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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, November 02, 2012

FOLLOW THE LEADER


A leader in the Democratic Party is a boss, in the Republican Party he is a leader. 
Harry Truman
I would describe it as a generation gap. When James Pendergast won big betting on horse named Climax, he invested the winnings in a bar, restaurant and hotel in St. Louis’s West Bottom neighborhood (middle, above). The town was then divided between the uptown establishment Republicans, and the working class Democrats who were actually "on the bottom". James' business was so successful that he became one of the town’s most powerful councilmen. His competition for Democratic votes was Joe Shannon who controlled the police department. But, rather than fight, “Big Jim” cut a power sharing deal with Shannon. To get what he wanted, James' first instinct was always to negotiate. 
“You use a saw to shape wood, not a hammer.”
James Pendergast. 1892
James hired his youngest brother, Tom (above), as cashier and bookkeeper at the “Climax” in the early 1890’s. He also schooled Tom in local politics, lecturing him that, “The important thing is to get the votes.” In 1900 James secured Tom the position of Superintendent of Streets. Tom immediately hired two hundred new employees, all loyal goats, as Pendergast supporters were called. And every one voted the way the Pendergasts told them too. Why wouldn't they? The Republican Party was not interested in representing them, Then, in November of 1911, at just 55, James died of kidney failure. Tom stepped in to fill his brother’s seat on the council, but resigned after just five years. The position was no longer powerful enough for him. Tom’s first instinct was always to go for his opponent’s throat..
“Today, politics may be our friend, and tomorrow we may be its victims.”
Owen D. Young. Chairman of General Electric. 1922-1939
In 1916 Tom Pendergast had himself appointed to the leadership of the Jackson County Democratic Party, headquartered in a two story yellow brick building (above, left)  at 1908 Main Street. With the votes from the Irish and Italian neighborhoods in his pocket, Tom drove Shannon’s people out of the police department, making him the invisible hand in writing of the new city charter, adopted in 1925. “Boss” Tom could now manipulate both the city and county governments, Democratic and Republican parties, from behind the scenes, following a simple rule; The important thing is to get the votes-no matter what.”
“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.”
Plato 400 B.C.E.
Boss Tom’s name never had to appear on a ballot. As one St. Louis writer noted, “Pendergast never did hunt ducks with a brass band. It has always been hard to tell what he is doing, but easy to tell what he has done the day after the election.” Tom helpfully described the methods he had learned from his older brother. “Every one of my workers has a fund to buy food, coal, shoes and clothing. When a poor man comes to old Tom's boys for help….we fill his belly and warm his back and vote him our way.”  Again, why wouldn't they? The Republicans had nothing to offer these folks except suspicion and attack.
“Politics have no relation to morals.
Niccolo Machiavelli. 1532
James "Blackie" Audett explained the methods Boss Tom developed for himself.  “My first job in Kansas City was to look up vacant lots…we would give addresses to them vacant lots. Then we would take the address and assign them to people we could depend on – prostitutes, thieves, floaters, anybody we could get on the voting registration books. On election days we just hauled these people to the right places and they went in and voted…”  Of course, no elections in Kansas were ever won by the handful of votes from prostitutes, thieves or floaters, anymore than Republicans ever won an election based solely on votes from Retirement homes.
“The political machine triumphs because it is a united minority, acting against a divided majority.”
Will Durant. 
With the arrival of the Great Depression, Boss Tom did not wait for Hoover to sympathize with Kansas Cities’ 38%  unemployment. In November of 1930 the town voted a $40 million bond issue, for a “Ten-Year-Plan”. What Kansas got for its investment in the future was the “Power and Light Building”, still a landmark in KC., as well as a new City Hall, the Jackson County Court House, a new Police Headquarters, a new Municipal Auditorium, and several schools. When the KC “Star” described all these new buildings as “Pendergast’s concrete pyramids”, Tom merely smiled. The truth was that Pendergast Ready-Mix Cement was probably his only entirely legal business. But in fact what brought Tom Pendergast down, was another legal business; political consultant. 
“There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling, and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water’
Alan Clark. 1974
Since 1922 the State of Missouri and 137 companies had been sparing over rate increases for fire insurance. The difference in any individual policy was small, but after 15 years the amount impounded while the courtroom wrangling continued was $10 million. Then, suddenly, the state agreed to a settlement, giving the insurance companies $8 million, and the right to increase future rates. In May of 1938 Republican Governor Loyd Stark (below, right), a Tom Pendergast pick (below, left), ordered an investigation. This discovered that the insurance companies had delivered a half million dollars in cash to Tom Pendergast as a “political consulting” fee, just before the settlement. Since Pendergast had no direct authority over the insurance commissioner, this fee was legal. However it was politically embarrassing. And in order to avoid the embarrassment, Boss Tom had not declared it on his Federal income tax. And that was illegal.
“The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.”
Adlai Stevenson.
The end came quickly. On April 7, 1939 Boss Tom (above) was arraigned on two counts of tax fraud. On May 22, 1939 he plead guilty. He paid a fine and served 15 months in prison, and was never involved in Missouri politics again.  Maybe he saw it as a handy way to get off the political treadmill.
“An election is coming. Universal peace is declared, and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.”
George Eliot. 
The reformers patted themselves on the back, and the Republicans reveled in their triumph over Democratic sin. Governor Stark (above) hoped to use the toppling of Boss Tom to propel himself into the U.S. Senate. But in 1940, he lost a nasty contest to Harry Truman, who had also been a Pendergast man. After that Stark was through in Missouri politics. When Boss Tom died in January of 1945, his funeral was well attended, and the only thing that changed about Missouri politics was the names on the ballots. 
“If you can’t convince them, confuse them.”
Harry S. Truman.
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BOO, WHOM?


I do not understand why, once a year, I am expected to provide a sugar rush to every kid in the neighborhood. And should I try offering these adolescent vagabonds real food, some sliced ham, a couple of ‘buffalo wings’ or, God forbid, a little rice pilaf,  my house would be egged. What this ‘Kinder Mafia” demand is pure extravagance; mere empty calories. Their obsession with processed sugar is neither healthy nor logical. Oh, sure, they dress it up in fairy costumes and go door to door chanting, “Treat or trick”. But what they really mean is "Treat or else . This is the annual fall shakedown. This isn’t a holiday. It is income sugar wealth redistribution, socialism out of the barrel of a gummy bear.
The roots of Halloween were planted long before Christians had enough saints to celebrate the night before All Hallowed Saint’s Day. The Aztecs were celebrating Dia de los Muertos even before they were speaking Spanish., maybe 3,000 years ago. And the Druids in Ireland were celebrating “Samhain” by carving turnip Jack-o-lanterns 2,500 years before they saw their first pumpkin. ‘And how’, you may ask, ‘could offerings to Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec Goddess who was still born, become individually packaged bags of M&Ms’ handed out to a skeleton named Catrina? And I will answer you, ‘Only in a world where the love child of Salvador Dali and Ma Barker is allowed to design holidays, that’s where!
This is the night when the line between the dead and the not-yet-dead (also known as The Living) is supposed to become fuzzy, and everyone is concerned about ghosts, spooks, ghouls and zombies. But its common knowledge that ghosts can’t manipulate physical objects, so they can only harm you psychologically, meaning Scientologists are safe since they don’t believe in psychology. And nobody should be afraid of “spooks” because once you speak a spook’s name they are “spooken for” and rendered harmless; which is what happened to the spook Valerie Plame.
Now Dick Cheney, he’s a real life ghoul, one of  those creatures who, every time you think they're dead they come back to life again on Fox News. That a whole network is staffed by zombies, is a perfect example of how we are terrified of all the wrong things in this life - and evidently the afterlife is even worse.
But on October 31st, I too will be answering my door bearing a bowl filled with tribute, because I don’t want to spend half of November pulling toilet paper out of my rain gutters. But who remembers that this is also Reformation Day, when, in 1546, Martin Luther nailed his “95 Things I Hate About The Pope” to the front door of the Wittenberg Castle Church and was later arrested for deformation of church property. So, logically, children could be going door to door, calling, “Treat or I’ll nail your butt to the door, you papist low life, and, oh, by the way have you got any Jews hiding in here?” So I guess we’re lucky we got the screwed up holiday we did get. It could have been far worse.
The truth (as if that ever mattered about holidays) is that Martin Luther defiantly nailing his arguments to the church door was probably as real as the legend of George Washington chopping down a cheery tree; neither one really happened. And that may be yet another reason why you never see Martin Luther costumes on Halloween Night. I did see a George Washington once, but that was so long ago the costume was probably made in the United States.
This year Americans will spend over $6 billion on this mish-mash of a holiday. Almost all of our black and orange fix, like cocaine, is provided by overseas suppliers who have no other connection to us, and although that kind of chump change would barely support the occupation of  Afghanistan for a month, it does work out to about $65 per family this year. Our family is not spending anywhere near that much, so I figure Donald Trump and his Wall Street buddies must be spending like a billion each to make up for what us po' folks are'nt spending anymore - call them  the ghoul creators.
About 4 million Americans will even be buying costumes for their dogs this year, like PetSmart’s spider web dog collar for $12, or PetCo’s dogie Pumpkin dress- up for $16. It gives a whole new meaning to the term "Puttin' on the dog". Still, this canine costume capitalism is surprising. considering that dogs and skeletons would seem to be a natural costume combo, popular with dogs as well as the humans. And once the holiday was over you would not have to store the costume -  you just let Rover bury it.
But as a nation we seem determined to spend as much as possible, to prove the depth of our emotional commitment to this “dead holiday thing”.  We, as a nation, will be putting 2 million pirates (mostly boys) on the streets Wednesday  night, along with 4 million princesses (mostly girls) to look cute, forcing adults to follow behind them, as a back-up muscle. At the ring of the door bell us older folks, cowering in our homes, then answer the door armed with only a half-empty bowl of bite sized Three Musketeers, and hope that is enough to buy us protection for another year.
And that is where all smart adults should be, dreading the sound that fills the night with horror and chills the bones; “Trick or treat, trick or treat, give us something good to eat. Or else.”  Yes, Trick or Treat, and bon appetit, my fellow cowering masses. And if you survive this night, you have two weeks until the next horror; election day!
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Sunday, October 28, 2012

GEORGIA PEACHES Part Seven

I do not doubt state Representative and ex-U.S. Senator James Jackson's resolve to overturn “the infamous” Yazoo Land sale. Privately he let it be known that he was prepared to challenge to a duel and shoot down every man who had voted for the sale.  But in his public speeches from the floor of the assembly, he only swore to overturn the Yazoo sale, even if it cost him his life. The pledge carried weight, since Jackson was known as a duelist. But after the new state legislature convened in Louisville on 11 January, 1796, several of the members were threatened and challenged to duels unless they stopped trying to overturn the sale. Amazingly, they all forged ahead. These people were ticked off.
First things first; the assembly elected the logical Jared Irwin as the new Governor. Two years earlier this Revolutionary War hero had been called up to expel an organized group of of squatters who had occupied Indian lands just across the Florida border. Having gone to the expense and trouble to call up 1,200 militia, gathered supplies and crossed the Oconee river, everybody expected a bloody showdown. Instead, Irwin made the squatters an offer they couldn't refuse. If they would just go home, they could have amnesty for all their actions. Seeing the logic in not getting shot, and not facing jail time, the squatters went home. Clearly the logical Irwin would be a good balance to the emotional Representative Jackson.
A special committee was created – chaired by Jackson – to take testimony on the sale, and it was here that the whole sordid tale of bribery came out, under oath.  If even half of the testimony was half true, a great crime had been committed in Louisville in the fall and winter of 1794-95.   Jackson's report dripped with indignation. “The public good was placed entirely out of view, and private interest alone consulted;...the rights of the present generation were violated, and the rights of posterity bartered... and the principles of aristocracy established in their stead.”  Now that is what a class war warrior really sounds like.
The Committee offered up what became the “Rescinding Act”, which spent a thousand words justifying itself.  And then it declared the Yazoo land sales null and void. The buyers could have their money back (initial payments had been made). But Jackson insisted on going a step further. The act ordered that the government had 3 days to expunge any reference to the sale in public books. Any county officer or court clerk found with a reference to the Yazoo sale on his record books, even in the index, was to be fined $1,000 a day until the offending passage was removed. Accepting any new paperwork refereeing to the sale would result in a fine and firing. The courts were even ordered not accept any lawsuits involving the Yazoo sale. Georgia would not even respond to any future Federal lawsuits involving the sale, or so said the “Rescinding Act”.  It was Orwellian two centuries before Orwell. The legislature of 1795 had all become “un-persons”, and the citizens of Georgia were in a condition the English futurist would describe as “Newspeak”.
On 13 February, 1796 both houses of the Georgia state legislature approved the Rescinding Act, by 43 to 3 in the house and in the Senate by 14 to 4. That same day Governor Irwin signed it. Immediately the state house swarmed with men wielding knives, slicing out all references to the sale. The Act also ordered what was to happen to all those edited references, three days hence. “A fire shall be made in front of the State House door, and a line to be formed by the members of both branches around the same. The Secretary of State... shall....then produce the ... usurped act... and deliver the same to... the... Messenger of the House, who shall then pronounce “God save the state! And long preserve her rights! And may every attempt to injure them perish as these corrupt acts do now!” And at about four on the afternoon of 15 February, 1796, that is exactly what happened.
The local papers published romanticized accounts of the bonfire that followed. In the Chronicle it was noted that a magnifying lens had been used to assist the sun in starting the fire. Thus, wrote the reporterr, “God Almighty is at last brought into the scrape.”  But a Charleston, South Carolina newspaper also observed that the blaze was of  “very little to the satisfaction of the bystanders.” It wasn't that they didn't approve of the conflagration, but they had a new worry - the entire world's economy had just dropped into the toilet. And the man who had dropped it there was the Philadelphia speculator, James Greenleaf.
Okay, maybe it wasn't all his fault. But this silver tonged liar does seem to have been at the center of all the distress in America. Mr. Greenleaf was the partner with Robert Morris and John Nicholson in the North America Land Bank. They were buying up as much land as possible to satisfy the anticipated demand from Dutch bankers, with whom young Greenleaf insisted he had intimate connections, He had proven this in 1788, when, within two weeks after arriving in Holland, the 22 year old American con man had met the Baroness Cornelia Elbertine Scholton van Ascht et Oud-Haarlem, and impregnated her.  Shortly there after, he not only left town, he fled the continent.
When she turned up pregnant, her family insisted they marry, and the reluctant Greenleaf was somehow convinced, probably with money, to return to Holland, where he wed the Baroness. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson saw Greenleaf's abilities as a seducer as a diplomatic skill and appointed him America's envoy to Holland, and her bankers. Eventually the Baroness realized her new husband was an amoral sleaze ball, and she attempted suicide. When Jefferson called Greenleaf home, the Baroness remained in Holland, with their son. The now 25 year old Greenleaf convinced a judge in Rhode Island he had been “tricked” into the marriage, and was granted a divorce. James Greenleaf was once again free, still handsome and young enough to be a seducer of women, and speculators like Morris and Nicholson..
Within minutes of the Yazoo land sale being approved by the Georgia assembly, James Greenleaf was bound back for Holland, to offer the wealthy Europeans a “safe” place to invest their money.  He arrived to find everybody in Europe investing their money in cannon and gun powder.  His old Dutch banking contacts gave him the cold shoulder. The only two banks that were willing to offer his shares in the American Land Bank, Elsevier and Beelde-maker, did so halfheartedly, and attracted no buyers. There was no money coming from Holland to fund the Yazoo land scheme. Defeated, James Greenleaf returned home, and Robert Morris and John Nicholson had to figure out some way to replace all that money they had been counting on. Left out on a very long and skinny limb they sent Greenleaf out buying and selling of housing lots in the new Federal City.
The government was not supposed to move-in until 1800, but construction of the capital and the President's mansion had already begun. And of course there had to be buildings for a Post Office (a cabinet position in the new government), a State Department and a War Department. The government would build those, eventually.  Somebody was else would have to supply housing for the workers, and places for them to buy groceries, restaurants to eat in, clothing, and 'entertainment' – everything from books to ladies of the evening. A city had to be established where there was no reason for it being, except politics insisted it be there.  And Morris and Nicholson saw this new town as an opportunity to cover the debts they had incurred in buying the Georgia legislator.
At some point Robert Morris had given young James Greenleaf $7,000 in cash to pay for a section of city lots. But the money never made it to the seller. That drove Morris to take a closer look at the company books, where he discovered  Greenleaf had signed all of his personal debts over to the  North American Land Company, making Morris and Nicholson responsible for repaying them. The young seducer, had seduced two more victims, Morris and Nicholson. 
Disingenuously, Morris later wrote to Benjamin Harrison, claiming, “Twas he (Greenleaf) that encouraged the very extensive land purchases which were made under a promise that he would procure in Holland the money necessary to support the same...” Suddenly the financial Mozart of the Revolution was claiming the entire Yazoo Swamp-Land Fraud, the wholesale bribery of an entire state legislature, had actually been the dastardly plan of a  28 year old serial Casanova. It was ridiculous, but I suppose such whining is a natural reaction when a “master of the universe” speculator ends up broke.  It must be somebody else' fault.  It can't be that the justification for the rules they were breaking eventually caught up with them.  Blame it on the government regulators, or the greed of a business partner. It is never their greed that is blame. And by believing in such fairly tales we remain on the same foolish, childish economic yo-yo which we call the business cycle.
And then there is the legal cycle, in which everybody starts out friends, until somebody gets an eye put out.  And then the suing starts.
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