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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, November 23, 2012

NO COMPROMISE

I guess the lesson should have been obvious even before John Milton (above), the uncompromising Confederate Governor of Florida, decided that “death would be preferable to reunion” and shot himself on April Fools Day, 1865. The date was appropriate since what actually drove the old slave master to suicide was not the approach of a vengeful Union Army, but a desperate band Confederate deserters seeking to kidnap the Governor. They were just looking to negotiate, but Milton took advantage to make his theatrical exit. In his dramatic wake, he left a state flat broke, its treasury filled with worthless bonds issued by other bankrupt Rebel states, and reduced to paying its debts and its employees with play money. And the guy who got stuck with Milton's unpaid bills was a newspaper man from Wisconsin who eventually showed greater political savvy than a whole room full of secessionist thespians like Governor Milton.
When Harrison Reed (above) took the oath as governor on June 8, 1868, Florida was so broke it tried to sell the port of Pensacola to Georgia. But Georgia was too stingy to pay up. As if things were not bad enough, Governor Reed was facing the additional annoyance of his Lieutenant Governor, William Henry Gleason. Gleason was a businessman who, like Reed, had entered politics because there was a sudden shortage of professional politicians in Florida. This was because the federal 1867 Military Reconstruction Act had disenfranchised everyone who had served in rebel governments. This reduced Florida Democratic legislators to just 23. And that left control of the legislature to the 38 Republicans - 13 recently liberated slaves which the Freedman Bureau had registered as Republicans, and the white carpetbagger bourgeoisie (like Reed) who were on a moral mission to assist the Freedmen, and the rapacious white Republican carpetbagging businessmen (like Gleason) who were here to feast on the system. And this fractured ruling party functioned in a leadership role for only five months, until Tuesday, November 3, 1868, when all 76 members of the legislature met in special session to vote the Presidential election.
In the midst of the Republican victory, the inexperienced politicians presented the Governor with a bill authorizing reimbursement for their travel expenses. Reed responded by informing the members that while he was happy to pay their travel costs to Tallahassee, he could not authorize a per Diem payment for lodging and food. So he vetoed the bill. It was a rookie mistake, and it convinced the rapacious Republicans like Gleason, and the man in charge of the Freedman's bureau, Thomas Ward Osborn, that Reed was a naive fool who should be quickly eliminated.
Reed was vulnerable. Osborn pointed out to “his” Freedmen that Governor Reed had no blacks in his administration. Clearly, the Governor was not their true friend. That made it easy to convince enough Freedmen in the Florida house of Representatives to impeach Governor Reed on trumped up charges. The house Democrats were, of course, happy to depose any Republican governor. But when the case was then transferred to the Senate, presided over by Lt. Governor Gleason, things got really interesting.
Senate Democrats chose this moment to throw a tantrum and were refusing to take their seats. Without a quorum, Gleason simply graveled the senate adjourned. And then, since Governor Reed was under a charge of impeachment, Gleason declared himself Governor. It seemed a perfectly obvious solution, at least to Mr. Gleason and Mr. Osborn, and to Secretary of State George Alden, who slipped into the Governor's offices in the state capital (above) and stole the official Florida state seal Gleason could now issue proclamations and instructions to state employees with the official stamp of approval.
But now Governor Reed and his conservative Republicans finally woke up to his perilous situation and took bold action. On November 6th 1868 he fired Alden. The Secretary of State was an appointed office, and the Governor could do that. Better yet, Reed replaced his disloyal man with John C. Gibbs (above), a carpetbagging black man, well qualified for the post. Reed now had an African-American in this cabinet. Alden was so stunned he actually showed up at his old office in the state house, to watch the swearing in. When Freedmen blocked his way, Alden whined that “All of us are true Republicans, my colored friends.” But nobody was buying it, and Alden slunk away. Now with Freedman support, on Saturday, November 7th , Reed issued a new memo addressed to Gleason. “I am, under the Constitution and laws of this State, the rightful Governor thereof, and shall continue to exercise the power and authority, and discharge all of the duties belonging to the office of the executive Department until the Judicial tribunals of the State shall determine otherwise.” Seal or no official seal, that sounded like a real Governor talking.
Observed a local newspaper, “Thus the matter stands...Gov Reed occupying the executive chamber, and Johnathan C. Gibbs, occupying the Secretary of State's apartment in the state house, and Gov Gleason and Secretary Alden preforming their official duties at the city hotel.”  Then, on Monday, Nov 9th , the Attorney General filed a writ pro warranto with the State Supreme Court, alleging that Gleason had not been a resident of Florida for the two years required under the Florida constitution, and was thus ineligible for public office. This was true, but then everybody had known that before the election. But because of a shortage of qualified Republican politicians, nobody had brought it up before. But Gleason had now made it worth the effort for Reed. Gleason felt required to respond, but he waited a week. On Monday, November 16th he issued yet another proclamation declaring Governor Reed was “Under arrest and disqualified” from preforming any official duties. Nobody but Gleason's Republican allies paid much attention to him or his memo.
A professional politician would have backed down, licked his wounds, apologized to Reed and hoped to fight again another day. Instead Gleason over-played his hand. He crossed Monroe street, and all alone, walked into Governor Reed's offices in the capital, removed his fancy beaver hat and sat down in the waiting room. He spoke to no one. He answered no questions. He made no statement. He delivered no ultimatum. He simply sat down on a chair in the waiting room, and...well, he just sat. It was a one man sit-in. Was he expecting Governor Reed and his staff to go home at five o'clock, leaving him to occupy the rooms? Was he expecting them to all retreat from the building with their tails between their legs? Was he expecting that one of the assistant Attorneys General, one George Carese, would try to strangle him? Well, probably not. But that is what happened. Carese, who was on his way to speak to the Governor, spotted Gleason in the waiting room, and blew a gasket. Now, when Carese attacked, he may or may not have had a pistol in his right hand, but there is no doubt about the intent of his left hand, grasping for Gleason's throat.
Gleason came to the spontaneous conclusion that Carese meant to kill him. The beaver hat went flying in one direction, and Gleason went flying in the other, out the door, down the stairs and across the red mud of Monroe Street. He did not stop until he was safely ensconced again in his rooms in the City Hotel (above). After that everything was over except for the court cases, which all went against Gleason. On Tuesday, November 24th , Chief Justice Randall of the state Supreme Court, ruled that “without the actually-expressed consent of both houses, there has not been an effective impeachment and the suspension from official duties.” Gleason had been a little too anxious to adjourn the Senate. Oh, and Gleason was not qualified to be Lt. Governor, ruled Justice Randall. The amateur Gleason would appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but nobody was willing to help out yet another stupid politician who had cooked his own goose.
All of which left the ravenous Thomas Ward Osborn (above) hungry for revenge. And on January 5, 1869, when the new session of the legislature convened, Osborn quickly reassembled his forces. The Freedmen were still a dependable anti-Reed block but as Osborn himself had recently assured friends the Freedmen were smart enough to recognize their own self interest, and their price had gone up., Also Osborn worked harder to cultivate the dozen or so white Republicans who could be influenced – meaning bought. Osborn took several rooms at the City Hotel, and there entertained the pliable legislators. A Democrat observed the gathering and wrote, “The poorest and the most shabby carpetbagger could be seen drinking the sparkling champagne and wearing fine beavers” And the House Democrats again voted with Osborn, and Reed was again impeached on trumped up charges, by a vote of 30 to 5. Representatives of Osborn warned the governor that if he did not resign within 24 hours the entire legislature would surely vote to convict him.
However, by the time the legislature started considering the trial, Reed's allies had spread details of the goings on at the City Hotel, and they were being reported in the local Florida newspapers. The Representatives started getting nasty telegrams and letters. The politicians responded by opening an official investigation of the bribery and vote buying The Osborn faction suddenly had to start spending more time covering their own tracks. And on Tuesday, January 26, 1869, both house voted down Reed's second impeachment, 43 to 5.
The Republican Party was losing what little respect it had with general public, and pressure from Washington convinced the rapacious Republican to publicly swear fidelity to Governor Reed. But in private Osborn plotted and planned. And two years later, in February of 1872, the Republicans did it all again. Reed was once again impeached by the house. This time Reed trusted his Lt. Governor, Samuel Day and left town. But Day proved a turncoat, and shortly after beginning of the trial, he adjourned the legislature, and declared himself Governor.
Then, amazingly, Day left town along with the other conspirators. Quickly, Reed was back in Tallahassee, and announced that he was re-assuming the role of Governor. Once again the issue went before the state Supreme Court. But this time Chief Justice Randall sided with the opposition. The trial had started, said Randall, and Reed was out as governor, at least until it was completed. However, Lt. Governor Day was “in no sense” the new Governor. Reed still refused to give up. The weary Governor (above) later wrote to a friend, “I have not suffered for four years, to now be willing to see my glorious work overthrown and freedom cheated of her triumphs”. It was debatable just how glorious Reed's work was, but that is another story.
As a disgusted Democrat observed, “This gypsy politics degrades the character of all who are concerned.” And it certainly degraded the Republican party. Public disgust drove the legislature back to work just a month later, and on May 4, 1872, Justice Randall, who had presided over the trial, could inform Reed that he had been cleared of all charges, by a vote of 29 to 21. In January of 1873 Reed finished his 4 year term as Governor. But the Carpetbagger stayed in Florida, living outside of Jacksonville with his new wife, until his death in 1899.
There would not be another Republican governor until 1966, and the party would not hold a legislative majority again until until 1992. It was a heavy price to pay. But then refusing to compromise usually produces a lot of drama, but not much else. It was a lesson that humans seem incapable of learning.
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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

LIVING WITH INSANITY


I think we all know the theory of nuclear fission. You split one atom of uranium-235, and you get two free electrons. Those electrons smash into two more u-235 isotopes, releasing four electrons. Those four release eight, which release sixteen, which release thirty-two, etcetera, until BOOM! It ain't that simple, of course. Theory is never reality. You have to engineer the components to within tens of thousandths of a millimeter to get the uranium to reach critical mass at the correct microsecond. And in 1946 the U.S. Congress created a bureaucracy, the Atomic Energy Commission, to design and build these complicated and delicate weapons of mass destruction.
Then, after a couple of years testing their new toy, two nuclear physicists, Edward Teller and Stanislaw Ulam came up with an idea for an even bigger bomb. First they set off a fission bomb, which produced gamma and x-rays which compressed and heated two different isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. And if the compression was perfectly designed and imploded in exactly the right order, this thermonuclear bomb would achieve fusion, and an even BIGGER BOOM! About the same time, it occurred to certain members of the scientific and military community (it occurred to Ulam but not to Teller) that maybe nuclear weapons were not just big bombs. So in 1951 the AEC gave birth to the Civil Defense Agency, which was supposed to protect America from the other guy's nukes. And right from conception, this bureaucratic love-child suffered from schizophrenia.
You can hear the insanity in the March 11, 1955 congressional testimony from the new administrator of the agency, Val Peterson. He suggested that every America immediately start digging a bomb shelter in their backyard, because once the Soviet Union developed an intercontinental ballistic missile, “we had all better dig and pray. In fact, we had better be praying right now.” Well, this scared a lot of people, especially the tens of millions of apartment dwellers in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco, who did not have a backyard. But they were only collateral damage. Peterson's real target was to terrorize the members of Congress. After spending $139 million ($11 billion in 2012 money) his agency had stockpiled barely half of the 12 million burn dressings they figured they would need when the bombs started to fall, less than half of one percent of the 1 million gas masks they needed, and just 13% of the Geiger counters the survivors would need to locate radioactive death zones. But at the same time the latest results from Operation Tea Pot, out on the Nevada Proving Grounds 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, were strongly hinting at the lunacy underlying his agency’s entire raison d'etree. 
See, in the spring of 1955 about 700 US Army and AEC staff exploded 14 nuclear bombs in Nevada. They buried one, dropped one from a B-36 ten engine bomber and put the others atop 4 and 500 foot towers. They were looking to perfect their weapons designs. But they also parked a full 1,300 man Marine armored battalion 1 ½ miles from the fire ball, and then had them charge right up to ground zero after the blast, just to prove the viability of combat in the atomic age. And civilians were next About a mile from ground zero the CDA built what they officially called “Survivor Town” with paved streets, and five home styles, two even with fallout shelters. They also constructed a complete electrical transmission substation, with towers and transformers. They erected a telephone exchange with poles and lines, and file cabinets stuffed with papers, a Standard Oil gas station, a bank, complete with a vault, a functioning radio station and a clinic. The shelters and kitchen cabinets were stocked with all the average food items found in an American home, even beer. New cars were parked in the desert driveways. The town was then populated with manikins, purchased from the JC Penny Company, and dressed in various fabrics and clothing styles.
Just after 5:30 in the morning of May 5, 1955, 18 year old James Tyler, 2nd battalion, 5th Marine infantry, was kneeling in his 6 foot deep trench. "We assumed that the people in charge knew what they were doing." Then suddenly, "everything went blindingly white."  Eight minutes after detonation, the armored battalion was ordered to advance. After sticking his head out of his tank's turret (as ordered), one of the marine “guinea pigs” noted, “...the desert was on fire, every plant was burning. The yucca trees were like torches sticking out of the sand and rocks....you never realized how many little animals lived there until they were all dead. We passed through a small town that had been built for the test....Not much was left standing....They marched us back to Ground Zero....The AEC was waiting for us....dressed in white coveralls. Each of us stood as one man ran over us with a radiation counter and took readings. Then another used a broom to brush us off, and the first man would retake the radiation reading. They repeated this around 4 or 5 times until, I assumed, the radiation reading was lowered to their satisfaction.”
Reading the reports after this blast (one of some 980 set off in Nevada over a quarter century),  was disturbing, to say the least. The 7,000 soldiers cowering in trenches and the Marines in their tanks received the maximum allowable yearly limit of 6 rems (or 6,000 milirems) of gamma radiation Of the eight pilots who flew “sniffer” missions into the radioactive clouds after each blast, two received doses that exceed 21 rems. Two years later, after the data from Tea Pot had been digested, the maximum exposure per year for a worker in a nuclear facility would be reduced to five rems. And the AEC experts decided “Exposure of volunteers to doses higher than those now thought safe may not produce immediate deleterious effects; but may result in numerous complaints from relatives, claims against the Government, and unfavorable public opinion, in the event that deaths and incapacitation occur with the passage of time.” To continue stuffing soldiers into trenches to see how the blast effected their combat readiness, said the AEC bureaucrats, “cannot be expected to produce data of scientific value.”  In 1995 the U.S. Congress, would allow up to $75,000 to Atomic Veterans and their families, for cancers suffered in these tests. 
As to the in-home bomb shelters, they offered only, “some degree of protection”. About the only positive result found in “Doom Town”, was that even irradiated bottles of soda and beer “could be used as potable water sources for immediate emergency purposes as soon as the storage area is safe to enter”. The problem was, of course, that the stores and homes would not be safe to enter until many of the survivors had died of dehydration, and after a nuclear war no one would be bottling any new Coke or Budweiser. After thinking about the situation for five more years, one CD wag suggested that a fall out shelter might be constructed entirely of cases of beer, and “by the time you drink your way out of the shelter, it should be safe to go outside.” This gallows humor was another indication that insanity had become epidemic in the Civil Defense Authority.
It was on display again on June 15, 1955, when the CDA staged Operation Alert in 55 cities across America, 13 of which had no advance warning of the drill. When the sirens went off in Houston, Texas, authorities effectively evacuated a 275 block area of downtown. But in Los Angeles, there was “"considerable confusion, some panic, and a number of traffic problems.” Still, local authorities insisted, “the population responded well.” However, in Peoria, Illinois, the local CDA director kept his people in their offices, while insisting the public go to shelters. In the District of Columbia, the local director called the entire drill “ridiculous” Both of these sane men were fired.
In all the United States set off  925 nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test range. You can now tour most of these ground zeros, and even visit the remains of Survival Town. But you cannot stay for long. Sixty years later the debris are still dangerously radioactive. Everything that was learned about nuclear weapons by those whose livelihood was derived from building and testing the bombs, convinced them that any theory about using them was insanity. We are now waiting for the leaders of Iran, Pakistan and India to come to same sad conclusion. The American Civil Defense Authority was gradually starved for funds until its remains could be quietly folded into the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The dooms day sirens, installed across the Midwest and south to warn of an impending nuclear war, now alert citizens of approaching tornadoes. As surrealist Franz Kafka put it, “Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.”
I would say that all the great strides of human civilization are built upon our previous bouts of insanity.
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

GEORGIA PEACHES Part Ten

I suppose you've heard the story of how a group of civic minded men had gathered in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to create a “more perfect union”. Well, they did, except it would be well to remember that civics is not a science, but an art form, in which each artist expresses a different vision of perfection. And in the case of James Wilson, future justice of the Supreme Court under the new constitution and future briber in-chief for the Yazoo land fraud, perfection included the right to make a profit at the voters' expense.
Remember the story of Robert Morris and the Bank of North America? That was the financial institution which Morris had used to finance the American Revolution. Well, the bank had originally been chartered in Pennsylvania, and after the Revolution its charter had been revoked by Pennsylvanians worried about a big financial institution having too much influence in their government. But in 1786 the state was sued by a share holder in that bank, who claimed the repeal had violated the rights of an innocent party – i.e. him, James Wilson. And a year later Mr. Wilson was one of those civic minded men who gathered in Philadelphia to draw up the new Constitution for the United States.
The state of Pennsylvania had backed down from Wilson's lawsuit, and re-charted the bank. But Wilson was determined the new Federal government would not show the same disrespect for business. So, in drawing the new design for government, James Wilson added what became Section 10 to the first Article of the constitution, supposedly dealing with the formation, duties and responsibilities of the Congress. Section Ten, Article One stands out as an add on. It reads in part; “No State shall enter into any Treaty...coin Money...pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility...”. This was to be a capitalist nation, and respect for contracts was written into its constitution.
All of which brings us back to the second Yazoo land sale of January 13, 1795, and specifically a week after the big one,  when the state of Georgia sold an additional 11 million acres at ¼ a cent per acre to Senator James Gunn, George Walker and others operating under the name of the Georgia Mississippi Company. The sale price for the Georgia Company's share had been $50,000 down and $200,000 by November 1, 1795. The down payment was accepted, and in August of 1795 all shares of the Georgia Company were bought by James Greenleaf (partner in Robert Morris's North American Land Bank). He paid 8 cents an acre for the land. But in November, when Greenleaf tried to make the final payment of $200,000, it had to be placed in escrow, because Georgia politics had changed.
On February 13, 1796 the new Governor had signed “The Rescinding Act', canceling all of the Yazoo swamp-land sales, including that for the Georgia Mississippi Company. Author of the act, James Jackson, was determined to drive a stake through the heart of the Yazoo speculations. The down payment and the final payments were returned to the original buyers. The deal was dead. But on that same day, James Greenleaf sold all 11 million acres owned by the Georgia Mississippi Company to yet another group of speculators, who called themselves the New England Mississippi Company. He was paid $1, 380,000. That was a 650% profit. The price of Yazoo swamp-lands had inflated from ¼ cents an acre paid to the citizens of Georgia in 1795, to almost 8 cents an acre paid by James Greenleaf, and now eleven cents an acre paid by the New England Mississippi Company, just a year later. Except the deal was dead. The original sale had been canceled by the state of Georgia. The money had been returned, and accepted. Why were these speculators still paying so much for shares of a dead deal? Who were these savvy business types who had never heard of Caveat Emptor?
Listed first among the directors of the New England Mississippi Company was Benjamin Hichborn, a cousin to Paul Revere on his mother's side. Benjamin's father was a Boston shipwright, who had sent his son to Harvard, which Benjamin graduated at the age of 22, in 1768. Benjamin passed the bar, but was then swept up in the revolution, displaying an impetuousness of youth which got him locked up on a British prison ship. He escaped after two months, but he seemed to have learned his lesson. Afterward he restricted himself to financing other revolutionaries, paying for privateers, and helping Henry Knox purchase farmland, and arraigning investments for John Adams and John Hancock. But Benjamin's real talent was as a gossip, knowing which ear would be most receptive to which dirt. In the late 1790's he aligned himself with the Jeffersonian Republicans, becoming a trusted and rare New England confidant for Thomas Jefferson himself. 
The other company directors were equally well connected. Samuel Brown had made a fortune financing the slave trade, insuring ships which were running the British anti-slave patrols off the African coast. Benjamin Joy was a speculator in Massachusetts real estate, and Thomas Winthrop was the thirty-something son of the iconic Boston family. George Blake was yet another lawyer-speculator . And finally there was John Peck.
He was already 75 years old in 1800. He was secretive, “Often argumentative and egotistical, tending to alienate those with whom he interacted”. Most people knew him for what he considered his hobby – he was “The most scientific and most successful naval architect” in the new nation, having designed small and fast privateers for the colonial navy. But someone else had to build them, because John did not work or play well with others.
John Peck saw himself as a merchant, starting with a store and trader's post on Crabtree Neck, where the Skillings River flows into Frenchman's Bay, not far from Bar Harbor, Maine. It is still labeled Peck's Point on the maps. John Peck invested his profits in land, and there are few communities in today's Maine,which do not list him on their early property rolls. So it was a natural that the wealthy landowner would be asked to join in the New England Mississippi Company. And it was John Peck who on May 14th, 1803, sold to Robert Fletcher of New Hampshire, 15,000 acres of the New England Mississippi company holdings for the sum of $3,000. The price of the Yazoo Swamp-land had surprisingly risen to $5 an acre. If the lawyers are to be believed Robert Fletcher felt cheated by Peck, and later in 1803, just like Mr. Chandler in 1603, sued to get his money back
Robert Fletcher was a lawyer from Amherst, New Hampshire, He was only 42 years old in 1803, and owned extensive properties in Nashua, Amherst and Dunstable. He was a very successful husband, fathering 13 children, but ultimately, an unsuccessful businessman. His final investment was in timber lands in Montreal, Canada. And when this venture failed in November 1809, Robert Fletcher shot himself. But even after his suicide, the court case he had help launch continued all the way to the Supreme Court – just as it was intended to. It was a set up, a fake case. And everybody knew it.
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