Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘History’

Merrick and Mitchell

Few places in the country are as spectacular and scenic, or as iconic, as Arizona’s Monument Valley. When people think of the desert southwest, this may be the landscape they envision.

Monument Valley

The earliest inhabitants were Paleo-Indian hunters, who arrived around 12,000 BC. They were followed by Archaic hunter-gatherers from about 6,000 BC to 1 AD; then by Anasazi farmers through the 1300s; then by Paiutes and Navajos. Today, the place is Navajo country.

As you may know, Monument Valley isn’t a valley, but a plateau. Over the last 50 million years, wind and water have eroded most of the rock, leaving behind the majestic buttes and mesas. In time, they will be gone, too.

Monument Valley came to popular national attention in 1939, when John Ford filmed the movie “Stagecoach” there. Dozens of films have been made in the valley since.

One of the most memorable episodes in the history of Monument Valley is a tale worthy of a Hollywood western: the story of James Merrick and Ernest Mitchell, two ill-fated fortune-hunters of the post-Civil-War years.

———

Many of the early Spanish explorers visited the Four Corners region, often clashing with the Navajo and Paiutes, but no expedition reported seeing Monument Valley. Apparently, the first outsiders to find it were Mexican soldiers in 1822.

For the most part, white settlers dismissed the place as ugly and useless. In 1849, one year after the Mexican-American War, an Army captain mapping the area called it “as desolate and repulsive looking a country as can be imagined.”

By 1863, as European expansion was accelerating and the pesky natives were in the way, Army Col. Kit Carson and his men were detailed to round up and relocate the Navajo people — the Diné — en masse. The soldiers marched the captives in small groups 350 miles south to the compound of Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

In all, about 9,000 Navajo made the “Long Walk.” At least 200 died on the way.

The internment camps at Bosque Redondo were a disaster. Food, water, and supplies were inadequate, and most of the crops became diseased and failed. The overseers were inept and corrupt. The relocation was costing the U.S. government unexpected millions.

That was unacceptable. The idea was to remove the Navajo to make room for white settlers, not to spend money. Thus, in 1868, to correct the situation, the U.S. relented and signed a treaty with the tribe. A reservation was established on part of their original land, and the Diné set out on the Long Walk home.

When the Army first rounded up the Navajo in 1863, two of the young soldiers serving under Kit Carson were Jack Merrick, a Colorado miner, and Ernest Mitchell, newly-arrived from the east. Merrick and Mitchell became keenly interested in the finely-tooled pendants, bracelets, and other silver jewelry crafted by the Navajo.

Jewelry

Being familiar with the Monument Valley area after months of patrols, they concluded that the silver was being mined locally, not brought in from elsewhere. The Navajo, when pressed for information on the subject, denied that any silver mines existed in the valley.

In the late 1860s, at about the time the Navajo returned to Monument Valley from Bosque Redondo, Merrick and Mitchell mustered out of the Army. They resolved that they would return to the valley someday and find the source of the Navajo silver.

At this point, Historians relate two versions of the story. In one, Merrick went to Monument Valley alone in the late 1870s, discovered a silver lode, and enlisted Mitchell’s help to transport ore samples to the assay office in Colorado.

In the other version, Merrick and Mitchell entered the valley together, carrying the gear of typical fur trappers. While they set lines of traps as a cover, they surreptitiously looked for evidence of mining activity.

In both versions of the story, the men were being watched.

Kit Carson‘s soldiers had apprehended most of the Navajo in the valley, but some resourceful warriors eluded them. That group was led by Hoskaninni, “The Angry One.” When the Navajo returned home from exile in New Mexico, Hoskaninni became their chief.

Hoskaninni soon concluded that Merrick and Mitchell were searching for silver. He went to their camp and ordered them to leave the valley, vowing to kill them if they returned.

As Merrick and Mitchell agonized over their plight -- fearing for their lives, but obsessed with finding silver -- fate intervened. The two men stumbled upon a hidden silver mine with tantalizing amounts of high-quality ore.

With samples in their saddlebags, the two men fled Monument Valley and rode east to Cortez, Colorado.

For the next few months, Merrick and Mitchell traveled around Southwest Colorado with the ore samples, trying to find financial backers. Setting up the mining operation would be costly.

Finally, they succeeded in lining up several investors. But the backers had a condition: they wanted to see a new set of ore samples to confirm the existence of the mine and the quality of the silver.

Merrick and Mitchell had told no one about Hoskaninni's threat, so asking them to return to the valley was a reasonable business request.

In the end, the lure of imminent riches seems to have convinced the two men that the mission was worth the risk.

Cautiously, Merrick and Mitchell returned to the mine and collected more ore samples. There was no sign of Hoskaninni's warriors. According to some accounts, the two men relaxed, concluding that Hoskaninni had not spotted them or perhaps was away from the area.

They were wrong. The following night, as the men rested at the base of a butte, cooking supper over a campfire, Hoskaninni's warriors attacked out of the darkness.

Merrick was shot and killed on the spot. Mitchell was wounded, but managed to escape into the darkness. He fled west across the valley on foot.

Several miles later, at the base of a large butte, he found a crevice formed where a large slab of rock had fallen. He hid inside.

When he emerged at daybreak, Hoskaninni's men were waiting. Mitchell was killed.

Weeks later, word of the deaths reached Cortez. A posse of 20 men rode to Monument Valley and confronted Hoskaninni.

The chief claimed that Merrick and Mitchell had been killed by a band of Paiutes, led by a renegade called No-Neck, when the men were caught stealing water. Graciously, the Navajo had buried the bodies. Members of the posse were shown the burial sites. Hoskaninni said the Navajo knew of no silver mines in Monument Valley.

The members of the posse believed otherwise, and some wanted to search for the mine themselves, but the Diné outnumbered them. They returned to Cortez.

---------

The present-day Navajo admit that silver mines, do, in fact, exist in Monument Valley. But they explain that, by tradition, only a few select tribal leaders at a time knew their locations. Unfortunately, some decades ago, the last chief who held the secret died before relaying the information to his successor. Thus, the locations of the mines are now unknown. A complete mystery. Yep.

Today, the butte in Monument Valley where Merrick and Mitchell cooked their last meal, and where Jack Merrick went to his reward, is known as Merrick Butte.

A few miles away, the landform that towers over the grave of Ernest Mitchell is called Mitchell Butte.

Those are the Anglo names. I assume the Diné call them something else.

Merrick Butte

Merrick Butte.

Mitchell Butte

Mitchell Butte.

Monument Valley map

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

———

— Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. President (serving 1837-1841) was the first president to be born an American citizen. All presidents before him were born as English subjects.

— The word “chortle” was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass as a combination of “chuckle” and “snort.”

— In 1974, the German band Kraftwerk (avant-garde and electropop music) released “Autobahn,” the longest non-classical song ever recorded. The 22-minute song simulates a drive on the Autobahn (Germany’s interstate highway system), featuring the cacophony of high-speed traffic, the tuning of a car radio, the monotonous stretches, etc.

— The Riddler, one of Batman’s evil foes, is known for leaving riddles as clues to his crimes. He first appeared in comic books in 1948. His real name was Edward Nigma. (“E. Nigma,” get it?)

Riddler

— TV stars Dick Van Dyke and Julia Louis-Dreyfus both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and both of their ceremonies were botched for the same reason. When Van Dyke was honored, the name on his star was misspelled as Vandyke. On Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ star, her name was misspelled as Julia Luis Dreyfus. Corrections were made.

— Bald eagles reuse their nests each year and continually expand them by adding new material. The largest known nest, found near St. Petersburg, Florida, was nine feet in diameter and 20 feet deep and weighed three tons.

— Henry Ford never had a driver’s license.

— In Japanese culture, napping in the office, on a bus, or elsewhere in public is called inemuri, which translates as “sleeping on duty.” Inemuri isn’t considered bad or embarrassing, but evidence that you are conscientious and hard-working.

Inemuri

— The first known use of the name Jessica was in 1596, when Shakespeare used it as the name of Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice. For the next few centuries, virtually no daughters anywhere were named Jessica. Then, in the early 1900s, the name became popular. Weird.

— A century ago, the Vanderbilt family was the wealthiest in the country, and Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest dude in America. Times have changed. The most notable Vanderbilts today are Anderson Cooper, his mother Gloria, and Anderson’s cousin, actor Timothy Olyphant.

The Vanderbilt family symbol is an acorn. The family motto is, “From the acorn grows the mighty oak.”

— Your fingernails grow four times faster than your toenails.

— The common coffee cup sleeve, typically made of cardboard, evolved from a Turkish gadget developed in the 13th-century called a zarf. Zarfs were made of metal, wood, or bone and sometimes were elaborately decorated. They served the same purpose as today: protecting the fingers from a hot cup.

Zarf

 

Read Full Post »

One of the many intriguing places at Grand Canyon is the remote area at the west end of the North Rim known as Toroweap or Tuweep. This quiet, lonely place averages eight visitors per day. That’s 3,000 people per year out of Grand Canyon’s total of five million annual visitors.

Most people use the terms Toroweap and Tuweep (Tu-veep) interchangeably, but there’s a technical difference.

Toroweap refers to various named landforms — Toroweap Valley, Toroweap Point, Toroweap Lake, and Toroweap Overlook (the latter being a spot at the rim where the Colorado River is 3,000 feet below you, straight down). In Paiute, Toroweap means “dry valley” or “barren valley.”

Tuweep is the general spot on the map — a scattered settlement, if you can call it that, consisting of a small ranger station, the ranger’s residence, a few outbuildings, a Park Service airstrip, a primitive campground, and half a dozen trails of various lengths and degrees of difficulty. Tuweep is a Paiute word for “the earth.”

I’ve been to Toroweap twice. My first trip, in April 2000, was a four-day camping and hiking trip with the Grand Canyon Field Institute. Experienced guides made all the arrangements, provided transportation, and watched out for us. The trip was deceptively easy.

My second visit was an ill-fated solo hike in September 2001, cut short in dramatic fashion when I got food poisoning. The experience was sobering and scary.

I think of Toroweap/Tuweep as having four defining features.

The first is its remote location, at the end of a treacherous washboard road, 60 miles from the nearest pavement, 75 miles from the nearest town. The odds are high that your vehicle will have a flat tire, maybe two, somewhere along the way.

Riffey-1

Inching along the road to Tuweep.

The second feature is the lack of services. There is no water, food, gas, lodging, phone service, or internet connection. You bring everything you need, and you solve your own problems. Yes, the ranger station is connected to park headquarters by radio, but the ranger station is six miles from the campground and the overlook.

Feature three is the scenery. The views of Toroweap Valley, the inner canyon, the river, and the ancient lava flows are truly spectacular. They will give you goosebumps.

Riffey-2

Looking east/upstream from Toroweap Overlook.

Riffey-3

The downstream view from Toroweap Overlook showing Lava Falls, the baddest rapid on the river. Covering the right bank: its namesake lava flow.

The fourth defining feature is historical: the story of John Hauert Riffey, who served as the sole park ranger at Tuweep from 1942 until 1980. A career of 38 years at one of the loneliest, most isolated places on the map.

Tuweep is stark desert country. The area is both bleak and beautiful, a mix of sagebrush, yucca, cacti, piñon pine, and rock. The weather, summer and winter, often is extreme.

Toroweap Lake is normally dry. Water collects there, and in scattered pockets among the rocks, only briefly after a storm.

Riffey-4

The Tuweep campground.

Riffey-5

The Tuweep Ranger Station.

John H. Riffey from Durango, Colorado, held degrees in forestry and range management when, in 1942, he accepted a ranger position at Grand Canyon National Monument. When he and his wife Laura arrived at Tuweep, they used firewood to heat the ranger’s residence, cooked on a gas stove, and collected rainwater and snowmelt in cisterns. They had no electricity and no refrigerator. Their nearest neighbor was a rancher who lived 20 miles north.

Under circumstances that might drive others mad, John and Laura were comfortable and content at Tuweep.

Riffey’s job was to take care of anything that needed attention. He repaired whatever broke, maintained the campground, greeted visitors, pulled vehicles from the mud, put out wildfires, and collected trash.

His equipment included a road grader to repair the local roads after storms. He kept records about the local flora and fauna. He submitted the reports demanded by the park bureaucracy.

Laura took an interest in the area’s birds, native and migratory. She had no training in such things, but for years, she kept detailed records of her observations. Her notes are considered scientifically important and are preserved in the park’s archives.

In 1943, John was drafted into the Army, and he served for 17 months as a medical technician on a hospital ship. After the war ended, John and Laura returned at Tuweep.

The years passed, and John did his job well. He received regular commendations and awards, while simultaneously turning down promotions that would require him to relocate.

By the late 1950s, John had become known around the Park Service for his dedication, hard work, and unusually long service at the same location. Normally, rangers take new assignments every few years.

At one point, the park superintendent ordered Riffey to accept a transfer, on the grounds that rotating to new assignments was what park rangers did. Riffey refused.

The superintendent gave Riffey a choice: leave Tuweep or face dismissal. When Riffey chose dismissal, the superintendent backed down. Riffey was quietly cheered by rangers throughout the Park Service. His status as a living legend was strengthened.

Riffey-6

Ranger John H. Riffey.

Laura, who had several health issues, died in 1962. John stayed on the job. He said he had no problem living alone, although he enjoyed greeting visitors. “You like people if you are not overrun with them,” he explained.

He told a reporter, “My only contribution to society is trying to keep this place just like it is.”

Riffey may have been content with his solitude, but he didn’t remain a bachelor for long. In the spring of 1964, a graduate student from the University of Utah, Meribeth Mitchell, came to Tuweep to study the vegetation. She was 40, John was 53.

After her trip, they corresponded often. She returned to Tuweep in the fall, after which the correspondence continued. They were married in 1965.

Meribeth Riffey kept her job teaching biology at Western Washington University, north of Seattle, but she spent spring and summer at Tuweep. John scheduled his vacations in winter and spent them with Meribeth.

Sometime in the late 1960s, John took flying lessons and purchased a second-hand Piper Cub. He named the aircraft Pogo. A wooden enclosure to block the strong winds served as a hangar. Riffey nailed a sign to the enclosure that read

TUWEEP INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
SOUTH CONCOURSE
GATE 2

With Pogo, John was able to patrol thousands of acres around Tuweep and make quick hops to civilization for mail and groceries. He was known to fly through Grand Canyon below the rim. Meribeth was a regular passenger.

Riffey-7

Ranger Riffey standing next to Pogo.

In July 1980, as John and a friend were hauling water to Tuweep from a nearby spring, John’s vision blurred, and he became weak. It was the beginning of a heart attack. The friend took he wheel and tried to reach the hospital in St. George, but John died on the way. He would have turned 69 in August.

With Meribeth’s permission, the park superintendent lobbied his superiors to suspend the rules and allow John to be buried at Tuweep. The request was granted. A spot with a sweeping view of the valley was chosen along the road between the ranger station and Toroweap Overlook.

This is inscribed on his monument:

John H. Riffey
‘The Last Old Time Ranger’

The man who could spend a lifetime on the rim and not waste a minute
National Park Ranger, Tuweep from 1942 to 1980
Good Samaritan, gentle friend, teller of tall tales

Meribeth died in 1993 and is buried beside him.

Riffey-8

When I ventured out to Toroweap in 2000 and 2001, I knew nothing about John, Laura, and Meribeth Riffey. If the instructors at Grand Canyon Field Institute mentioned them, it didn’t register.

That’s a shame. I have vivid memories of Toroweap and wonderful images in my mind’s eye, but knowing this part of the human history adds to my appreciation of the place.

It also makes me regret that I missed a chance to visit the graves and pay my respects.

Riffey-9

 

 

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

————

— According to NASA, 100 tons of material from space strikes the Earth every day. About once a month, an asteroid the size of a golf cart lands somewhere on the planet.

— In 1886, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s wrote his first short story about master sleuth Sherlock Holmes. In that original story, the main characters were “Sherringford Holmes” and his sidekick “Dr. Ormond Sacker.”

— When photographers set up cameras in the wild to capture images of tigers, cheetahs, snow leopards, etc., they often mark the location with the fragrance Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein. A study at the Bronx Zoo found that big cats are more attracted to Obsession than to any other scent tested.

— The only insect that can turn its head is the praying mantis.

Praying mantis

— Clarence Thomas became a Supreme Court Justice in 1991, and he quickly established a reputation for reticence; he rarely speaks or asks questions during oral arguments. In February 2016, Thomas asked a question during a court session for the first time since February 2006.

— The tongue is the only muscle in the body that is attached at only one end.

— In 1953, the National Hurricane Center began using female names to identify Atlantic tropical storms. Previously, storms were named using the phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie). In 1979, the naming system was modified again to include male names in the mix. The first “male” storm was Hurricane Bob, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico in July 1979.

— Displayed in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California is a portrait of Reagan made out of 10,000 jelly beans.

Jelly beans

— The first American movie to show a toilet and feature the sound of a toilet flushing was Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960.

— As Christopher Columbus approached Haiti on his first voyage in 1493, he claimed that he saw three mermaids surface near the Niña. The ship’s journal reported, “The Admiral said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea, but they were not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.” Historians say he probably saw manatees.

— James Madison, the fourth U.S. President (served 1809-1817) was 5′ 4” tall and weighed 98 pounds.

— Dogs are able to perform the familiar full body shake because their skin hangs loose. In a four-second shake, a wet dog can eliminate up to 70 percent of the water in its fur.

Dog Shaking Off Water

 

Read Full Post »

Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

————

— The thin strip of paper protruding from the top of a Hershey’s Kiss is called a niggly wiggly.

— The board game Clue (known in the UK as Cluedo) was invented in 1944 by a British musician, Anthony Pratt, as a diversion for people waiting it out in London air raid shelters.

— In the 1983 “Dirty Harry” movie Sudden Impact, Clint Eastwood snarled, “Go ahead, make my day.” The phrase was later voted #6 of the top 100 movie quotes of all time. In truth, the line was first used in the 1982 film Vice Squad by Gary Swanson, who sneered, “Go ahead, scumbag, make my day.”

— In 1972, Andy Warhol released a rather ghoulish print of Richard Nixon with “Vote McGovern” beneath it. Warhol was audited by the IRS every year from 1972 until he died in 1987.

Vote McGovern

— Opera singer Luciano Pavarotti, a superstitious fellow, was obsessed with finding a bent nail backstage before every performance. Usually, a stagehand was assigned to scatter a few bent nails between the dressing rooms and the stage to make sure Pavarotti found one.

— Only two animal species wage war on their own kind: humans and ants.

— In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of certain classic French cheeses that contain high levels of bacteria. The ban affects such soft, unpasteurized cheeses as Roquefort, Brie, and others that depend on bacteria to create the desired flavor and consistency.

Critics of the ban point out that cheese lovers have consumed these products for centuries with no ill effects. The FDA has stood firm, however. Today, the only Roquefort you can get legally in the U.S. is made from pasteurized goat’s milk. Most agree that, compared to the real stuff, it sucks.

— In 1996, to celebrate the production of the one hundred billionth Crayola crayon, TV’s Mister Rogers poured a ceremonial batch of limited-edition “blue ribbon” crayons. They were wrapped in foil and quickly became collectibles.

Mr. Rogers

— The Bronx, one of the five boroughs of New York City, is named after the Bronx River, which flows south through the borough. Originally, the river was called “Bronck’s river” after Jonas Bronck, who settled the area in 1639, but the name evolved to Bronx.

Rafflesia arnoldii, a plant found in the Indonesian rain forests, is called the “corpse flower” because it emits an odor disturbingly similar to that of decaying flesh. It’s also the largest flower on earth, with blooms up to three feet wide.

— When you speak, you spray microscopic saliva droplets into the air. On average, you spew about 2.5 droplets per word or 300 droplets per minute.

— The motor scooter, a type of motorcycle with a flat platform for the rider’s feet, was invented in 1946 by the Italian manufacturer Piaggio. WWII had left Italy’s economy and roads in ruins, so Piaggio created the Vespa, an efficient, low-cost mode of transportation for the masses. Vespa is Italian for wasp.

Vespa

 

Read Full Post »

We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

— Eric Trump, 2014

———

For a host of obvious reasons, most Americans did not vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

Of course they didn’t. Nobody with their wits about them would want such a flawed person, who has dangerous connections to our enemies, to lead the country.

But, astonishingly, enough people voted for him, in just the right places, to give him an Electoral College victory.

Why? The reasons varied.

Some did it because Trump was the Republican nominee, and they are loyal to the Republican team, no matter how far the party descends into fantasy, delusion, and paranoia.

Some did it because of the vague notion that Trump would “shake things up in Washington.” Nothing gets done anyway. Maybe a trainwreck is what we need.

Some did it to give a middle finger to the snooty, holier-than-thou liberals — those annoying left-wingers they perceive, sometimes correctly, to be looking down on working-class conservatives.

Some did it because they hate the lazy, whiny black and brown people who get a free ride from government, at the expense of hard-working, God-fearing, patriotic white people who just can’t get a break.

Some did it because they were taught to loathe Hillary Clinton by people they watch and listen to — you know, like Fox News, Limbaugh, Beck, and all those right-wing televangelists.

I get all that. Intellectually, I understand the motivations, as naive and wrong-headed as they are.

Still, it baffles me that all those Trump voters, knowing about the guy’s character, his history, his ties to foreign adversaries, his conflicts of interest — knowing all that, they were willing to risk the safety, security, and well-being of the country for reasons that are, frankly, trivial and infantile.

And risk it they did. They saddled us with a president who, in the eyes of the rest of the world, is a dangerously unpredictable buffoon.

They saddled us with someone erratic and impulsive enough to pick a fight with a madman like Kim Jong Un. The two of them are playing nuclear chicken, and if you aren’t frightened by that, you need to pay attention.

They saddled us with a man who is beholden to an unknown degree to Vladimir Putin, the evil little despot who single-handedly dragged the world back into a Cold War.

Eventually, I expect, proof will surface that Russian money has bailed out Trump and his businesses multiple times, starting back in the 1990s.

I expect we’ll discover that Trump is indebted to Putin, the oligarchs, and the banks they control, not just for coming to his aid when he needed it financially, but for stacking the deck by meddling in America’s campaign and elections.

There are rumors that Russia has dirt on Trump for unsavory personal behavior. They’re only rumors. They could be false, they could be exaggerated.

But if they’re even partly true, Trump knows the Russians could damage him, or at least embarrass him, by releasing the evidence. If that’s so, he is bought and paid for.

———

In case you missed it, Trump got 63 percent of the votes of white men and 53 percent of the votes of white women.

The white male vote isn’t too surprising, but the white female vote certainly is. 53 percent of white women voted for one of the most infamous misogynists on the national stage. Unbelievable.

For all of his adult life, Trump has disparaged, objectified, and leered at women as a matter of routine. Probably, in his mind, this makes him manly and clever.

In a rational world, his record of shameful behavior towards women automatically would have doomed his chances with woman voters.

When the “Access Hollywood” video came out before the election, in which Trump made his infamous grab-’em-by-the-private-parts remarks, I was convinced his campaign was over. I couldn’t see how any woman could vote for him after that.

By all rights, that incident should have sent Trump back to private life in disgrace. It should have guaranteed that no self-respecting female would dream of voting for him.

But 53 percent of white women voted for him anyway.

It appears that my confidence in the wisdom and maturity of the electorate was sadly misplaced.

AH video

 

Read Full Post »

Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

— Donald Trump, Jr., 2008

———

In the waning months of 1991, the Soviet Union officially disbanded. Collapsed. Imploded. Over the years, a myth has taken shape among conservatives that Ronald Reagan, that clever rascal, tricked the USSR into bankrupting itself.

He did no such thing. The Soviet Union fell apart because half its member states were in open rebellion and others were poised to follow. The empire was too sprawling and unwieldy to control. The handwriting was on the wall.

The Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, understood that the end was inevitable. Ultimately, he did the world a favor, declared that the USSR was no more, and went home to his native Russia.

In place of the former Soviet Union were 15 independent countries. By far the largest and most influential was the Russian Federation, which took home most of the nukes.

Print

Gorbachev didn’t last long as President of the new Russia. He was succeeded by Boris Yeltsin, a construction worker who rose through the ranks as a Communist Party loyalist. Yeltsin was mediocre and crude, but he garnered a reputation as a maverick and a straight-talking man of the people.

As President, Yeltsin was determined to transform Russia from socialism to a market economy. Throughout the 1990s, he instituted a series of radical policies designed to shock the economy and force the desired changes. Most of the industries controlled by the government were privatized.

Whereupon, the Russian economy descended into chaos. By the time a measure of stability was restored, most of Russia’s wealth — its property, transportation, media, manufacturing, mining and more — had fallen under the control of a small group of “oligarchs,” an opportunistic bunch who took advantage of the chaos to amass great wealth and power.

———

Vladimir Putin joined the KGB in 1975 and left in 1990 to transition into local politics. He excelled in that environment and worked his way up. In 1997, Yeltsin named Putin to his personal staff.

In 1998, Putin was appointed Director of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the old KGB. Yeltsin also made it clear that he wanted Putin to succeed him.

Yeltsin, who suffered from heart disease and alcoholism and faced corruption charges, resigned as President in 1999. Putin became Acting President, and he promptly signed an order declaring that no corruption charges would be pursued against Yeltsin.

Putin was elected to his first term as Russian President in 2000, and he remains in office today. He has successfully allied himself with the oligarchs, and together, they not only control Russia’s government and economy, but they also conduct business around the world with a range of corporations and countries.

Some of their business is legitimate — normal transactions as part of the world economy. But, because, Putin and the oligarchs are quite literally a gang of crooks, a large part of their financial dealings involves dirty money — their take from bribery, kickbacks, skimming, payoffs, and theft.

Accordingly, they need a regular supply of willing and seemingly honest business partners around the world for money-laundering purposes. Right now, investigations are underway to determine the connections, if any, of Donald Trump and his companies in this regard.

No one knows Putin’s net worth. However, through his ties to the oligarchs and his stakes in numerous Russian companies, he probably is a billionaire many times over. He may well be the wealthiest human ever.

In 2012, Putin was cornered into reporting his income for the first and only time. With a straight face, he claimed an annual income of $113,000. Seriously.

———

Donald Trump was in the public eye for decades before he stumbled into politics. We all were well aware of his standing as a professional showman, clown, and loudmouth.

His shtick, his role on the national stage over the years, was that of an insult comic. He reveled in being outrageous and provocative. The fact that he came across as an egotistical gasbag? No problem. That was part of the routine.

Lots of people thought Trump was entertaining, in an Archie Bunker kind of way. Others, like me, found him shallow and vulgar and tried not to think about him. Let him rant and fire people on TV. Nothing says you have to watch.

Clearly, a person of this caliber is completely unsuited to lead the country. Trump, in fact, is one of the least qualified persons of all time to serve in public office.

But here we are, well into a presidency that was destined to be a trainwreck and is fulfilling its promise every day.

The fact that Trump is an obnoxious jerk does not, of course, disqualify him from serving. Politics is heavily populated with jerks. But other factors should have disqualified him — and, I submit, still do.

Factor number one is his personal and business ties to Putin and the oligarchs. No American President should have ties of any kind to any foreign country, let alone Russia. Russia! My God!

Someday, we’ll find out the extent to which Trump and people close to him are in bed with Putin and his gangster friends. We’ll be able to see how dirty money was laundered, and by whom.

Someday, we’ll also understand the extent of Russia’s dirty-tricks campaign to help Trump win the 2016 election.

When we do, minds will be blown.

A second disqualifying factor is that Trump’s global business interests and foreign entanglements present spectacular conflicts of interest that simply are unsolvable. Already, he and his businesses are profiting greatly because he is in office.

And, sadly, even if heads eventually roll, we’ll probably never know the extent to which Trump, his family, and his cronies have cashed in.

A third factor, which is almost trivial in the overall scheme of things, is the matter of Trump’s incompetence. He isn’t capable of doing the job, isn’t interested in doing the job, and has no intention of learning to do the job.

In other words, being incompetent is his least egregious fault.

In my next post, a few words about the people who voted for Trump.

Maher board

Putin and Trump

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »