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Friday, May 17, 2013

DRAMA QUEENS

I think I may have stumbled upon an historical explanation as to why people would believe in a government conspiracy to seize their guns while at the same time demand that same government stop spending so much time and money protecting the rights of people the government had arrested. And this explanation begins with the sudden death of the Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia, Samuel Mathews, Jr, in January of 1660. He had been born in America, and there were high hopes he would be a brave new leader of a brave new world. Instead, on March 13, 1660 the Burgess, members of the Virginia colonial assembly, decided to take a step back to the future by appointing “the honorable Sir William Berkeley” as their Governor, again.

Eight years before “Will” as his friends called him, had been a popular Governor. Now, at the age of 55 (above), Berkeley again accepted the responsibility of leading the 35,000 English settlers in the “Old Dominion”. Will was a playwright and a fighter, a Cyrano, who Mary Newton Standard has described as, “Every inch a gallant soldier, every inch a gentleman, yet haughty, unsympathetic and unlovable; narrow in mind and in heart.” (The Story of Bacon's Rebellion, Neale – 1907 ©, Jeffrey C. Weaver, 2000) She might have added he was also a drama queen. 
His supporters were the FFV, the First Families of Virginia, including the bloodlines of Lee, Spencer, Washington, Randolph, Fitzhugh, Harrison, Custis, and others who would later found the United States of America.  And in 1674, there landed in the midst of this fraternity, Will’s nephew, the impatient and ambitious 24 year old Nathaniel Bacon. 
Will welcomed his nephew warmly, giving him property and a trading concession with the Indians. Being a politician, Will also took the opportunity to shore up his own political support by naming his nephew to the Colonial Council - assuming he could count on the support of a member of his own family.  However, Will did not appoint his nephew as a commander of the local militia, and it was the appointment he did not receive which Nathaniel took note of. 
But why had this young man traveled to America? Well, Nathaniel had recently married and his new in-laws had quickly realized he was a pretentious pompous fraud. They promptly disinherited their daughter. And that was why Nathaniel had come to America. He needed cash.  Unfortunately, Nathaniel had picked a bad time to make a new start in the new world.
Beginning in 1670 Virginia had suffered from a string of hailstorms, floods, and droughts. Years of bad harvests were followed by the ‘bitter winter’ of 1672-73 when half the colonies’ livestock starved to death. By the spring 1676 wheat and corn or so scarce that Will had to ban their exportation even to neighboring colonies. 
In cash-poor Virginia colony, where debts and salaries were often paid in crop futures, this created a credit crunch which hit the newer settlers, like young Nathaniel Bacon, much harder than their bankers, who were usually members of the FFV, and close friends of William Berkeley. 
The newer settlers were known as ‘freeholders’, and these men, such as William Drummond, wanted more cash in the colony, and they did not like paying taxes, and they wanted a war against the Indians, which, of course, would have required more taxes. 
Like their in-laws before them, the freeholders took quick measure of Nathaniel Bacon. But these men were not judging him as a new member of their family. They figured the boy did not know enough about Virginia (or Indians) to argue with them if they made him a general. So they did, without the Governor’s approval. Nathaniel immediately marched his little army off to butcher some local Indians. As the freeholders intended, that put the Governor in a bind, because he had signed a peace treaty with the dead Indians. Their surviving relatives now had reason to doubt the other deals they had signed with Governor Berkeley. It looked like the entire frontier would erupt in an Indian war, which would have cost everybody money. Will demanded an apology from his nephew, who proudly refused. 
Then in June of 1676 Nathaniel arrived in Jamestown for the opening of the House of Burgess and Will took the opportunity to arrest the little snot. Nathaniel was dragged in front of the council and required to apologize. Then Will magnanimously pardoned him. It was great theatre, but if the Governor thought he was directing this little melodrama he was mistaken. He was now facing an actor just as capable of histrionics as himself. 
Overnight, Nathaniel slipped out of town and returned the next morning in front of an ad hoc audience, er, army, of 300 freeholder militiamen - his army. They marched into town, with flags flying and drums pounding. The members of the house hung out the windows of their Parliament building, mesmerized by the performance. 
Never one to let an audience go to waste, Will came stomping out of the hall and ripped open his shirt. Baring his chest, or at least his ruffles, Will declared to the spectators, “Here I am! Shoot me before God! (It’s a) fair mark, a fair mark! Shoot!” Nathaniel calmly said no, thank you. Instead he wanted the Governor to name him overall commander of the entire Indian war. Since the Governor did not want an Indian war, he exited at once, stage right. Nathaniel, with no actor to play against, went over the top. He started screaming. He ordered his men to surround the meeting house, and announced he would kill everyone inside if he were not given total command at once. For a few minutes it looked as if there would be a wholesale slaughter just for the sake of a theatrical effect. But a touch of reality was supplied by the supporting players. Reason eventually prevailed. Will was persuaded to sign his nephew’s commission.
The lesson here I would say is that people who bring matchlock black powder muskets to public meetings have a “flare” for the dramatic. They are looking to attract an audience, i.e. , in an appropriately dramatic fashion, twenty-five year old Nathaniel Bacon had just overthrown the royal governor of Virginia. Curtain on Act One.
The curtain now rises on Act Two. On July 30, 1676 the boy General published a “Declaration of the People”. “If virtue be sin, if piety be guilt, all the principles of morality, goodness, and justice be perverted.” It might be poetry but Nathaniel was now addressing a skeptical audience. The declaration went on to demand the arrest of Will and 19 other FF V'ers as “traitors to the people”. Nathaniel then announced a general war on the Indians and demanded an oath of allegiance from all government officials. It was signed, Nathanial Bacon, General, “By the Consent of ye People”, and was made without any of ye people present. The paperwork thus complete, Nathaniel marched off with 1,000 men to butcher the nearest Indians. 
About now it dawned on the more thoughtful freeholders that they had hitched their fortunes to a rather temperamental artist. But Drummond for one would listen to no such warnings. “I am in over (my)shoes?" He demanded when challenged by his fellow freeholders,. "I will be over (my) boots!”  He was soon in over his neck. The governor gathered his own supporters at Jamestown, and counter-proclaimed his nephew a traitor. 
Forgetting the Indians, Nathaniel marched his army back to Jamestown, and on September 19, 1676 Nathaniel burned the capital of Virginia to the ground. It was a sorry end for the “Old cradle of an infant world, In which a nestling empire lay” (Ode to Jamestown, James Kikke Paclding). But it was also the defining moment of Nathaniel Bacon’s performance. The very set he was preforming upon, the edifice painfully constructed over a century of bloody effort, at the cost of thousands of lives, had been put to the torch in one adolescent thespian outburst. Curtain on Act Two. There was no third act. Forty days later the great over-actor was dead.
Nathaniel Bacon died of the “bloody flux”, which is the old name for dysentery, on October 25th, 1676. With him died “Bacon’s Rebellion", leaving Will free to hunt down the freeholders. When William Drummond was brought before him, the governor greeted him by saying, “I am more glad to see you than any man in Virginia. Mr. Drummond, you shall be hanged in half an hour.” And he was. Twenty-four men in all were executed for their roles in the uprising. Charles II back in London would later observe, “That old fool (Berekely) has put to death more people in that naked country than I did here for the murder of my father.” A year later the final curtain dropped on William Berekeky. He died in England, having been recalled to explain himself. 
Historian Susan McCulley has noted, “Bacon's Rebellion does seem at first glance to be the beginnings of America's quest for Independence. But closer examination of the facts reveals what it really was: a power struggle between two very strong personalities.” Strong personalities? I would call them two of the biggest hams in American history, even before there was, officially, an America.  We would have to wait for the Civil War, and then the Tea Party, to observe such self destructive, asinine behavior again in American politics.
 
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

FANNY ADAMS


I am not surprised that on Christmas Eve morning, when “short drop” Calcraft slipped the noose around his neck, twenty-four year old Frederick Baker took comfort from having apologised. He probably thought he had earned some credit as he met his final reward. He should not have. The hangman, Mr. William Calcraft, had ushered some 450 souls to their final reward over his fifty year career, and Frederick would be far from his last job, although he would be one of the last public ones. But Calcraft’s technique of dropping his subjects no more than 18 inches, insured that Frederick, like all the others, would take from three to four minutes to slowly strangle to death, kicking and writhing in full view of the 5,000 people (mostly women) gathered to witness his well earned demise. And the confession he had made and the denial it included were simply final proof that Fredrick Baker was a liar to the very last moment of his life.
On Tan House Lane in the “…pleasant little market town…” of Alton, stood the modest home of bricklayer George Adams and his wife Harriet (above), and their seven children. You can see the hardness of their lives on their worn faces. And perhaps the terrible grief, too.
Tan House Lane (the "x" to the left of the church, above) was a back street off the high street which led north to London, 45 miles distant. The Lane was just 400 yards long and terminated in a flood meadow owned by a man named Hobbs who used to grow leeks there. Beyond, crisscrossing foot paths bisected the hops fields that supported Alton's half dozen breweries and their pubs. One of those footpaths, known as the Hollow, led across fields and farms to the even smaller village of Shalden, some three miles away.
On one hot lazy Saturday afternoon, August 24, 1867, sometime after one thirty, seven year old Lizzie Adams and her year eight year old sister Fanny were playing with their neighbor, eight year old Minnie Warner, in the flood meadow, when a man appeared. He was dressed in a black frock coat, light colored waistcoat and trousers and wore a top hat. The girls immediately realized he had been drinking. Still, the man seemed pleasant enough, and offered Minnie and Lizzie a half penny each if they would run a race to The Hollow, while he and Fanny followed. The two older girls agreed and scampered off. When they were all rejoined at the Hollow the man congratulated the girls and paid them.
He then offered them a full penny if they would go into a nearby field with him and eat some berries. Again, the offer of a penny was strong inducement and the three girls opened the gate and went into the  field with the man. They spent some time eating berries, before the man offered Fanny a half penny if she would walk with him to Shalden. Fanny took the coin, but something made her refuse to take the man’s hand. He paid the other two girls their last penny and told them to go home. Then he swept up little Fanny in his arms and carried her away.
We have gained some small insight into the fate of "Sweet" Fanny Adams (above) in the 150 years since her ordeal. The lessons were paid for by the thousands of those innocents who have followed her. According to a study released by state of Washington, 44 % of child murder victims were killed by strangers and 42% by family or acquaintances. Two thirds of the perpetrators had prior arrests for violent crimes, but just half had prior arrests for crimes against children. In 76% of homicide cases involving child abduction, the child was dead within three hours. And in 74% of the cases, the victim was a female under the age of 11. Of course none of this insight explains why Frederick Baker, the drunk man in the frock coat and top hat, sexually assaulted 8 year old Fanny Adams, killed her and then butchered her corpse. The crime itself may be beyond explanation or understanding. And that may be the saddest thing of all about Fanny's brutal death; the idea that there is little we can do or have done to prevent it from happening again and again and again.
Fredrick Baker caved in Fanny's little head with a stone shortly after one, and later testimony from his co-workers was that by  three o’clock he had returned to his job as a clerk in the office of Mr. William Clement. Around five o’clock Frederick walked back to the murder scene and butchered and dismembered the little girl’s corpse. It was done quickly and clumsily. She was decapitated. Her legs and internal organs were scattered in the tall grass, haphazardly. And for some reason Frederick carried her eyes all the way to the River Wye before throwing them in. Did he really think throwing her eyes in the river was going to keep anyone from seeing what he had done?
During the inquest at the Alton Old Town Hall (above) Minnie Warner and Lizzie Adams identified Frederick as the man who had carried Fanny off. The girl's mother, Mrs. Harriet Adams and her neighbor, Mrs. Gardner, testified they had met Frederick coming out of the meadow when they first went to look for Fanny, sometime after five. When Alton Police arrested him the next day at his workplace, Frederick’s wristbands were still spotted with blood. It was noted that his pant legs and socks had been wet when he had returned after lunch the day of the murder. And a diary entry found in his desk, read, “24th August, Saturday; killed a young girl. It was fine and hot.”
The Alton Police (above, standing in front of their station on the High Street) knew Frederick from previous arrests for drunkenness and fighting. It would be testified in his defense that Frederick’s father had “shown an inclination to assault, even to kill, his children.” It was also alleged that Frederick had recently attempted suicide after a girl had rejected him, that his sister had died of a “brain fever”, and that a cousin had been in mental asylums on four separate occasions. None of that made a difference. The jury convicted Frederick in just fifteen minutes.
The night before his execution, Christmas eve-eve, Frederick Baker wrote to George and Harriet Adams. He wrote that he was sorry for murdering their Fanny, and had done it in “an unguarded hour” only because she would not stop crying. It was done, he insisted without “malice aforethought” and without “…pain or struggle”. Frederick assured the grieving parents he had not molested Fanny, but he offered no other explanation as to why she had been crying when he had smashed her head with the rock.
The execution of Frederick Baker, as gruesome as any parent of a murdered child might wish for, did nothing to save the lives of the uncounted children who have followed Fanny. But every child saved during the vital first three hours of an abduction by an Amber Alert, must thank Donna and Jimmy Hagerman, who in 1996 pushed to change the way U.S. police respond to child abductions, after their daughter, Amber Hagerman (below) was murdered. And those children saved by Amber's sacrifice can also thank those who ask questions of these monsters in our midst, rather than simply calling for their blood. Spilling blood may be a just punishment, but it never saved a life.
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Sunday, May 12, 2013

LITTLE GREEN HOUSE Part Six


I believe it was the great Sam Rayburn - Speaker of the House for so long they got to calling him “Mr. Democrat” - who explained, “Every administration should have at least two Tommy Corcorcorans.” Sadly, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had them both. The first Tommy Corcorcoan pushed through the original Social Security legislation and became FDR's special liaison on Capital Hill, while the second Tommy made millions abusing the contacts established by the first. As Sam Rayburn put it once, “A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one.” And again, Tommy was both of those, too.
"I know the corners of this town in the dark”
Thomas G. Corcoran. 1945.
They called him “The Cork” because he was irrepressible - he just kept popping up. He first rose to the surface after the 1934 midterm elections, when, improbably, the party in power added nine more seats in the House and nine more in the Senate. Roosevelt was now ready for Social Security, a program he designed to defeat what he knew would be future attempts to destroy it. It would be funded by payroll deductions because that way, said Roosevelt, “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” And the man he chose to ruthlessly push that program into life was the “boyish, but intellectually quick ”, Tommy Corcorcan.
“If, as our Constitution tells us, our Federal Government was established . . . ‘to promote the general welfare,’ it is our plain duty to provide for that security upon which welfare depends.”
Franklin Roosevelt. June 8, 1934
In January of 1935 the Social Security Act was introduced into both the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously. According to Tom Elliot, who had helped Tommy in drafting the law, the strongest opposition came in the Senate. “Tom(my) took four senators, I took four senators, and Charlie West from the White House took four senators. The outcome was, I think, the measure of our skill as lobbyists. Charlie West got nobody...I got two and lost two. Corcoran got all of his four.”. After that victory, FDR brought Tommy into the inner circle and made him his private secretary – “speech writer, strategist, talent scout and back channel lobbyist.”
“Apart from my father, Tom (Corcoran) was the single most influential individual in the country."
Elliott Roosevelt 1939
It was Tommy who guided the next big fight, after the Supreme Court had killed several of the New Deal's most progressive programs. Roosevelt began to push for an amendment to the Constitution adding a new justice to the court every time one of the original nine justices reached 70 years of age. Tommy wrote fiery speeches that Roosevelt delivered with fire. The battle failed, but the court got the message and abruptly reversed itself on several subsequent decisions. Said a Washington sage, “A switch in time saved nine.”
But it was also Tommy who suggested the Anglophobe Joe Kennedy (above) as ambassador to England, and who pushed for American neutrality during the Spanish Civil War, which helped make Franco dictator in Spain for fifty years. By the fall of 1940 Roosevelt saw the problem. As Harry Hopkins, who would replace The Cork, explained, “ "Tom, you're too Catholic to trust the Russians and too Irish to trust the English." But Roosevelt fired Tommy in typical FDR fashion. He asked him to leave government so he could secretly aid China in their war with the Japanese. Then FDR never told him how to help the Chinese. That removed Tommy as an irritant for FDR,  but The Cork was far from sunk. Call it a lesson in unintended consequences.
“I want to make a million dollars in one year, that's all.”
Tommy Corcoran 1940
Under Roosevelt's protection, Tommy's created Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers -  U.S. Army pilots in American P-40 fighters, bearing Chinese markings, which were shooting down Japanese aircraft a full year before Pearl Harbor.
But at the same time, now technically a private citizen, Tommy was also paid $25,000 to introduce Henry Kaiser (above) to the chief of the Production and Management Office. Shortly thereafter Kaiser, who had never built a ship before in his life, was granted $645 million in naval construction contracts. Tommy also introduced Kaiser to the head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which loaned Kaiser the money to build a magnesium production plant in San Jose, California. Tommy sent Kaiser a bill for $135,000 and 1/3 of the shares in the plant. Kaiser never paid him. But by now Tommy had a long list of clients, who did pay him
In late 1945 a D.C. ,“financier” named Serge Rubinstein came under investigation for draft evasion. Rubinstein called The Cork. And on January 27, 1946, Tommy called Abe Fortes, and old buddy from his New Deal days. Tommy explained to Abe, “He is a rich man who's scared...I think you can get $100,000 down this morning.” Fortes called Tommy back the next day and revealed that Rubinstein had handed over a check for just $5,000. “That's all yours”, said Tommy. Technically, this was Tommy's first year in private practice, and he earned from this and other such cases, $250,000.
"When you're charging fees . . . charge them high. The world takes you at your own valuation. You decide whether you're Tiffany or Woolworth--not the market.”
Tommy Corcoran.
Immediately after the war, Tommy cut a deal to distribute relief supplies in China by air. The United Nations paid $2 million to buy the war surplus aircraft and a company, Commercial Air Transport (CAT),  was set up by Tommy and run by Claire Chennault. It promised to deliver that medicine and food. But as Chennault explained in a July 18, 1946 phone call to Tommy, “This thing would be a great money-maker if we didn't carry a pound of UNRRA cargo.” So they didn't.  But they still kept the airplanes. In 1950 the CIA purchased those same planes for a million dollars, one third of which went into Tommy's pocket.
“Once you get into this business you’ve got to be a draft horse and you’ve got to wear blinders,”
Tommy Corcorcoan
It was the CIA connection that convinced managers of the massive United Fruit Company to hire Tommy as a lobbyists, even giving him shares in the company.  E. Howard Hunt, of Watergate fame, admitted in his biography to cutting his “special ops” teeth on offensives against land reform minded peasants in Guatemala. These special ops were inspired by Tommy to protect United Fruit's stranglehold over the local governments.
“(Tommy Cororcoan) ...inhabits that lawyer ruled limbo between government and business, where deals are made and big fish are caught in a seamless net of arguments, favors and threats. In this strange element, you can't keep a live cork down.”
Life Magazine. April 11, 1960
We know so much about Tommy's immediate post war business because in May of 1945 the new President Harry Truman asked FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to tap The Cork's office phones. Over the next three years this produced 5,000 pages of transcripts. Those transcripts, kept in the Truman Library, were released in 1983, two years after Tommy's death, at 80 years of age from a pulmonary blood clot. And by then,   lobbying in Washington had become bigger than any individual.
 “Every time I wag my ass on the Hill, someone reads cosmic importance into it.”
Tommy Corcorcoan 
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