Monday, March 30, 2009

Deseret Territory, MMM Part 4

The State of Deseret proposed by the Mormons in 1849 was enormous (solid dark line on map). If approved as a state, it's 265,000 square miles would've comprised 20% of the Union as it existed in 1849. The U.S. approved it as a smaller territory (see dotted line on map), known as Utah Territory, with the provision to be able to divide it into future smaller states. Of course, it was not allowed to retain its original size. By the time Utah was accepted into the Union as a state in 1896, its size had shrunk considerably.

In order to better understand the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, a little knowledge of some of the things going on in the State of Deseret is necessary.

Salt Lake Valley was part of Mexico when the first Mormon pioneers trickled in in 1847. Of course the Mormons knew this. In fact, it was one of the main reasons they wanted to settle there. They wanted to be free of the persecution they had encountered for practicing their religious beliefs in the U.S. Mormons had been killed, their settlements burned out, their rights legislated against, and intimidated and chased out by violent mobs everywhere they tried to live among the U.S. citizens in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. They hoped for political independence by leaving the U.S. territory for a desolate and sparsely peopled area of Mexico.

The Mexican-American War was raging at that time. It culminated with the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, giving the U.S. more than a million square miles of territory (all of present day AZ, CA, NV, NM, TX, UT & part of CO & WY). But of course, that isn't the whole story. It never is. Mormon leadership played both sides of the war game. U.S. President Polk was agreeable to a proposal of Brigham Young (the Leader and Prophet of the Mormons after founder Joseph Smith was killed in Illinois) that mormon troops be sent to fight in the Mexican-American War. By providing and outfitting a Mormon Battalion for the war effort, Brigham Young helped to prepare the territory for the upcoming mass migration of mormons into the newly conquered area.

The result was the "Territory of Utah" (still called Deseret by the Mormons) with Brigham Young named as territorial governor. Federal officials were provided and overseen by the U.S. Government.

Throughout the 1850's the likehood of Utah becoming a state had no national political support because:

1. In August 1852, the Mormon Church made a public announcement of the Doctrine of Plural Marriage, which caused a huge amount of anti-mormon feelings across the U.S. (side note: it was also a shock to many foreign converts who had been recruited overseas into giving up everything they owned to live in Deseret; polygamy had been downplayed during recruitment).

2. There had been a 10-yr deterioration in Federal and Mormon relations fueled by many conflicts. Famous Mountain Man Jim Bridger persistently lobbied Washington DC against Utah. Federal appointees found it impossible to function with prosecutors and federal marshals unable to challenge mormon vigilante tactics. In what became known as THE UTAH WAR of 1857-1858, Federal Troops were sent into Utah. Mormons felt like they were under seige and worried that the persecution they thought they had escaped was beginning all over again.

3. A discovery of major gold and silver in Western Utah Territory (now Virginia City, NV) known as the Comstock Lode brought dreams of the wealth of a second Gold Rush to many U.S. citizens. However, Mormons were anti-mining due to a prophesy about retaining the wealth underground for future generations and were thus seen as an obstacle in the path of glittering riches.

These 3 issues inflamed the national perception of Utah's Mormons and its Leaders as immoral, un-American, disloyal, possibly dangerous, and certainly not mainstream citizens.

However, it may have been a 4th issue, Theocracy, that led to outrage and repeated calls for carving up and parceling out of the Utah Territory. Afterall, no other state came under such intense pressure for obliteration as a geopolitcal entity -- not even the post-civil war states of the Confederacy.

The theocratic melding of church leadership and governance was unique in Deseret. Brigham Young and other powerful mormon leaders were completely disdainful and disrespectful of Federal officials. Their form of territorial government was violent. They ruled with absolute power and authority over the even the most mundane aspects of everyday life.

And here is a little-discussed fact: A state of rebellion existed WITHIN Utah during this time. Many Utahns were not happy with the daily realities of theocracy. They wanted to escape the cruelties of mormon society. Escape, however, was almost impossible because the Mormon Leadership had a bloody method of dealing with mormon defections...

This method was the infamous "Blood Atonement". Originally introduced by Joseph Smith, but never published or openly acknowledged, it was restored by Brigham Young during this period, leading to a reign of terror. Blood Atonement means cutting off the head, slitting the throat from ear to ear, which was somehow supposed to provide a means of grace, an atonement for sins committed, that would allow the apostate or deviant a chance to redeem himself or herself in heaven.

Those who dared to flee Deseret were hunted down and blood atoned. Rumors of slayings pervaded the area, yet none were ever reported in the Deseret News, nor was anyone brought to justice. Those who wished to flee found themselves with only one real opportunity ... trying to hook up with one of the Emigrant Trains passing through the territory and hoping they were well beyond Utah's borders before their escape was discovered.

In this pre-civil war period of heightened sensitivity regarding secession, the New York Times published reports of prominent Mormons purchasing young girls for polygamous marriages (which sounded a lot like slavery to abolitionists), along with vague rumors that Brigham Young and the Mormon Leadership were guilty of personal deeds of murder and crime. This news culminated in a bill introduced in Congress to make polgyamy illegal. Presidential candidate Stephen A. Douglas became a most articulate enemy of the Mormons, calling the religion a "loathsome ulcer ... gnawing at the very vitals of the body politic ... (needing to) be cut out by the roots and served over a red hot iron of stern and unfliching law."

Brigham Young alledgedly celebrated the victory of James Buchanan over Stephen Douglas by hauling lead ore from Las Vegas to Salt Lake to manufacture weapons. In an act as seditious as anything happening in the Southern states, Utah announced it would decide which American laws were to be obeyed in Utah. Setting the stage for Federal intervention, newly-elected President Buchanan initiated a forlorn search for a new territorial governor. He ordered troops to mass at Fort Leavenworth and prepare to "invade" Utah.

Brigham Young sent letters to the far-flung outposts of Mormonism, ordering them to sell their property and return home to Deseret. "Bring all the powder, lead and caps you possibly can", Young wrote to the Brethren. Young also ordered loyal Indian Agents, like Jacob Hamblin who lived at Mountain Meadows, to rouse up the normally complacent Indians, "for they must learn that they have either got to help us or the United States will kill us both." He wanted to enlist them as mutual enemies of the detested 'Mericats (local Indian slang for Americans).

At the same time, Young tried to give the impression that bloodthirsty natives would murder outsiders if not for his efforts to restrain them. In reality, nearly all reports of "Indian" massacres in Utah Territory carried with them tales of white-faced natives who used mormon slang words. The Utes (northern utah) were unwilling allies, having been mistreated by Mormons since their arrival among them. The Paiutes (southern utah) were known as a generally peaceful group. President Buchanan presented documents to the 1857 Congress that Brigham Young was "tampering with the Indian Tribes and exciting their hostile feelings against the United States."

Much of Young's posturing was just that, for he fully expected a political solution before Spring of 1858, the earliest the troops from Ft Leavenworth could make it into Utah. Still, he continued preaching war and rebellion, vengeance and blood atonement redemption. On August 5, 1857, as the Fancher Train lodged in the nearby Jordan campsite, Young issued a proclamation to the citizens of Utah declaring, "we are invaded by a hostile force who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction."

Young then ordered the mormon settlements along the Emmigrant Path through Utah to hoard their grain and provisions, and to make plans to burn their towns and farms and to flee to the mountains with their families if they were overcome. The result of this proclamation was to fuel the mormon's fanaticism and fear of annihilation and to incite people to revenge and bloodshed.

At this moment of high tension and exhortations to violence, Brigham Young sent Mormon Militia Colonel and Apostle George A. Smith to the southern communties (including Mountain Meadows) to deliver orders to church leaders along the emigrant route to California. "I have been sent by Brigham Young", Smith said to John Doyle Lee, "to find out what you think the brethren would do with any emigrant train passing through this country ... would they be permitted to go their way?" Lee told Smith in no uncertain terms that any emigrant train that passed would be "used up" -- mormon slang for slaughtered. "I believe any train of emigrants that may come through here will be attacked and used up", Lee said. Smith was reportedly "much pleased with this, laughing heartily". Lee said he told Smith "You must inform Governor Young that if he wants emigrants to pass without being molested, he must send orders to that effect", thus making it clear that any desired outcome other than complete destruction should be specifically ordered by the church hierarchy. Lee would later write that he never doubted that his instructions were "to prepare the people for bloody work ... for George A. Smith was one of the twelve apostles of the church ... his orders to me were sacred commands which I considered my duty to obey without question or hesitation." Lee felt Smith's mission from Brigham Young was to order the extermination of the approaching Fancher Train. In fact, Lee believed wholeheartedly that he was under "the direct command of Brigham Young". next post will explore what transpired as The Fancher Train made its way south out of Salt Lake Valley... sorry this saga taking me so long ... if you missed them, scroll down for MMM Parts 1, 2, and 3...

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Restless Wind, MMM Part 3

There are many places to begin the story of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. Google it and you will see thousands of entries on this subject. Living not far from where the massacre happened and having ancestors who may have been actively or passively involved, I wanted to explore the subject. But to try to understand what happened requires a bit of background.

For my purposes, let us begin in Arkansas, drawing extensively on Sally Denton's book American Massacre ...

These are some of the choices of possible trails west in the 1800's laid over a modern map of the states.

The aridity of the southern-most trail through NM & AZ and its fierce Apache warriors made it an especially hard route for those driving cattle.

Taking the northern routes presented the traveler with choices in Fort Bridger Wyoming and again in Salt Lake City Utah. Those whose goal was to end up in California could take the California Trail across the vast void of the Great Plains of present day Nevada, eventually traversing the treacherous Sierra Nevada Mtn Range (this is what the Donner Party did).

Another option was to follow the Mormon Trail through the high country of Utah. Although more primitive, this route afforded good grazing and supply towns along the rivers & valleys before the long dry run from Las Vegas to San Bernardino. The local Indians were driven by extreme poverty to be opportunistic raiders of unguarded goods, but were otherwise considered peaceful and cooperative.

The California Gold Rush was drawing many people west. In the summer of 1849, Arkansas cattle rancher John Fancher asked his younger brother Alexander, "Are you as tired of looking at the damn double-shovel plow as I am?" The two brothers were also best friends who, along with other family members, had assembled one of the finest breeding stock operations in the southern U.S. Their longhorns were prospering in the Ozark Mountain area of Arkansas, but the idea of year-round grazing, ideal weather conditions for growing hay, and high prices for beef paid by miners had much appeal.

Their first trip west in 1850 was a preliminary exploration. They planned to drive a hardy herd of cattle overland on the Oregon Trail, then drop down into California seeking the most enticing ranch property they could find within a reasonable distance of the gold mining area. For unknown reasons, their original plans changed en route. Some accounts say they went across the Great Plains of northern Nevada. Other accounts claim the Fanchers departed from the California Trail in Salt Lake City and took the more primitive wagon trail through central Utah, possibly camping at Mountain Meadows. This only becomes significant 7 years later when Alexander Fancher decides to take this very same route on his final trip.

On this first trip, the Fancher brothers explored California before deciding to settle near the tiny town of Visalia. They staked out a ranch site along a creek and registered their livestock brand in Tulare County in 1852. In Visalia, cattle could graze year-round since it had snow-free winters. The brothers built basic facilities for their enterprise in the then sparsely populated county, including a house, corrals, outbuildings and fences. John's immediate family traveled by steamer from New Orleans to Panama, rode mules across the isthmus, caught a ship to San Diego, then rode north to Visalia.

Alexander returned to Arkansas and amassed some 400 cattle for a 2nd trip west. He led them and a wagon train of 13 families in April 1854, following the trail from Fort Bridger across northern Nevada and south along the Sierra Nevada range to Visalia. As he passed through the California gold fields, he sold many of his steers, making an astronomical profit, while keeping the females to replenish the herd in Visalia. Things were looking good.

Alexander then returned to Arkansas for the third/final trip west, which involved gathering a tremendous herd and bringing his family and others for the permanent move to California. He immediately began putting together one of the largest wagon trains in America's westward expansion.

On this final trip, Alexander would share command of the "Fancher Train" (as it came to be known) with John "Captain Jack" Baker, a successful landholder, farmer and cattleman. For the next 2 years, Fancher and Baker oversaw the organization of the entourage. Because these people would mostly become their neighbors in California, they were very selective in who they recruited. They wanted only solid and responsible persons whose abilities had been honed in the military, whose horsemanship was superior, and whose tenacity for driving cattle on the trail would enable them to successfully lead such a large wagon train across the country with their families.

In addition to the Fanchers, the original families were the Bakers, Mitchells, Millers, Dunlaps, and Camerons. For more than a year, the wives organized domestic items like clothing, camp stoves, sewing machines, water buckets, dishes, and bulk provisions of flour, rice, sugar, beans, butter, etc. Their husbands outfitted the wagons, collected livestock, ammunition, tools and forges. Eventually as many as 200 men, women and children would join The Fancher Train journeying toward the better life they envisioned in California. Most of them were related by blood or marriage in some way or another.

Alexander convinced his cousins, James and Robert Fancher, to join by promising them "wage in cattle" to begin their own ranches in California. Captain Jack Baker's sons, George and Abel, agreed to go, though Jack's wife of 22-yrs refused saying, "Arkansas is plenty good enough for me". In addition to cattle, Captain Baker took along oxen, mules and a mare. He owned 8 slaves, but it is unknown if they accompanied him. More likely, he sold them for gold before leaving Arkansas. George Baker brought considerable cash and personal property including rifles and double-barreled shotguns. He was also said to have brought 2 hired hands, though their names are unknown.

The Camerons were the wealthiest family in the group, carrying a large amount of gold coin (as much as $100,000 by some estimates, and this was when the annual salary of the president of the United States was $25K) for purchasing land in California. Most of the gold was secreted in specially built wagon compartments. The Camerons brought choice dairy cows and a racing mare named One-Eyed Blaze who was descended from famous bloodstock and was indisputably the fastest mount in the party. She was worth an untold fortune. You will hear more of One-Eyed Blaze later.

The interrelated Dunlap and Mitchell families comprised about 30 people in wagons with 21 yoke of oxen, 92 cattle, many guns, pistols, bowie knives and cash, according to an inventory. As the Fancher Train neared departure, the 15-member Jones and Tackitt families joined, bringing 60 more cattle and heavily-loaded wagons brimming with household belongings.

History has forgotten the names of many others participating in the trek. For example, an unknown number of single men and teenagers signed on at the last minute, mostly as riflemen, wranglers and drovers. They must have eagerly anticipated prosperous futures in California. Others may have joined up along the route (more about that later), but we may never know all the names of those associated with the caravan before they met death in Utah.

The cattle herd now numbered about 1,000 rare longhorn cattle, healthy heifers and beef steers, pampered dairy cows and agile horses. Alexander Fancher rode his Egyptian Arabian Stallion, called Ebony King, who rivaled One-Eyed Blaze in value and speed. There were some 200 other horses of varying pedigrees. They carried an inventory of quality weaponry and a stockpile of expensive ammunition. Three uniquely elegant carriages, their panels emblazoned with stag's heads, transported some of the wealthier women (you will hear more about one of these carriages later).

The Arkansans began gathering in April 1857. It took 15 days to assemble the company, organize the leadership, practice defensive maneuvers, and assign wagon placement, chores and responsibilties. On May 7, 1857, the Fancher Train began their western migration following the Arkansas River. The men rode horses in the lead; the women and children rode in wagons or walked alongside. They had converted their life savings into gold and were transporting it along with their most precious possessions and children. It was publically noted as the wealthiest wagon train to ever cross the continent.

One of the largest wagon trains to travel that summer, the Fancher Train ambled along at 10-12 miles a day, slowed by their immense herd. This gave the men plenty of time to waste ammunition on target practice games, something that would have catastrophic ramifications later.

The purple dots represent the Fancher Train route (click to enlarge):

The travelers anticipated a good rest in Salt Lake City where according to long-standing Mormon advertisments, they could fatten their livestock and replenish their supplies. The Mormons had prospered so greatly from this type of commerce, the Deseret News eagerly reported the arrival of emigrant trains so local merchants could stock up on supplies they knew the trains would be purchasing.

But as the Fancher Train passed from Fort Bridger down toward Salt Lake City, they could not know they were entering a territory that had recently undergone some radical changes. Mormons were experiencing a rising tide of religious fanaticism coupled with persecution paranoia. The Deseret News uncharacteristically failed to note the Fancher Train's arrival, a bad omen in hindsight.

On August 3, 1857, Alexander Fancher led the wagons to Utah's Jordan River, a favorite campsite in the Salt Lake Valley he knew from his previous cross-country treks. The emigrants and their livestock were in remarkable health considering the distance and terrain they had traveled from Arkansas. Baker and the cattlemen drove the impressive herd to the nearby Wasatch foothills to graze on public domain land while the rest of the train looked forward to purchasing fresh supplies.

From that day on, as one historian puts it, the Arkansas party appeared to be a marked train...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Red River Valley, MMM Part 2

There's a subject I want to write more about but can't figure out the angle. The subject is historical and readily available online. I just need to figure out how to make it personal.

Maybe this song will help get me in the mood. One of my grandfathers used to sing it to the grandkids after he'd had a coupla two three. He was the grandson of someone who was involved in the subject I want to write about.

My grandpa would always call two or three grandkids up onto his lap to sing along. The cue was "come and sit by my side if you love me, do not hasten to bid me adieu" ...

That was the old Eddy Arnold version. Lots of singers have covered it over the years (baritone Tex Ritter, CW-style Marty Robbins, lonesome ethereal Jimmy Rodgers, twangy redheaded stranger Willie Nelson), but Arnold's downhome voice sounds most like my grandpa.

I don't ever remember telling my grandpa that I loved him, except during the singing of Red River Valley. His first wife died during the terrible 1918 Flu Pandemic (which was unique in causing greatest morbidity among healthy young adults, age 15-34).

He floundered for awhile, then met & married my grandma and they managed to raise 7 kids during The Great Depression. He died of a broken heart after my grandma preceded him to the grave. I always thought he was singing Red River Valley for both his wives. One was a dark-haired beauty and the other a freckled redhead. Guess which one was my grandma.

I may need to noodle this around some more. Have patience...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring Mysteries, MMM Part 1

Spring Comes to my Desert Garden:

click any image to enlarge: Lilacs, Tulips, Blooming Rosemary, Yellow Gopher Plants

Spring Also Comes to Mountain Meadows:

But what is this strange "crop" growing in the once lush meadow?

Who placed these rocks here and why? What strange roots grow under these rock "formations"? The archeologist in me wants to know if there are bodies buried under the rocks.

Stay tuned .... it is quite a sad story ...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just in time for St Paddy's Day

Alcohol Shot Gun
Armed with the Alcohol Shot Gun, you can pull the liquor trigger on yourself! Just pour your favorite drink into the cartridge, cock the trigger, point and shoot.

WARNING: to be used only with alcohol. Manufacturer is not responsible if you should happen to load this weapon with tap water! Standards must be strictly maintained for the enjoyment of all.

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Here is another fun St Paddy's item that might be necessary to wear after imbibing a few of those Alchohol Gun Shots: Taken at a StP parade in Vegas, any resemblance to me, one of my sisters and nephew is purely coincidental ... though it must be said, I'd certainly prefer looking at the world through green-colored glasses than rose-colored ones!

EK will be playing in a local St Patrick's Tennis Tournament. The only dress rules are to wear something green. Here is what I suggested:

An Irish-ish thought for the day:
As you can tell, I think St Patrick's Day is for fun. Good thing, too, because what we will be doing the rest of week is not so fun. We will be attending a seminar series by the authors of "Massacre at Mountain Meadows". We live near where this heinous crime took place in Sept 1857, and like many locals I want to know if this book is yet another cover-up by the LDS church. The authors had unprecedented access to all documents in the church archives and were supposedly allowed to publish their own conclusions. For me there is a personal aspect I'd like to pursue and that is the extent of involvement by at least one of my ancestors. Maybe he wasn't involved in the actual slaughter, at least that is the family story, but there are historical accounts of his involvement afterwards including tracking of 2 massacre escapees. Many local residents would like the truth, not only about the massacre itself, but also to what extent the church gagged local witnesses and/or participants, some of whom eventually escaped from Utah Territory altogether rather than face blood executions and other reprisals. There is much family evidence that has never been made public. 150+years after the fact, it's beyond time to heal this bloody wound.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

What's wrong with Nevada's Governor?

Zion Raven painting by Jeff Ham.

You might think that the Governor of a state that is as far down on its luck as Nevada would be eager to take advantage of Stim funds, but you'd be wrong. Governor Jim Gibbons is seriously considering taking a pass.

As my neighboring state, the place I grew up and the state where most of my family still resides, I am very worried about Nevada.

Nevada’s economy has been more than just rocked by the current recession. It leads the nation in many areas of economic depression. Home foreclosures have never been higher, home sales have never been lower, the budget for the state is indicating a shortfall of more than $1 billion, job losses continue to pile up, hunger and homelessness rates are surging, crime is skyrocketing, while sales and gaming tax receipts have collapsed.

Nevada could expect to receive about $1.5 billion from The Stim if Governor Gibbons agrees to accept it. While $1.5 Billion amounts to less Stim spending per person in Nevada than any other state except Utah, it will be very welcome to the hard-hit Nevada residents. The money would be distributed to Medicaid and transportation, education and unemployment, and various energy projects.

Similar to Governor Jindal of LA, Gibbons' big problem with accepting Stim money comes down to unemployment (not his own, but the unemployment benefits afforded to the 9.1% of Nevada's workers who are currently unemployed). The Stim increases the scope of benefits for the unemployed through 2011. Once the federal money stops, the state would either have to provide benefits itself at the higher level OR cut benefits back to their pre-stimulus level. Both Jindal and Gibbons say accepting Stim money for unemployment benefits will jeopardize their state's sovereignty ... but The Stim doesn't require the states to spend any money in the current budget or to commit to spend money after 2011 ... so I think they are full of BS.

If Gibbons makes good on his threat to refuse The Stim, he may become the man formerly known as governor. (note: while that is a link to a short fun article in The Las Vegas Sun, if you care to know more details about why Jim Gibbons may just be America's Worst Governor, here is a link to a witty blog full of insider info on The Gub ... though you really need to view that Las Vegas Sun article to understand why Gibbon's nickname is Dr. Null.)

Perhaps the Governors who are threatening to refuse The Stim might consider that people who are suffering do not easily suffer fools. Maybe if those Governors were facing unemployment themselves, they might not be so quick to refuse federal aid.

If you're interested in seeing how your state is planning to spend Stim money, click here for the site.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Enflamed Inferno

OK, you can blame Border Explorer for this!

She posted a fun link to The Hero Factory that allows you to create a superhero version of yourself.

The minute I saw all the options, I was hooked. How many times do you get a chance to re-invent your looks? Try it and you'll see what I mean. Go on, you deserve a killer bod.

I have no idea what kind of hero an "Enflamed Inferno" is, but it sounds like something out of "The Divine Comedy" (abandon all hope, ye who enter).

I'm gonna print out a copy and hang it over the treadmill for inspiration. If it doesn't work, I can always point the flamethrower at it. Hah!

* * * * * * * *
UNRELATED RECOMMENDATION, BEST 30-MINUTES ON TV THIS WEEK: Jon Stewart ripped Jim Cramer apart Thursday night on The Daily Show. It was the culmination of about a week's worth of Daily Show analysis of CNBC financial acumen. The whole Daily Show was devoted to interviewing a subdued & contrite Cramer, but even so, they had to edit about 8-minutes. They promised to post the complete unedited version Friday on

This was the only piece of the show I could find posted tonight:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Class Warfare ... in two years

America's wealthy class is whining about returning to the pre-Bush tax rates in 2011. They even have the nerve to call it class warfare. The same epithet was hurled at FDR, but it's not class warfare to ask the wealthiest 5% of Americans to pay more. Here's 3 reasons why:

First of all, they are getting 2-yrs notice. Bush tax rates will still be in effect for the 2009 and 2010 tax years. That is waaaay more notice than any of our unemployed workers are getting. So they've got 2 years to strategize with their accountants, plotting out ways to push as much income and dividends and capital gains into 2009 & 2010 as possible. Get busy, you whiners.

Second, the oooh-so-scary soak-the-rich rates that are causing them to piss all over themselves amounts to a mere 4% hike in ordinary income tax rates! Regular people are facing 20% inflation or more for groceries and necessities.

Now it's true the dividend and capital gains tax rates will go up more than 4%. They will probably rise by 13% ... in 2011. If anyone still has any dividends or capital gains to pay tax on by then, they should count themselves fortunate.

Third, the wealthy can afford to pay more. Yes they can! Those with enough discretionary income to buy a yacht can afford to pay a higher tax rate than those who can barely afford to feed, clothe and shelter their families. It doesn't matter if they inherited their wealth or worked their balls off to earn it; if they have it, they can afford to pay a higher tax rate.

The way I see it, the wealthy class of this country got a free ride for the last 8-yrs. In two more years, they will be required to start paying some of it back. In the meantime, they earned unprecedented profits, especially if they were invested in "defense" companies that earned "offensive" profits from the neocon plan for permanent war.

Those profits didn't just materialize out of thin air, either. They came from an extensive war waged on the middle class by the wealthy class, for which the middle class are presenting a bill that starts becoming due in 2-yrs. While the middle class whined about what was happening during the last 8-yrs, it was not too loudly, and in the end, they shut up and accepted their decreased purchasing power. They did not, for instance, follow the route of The Jacquerie who staged a Peasant's Revolt in 1358.

image: Jacquerie by Henri Louvet, click to enlarge
If the wealthy class wants to know what real class warfare looks like, they should consider the following I synthesized from Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror":

In 1358, a group of peasants who became known as The Jacquerie, tired of their own families going hungry & dying from illness while they labored unceasingly for the upper classes, held an indignation meeting. They blamed the nobles for their miseries. No plan of revolution, but simple hate ignited The Jacquerie. They began burning down manors and killing the nobles. Some of the nobles were burned at the stake. The revolt gathered force as more peasants joined, armed with the weaponry of agriculture, scythes, pitchforks, hatchets and other farming implements. They pursued fleeing nobles, slicing off heads of those captured. Froissart writes of "a knight who was killed and roasted on a spit before the eyes of his wife and children. Then after 10 or 12 of The Jacquerie violated the lady they forced her and her children to eat some of her dead husband's flesh and then they killed them." When asked why they did all these things, The Jacquerie replied that they wished "to rid the world of nobles and then there would be none any more". This theme would recur with renewed vengance in the French Revolution.

Consider that and then consider whining about a lousy 4% tax hike!

When the wealthy wage class warfare against the lower classes, it usually takes the form of the lower classes being heavily taxed, overworked, underpaid, and carrying a disproportionate burden of supporting society.

When the lower classes wage class warfare against the wealthy, it can be a peaceful realignment of shared responsibility ... or it can result in a bloodbath ... in two years.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lovely Luna

Beautiful full moon tonight, March 10th!

The Vernal Equinox occurs in 10 days, March 20th. I guess winter is officially over. For me, that means maybe 2 months before the temps shoot past 100 ... even at midnight! Better get my spring gardening done quickly.

Today also marks 50 days since Obama was inaugurated. Tired of hearing about his "failure to control the depression" and "attempting to bring (gasp) socialism to America"?

Well it's true, Obama may not have changed the Oval Office decor, but here are a few reminders of things he has accomplished in his first 50 days:

  • Drafted an executive order to close down Gitmo within 1-yr
  • Mandated all U.S. interrogators in all agencies adhere to the Army Field Manual
  • Called for CIA detention centers around the world to be shut down
  • Lifted the ban on photographing the flag-draped caskets of our war dead
  • Ordered planned drawdown of combat troops in Iraq ("our combat mission in Iraq will end by August 31, 2010")
  • Committed 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, "the forgotten front" (please let these troops rebuild more than destroy)
  • Invited Iran and other muslim nations to participate in a scheduled March conference about Afghanistan
  • Rolled back Bush's ban on federal funding of Stem Cell Research
  • Removed restrictions on aid to international family planning groups that might include abortion services
  • Revoked Bush's "Provider Conscience Rule" so that patients may now obtain health care their doctors have prescribed
  • Authorized full scientific reviews of endangered wildlife and plants regulation
  • Directed that stricter fuel efficiency standards, tougher regulations on mercury and other toxins, be finalized and implemented
  • Asked the EPA to re-allow California and other states the right to set their own stricter automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards
  • Proposed more comprehensive global climate change initiatives requiring companies to adhere to emissions caps
  • Signed executive orders designed to make it easier for unions to organize
  • Signed the Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill into law
  • Announced the govt withdrawal of oil and gas leases offered on 103,225 acres of public land for drilling near national parks in Utah that Bush rammed through in Nov-Dec 2008
  • Scrapped leases for oil shale development on federal land in Colorado and Wyoming
  • Rejected Bush's plan for coastal oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific shores
  • Signaled that presidential signing statements will no longer be used in the Bush manner to ignore portions of legislation
  • Signed into law a $787Billion Economic Stimulus Plan that aims to create or save over 3 million jobs
  • Proposed a $3.5Trillion budget that funds Democratic priorities for social programs
  • Launched an effort to overhaul the U.S. Healthcare system with the goal of reaching bipartisan agreement this year
  • Signed final version of SCHIP expansion which requires states to provide health care for about 11 million low-income children, including children of illegal immigrants (thanks to Annette for pointing this out!)
  • continues to fulfill his promise to We The People to keep us informed, and in an intelligent and meaningful way to make us part of the governing process

Not bad for 50-days! Even the Moon is inspired ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rikki Tikki Tavi

Twenty-five years ago, I started my own business. It was the best of times and worst of times. There were good years and lean years, but even the worst years gave me the satisfaction of succeeding or failing all by myself.

We formally dissolved the company last year. This weekend I completed and filed its final tax returns. While I've got mixed emotions over the company's demise, I'm not sorry to leave all the legal rigamarole behind. Let's just say the tax bureaucracy is alive and well. It thrives on mind-numbing detail. In that sense, it was a fair fight. No one can out-detail me!

The final tax battle consumed me for the last few months, but now that it's behind me, I find myself feeling a bit like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I fought the snakes, and now I can finally live at peace in my garden (and maybe even blog a little more)! You remember Rikki Tikki, don't you? The mongoose in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book"?

While I loved the many characters in The Jungle Book, it was Rikki Tikki who most captured my childhood fancies. Kipling must've named him for the high-pitched chittering sound mongooses are known for. He was described as both cat-like and weasel-like. Rikki Tikki was agile, cunning and fearless in defeating and killing snakes.

Kipling's Rikki-Tikki-Tavi story centers on a great war Rikki fought all by himself. He killed three venomous snakes before they could murder Rikki's adoptive family. Two of the snakes were deadly cobras, named Nag and Nagaina. At one point, Rikki has to enter the snake's dark burrow to finish his red-eyed dance of death.

Kipling's frightening descriptive poem of that underground battle is burned in my brain (the only poem in the story):

At the hole where he went in
Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
"Nag, come up and dance with death!"
Eye to eye and head to head, (Keep the measure, Nag.)

This shall end when one is dead, (At thy pleasure, Nag.)
Turn for turn and twist for twist, (Run and hide thee, Nag.)
Hah! The hooded Death has missed! (Woe betide thee, Nag!)

If you're interested in reading Rikki's epic story, click here. Warning: it only pretends to be a children's tale.

OK, so much for bloodlust. As the great Joseph Campbell might say, Rikki Tikki Tavi's story is a standard hero mythology. While I may feel a bit heroic after slogging through this year's tax mess, I certainly don't pretend to heroism on any scale. Kipling says that cobras actually fear mongooses. Is it possible that the IRS fears the taxpayer? Now wouldn't that be funny?

Donovan (remember him?) sang about Rikki-Tikki-Tavi :

Just a song from the past ... Nothing to see in the vid ... Gotta look inside-a yourself ... No one will kill-a your snakes for you!

As I finished conquering the IRS snakes this weekend, I could barely suppress a little Rikki Tikki chitter. I may have done a modified mongoose red-eyed dance at the post office today (extending my long neck and bouncing my head as I stuffed the tax returns into the narrow mail slot). If I did, I'm sure the postal workers understood. If they didn't, they should re-read The Jungle Book (that's a link to the entire book published online).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mindless Fun

Have you ever suspected you're the only intelligent person on the planet? If only there were some way of proving it so that you can get the adulation and free pale ale you deserve ...(3.5 minutes)...

ps, the "Instant Intelligence Test" at the end of the vid test proves it! I am A+ smart! ... hmmmm, something doesn't feel quite right about that ... kinda like the polluters that were regulating themselves under Bush ... maybe that's why it's so important that we finally have real SCIENCE back in the WHITE HOUSE ... then again, maybe we are all just along for the ride ...