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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Friday, January 31, 2014

HONESTY


“We have the greatest opportunity the world has ever seen, as long as we remain honest -- which will be as long as we can keep the attention of our people alive. If they once become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors would all become wolves.”
Thomas Jefferson
I know few things with certainty, but first among the truths I do know is that greed makes you stupid. And as Oklahoma's path reached the middle of the twentieth century, the ruling class had become so insatiable and idiotic they used the “dangerous cliff” warning signs as a ramp to get more altitude. And as they gained height, their lies even took flight.. Some would even believe that all would have been well if the old man had just not gotten sick. Except - old men always get sick. And if the judges hadn't been so venal – but venality rarely recognizes limitations. And if the prosecutors just hadn't pursued the old man so diligently - but there is a Javert driving the soul of every prosecutor in the world. It is their nature.
But the first fault belongs to the citizens of Oklahoma, who treated their public servants with suspicion and disrespect. Law makers in the state legislature met only once every other year, and received a stipend of only $15 a day while in session. And to discourage them from being too dutiful, that generous endowment expired after 75 days, when it was reduced to a mere $3 a day. It was a Tea Party small-government paradise, in which even the veteran justices of the state Supreme Court did not receive a pension. And at least one state employee, Nelson Smith Corn, starting thinking about his retirement at the age of fifty, just when he was elected to the Oklahoma State Supreme Court.
Nelson Corn had been born on March 25, 1884 in tiny Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which was also capital of the Cherokee Nation. He became a lawyer, married at twenty, and began raising three sons and one daughter. And beginning in 1931, the Great Depression had squeezed his hard-fought for middle class world between a collapsed economy and a decade of unrelenting drought. Over the next decade half a million Okies abandoned the Dust Bowl state. So the 50 year old was receptive in 1934, when, almost immediately after taking his oath as a justice of the State Supreme Court, he was approached by senior Justice Otto “O.A.” Cargill, one time mayor of Oklahoma City, a Baptist deacon and a religious author, with a way to hold onto at least the veneer of his pride.
The deal Justice Cargill offered seemed almost too good to be true for a poorly paid Justice. In return for voting as the “sixth man” (meaning, not the deciding vote) on any cases as requested, Nelson Corn would receive a small weekly stipend and during election years, campaign funds. And for the next 23 years, week after week, and bribe after bribe, Justice Nelson Corn took the money, eventually even dropping the requirement that his vote not be the deciding one. It was part of a system of graft which permeated every political fiber in Oklahoma.
Corn disguised his bribes by using the cash to buy cashiers checks, which he then left in a safety deposit box until he needed the money to make home repairs or pay for his childrens' education. Like the crooked politicians who played the same game in the legislature, Justice Corn was a most pedestrian criminal, except he and his fellow conspirators were the arbitrators of justices in the state of Oklahoma. And eventually it was inevitable that a man like Nelson Corn would encounter a real crook like Hugh Carroll.
Carroll had been president of the Security National Bank of Norman, Oklahoma in December of 1930, when he formed Selected Investments Corporation and its sister trust fund. He and his wife Julia,owned 85% of the stock in both. By 1950 Selected was a successful investment company and had investor assets of almost $29 million. But in reality, Hugh Carroll had used the corporation as a personal piggy bank, with inflated salaries to himself, family and friends, and excessive bonuses, and loans that were never paid back. In 1956 this financial house of cards was threatened when the Oklahoma Tax Commission ruled that Selected owed almost $500,000 in back taxes because the trust fund, set up to be tax exempt, did not meet the requirements. A district court had agreed, and Selected had appealed, which is how the case ended up on the docket of the State Supreme Court, and how Carroll came to have a conversation with his old friend, Justice Corn
Carroll told his friend that if the the ruling stood the firm would go bankrupt. Justice Corn asked how much it was worth to avoid that, and Carroll offered $150,000. Corn then offered fellow Justices Napoleon "Nap" Bonaparte Johnson and Earl Welch $7,500 apiece for deciding the case in Selected's favor. They both agreed. The godfather of the system, Justice Cargill, received $2,500 for his part. On March 2, 1957, the day before the court's decision was to be announced, Justice Corn drove to Carroll's office. “He got in my car and put $25, 000 in my glove compartment,” Corn said. “I drove around a block or two and then let him out.” Corn then went to Johnson's office and gave him his cut, asking him to count it. “He counted it out. That's all there was to it. I stood there while he counted it.” Corn repeated this with Justice Welch, and Cargill. The next day, by a vote of 6 to 3, the Supreme Court overturned the district court, and Selected continued defrauding its investors. Ten days later Carroll delivered the remaining $125,000 to Justice Corn. And the deal was done.
Having come so close to capture, it was Carroll's nature to be emboldened to expand his schemes, and just a year later, and in spectacular fashion, both Selected Investments and Selected Trust Company collapsed under $40 million in debts, and sought the protections of chapter ten bankruptcy. Justice Corn felt so sorry for Carroll, that he returned $35,000 of his bribe. But the bankruptcy court found “gross misconduct...for the personal benefit of Carroll and other Selected Officers.” In March of 1959 the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission convicted Hugh Carroll of obtaining money under false pretenses. And once the prosecutors smelled blood in the water, they followed it, slowly and methodically, until, in the early spring of 1964 they indicted Hugh Carroll and his wife, their son-in-law and Selected's chief salesman, all for tax evasion and perjury. On April 6, Carroll again appeared before a Federal grand jury, this time with partial immunity, and spilled his guts. Justice Corn was quickly indicted as well as Justices Johnson, Welch and Cargill.
The grand jury had also investigated the legislature, but failed to indict any politicians. However their final public report was blunt. “In many segments of our business community the payment of money to secure the passage or defeat of legislation apparently has come to be considered a normal business expense.” Republican Governor Harry Bellmon, presaging more recent Supreme Court rulings, called the report irresponsible. But 71 year old Democratic Chief Justice Harry Halley, who had not been indicted, chose this moment to retire. In July, 80 year old still serving Justice Nelson Corn, pleaded 'nolo contendere' (not contested) to similar charges as his old friend Carroll was fighting.
It was while serving his 18 month sentence in the prison ward of a Federal hospital in Springfield, Missouri, on December 9, 1964,  that the old man gave into his guilty conscious and pressure and dictated a “voluntary” statement of the entire Selected Investments affair. Federal prosecutors already knew that on 19 separate occasions Corn had paid debts in cash, immediately after visiting his safety deposit box. Now they had proof of where the money in that box had come from. And still the conspirators expected to keep their secret. The powerful three term Democratic Speaker of the Oklahoma House, J.D. “King” McCarthy, convened an investigation into “rumors” of a scandal on the state Supreme Court.  And despite the released grand jury report, and the indictment of four Justices, his investigators were unable to find any evidence of wrong doing. Which is when one of the few Republicans in the House called for a point of order and read out the details of Justice Corn's confession. Speaker McCarthy admitted later he felt like a telephone pole had just been shoved up his rear end.
Justice Welch resigned just before he was impeached. But even while the impeachment trial of Justice “Nap” Johnson was being held in the legislature, the conspirators still assumed they could contain the scandal. The now 81 year old Corn was called as a witness, and grilled by the conspirators. The turning point may have come when Republican Senator Dewey Bartlett demanded of Justice Corn, “Why didn't you divide up the $150,000 equally?”. Corn paused before replying, “I didn't quite get the question”, and the crooks in the chamber exploded in laughter.
After 3 hours of closed door debate, the legislators public vote to impeach Justice Nelson Corn was 90 to 5, and 88 – 8 against Johnson. And then the prosecutors moved in to dispose of the wreckage. Justice Cargill was sentenced to five years for perjury. Justice Earl Welch was sentenced to three years for tax evasion and perjury. Hugh Carroll, and his wife were convicted of 108 counts of fraud. At the next election, Speaker J.D. McCarthy was defeated, appropriately enough, by an undertaker. He even did six months of a 3 year sentence for tax fraud. But, on leaving jail, he could still boast, “I got a cow herd, but they convicted me for stealing a calf.”
In April of 1965 the Oklahoma legislature created a special court to remove corrupt judges. But that May the voters rejected a one penny sales tax for new roads and building construction. They were still trying to run government on the cheap. At least, in 1968, the legislature became an annual affair, which it remains. By then former Justice Nelson Smith Corn had died in his Oklahoma City home, at the age of 83, disgraced, and still a public pariah, barely mentioned in Oklahoma history. 
“Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief -- resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer.”
Abraham Lincoln
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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

THE BREEZE AT SPITHEAD

I don't believe 52 year old Vice Admiral John Griffith Colpoys (above) was an excitable man. He had served with honor in the Royal Navy through shot and storm since he was thirteen. But at about three in the afternoon of Sunday May 7, 1797, while floating peacefully at anchor and within sight of friendly shore, he threw a hissy fit. He lost his mind. His meltdown began just an hour earlier, when Edward Griffith, the Captain of the HMS London, who was also Colpoy's nephew, entered the Admiral's cabin and announced, “Sir, I am very sorry to acquaint you, that everything appears as wrong as ever with the fleet...” And at that instant, Colpoy's stable universe seemed to collapse around him.
The British Navy learned to sail in the Solent, the fifteen mile long, two mile wide strait between the Isle of Wright and the southern English harbor of Portsmouth. Just beyond the harbor entrance was the shallow anchorage called The Spithead, where for 300 years British warships had waited for off shore winds to carry them to conquer the world. And it was here, on 17 April 1797, that the British “Tars” manning the 16 ships of the Channel Fleet refused in unison to raise anchor until their long time grievances were finally addressed.
When the sailors' delegates rowed alongside to confer with the crew of HMS London, Admiral Colpoys had ordered his marines to repel them by force. Confrontation was avoided this time when Commander of the Channel Fleet, full Admiral Alexander Hood, ordered Colpoys to allow the delegates to meet with his crew. Hood sympathized with the “Tars”. And in response to the Admiralty Board's repeated orders to sail, he wrote, “Their Lordships desire me to use every means in my power to restore the discipline of the fleet...nothing in my opinion will be able to effect, but a compliance with their petitions.” Howe even ordered the captain of each ship to request that their crew supply a full list of grievances.
The 70,000 able seamen of the Royal Navy willingly endured death and boredom to keep Britain's enemies blockaded in their French ports. But they had not received a pay raise in 140 years. Two ounces of every pound of their meager daily ration of salted beef and maggoty biscuits were deducted as the “pursers' pound”.  Kidnapped (impressed) “landsmen”, were paid less and were increasingly replacing the volunteers whose sacrifices in 49 engagements large and small over the previous fifty years had allowed Britannia to rule the waves. The men wanted a pay raise, equity of pay among sailors, a full ration and promise of a pardon from the King for their “mutiny”. And they would not raise anchors until their demands were met.
A three man delegation from the Admiralty arrived in Portsmouth to negotiate with the sailors' delegates, and within three days had convinced the mutineers “not to lift anchor till every article is rendered into an Act of Parliament and the King's Pardon to all concerned.”  The sailors, who had taken an oath to act in unity, no longer trusted the Admiralty Board. The three man delegation retreated to London, and on Sunday 23 April, 100 copies of the King's full and complete pardon arrived in Portsmouth. With cheering thus ended one of the most polite rebellions in history – or it should have, but for two things.
First, the wind shifted. For two weeks the fleet was pinned against the lee shore, but in full communication about events in London. 
While they were still rocked at anchor, on 3 May, 1797, the Tory Party under Prime Minister William Pitt (the younger - above) guided the emergency appropriations bill to pay for the salary increase and improved food smoothly through the House of Commons. But in the House of Lords the Spithead Mutineers ran into their most dangerous opposition. 
The new obstacle was the Wig gadfly, Francis Russel, 5th Duke of Bedford (above).  As a public speaker Francis was ‘intolerably prolix and heavy in style”, but two years earlier this 34 year old handsome odd ball had protested new taxes on the white hair powder used by members of Parliament by going “native”, at least on his head. For this he was widely celebrated in Liberal newspapers. But now this good friend of the heir apparent Prince of Wales, and a man who was always in favor of raising wages, demanded a full accounting. How much would the raise in wages, and better food for sailors cost the tax payers?
Normally the Duke of Bedford's gambit would have been nothing more than a minor irritation to William Pitts government. However, on 5 May a boat pulled alongside the 100 gun HMS Queen Charlotte at Spithead and tossed newspapers onto the lower gun deck. Within the day, every able seaman in the Channel Fleet knew “the seaman's cause” was threatened. The officers remained in the dark until, on 7 May, when the Captain of His Majesty's Ship “London”, John Griffith, informed his Admiral Edward Griffith Colpoys, that there was new trouble on board .
HMS London was a 177 foot long, 2,200 ton triple-decked 98 gun ship-of-the-line. It had taken five years and 6,000 oak trees to build her, and 4 acres of canvass, 27 miles of hemp and 750 sailors and Marines to sail her . She had 28 cannon on her lower deck, each throwing a 32 pound iron ball, 30 18-pounders on her middle deck, 30 12-pounders on her upper gun deck, eight more 12- pounders on her quarter-deck with two more on her forecastle at the bow. After thirty hard years of service she was still state of the art because naval tactics had not changed in a century. But the recent coating of her hull with copper had extended her tours of duty by years, beyond the endurance of the underpaid and badly fed men who had fought 49 naval battles over the last fifty years.
Colpoys ordered the seamen assembled on the aft quarter deck. In the meantime, he had Captain Griffith make certain the marines would back their officers. Colpoys then asked if the crew had any new grievances. Assured they had none, he pledged, “if you will follow my advice, then you shall not get into any disgrace with your brethren in the fleet, as I shall become responsible for your conduct.” He then ordered them below to close the gun ports. And as soon as the last sailor was below decks, the marines and officers were stationed at every exit. He now had the crew bottled up below decks. When grumbling was heard from below, Griffith asked if they should fire should the crew try to come on deck. Colpoys answered, “Yes, certainly; they must not be allowed to come up until I order them.”
They did not wait. The crew began edging up the hatchway. Taking the Admiral's orders to heart, twenty-five year old First Lieutenant Peter Bover threatened the mutineers with his flintlock pistol. A delegate dared him to fire, so Bover did, shooting the man in the chest. The enraged crew stormed the hatch, pummeling the Lieutenant. More shots were fired. The entire marine detachment, except two, threw down their arms and joined the crew. The shocked Admiral abruptly surrendered. It seemed that Admiral Hood had been right, after all.
The infuriated crewmen dragged Lieutenant Bover to the forecastle, and slipped a noose over his head. But just as they were about to string him up, a voice shouted, “If you hang this young man you shall hang me, for I shall never quit him.” The speaker was Quartermaster's mate Valentine Joyce, a seventeen year veteran of the service -, about as experienced as Admiral Hood. Joyce was stationed aboard the 100 gun Royal George, and must have just come aboard in the confusion, or been aboard for some time. One of the primary mutiny negotiators, his presence at this critical moment cannot have been completely accidental.
In all five officers and four sailors had been wounded. Three of the sailors would later die, including the man shot by Bover. The entire rebellious fleet now raised anchor and floated ten miles south, away from Portsmouth. They dropped anchor again off the east coast of the Isle of Wright., near the small village of St. Helens and the Bramble Bank. Four days later, on 11 May, Bover was handed over to civilian authorities to be tried for murder. (a jury would find his actions to be “justifiable homicide.”) At the same time Captain Griffith and Vice Admiral Colpoys were released on the beach. The Mutineers had a new demand, that certain objectionable officers were to be removed permanently. Oddly enough, Bover was not among them.
None of it was necessary. On 8 May rumors of the fresh rebellion had reached London, and the Wigs were suddenly aware they could be blamed. The additional budget of three hundred seventy-two thousand pounds was quickly approved on a silent vote, and only a gale prevented the fleet from learning the government had surrendered. That only left the new demand for removal of the worst officers. For four days the negotiations in St. Helens dragged on. The sailors unity did not waiver, and in the end Lord Howe, the new head of negotiations for the Admiralty Board, was forced to admit , it was “fit to acquiesce in what was now the mutual desire of both officers and seamen in that fleet.” as “the officers themselves had no wish to be foisted on crews which would not obey them.”
By 15 May the deal was finally done. In all 114 officers, including Vice Admiral Colpoys and four ship captains, were removed from ships at both St. Helens and those still at Spithead, and in the rest of the Royal Navy. None of the mutineers were ever punished..On 15 May 1797 Admiral Hood ordered the Channel Fleet to raise anchor and set sail for the French Coast. Not a single ship failed to follow his orders. The Spithead Mutiny was over.  The new one, at the mouth of the Thames, was just beginning.
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Sunday, January 26, 2014

HAVING FAITH Part Four INTENT

I believe Aimee Semple McPherson's kidnapping would have remained a footnote in L.A. history, but for the burning envy of one man - the Reverend “Fighting Bob” Shuler. After six years of tireless effort, the fire and brimstone preacher's Trinity Methodist church in downtown Los Angeles had a congregation of 6,000. But that paled beside Aimee's 100,000. In sermon after sermon., Shuler denounced Aimee's vulgar Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues and faith healing, and her regularly inviting other women preachers, black ministers, and even Catholics priests to share her pulpit. For Shuler, Sister Aimee was a divorced woman and thus the epitome of the "liberalism, pacifism, humanism, Unitarianism, universalism, and all the other little foxes that are destroying the vineyard that was planted by the Methodist fathers."
But the core of Shuler's anger was his envy of Aimee's 500 watt radio station, KFSG - "K"all Four Square Gospel. To him, the power it gave her voice was an outrage, especially since he had no similar outlet. The instant word of Aimee's drowning broke, Bob was convinced it was a hoax designed to make her even more famous, and he began publicly demanding Los Angeles District Attorney Asa Keyes investigate her for fraud. And when Shuler convinced the Chamber of Commerce and 8 other churches to add their voices as well, Keyes, being an elected official, responded immediately..
The very train that carried Aimee's mother, Mrs. Mildred “Minnie” Kennedy, Aimee's daughter and son to Douglas, Arizona, also brought D.A. Keyes and his chief Assistant D.A. Joseph Ryan. The two investigators posed as bookends to the family reunion (above), Keyes to the left and Ryan to the right of Aimee's hospital bed. And Keyes noted that on Aimee's wrist was the watch she said had been left in the hotel in Venice Beach. Still, the prosecutors gave the evangelist a sympathetic hearing. But  instead of returning with Sister Aimee to Los Angeles, D.A. Ryan immediately took a train for Northern California, thanks to a tip from a Santa Barbara millionaire.
The wealthy retired engineer John Hersey (below)  was vacationing in the village of Camel-by-the-Sea, at the southern end of the Monterrey peninsula, about sixty miles south of San Francisco. On the afternoon of Wednesday, 26 May, Hersey was driving eastbound when at San Antonio Street, a block before the beach, he had to slow to allow two pedestrians to cross the intersection in front of him.
He was so stunned he had to pull to the curb. The woman, he was certain, was Sister Aimee, who had been reported drown the week before, 300 miles to the south. Hersey (above) recognized her because he had attended a service at the Angelus temple the year before. However Hersey kept his observation to himself, until a month later when Sister McPherson walked into Agua Prieta, claiming she had spent five weeks held by kidnappers. Then, spurred on by Fighting Bob Shuler's well publicized doubts, Hersey called the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles.
With his father-in law, Detective Captain Herman Cline, D.A. Ryan first went to the location of Hersey's alleged sighting, the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Antonio street. They discovered that most of the houses in the area were small cottages offered for short term rentals. So they made a tour of the rental management companies, showing at each a photograph of Sister Aimee's most likely companion, ex-KFSG radio engineer Kenneth Ormiston (above). At Carmel Reality Company, they hit pay dirt.
The office manager, Mrs. Daisy Bostick, said she knew the man in the photo as Mr George McIntyre, who had come into her office on Friday, 14 May, (four days before Aimee's disappearance) looking for a three month rental of a quiet romantic cottage (above) where his wife could recover from surgery. The cottage he picked was facing the white sand beach across Scenic Drive, just two blocks south of Ocean Avenue. And he paid the $450 rental fee on the spot, and in cash. And then, without explanation, the couple left after just ten days, on 29 May, 1926
The woman living next door to the cottage rented by the “McIntyres' was Mrs Jeannette Parker. She could not swear the couple were Sister Aimee and Ormiston, but she did say they resembled the very affectionate occupants, and that the affectionate male “limped”. The owner of the cottage, retired insurance adjuster Henry Benedict, dropped by to make certain his guests were comfortable. He spoke briefly to Mrs. McIntyre, who was hidden under a large hat, while Mr. McIntyre did not seem friendly. However Benedict did remember a woman's green bathing suit hanging on the wash line stretched across the back yard. The local grocer, Ralph Swanson, never even saw the couple, but filled their phone orders, which his delivery boys then left on the back steps. The investigators found two of the grocery lists in the back yard (below), where they had survived almost two months of drew and sun. D.A. Ryan took those away as evidence.
But evidence of what? Fighting Bob Schuler might be certain a crime had been committed. Skeptical historian Louis Adamic seemed to agree. Shortly after Aimee's return he had written, “According to the Angelus Temple statistics, Aimee’s business has been better since her “escape from the kidnapers” Previously she used to convert about fifty or sixty people a night; now her average is well past one hundred. Previously she used to baptize...twenty or thirty people each Thursday; last Thursday she immersed one hundred and thirty-six.” And most conversions and baptism were accompanied by a donation.
Aimee had always been good at raising money for her temple. She would often tell the congregation that she was suffering with a headache and the jingle of coins in the collection plate would cause her pain. “No coins, please”, she would implore her flock. “Only quiet money.” Or she might give the faithful a specific goal, telling them, for instance, “Mother needs a new coat. Who will donate money today, so that mother can have a new winter coat?.” Since 18 May, there had been tens of thousands of dollars donated to the temple to pay for the “search for Aimee”, and tens of thousands more dollars, donated in memory of the presumed drown evangelist. It seemed to many an obvious fraud.
But the issue facing Los Angeles District Attorney Asa Keyes was much simpler; intent. Had Sister Aimee (above, center) conspired with her mother, Mildred Kennedy (above right), to fake the kidnapping, intending to defraud the faithful, to receive donations under false circumstances? Or did Mildred really believe Aimee had been kidnapped? Had Aimee suffered a nervous breakdown under the pressure of so many lost souls depending on her for salvation? Or, perhaps, she had just fallen in love with Ormiston, and had played no part in the temple's fund raising. Without proof of intent to defraud, there was no crime.
In early August of 1926, D.A. Keyes (above) sent a telegram to Assistant District Attorney Ryan, who was still gathering evidence in Carmel-by-the-Sea, instructing him to close the investigation and come home. The Los Angeles Grand Jury, which had already begun to hear evidence in the case, was closed down as well. Assistant D.A. Ryan might be morally outraged over how much money poured into Aimee's temple, but moral outrage is not a violation of the criminal codes. In the United States the government is secular, and a crime against God is not a crime that can be tried in a human court. There was no proof of intent. And even if Aimee had intended to commit a crime, as Fighting Bob Shuler believed, without proof, it looked as if she was going to get away with it.
And then Mrs Mildred Kennedy (above, right), Aimee's mother, came to Bob Shuler's rescue.
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