. A few years later Hoosiers elected to choose their Senators by popular vote, I suppose under the theory that a general voting population of drunks and lunatics could do no more damage to the reputation of government than the professional politicians had done already.
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Wednesday, April 04, 2012

FLY FISHING


I always dreamed of visiting the fishing village of Palos de la Frontera, along the south facing Atlantic coast of Andalusia. This sun drenched region has been a crossroads of cultures since the Phoenicians arrived a thousand years before Christ. The Romans mined copper here, and stained the Tinto River red with their refuse. In 1492 the unwilling citizens were pressed into service as crew for Christopher Columbus' voyages. The beaches here even captured some of the flotsam of the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October, 1805. And at about 9:30 in the morning of April 30, 1943, off Shady Point (Punta Umbria), Frontera fisherman José Antonio Rey Maria pulled a body out of the sea, and secured a role in an adventure worthy of a James Bond thriller.
Ian Flemming (above), the man who invented James Bond, invented this one, too. Shortly after World War Two began in September of 1939, he and a friend named John Godfrey applied to join the Twenty Committee, so named because it's title in Roman numerals would be “XX”, which would also be its mission - double cross. Their application became known as the Trout Memo, because in it Godfrey compared espionage to fly fishing. It listed 54 possible ways to tempt the Nazi's to swallow false ideas. Number 28 was to drop a dead body carrying false papers from an airplane over Germany.  But that idea was rejected because the Germans would be suspicious of top secret papers carried over Germany, itself.
That objection became moot by the fall of 1941, after Nazi Germany had conquered all of Northern Europe, and, along with their Axis ally Italy, controlled most of the Mediterranean as well. The only land left unoccupied along that central sea was Spain, ruled by the fascist dictator Franco, and the outpost of Gibraltar,  the tiny island of Malta, and Egypt – the latter three tenuously occupied by British forces. And then the tide turned. In the winter of 1942 British and American forces had cleared Axis troops from all of North Africa. Their problem now was succcintly detailed by Prime Minster Winston Churchill; “Anyone but a bloody fool would know” he said, that the western allies' next target must be Sicily.
The object in fly fishing is not to get the trout to swallow the hook, but to follow its natural inclination and swallow the fly, which hides the hook. In this case the Twenty Committee considered what the world must have looked like to their fish - Adolf Hitler. He was obsessed with the east. The vast majority of his army was locked in battle with Russia, and the oil which powered his armies came mostly from eight refineries around the Romanian town of Ploisti. An allied invasion of Greece made little sense to the western allies, but it would threaten both Hitler's oil supplies and outflank his armies in Russia. So the fly would be an Allied invasion of Greece. But where to cast the fly?
That problem fell to Twenty Committee member Lt. Commander Ewen Montagu (above), who chose Ian Flemming's invention number 28. Montegu realized that a floating body left in the Mediterranean would arouse suspicion for the same reasons as one found over German territory. But Allied aircraft were required to fly around the Iberian peninsula to reach Gibraltar. And eighty miles to the north of that British outpost was the Spanish regional capital of Huelva, where a German agent, Adolf Clauss, had shown himself to be particularly ambitious and generous in bribing Spanish officials. A fly dropped in front of Clauss would surely elicit a response. What Montagu  needed first, was the fly -  a dead body.
Having consulted pathologists, Montegu knew he was looking for a man in his mid thirties who had died of pneumonia. The body they drafted was that of a 34 year old Welshman named Glyndwr Michael. His father had died twenty years earlier, and his mother was three years passed. With no family, Glyndwr had become lost, alcoholic, and drifted into homelessness. He was found barely alive in an abandoned warehouse near the King's Cross underground station on January 26, 1943. He was rushed to the hospital suffering from walking pneumonia and “accute chemical poisoning”, probably from swallowing a large dose of “Battle's Vermin Killer”, a commercially available rat poison. The poison attacked his central nervous system, eventually produced a coma, and then kidney failure. He died on January 28th. As he had no family, his body was drafted by Lt. Montegu, and frozen in the hospital morgue, until the rest of plan was ready.
Glyndwr's corpse was to impersonate Captain (acting Major) William “Bill” Martin - and he was a pure invention. The name was chosen because there were several Major Martin's in the Royal Marines who  Montagu could use as camouflage. Martin was to be carrying a personal letter from Lt. General Sir Archibald Nye of the Imperial General Staff, to General Sir Harold Alexander, commander 8th Army Group, Alexandria, Egypt. Amongst a handful of other items the letter discussed landings to be made on two Greek beaches, under the code name Operation Husky. It also mentioned a diversionary attack, “Operation Brimstone”, to be made against Sardinia. Wrote General Nye, “We stand a very good chance of making the Boche think we are going for Sicily.” In fact, Husky was the code name for the actual invasion of Sicily, and the code name was used here in case the Germans intercepted communications using it. General Nye even wrote this letter in his own hand, should anyone in German intelligence compare the penmanship.
But did the fly look real? Montegu gave Major Martin a girlfriend, complete with photo, love letters, and a bill for an engagement ring (above), ticket stubs from a London show dated April 24, 1943, and notice of an overdraft in his bank account. He carried a “pompous” cold letter from his father, and a St; Christopher's medal. And so the entire packet did not look too perfect, his membership card in the officers' club was out of date. Everything was checked and double checked, even down to his underwear..
With an OK from Churchill, on April 19th ,  the body, dressed in a uniform and trench coat, with the letters in a briefcase strapped to his wrists, was sealed in a metal tank with dry ice, and driven 147 miles to the Royal Naval base at Holy Loch, Scotland. There Major Martin was loaded aboard the submarine HMS Seraph (above).
On April 30th, at 4:30 in the morning. a mile off Punta Umbria, Major Martin was fitted into a life jacket and slipped gently into the cold Atlantic waters. As planned, the currents carried him inshore and about five hours later, José Antonio Rey Maria pulled the body on board his fishing boat. Shortly thereafter Jose' handed the body over to a Spanish Army officer. He passed the corpse to a Spanish naval officer, who sent it to the morgue in the regional capital of Huelva, four miles up the Tinto estuary.
After waiting three days the British Vice-Counsel to Spain asked the local coroner, Eduardo Del Torno, to preform an autopsy on the corpse, and requested the return of the documents he was carrying. The doctor reported Major Martin had drowned and the body had been in the sea for from three to five days. Since Major Martin was a Catholic, and Spain was a Catholic nation, just three days later, on May 4th, Major Martin was buried with full military honors about 2 miles outside of Huelva, in the "Nuestra Señora de la Soledad” cemetery - Grave 14, San Marcos Section. When the Twenty Committee examined the returned letters under a microscope, it was discovered they had been refolded, indicating they had indeed been read. Now, had the trout really swallowed the bait?
The briefcase and its letters had originally been passed to General Alto Estado Mayor, who appears to have lost them for awhile. Luckily for the British, Nazi Agent Adolf Clauss heard a rumor about the letters, and as expected he told his superiors. It was when the the head of the German Secret Service, Admiral Canaris, personally inquired about them, that the brief case and letters were found and handed over to the Germans to be quickly photographed and returned. But the way they had almost been lost only made their contents more believable to the Germans.
Over the next two months three German armor divisions, one from France and two from Russia, were transferred to Greece, and placed under the command of Erwin Rommel (above), the Desert Fox who had driven the British mad for two years in North Africa. A squadron of coastal patrol torpedo boats were also sent, and aircraft, and three new minefields were sown in the waters off the beaches. When Italian dictator Benito Mussolini expressed concern about the lack of troops on Sicily, he was told by General Alfred Jodl, head of the German Army, “You can forget about Sicily. We know it's Greece. “ Then on July 9, 1943 Operation Husky landed 160,000 troops on Sicily. The Germans did not accept it as the real invasion for another three days, by which time the only reinforcements they could provide was a single parachute regiment. Thirty days later the island was completely in Allied hands, at the price of less than 25,000 casualties, compared to 170,000 Axis forces killed, wounded and captured.
This story inspired the book and film “The Man Who Never Was”, but it was sixty years before the identity of the the man laying in grave 14, under the the sun of Andalusia, would be correctly identified on his tombstone. But the principles of espionage (and fly fishing) have not change since. To catch a fish, you must merely encourage the fish to do what it wants to do.
It is something the George Bush administration ought to have remembered in the spring of 2003.
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Sunday, April 01, 2012

PEACE Part Three UNANTICIPATED EVENTS



I am continually amazed that it wasn't until June 22nd, 1945, that the Emperor finally called a meeting of his ‘Big Six’ advisors. He told them openly for the first time , "I desire that concrete plans to end the war, unhampered by existing policy, be speedily studied and that efforts made to implement them." There was no talk of terms, and no effort to "push" the process.
The Japanese were now waiting for the invasion of their most southern island, Kyushu, the next logical target of the U.S. forces. There they would win the "Big Victory" that Okinawa was supposed to have been - to bleed the Americans enough to force them to offer better terms. The leaders of Japan, meeting amongst the wreakage of Tokyo, were certain that a great enough slaughter, mostly of their own people, would drive the Americans to negotiate. And they were certain they could out-negotiate the Americans. Why such a clever people were losing the war was a question never asked by the Big Six.
The Japanese plan was to use the Russians as a conduit to negotiate with the Americans, rather than talking to their chief foe directly. July was spent trying to open that conduit, but the Russians seemed exceedingly dim and obstructionist, and the niceties of diplomacy slowed everything down even more. But there was no worry. In Japan's view, Russia and America were destined to be enemies, and it seems never to have occured to the Japanese leadership that Russia would see a weakened Japan, the nation which had humiliated them in 1905, as an oportunity too good to pass up. But, by the beginning of August, it seemed to Japan that some progress was being made with the Russians.
The plans of Japan's rulers did not begin to unravel until the morning of August 6th. Reports began coming in that something unusual had happened in Hiroshima. First reports were of a “blinding flash and violent blast”. Since no communications were coming out of the city, a staff officer was ordered to fly over and report. One hundred miles from Hiroshima he could see a huge cloud still rising from the blazing port (hours after the attack).
Surrounding villages were being swamped with huge mobs of wounded, burned and simply stunned victims stumbling their way out of Hiroshima.

Relief workers began to press through to the city. Power to some parts of the town was restored the next day, and rail service the day after that. But to all intents and purposes, the core of the city of Hiroshima had been wiped off the map, the port facilities destroyed, and one of Japan's few remaining intact military bases was simply gone. There were at least 80,000 dead. Over the next five years radiation would raise that toll to nearly 200,000.
The Big Six argued about what had happened, with many denying the U.S. could have such a weapon. The debate was settled sixteen hours later when Japanese monitoring posts picked up the broadcast of President Harry Truman announcing to the American people that, "The power of the sun" had been unleashed on Japan, and adding “We are now prepared to obliterate rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have…” It was not a threat. It seemed rather, to be a promise.
It was a powerful threat to the empire of the sun. But Admiral Soemu Toyoda now argued that if the Americans really had such a bomb they could not have many more. What he based that opinion on was unclear. But some of the leaders of Japan took solace from the Admiral and continued to perfect their plans for their Oriental Gotterdamurung. It was pure delusion.
The Americans had already crippled their nation. Hundreds of thousands had been killed. No train was safe in daylight, no city or factory safe at night. The Japanese army in Korea and Manchuria were starving. Troops in Japan were spending as much time tending to rice fields as training. And the harvest that year had been very bad. Come winter, invasion or no, there would be starvation in Japan.

Japan could do nothing to oppose the massive flights of B-29’s, now joined by B-17’s and B-24’s of the mighty 8th Air Force,  freed from the conquest of Germany, which were together pounding Japanese cities and military formations, day and night.
And nothing hindered the mass waves of P-51's, based on Iwo and Okinawa, which were now doing to Japan what they had done to Germany; sweeping across the country at will, striking at "targets of oportunity", destroying and sinking everything that moved, be it a supply or passenger train, a single horse and cart or a poor fishing boat. There was almost nothing left to oppose them. What remained of Japan's air force was being held back to oppose the landings. Japan's navy was scattered across the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Their cities were being reduced, one by one, to wastelands occupied by scarecrows.
And now an atomic bomb had vaporized one of Japan's cities, and there was a threat of more to follow. And yet the supreme council's only plan remained to wait for the American invasion of Kyushu and kill as many Americans as possible in order to force them to negotiate. About 40% of Japan's remaining strength had been transfered to Kyushu to fight that battle. But that was was, to borrow the words of an historian describing the Confederate insistance on defending Fort Donaldson against Union General Grant, "Too little to defend the place, and too much to lose when it fell."
Again, Japan failed to inform the Americans what their intentions now were, e.g. to fight to the death to preserve the Emperor. And without the final clause of that statement, it seemed to the Americans that the Japanese were insane and without logic, an entire nation of kamikazes, in love with death. And since the Japanese were not offering the Americans any alternatives, (nor the refuse) there was no way for the Americans to be certain the preservation of the Emperor alone was what the Japanese were still killing and dieing for, a full year after the Americans had won effectivly won the war.
And then, at about four AM on August ninth the Soviet Union, which the Japanese leadership had counted on to help negotiate a peace, announced they were voiding their non-aggression pact with Japan and joining the Americans in carving up the Imperial Empire. At the same time Soviet air and ground forces had invaded Manchuria in great numbers and strength. And in that moment, all Japanese and American complacency began to finally collapse.
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