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Posts Tagged ‘Opinion’

The Robber Baron

William Andrews Clark, Sr. (1839-1925) isn’t the best-known of the American robber barons, but he’s a classic example of men of his era who became wealthy through ingenuity and ruthlessness.

Clark made a fortune in mining, railroads, banking, newspapers, and other businesses. He is among the 50 richest Americans of all time, and he rose to the top by being shrewd and unscrupulous and never looking back.

Clark was born in Pennsylvania, and as a young man, briefly taught school in Iowa. In 1862, he headed west to seek his fortune mining gold.

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William Clark (right) in Bannack, Montana, 1863.

During the Montana Gold Rush, he had modest success panning for gold. But he saw greater potential in supplying goods and services needed by the prospectors and miners.

He also began loaning money to the men of the boom towns. When a miner defaulted on a loan, Clark repossessed the man’s claim. Thus, he found himself in the mining business. Within a decade, he had expanded into smelting and transportation.

In Montana, he bought several played-out silver mines, which the owners were relieved to sell for next to nothing. He then made vast profits by mining them for copper.

At its peak, Clark’s copper mine in Jerome, Arizona, yielded some $400,000 per month. Clarkdale, Arizona, is named for him.

When he needed a watering stop on his rail line from California to Jerome, he built it next to a remote trading post in Nevada. The spot grew to become Las Vegas. Clark County, Nevada, is named for him.

By the 1890s, Clark had developed political ambitions. At a time when senators were appointed by state legislatures, he pressured Montana legislators to send him to the U.S. Senate. In 1899, they did.

But soon, proof went public that Clark had bribed many of the legislators with envelopes of thousand-dollar bills. Clark’s response: “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale.”

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Senator Clark speaking to a crowd in 1905.

The result of the Clark bribery scandal was the 17th Amendment, adopted in 1913, which provided for the election of senators by popular vote.

Clark has the distinction of being the first person caught using bribery to become a U.S. Senator, but, in fact, the scheme didn’t work. When the truth came out two months into his term, the Senate ejected him.

Clark promptly ran for the Senate again, supposedly without resorting to bribery this time. He secured the appointment and served in the Senate from 1901 until 1907.

In 1911, Clark moved to New York City, and he set out to build the most elaborate, most magnificent mansion money could buy. The structure was indeed elaborate, with 25 guest bedrooms, 35 rooms for servants, and all the outlandish adornments Clark could dream up. He spent several years personally massaging and revising the plans to make the building more opulent.

But when his dream house was finally completed, New York society ridiculed it mercilessly. Critics called it tacky and out of style. It was “an architectural aberration,” “inexcusable,” and “an appropriate residence for the late P. T. Barnum.” The building came to be known as “Clark’s Folly.”

Clark died in his mansion in 1925. His widow promptly sold the building and moved away. It was demolished in 1927 and replaced with a luxury apartment building.

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“Clark’s Folly” at Fifth Avenue and East 77th Street.

William Clark was a product of America’s Gilded Age, when enterprising men took advantage of the country’s feverish expansion, wild-west mentality, and rapid industrialization to amass great wealth by any means, ethical or otherwise.

Even then, Clark was a larger-than-life villain, reviled for his shady, underhanded tactics in business and politics.

And it’s only natural to compare him to Donald Trump. The similarities between Clark and Trump in personality and behavior are striking: swaggering, self-absorbed, braggadocious, combative, ostentatious, amoral. No sense of shame or regret. Masters of conspicuous consumption.

I don’t mean to suggest that Trump is a modern-day robber baron. That would be an insult to robber barons. Trump lacks the necessary competence and focus.

In truth, Trump has more in common with P. T. Barnum, who once said, “I am a showman by profession, and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me.” That’s a perfect description of Trump, and we all know it.

But back to my comparison of Clark and Trump. The differences between the two men are interesting, too.

— Clark started with nothing and clawed his way to the top; Trump was born rich and has made a career of keeping himself in the public eye.

— Clark, probably for reasons of ego, sincerely wanted to be a U.S. Senator; Trump, I suspect, also ran for office for reasons of ego, but never thought he would be elected President. He probably longs to have his old life back.

— Clark was known for his intellect, attention to detail, and an uncanny sense of when to take a risk; Trump is known for a stunning lack of curiosity, shooting from the hip, and a history of business failures*.

In 1907, William Clark’s final year in the Senate, Mark Twain published an essay entitled “Senator Clark of Montana.” He assessed Clark this way:

He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed’s time.

I wonder how Twain would assess Donald Trump.

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William Clark, the quintessential American robber baron, and his Trumpian hair.

* Trump is now indebted, to a degree we don’t yet know, to a host of international banks and foreign interests, including a number of Russian oligarchs. Putin and the oligarchs are, in case you don’t know, literal gangsters, ruling Russia like a criminal enterprise to line their own pockets. The fact that Trump does business with them and mixes with them socially is a disgrace. There. I feel much better now.

 

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More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

Tanks

Warning sign

Socks

Opposable thumbs

Blonde power

 

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The Minions Speak

Donald Trump, the most laughable President in U.S. history, met with his full Cabinet for the first time recently. Since then, the meeting has been thoroughly covered in the news and mocked repeatedly, and there’s little reason for Rocky Smith to chime in about it, but I can’t help myself…

Trump, the Orange Vulgarian, never operates in a remotely normal or dignified manner, so it came as no surprise that his first Cabinet meeting was so cringe-worthy.

After patting himself on the back for a host of phantom accomplishments, Trump asked the assembled minions to say a few words. They did. All of them.

In my considered opinion, these minions are an especially villainous bunch, not only ill-suited to serve, but salivating to wreak havoc while they can. (You know, like Scott Pruitt cheerfully dismantling environmental protections.) I expect only the worst from them.

And the worst is what we got. What transpired was an example of shameless sycophancy — of a roomful of toadies competing to out-brown-nose each other and impress Dear Leader Trump.

Through it all, Trump listened, nodded, and smiled with satisfaction. No doubt it reminded him of his glory days on The Apprentice.

Here are some lowlights from the meeting.

————

Mike Pence, Vice President:

“It is just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as the — as vice president to the President who’s keeping his word to the American people and assembling a team that’s bringing real change, real prosperity, real strength back to our nation.”

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture:

I want to congratulate you on the men and women you’ve placed around this table. This is the team you’ve assembled that’s working hand in glove with — for the men and women of America, and I want to — I want to thank you for that. These are — are great team members and we’re on your team.”

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Attorney General:

“We are receiving, as you know — I’m not sure the rest of you fully understand — the support of law enforcement all over America. They have been very frustrated. They are so thrilled that we have a new idea that we’re going to support them and work together to properly, lawfully fight the rising crime that we are seeing. The response is fabulous around the country.”

Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services:

“Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

Nikki Haley, UN Ambassador:

It’s a new day at the United Nations. You know, we now have a very strong voice. People know what the United States is for, they know what we’re against, and they see us leading across the board. And so, I think the international community knows we’re back.”

Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator:

“I actually arrived back this morning at 1 o’clock from Italy and the G-7 summit focused on the environment. And our message there was the United States is going to be focused on growth and protecting the environment. And it was received well.”

Rick Perry, Energy Secretary:

“America is not stepping back, but we’re stepping into place and sending some messages, that we’re still going to be leaders in the world when it comes to the climate, but we’re not going to be held hostage to some executive order that was ill thought out. And so, my hat’s off to you for taking that stance and presenting a clear message around the world that America’s going to continue to lead in the area of energy.”

David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs:

“Mr. President, thank you for your support and commitment to honoring our responsibility to America’s veterans. I know that this is personally very important to you.”

Mick Mulvaney, Director, Office of Management and Budget:

“Thanks for the kind words about the budget. You’re absolutely right, we are going to be able to take care of the people who really need it. And at the same time, with your direction, we were able to also focus on the forgotten man and woman who are the folks who are paying those taxes.”

Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury:

“It was a great honor traveling with you around the country for the last year and an even greater honor to be here serving on your Cabinet.”

Mike Pompeo, CIA Director:

“Mr. President, it’s an honor to serve as your CIA director. It’s an incredible privilege to lead the men and women who are providing intelligence so that we can do the national security mission. And in the finest traditions of the CIA, I’m not going to share a damn thing in front of the media.”

Rrrrreince Priebus, Chief of Staff:

“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda.”

————

To be fair, a couple of the minions maintained a modicum of integrity and wouldn’t play.

————

James Mattis, Secretary of Defense:

“Mr. President, it’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense. And we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength. Thank you.”

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State:

“Thank you for the honor to serve the country. It’s a great privilege you’ve given me.”

————

Even so, the fact that most of them DID play, and that Trump clearly expects such fawning, is a sorry spectacle.

Years ago, when I was a green lieutenant in the Air Force, I was having lunch with a colonel who was head of the base Legal Office. I don’t recall the subject, but I observed that, in some situation or other, we had reached “rock bottom.”

“Bottom?” the colonel replied. “Rocky, wake up. There is no bottom.”

Fawning-1

Fawning-2

 

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More Proof

Here’s more proof that money and power can’t buy class, character, manners, or a sense of decency.

Class, character, humility and integrity have to be earned, but some people are destined to remain callous, small-minded jerks. That’s just the way it is.

Sad.

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Smokescreens

A decade ago, an editorial cartoon by the great Kirk Anderson observed that cats are like Democrats and dogs are like Republicans. The analogy remains as valid today as it was then.

But, in one sense, the reverse is true.

Consider the fact that dogs are uncomplicated, guileless creatures. Dogs have no hidden agendas. With dogs, what you see is what you get.

Cats, on the other hand, are sneaky little bastards, cold-hearted and lethal. With cats, you are advised to be on guard. The average cat is plotting something ugly.

Now consider how this observation plays out in our politics — how liberals conduct themselves compared to conservatives.

With the lefties, what you see is what you get. Liberals want to use government and our common resources to make life better and safer. They consider that to be the fundamental purpose of any government.

The liberal mindset is clear and straightforward. There are no facades, no deceptions, no smokescreens.

With conservatives, everything is a smokescreen. They are honest and candid about nothing.

At every opportunity, Republicans in Congress work to undermine government involvement in the healthcare system because they don’t believe government should be involved in healthcare.

But they don’t have the guts to admit it. They claim their goal is to make your healthcare better. Puh-leeze.

Republican politicians pass laws designed to make voter registration and voting more difficult, because lower turnout always benefits Republicans.

But they don’t have the stones to own up to what they’re doing. They insist they are protecting the nation from “voter fraud.” Voter fraud is a fabricated, non-existent, laughable threat.

Republicans despise government funding of social programs, Planned Parenthood, NPR, the arts, etc., because those are do-gooder programs. Do-gooder programs elevate the right’s collective blood pressure.

But they can’t make themselves admit that publicly. Instead, they claim they want to rein in wasteful government spending.

The irony here is that conservatives are just as transparent as liberals, and we all know it. But the right-wingers lack the conviction to admit their beliefs in the light of day. Hence, smokescreens.

Let’s be real. Republican politicians are an opportunistic, cynical, and despicable bunch. They reaffirm my contempt with every breath.

Most Republican voters, on the other hand, are normal enough people. While they clearly have more hang-ups and issues, they are no more evil and malicious than anyone else.

But they embraced a philosophy that is precisely that.

The Republican ideology is, on its face, selfish and mean. Fundamentally, Republican doctrine consists of the attitude, “I’ve got mine, go fend for yourself.”

Conservatives still believe, or profess to believe, in the tired old myth that welfare queens are bleeding the nation dry. They believe millions of lazy deadbeats are living the good life at the expense of honest, hard-working Republicans like themselves.

They believe that if you’re poor or sick, it’s your own fault; you didn’t work hard enough or plan ahead adequately. And furthermore, it isn’t the job of government to step forward and help you. Tough cheese, pal. Now get lost.

Sneaky, cold-hearted, and lethal. Cat-like to the core.

President Trump Speaks At The White House After The House Voted On Health Care Bill

 

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The 1973 film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kidwas a major hit, and so was Bob Dylan’s soundtrack. The album became a best-seller.

Most of the songs are instrumentals and supportive of the plot, but the exception was “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which turned out to be a significant hit single in its day.

The song is slow, simple, and emotional. It consists of the last words (I assume) of a mortally wounded (I assume) deputy sheriff to his wife. One music critic called the song “an exercise in splendid simplicity.”

PG&BK

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

By Bob Dylan, 1973
Written by Bob Dylan

Mama, take this badge off of me.
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see.
I feel I’m knockin’ on Heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.

Mama, put my guns in the ground.
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down.
I feel I’m knockin’ on Heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.
Knock, knock, knockin’ on Heaven’s door.

 

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No-Fly list

Bridge

Roll me over

Don't look

 

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