Archive for May, 2011

Summer may be finally coming.

Friday, May 27th, 2011

It is finally warming up, four days before Memorial Day weekend. Last year, it snowed the weekend before. This year, I thought it would snow a week ago today as it was cold and looked threatening. Still, this is a resort because it is cool in summer so one must accept the cool of the spring, as well.

Last year, we noticed that the back yard was, in one spot, rather wet and almost swampy. By mid-July it was dry but this year has been wetter than last and I have engaged some workmen to build French drains behind my stone wall in the rear. Also, we had two very heavy rain storms last fall, one of which dropped about 12 inches of rain, and my small stream was partly washed out. My fence was washed out in the place it passes over the combined streams.

The repairs are under way and I will document them.

First, last April 2, a large tree in the back yard fell. Cindy was sitting with the deck door open and just heard a noise. Down it went. It was about 40 feet tall or more because it reached the back fence and crossed the access road behind it. The young fellow next door, who does that sort of thing, came over and offered to clean it up, including cutting the trunk into logs short enough for the fireplace.

A couple of weeks later, after the next snow melted, I noticed there was a spring flowing quite actively out of the root ball hole from the tree.

The water just welled up in the hole and then flowed down the hill to the stone wall. The ground below the stone wall was wet and almost marshy. Last year, it was much the same but it dried up by mid-July. This year is wetter and I don’t think it will dry up until later, if at all. The fact that the spring is still welling up from the root ball hole suggests why the tree fell.

If you compare this photo wth that of the fallen tree, you can see that we dug out the dirt behind the stone down to the level of the bottom of the wall. We then laid PVC perforated pipe along the bottom of the trench and connected it to drains at each end. The trench was then filled in with 3/4 inch rock. This is how you make a French drain. They can be quite deep but this one is only about two feet.

Here is one that drains into the creek just after it enters the yard from beneath the road. Even after a month, it is still flowing. The other drain is under the bridge and almost hidden by the rocks.

I noticed that the wood bridge that crosses the small stream was getting warped and we then found a large crack in one of the support beams. You can’t see it here but when the snow melted and we were looking at the bridge again, it was obvious that it was not doing well. After inspecting it, I decided to dismantle it and make “sister” beams to reenforce the structure. We also found that the ends were sitting on some old cement blocks with rotted out 4 x 12 beams below them. This is probably the second, if not the third, bridge there.

Here the beams have been “sistered” by bolting a 2 x 12 to each and bolting them together. After they are fixed together, the curve is restored using a Sawzall. The rails were removed to get at the beams and the entire bridge was lifted onto the lawn. The new footings for each side were dug out and forms set up. After the concrete dried and set the bridge was put back although the upstream rail is left off to assist in repairs to the stream bed and water wheel.

The water wheel is actually a fountain with an electric pump in the tank to pump water to the top and it then turns the wheel as it flows down. The pump was shot and the wheel and tank were all silted in so that was the next job.

A lot of rocks that lined the banks of the little stream had been washed away last winter so we collected some and rebuilt a footing for the water wheel. This will be supplemented with mortar and a block wall was built to shore up one side of the creek wall under the bridge.

That block wall will be covered with river rock to make it look more natural. The whole front of the house is river rock.

The next project after the bridge will be the small stream which was badly eroded in a couple of big storms last fall. After cutting down some ugly little trees to get at it, you can see that it was once lined on each side by river rock with some mortar to hold them. Many are still there but some have washed away.

When the ivy is pulled away, you can see some of the wall. I will get some more rock and do some repairs. The little stream ends in a tiny waterfall.

You have to look closely to see it but it is still flowing pretty well. Below that waterfall, there is a washout area and the two streams converge.

The area can be dug out and lined with stone. A small dam would back up a pond for the frogs and maybe even some small fish. There are a few large boulders which will help anchor the stream and divert flow away form the house.

Here is a better view of the two streams coming together. These are tiny now but in the heavy rain last fall, each was probably five to six feet deep and flowing at a huge rate.

Summer is here and I will document as I go along.

wide spread ignorance on health care reform.

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

I had a frustrating experience yesterday. I often read Megan McArdle’s blog, and occasionally comment on it. Yesterday, she had a post on a proposal to solve some of Medicare’s problems by dropping the “doc fix” and letting reimbursement rates for doctors drop by over 30%. The post was based on an article by Bruce Bartlett, who thinks,

That would cut Medicare’s costs very substantially over current policy – something Mr. Boehner has demanded as a price to prevent the Treasury from defaulting on the debt. The virtue of this approach is that no one has to do anything – the sustainable growth rate is already in law. All our leaders have to do is promise not to change the law and instead allow it to take effect on schedule.

The doctors will scream bloody murder and threaten to stop treating Medicare patients. It will be ugly.

But everyone knows that Medicare needs to be cut, and as the biggest contributor to long-run deficits, doing something meaningful to reduce spending on this program will demonstrate resolve and commitment to deal with entitlement spending. It’s exactly the sort of thing Mr. Boehner says he wants in order to raise the debt limit.

I think if he and Mr. Obama jointly committed not to implement another so-called “doc-fix” — the delay in cutting Medicare fees — it would be a solid first step on finding a bipartisan approach to dealing with the deficit.

In a way, he is right. The doctors would leave Medicare en masse and patients would have a very hard time finding a doctor so spending would go down. Megan’s commenters, however, think doctors have no choice and will just accept a 30% cut in gross income and continue to treat Medicare patients.

One suggestion:

The problem is that medicine needs to adopt the same cost structure as other professions. Doctors shouldn’t see patients, rather they should delegate day-to-day surgery and recommendation of medicine to technicians who are less expensive and have maybe two years of training initally.

PhD aeronuatical engineers don’t repair aircraft, they delegate it to mechanics with associates degrees. This system works well even though the aircraft are expensive and problems would have serious consequences.

I hae no idea why investment banking happens to pay well right now, but at $7/trade it isn’t impacting me much. Medicare tax is. At the very least Doctors should be doing medical research and supervising large staffs at a minimum ratio of 1:600 to front-line staff.

To some degree, this is what Kaiser now does. MDs do not give anesthesia; PAs and NPs do. I have been an expert witness for and against Kaiser on these issues. Kaiser is also heavily unionized. One case I was involved with was an instance of a very obese male having pilonidal sinus surgery. This is a 15 minute procedure to excise a hair filled sinus tract at the end of the spine. It is done face down and, in this instance, with a spinal anesthetic. The PA gave the spinal, then because it was his lunch time and the union rules do not allow any flexibility in these times, he left to eat his lunch and another PA came in to take over for the lunch break. The patient was positioned and the surgeon began. The problem was that the patient was put face down and, in all the changes taking place, the new PA was not watching the patient’s respiration closely enough. The patient got a “total spinal.” Just as the other PA got back from lunch, the patient had a respiratory, then a cardiac arrest. He died.

There is also an undercurrent of doctor hatred in all these public fora discussing medical reform. First, far too many non-medical people think the AMA is all powerful.

shorter AMA = we are underpaid and hold no responsibility for skyrocketing medical costs.


It is not so difficult to imagine if 60 million seniors demand it. My guess is that if the political establishment decides to steamroll doctors, they will do so all the way.

The only way to make Doc Fix work is to open the floodgates for new doctors and medical practitioners to soak up the demand, which means forcing schools to expand capacity(or lose NIH and NSF funding) and to force providers to open residency slots that are shorter in duration.

It would take 10 years for the supply base to adjust completely, but it would close. Doctors will still be well paid, just not as well paid as they were.

The howling from doctors would be immense, but if there is no more debt to be issued, they will be howling to an empty room.

If I am an ailing senior I would rather see a rookie doctor than no doctor at all.

After all, studies show that more highly educated, experienced doctors are not necessarily better at satisfying patients than the alternative.

Always, the assumption is that doctors are “well paid” and can be crushed by public will with no harm to the profession, as a profession, or to the supply of students willing to incur $250,000 in loans to subject themselves to this.

And then there is the theory that “the Guild” is blocking reform.

There is always a consequence of choice. Pick the wrong health care provider and indeed it can be a bad thing. However there’s also a consequence to NOT going to a doctor because it’s too expensive, too far away, too much of a hassle to go to the city free clinic, or many other possible reasons people have for not going to the MD. A knowledgeable first tier of diagnosis and treatment that is cheap, relatively effective, and nearby would give better outcomes less expensively than the MD or nobody dichotomy.

But unfortunately that’s not allowed in most localities, thanks to the guild and their influence on policy.

The same “expert” on the AMA.

They don’t control the doctors, but they do lobby for exclusivity in laws at every state capital and in Washington DC. You missed the reason for the comparison to medieval guilds. The comparison has to do with limiting competition via lobbying the state to put an end to competition. The reason the guild system worked well was that products outside the guild system were outlawed, not matter if they were of greater value to the customer.

In fact, the AMA lost that battle against chiropractors many years ago. Now, many orthopedists in workers comp practice use chiropractors as PAs. It is still an unscientific cult but nobody pays any attention to that anymore.

Anyway, I wish that someone would spend some time discussing health care reform without showing such abysmal ignorance about the issues. I was threatened with banning by Megan:

Dude, your comments are valuable, but there’s a lot of personal insult in there that’s contra blog policy. Can you please tone it down? I’d hate to ban you.


Since it seemed that personal insult was going mostly the other way, I don’t care.

Oh, go ahead. I get so frustrated with people who haven’t any idea about how medical economic works that I should probably stay on medical blogs. At least we are talking in the same terms. One reason why medical savings accounts don’t work well is the inflated charges that Medicare demands. If I should lower my charges to the realistic level of what I am getting paid (I’m retired so this is rhetorical), Medicare will discount my profile to that amount THEN pay me 20% of that.

The orthopedic surgeons who have dropped out of Medicare and work for cash only achrage about $1750 for a total hip. People who don’t know any better think they get paid $5,000 by Medicare. \

I thought you would know better. I’m just worried, like one of your commenters that gets it, about my own care.

The answer, by another commenter who is very sure of himself:

You sound like someone who has a vested interest in the status quo. Maybe you should stay on a medical blog along with everyone else who has a vested interest in the status quo (and pretend that the status quo is sustainable).

As an economist of sorts, I can tell you there are clearly not enough medical practitioners in the market.

How do I know? PRICES ARE RISING–effective prices, net of discounts.

Supply, Demand, Simple…if you are an economist.

I actually do have some thoughts about reform, which are possibly even more informed than the “expert” economist of sorts. However, the public will not be educated.

So there you are. Reform will be a bastard approach because the people talking about it know nothing about the subject.

Coolidge Summing up

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Coolidge believed that the wedding of government and business would lead to socialism, communism or fascism. Hoover considered Henry Wallace a fascist for supporting the McNary-Haugen bill. Hoover, ironically, was to bring on the Depression by progressive measures that might have been called a form of fascism. The farm bill would be re-introduced under Hoover and die. Only during the New Deal would it find enough support to become law. The summer of 1927 was peaceful and prosperous. It was the summer of Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs. The Yankees would win the World Series and end up with a winning percentage of 0.714, still unsurpassed. In September, Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey in the fight marked by the “long count.” The “Jazz Singer” came out that fall, the first talking feature picture. Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic in May of 1927. He and Coolidge were much alike yet different. Both were shy and diffident but Lindbergh was happy to cash in on his fame while Coolidge refused all offers after he left office.

Coolidge arranged for Lindbergh to return to the states aboard a US cruiser, Memphis, where he was met by a crowd and by cabinet members, then there was a huge parade through New York City. Lindbergh and his mother stayed with the Coolidges at the temporary White House where Dwight Morrow, close friend of Coolidge from Amherst, introduced the young aviator to his daughter Ann. Aviation stocks, along with many others, soared and the Dow Jones Average by year end was at 200, the record high.

In his December 6, 1927 State of the Union message, he mentioned an economic slowdown and asked for the same things he had been requesting; sell Muscle Shoals, help farm cooperatives and keep spending down. In May of 1928, he complained to reporters about Congressional spending. “I am a good deal disturbed at the number of proposals that are being made for the expenditure of money. The number and the amount is becoming appalling.” He managed to get another tax cut passed including a cut in the corporate tax rate. The surplus that year was $398 million.


The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge- III

Friday, May 13th, 2011

La Follette ran for president in 1924, as feared by the Republicans, but on the Socialist ticket and got little support from mainstream voters. His issue was “control of government and industry by private monopoly.” Coolidge ran a low key campaign and, as he had done in Massachusetts, did not name his opponents. His speeches were not in campaign style but on general subjects like “What it means to be a Boy Scout,” and “The duties of citizenship” including, of course, the obligation to vote. He used radio addresses very effectively long before Roosevelt adopted the medium. Coolidge’s voice, unlike most politicians of the era, was well suited to radio but could not reach the back of large crowds. In a 1927 poll on radio personalities, Coolidge came in fourth, after three musicians.

One of Coolidge’s radio talks had a profound impact on a nine-year-old boy who had put together the crystal set on which he heard the president. It was 1922 and Eugene Fluckey was nine years old. What he heard was “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are important.” The boy was so awestruck that he scribbled down the president’s words. He would later become the most decorated submarine captain of World War II and completed 12 war patrols without the loss of a single man in his crew. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and five Navy Crosses. He and his ship, the USS Barb, were known as “the galloping ghost.” Fluckey later told the story, “Silent Cal did not speak often but when he did people listened.”

Some of Coolidge’s refusal to campaign was certainly his depression after the death of his son. Some was a recognition of his own abilities, or lack of them. In his Autobiography, he says, “When he went, the power and glory of the presidency went with him. I don’t know why such a price was exacted for occupying the White House.” Dawes took up the slack and enjoyed campaigning. His delivery was electric. One said of him, ” It was said that he was the only man in the world who, when he spoke, could keep both feet and both arms in the air at once.” His principal themes were LaFollette and the Democrats. For LaFollette, it was “red radicalism.” He spoke out forcefully against the Klan in August but was warned that it could hurt the ticket and he left that topic alone thereafter. Davis, the Democrat, in spite of being warned, attacked the Klan forcefully but nobody was paying much attention. Oddly enough, he would be the opposing counsel in 1954 for Brown vs Board of Education opposing school integration.


The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge- II

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Coolidge was more concerned with domestic issues than foreign policy. This had been true of most US presidents since the Civil War until 1917 and it was part of Harding’s “Return to Normalcy” plan. Coolidge knew little about other countries although he was not an isolationist. The true isolationist policy of the US was in the 1930s under Roosevelt who canceled a Hoover sponsored economic summit in Britain as soon as he was inaugurated. Only in 1939 and 40 was Roosevelt converted to the internationalist that is remembered by his supporters and biographers, internationalists themselves. I will have more to say about the slanders of Harding and Coolidge by the political left and the historians later.

Coolidge’s domestic agenda was dominated by a few issues. The first was the emergence of the “Farm Bloc” in Congress. The McNary- Haugen bill was the first of the “farm relief” bills and would dog Coolidge through his presidency as he vetoed it but it kept coming back as the farm bloc grew stronger. The background of the bill is well stated in the Wikipedia article:

World War I had created an atmosphere of high prices for agricultural products as European nations demand for exports surged. Farmers had enjoyed a period of prosperity as U.S. farm production expanded rapidly to fill the gap left as European belligerents found themselves unable to produce enough food. When the war ended, supply increased rapidly as Europe’s agricultural market rebounded. Overproduction led to plummeting prices which led to stagnant market conditions and living standards for farmers in the 1920s. Worse, hundreds of thousands of farmers had taken out mortgages and loans to buy out their neighbors property, and were now unable to meet the financial burden. The cause was the collapse of land prices after the wartime bubble when farmers used high prices to buy up neighboring farms at high prices, saddling them with heavy debts. Farmers, however, blamed the decline of foreign markets, and the effects of the protective tariff. They demanded relief as the agricultural depression grew steadily worse in the middle 1920s, while the rest of the economy flourished.

As the 1920s went on and Europe recovered, the rationale for the bill was less and less credible. Eventually, it would be the basis for the Roosevelt farm policy and has survived in some form until the present. The basic mechanism of the bill was to establish high tariffs for foreign farm products. The high tariffs on manufactured goods were the worst aspect of Republican policies in the 1920s and contributed to the financial instability that led to the crash in 1929. Europe could not sell to the US because of the tariffs and so could not generate the revenue to repay the war loans. That is an oversimplification but it was a factor. The farm bill would add price supports (equal to the tariff on imports) on farm exports to keep prices high. The government organized cooperatives would sell to foreign buyers at the lower world price and the difference would be collected as a tax or “equalization fee” on domestic sales of each export commodity. This would keep US food prices higher than the world price. We see something very much like this in sugar subsidies and in the ethanol tariff the prevents fuel companies from buying cheap Brazilian ethanol.

Coolidge supported a different approach which included rural electrification, modernization of farming with better hybrid seeds and better business methods. I should add that my own family were farmers in Illinois during this period. One farm family sent their son to agricultural college in the 1920s to the amused derision about going to college to learn how to farm from my grandfather. He returned home, revolutionized farming methods in Illinois with fertilizers, hybrid seed and crop rotation and his children now own most of the farmland where my ancestors once lived. Few Congressmen knew anything about farming and Coolidge’s approach did not stop them from sponsoring the tariff bill every year or two. He vetoed it twice.

Another major issue was the Ku Klux Klan. This was more of a problem for Democrats with their base in the “solid South” but it affected Republicans, as well. The Klan in the 1920s was unrelated, except in name, to the organization founded by Nathan Bedford Forrest after the Civil War. The “second Klan” did include some Republicans and was more concerned with immigration and anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish bigotry, both related to immigration. It had been founded in Atlanta in 1915 by Colonel William Simmons. Its attraction was in its pro-farmer and pro-poor native born Americans sympathies. It was anti-Wall Street and had more geographic diversity with active members in Oregon and California as well as in Maine and New York. A Texas Senator and an Indiana Senator were members and a number of governors, including in California and Oregon, had received Klan support. It had about 4 million members at its peak. The GOP convention had a proposed anti-Klan plank in the platform and that would be a fight when the time came.

Prohibition was a disastrous progressive experiment whose pathologies were becoming apparent in 1924. Coolidge said that Congress had passed the law and he would support it but he also added, “Any law that inspires disrespect for other laws– the good laws– is a bad law.” A number of organizations were formed to oppose the Volstead Act as the corruption and lawlessness grew. In support, there was actually a Prohibition Party, which held its convention on the day before the GOP convention and nominated candidates for president and vice-president. As previously noted, a number of Progressives had returned to the Republican Party in 1920 and they also constituted a Prohibition wing of the party. Hiram Johnson had shown how powerful they could be by denying Charles Evans Hughes the presidency in 1916.

Coolidge was more pro-civil rights than Harding had been but it has been largely forgotten in this country that the Democrats were the party of segregation. Woodrow Wilson had segregated the civil service in 1914 after it had been integrated since 1865. Coolidge gave the Commencement Address at all-black Howard University on June 6. He spoke of the progress of American blacks since the Emancipation Proclamation. He noted that, “in 1863, there were four million black Americans, 12 thousand of whom owned their own homes.” “In a little over half a century since, the number of business enterprises operated by colored people has grown to nearly 80,000, while the wealth of the negro community has grown to nearly $ 1,100,000,000.” He continued with a list of material and intellectual progress made since that point. He added, referring to the war, “The propaganda of prejudice and hatred which sought to keep the colored man from supporting the national cause completely failed. The black man showed himself the same kind of citizen, moved by the same patriotism, as the white man.”

The 1924 Convention opened in a placid mood on June 10. Coolidge was in control. Henry Cabot Lodge was a simple delegate and powerless. The country and the party had moved on. The power of the bosses was much diminished from 1920 and many of them were dead. Radio was breaking down the regionalism of the country just as it would eventually dilute regional accents. The Convention was the first to be broadcast on radio, a concept that did not even exist in 1920. The final platform did not mention the Klan but did congratulate the party for the improvement in economic conditions since 1920. They came out in favor of higher agricultural tariffs but not the McNary- Haugen bill. There was no mention of Prohibition or race relations. There was widespread concern that LaFollette would make a third party race on the Progressive ticket.

The Leopold-Loeb murder case competed with the Convention for public interest and newspaper coverage. The only uncertainty was the vice-presidential nomination. There were many names considered. Coolidge, through an intermediary, approach William Borah to determine his interest in joining the ticket. Borah, certain of his superior talents compared to Coolidge asked, “At which end?” Another bit of Washington gossip at the time was that Borah was the real father of Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s only child, daughter Pauline. Alice was none too discreet and Borah had a reputation for womanizing so the child was often called ” Aurora Borah Alice,” among the cognoscenti.

Coolidge favored a former Senator from Iowa and federal judge named William S. Kenyon. Kenyon had been a member of the Farm Bloc and a very astute opponent of Harding within the party. He was a progressive but had supported Taft in 1912 and was considered a “regular” although he was pledged to Hiram Johnson at the 1920 convention. Harding had offered him a federal judgeship to get rid of him from the Senate and Kenyon accepted but then became the judge who threw out the Tea Pot Dome oil leases and criticized Harding about the affair. Kenyon was a Coolidge supporter and would have made an interesting VP nominee. The Progressives would be pleased and might be lured from LaFollette if he ran. Unfortunately, Kenyon was not interested. The next candidate was Lowden, who was an excellent reform governor of Illinois and a serious presidential candidate in 1920. He also declined. The convention finally turned to Charles G Dawes, a banker who had an international reputation (and a Nobel Peace Prize) for his “Dawes Plan” for trying to deal with the reparations nightmare.

Dawes nomination was another example of serendipity as the man asked to nominate him agreed to do so because he wanted to run for the Senate in Nebraska and this would give him a chance to be heard in Nebraska on a national broadcast. A W Jefferis was a Nebraska delegate and not particularly a friend of Dawes. The radio in 1924 was a technological wonder and instant fame followed such an opportunity. Dawes was a bit of an independent politically. He had recovered from financial wipe-out in the Panic of 1893 and was Comptroller of the Currency under McKInley in 1901, which position he resigned to run unsuccessfully for the Senate. He served in the Army during World War I as head of the General Purchasing Board and ended the war as a brigadier general. He then took charge of the body responsible for liquidating the American supplies remaining in France at the end of the war. He became famous for his testimony before a House Committee on War Expenditures. The Republican majority was attempting to show that the Democratic Administration had been profligate in purchasing, if not dishonest. Dawes, of course, had been in charge of the purchasing and was outraged in spite of his Republican credentials. He became infuriated with the committee members’ ignorant questions and allegations of profiteering. His scathing and witty answers to the committee made him famous with the public. He was headline news the next day.

Dawes was a man of many talents. He played several instruments and composed music, including a piece in 1911 that eventually, with words, became the song “It’s All in the Game,” in the 1950s. After the 1920 election, he turned down the Secretary of the Treasury position but accepted the new position of Director of the Bureau of the Budget. The Coolidge tax cuts and the Dawes budget controls resulted in the government showing a budget surplus in each year of the Harding-Coolidge presidency. The Bureau of the Budget continued to control government expenditures until reorganized by John Kennedy in 1961. In 1923, Dawes was asked to join a Committee of Experts to rescue the German economy. The result was the Dawes Plan and the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize. Dawes was an outstanding choice for the vice-presidency. Coolidge, who hated to campaign, was greatly complemented by Dawes who enjoyed it.

Meanwhile, the Democrats imploded at their convention over issues like Prohibition and the Klan. The early favorite was Wilson son-in-law William McAdoo. He had an attractive resume but two glaring problems. He was supported by the Klan, although not a member, and he was a “dry.” His principal opponent, Senator Oscar Underwood of Alabama was a “wet” and a fierce opponent of the Klan. He privately believed racism was responsible for much of the poverty of the South. The Klan was powerful in the Democratic Party and Underwood had opposed Women’s Suffrage and Prohibition, both positions unpopular in 1920. Al Smith, Governor of New York, had not entered primaries and knew that the convention decision would depend on the issues of the Klan and Prohibition. Smith’s Catholic religion would also be a huge factor in the election if he were nominated, as he was in 1928. The Convention was to be held in New York, which encouraged Smith’s ambitions.

One of the first nominating speeches, by Forney Johnson of Alabama, speaking on behalf of colleague Underwood, threw down the gauntlet on the Klan. Like Underwood, Johnson was a fierce opponent of the Klan and his speech tore the convention apart. Live radio coverage magnified the effect. A motion to condemn the Klan failed by a single vote. The one positive development was Franklin Roosevelt’s nominating speech for Al Smith, the “Happy Warrior.” It marked Roosevelt’s return to the public scene after his polio rehabilitation. He had been the VP nominee in 1920. After 50 ballots, delegates talked of returning home without a nominee. Smith allies hooted from packed galleries and on the 100th ballot he led with about third of the delegates. Eventually,
on the 103rd ballot, the delegates turned to John W Davis, a distinguished lawyer and former Congressman and his VP nominee, Charles W Bryan Governor of Nebraska. Bryan was the younger brother of William Jennings Bryan, perennial Democratic nominee, famous for his populist politics and his “Cross of Gold” speech.

The Bryan brothers, ever hopeful.

The Democrats were crushed in the election but personal disaster struck Coolidge. On June 30, while playing lawn tennis with his brother, Calvin Jr developed a blister on his toe from playing without socks. He was 16 years old. The blister became infected and he died on July 7, 1924. His father never recovered. My son, who is diabetic, developed a similar blister on his toe when wearing firefighter boots. He works 72 hour shifts and, by the time he finished his shift and went to an urgent care center, he had positive blood cultures. He was hospitalized for several weeks and had a one year recovery including skin grafts and multiple surgeries. He is now back at work but, even with modern antibiotics and other measures, he was very ill and took a long time to recover. Calvin Jr was not diabetic but there were no antibiotics available and sepsis was a fatal complication.

Dawes and Coolidge had dinner together during the boy’s illness. Dawes had lost a 21 year old son to drowning in 1912 and understood the president’s concern although he did not realize the seriousness of the illness yet. As he left, he looked into Calvin Jr’s room. “As I passed the door of Calvin’s room, I chanced to look in. He seemed to be in great distress. The president was bending over the bed. I think I have never witnessed such a look of agony and despair that was on the president’s face.” We forget what the days before antibiotics were like. In the very early days of the development of penicillin, one of Howard Florey’s first patients was a policeman who had pricked his finger on a rose thorn. He was dying of streptococcal sepsis, the same infection that undoubtedly killed Calvin Jr. The amount of penicillin they had been able to isolate was very small. They treated the policeman and he improved but then they ran out of the drug. They tried everything including extracting it from his urine but could not get enough and he died.

Calvin Jr with hanging tobacco leaves.

The president agonized about his lost boy. He signed a book for friend who had also lost a son. “To my friend, in recollection of his son, and my son, who by the grace of God have the privilege of being boys throughout eternity.” Calvin Jr had had a previous serious illness, at age six years old, and required surgery to drain an empyema, a collection of pus in the chest following pneumonia. His father was very worried then, as well, but things turned out well. There is another story of this time in Coolidge’s life. Colonel Starling, the president’s Secret Service bodyguard, on his way into the White House, saw a small boy standing outside the railing looking in. “I asked him what he was doing up so early. He looked up at me, his eyes large and round and sad. I thought I might see the president,” he said. “I heard that he gets up early and takes a walk. I wanted to tell him how sorry I am that his little boy died.” “Come with me, I’ll take you to the president,” I said. He took my hand and we walked into the grounds. In a few minutes, the president came out and I presented the boy to him. The youngster was overwhelmed with awe and could not deliver his message so I did it for him. The president had a difficult time controlling his emotions. When the lad had gone and we were walking through Lafayette Park, he said to me: “Colonel, whenever a boy wants to see me, always bring him in. Never turn one away or make him wait.” There has been considerable speculation, based on some evidence, that the boy’s death left Coolidge in a prolonged depression that affected his presidency.

To be continued

The Presidency of Calvin Coolidge- I

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Friday, August 2, 1923 was to be Coolidge’s last day of vacation at Plymouth Notch. He had posed for photographs for the small pool of reporters who covered his doings. They had shown him chopping away rot from a maple tree, wearing his suit pants and vest but bowing to the informality of the occasion by removing his suit coat. He had previously worn a woolen smock that had belonged to his grandfather for such chores but, recently, there had been accusations that it was a costume of some sort. He remarked that “In public life it is sometimes necessary in order to appear really natural to be actually artificial.”

The Coolidge family retired early. A telegram from San Francisco conveying the news of the president’s death reached reporters staying in a boarding house in Bridgewater, Vermont. They hastened the eight miles to Plymouth Notch and knocked on the door of John Coolidge’s house. He awakened his son who then dressed and came downstairs. He was informed in a telephone call from his father’s store to Secretary of State Hughes that the oath of office could be administered by a notary. Coolidge returned home and, at 2:47 am, his father administered the oath of office as president.

The nation’s newspapers carried drawings and painting of the scene the next day. It is still the only instance of a father administering the oath of office of president to his son and of a man taking the oath at home. The house was small and lacked indoor plumbing. It was typical of Coolidge in its lack of pretension and the image was a powerful one to begin his presidency. After the oath was administered, the Coolidges returned to bed, also typical. They arose at 6 am and began the trip back to Washington with a stop at his mother’s grave in a nearby cemetery. These symbols would stand him in good stead when the Harding scandals began to fill the newspapers in the months to come.

Harding’s body was returned to Washington on August 7 where he lay in state in the Capitol. Coolidge issued a proclamation for a day of national mourning and it was apparent that Harding was genuinely liked by the public. The funeral was in Marion, Ohio on August 10.

In 1923, the presidency was very different from what it became under Hoover and Roosevelt. Coolidge greeted White House visitors in person, the last president to do so. He had one secretary and no aides. His telephone was not on his desk but in a nearby booth and unused. He did not know how to drive a car. He had carefully cultivated his image, even to his famous lack of small talk. At a dinner party while vice-president, a woman next to him at the dinner table told him she had a bet with her husband that she could get him to say at least three words. His reply was, “You lose.”

Now, he was president. In 1924, he told William Allen White that “A lot of people in Plymouth can’t understand how I got to be president, least of all my father.” He added, “Now a lot of those people remember some interesting things that never happened.” White’s comment was that Coolidge never grinned after his jokes. This misled some people into thinking he was dumb. Rural Vermonters appreciated his wit but many of the intelligentsia did not. He did not suffer fools gladly, for one thing. Once, after a long and animated conversation with financier Bernard Baruch, he asked why Baruch was smiling. The financier replied, “Mr President, you are so different from what people say you are. Your smile indicates both amusement at that and interest — and I hope friendliness.” Baruch added, “Everybody says you never say anything.” “Well Baruch,” Coolidge replied, “many times I say only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to people. Even that is too much. It winds them up for twenty minutes or more.”

One of Coolidge’s most famous sayings was made to Hoover, who he disliked, on the latter’s ascension to the presidency in 1928. ” You have to stand every day three or four hours of visitors. Nine-tenths of them want something they ought not to have. If you keep dead still they will run down in three or four minutes. If you even cough or smile, they will start up all over again.” Will Rogers appreciated Coolidge’s dry wit. “Mr Coolidge had more subtle humor than almost any public man I ever met. I have often said I would like to have hidden in his desk somewhere and just heard the sly little digs that he pulled on various people that never got ’em at all.”

Another story concerned his wife’s asking about the preacher’s sermon in church that morning. “What did he talk about.” His reply was concise. “Sin.” When asked for more detail, he replied, “He’s against it.” Someone told him the story one day and his reply was “It would be better if it were true.” Still, these stories indicated a warmth toward him that was widely held and that would serve him well. His son, Calvin, inherited the family wit and showed it one day when working at a summer job as a laborer. One of the other boys said, “Gee. If my father was the president , I wouldn’t be working here !” Calvin replied, “You would if your father were my father.”

Harding had held twice weekly press conferences and Coolidge assured the reporters that would continue. He held a total of 520 press conferences in the next five years. The questions were submitted in writing and he answered those he chose to. The answers were to be attributed to a “White House spokesman.” He was genuinely liked by reporters and commented on his excellent relations with the press in his Autobiography. He needed a secretary and was advised well by Congressional leaders to hire C. Bascom Slemp, a 53 year old former Congressman and master political strategist. Coolidge faced a difficult relationship with his Republican colleagues in the Senate. Harding had been one of them and was a friendly man; neither was true of Coolidge.

There was Frank Stearns, an old supporter from Massachusetts. Coolidge liked to have Stearns with him even though both might not say a word. He thought better when Stearns was there. One day, after an hour in which neither said a word, Stearns rose to leave and Coolidge said, “Stay a while longer.” Dwight Morrow, a friend from Amherst and now a partner at JP Morgan was another close friend. Murray Crain was gone but his assistant, William Butler, was there. He was RNC chair, with help from Coolidge, and, when Lodge died, Butler took his place in the Senate. House Speaker Gillett was the fourth of the “Massachusetts gang.” Aside from them, Coolidge had few friends.

Mellon and Hoover with Coolidge

He retained Harding’s cabinet although several left under a cloud by 1924. The last to leave was Hoover, to run for president in 1928. Coolidge respected but did not like Hoover, calling him “Wonder Boy.” His most trusted adviser was Treasury Secretary Mellon. At their first meeting, Mellon told the president he had come to resign. The president said, “Forget it.” Coolidge was the last president to write all his own speeches and they have stood up well over time. He was also the first to use radio in reaching out to the public. When asked for a theme of his administration, he answered “stability, confidence and reassurance.” We are currently seeing how important the lack of those qualities may be in economic recovery, or the lack of it. It is possible (more of this later in a summing up) that his decision to retire in 1928 may have led to the Great Depression as Hoover was an active progressive and Roosevelt followed his lead almost completely. The depression of 1920-21 was the last to be treated with Laissez Faire economics. The 1929 crash and depression might have been short as the country was already emerging in 1932 in spite of Hoover’s misguided policies. We will never know.

One area where Coolidge enjoyed the approbation of everyone was with his wife, Grace. She was witty, attractive and provided a useful contrast to her husband. Their two sons were also attractive and a positive aspect of his presidency although that was to be dashed during the summer of 1924. Coolidge had four months to prepare before he would be obliged to state his policies before Congress. Major problems included the war reparations issue which would eventually lead to the 1929 crash and much of which was out of his hands as Benjamin Strong and the other major central bank leaders were almost immune to political influence. The other members of this small club included the Bank of England director Montagu Norman, Bank of France director Emile Morceau, and Hjalmer Schacht of the Reichsbank. These men controlled world finance and tried to “sterilize” the reparations that France had insisted Germany pay for World War I. Strong was ill with tuberculosis and died in 1928, leaving the Federal Reserve in weak hands.

The Washington Naval Conference of 1923 was considered a success. It had major consequences as Japan was encouraged and England was damaged but Coolidge was a very determined disarmament advocate for fiscal reasons. He had little interest in foreign affairs although he was a mild supporter of the League of Nations and was not an isolationist as Hiram Johnson had been. Relations with Mexico had been poor since the 1911 Mexican revolution and Albert Fall had been expected to help with this but he chose to enrich himself instead. Ironically, the Teapot Dome scandal did eventually have some beneficial effects such as large capacity oil storage facilities in Pearl Harbor.

It also got a beautiful new library for my alma mater, the University of Southern California. Rufus von Kleinschmidt, president of the university, agreed to testify as a character witness for Harry Doheny, one of the principals in the Teapot Dome affair. Doheny donated a magnificent library that is still the center of the campus. It was donated in memory of his son, H L Doheny Jr and the date of his death is given as 1921. Many still probably assume that he was wounded in the war and died of his wounds but, in fact, he was shot by his mistress.

Coolidge’s first address to Congress as president took place on December 6, 1923. He presented a list of requests that continued Harding policies. Immigration was to be restricted for the first time. Railroads needed investment. Highways were to be funded although the states were expected to do much of this. He included other issues, such as civil service reforms and military and naval increases. Harding had been a great Navy president and Coolidge continued almost all his policies. He declined suggestions to cancel foreign debts, they would be canceled eventually anyway in the Depression. He differed a bit from Harding in his enthusiastic support for civil rights for “colored people” and advocated funding for black doctors and colleges. He opposed support for crop prices, which would become a major issue the rest of his presidency. His State of the Union address was the first to be broadcast to the American public. It was well received. The next night, at the annual Gridiron Dinner, he announced that he was a candidate for 1924.

His most important recommendation was for a reduction in the income tax rates, possibly one reason why Ronald Reagan was so fond of him. Wilson had raised income tax rates during the war to very high levels. The federal income tax had only been introduced in 1913. In 1914, only 360,000 tax payers had paid any tax at all. The Progressives who had been behind the constitutional amendment had seen it as a redistributionist measure and expected that only the rich would pay taxes. However, in 1917, Congress passed a surtax as a war measure that affected anyone with more than a $6,000 income. At $100,000 income, the tax was 25%. After the war, the surtax remained in place bringing in $1.3 billion in 1919 and over $1 billion in 1920, years of severe recession, if not depression. In 1920, the top bracket was 70% and while everyone talked about tax cuts, nobody seemed to do anything about it until Harding took office.

Coolidge had to convince a reluctant Congress about tax cuts. The Simmons-Longworth Bill, the best he could get, cut maximum surtax rates to 40% but raised the estate tax and added a gift tax. He wanted to return to pre-war rates but it was a hard fight. There is nothing new under the sun, least of all Congressional spending. The Coolidges worked on building friendships and entertained more than the Hardings had. One issue that was divisive was Prohibition. It was a Progressive initiative and Gifford Pinchot, a Progressive governor of Pennsylvania and passionate Prohibitionist complained that Coolidge was a weak supporter. The conventional wisdom has come down to us that Prohibition was a cause supported by blue nose Republicans. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pinchot supporters encouraged him to run against Coolidge in the 1924 primaries. They noted that brewery interests had supported Coolidge in Massachusetts. PInchot had already clashed with Coolidge when he asked him to intervene in a coal strike in Pennsylvania. Coolidge declined.

In October, 1923, the Tea Pot Dome scandal began to surface. Coolidge was under suspicion for a while as he had been present at many cabinet meetings where decisions were made. Eventually, he was shown to be clear of any involvement and his reputation as incorruptible kept him out of the scandal. Senator Thomas J Walsh of Montana, a Democrat and maverick, had been leading the investigation. Coolidge then took charge of the investigation, outflanking Walsh by appointing a special counsel. In fact, he appointed two, a Democrat and a Republican. This act took much of the partisan steam out of the scandal and it did not affect the 1924 election.

Harry Daugherty was the next Tea Pot Dome figure to come under scrutiny. He had been Harding’s campaign mastermind but he had no relationship with Coolidge. However, the austere Coolidge resisted efforts to dismiss Daugherty. He said “I will not remove the Attorney General, for two reasons. First, it is a sound rule that when the president dies in office, it is the duty of his successor for the remainder of that term to maintain the counselors and policies of the deceased president. Second, I ask you if there is any man in the cabinet for whom- were he still living- President Harding would more surely demand his day in court?

Tremendous pressure was brought to bear on Coolidge. One evening, February 18, 1924, William Borah, a powerful member of the Senate, was urging the president to request Daugherty’s resignation. As he talked, Daugherty walked into the room. Coolidge had arranged a mano a mano. The next day Burton K Wheeler (who was to incur my father’s bitter enmity by his isolationist antics in 1940), a freshman Democratic Senator from Montana, introduced a resolution calling for an investigation of Daugherty’s Justice Department. It was all based on innuendo. Recent investigation of the entire scandal has suggested that Daugherty, while appearances were not good, bore little responsibility for the crimes committed by some of his associates. In fact, some (including Coolidge’s biographer Robert Sobel) have concluded that the real target was Coolidge. He was well liked by the public but had little support within the GOP, especially the bosses.

Coolidge stood firm and many of the attacks on him by Democrats backfired. On February 29, the Democrats called upon him to release the tax records of Doheny, Fall and Sinclair. He refused noting this was prohibited by law. Slemp, his secretary, appeared before Congress as a witness and was questioned about telegrams he had seen. Nothing of consequence resulted. Burton K Wheeler then accused Daugherty of criminal activities. Daugherty retaliated with an accusation that Wheeler, a Democrat, was involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, the “Wobblies,” a radical socialist group. Eventually, the entire matter deteriorated into a series of accusations directed at each side. Daugherty refused to provide Justice Department records to the Senate committee and, eventually, this provided Coolidge with a justification to request his resignation and end the controversy.

For Daugherty’s replacement, Coolidge chose an Amherst alumnus (naturally), named Harlan Fisk Stone, former Dean of Columbia Law School and a distinguished judge. To replace Denby, Borah suggested Curtis Wilbur, an Annapolis graduate and Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. Both were outstanding nominations and they were quickly confirmed. First, Coolidge had to ease Daugherty out and he asked Chief Justice Taft, with whom he had a close relationship, to bring Daugherty around to reality. Coolidge replied to Daugherty’s protests with ” I am not questioning your fairness or integrity. I am merely reciting the fact that you are placed in two positions; one is your personal interest, the other your office of attorney general, which may be in conflict. How can I satisfy a request for action in matters of this nature on the grounds that you, as attorney general, advise against it, when you are the individual against whom the inquiry is directed necessarily have a personal interest in it?” Daugherty protested but resigned the next day.

Harlan Stone was easily confirmed as Attorney General and the entire matter faded from public view, especially after Senator Wheeler was himself indicted on a bribery charge. He was eventually exonerated but the public lost interest in the committee and the scandal. The only people actually tried were Fall, Doheny and Sinclair. Later, after the matter had faded from the press, Wheeler and Walsh had occasion to meet with the president to plead for a road project in Montana. He listened to their presentation then commented dryly, “Well, I don’t want to see any scandal about it.” Wheeler told the story on himself

The entire matter had left Coolidge a popular president with the country but not in Washington. The politicians had not wanted him on the ticket in 1920 and they did not want him in 1924. His legislative agenda, some thirty recommended pieces of legislation, was defunct with only one item passed. That was a minor bill reorganizing the diplomatic service. The Soldiers’ Bonus Bill passed both houses of Congress and was vetoed by Coolidge as it would be by Roosevelt. It passed over his veto in the form of a paid up insurance plan which cost the government $2 billion. Coolidge signed the immigration bill with reluctance because it singled out Japanese immigrants for a total ban. This would have repercussions later in foreign policy with Japan. Newspapers commented on the record of Congress ignoring Coolidge’s agenda in legislation. However, the public was behind Coolidge. The 1924 election was coming quickly.

This is becoming too long for a single post and will be continued this weekend.

Another reason to leave Afghanistan.

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Spengler provides another reason why Afghanistan is a place we should be leaving.

An article in the Scotsman of May 24, 2002, reported, for example: “In Bagram, British marines returning from an operation deep in the Afghan mountains spoke last night of an alarming new threat – being propositioned by swarms of gay local farmers. An Arbroath marine, James Fletcher, said: ‘They were more terrifying than the al-Qaeda. One bloke who had painted toenails was offering to paint ours. They go about hand in hand, mincing around the village.’ While the marines failed to find any al-Qaeda during the seven-day Operation Condor, they were propositioned by dozens of men in villages the troops were ordered to search.”

Another interviewee in the article, a marine in his 20s, stated, “It was hell. Every village we went into we got a group of men wearing makeup coming up, stroking our hair and cheeks and making kissing noises.”

The trouble, the researchers surmise, is “Pashtun society’s extremely limited access to women,” citing a Los Angeles Times interview with a young Pashtun identified as Daud. He only has sex with men, explaining: “I like boys, but I like girls better. It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful. But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is beautiful.”

Many of the Pashtuns interviewed allow “that homosexuality is indeed prohibited within Islam, warranting great shame and condemnation. However, homosexuality is then narrowly and specifically defined as the love of another man. Loving a man would therefore be unacceptable and a major sin within this cultural interpretation of Islam, but using another man for sexual gratification would be regarded as a foible -undesirable but far preferable to sex with a ineligible woman, which in the context of Pashtun honor, would likely result in issues of revenge and honor killings.”