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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Friday, February 08, 2013

THE SMILER


I can't make my mind up about Schuyler Colfax (above). Was he a crooked, intriguing politician, as a wise man once said, or was he a working class hero who rose to the second highest office in the land by his own honest efforts? As the media types like to prattle, he had an appealing story. He entered this world in New York City, heir to a prominent family name, but his father had died of tuberculosis five months before he was born. That made the infant and his mother Evelyn, a burden on the family. In November of 1836 she married an ambitious widower, 24 year old George W. Mathews. The following summer Mathew's moved his new wife, his 11 year old stepson and his own daughter by train and canal boat to the the glacier-washed flat lands of northern Indiana, along the Michigan border. Mathews opened a general store in the village of New Carlisle, but his real interest was politics. Three years later, in 1841, he was elected on the Whig Party ticket as auditor of St. Joseph County. So he moved the family again, to the county seat, at the south bend of the St. Joseph River - South Bend, Indiana. Fifteen year old Schuyler was hired as his stepfather's deputy.
At 19 the fair haired, soft blue eyed Schuyler and a partner pooled their resources to buy a failing weekly newspaper, which they renamed the “St. Joseph Valley Register”. In their premier editorial they declared their paper “shall be inflexibly Whig...On the issue of slavery we shall take the middle ground...we shall be fixedly opposed to enlarging the borders of slavery even one inch...and shall hail with happiness the day the Southern States shall...adopt a feasible plan for emancipation...”
They had just 250 subscribers, and ended the first year $1,400 in debt. But by 1844 they had made the paper such a success that Schuyler Colfax could afford to marry, and ten years later the teetotaler was elected to Congress, as a member of nascent Republican Party. He was just 31 years old.
In Congress they called the short Hoosier “Smiley” Schuyler, because of his ready grin and amiable nature. But there was a brain behind the benign smile and crude enunciation, and his ambition burned bright. Four years later, with his help Republicans won control of the House of Representatives, and in 1860, the White House itself.  Schuyler expected to given a cabinet post, perhaps Postmaster General - he had chaired the postal committee in Congress. But he was told in a private conversation “Mr. Lincoln said...that with the troubles before us I could not be spared from Congress...” Instead Lincoln picked Caleb Smith, also from Indiana. After this rebuff, Schuyler drew closer to the Radical Republicans, demanding immediate emancipation of all slaves.
In 1862, in a stunning election upset, nervous Pennsylvania voters responded to the idea of four million slaves suddenly being freed by replacing radical Republican Speaker of the House Galusha Grow with the pro-union Democrat William Henry Miller. In Grow's absence, Schuyler campaigned to win the now vacant Speakership. And again Lincoln (above)  moved to block him, urging his political ally Montgomery Blair to campaign against Schuyler because he was “"a little intriguer...aspiring beyond his capacity, and not trustworthy” In one of Lincoln's few failures, the popular Schuyler easily won election as Speaker of the House, despite his Hoosier twang and lack of diction - he'd left public school when his family left New York.
His approach to being Speaker was described as “a slap-dash-knock-'em-down-auctioneer style.” He knew the rules of the House by heart, and used then to keep the government moving to support the war effort. He also helped to push through the transcontinental railroad funding bills, a matter close to Lincoln's heart, as before the war he'd been a lawyer defending the railroads. 
But Schuyler had also become a confidant of the humorless Radical Republican Secretary of the Treasury Salome P. Chase, who in the fall of 1862  tried to squeeze his rival, moderate William Seward, out of Lincoln's cabinet. Schuyler was not among the Congressional delegation which in December went to the White House to demand Lincoln fire Seward, and he was not there the next night when Lincoln confronted the conspirators, and forced Chase to retreat. After this lesson in power politics, Schuyler tried to move closer to Lincoln.
When Schuyler's wife died in 1863, Lincoln attended her funeral. And after the crucial 1864 election was won, Schuyler assisted the President by helping to removed the thorn of Chase from his cabinet. He worked to convince the pompous Secretary to exchange his cabinet post for the robes of Chief Justice. And on April 14, 1865, just before leaving for a tour of the California end of the transcontinental railroad, the Speaker met with the President. At that meeting Lincoln invited Shulyer to accompany him to the theatre that night, but Schuyler begged off. And so Schuyler missed being an eyewitness at the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
After the war it was Schuyler Colfax who oversaw passage of the Thirteen Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States. Later he led the forces that impeached Lincoln's reluctant successor, President Andrew Johnson. The impeachment trial failed in the Senate by one vote. But two years later, Schuyler used that half victory to maneuver against 11 other candidates to win the nomination for Vice President, on the 11th ballot alongside Presidential nominee Ulysses Simpson Grant. However that nasty victory left Schulyer with new enemies, and ensured that Grant would never trust him. Still Schuyler made history, because with his election that November he became the youngest Vice President in history, and also the first man to have presided over both the House of Representatives and the Senate. (In 1932 Texan John Nance Garner became the second.) 
Two weeks after the election, Schuyler married again, this time to 34 year old Ellen M. Wade, niece of Ohio Senator Benjamin Wade. For a few weeks he was on top of the world. Then in January of 1869 Francis Adams Jr. broke the details of the Credit Mobilier scam in magazine North American Review.
Before construction began in 1865, the men who sat on the board of the Union Pacific Railroad had created a  general contractor company called Credit Mobilier, and awarded them the contract to actually build the eastern end of the transcontinental line. They, of course, also sat on the board of Credit Mobilier. And they ensured that every bill Mobilier submitted, no matter how outrageous or inflated, was paid by the Union Pacific. Over the four years of construction, Credit Mobilier was siphoning off every dime (and more) that a patriotic public paid for UP stock. By spreading Mobilier stock around congress, any obstructions were overcome, so that, in May of 1869, when the last rails were joined at Promontory Summit, the Union Pacific was $18 million in debt ($245 billion today), while everyone holding stock in the little known Credit Mobilier made out like bandits – which they, of course, were.
When asked about stock dividends he had received from Mobilier, Schuyler (above, center, in his Odd Fellows robes)  insisted “I am an honest man...I never took anything that wasn't given to me.” It was probably the dumbest thing he ever said, so dumb, he may have never said it, but also so accurate, it stuck. Shortly there after Grant privately urged his Vice-President to resign. Grant insisted he wanted to appoint Schuyler as Secretary of State . “In all my heart I hope you will say yes,” wrote Grant. But Schuyler knew that as Veep he could only be removed by a messy impeachment trial, while cabinet members could be simply fired, and he refused the offer.
However he did announce, just two years into his term, in September of 1870, that after almost two decades in Washington, “My ambition is all gratified and satisfied.” Luckily, so was his fortune. He had decided to retire from politics, he said. Schuyler didn't mean it of course, he was only 47 years old. But the announcement forced his critics to move onto criticizing somebody else. Then, as he had done in the past, as the next election approached, Schuyler announced that reluctantly, at the urging of his friends, he had decided to stand for re-election for “the old ticket”. Then he dropped a bombshell. Since the Credit Mobilier scandal had tainted the party, he suggested that maybe Grant should be replaced at the top of the ticket
Grant's response was what you might expect. He decided to replace Schuyler Colfax with Senator Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts - known as the “Natick Cobbler”. It was an odd choice, since most people in Washington figured the shoemaker was responsible for the defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, because he had leaked Union battle plans to his mistress and Confederate spy, Rose Greenhow. But Wilson was a loyal radical Republican, and the Credit Mobilier scandal had already split the party, with newspaperman Horace Greeley running on the “Liberal Republican” ticket.
Determined to avoid an open floor fight at the Philadelphia convention, the internecine warfare went on in the backrooms, as Schulyer and Wilson/Grant supporters tried to out-promise and out-threaten each other. It was decided on the first ballot, sort of.  Schulyer received 308 ½ votes, and Wilson got 399. Immediately the Indiana delegation ask to change their vote, and quickly Wilson became the unanimous choice. The clever man from South Bend had been out flanked. Grant and Wilson won, and Schulyer was out, but not forgotten.
In January of 1873 Schulyer was called before a House committee, where under oath he denied receiving a $1,200 check for Credit Mobilier dividends. But the Committee had a bank deposit slip for that amount in Schulyer's own hand. Democrats in the house voted to impeach the likable Colfax, but the Republicans saved his behind. But he was, finally, done in Washington. The next year, when the stock market imploded, brought down by the failure of the Union Pacific railroad, a bankrupted investor was heard to complain, “It was all Schulyer Colfax's fault, damn him.”
So, not yet fifty, the orphan returned to South Bend, determined to rebuild his reputation. Where future generations of disgraced politicians would go on cable TV, Schulyer Colfax went on the lecture circuit. Here his amiable and folksy veneer earned him generous speaking fees. And in the stories he told, old opponents became close intimates. He claimed that in 1864 Lincoln had confided his horror at the cost of war. “Why do we suffer reverses after reverses! Could we have avoided this terrible, bloody war!” his Lincoln said. It might have happened that way, but although the sentiment fits Lincoln's other quotes, the words seem far too melodramatic.
Schulyer made a good living, but the travel was exhausting. On Monday, January 12, 1885, he left his home in South Bend, Indiana, to give a speech in tiny Rock Rapids, Iowa. Schulyer took a train to Chicago, where he transferred to the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. At about ten the next morning he arrived at their station on Riverfront Street in Mankato, Minnesota (above). In the bitter cold he had to rush, dragging  his luggage, three- fourths of a mile to the Union Pacific station on 4th Street.
The problem was, it was -30 Fahrenheit (-34 Celsius), and it took him almost thirty minutes to make the bitter journey. Five minutes after arriving at the station, he suffered “a fatal derangement of the heart's action”, and dropped dead. Nobody knew who he was until they checked the papers in his pockets. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. He was not yet 60 years old, and left his widow and only child an estate valued at $150,000 ($3.5 million today).
A newspaper man penned the ambitious Shulyer Colfax's best epitaph: “A beautiful smiler came in our midst, Too lively and fair to remain; They stretched him on racks till the soul of Colfax, Flapped up into Heaven again, May the fate of poor Schuyler warn men of a smiler, Who dividends gets on the brain!
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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

NORMALIZATION


I can't make up my mind about climate change. Will we adjust our behavior in time, or does the human species lack the intelligence to survive? I hope the answer is yes and no, I worry the answer is no and yes. It seems to come down to how you define “intelligence”, by the smartest of us or the most obstinate? There are over 7 billion human brains working at this moment, and too many it seems are convinced meteorologists can't accurately predict if it will rain tomorrow, so of course scientists can't predict the average temperature a hundred years from now. But the first is almost impossible to predict, while the second is just extremely difficult.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration says “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time”, while the Climate Impacts Group offers a more pragmatic definition; "You pick your vacation destination based on the climate but you pack your suitcase based on the weather." And it all started with a Swedish triple threat – he was an arrogant, racist atheist. But he was a very smart chemist. In fact Svante Arrhenius was so far ahead of his instructors that they gave his PhD dissertation a “C”, and in 1903 that same work won him the Noble Prize in Chemistry.
Growing up with those long cold Swedish winter nights made Svante (above) curious as to why we weren't still having ice ages. Being a chemist he naturally thought chemistry might provide an answer. His knew that the sun heated the ground during the day, and reflected some of it back into the air as infrared radiation, otherwise known as heat. He suspected that the more carbon dioxide and water vapor there was in the air, the less of that reflected infrared radiation could escape into space. What he came up with in 1896 was his greenhouse law; “If the quantity of (carbon dioxide) increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression.” He ran the numbers, and found, as he wrote a decade later, “...any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth's surface by 4 degrees Celsius; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8 degrees C.” Svante had predicted global warming and climate change.
Poor old Svante. He had to do his calculations the old fashioned way – using unpaid graduate students who labored for hours with pencils and papers and slide rules. And he made a couple of bad assumptions. He figured clouds were pretty much a wash, since they both reflected sunlight from their tops, and trapped heat under their shadows. He was right about that, but he missed how sensitive the climate was to carbon dioxide by half. In other words he saw that burning coal and oil and wood released carbon into the air, but he didn't realize how really bad that was. In fact, being Swedish, he was looking forward to more beach weather.
It was the geologists who provided what I think is the most convincing piece of the puzzle, they just did not know it for a long time. You see, they were looking for gold and diamonds and copper and coal and oil and even water, which they did by first drilling a lot of holes all over the place. Now, each hole was an experiment, and these rock farmers recorded everything about the holes as they drilled them, including the temperature at various depths. Eventually the more social geologists were able to collect a record of what they called the geothermal gradient world wide. They found that as a general rule at anything less than 200 feet the temperature was about 11 degrees Celsius – or 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Below that you have to figure in ground water, rock type, how close you are to a volcano - but as a general rule the temperature goes up about 1 degree Celsius for every additional 1,000 feet down the hole you go. And it wasn't until much later that other graduate students noticed that as a general rule, up close the general rules did not add up.
Plotting out the temperatures in great detail and very exactly, and allowing for volcanoes and such, still produced a steady rising curving as you went down. But on the other end, at the top of the holes, things were a little odd. The line there seemed to be steeper than it ought to - not enough that it kept the rock hounds up at night, but it did nag at them. And then somebody compared the carbon 14 dating of the rocks through which these holes had been bored, at the top. And suddenly the ages and the temperatures of the upper rocks in the odd zone made sense. The closer you got to the surface, and the younger the rocks got, the higher the temperatures were above that general rule, beginning about 500 years ago, about the start of the industrial revolution, when a growing number of smoke stacks started spewing out all that carbon that Svante had measured .And in 1998 three scientists, Henry Pollock, Shapeeng Huang and Po-Yu Shen provided confirmation of global warming. “The subsurface temperatures ...indicate that Earth's mean surface temperature has increased by about 1.0° (C) over the past five centuries.”
So two independent fields of science, chemistry and geology, had each independently produced a picture of a warming planet for the previous 500 years, and predicted it would continue to warm. Together they produced a coherent, unified story with an explanation. Glaciologist, the only scientists whose field of study melts if they don't work fast enough, had independently stumbled on a third proof. Snow falling on glaciers today has more carbon in it than water melted out glacier ice formed five hundred years ago, and far more than the snow that fell a thousand years ago. And the amount of carbon in the snow is increasing. And it wasn't until very recently that meteorologists got into this discussion, which was to be expected, since, their field of study is what every other scientist calls “background noise”.
Let me give you an example of that noise; from December 1st , 1801 to January 31st , 1802, only about an inch of snow fell in Albany, New York, a spot which on average gets closer to 32 inches during those two months. The temperature ranged between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius (40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit), when it is normally around minus 3 Celsius (mid 20's Fahrenheit ). Along the Ohio River, in eastern Ohio, 3 inches of snow fell on November first in 1801, but after that they suffered not even another hard frosts for the rest of the entire winter. In January of 1802 tulips and violets bloomed in New Haven, Connecticut, and on the 28th of that month Salem, Massachusetts saw the thermometer hit 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit). No less a numbers freak than Thomas Jefferson became convinced that “The change which has taken place in our climate is one of those facts which all men...are sensible of...”  And this was before the industrial revolution!
Less than 20 years later came the other extreme, the summer of 1816. On June 6th, snow fell in Albany, New York. Ice was observed on rivers and lakes in July and August as far south as Pennsylvania. Farmers in Massachusetts got a crop in that summer, but so little that oats were selling for 10 times what they had sold for the previous year. World wide probably 40,000 people died of starvation. It was referred to as “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death”, or “The Year Without a Summer”, and it was probably caused by the April 10th , 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, the largest volcanic eruption in the last ten thousand years. To my mind, that is the real difference between weather and climate – weather is a record of extremes, and climate is a record of the average between them.
Yes, the 700 volcanoes that erupt every year throw about half a million tons of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, and a super volcano like Tambora may doubled that amount once or twice a century. But ever day humans spew 88 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Can there really be any doubt about why old extremes are becoming our new normal, or what is responsible for it?
Every scientific method we use to look at the past 500 years, every experiment we come up with to test what has happened over the last five centuries, tells us that the new normal is climate change, and that our industrial revolution is the one new factor over the last five hundred years that is driving our new normal to new climate extremes.  From this point forward there really is only one question more we have to ask. Does the human species lack the intelligence to survive? And the answer is up to you.
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Sunday, February 03, 2013

PEACE - There Is Always Something Else


I have to wonder what the thoughts were of the Japanese emissaries, as they arrived back in le Shima Island. Were they seeing their lives as sacrificed in the service of their country? Were they daunted by what the future might hold for Japan, for them? Were they encouraged by the firm courtesy they had found in Manila? The long flight back to la Shima must have been a flight in the dark, across the sunny western Pacific.
Then, upon landing back at le Shima, there was bad news. The Betty damaged upon landing was not yet ready for a return flight to Japan. Within the delegation suspicions were raised about possible American sabotage. Quietly, all documents related to the surrender arraignments were divided between the two aircraft,  for safety.
Late in the afternoon the single Betty carrying the head of the delegation, General Torashiro Kawabe (above), and seven other members of the group, lifted off from the le Shima airstrip.
They were accompanied by American fighters for a short time before continuing the flight back to Japan alone. It had been an emotionally exhausting forty-eight hours. They had been, and remained, in constant fear of being shot down – by fanatics from either side. And then there had been the uncertainty of what to expect from the enemy, along with the shame and humiliation of having to help their nation surrender to the hated Americans. It is no wonder that shortly after the plane left the ground General Kawabe and the other passengers fell asleep.
And then, just after midnight, August 21, one the pilots woke up his passengers to inform them that a fuel tank had sprung a leak, and one engine had begun to miss...and they were losing altitude and were about to crash into the dark ocean. Life jackets were quickly pulled on.  All of the surrender documents were given to Foreign Ministry representative, Katsuo Okazaki, because he had once been in the Olympics (in 1924!).
Then, before they were really ready, the plane slammed into the ocean. The passengers were thrown about the cabin as the plane bounced once, and again, off the wave tops, until suddenly it stopped, and seemed to settle for a moment into the waves. Both pilots rushed from the cockpit, and while one tried to calm the passengers, the other ripped opened the rear door. Water rushed into the cabin and the pilot leaped out…into waist deep water. Somehow the crew had managed to bring their injured aircraft back right to the shore line of Japan.
Through twenty feet of surf was the beach in front of the tiny village of Hamamatsu, about 130 miles south of Tokyo. The passengers quickly waded to dry land. A fisherman was rudely awakened and reluctantly enlisted to show the soaked delegates to a telephone. A call to a nearby air base provided transport back to the capital, where, at last, half of the required documents arrived just seven hours behind schedule.
The next morning the second Betty, carefully repaired by the Americans, made an uneventful flight back to Japan with the other half of the surrender documents.
And on September 2nd , 1945, crash survivors General Kawabe and Katsuo Okazaki stood on the deck of the USS Missouri to sign the surrender documents, another emotionally exhausting day.
What had been settled in Manila, in simple direct conversations, was that all Japanese soldiers would be disarmed by their own officers all across China and Burma and Japan, before Allied troops arrived in their area. But when the Americans (or British or Australians) did arrive, the arms were then turned over to them - another compromise.
It was not the draconian surrender required in the Potsdam Statement, but rather a compromise, because suddenly peace was more important than complete and unconditional surrender.
The Russians did not abide by the American/Japanese ceasefire. They were still grabbing Japanese territory, right up until the surrender was signed. Their occupation of the Northern Japanese islands was the event, not the atomic bombs, that shook both the U.S.'s and Japan's narrow view of the conflict. and the compromise by these two is what stopped the Soviets before they could grab a share of the main Japanese home islands. Both partners in the Pacific bloodbath came to the realization that the issue was not just victory and defeat, but what sort of victory, and what sort of defeat.
So the speedy U.S. occupation of Japan was now the allied interest of both winner and loser. The entrance of a third party - The Soviet Union - had broken off the blinders. On the American side the hunger to humiliate the Japanese was sublimated by the practical pragmatic desire to stabilize Japan as quickly as possible.
And at 9 AM, on August 28, an advance party of 150 communications engineers had landed at Atsugi Naval Airfield, 20 miles southwest of Tokyo. They were the first Americans to land in Japan, and they were met by disarmed and obedient Japanese soldiers and sailors. Three hours later 38 C-54 transports arrived with security forces, supplies and equipment required to prepare the airfield for the arrival of U.S. forces. And then, on August 30th, the main occupation began. One C-54 carrying 44 men landed every three minutes, bringing in over the course of the day over 4,200 combat ready troops of the 11th Airborne division. At the same time men of the 6th Marine division landed without opposition at Yokosuka Naval base. The entirely peaceful occupation of Japan had begun two days before the peace treaty was signed aboard the battleship Missouri. That occupation would continue, peacefully, until 1951.
The Second World War in the Pacific was finally over. Two icons of a by gone era posed for the image to mark the end of a war neither had clearly understood, even now that it was over. But at least the mass murder had stopped, for awhile. The atomic bombs had not ended the war, but they had contributed to the end. They had brought on the revelation in Japan that the goals that justified starting the war were no longer dominant. And once again victors and vanquished had learned anew, that no matter how unconditional the victory, no matter how total the defeat, no war ends without talking to the enemy. And the ending of this war, like the ending of all wars,  required courage and conversation and compromise, despite what you might have heard elsewhere.
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