AUGUST 2017

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

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Friday, May 03, 2013

REBUILDING THE REPUBLICAN PARTY


I would say that Bertrand Snell is a shinning example of the “Peter Principle”.You see,  Bertrand (above, with his ideological opponent, FDR) started out life as a bookkeeper. Then he successfully ran a cheese factory and a lumber company in upstate New York. He was well qualified to fill all those jobs. For a time he was even the president of a small college. All this success led, in 1915, to Bertrand being elected to Congress. In 1931 he became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. That led, in 1932, to his being elected Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. And that made him the primary architect of of the rebuilding the Republican Party after the debacle of the 1932 election.  In short, the disaster that was about to befall the GOP was was Bertrand Snell’s fault. Of course, he had some help.
Herbert Hoover not only lost the 1932 Presidential Election but he lost it by almost 18 percentage points. He was so ineffectual in dealing with the Great Depression (the stock market crash occurred 6 months into his term) that Herbert won only 6 states – Pennsylvania, Delaware, R.I., Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine. And yet Herbert still had hopes he could engineer a come back, even though the New Deal had already created six million jobs, had doubled industrial production and sent corporate profits from a $2 billion loss under Hoover to a $5 billion profit under Roosevelt. His biggest reason for hope was that the nation's bankers and business leaders were not backing Roosevelt, no matter how much he had done for the economy and their personal incomes.
                                  
On June 9. 1936, Herbert addressed the Republican Convention in the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, and did his very best to rally the faithful to his cause. As Time Magazine detailed, “After 15 minutes (of) yelling, shrieking (and) hooting, (Hoover) was allowed to begin. …"Fundamental American liberties are at stake", he said. "Is the Republican Party ready…to cast your all upon the issue?", he asked  "Yes!" roared the crowd. "Have you determined to enter in a holy crusade for freedom which shall determine the future and the perpetuity of a nation of free men?" he asked.  "Yes!" roared the crowd, in ecstasy.” The faithful went on chanting “Hoo-verHoo-verHoo-ver,” long after Herbert had left the stage.
Noted Time Magazine; “The demonstration could not be stopped for half an hour, even when Speaker Snell tried to introduce a little old lady, surprisingly pert for her 77 years, the widow of President Benjamin Harrison.” Finally Bertrand banged the big gavel and informed the crowd that Herbert had already boarded a train for New York. The floor demonstrations paused for a breath, milled about in confusion for a few moments and then slowly petered out in disappointment.
 
Except...Herbert had not even left the building. He was waiting just off stage to be recalled by the carefully prepared demonstrations and proclaimed the nominee by acclamation. What Hoover had not counted on was that Chairman Bertrand had already determined that renominating Hoover would be a disaster for Republicans. Bertrand had decided the party nominee would be Governor Alf Landon, known affectionately to the faithful as “The Kansas Coolidge”  - a moniker certain to inspire the base. And there were reasons Bertrand was optimistic about the governor.
Alf was the only Republican governor re-elected in 1934. He had a reputation as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes and balanced the state budget. That made him the Republican wonder-kinder, the perfect man to oppose the “tax and spend” Roosevelt.
There were a few problems with that image, of course. First, Landon balanced the Kansas budgets because he was required by law to balance them, and even that had been possible only because the New Deal had pumped millions of dollars into the Kansas economy to offset the state deficits. Secondly, Alf publicly supported parts of the New Deal, so many parts that he was at odds with the Republican party platform. And the third problem with his choice as the nominee was that Alf was a terrible public speaker. He mumbled. And like any good mid-westerner even when speaking clearly he didn’t blow his own horn very much. As H. L. Mencken noted, he "simply lacks the power to inflame the boobs."  
The party platform had been engineered by Bertrand and forty-four year old John Daniel Miller Hamilton, the “crinkly haired” “jut-jawed” G.O.P.’s general counsel, who Republicans felt reeked of “animal vigor.” Hamilton was actually paid $15,000 a year to be the parties’ attack dog. He was described by one fellow Republican as having, “…a seven-devil lust to live and shine under the blessings of the rich”. Hamilton made Alf's nominating speech, and then read a telegram from the Governor promising to support the anti-New Deal platform, which Hamilton had helped to write.      
Said the platform; “For three long years the New Deal Administration has dishonored American traditions…has been guilty of frightful waste and extravagance, …it has created a vast multitude of new offices, …set up a centralized bureaucracy, and sent out swarms of inspectors to harass our people. It has bred fear and hesitation in commerce and industry, thus discouraging new enterprises, preventing employment and prolonging the depression….We pledge ourselves: To preserve the American system of free enterprise, private competition, and equality of opportunity.. We advocate: Abandonment of all New Deal policies that raise production costs, increase the cost of living, and thereby restrict buying, reduce volume and prevent reemployment. …”. To read the Republican platform you would have thought the nation was in much worse shape after the New Deal, than before.
Bertrand had a master plan for victory, funded by a $14 million war chest ($207 ½ million in today's dollars), with over a million dollars of that coming from just three families – DuPont, Pew and Rockefeller – and the rest almost entirely from business leaders anxious to prevent further Federal regulations of their business.
And then there was “The Liberty League,” described by one historian as “…the best-financed and the most professionally run…anti-big-government organization ever to come down the pike.”(At least until the Tea Party.)  The League raised and spent as much cash as the two established parties combined (30% of it coming from the DuPont family alone). Its national headquarters occupied 31 rooms in the National Press Building and there were 20 state branches. Hamilton confessed later, "Without Liberty League money we wouldn't have had a national headquarters."  
The campaign that followed saw the constant Republican repetition of attack. The New Deal became “The Raw Deal”. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became “Stalin Delano Roosevelt”. William Randolph Hearst asserted in a pro-Landon editorial, “The Bolshevist tyranny in Russian has ordered all Bolshevists, communists and revolutionaries in the Untied States to support Roosevelt!" It all sounds so familiar, doesn't it?
 In late October 1936 the Republican National Committee sent checks for $5.00 to 400 black pastors in Maryland, along with a letter, which began, “Dear Brother,” and then argued that the G.O.P. had always done more to help blacks than the Democrats had.
The Young Republicans were founded during this election, to get out the youth vote. And fashion shows were staged to encourage women to support the party. Every show would start with a woman wearing a wooden barrel on suspenders, marked, “If The New Deal Wins”, followed by lovely models in Paris designs, marked “If Landon Wins." Women were expected to be swayed by such "fashion politics".
However, it appears that most Americans saw all of this Republican effort in the same light as FDR did, as illustrated by a story Roosevelt wrote himself for a speech he delivered in Boston. Said Roosevelt, “In the summer of 1933 a nice old gentleman fell off a pier. He was unable to swim. A friend ran down the pier, dived overboard and pulled him out. But his silk hat floated away with the tide. After the old gentleman was revived he was effusive in his thanks. He praised his friend for saving his life. Today, three years later, the old man is berating his friend because the silk hat was lost.”
 
The election of November 3, 1936 was the most lopsided since James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820. Eighty-three percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls and Roosevelt won almost 61% of their votes. He carried every state in the union except Vermont and Maine, giving rise to the Democratic twist on the old adage, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont”.
 
Roosevelt won 532 electoral votes to Landon’s 8. Seventy-one percent of Black Americans voted Democratic, as well as 57% of women, 63% of men, 76% of low income voters, 80% of Catholics and 86% of Jewish voters. After the election the Democrats held the Senate, 75-16, and the House contained 332 Democrats to just 88 Republicans. Things would get even worse for the Republicans in the next few years. John D. Hamilton would say after the election, "The Lord himself couldn't have beaten Roosevelt in 1936, much less the Liberty League."
   
Maybe; but the election was the death knell of the Liberty League. They lingered into 1940, when the DuPont family finally pulled their funding, and the group then quietly died. Long before that John Hamilton had his own reactionary reckoning. In 1937 Hamilton's wife sued him for divorce, on the grounds of “gross neglect of duty, abandonment and extreme cruelty.” That same year Alf Landon had Hamilton removed as Party Chairman, as Landon rebuilt the party in his own Midwestern less reactionary less ideological image.
 
Under Landon's non-red baiting non-FDR hating guidance the party stopped trying to overturn the New Deal and began to climb its way back. The Republicans would gain strength until 1948 when it looked like they were certain to regain the White House. But in that campaign they gloated too much about finally overturning the New Deal, and that public gloating handed Harry Truman his re-election. It was not until Ronald Reagan in his 1981 inauguration speech that the G.O.P again openly called for overturning the New Deal programs like Social Security and the Minimum Wage. And thirty years later, they are still trying to sell those ideas.
And Bertrand Snell, the Minority Leader of House of Representatives? He had been one of the few Republicans re-elected in 1936. But he did not run again in 1938. Instead, he went into the newspaper business. He published the Potsdam, New York "Courier-Freeman" and ran it until 1949. He also became the owner of the New York State Oil Company. He was ably qualified for both of those jobs. He died in 1958, while a Republican had finally reoccupied the White House.  But even Dwight D. Eisenhower was a RINO (Republican In Name Only) in many conservative eyes. He was accused by the Republican right wing of running a "little New Deal", still just about the worst insult a Republican can imagine.
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Thursday, May 02, 2013

BIRTH OF THE BOYCOTT

I can describe the exact moment of conception. On the evening of September 22nd, 1880, Father John O’Malley was sharing a meal with American journalist James Redpath. At some point in the meal the priest noticed that the American had stopped eating. When queried, Redpath explained, “I am bothered about a word. When a people ostracize a land grabber..." And Redpath struggled for a moment, before explaining, "But ostracism won't do" The priest, according to Redpath, "tapped his big forehead, and said, 'How would it do to call it "to boycott him?” Mr. Redpath wrote, “He was the first man who uttered the word, and I was the first who wrote it.” (Talks About Ireland, 1881) And thus was born another contribution to the English language. Of course the importance of this invention requires a little explination.
Freed from its incubator in the central highlands of  Mexico, 'Phytophthora infestans', the Potato Blight, arrived in Ireland in the 1830’s. By then the humble potato had become the primary food for the 8 milion people of Ireland. It could be grown almost year round. It produced so much protein per square foot that a family could be supported on a quarter of an acre of land. But because of this dependence, in the decades after 1845, the blight created "The Starving Time". Each year more and more of the crop was consumed by the moldy blight.  By 1855 20% of the population of Ireland had starved to death, and another 20% had emigrated.
The British government struggled to respond to the disaster with church based relief, but politics now compounded the human misery. Potatos were molding away in the fields. But wheat, which was growing healthy and abundant in Ireland, was too expensive for the starving Irish to buy, thanks to the Corn Laws. These were duties (taxes) charged on imported grain. This was done to protect the Irish landowners from having to compete with cheap American wheat. But by 1880, of the four million souls still surviving on the emerald isle, fewer than 2,000 owned 70% of the land. The three million tenant farmers own nothing, and over the two previous years their rents had been increased by 30%. The very life was being squeezed out of them.
Meanwhile, most of the largest, wealthiest landowners, those benefiting from the Corn Laws, were absentee landlords, Englishmen and women who hired local farmers to manage their Irish estates. “Captain" Charles Cunningham Boycott was one of these local farm owners/managers. Those tenants who could not pay were evicted by the managers. Those who were evicted usually died. To argue it was not intended as “genocide” misses the point. Ireland was teetering on the edge of a revolution.
On Tuesday, July 3rd, 1880, three men emptied their revolvers into the head and face of twenty-nine year old David Feerick, an agent for a absentee landlord, outside of the village of Ballinrobe, County Mayo. No one was ever charged with that murder. In early September, outside of the same village, “Captain” Charles Boycott, who owned 4,000 acres himself, called on the tenants to harvest the oat crop of Lord Erne, whose larger property he managed.
“Captain” Boycott would be described by the New York Times (in 1881) as 49 years old; "a red faced fellow, five feet eight inches tall, the son of a Protestant minister who had served in the British Army." He earned his title of Captain not in the military but for his daring attitude in sport. The day he called them back to work Boycott also informed the tenants that their wages were being cut by almost half. The tenants simply refused to work at those wages.
The Boycott family and servants by themselves struggled for half a day to cut and harvest the oats before admitting defeat. Mrs. Boycott then appealed to the tenants personally. They responded to her by bringing in the oat crop before the winter rains ruined it.
On September 19th, Charles Stuart Parnell (above), an Irish politician, addressed a mass meeting in the town of Ennis. Parnell called on the crowd to shun any who took over the property of an evicted tenant. “When a man takes a farm from which another has been evicted, you must show him on the roadside when you meet him, you must show him in the streets of the town, you must show him at the shop counter, you must show him in the fair and the marketplace, and even in the place of worship, by leaving him severely alone — putting him into a kind of moral Coventry — isolating him from his kind like the leper of old.” Unstated, was the reality that this was a religious war, the Catholic south of Ireland against the Protestant north and England.
On September, 22nd, a local process server, accompanied by police, issued eviction notices to eleven of "Captain" Boycott's tenants. The tenants were not surprised. One told a local newspaper, “He treated his cattle better than he did us.” The server would have issued even more eviction notices, but a crowd of women began to throw mud and manure and the agent and his police escort had to retreat into the Boycott home. That night, in the house of Father O'Mally, the word "Boycott", as a verb, was invented.   It was put to immediate use.
The next morning, September 23rd, a large crowd from Ballinrobe (above) marched to the Boycott home and urged the servants to leave. By evening the Boycotts and a young niece living with them, were alone in the house.
A letter written by “Captain” Boycott was published in the London Times. It made no mention of the raising of rents, only of the refusal to pay those rents. It made no mention of the cutting of salary, only of the refusal to work. It did detail in full the travails of Captain Boycott and his family. His mail was not being delivered. He was followed and mocked whenever he left his farm. “The shopkeepers have been warned to stop all supplies to my house. I can get no workmen to do anything, and my ruin is openly avowed…”
 Harpers Weekly Illustrated News for December 18, 1880, recorded what happened next. “A newspaper correspondent first started the idea of sending assistance to Captain Boycott…one person alone promised to get together 30,000 volunteers. Mr Forester, Chief Secretary for Ireland, at once vetoed the project of an armed invasion…
"It was accordingly decided to pick out some fifty or sixty from the great number of Orange (Protestants) from northern Ireland who were anxious to volunteer. Under military protection (of 1,000 troops) these men harvested Captain Boycott’s crops… The cost of this singular expedition was about ten thousand pounds…”
It took two weeks under military guard for the inexperienced Ulster men to bring in the crop of turnips, wheat and potatoes, valued by Boycott as worth about three hundred and fifty pounds. Mr. Parnell estimated the harvest had cost the English government “one shilling for every turnip.”
Boycott left Ireland with his family on December 1, 1880, traveling in the back of a miltary ambulance and escorted by soldiers. His exit had been achieved by nonviolence. He never returned. Some one described his exile as the “death of feudalism in Europe".
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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A LIFE IN SERVICE

I would say the late 1870's were a very hard time for the women of Fort Abraham Lincoln. First there was the Saturday of June 25, 1876, when over two hundred and twenty of their husbands and lovers were left dead and mutilated on the windswept hills overlooking the Little Big Horn River. They called that Custer's Last Stand, and it killed several members of the Custer family. But the horror of that day was simple to deal with compared with the trauma that followed in 1878, when the fort's women gathered to bury one their own, a resident of "Suds' Row".  And on that day those poor women saw something they had never expected to see where they found it.
Picture America as she was approaching her centennial year - a nation of about 45 million people. And even though they had no Internet,  no electricity,  no antibiotics and no gummy bears, these people were no   different from the 310 million who reside in America today. 
In 1875 the moralizing "Our Boys" opened on Broadway.  It followed the adventures of an Englishman and his butler and their pair of disappointing sons. A century and a quarter later the sitcom "Two and a Half Men" mined this same comedic vein.. And like a latter day series "Lost",  Jules Vernes' 1875 novel, "The Survivors of the Chancellor" told an episodic science fiction adventure story of a British passenger ship, lost at sea. And ala "Who Let the Dogs Out", the most popular song of the day consisted of the repeated lyrics, "Carve dat possum, carve dat possum, children."  It's title was "Carve dat possum"  
Oh, the future was coming. Just the year before, in far off Germany, Dr. Ernst von Brucke had suggested that all living organisms obeyed the laws of thermodynamics. He was wrong, course, since very few humans, other than politicians, behave like big clouds of hot gas. But Doctor von Brucke had a student who would make sense out of  Burke's thinking - that student was Sigmund Freud.
But Freud's discovery of the subconscious mind and repressed psychosomatic phobias and dreams about locks and keys and milk maids and bows and arrows was still a decade in the future in 1878 - which was a shame because a little Freud sure would have helped those poor ladies at Fort Abraham Lincoln. Or maybe not.
The fort was on the west bank of the Missouri River, across from Bismark, North Dakota. In that  town the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the telegraph lines ended,  making the army post the very edge of the frontier. The Army post was home to about 650 men and some 300 women attached to the U.S. Seventh Cavalry regiment. Robert Marlin tried to describe what kind of desperate people would sign up for a year's service in such a place. “Immigrants, especially those from Ireland and German, filled the ranks," he wrote. "Others came from England, France and Italy. While most of the American recruits did not read or write, the immigrants who did not speak English compounded this problem…."
A trooper started off at the pay of $13 per month. Should he be such a glutton for punishment as to re-enlist, this was raised to $15. The trooper was now a “50-cent-a-day professional” soldier.  And it was a very long day, starting "...at 5:30 a.m.,” wrote Marlin, “with the dreaded call of Reveille, and ended at 10:00 p.m. with the bugle sounding Taps.” 
The average recruit in the Seventh was in his mid-twenties, and stood about five feet eight inches tall. He suffered from bad teeth, a bad back, and about 10% had suffered from some form of healed head trauma even before they enlisted.  Twenty-two percent of the privates had been in the service for less than a year.  And few of them would re-enlist. Lord knows, the diet did not encourage them.
Each day every soldier received 12 ounces of pork or bacon, 22 ounces of flour or bread and less than an once of ground coffee. Every ten men were to receive per month; 15 lbs of beans or peas, 10 lbs of rice or hominy, 30 lbs of potatoes, 1 quart of molasses, 15 lbs of sugar, 3 lbs 12 ounces of salt, 4 ounces of pepper and 1 gallon of Vinegar. This was not a diet, it was a ration, and had as little more flavor variation than "Spam, spam, spam and spam". 
As the army needed soldiers, it also needed laundresses. They were as much in  the service of their country as the soldiers they served. And in a culture without a social safety net, the reasons a young man might join the cavalry were similar to the reasons a young woman might become a laundress; a roof over her head, and food in her belly. But even tho it needed them, the army did not encourage these women to stay a single day longer than necessary.
Linda Grant De Pauw lays out the vulnerability of such women in “Battle Cries and Lullabys". She described, “…a laundress wrote to Major L.H. Marshall at Fort Boise, Idaho, describing how she had been arrested, charged as an attempted  murderess, and confined in a guardhouse for hitting her husband with a tin cup that he claimed was an axe…(she was) sentenced to be drummed off that post at fixed bayonets …she and her three children then had to live in a cold house, without the food ration they depended upon." 
But the scramble to hold onto the fragile level of security which a blue uniform provided only partly explains the woman known to history only as "Mrs. Nash". Shortly after the Seventh Cavalry regiment was formed in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1866, Mrs. Nash took up residence along “Suds Row”-  as the laundresses’ quarters were commonly called. She always wore a veil or a shawl, and it was assumed this was because of scaring from smallpox or one of the many other skin diseases common at the time. Besides earning a small income as a washer woman, Mrs. Nash showed talent as a seamstress and tailored officer's uniforms for extra money. She was a noted baker and her pies were much sought after. After she built a reputation as a dependable mid-wife “few births occurred (on the post) without her expert help”. 
But there is no record Mrs. Nash ever served as a prostitute. This additional earning occupation was not uncommon for those laundresses who could neither bake nor sew, and who showed more talent for the other half of the midwife equation. And as a practical matter, prostitution by laundresses was not actively discouraged by the officers. This was the frontier and the only other option for amorous release by a trooper was with either his fellow troopers or the horses. Homophobic troopers tended to shoot first, and just say no afterward. And although the horses never complained, they were kind of important to survival on the plains and so that form of animal husbandry was discouraged. Thus prostitution by the laundresses was tolerated as long as the woman did not become really good at it or "notorious".
Quickly Mrs. Nash was a valuable member of the unit, and had even amassed a tidy little nest egg. In 1868 she married a Quartermasters Clerk named Clifton. But a few days later he deserted with her money and was never seen again. Still it was expected that Mrs. Nash followed the regiment when it moved to Fort Abraham Lincoln, in Dakota Territory, in 1872.
 
That was also the year she married Sergeant James Nash, the “striker”, or personal servant, to Captain Tom Custer, younger brother of the regimental commander George Armstrong Custer. Although James and Mrs. Nash were seen to argue a great deal, still they seemed happy enough for a year or so.  During that year Libbie Custer, wife of the General, noted “…a company ball...(was) organized...Officers and ladies attended....Mrs. Nash wore a pink Tarleton (which she sewed herself) and false curls, and she had “constant partners”.
Then, unexpectedly, Sergeant Nash stole his wife’s savings and deserted her and the service. Libbie wrote that Tom Custer was very “put out” by this desertion. Presumably, so was Mrs. Nash.  But she did not remain so for long. In 1873, the lady, now called “Old Mrs. Nash”, married Corporal John Noonan. She kept a bright and tidy home for John, planting and maintaining flowers in front of their modest quarters. And she restored her nest egg. And for five years they were a contended and happy couple, the center of the social circle of Suds Row east of the Fort Lincoln parade grounds, and they were both a significant part of the post’s social life.
Then, in the fall of 1878, while Corporal Noonan was out on patrol, Mrs. Nash fell ill. As her condition  quickly worsened she called for a priest, and after seeing him she told the ladies caring for her that she wanted to be buried as she was, without the usual washing and re-dressing. The ladies reluctantly agreed. Who would dare to argue with a dying woman. But after “Mrs. Nash" died on November 4th,  the women decided they could not show her such disrespect.
Two of her closest friends began to strip her, in preparation to washing and re-dressing her body. And that was when they made a most unexpected discovery. Underneath the veil and the dress and the petticoats Mrs. Nash was a man. The Bismarck Tribune was blunter:  “Mrs. Nash Has Balls As Big As a Bull!”
Although the story was based on hearsay and unqualified medical opinion, the eastern papers picked it up, and soon every yahoo with access to a printing press felt obligated to pontificate. The less they knew of the facts the more opinions they had. Public morality, it seems to me, is an excuse for being ignorant, loudly. And in this case the volume was a thunderclap in a drought.
When poor Corporal Noonan returned from patrol all his protestations of ignorance fell upon deaf ears. Quickly his grief, and the ridicule, stated and unstated, became too much to bear. Two days after returning from patrol to find his" wife” dead, John Noonan deserted his post and on November 30, 1878, shot himself to death with his carbine -  not an easy thing to do.
John Noonan now lies buried in the National Cemetery adjacent to the Little Big Horn Battlefield, his tombstone identical to all the others who died in the service of their country on the Western Frontier.  And rightly so.
But there is no headstone (and no public grave) for Mrs. Nash. There is no memorial of her years of service to the unit, for the babies she delivered, for the hardships she endured. And there is no recognition today that without a "liberal" media to encourage her, at least one human being found it preferable to live in constant fear of being revealed, in exchanged for the chance of living as God made her, internally as well as  externally, perfectly and imperfectly. She was living proof that with all our technology and insights and with it all smothered under blankets of public morality, we are today just as screwed up as our ancestors were, not more and not less. And always will be. God bless us, every one.
 
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