AUGUST 2017

AUGUST  2017
FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

CHARACTER FLAW


I would suggest that in its beginings the life of Charles Edward Coughlin was marked with omens and portents -  and by a smothering mother.  In the end it was marked by farce and melodrama. And that ending may not have been entirely his fault.He wanted to be a politician. Instead his mother pressured him to put on the collar. She won.  In 1916 Charles was ordained as a Catholic Priest. He was assigned as a teacher to Assumption College, in Sandwich, Ontario. But on Sundays he crossed the border to preach at churches in Detroit.It was in Detroit that Charles (above) used his God given talents for speaking and making political connections. His sermons impressed the Bishop of Detroit, Michael Gallagher, who made certain the young man met the right people – rich and important people - like City Councilman John Lodge and his niece, Evangeline Lindberg, and the auto maker Henry Ford.In 1923 Bishop Gallagher (above) offered the rising star his own parish, a new suburban church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower”, in Royal Oak, Michigan. Initially there were only 25 members of the congregation, and Father Coughlin’s mother had to sell trinkets in the gift shop. Faced with empty coffers and pews, Father Coughlin used his connections with Mrs. Lindberg and her son, the as yet unknown flyer Charles Lindberg, to convince the management of tiny radio station WJR to provide him with a free hour on Sunday afternoons.His first broadcast (above), on October 3, 1926 produced only eight letters in response. But it was a beginning. It is interesting to note the commonality of Charles' message supported by those powerful and wealthy names from Detroit; religious certainty, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, and an affinity for fascism. Certainly all these threads came together in Father Coughlin, but clearly they were aleady present in Charles and much of upper class Detroit of the 1920’s.By 1930 Father Coughlin’s audience numbered over 40 million, and it was said you could listen to “The Fighting Priest” and his entire “Golden Hour of the Little Flower” through open windows as you walked down any residential street in America on a Sunday afternoon. Father Coughlin preached a practical Christianity with, said one observer, “…a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm,…". It was a voice, added the commentator,
"made for lies.”As the radio show grew in popularity Charles started a magazine, "Social Justice" and soon it had over 30 million readers. The subscriptions that poured in built a new, magnificent octagonal edifice on Twelve Mile Road and Woodward, in Royal Oak, and paid for Charles' network of broadcast stations.Coughlin blamed communism for the rising divorce rate, and called for old age insurance for American workers - what would eventually become Social Security. He supported Roosevelt in the 1932 election (“Roosevelt or Ruin”), but by 1935 Coughlin was calling him “The great betrayer and liar…Franklyn Double-Crossing Roosevelt”.Coughlin renamed the “The New Deal” the “Jew Deal” and sent demonstrators into the streets to block the acceptance of any more Jews escaping Nazi persecution. They were thus returned to Germany for execution. And yet modern excusers like to say he was "accused" of anti-Semitism. Look at the art work from his weekly newspaper (above and below) and make your own assessment. Does that look like anti-Semitism to you? Who but an anti-Semite would deny it? At the time Coughlin openly justified his anti-Semitism by claiming “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted” and promised, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” He preached the same strain of ugly hatred that underlay Charles Lindberg’s “America First” committee, and Henry Ford’s American publication of the Czarists fraud the “Protocol of the Elders of Zion”. Coughlin even serialized the fraudulant "Protocol" in his own newspaper. I would say that qualified him as an anti-Semite. It is also clear in retrospect that Father Coughlin was not above enlightened self interest. After Roosevelt took America off the Gold Standard, Coughlin campaigned strongly for substitution of the Silver Standard. Few knew at the time that Father Coughlin was one of the largest private holders of silver in the America. An uncharitable depiction of the man might suggest he was as obsessed with money as any Jew.But what finally destroyed Father Coughlin was his support for “The Christian Front”. Coughlin's association with "The Front" was not merely philosophical. He spoke at Front rallies (below), and allowed his name and image on Front advertising.Then in January of 1940 (another Roosevelt election year) the F.B.I. swept into the Front's Brooklyn offices, arresting nine men and seizing 15 bombs, 18 cans of cordite, dynamite, fuses, incendiary chemicals, 16 rifles, 750 rounds of machine gun ammo and “one long sword”. At a press conference Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed that "The Front" was plotting to blow up a Jewish newspaper, a movie theatre showing Russian films, a Post Office, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and thus spark a revolution (Oh, and it was also alledged they wanted to assassinate President Roosevelt).The trial of "The Christian Front" conspirators was no easier than the trial of the Chicago Seven. There is a strain in American juries which, in the cool light of day, don't like to convict people for thinking about a crime. The Front's defendants were largely acquitted. But the revolations, the weapons seized and the attention to the language used by Father Coughlin in support of the Front, caused much of the public support for Father Coughlin evaporate. Lord knows, the Catholic church had long wanted The Fighting Priest to shut up. And with Roosevelt's re-election in 1940 and the entry of the U.S. into the war in 1941, Democratic politicians no longer felt the need to handle Father Coughlin with care. First his radio network was squeezed under new fairness rules, and then the Post Office deemed his magazines as anti-American and stopped providing them with volume discounts for delivery.The final prop fell away when Bishop Gallagher died in 1942. The new Bishop of Detroit, Frances Mooney, immediatly ordered Coughlin to stop his public crusades. And being a good little soldier, he did.With the discovery of Hitler’s death camps in 1945, Coughlin's brand of virilent anti-Semitism was also finished as a mass movement in America, at least for the time being.Thus the curtain finally fell on the career of an American priest who wanted to be a politician. This bitter, hate spewing little man who had pledged his life in service of the "Prince of Peace" died in well deserved obscurity in 1979. By then it had become clear that if you removed the hatred from his message, Father Coughlin had nothing original left to say.For about ten years America seemed willing to go along with the “Fighting Priest”.  But, like a later hate monger and anti-Semite, Glen Beck, why was Charles Coughlin so full of anger and hatred? Why did he hate people he did not know? Who was he really angry with? I do not presume to know. But I do know that hatred and anger always destroys its owner. And that is a fact. Hate is a character flaw.The Americas eventual rejection of “The Father of Hate Radio” may not have been so much about a sense of decency, as was about the public's fickle tastes. It is an enduring truth about both politics and religion, and twice as true twice as fast when the two are combined, that the hotest fad is usually the first to fade. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
You can see a little hope in that, if you wish to. I do..
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Wednesday, May 09, 2012

PUNCH LINE

I came across an amazing statistic recently from the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C. “a private, non-profit organization”. According to the PRB, over the last 50,000 years there have been 107 billion people who have lived on this planet, or about 15 times the 7 billion alive right now, when I was writing this (on a Saturday morning). And amazingly, in all that time, and all those people, nobody has ever told a new joke; not one, not ever. Oh, there are plenty of jokes you haven't heard before, but, trust me, none of them are new.
The oldest known written joke is Sumerian, because they were the oldest writers that we know of, and it is at least 5, 000 years old. “Name something that has never happened in all of history. A young wife who did not fart on her husband's lap”. Now, somebody took the time, 4,000 years ago, to notch that one up in cuneiform on a clay tablet and bake it into a book. Today you would have to write a script, find the money. gather a crew, light and decorate the set, hire the actors, rehearse, tape and edit the result, and then title it something like “Bridesmaids”, all to capture that magical moment of discovery when the young couple realize there is nothing they can hide or have to hide from each other. And, of course, its also a fart joke – and those are always good for a laugh.
Then there was the ancient Egyptian riddle. “A virgin and a slut attend a beer bash. The slut just has a good time, but the virgin gets pregnant. How is this possible? The answer (drum roll): Auxiliary Forces.” (Ba-dum-bump.) Okay, you have to know that auxiliary forces are sort of local yokels, farmers usually, badly disciplined and...oh, just trust me. Tell this joke to any ancient Egyptian and they will laugh themselves to death.
Goes another old joke, “How do you entertain a bored pharaoh?” And the answer is, “You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile, and then you urge the pharaoh to go fishing.” That was even an old joke in the Old Kingdom. According to the gossip Herodotus, Khufu, who ruled Egypt about 5,000 years ago, got really drunk one night and ordered his spendthrift daughter to go into a temple and have sex with any man who would pay. She did, but she only asked each man for a small stone. And when she rose from her task the next morning she had built her father's Great Pyramid. That was maybe the first political joke, 150 feet long on a side.
I know where we got the idea that we were the first generation in history who were funny. Nothing an bury a punch line faster than an archaeologist. It's the degree – the suffix “ology” means to kill the joke. Did you hear the one about the unlucky eunuch who developed a hernia? That perfectly good joke survived being buried for two thousand years before a graduate student dug it up, dusted it off and handed it over to her professor who sucked the life out of it and then published it in his own name. I'll bet you if every school of archeology and anthropology had a resident comic, our view of history would be a lot funnier.
Did you hear about the rich guy who got caught in a storm at sea? The waves were crashing over his trimene and the slaves shackled in the rowing deck were starting to drown. Taking pity on them the rich guy runs to the gangway, leans over and tells the terrified men, “Don't worry. I freed you all in my will.” Now I think that version is a lot funnier than the modern versions of the same fable, "Mitt Romney and the Employees of American Pad and Paper Company".  Maybe its just too soon, or maybe history will decide the better version is "Mitt Romney and Seamus the Wonder Dog."
By the way, there is an ancient contemporary religious version in the Torah, but in this one the rich guy is a schlemiel named Jonah, whom Yahweh had chosen to be a prophet. Why would the Hebrew god pick a schmuck to be a prophet? Because Yahweh has a sense of humor. Unfortunately the scribes who wrote this one down did not. And having survived the storm in the belly of a whale, this mumbling wishy-washy nobody Jonah manages to convert the entire population of the Assyrian town of Nineveh. That is hilarious, but nobody laughs at this joke, because that is what happens when you take all the humor out of religion - it's just not funny anymore!
Then, of course. there are the jokes that read like a letters to a Latin language Penthouse magazine; an ambitious young man invited two MLF's to his house for an afternoon diversion, and on arrival ordered his servant to “Mix a drink for one of these lovely ladies, and have sex with the other, if she wants to." And both women immediately blurted out, “I'm not thirsty.” Or consider the rich old man who bought a stupid servant boy to attend for his wife while he was out of town. Returning from a business trip a week later he was greeted by the boy. “And how are you getting on” asked the master. A big grin spread over the boy's face. “Oh, Master” he said, “very well. Saturday night I had sex with one of the dancing girls, and when I took off her mask, your wife was inside.”(Ba-dum-bump.)
For something over a thousand years the Greeks had a comedy-industrial complex, which allowed the sheep herders to rule the known funny world. Four hundred years before Christ, the father of Alexander the Great, Phillip of Macedonia,  paid the Athenian Friar's Club to send him a collection of their best gags. But,
unfortunately the collection did not survive, perhaps because in 336 B.C. E., the assassins got tired of waiting for Phillip to die laughing, and they had him was murdered. Eight hundred years later Greek culture produced the epitome of funny for another thousand years, the comedy equivalent of the Parthenon, when that great comedy duo of Hierocles and Philagrius produced the oldest surviving joke book in the world, “Philogelos”, or the “Joke Lover”. There may have been better stuff written in the the post ancient world, but I get the feeling that the notation, A. D. actually means A.D.F., “After the Death of Funny.” Jokes wouldn't be this good again until the Catskill Bosch belt.
To the post-ancient Romans, the Thracian city of Abdera was the equivalent of the Yiddish comedy capital of Minsk a' Pinsk – every resident was an idiot, for the purposes of a joke. Goes one - a worried Abderite mother calls in an astrologer to cast a horoscope for her ailing son. He assures the desperate woman that her boy will live happily and productively for many years to come, She thanks the prophet and then promises “Come around tomorrow and I will pay you.” But the astrologer is indignant. “I don't do business that way,” he tells the woman. “If your son dies tonight, I could lose my fee.” Or - after many years two of old friends accidentally meet on a Abdera street corner. The first man says, “Thank the gods, Alexios had told me, you had died years ago.” The second man says, “Well, you can see, I am very much alive.” And the first man agrees but adds, “Of course, Alexios was always more reliable than you.”
An Abderian man complains to a trader that a recently purchased slave was a lemon, having dropped dead on the way home from the slave lot. “Well” says the trader, “He was alive while I owned him.” (Ba-dum-bump.) A local merchant saw a donkey counting to ten with his hoof, and was so impressed by the money changing hands he decided to teach his own ass a trick. After some thought about which trick would draw the largest paying crowds, he set about teaching his donkey not to eat. Three weeks later the broken hearted merchant explained to his wife, “And just when I had taught him not to eat, he died”  Two thousand years later, this would be re-written as the "Dead Parrot Sketch".
Even Medieval Christian monks, shivering in their isolated monasteries, praying for forgiveness right up 'til the Vikings showed up to slaughter them, even these poor filthy religious louts told the same jokes we do today. This one made the rounds of monasteries thirteen hundred years ago; question - what man can kill another man without being punished? Answer; a doctor. Of course this was before the Sisters of Charity became a For-Profit Health Insurance Provider, which is the modern punch line of the same joke.
It is a sad fact that not only have humans not gotten smarter in the last 10,000 years, we haven't gotten funnier, ether. And that is the real joke on all of us.
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Sunday, May 06, 2012

GREAT EXPECTATIONS Pt. Two THE FLOATER


I reject the idea that people are born evil. Lord knows they often do evil, but my reading of history sees little evidence of the level of competency in cruelty required to spend ten years patiently inflating the dreams of an abandoned young woman, before smashing her psyche into a billion pieces on the anvil of your own ambition, almost as an afterthought in a plot to steal the modern equivalent of $116 million. Nobody is that smart or evil. Rather I see the subject of my treaties as a lucky, amoral selfish sociopath, Please, allow me to explain.
His name was James Addison Reavis and he was the second son of a Missouri store owner. And to those seeking a genetic component to crime, I hasten to point out that he was half Welsh, one quarter Scots and one quarter Mexican. James grew up fluent in both Spanish and English. Then, as any young creature entering the world, his initial survival depended on the skills nature had provided him. In James' case, nature had made Missouri a border state, torn between Union loyalties and Southern sympathies. When civil war broke out in 1861 the 18 year old James volunteered for military service in a Confederate regiment where he discovered he had a facility for forging his commanding officer's signature. He supplemented his army pay by selling passes to his fellow soldiers, until officers grew suspicious. Before things got to too hot, James wrote himself a pass and changed sides, enlisting in the Union Army. After the war James returned home with confidence in his own survival skills, and, oddly, having added Portuguese to his skill set.
James Reavis now fell in with organized criminals - real estate agents. They put his skill with a pen to work again, creating the missing link in many a legal ownership trail. And it was as a real estate agent in 1871 that James met what was to be his life's work, in the person of the aptly named George Willing. Willing wanted James' help in validating yet another legal land claim. But this one, while thinner than any other claim he had handled before, had the advantage of being romantic.
Willing claimed that in October of 1864, while working on a mining claim in Black Canyon, Arizona Territory - about 50 miles north of Phoenix -  he had bought mineral rights for a poorly defined grant of land from a Miguel Peralta (Spanish for "high rock" or mountain) in exchange for $20,000 in gold, some equipment and mules. He had written the sale in pencil, explained Willing, on the only piece of paper in the camp. But he did not record the sale until three years later, in Prescott, Arizona, the territorial capital. This type of claim, called “a floater” was not unusual in mining districts, and was popular with scam artists because mine owners would often settle the suit out of court, just to avoid the expense of proving the claim false. And it turned out there were several established mines already working the land which Willing was now claiming title to. But so familiar were the local miners with this scam that George's filing quickly resulted in threats of tar and feathers. So George Willing had retreated, eventually all the way to Missouri, looking for some financial backing to pursue his claim in a safer venue.
In Missouri over the next two years, James and George spent many hours discussing how best to secure the backing they required. They teamed up with a lawyer named William Gitt, who was an expert, of a sorts, in old Spanish land claims, including one out of Guadalajara, Mexico dating back to 1847. Mr. Gitt had been forced to abandon that particular case after a Mexican bench warrant had been issued for his arrest. Gitt lectured James and George about the intricacies of Mexican and Spanish land law. And in January of 1874, on Gitt's advice, James and George formed a legal partnership. Then, they separated. George Willing took the paperwork they had “discovered” by rail and horseback to Prescott, Arizona to file the claim. James Reavis took a train to New York, where he boarded a ship, bound for San Francisco, California.
The plan was for James to go first to Sacramento, California, to meet up with a merchant named Florin Massol. Massol had loaned Willing money years earlier, and as collateral now held some mining rights on the Miguel Peralta land grant. Paying back the loan would provide the paperwork claiming ownership of those rights. The plan was for James to arrive in Prescott later that summer with the mineral rights free and clear, appearing unconnected to George's earlier filling for the same Peralta grant. This would have the effect of seeming to confirm the grant's validity. If the grant were a fraud or not, two unconnected individuals filing seperate claims on the Peralta grant would increase the pressure on the mine owners to settle any suits even quicker. But upon arriving in San Francisco, James received a startling letter from Arizona..
George Willing had arrived in Prescott in March of 1874. He had immediately filed his claim at the Yavapai County Court house, and then checked into a hotel. He ate dinner and then retired to his room  In the morning, he was found dead. George Willing was willing no more. No cause of death was offered. Maybe it had been a heart attack, or maybe someone remembered George from an earlier adventure in questionable mining claims and had  taken action. But the sheriff had sent a letter relaying the sad event , addressed to the only name in George's address book, James Reeves, care of general delivery, San Francisco. And with that shocking news, the partnership was dissolved and whatever plans had been assembled to profit from the suspicious Peralta land grant, died with George.
James Reeves was in a terrible fix. According to the sheriff's letter, the papers George had used to support his claim, were still on file at the Courthouse. Richard could not pursue the claim without those papers. But, if George's death had not been accident, traveling to Prescott might not be the safest thing to do right now. James needed time to think. So, on May 5, 1874, he got married.
The lucky lady was Ada Pope. After a short honeymoon, James went looking for work and Ada never saw him again..(Six years later the unfortunate lady filed for divorce.) James found a job in southern California, as a school teacher in the tiny Orange County farming town of Downey. After two quiet years there, James returned to San Francisco, where he became a newspaper correspondent for the Examiner and The Call, specializing in covering the Public Land Commission. He also made himself familiar to the most powerful men in the city, such as those who had just built the Southern Pacific Railroad, the western half of the transcontinental railroad, Collis Huntington and Charles Crocker - two of the biggest crooks in American history.. By now a plan had formed in James' mind, a way to re-assemble the pieces of his life into wealth and security.
It was a gamble. But then America had been built on gambles, usually with other people's money.
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