March 28, 1892 Two-Gun Hart, Prohibition Cowboy

Hart was loved by temperance types and hated by the “wets”, and famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported that this hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.”

A boy was born on this day in 1892 in the south of Italy, James Vincenzo, the first son of a barber named Gabriele and his wife, Teresa. A second son named Ralph came along before the small family emigrated to the United States in pursuit, of a better life.

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Silent film cowboy star William S Hart

Gabriele and Teresa would have seven more children in time: Frank and Alphonse followed by Ermina who sadly died in infancy, John, Albert, Matthew and Mafalda.

Most of the brothers followed a life of petty crime but not Vincenzo, the first-born who would often take the ferry to Staten Island to escape the overcrowded mayhem, of the city.

Vincenzo got a job there with help from his father. He was cleaning stables and learning how to care for horses. He even learned to ride and preferred the more “American sounding” part of his name, of “James”.

James newfound love of horses led to a fascination with Buffalo Bill Cody and the “Wild West” shows, popular at this time. At sixteen he left the city for good. James family had no idea where he had gone until a letter, a year later. James was in Kansas he wrote working as a roustabout, with a traveling circus.

This was the age of the silent film, William S. Hart one of the great “cowboy” stars of the era. Hart was larger than life, the six-gun toting cow-punching gunslinger from a bygone era.

The roustabout idolized the silent film star and adopted his mannerisms, complete with low-slung six-shooters, red bandanna and ten-gallon hat. He worked hard to lose his Brooklyn accent and explained his swarthy southern Italian color, saying he was part native American.

James even adopted the silent film star’s name and enlisted in the Army as Richard James Hart claiming to be a farmer, from Indiana. Some stories will tell you that Hart fought in France and rose to the rank of Lieutenant, in the military police. Others will tell you he joined the American Legion after the war only to be thrown out when it was learned, that the whole story was fake.

Be that as it may Vincenzo legally changed his name to Richard James Hart.

Richard Hart stepped off the freight train in 1919, a walking, talking anachronism. He was a 19th century Wild West gunfighter, from his cowboy boots to his embroidered vest to that broad-brimmed Stetson hat. This was Homer Nebraska, a small town of about 500, some seventeen miles from Sioux City Iowa.

Richard James “Two Gun” Hart

He claimed to be a hero of the Great War, personally decorated by General John J. Pershing. Intelligent, ambitious and not afraid of a little hard work, Hart took jobs as paper hanger, house painter, whatever it took.

He was short and powerfully built with the look of a man who carried mixed Indian or Mexican blood, regaling veterans at the local American Legion with tales of his exploits, against the Hun.

The man could fight and he knew how to use those guns, amazing onlookers with feats of marksmanship behind the Legion post.

Any doubts about Hart’s physical courage were put to rest that May when a flash-flood nearly killed the Winch family of neighboring Emerson Nebraska. Hart dashed across the raging flood time after time to bring the family to safety.  Nineteen-year-old Kathleen was so taken with her savior she married the man that Fall, a marriage that later produced four boys.

The small town was enthralled by this new arrival, the town council appointing Hart as Marshall. He was a big fish in a small pond, elected commander of the Legion post and district commissioner for the Boy Scouts of America.

The 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on January 16 of that year, the Volstead Act passed by the United States Congress over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson on October 29. “Prohibition” was now, the law of the land. It was now illegal to produce, import, transport or sell intoxicating liquor.

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Richard Hart became a prohibition agent in the Summer of 1920 and went immediately to work, destroying stills and arresting area bootleggers.

Hart was loved by temperance types and hated by the “wets”, famous across the state of Nebraska. The Homer Star reported that this hometown hero was “becoming such a menace in the state that his name alone carries terror to the heart of every criminal.

Officials at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs took note and before long, Hart was performing the more difficult (and dangerous) job of liquor suppression on the reservations.

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Hart brought his chaps and his six-shooters to South Dakota where the Yanktown reservation superintendent reported to his superiors in Washington “I wish to commend Mr. Hart in highest terms for his fearless and untiring efforts to bring these liquor peddlers and moonshiners to justice. …This man Hart is a go-getter.”

Hart became proficient in Lakota and Omaha dialects. Tribal leaders called him “Two Gun”, after the twin revolvers he wore. Some members of the Oglala tribe called him “Soiko”, a name roughly translating as “Big hairy boogey-man”.

By 1927, Two-Guns Hart had achieved such a reputation as to be appointed bodyguard to President Calvin Coolidge, on a trip through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By 1930, Richard James Hart was so famous a letter addressed only as “Hart” and adorned with a sketch of a brace of pistols, arrived to his attention.

Hart became livestock inspector after repeal of prohibition, and special agent assigned to the Winnebago and Omaha reservations.  He was re-appointed Marshall of his adopted home town but, depression-era Nebraska was tough.  The money was minuscule and the Marshall was caught, stealing cans of food.

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The relatives of one bootlegging victim from his earlier days tracked him down and beat him so severely with brass knuckles,  the prohibition cowboy lost his sight sight in one eye.

Fellow members of the American Legion had by this time contacted the Army to learn Hart’s WW1 tales, were fake.  Richard James Hart was never in the Army though his namesake Richard Jr. died fighting for the nation, in World War 2.

Turns out that other parts of the lawman’s story were phony, too.  A good story but altogether fake, just like the Italian American actor Espera Oscar de Corti better known character “Iron Eyes Cody” the “crying Indian”, who possessed not a drop of native American blood.  Nor did the mixed native American pretender, Richard James Hart.

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The lawman had left the slums of Brooklyn to become a Prohibition Cowboy while that little brother Alphonse, pursued a life of crime.  Richard James Hart was James Vincenzo Capone, long lost brother of Alphonse “Scarface” Capone.

A Trivial Matter
James Vincenzo Capone’s strange double-life came to the public eye for the first time in 1951, when defense attorneys subpoenaed Richard Hart to testify on behalf of his brother Ralph Capone. Hart faded into anonymity following a rash of newspaper stories, and died within a year at his adopted home town of Homer, the small Nebraska town where he stepped off that freight train, some 33 years earlier.

April 6, 1933 New Beer’s Eve

The night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect was April 6, 1933. Beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite watering holes waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years. 

Given the right combination of sugars, nearly any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  In all likelihood our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

In the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt, starch dusted stones and the remains of doum-palm and chamomile indicate “it’s very likely they were making beer there” according to University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, Dr. Patrick McGovern.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

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Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of the Germanic barbarians.  Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate, even so, letters from Roman cavalry commanders of the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia“, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping not for the frozen, rocky soil of New England, but for rich farmland and a congenial climate in the New World.   Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620 and may have kept going, had there been enough beer.  A Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…

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Prior to the invention of the drum roaster in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal or straw fires leaving a smoky quality which would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke“.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Brits hurried to scoop the stuff up in pots and pans.  Some got down on all fours and lapped it up off of the street, doggy-style.

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1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a stampede for the suds when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.

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The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week, and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the next five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions to his constituents, on how to make wine.

Smuggling operations became widespread as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

Moonshine-Cars

Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions became increasingly difficult for breaking a law that everyone hated. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.

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The federal government went so far as to deliberately poison denatured alcohol to discourage its “renaturing” resulting in no fewer than 10,000 dead. Even so, the writing was on the wall. Not even poisonous hooch was going to keep the determined reveler, from enjoying a drink.

At last even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never decreased by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933 with the quip, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7. For the first time in 13 years Americans could once again buy, sell and legally enjoy a beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House. It was the first public appearance of the now-famous, Budweiser Clydesdales.

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“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

18 states continued prohibition at the state level after national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

The night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect was April 6, 1933. Beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite watering holes waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.  A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed the following day, a date remembered to this day as “National Beer Day”.

So it is we remember, from that day to this.  April 6. “New Beer’s Eve”.  

Sláinte.

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer.

Irish toast, author unknown

March 21, 1905 A Genetic Threat to Society

In the 19th century, Francis Galton studied the theories of his cousin Charles Darwin on the evolution of species, applying these ideas to a system of selective breeding intended to bring “better” human beings into the world.  He called it his theory of “Eugenics”.

In 380BC, Plato described a system of state-controlled human breeding. In the Socratic dialogue “The Republic” Plato introduced a “guardian class” to watch over over the ideal society.

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In the 19th century, Francis Galton studied the theories of his cousin Charles Darwin on the evolution of species, applying these ideas to a system of selective breeding intended to bring “better” human beings into the world.  He called it his theory of “Eugenics”.

Eugenics gained worldwide respectability in the early 20th century, when countries from Brazil to Japan adopted policies regarding the involuntary sterilization of certain mental patients.

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“Better Babies” competitions sprang up at state fairs across the United States. Babies were measured, weighed, and “judged”, like livestock.  By the 1920s, such events had evolved into “Fitter Family” competitions.

One of the leaders of the eugenics movement was the pacifist and Stanford University professor, David Starr Jordan.  After writing several books on the subject, Jordan became a founding member of the Eugenics Committee of the American Breeders Association.  The higher classes of American society were being eroded he argued, by the lower class.  Careful, selective breeding were required to preserve the nation’s “upper crust”.

Judging babies at the state fair, in 1900

Margaret Higgins Sanger believed that birth control should be compulsory for “unfit” women. She claimed that these mothers “recklessly perpetuated their damaged genetic stock by irresponsibly breeding more children in an already overpopulated world.”

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An early advocate for birth control, Sanger has her supporters to this day, including former Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I admire Margaret Sanger enormously”, Clinton said.  “Her courage, her tenacity, her vision…”  Time Magazine points out that “Sanger opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States”, describing her as “An advocate for women’s reproductive rights who was also a vocal eugenics enthusiast…”

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Margaret Samger

Detractors have described Sanger as a “thoroughgoing racist”, citing her own words in What Every Girl Should Know, published in 1910:  “In all fish and reptiles where there is no great brain development, there is also no conscious sexual control. The lower down in the scale of human development we go the less sexual control we find. It is said that the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets”.

Admire or detest the woman as you choose, Sanger’s work established organizations. These evolved into what we know today, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Around the world, such ideas took the form of involuntarily terminated pregnancies, compulsory sterilization, euthanasia and, in the case of Nazi Germany, mass extermination.

Madison Grant, the New York lawyer best known for his work in developing the discipline of wildlife management, was a leader in the eugenics movement, once receiving an approving fan letter from none other than Adolf Hitler.

Public policy and academic types conducted three international eugenics conferences to discuss the application of programs to improve human bloodlines.  The first such symposium convened in London in 1912, discussing papers on “racial suicide” and similar topics.  Presiding over the conference was none other than Major Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, with Harvard president emeritus Charles William Eliot serving as vice President.

Vermont Eugenics: A Documentary History

The 1912 conference was followed by two more in 1921 and 1932, both held in New York City.  Colleges and universities delved into eugenics as academic discipline, with courses exploring the ethical and public policy considerations of eliminating the “degenerate” and “unfit”.

In Pennsylvania, 270 involuntary sterilizations were performed without benefit of law, between 1892 and 1931.  On March 21, 1905, the Pennsylvania legislature passed “An Act for the Prevention of Idiocy”, requiring that every institution in the state entrusted with the care of “ idiots and imbecile children”, be staffed by at least one skilled surgeon, whose duty it was to perform surgical sterilization.  The bill was vetoed by then-Governor Samuel Pennypacker, only to return in 1911, ’13, ’15, ’17, ’19, and again in 1921.

By the height of the eugenics movement, some 30 states had passed legislation, legalizing the involuntary sterilization of individuals considered “unfit” for reproduction. All told, some 60,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures.

In 1945 the state of California required Charles Follett to undergo an involuntary vasectomy. His crime? Follett found himself abandoned by alcoholic parents. He was 15 years old.   Charlie Follett was but one of some 20,000 Californians forced to undergo such a procedure.

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Roadside Marker, Raleigh, NC

Vermont passed a sterilization law in 1931, aimed at what then-University of Vermont zoology professor Henry Perkins called the “rural degeneracy problem.”  An untold number of “defectives” were forced to undergo involuntary sterilization, including Abenaki Indians and French-Canadian immigrants.

Indiana passed the first eugenic sterilization law in 1907, but the measure was legally flawed.  To remedy the situation, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO), founded in 1910 by the the former Harvard University Zoology Professor Charles Benedict Davenport, Ph.D.  crafted a statute, later adopted by the Commonwealth of Virginia as state law in 1924.

That September, Superintendent of the ‘Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded’ Dr. Albert Sidney Priddy, filed a petition to sterilize one Carrie Elizabeth Buck, an 18-year-old patient at the institution whom Priddy claimed to be “incorrigible”.  A “genetic threat to society”.  Buck’s 52-year-old mother had a record of prostitution and immorality Priddy claimed. The child to whom Buck gave birth in the institution only proved the point.

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Carrie Elizabeth Buck was born into poverty in Charlottesville, Virginia, the first of three children born to Emma Buck. Carrie’s father Frederick Buck abandoned the family, shortly after the marriage. Emma was committed to the “Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded” following accusations of immorality, prostitution, and having syphilis.

Buck’s guardian brought her case to court, arguing that compulsory sterilization violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  After losing in district court, the case was appealed to the Amherst County Circuit Court, the Virginia Supreme Court, and finally the United States Supreme Court.

Dr. Priddy died along the way, Dr. John Hendren Bell taking his place.  SCOTUS decided the “Buck vs Bell” case on May 2, 1927, ruling in an 8–1 decision that Carrie Buck, her mother, and her perfectly normal infant daughter, were all “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous.”

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“This photograph was taken on the eve of the initial trial of Buck v Bell in Virginia. Mrs. Dobbs appear to be holding a coin believed to be used as a test for alertness or mental acuity. Vivian appears to be looking elsewhere. It may have ben on the strength of this test that Arthur Estabrook concluded that she “showed backwardness.” H/T DNA Learning Center, dnalc.org

In the majority ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. did more than just greenlight the Virginia statute.  He urged the nation as a whole to get serious about eugenics, and to prevent large numbers of “unfit” from breeding:  “”It is better for all the world“, Holmes wrote, “if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind“. In writing about Carrie Buck herself, her mother and infant daughter Vivian, Holmes delivered one of the most brutal pronouncements in all American jurisprudence: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

It was later revealed that Carrie Buck had been raped by a member of the Dobbs family, the foster family who had taken her in and later had her committed.  To save the family “honor”.  No matter.  Buck was compelled to undergo tubal ligation, later paroled from the institution to become a domestic worker with a family in Bland, Virginia.  Buck’s daughter Vivian was adopted by the Dobbs family.

In a later examination of Vivian Buck, ERO field worker Dr. Arthur Estabrook pronounced the child “feeble minded”, claiming that she “showed backwardness” supporting the “three generations” theory expressed in the SCOTUS opinion.

“Vivian Alice Elaine Dobbs” died from complications of measles at the age of 8, after only two years in school.  Dr. Estabrook’s report failed to explain how she seemed to do well for those two years with grades ranging from As and Bs in deportment and Cs in most academic subjects except mathematics, with which she always had problems. She actually made honor roll in April 1931, a fact which goes unexplained in Dr. Estabrook’s report.

In order to keep the family from reproducing, Carrie’s sister Doris was sterilized without her knowledge when she was hospitalized, with appendicitis. Doris later married. She and her husband tried for many years to have children, without success. It was only in 1980 she learned the true reason, for her inability to get pregnant.

Carrie Buck went on to marry. Twice. Both marriages ended only with the death of her husband. Later interviewers labeled her a woman of “normal intelligence”. In later life she said she always wanted more children but that, of course, was denied her. Carrie Buck died in a nursing home in 1983, 56 years after her sterilization. She was buried in a cemetery in Charlottesville. In a nearby gravesite lies the child the government took away from her, all those many years before.

Carrie Buck in later life

February 22, 2005 I’m from the Government and I’m Here to help

At a 1981 news conference President Ronald Reagan once quipped, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help”.


In 1775, Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull proposed a fortification at the port of New London, situated on the Thames River and overlooking Long Island Sound. The fort was completed two years later. In 1781 Fort Trumbull was attacked and occupied by British forces under the command of the turncoat American General, Benedict Arnold. Barely a month later the Marquis de Lafayette exhorted American troops at a place called Yorktown, to “Remember New London”.

By the early 20th century, the Fort Trumbull neighborhood consisted of 90 or so single and multi-family working class dwellings, situated on a peninsula along the fringes of a mostly industrialized city center.

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In 2000, Susette Kelo became the main plaintiff in the Supreme Court eminent domain case, “Kelo v. New London”

In 1996, chemists working at Pfizer Corporation’s research facility in England were studying compound UK-92, 480 or “Sildenafil Citrate”, synthesized for the treatment of thoracic circulatory conditions. 

Study subjects were expected to return unused medication at the end of the trial. Women showed no objection but a significant number of male subjects refused to give it back. It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening.  The chemical compound had revealed itself to be useful in other ways, a substance we now know by the trade name, “Viagra”

For the newly divorced paramedic Susette Kelo, the house overlooking the Fort Trumbull waterfront was the home of her dreams. Long abandoned and overgrown with vines, the little Victorian cottage needed a lot of work, but where else was she going to find a waterfront view at such a price?  

The year was 1997. Republican governor John Rowland was eager for a victory in deep blue Connecticut and looked to New London, to shore up his political base. Reluctant to share the limelight with New London democrats the administration helped to resurrect the long-dormant New London Development Corporation (NLDC) to revitalize the city’s waterfront.

Meanwhile on her days off, Susette Kelo sanded her floors on hands and knees as Pfizer Corporation, already occupying the largest office complex in the city, eagerly anticipated a cataract of new business based on this latest chemical compound.

The NLDC recruited the company to become the principal tenant in a new “World Class” multi-use waterfront campus overlooking the harbor including high-income housing, hotels, shopping and restaurants, all of it centered around a 750,000 sq. ft. corporate research facility.

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Bill von Winkle stands in front of two properties he owns in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, CT

Connecticut College professor and NLDC President Dr. Claire Gaudiani liked to talk about her “hip” new development project.  Fort Trumbull residents were convinced that stood for “High Income People”. With an average income of $22,500, that didn’t include themselves.

Most property owners agreed to sell, though not exactly “voluntarily”.  The reluctant ones were harassed including late-night phone calls, waste dumped on properties and tenants locked out of apartments during cold winter weather.

Seven homeowners holding fifteen properties refused to sell, at any price. Wilhelmina Dery was in her eighties. She was born in her house and she wanted to die there. The Cristofaro family had lost another New London home in the 1970s, taken by eminent domain during yet another “urban renewal” program. They didn’t want to lose this one, too.

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Susette Kelo in front of her “little pink house”

In 2000 the New London city council voted to authorize the NLDC to use eminent domain to condemn the property, of those who refused to sell. The day before Thanksgiving, Susette Kelo came home from work to find an eviction notice taped to her door.

Letters were written to editors and protest rallies were held, as NLDC and state officials literally began to bulldoze homes. Holdout property owners were left trying to prevent personal injury and property damage, from flying demolition debris.

Facing a prolonged legal battle which none of the homeowners could afford, the group got a boost when the Libertarian law firm Institute for Justice took their case, pro bono. There was cause for hope. Retired homeowner Vera Coking had faced a similar fight against the future President Donald Trump’s development corporation back in 1993 when the developer and Atlantic City New Jersey authorities attempted to get her house condemned, to build a limo lot.

Eminent domain exists for a purpose, but the most extreme care should be taken in its use. Plaintiffs argued that this was not a “public use”, but rather a private corporation using the power of government to take their homes for economic development, a violation of both the takings clause of the 5th amendment and the due process clause of the 14th.

Vera Coking won her case against the developer, and the municipality.  The casino itself later failed and closed its doors. New London District Court, with Susette Kelo lead plaintiff “split the baby”, ruling that 11 out of 15 takings were illegal and unconstitutional. At that point, the ruling wasn’t good enough for the seven homeowners. They had been through too much.  They would all remain, or they would all go.

Connecticut’s highest court reversed the decision, throwing out the baby AND the bathwater in a 3-4 decision. By this time Governor Rowland had been removed from office, convicted of corruption and sentenced to a year and a day in prison plus four months of house arrest, three years probation and community service.

No matter, Rowland had served his purpose. The case was now beyond Connecticut politics. Seven justices of the United States Supreme Court then in attendance heard the case on February 22, 2005.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist was then recuperating at home from medical treatment and Associate Justice John Paul Stevens was delayed in Florida and unable to return to return to Washington, DC. All nine justices would weigh in on the final decision.

SCOTUS ruled in favor of the city in a 5-4 decision, Justices Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Breyer and even that celebrated social justice warrior Ruth Bader Ginsburg concurring in a vote to throw a working class woman, out of her home.

Seeing the decision as a reverse Robin Hood scheme which would steal from the poor to give to the rich, Sandra Day O’Connor wrote “Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms“.

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Clarence Thomas took an originalist view stating that the majority opinion had confused “Public Use” with “Public Purpose”. “Something has gone seriously awry with this Court’s interpretation of the Constitution“, Thomas wrote. “Though citizens are safe from the government in their homes, the homes themselves are not“.  Antonin Scalia concurred, seeing any tax advantage to the municipality as secondary to the taking itself.

In the end, most of the homes were destroyed or relocated. State and city governments spent $78 million and bulldozed 70 acres.  The 3,169 new jobs and $1.2 million in new tax revenue anticipated from the waterfront development, never materialized.  Pfizer backed out of the project moving 1,400 existing jobs to a campus it owns in nearby Groton.  The move was completed around the time when tax breaks were set to expire, raising the company’s tax bill by 500%.

Susette Kelo sold her home for a dollar to Avner Gregory, a preservationist who dismantled the little pink house and moved it across town.  A monument to what Ambrose Bierce once called “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”.

Movie Trailer and feature image from the film “Little Pink House” released in April, 2018.

By 2011, the now-closed redevelopment area had become a dumping ground for debris left by Hurricane Irene. The only residents were weeds, and feral cats.

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“Michael Cristofaro in the field in New London, Conn., where his parents lived. The city seized the land for a private “urban village” that was never built. Pfizer’s complex is in the background”. Credit Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Ten years after the debacle the company is in the news, yet again. The December 2021 CNBC headline informs us: “Pfizer CEO says fourth Covid vaccine doses may be needed sooner than expected due to omicron“. Two months later the same outlet reported “Pfizer expects $54 billion in 2022 sales on Covid vaccine and treatment pill“. That’s pretty good work. If you can get it.

In the decade since it all began revitalization amounted to the cube root, of zero. In 2019, local wags took to planting fruit trees and vegetables where working class homes, once stood. A sign posted on social media read, “A gift to the people, reclaiming land stolen by corporate greed.” These latter-day daughters and sons of liberty might have added the two words, “…and government“.

December 31, 1938 The Drunkometer

Guidelines set up in 1939 by the National Safety Council and the American Medical Association gave three ranges for blood alcohol content, which would become the standard in a majority of state legislatures:
• 0.05% and below: Defendants should not be considered under the influence
• 0.05% to 0.15%: Not considered “under the influence” but taken into account if other evidence is presented
• 0.15% and above: Presumed “under the influence” of alcohol
Today national standards for BAC are .08% for drivers 21 and over with state limits ranging from 0.00 to 0.02 for younger drivers.

The first recorded drunk driving arrest came about in 1897 when London taxi driver George Smith, crashed into a building. Smith entered a plea of guilty after his arrest and was sentenced to a fine of 25 shillings, equivalent to $33.49 USD, in 2021.

In the US at this time transportation more often, involved a horse. There were 4,192 vehicles on US roads in 1900 mostly steam and electric with a mere 936 running, on internal combustion. The Automobile Club of America estimated 200,000 motorized cars in the United States in 1909. By 1916 the number skyrocketed, to 2.25 million.

Early postcard warning of the dangers, of driving drunk.

As roads became more numerous and cars got faster the drunk driver’s primary concern was no longer, falling off his horse. Now pedestrians and other motorists were increasingly at risk. New York was the first state to enact drunk driving laws, in 1910.

“Prohibition” went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. It was now illegal to import, export, transport or sell intoxicating liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

It was a disaster. Portable stills went on sale within a week and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of Rhine” or “blocks of Port”. The mayor of New York City personally sent instructions to constituents, on how to make wine.

Frustrated by the lack of compliance the federal government ordered the deliberate poisoning of industrial alcohols in 1926 to prevent bootleggers from “renaturing” the stuff, as drinkable alcohol. By some estimates the federal government’s poisoning program killed as many as 10,000 of its own people.

For thirteen years federal prohibition did little more than empower the mob, and destroy the nation’s 5th largest industry. It’s hard to compare alcohol consumption rates before and during prohibition but, if death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never went down more than 10 to 20 percent. Revelers continued to get behind the wheel, and drive.

In 1927, Dr. Emil Bogen’s landmark study established a scientific method of determining inebriation by testing the blood, urine or breath of a subject. An individual would breathe into an apparatus not unlike a football bladder where chemicals would change to various colors, depending on exposure to alcohol. Colors were then compared with a collection of vials to determination the amount of alcohol in the system. The system worked but it wasn’t very practical, for a traffic stop.

One W.D. McNally published the picture below in the November 1927 issue of Science and Invention with the promise that a method was coming soon, to reliably determine blood alcohol levels.

Prohibition was repealed in late 1933. In the first six months of 1934 Chicago reported a four-fold increase in drunk driving fatalities over the same period of the last full year, of Prohibition. Los Angeles reported similar numbers.

A conceptual breakthrough happened in 1931 when Indiana University biochemist Dr. Rolla N. Harger announced his own method for measuring blood alcohol content, by means of a breath test. By 1938 Harger had a working model of a new machine, small enough for practical use in the field. Indiana State Police first put the device to use on December 31.

By 1940 police departments across the nation were using Harger’s device like the one pictured here, at the New Jersey State police.

When asked what they called their device Harger and his team called the thing, a “Drunkometer”. Whether they were serious or the name was a joke is a matter for conjecture, but the modern breathalyzer, was here to stay.

Eighty three years to the day it is New Year’s Eve, 2021. Tonight, revelers the world over will celebrate the New Year.  I wish you and yours a safe, healthy and prosperous new year and if you need to, you can always call a cab. Just make sure the guy’s name isn’t, George Smith.

September 25, 1789 Bill of Rights

Five states ratified the new constitution in quick succession. Others wanted the document to specify those powers left un-delegated to the Federal government, be reserved to the states.

The Founding Fathers ratified the United States Constitution on June 21, 1788.  In so doing, our forebears bestowed on generations yet unborn, a governing system unique in all history.  A system of diffuse authority, checks and balances and authority delegated but Never relinquished, by a sovereign electorate.

The American system is often described as “democracy”, but such a description is in error.  Four wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for dinner, is democracy.  The genius of the founders is demonstrated in a system which protects the rights of All citizens, including that one.  The proverbial lamb. The specifics are enumerated in our bill of rights, twelve amendments adopted by the first Congress on this day in 1789, and sent to the states for ratification.

bill-of-rightsEven at the Constitutional Convention, delegates expressed concerns about the larger, more populous states holding sway, at the expense of the smaller states. The “Connecticut Compromise” solved the problem, creating a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states themselves in the upper house (Senate).

The 62nd Congress proposed a Constitutional amendment in 1912, negating the intent of the founders and proposing that Senators be chosen by popular election.  The measure was adopted the following year, the seventeenth amendment having been ratified by ¾ of the states.  Since that time, it’s difficult to understand what the United States Senate even is, an institution neither democratic nor republican, but I digress.

Five states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut, ratified the document in quick succession. Some states objected to the new Constitution, especially Massachusetts, which wanted more protection for basic political rights such as freedom of speech, religion, and of the press. These wanted the document to specify, that those powers left un-delegated to the Federal government, were reserved to the states.

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A compromise was reached in February, 1788 whereby Massachusetts and other states would ratify the document, with the assurance that such amendments would immediately be put up for consideration.

With these assurances, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution by a two-vote margin, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. New Hampshire became the ninth state on June 21. The new Constitutional Government would take effect on March 4 of the following year.

Amendments 2-12 were adopted on December 15, 1791, becoming the “Bill of Rights”.

It’s interesting to note the priorities of that first Congress, as expressed in their original 1st and 2nd amendments.  As proposed to the 1st Congress, the original 1st amendment dictated apportionment of representation. It was ratified by only 11 states, and technically remained pending. Had the states ratified that original first amendment, we would now have a Congress of at least 6,345 members, instead of the 535 we currently have.

The original 2nd amendment was an article related to Congressional compensation, that no future Congress could change their own salaries.   The measure would in fact, pass, becoming the 27th amendment in 1992.  Following a ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 10 days.

September 24, 1789 The Supremes

From “separate but equal” to the rights of terrorists SCOTUS rulings are final, inviolate and sometimes imbecilic.

Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), and “such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish”.

There is no mention of the number of justices. The first Congress passed the Federal Judiciary Act on September 24, 1789, specifying a six-justice Supreme Court.

Twelve years later, the presidency of John Adams was coming to an end. As a Federalist, Adams wanted nothing more than to stymie the incoming administration of Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Toward that end, Adams appointed the infamous “midnight judges” in the last hours of his administration: 16 Federalist Circuit Court judges and 42 Federalist Justices of the Peace.

The incoming Jefferson administration sought to block the appointments. Jefferson ordered then-Secretary of State James Madison to hold those commissions as yet undelivered, thus invalidating the appointments. One of the appointees, William Marbury, took the matter to Court.

The case advanced all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Marbury v. Madison that the provision of the Judiciary Act enabling Marbury to bring his claim, was unconstitutional.  Marbury lost his case, but the principle of judicial review, the idea that the court could preside Godlike, over laws passed by their co-equal branch of government, has been the law of the land, ever since.

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In the early days of the Great Depression, Federal agricultural officials conceived the hare brained idea that artificially introducing scarcity would increase prices, and therefore wages, in the agricultural sector. Six million hogs were destroyed in 1933. Not harvested, just destroyed and thrown away. 470,000 cattle were shot in Nebraska alone. Vast quantities of milk were poured down sewers, all at a time of national depression, when malnutrition was widespread.

With the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938, Washington began to impose production quotas on the nation’s farmers. Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburne was ordered to grow 223 bushels of wheat in the 1941 season. Filburne grew 462.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution permits Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. That is all but, on this flimsy basis, the Federal Government took Roscoe Filburne to court.

The farmer argued that the “surplus” stayed on his farm, feeding his family and his chickens. Lower Courts sided with Filburne. The government appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that, by withholding his surplus, Filburne was effecting interstate market conditions, thereby putting him under federal government jurisdiction.

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Intimidated by the Roosevelt administration’s aggressive and illegal “court packing scheme“, SCOTUS decided the Wickard v. Filburne case, against the farmer. Ever since, what you don’t do can be held against you in a court of law. Get it? Neither do I.

Over time, SCOTUS has proven itself to be as imperfect as any other institution. There have only been 17 Chief Justices and 101 Associate Justices in the entire history of the court. Five Chiefs having previously sat as Associate Justices, there are only 113 in all.  Should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed, he would be #114.

Some among those 113 have been magnificent human beings, and some of them cranks. There have been instances of diminished capacity ranging from confusion to outright insanity. One justice spent part of his term in a debtor’s prison. Another killed a man. There have been open racists and anti-Semites.

There is no official portrait of the 1924 court because Justice James C. McReynolds wouldn’t stand next to Louis Brandeis, the court’s first Jewish Justice. One Justice was known to chase flight attendants around his quarters, while another spent his time in chambers, watching soap operas.

There’s the former Klan lawyer turned Justice who took a single phrase, “separation of church and state”, from a private letter of Thomas Jefferson, and turned the constitutional freedom OF religion into an entirely made up freedom FROM religion.

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The Supreme Court reinforced chattel slavery with the Dred Scott decision. The Korematsu ruling gave us the forced incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent. Buck v. Bell gave Americans the “gift” of forced sterilization, and Stenberg v. Carhartt enshrined the constitutional “right” to the hideous and detestable “procedure” known as partial birth abortion. From “Separate but Equal” to the “rights” of terrorists, SCOTUS’ rulings are final, inviolate, and sometimes imbecilic.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who once said “remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat,” invented a whole new definition of taxation, enshrining the “Affordable Care Act” as the law of the land.

The framers gave us a Constitutional Republic with co-equal branches of government, with power diffused and limited by a comprehensive set of checks and balances.

They gave us two distinct means to amend that Constitution, should circumstances require it.

Traditionally, Congress proposes amendments, submitting them to the states for ratification. The problem is that many believe Congress itself to be part of the problem, and a broken institution is unlikely to fix itself.

Article V gives us a way to amend the constitution, if we would take it. Instead of Congress proposing amendments, an Article V convention of state legislatures would propose amendments, to take effect only if ratified by a super majority of states. We could start with an amendment permitting 2/3rds of the People’s representatives in Congress, to overturn a SCOTUS decision. Then we could term limit these people.

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Unless, that is, you believe it’s fine for the Federal Government to prohibit a farmer from growing wheat for his own use, that one man in a black robe can force you to buy a product you don’t want and call it a “tax”, or you believe that “established by the state” means by the state or federal government, at the sole discretion of the man who says, “I’m from the Government. I’m here to help”.

August 22, 1992 Ruby Ridge

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. – Ronald Reagan

Randall Claude “Randy” Weaver came into the world in 1948, one of four children born to Claude and Wilma Weaver, a farming couple from Villisca, Iowa. Deeply religious people, the Weavers moved among several Evangelical, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, in search of a spiritual ‘home’ to fit with their faith.

Weaver dropped out of community college at age 20 and enlisted in the Army, stationed at Fort Bragg and serving three years before earning an honorable discharge.

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A month after leaving the Army, Weaver married Victoria Jordison and soon enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa to study criminal justice. At the time, Weaver wanted to become an FBI agent, but the high cost of tuition put an end to that. Randy found work at a local John Deere factory while “Vicki” became first a secretary and later a homemaker, as the Weaver family grew.

Over time, the couple came to hold increasingly fundamentalist views, all the while becoming more and more distrustful of the government. Vicki came to believe that the Apocalypse, was imminent.  The answer to the family’s survival lay in moving ‘off the grid’ and away from ‘corrupt civilization’.

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In the early 1980s, the couple paid $5,000 cash plus a moving truck for a piece of property, and built a cabin on the remote Ruby Ridge in the north of Idaho.

In 1984, Randy Weaver had a falling out with neighboring Terry Kinnison, over a $3,000 land deal. Kinnison lost the ensuing lawsuit and was ordered to pay Weaver an additional $2,100 in court costs and damages. Kinnison took his vengeance in letters written to the FBI, Secret Service, and county sheriff, claiming that Weaver had threatened to kill Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and Idaho governor John Evans.

Randy and Vicki Weaver were interviewed by FBI as well as Secret Service agents, and the County sheriff. Investigators were told that Weaver was a member of the white supremacist Aryan Nation and that he had a large gun collection in his cabin. Weaver denied the allegations, and no charges were filed.

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Sarah and Samuel on family property

There was no small amount of paranoia and mutual mistrust, in what came next. The Weavers filed an affidavit in 1985, claiming their enemies were plotting to provoke the FBI into killing them. The couple wrote a letter to President Reagan, claiming a threatening letter may have been sent to him, over a forged signature. No such letter ever materialized but, seven years later, prosecutors would cite the 1985 note as evidence of a Weaver family conspiracy against the government.

White supremacist Frank Kumnick was a member of the Aryan Nations, and target of an investigation by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Weaver attended his first meeting of the World Aryan Congress in 1986 where he met a confidential ATF informant, posing as a firearms dealer. In 1989, Weaver invited the informant to his home, to discuss forming a group to fight the “ZOG”, the “Zionist Occupation Government” of anti-Semitic and paranoid conspiracy theory.

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ATF charged Weaver that same year, with selling its informant two sawed-off shotguns. The government offered to drop the charges in exchange for Weaver’s becoming an informant. Weaver declined, and ATF filed illegal weapons indictments, claiming the subject was a bank robber, with an extensive criminal record. Subsequent United States Senate investigation revealed that Weaver had no such criminal convictions, but Weaver was ensnared, by a  government bureaucracy as unreasoningly suspicious, as himself.

Trial was set for February 20, 1991 and subsequently moved to February 21, due to a federal holiday. Weaver’s parole officer sent him a letter, erroneously stating that the new date was March 20. A bench warrant was issued when Weaver failed to show in court, for the February date.

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Randy Weaver was now a “Fugitive from Justice”.

The U.S. Marshals Service agreed to put off execution of the warrant until after the March 20 date, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a grand jury, a week earlier. It’s been said that a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich and the adage proved true, particularly when the prosecution failed to reveal parole officer Richins’ letter, with the March 20 date.

The episode fed into the worst preconceptions, of both sides. Marshalls developed a “Threat Profile” on the Weaver family and an operational plan: “Operation Northern Exposure”. Weaver, more distrustful than ever, was convinced that if he lost at trial, the government would seize his land and take his four children leaving Vicki, homeless.

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Surveillance photos of Weavers with guns, on their own property

Marshalls attempted to negotiate over the following months, but Weaver refused to come out. Several people used as go-betweens, proved to be even more radical than the Weavers themselves. In a rare show of reason under the circumstances, Deputy Marshal Dave Hunt asked Bill Grider: “Why shouldn’t I just go up there … and talk to him?” Grider replied, “Let me put it to you this way. If I was sitting on my property and somebody with a gun comes to do me harm, then I’ll probably shoot him.”

On April 18, 1992, a helicopter carrying media figure Geraldo Rivera for the Now It Can Be Told television program was allegedly fired on, from the Weaver residence. Surveillance cameras then being installed by US Marshalls showed no such shots fired and Pilot Richard Weiss, denied the story.  Even so, a lie gets around the world, before the truth can get its pants on. (Hat tip, Winston Churchill, for that bit of wisdom). The ‘shots fired narrative’ now became a media feeding frenzy. The federal government drew up ‘rules of engagement’.

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US Marshall Recon Team photo of Vicki Weaver, taken August 21, 1992

On August 21, a six-man armed Recon team arrived to scout the property, for a suitable spot to ambush and arrest Randy Weaver. Deputy Art Roderick threw rocks at the cabin to see how the dogs would react. The cabin was at this time out of meat and, thinking the dog’s reaction may have been provoked by a game animal, Randy, a friend named Kevin Harris and Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel came out with rifles, to investigate. Vicki, Rachel, Sarah and baby Elisheba, remained in the cabin.

Marshalls retreated to a place out of sight of the cabin, while “Sammy” and Harris followed the dog ‘Striker’ into the woods. Later accounts disagree on who fired first but a firefight erupted, between Sammy, Harris, and the Marshall’s team. When it was over, the boy, the dog and Deputy US Marshall William “Billy” Degan, lay dead.

The standoff now spun out of control, with National Guard Armored personnel carriers, SWAT, State Police and FBI Hostage Rescue Teams, complete with snipers.

On August 22, Harris, Weaver and sixteen-year old daughter Sarah were entering a shed to visit the body of Weaver’s dead son, when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired from a position some 200 yards distant. The bullet tore into Weaver’s back and out his armpit. The three raced back to the cabin. Horiuchi’s second round entered the door as Harris dove for the opening, injuring him in the chest before striking Vicki in the face as she held baby Elisheba, in her arms.

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Protesters were quick to form at the base of Ruby Ridge

Two days later, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson wrote the following memorandum, unaware that Vicki Weaver lay dead:

Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was barking at. Some guys in camys shot his dog. Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the shooting [of Degan]. He [Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position.”

The siege of Ruby Ridge dragged on for ten days. Kevin Harris was brought out on a stretcher on August 30, along with Vicki’s body. Randy Weaver emerged the following day. Subsequent trials acquitted Harris of all wrongdoing and Weaver of all but his failure to appear in court, for which he received four months and a $10,000 fine.

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Randy Weaver, mugshot

Questions persist about the government’s ham-fisted approach at Ruby Ridge, and intensified after the Branch Davidian conflagration six months later in Waco Texas, involving many of the same agencies and federal officials.

In 1995, two reprobates carried out their own act of “revenge” on the government, blowing up a federal office building in Oklahoma City and killing 168 innocent people, injuring 680 others.  Nineteen of the dead, were children.

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Subsequent Senate hearings criticized Ruby Ridge “rules of engagement” as unconstitutional, the use of deadly force unwarranted, under the circumstances.  Kevin Harris was awarded $380,000 damages for pain and suffering.  Weaver was awarded $100,000 and his three daughters, $1 million each.

FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted for manslaughter in 1997, charges later dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity.

Deadly force procedures were brought about, intending to bring the government into line with Supreme Court precedent resulting in a kinder, gentler federal law enforcement apparatus.  That was the idea. 

You might want to ask Elian Gonzalez, how that worked out.

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July 30, 1916 Sabotage

[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”

In the early months of the Great War, Britain’s Royal Navy swept the high seas of the Kaiser’s surface ships and blockaded ports in Germany. The United States was neutral at this time, when over a hundred German ships sought refuge in American harbors.

The blockade made it impossible for the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary to import war materiel from overseas while Great Britain, France, and Russia continued to buy products from US farms and factories. American businessmen were happy to sell to any foreign customer who had the cash but, for all intents and purposes, such trade was limited to the allies.

British-blockadeTo the Central Powers, such trade had the sole purpose of killing their boys, fighting for the Fatherland on the battlefields of Europe.

The first and most overt reaction from the Kaiser came in the form of unrestrained submarine warfare, when even vessels flying the flags of neutral nations came under attack. Less apparent at that time was the covert campaign of sabotage carried out by German, agents on US soil.

“Black Tom” was originally an island in New York Harbor, next to Liberty Island. So called after a former resident, by WWI, landfill had expanded the island to become part of Jersey City. The area contained a mile-long pier with warehouses and rail lines operated by the Lehigh Valley Railroad, and served as a major hub in the trade of war materiel to the allies.

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Black Tom Island, 1880

On July 30, 1916, the Black Tom terminal had over two million pounds of small arms and artillery ammunition in freight cars, and one hundred thousand pounds of TNT on a nearby Barge.

In the small hours of the morning, around 2:00am, guards discovered a series of small fires. Some tried to put them out while others fled, fearing an explosion. The first and loudest blast took place at 2:08am, a detonation so massive as to be estimated at 5.5, on the Richter scale. People were awakened from Maryland to Connecticut in what many thought was an earthquake. The Brooklyn Bridge shook. The walls of Jersey City’s municipal building were cracked as shrapnel flew through the air. Windows broke as far as 25 miles away, while fragments embedded themselves in the clock tower at the Jersey Journal building in Journal Square, over a mile away. The clock stopped at 2:12 am.

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Firefighters were unable to fight the fires until the bullets and shrapnel stopped flying. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Stained Glass windows were shattered at St. Patrick’s Church, and Ellis Island was evacuated to Manhattan. Damage to the skirt and torch carried by the Statue of Liberty alone, came to over $2¼ million in 2017 dollars. To this day the ladder to “Lady Liberty’s” torch remains off limits, to visitors.

The enormous vaulted ceiling of Ellis Island’s main hall, collapsed.  According to one Park officer, damage to the Ellis Island complex came to $500,000 “half the one million dollars it cost the government to build the facility.”

Wrecked_warehouses_and_scattered_debris_after_the_Black_Tom_Explosion,_1916Known fatalities in the explosion included a Jersey City police officer, a Lehigh Valley Railroad Chief of Police, a ten week old infant, and the barge captain.

The explosion at Black Tom nearly brought the US into the war against Germany, but that would wait for the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare. That, and a telegram from German Secretary for Foreign Affairs Arthur Zimmermann, promising US territories to Mexico, in exchange for a declaration of war against the US.

Black Tom was the most spectacular, but by no means the only such act of sabotage. The archive at cia.gov states that “[B]etween 1915 and spring 1917, 43 American factories suffered explosions or fires of mysterious origin, in addition to the bombs set on some four dozen ships carrying war supplies to the Allies”.

Responsibility for the Black Tom explosion was never proven, conclusively. Early suspicions centered on accidental causes. Legal wrangling would climb the judicial ladder all the way to the United States Supreme Court and continue well into the second World War. Anna Rushnak, an elderly Czech immigrant who ran a four-bits-a-night boarding house in Bayonne was thrown from her bed by the explosion, to find then-23-year-old Michael Kristoff sitting on the edge of his bed, mumbling “What I do? What I do?”

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Lehigh Valley Railroad pier, after the explosion

Kristoff, a Slovakian subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany’s principle ally in World War 1, was arrested by Bayonne Police, interrogated, and judged to be “insane but harmless.”

In 1922, the Lehigh Valley Railroad was buried in lawsuits, and looking to fix blame on a German act of sabotage. Located in an Albany jail where he was serving time for theft Kristoff came to the judicial spotlight, once again. He admitted working for the Germans “for a few weeks” back in 1916, but was released before the claim could be investigated. Kristoff was finally traced to a pauper’s grave in 1928 and there ends his story, yet that ‘insane but harmless’ label remains open to question. Papers carried on the body exhumed from that potter’s field were indeed those of Michael Kristoff, but the dental records, didn’t match.

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“German Master Spy Franz Von Rintelen and his “pencil bomb” were responsible for acts of sabotage in the United States during World War I”. H/T Smithsonian

Meanwhile, suspicion fell on the German-born naturalized citizen Kurt Jahnke who ran sabotage operations for the German Admiralty out of bases in San Francisco and Mexico City with his assistant, Imperial German Navy Lieutenant Lothar Witzke. Witzke was arrested on February 1, 1918 in Nogales, Arizona and convicted by court martial. He was sentenced to death, though the war was over before sentence could be carried out. President Wilson later commuted the sentence, to life.

By 1923, most nations were releasing POWs from the “Great War”, including spies. A report from Leavenworth prison shows Witzke heroically risking his life, entering a boiler room after an explosion and probably averting disaster. It may be on that basis that he was finally released. Lieutenant Lothar Witzke was pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge on November 22, 1923 and deported to Berlin, where a grateful nation awarded him the Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd Class.

The U.S.–German Peace Treaty of 1921 established the German-American Mixed Claims Commission, which declared in 1939 that Imperial Germany had, in fact been responsible and awarded a judgement of $50 million.  The Nazi government refused to pay and the matter was finally settled in 1953, with a judgement of $95 million (including interest) against the Federal Republic of Germany. The final payment was made in 1979.

Shrapnel damage may be see to this day, on the statue of Liberty

The Black Tom explosion and related acts of pro-German espionage resulted in the Federal Espionage Act signed into law in June 1917, creating, among its other provisions, a “Bureau of Investigation” under the United States Department of Justice. 

Nothing remains today of the Black Tom terminal or the largest foreign terrorist attack on American soil until 9/11, save for a plaque, as seen in the photograph below.  That, and a new law enforcement bureaucracy, called the FBI.

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View of the Statue of Liberty from the site of the Black Tom explosion

May 25, 1738 Mason Dixon Line

The problem with King Charles II’s land grant to William Penn is that it overlapped with that of his father King Charles I, to Lord Baltimore.

Agree or disagree with US government policy, that’s your business, but what we do in this country, we do as a nation. It would seem absurd to us to see the President raise an army to go to war with the Congress, and yet that’s just what happened in 17th century England.

The period 1639-’51 saw a series of intertwined conflicts within and between the three kingdoms, including the Bishops’ Wars of 1639 and ’40, the Scottish Civil War of 1644–’45; the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Confederate Ireland, 1642–’49 and the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland in 1649, collectively known as the Eleven Years War or Irish Confederate Wars and finally, the first, second and third English Civil Wars.

An officer in the British Royal Navy, William Penn served on the side of the Parliament during the first English Civil War of 1642-46′, a conflict which would lead to the execution of the King himself, in 1649. England and Wales came to be governed as a Commonwealth under “Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell, later followed by Ireland and Scotland.

The experiment proved to be a failure, the interregnum lasting 11 years. In 1660, the dead King’s son was invited to rule as Charles II, King of Scotland, England and Ireland.

One might think an officer’s support of the Parliament would have cost him his head, but William Penn had a gift for landing on his feet. When he died in 1670, King Charles II owed the man money.

Penn’s son, also named William, was a dedicated pacifist, and a Quaker. The younger Penn had utopian ideas he wanted to try out, in the new world. Thus the Charter of 1681 came to be, granting a slice of the forested lands of North America in exchange for money, owed to Penn’s late father. That land came to be called “Penn’s Woods” or, in Latin, Pennsylvania.

It’s why so many Philadelphia streets, are named after trees.

Pennsylvania Charter of 1681, page 1 of 4.

The King’s Charter specified a southern boundary for the new colony to begin at “A circle drawne at twelve miles distance from New Castle Northward and Westward unto the beginning of the fortieth degree of Northern Latitude, and then by a streight Line Westward“.

The problem comes about when you realize that 40° north latitude is north of Philadelphia. Well into territory granted to Lord Baltimore by King Charles I and controlled by Maryland and Delaware.

What is this “Pennsylvania” of which you speak?

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The Maryland colony insisted on the boundary as drawn by Charles II’s Charter, while Pennsylvania proposed a boundary near 39°36′, creating a disputed zone of some 28 miles.

In 1726, Quaker minister John Wright began a ferry service across the Susquehanna River. Starting as a pair of dugout canoes, “Pennsylvania Dutch” farmers were soon settling the Conejohela Valley on the eastern border between Maryland and Pennsylvania.

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Business was good.  By 1730, Wright had applied for a ferry license. With Lord Baltimore fearing a loss of control in the area (read – taxes), Maryland resident Thomas Cresap established a second ferry service up the river. Maryland granted Cresap some 500 acres along the west bank, serenely unconcerned that much of the area was already inhabited by Pennsylvania farmers.

Cresap went to these farmers to collect “quit-rents”, an early form of property tax, for the government in Maryland. Pennsylvania authorities responded by issuing “tickets” to settlers which, while not granting immediate title, amounted to an “IOU” of title under Pennsylvania jurisdiction.

Then came the day when Cresap and his ferry worker were thrown overboard by two Pennsylvanian farmers, probably over a debt. Cresap took the matter to Pennsylvania authorities for justice. The magistrate informed the plaintiff he couldn’t expect justice in his court because he was a “liver in Maryland”. Incensed, Cresap then filed charges with Maryland authorities claiming that, as a Maryland resident, he was no longer bound by Pennsylvania law.

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Cresap and his allies began to confiscate York and Lancaster county properties as early as 1734, handing them over to his supporters. Maryland militia crossed colonial borders twice in 1736, and Pennsylvania militia were quick to respond.

CLancaster county Sheriff arrived with a posse to arrest Cresap at his home, when Cresap fired through the door, mortally wounding deputy Knowles Daunt.

When Daunt died, Pennsylvania Governor Patrick Gordon demanded that Maryland arrest Cresap for murder. Samuel Ogle, Governor of Maryland, responded by naming Cresap a captain in the Maryland militia.

Cresap resumed and expanded his raids, destroying barns and shooting livestock. Sheriff Samuel Smith raised a posse to arrest him in November. When the Pennsylvanians set his cabin on fire, Cresap ran for the river. Grabbing him before he could launch a boat, Cresap shoved one of them overboard, shouting, “Cresap’s getting away!”, whereupon the other deputies proceeded to pound their colleague with oars until one of them discovered the ruse.

Cresap was taken to Lancaster, where he decked the blacksmith who had come to put him in shackles. He was finally subdued and hauled off to Philadelphia in chains, but even then the man was anything but broken. “Damn it”, he said, looking around, “this is one of the prettiest towns in Maryland!”

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Maryland authorities petitioned George II, King of Great Britain and Ireland, imploring the King to restore order among his loyal subjects. King George’s proclamation of August 18, 1737 instructed the governments of both colonies to cease hostilities.

When that failed to stop the fighting, the Crown organized direct negotiations between the two. Peace was signed in London on May 25, 1738, the agreement providing for an exchange of prisoners and a provisional boundary to be drawn fifteen miles south of the southernmost home in Philadelphia and mandating that neither Maryland nor Pennsylvania “permit or suffer any Tumults Riots or other Outragious Disorders to be committed on the Borders of their respective Provinces.”

So ended the “Conojocular War”, the bloody eight-year conflict between Philadelphia and surrounding area and sometimes referred to as “Cresap’s War”.

In 1767, descendants of the Penns and Calverts hired surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to establish a boundary. That original line extended westward, becoming the demarcation between northern “free” states, and Southern “slave” states. The Mason-Dixon line came to renewed prominence during the Missouri Compromise period of 1820 and again, during the Civil War. The Virginia border originally made up part of the line and thus the northern boundary of the Confederacy, until West Virginia seceded to rejoin the union.

Today, the Mason-Dixon line is more of a loose separation, delineating the culture and politics of the South, from those of the North. The area of Cresap’s original conflict is now part of York County, Pennsylvania.

Afterward

During the French & Indian Wars of the 1750s, Thomas Cresap and a party of 100 pursued an Indian war band over the modern-day Savage Mountain and onto the next ridge. Along with the party marched a free black man, a frontiersman known only as “Nemesis”. A fierce fight ensued on May 28, 1756.  Nemesis, described as “large and powerfully built”, fought bravely, but lost his life.

The painting “Shades of Death” by artist Lee Teter, depicts Colonel Thomas Cresap comforting the mortally wounded, heroic frontiersman.

He was buried on the site, the story goes, where Cresap named the mountain in his honor. “Negro Mountain”, the long ridge of the Allegheny Mountains stretching from Deep Creek Lake in Maryland north to the Casselman River in Pennsylvania, stands to this day as his monument. 

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Eventually, someone took offense at the name. Rosita Youngblood, a Philadelphia politician of African ancestry, said in 2007: “Through a school project, my son and granddaughter first informed me of the name of this range and I found it to be disparaging that we have one of our great works of nature named as such… I find it disheartening for tourists who visit this range to see the plaque with the name Negro Mountain displayed on the mountainside.”

Professor Christopher Bracey is a law professor and associate professor of African and African-American studies at Washington University. Bracey also descends from African ancestors. He contends that: “I must confess I have a slightly different take on it than [Youngblood]… Here we have a mountain, whose name was intended to be a testament to Negro bravery. It seems rather crass and unsophisticated to name it Negro Mountain, but the intentions were strong.”

Measures to rename Negro Mountain and Polish Mountain alike were voted down in the Maryland state senate. As of this writing, road signs have been removed by the Maryland State Highway Administration, citing concerns over “racial sensitivity”.

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