‘America’s Hometown’ Now Empty Storefronts, Wal-Marts and Shuttered Factories

Milan High School’s state basketball victory over larger Muncie inspired the 1986 film Hoosiers.

By Jim O’Neal

The last time I was in Buffalo, N.Y., was in October 1974. We were on a tour of supermarkets to improve our code dating discipline. Anytime we spotted a bag with an illegible date or past the stale point, we simply crumpled the bag and asked the store manager to have the Frito-Lay salesman replace it with no charge to the store. I was aware that Grover Cleveland had been sheriff of Erie County and personally hanged two murderers, but didn’t know that the Ball Brothers glass manufacturing company had moved their company to Muncie, Ind., in 1889 due to the abundance of natural gas. And, of course, President William McKinley got himself assassinated in Buffalo in 1901.

Muncie has become newsworthy ever since a landmark sociological study was undertaken there in the 1920s. It had been identified as the representative American community worthy of the title “Middletown.”

It started after Robert Lynd, a young seminary student, accepted an assignment to analyze the effectiveness of ministries by studying a Wyoming oil-drilling camp owned by Standard Oil of Indiana. The camp was a dismal collection of tents inhabited by 500 discouraged workers and their families. Lynd was successful in forging them into a viable community. He then wrote an article for an obscure journal, detailing the appalling conditions and attacking John D. Rockefeller Jr. (personally) as the one responsible.

In a twist of fate, Rockefeller – a devout Baptist with liberal ideas – had just formed a committee to study America’s religious practices. He wanted to reconcile capitalism of the early 20th century with his personal Protestant beliefs. So Rockefeller picked Lynd to head the “Small City Study” to prove it was truly independent. Their charter was to look at social problems arising from industrialization – “ascertain[ing] the religious, ethical and capability of people” in a single industrial city.

Lynd chose Muncie since it fit certain criteria: small (38,000), Midwestern and economically diverse. Although 92 percent were “native white of native parentage,” Lynd claimed a homogeneous population permitted him to study cultural changes, unimpeded by racial or religious differences. It also reflected his deep belief that native-born Protestants represented the bedrock of American society and best hope for the country’s future success.

Robert and wife Helen Lynd arrived in Muncie in 1924 and quickly decided religion was too narrow and expanded the study to factory conditions, the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, and even the people’s reading habits. What they discovered was a city rushing into the 20th century, with rapid industrialization, farming to factories, kerosene to electricity, central heating, hot water in a tap and the telephone, automobile and railroads.

In 1929, they published Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, 500 pages detailing a rigid class system and gradual erosion of values, with excessive materialism and consumerism in full bloom. Returning after the 1932 Great Depression, Lynd was totally disillusioned by American capitalism and looked with naive envy on the Marxist experiments in the Soviet Union.

Waves of subsequent sociologists have made their own journeys to Muncie, which today calls itself “America’s Hometown,” with a litter of empty storefronts, outlying Wal-Marts, factories shuttered, the Ball Brothers HQ now in Colorado, and a vibrant service economy. Locals have grown accustomed to being sampled and polled by outsiders. “Here, it’s something of a way of life,” said Muncie Star-Press editor Larry Lough.

I’d like to visit Muncie some day since I love Indiana basketball and in 1954, tiny Milan High School (enrollment 161) knocked off Muncie to win the state basketball championship. This was the inspiration for the 1986 film Hoosiers with Gene Hackman in one of my all-time favorites.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

No President has been Removed by Impeachment, Conviction

A 1996 letter President Clinton sent to a journalist, regarding an article that had moved the president, sold for $10,755 at a February 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 7, 1789, members of the Electoral College cast 69 votes for George Washington to become the first president of the United States, while John Adams, who finished in second place with 34 votes, became the first vice president.

These electors, who had been chosen by white men who were landowners in 10 states, also cast votes for John Jay (9), Robert Harrison (6), John Rutledge (6), Samuel Huntington (2), John Milton (2), Benjamin Lincoln (1), and Edward Telfair (1). Forty-four electors failed to cast a vote.

Bill Clinton

North Carolina and Rhode Island were ineligible since their statehood had not been ratified. New York did not appoint the eight electors they were eligible for since they were deadlocked in their state legislature.

We still use the Electoral College, as established by the Constitution, which has been modified several times and today gives all citizens age 18 and over the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president and vice president (only). On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, each state’s electors simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide.

Then on Jan. 6, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and, finally, on Jan. 20, the president is sworn into office. In the case of George Washington, he wasn’t sworn in until April 30, 1789, since Congress didn’t count the electoral votes until April 6.

Exactly 210 years later, on Jan. 7, 1999, the impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton began in the U.S. Senate, with senators sworn in as jurors and Chief Justice William Rehnquist sworn in to preside. President Clinton was formally charged with lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

Four years earlier, he had sexual relations with a 21-year-old unpaid intern in the White House before she was transferred to the Pentagon. Contrary to his sworn testimony in an unrelated sexual harassment case, President Clinton admitted to a grand jury (via closed-circuit television) that he had not been truthful.

On Dec. 11, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. On Dec. 19, the full House approved two articles of impeachment: lying under oath to a grand jury and obstructing justice. On Feb. 12, the Senate voted on the perjury charge and 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted “not guilty.” On the charges of obstruction of justice, the Senate vote was split 50-50.

This was the third and last time the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted to impeach the president of the United States. Two were found not guilty (Andrew Johnston in 1868 and Bill Clinton), while a third, Richard Nixon, resigned to avoid what was an almost certain guilty verdict. (In 1834, the Senate voted to “censure” Andrew Jackson).

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Thomas Hart Benton’s Influence Surpassed Nearly All Contemporaries

This $100 1882 Gold Certificate (Fr. 1214), featuring an image of Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, sold for $88,125 at an April 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

During the winter of 1886-87, cattle rancher Theodore Roosevelt lost a lot of his money as the Dakota weather wiped out his herd. The one-time boy wonder of New York politics was now neither a boy nor a wonder anymore. At age 28, Roosevelt decided to return to writing. Through his friend Henry Cabot Lodge, he got a contract with Houghton Mifflin for a biography of Thomas Hart Benton, the Missouri Senator and apostle of Western geographic expansion of the United States.

Like most authors, T.R. had moments of doubt, writing to Lodge, “I feel appalled over the Benton. Unsure if a flat failure or not. Writing is horribly hard work for me; and I make slow progress.” By June, he pleads with Lodge to send him some research material on Benton’s post-Senate time and receives enough help to finish the biography. The book didn’t break any new ground, but was a much better read than his ponderous Naval War of 1812.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) is a well-known American painter and muralist, and subject of an eponymous 1988 documentary by Ken Burns. However, Roosevelt’s biography was about a great-uncle, Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), who was only slightly less well known and a giant when it comes to the topic of U.S. western expansion, commonly called Manifest Destiny (or God’s will).

Benton was a central figure in virtually all the major geographic additions after President Jefferson essentially doubled the U.S. land area in 1803 via the Louisiana Purchase from France. The modest $15 million price tag added areas that constitute 15 present states and small portions of two Canadian provinces.

T.H.B. was an aide-de-camp to General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and then launched his own political career after the Compromise of 1820. This agreement permitted Maine (free) and Missouri (slave) to become U.S. states without disturbing the delicate balance in the Senate. Benton was one of Missouri’s first two Senators and his Senate career lasted 30 years.

He became the first Senator to serve five terms in office. His strong anti-slavery position prevented him from winning a sixth term, so he became a member of the House of Representatives.

He was the principal supporter behind the annexation of the Republic of Texas (1846) despite the slavery issue, which was rectified by negotiations for the Oregon Territory and anti-slavery provisos for the new areas seeking statehood after the war with Mexico. Benton further encouraged western expansion by legislating the first Homestead Act that offered free land to those who agreed to settle and live there.

It is easy to understand why Roosevelt selected him for a biography. Benton was not a great orator or writer, or even an original thinker. But his energy and industry, his indomitable will and fortitude, gave him an influence that surpassed nearly all contemporaries. Courteous, except when provoked, his courage was proof against all fear and he shrank from no contest, personal or political. At all times, he held every talent he possessed completely at the service of the Federal Union.

John F. Kennedy included Benton as one of the eight Senators he highlighted in his book Profiles In Courage, citing how Benton sacrificed his re-election to the U.S. Senate in a vain attempt to avoid disunion.

I suspect Teddy Roosevelt may have unwittingly adopted some of these personal traits for himself. They seem entirely familiar to the T.R. I admire and respect so deeply.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

General Lee’s Decision Avoided the ‘Vietnamization of America’

Robert E. Lee declined President Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

By Jim O’Neal

In late 1955, the Tappan Zee Bridge – spanning the Hudson River in New York – was opened with seven lanes for motor traffic. Two months ago, it was closed and is systematically being demolished. The deteriorating bridge, known in the governor’s office as the “hold-your-breath bridge,” was featured in the documentary The Crumbling of America, the story of the infrastructure crisis in the United States.

Also in this same category is the Arlington Memorial Bridge, which connects the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington National Cemetery and is metaphorically described as what rejoined the North and South after the Civil War. First proposed in 1886 as a memorial to General Ulysses S. Grant, it was blocked in Congress until President Warren G. Harding got snarled in a three-hour traffic jam in 1921 en route to the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Congress quickly approved his request for $25,000 to build the bridge and it finally opened in January 1932.

Nearby is Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial. This was the home for the Lee family for 30 years and where R.E.L. made the fateful decision to resign his commission in the U.S. Army on April 21, 1861, and join the Confederate States. He had declined President Abraham Lincoln’s offer to head up the Union Army since it would require him to bear arms against his home state of Virginia.

In June 1862, Congress enacted a property tax on all “insurrectionary” land and added an amendment in 1863 requiring the tax to be paid in person. Ill and behind Confederate lines, Mary Lee was unable to comply and the Lees never slept there again. The property was auctioned off on Jan. 11, 1864, and the high bidder ($26,800) was the U.S. government.

Secretary of War William Stanton approved the conversion of the Lee estate to a military cemetery in 1864. On May 13, a Confederate POW was buried there (renamed Arlington National Cemetery) and more than 400,000 have joined him, including President Taft, President JFK and my dear friend Roger Enrico.

For 15 years, I passed a statue of Robert E. Lee driving to my Dallas office. It invariably invoked memories of the wisdom of this soldier who surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox in April 1865. Most of his top aides tried to dissuade Lee from surrendering, arguing they could disband into the familiar countryside and hold out indefinitely in a stalemate. Eventually, Northern soldiers would simply return to their homes and then the South could regroup.

Thus did Robert E. Lee, so revered for his leadership in war, make his most historic contribution – to peace! By this one momentous decision, he spared the country the divisive guerilla war that would have followed … a vile and poisonous conflict that would have fractured the country perhaps permanently. Or as newspaper columnist Tom Wicker deftly put it, “The Vietnamization of America.”

Alas, Dallas city leaders recently removed the Lee statue and I sincerely hope they find some relief from the anguish they have suffered from this piece of marble sequestered so long. However, I suspect they will just move on to some other injustice. It reminds me of feeding jellybeans to pacify a ravenous bear. When you (inevitably) run out of jellybeans, he eats you.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Art Museum is Magically Restorative

Paintings by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) are found in museums such as the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth. This Bouguereau piece, Fishing For Frogs, 1882, realized $1.76 million at a May 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In the opening paragraph of his handwritten letter dated June 22, 1969, to Velma Kimbell, the architect Louis Kahn wrote, “I hope you will find my work beautiful and meaningful.”

Kimbell and her late husband wanted a great museum for the city of Fort Worth, Texas. They were part of that sliver of truly rich willing to give up artistic power to people who knew more. The Kimbells would pay for the entire museum, donate the nucleus of a fine collection, and leave an endowment of such magnitude that the Kimbell Art Museum would be among the handful of museums able to aggressively buy the best.

Louis Kahn

What they did, to pay them the highest compliment, was equivalent to what the Mellon family did 30 years earlier. Few people in the history of this nation have used their fortune on behalf of the arts as the Mellons, starting with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Andrew Mellon (1855-1937) wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 offering his superb collection and funds for a new museum to house it.

When it opened to the public on March 17, 1941 (Mellon was dead), the world-class collection consisted of 120-plus paintings and 26 sculptures given by his son Paul Mellon, another giant in the world of art philanthropy. Over the ensuing years, Paul and his wife Bunny donated more than 1,000 works of art! Bunny was famous for entertaining and insisted on serving bowls of perfect Lays chips (her secret was to have servants pick out broken chips).

Louis Kahn’s letter to Velma Kimbell, written four days before groundbreaking ceremonies (he could not attend), was polite, but was NOT representative of a deeply held conviction. “Even when serving the dictates of individuals, you still have no client in my sense of the word. The client is human nature.”

No museum has served that usually overlooked client better!

Kahn wanted light to have the luminosity of silver as it reflected off the distinctive cycloidal concrete vaults. The light provides a sense of the time of day (it reminds me of beach light) but avoids the enemy of art: direct sunlight – especially the ferocious light of Texas summers. Instead of inducing fatigue, as most museums do, the Kimbell is restorative. “The feeling of being home and safe,” said Kahn, explaining his own magnificent piece of art the museum represents.

The Kimbell is noted for the wash of silvery natural light across its vaulted gallery ceilings.

A prime, early policy directive was definitive excellence, not size of collection. With a collection size of 350 superb European Old Masters, that goal has been accomplished.

Personally, I prefer the nearby Amon Carter Museum for three small reasons. First, I prefer its Frontier West tone. Second, I am jaded about “Old European Masters” after living in Central London for five years (yawn). Third, it gives me an easy segue into two apocryphal stories about the Carters.

Amon Carter Sr. (1879-1955) was so disdainful of Dallas that he would bring a sack lunch so he would not have to spend any money when he visited the city. “Fort Worth is where the West begins – and Dallas is where the East peters out.”

Although I have owned coins and currency that Amon Carter Jr. once owned, I never met him. He died of a heart attack in 1982. But one of his advisers, a Dallas coin dealer, told me they were in a bar in NYC when a loudmouth asked Amon how big his Texas ranch was and scoffed when Amon replied 30 acres.

“Thirty acres? I thought all you Texans had BIG ranches. Where is yours?”

Amon answered softly. “All of downtown Fort Worth.”

Not all acreage is born equally.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Armies Have Been Planning Wars for Centuries

This 19-inch-high bronze of Alexander the Great, inscribed M Amodio Napoli, sold for $5,500 at a September 2017 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The New York Times recently wrote about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, referring to a “secret plan” to deal with the growing North Korean nuclear threat to the world.

Military historians know that armies make plans. Alexander the Great had a plan for invading the Persian Empire to kill or capture Emperor Darius. Hannibal had a plan in the Second Punic War to elude the Roman navy by using war elephants to cross the Alps into Spain. King Phillip II had a plan in 1588 to defeat England using his impressive armada.

Napoleon is occasionally derided for having a “plan of the year” to guide his activities to defeat his European enemies, which included Egypt, Austria, Italy, Prussia and even Russia. But by 1870, Napoleon II had ushered in a new era of military planning, requiring meticulous details that covered every contingency. Earlier in 1810, Prussia had founded a war academy to train officers in staff duties to expand their basic skills.

After the remarkable Prussian victories over Austria (1806) and France (1870), institutions in other countries were hastily modified to conform, most notably the French École de Guerre in 1880. There would be no equivalent in the diplomatic world. As late as 1914, the British Foreign Office was still choosing entrants on the basis of relationships with ambassadors and other cronies. Diplomacy remained an art taught in embassies and despite being dedicated to national interests, there was not a shared belief that their roles were to avoid war with skillful negotiations.

The Balkan Wars of 1912-13 had been settled chiefly by diplomacy because the crisis had been isolated to national interests, as opposed to the far trickier national honor or prestige. However, in 1914, the weakest of the European powers, Austria-Hungary, was rocked by the assassination of the heir to the throne by a subversive from Serbia. Franz Ferdinand, nephew to Emperor Franz Joseph, had traveled to Bosnia to observe routine military maneuvers. The next day, he and his wife drove to the principal capital, Sarajevo.

This was an era when heads of state were often in grave danger … a Russian Tsar, an Austrian princess and an American president all felled by fanatics or lunatics. In the case of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it was a group of assassins lying in wait with bombs and a pistol. Someone threw a bomb that bounced off the car, exploding and only wounding an officer. Forty-five minutes later, en route to visit the wounded, the driver made a wrong turn and stopped in front of an assassin with the pistol. Gavrilo Princip stepped forward and killed both Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.

What followed was an astonishing series of interlocking alliances and mutual pacts that fell like a row of dominos and created a world war … France to go to war on Russia’s side and vice versa if either were attacked by Germany; Britain to lend assistance to France if needed; Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy (the Triple Alliance) versus the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary).

It was a conflict of unprecedented ferocity that ended the peace and prosperity of the Victorian Era, unleashing demons of mechanized warfare and mass death. An unanswered mystery is how a civilization at the height of its achievements could propel itself into such a ruinous conflict. The answer lays hidden in the negotiations among Europe’s crowned heads (all related by blood) and their doomed efforts to diffuse the crisis. By the end of the senseless war, three great empires – the Austrian-Hungarian, the Russian, and the Ottoman – had collapsed. An unthinkable outcome.

Perhaps it is as simple as the often-overused quote by Mike Tyson: “Everybody has a plan … until they get punched in the mouth.”

Can you hear us Rex?

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Presidential Politics Always Filled with Strange Twists and Turns

This rare 1902 Oklahoma Territorial Red Seal, with a vignette of President William McKinley, sold for $16,450 at an April 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 56th Congress (1899-1901) had assembled in a spirit of tranquility. For the first time since 1883, Republicans were in control of every branch of government and they rejoiced in an exceptional unity. It was the third and fourth years of President William McKinley’s presidency and included one African-American, George Henry White of North Carolina – the last black member of Congress until 1928 and the last one from the South until 1972.

McKinley was in the midst of a dramatically expanding era of foreign trade and the entire nation was applauding U.S. Secretary of State John Hay’s negotiations for the “Open Door Policy” into China. Republicans were also free to take action on the president’s policy to establish a temporary government in Porto Rico (the name was changed by Congress in 1931), with free trade between the islands and the United States. In addition, they needed to provide a territorial government for newly acquired Hawaii.

The minority lost no time in seeking revenge. Lacking a constructive program and impotent to prevent legislation on which the majority united, Democratic leaders resorted to opposition in its rawest form: Seek any device to divide or delay the Republican steamroller (sound familiar?). Constitutional questions were raised on a wide range of resolutions, with special attention to matters involving the Philippines, another recent addition courtesy of the Spanish-American War in 1898. They accused the administration of censorship and obscuring facts from the people on a broad set of issues. Anything to slow them down.

Despite furious, intermittent debates, the chairman of the Committee on the Philippines recommended granting the president broad legislative authority, almost carte blanche legal authority to do as he pleased. This further outraged Democrats and even seemed radical to many Republican senators. But the legislation had been carefully constructed by the superbly knowledgeable Senator John Spooner and modeled on the act by which Congress had authorized Thomas Jefferson to govern Louisiana nearly 100 years earlier.

This further emboldened the president and he adopted an even broader assumption of power and established a new commission to “build up from the bottom” and create a central government to be established in Manila, with the head likely to become a civilian governor. For this position, McKinley wanted a man of unusual qualifications, not only administrative and judicial, but moral as well. He wanted someone who possessed the extraordinary tact and patience required to bridge an interim period of joint control with a military government.

In the middle of January, the president telegraphed Judge William Howard Taft of Cincinnati politely asking him to call.

Taft was an affable man of 42; jolly but impressive with a big body, big smile and a bigger judicial brain, serving as judge of the U.S. Circuit Court at Cincinnati for eight years. Though Taft was a prominent jurist and a highly respected Republican, he did not know McKinley well during McKinley’s time as governor of Ohio. Taft had mingled in politics without becoming a typical politician. He was far too fastidious for the compromises and bargains, uneasy with the quid pro quo and backslapping of politics. Further, he did not have a high opinion of McKinley, despite a cordial dinner on the night of the Ohio elections of 1899.

Less than three months later came this unexpected call from the White House, presumably at the urging of Mark Hanna, the ultimate kingmaker.

Taft was perplexed by the call since he had a single all-consuming ambition, to become a member of the Supreme Court, and there had been no talk of a vacancy. When he arrived at the White House, McKinley came straight to the point, asking him to be a member of the Philippines commission and intimating he would head it. Years later when he was president-elect of the United States, Taft recalled the conversation in a speech: “Judge, I’d like you to go to the Philippines.” “Mr. President, I would like to help, but I am sorry we got the Philippines and I don’t want them.” “Judge, you don’t want them less than I do, but we’ve got them and I can trust a man who doesn’t want them more than a man who does!”

So Judge William Taft became governor of the Philippines (a job he didn’t want) and, ultimately, the 27th president of the United States (another job he reluctantly accepted). He finally got his dream job as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on July 11, 1921. He would serve until he retired on Feb. 3, 1930. After his death the following month, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, the first president and first Supreme Court Justice to be interred there.

Presidential politics took some strange twists and turns along the way … and some things never seem to change.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

National Debt on Automatic Pilot to More Growth

A letter by President George W. Bush, signed and dated July 4, 2001, sold for $16,730 at an April 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In May 2001 – just 126 days after President George W. Bush took office – Congress passed his massive tax proposal. The Bush tax cuts had been reduced to $1.3 trillion from the $1.65 trillion submitted, but it was still a significant achievement from any historical perspective. It had taken Ronald Reagan two months longer to win approval of his tax cut and that was 20 years earlier.

George W. Bush

Bush was characteristically enthusiastic about this, but it had come with a serious loss in political capital. Senator James Jeffords, a moderate from Vermont, announced his withdrawal from the Republican Party, tipping control of the Senate to the Democrats, the first time in history that had occurred as the result of a senator switching parties. In this instance, it was from Republican to Independent, but the practical effect was the same. Several months later (after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon), there was a loud chorus of calls to reverse the tax cuts to pay for higher anticipated spending.

Bush had a counter-proposal: Cut taxes even more!

Fiscal conservatives were worried that there would be the normal increase in the size and power of the federal government, lamenting that this was a constant instinctive companion of hot wars. James Madison’s warning that “A crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant” was cited against centralization that would foster liberal ideas about the role of government and even more dependency on the federal system.

Ex-President Bill Clinton chimed in to say that he regretted not using the budget surplus (really only a forecast) to pay off the Social Security trust fund deficit. Neither he nor his former vice president had dispelled the myth about a “lock box” or explained the federal building in Virginia that had been built exclusively to hold government IOUs to Social Security. In reality, they were simply worthless pieces of scrip, stored in unlocked filing cabinets. The only changes that had ever occurred with Social Security funds were whether they were included in a “unified budget” or not. They had never been kept separate from other revenues the federal government received.

But this was Washington, D.C., where, short of a revolution or civil war, change comes in small increments. Past differences, like family arguments, linger in the air like the dust that descends from the attic. All of the huge surpluses totally disappeared with the simple change in the forecast and have never been discussed since.

Back at the Treasury Department of 15th Street, a statue to Alexander Hamilton commemorates the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, a fitting honor to the man who created our fiscal foundation. But on the other side stands Albert Gallatin, President Thomas Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary, who struggled to pay off Hamilton’s debts and shrink the bloated bureaucracy he built.

Hamilton also fared better than his onetime friend and foe, James Madison. The “Father of the Constitution” had no statue, no monument, no lasting tribute until 1981, when the new wing of the Library of Congress was named for him. This was a drought that was only matched by John Adams, the Revolutionary War hero and ardent nationalist. It was only after a laudatory biography by David McCulloch in 2001 that Congress commissioned a memorial to the nation’s second president.

Since the Bush tax cut and the new forecast, the national debt has ballooned to $20 trillion as 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 2008 financial meltdown produced a steady stream of budget deficits in both the Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The Donald Trump administration is poised to approve tax reform, amid arguments on the stimulative effect on the economy and who will benefit. In typical Washington fashion, there is no discussion over the fact that the national debt is inexorably on automatic pilot to $25 trillion, irrespective of tax reform. But this is Washington, where your money (and all they can borrow) is spent almost with no effort.

“Just charge it.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

News Reporting Has Come a Long Way, but Kinks Remain

A sketch of Edward R. Murrow, signed, by artist Johnny Raitt is among six sketches of famous newscasters that went to auction in July 2010.

By Jim O’Neal

In the past year, several prominent newspapers and TV networks have corrected or retracted provocative political stories that were factually wrong. Critics are prone to blame the insatiable appetite to feed the 24/7 news-cycle beast and, increasingly, a news organization’s rush to be first. This has been compounded by the steady transition from costly field correspondents to much-less expensive panelists sitting around a table in the TV studio offering personal opinions.

Most of these discussions start with “I think” or “In my opinion,” which by definition blurs facts with subjective comments. Unbiased, factual reporting is mixed into a lethal cocktail that blurs reality and has inexorably led to an environment where charges of “fake news” are routine. Then social media further distort issues and reality. People can now easily shop for any “facts” on TV or the internet that support their opinions. However, the “need for speed” is not a recent phenomenon.

Triggered by the oldest of journalism’s preoccupations – the desire to be first with a dramatic story – Edward R. Murrow, William L. Shirer and their network, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), made broadcast journalism history on March 13, 1938. What set the stage was CBS founder and CEO William S. Paley’s realization that his radio network had just been soundly beaten again by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and their reporter “Ubiquitous Max” Jordan, with his eyewitness account of Austria’s fall.

Worse, the fault was Paley’s. Until Jordan’s story and its effect on America, Paley had supported news director Paul White’s decision not to use network employees for hard-news reporting. To their increasing chagrin, men like Murrow and Shirer were forced to cover truly soft stories like concerts instead of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’s actions and intentions. Paley had had enough. He asked White to call Shirer and tell him, “We want a European roundup tonight.” The broadcast would cover the European reaction to the Nazis’ Austrian takeover. The players would include Shirer in London with a member of Parliament; Murrow in Vienna; and American newspaper correspondents in Paris, Berlin and Rome.

They had eight hours to put together what had never been done before. As Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson describe in their book The Murrow Boys: “Never mind that it was five o’clock, London time, on a Sunday afternoon, which meant that all offices were closed and that all technicians and correspondents and members of Parliament they would need were out of town, off in the country or otherwise unreachable. Never mind the seemingly insuperable technical problems of arranging the lines and transmitters, of ensuring the necessity of split-second timing. Never mind any of that. That was what being a foreign correspondent was all about. It was part of the code of the brotherhood. When the bastards asked if you could do something impossible, the only acceptable answer was yes. Shirer reached for the phone and called Murrow in Vienna.”

Beginning at 8 p.m., with announcer Robert Trout’s words, “We take you now to London,” Murrow, Shirer and their comrades proved radio was not only able to report news as it occurred but also able to put it into context, to link it with news from elsewhere – and do it with unprecedented speed and immediacy. They set in motion with that 30-minute broadcast in March 1938 a chain of events that would lead, in only one year, to radio’s emergence as America’s chief news medium and to the beginning of CBS’s decades-long dominance of broadcast journalism. The broadcasts by Murrow and his team during the London blitz and over the entire course of the war set the standard for broadcast reporting style and eloquence.

We have come a long way since then, but it’s not clear to me if we’ve made any progress.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Chester Arthur Surprised His Critics, Overcame Negative Reputation

This ribbon with an engraved portrait of Chester Alan Arthur, issued as a souvenir for an Oct. 11, 1882, “Dinner to The President of the United States by The City of Boston,” sold for $437 at a November 2014 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Chester Alan Arthur to the lucrative post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871. Arthur held the job for seven years, and with an annual gross income of $50,000, was able to accumulate a modest fortune. He was responsible for the collection of about 75 percent of the entire nation’s duties from ships that landed in his jurisdiction, which included the entire coast of New York state, the Hudson River and ports in New Jersey.

In 1872, he raised significant contributions from Custom House employees to support Grant’s successful re-election for a second term. The spoils system was working as designed, despite occasional charges of corruption.

Five years later, the Jay Commission was created to formally investigate corruption in the New York Custom House and (future president) Chester Arthur was the primary witness. The commissioner recommended a thorough housecleaning and President Rutherford B. Hayes fired Arthur and then offered him an appointment as consul general in Paris. Arthur refused and went back to New York law and politics.

At the 1880 Republican National Convention, eventual nominee James Garfield first offered the VP slot to wealthy New York Congressman Levi Morton (later vice president for Benjamin Harrison), who refused. Garfield then turned to Chester Arthur, who, when he accepted, declared, “The office of the vice president is a greater honor than I ever dreamed of attaining.” It would be the only election he would ever win, but it was enough to foist him into the presidency.

The Garfield-Arthur ticket prevailed and after being sworn in on March 4, 1881, the 49-year-old Garfield’s first act was to turn and kiss his aged mother. It was the first time a president’s mother had ever been present at an inauguration. She would outlive her son by almost seven years. President James Polk (1845-1849) also died three years before his mother, the first time that had happened.

On the morning of July 2, President Garfield was entering the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C., where he was to board a train to attend the 25th reunion of his class at Williams College. A mentally disturbed office seeker, Charles J. Guiteau, shot him twice. He died 80 days later and for the fourth time in history, a man clearly only meant to be vice president ascended to the presidency.”

“CHET ARTHUR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! GOOD GOD!”

Although President Arthur’s greatest achievement may have been the complete renovation of the White House, he surprised even some of his harshest critics. Mark Twain may have summed it up best: “I am but one in 55 million, still in the opinion of this one-fifty-five millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s administration.”

Faint praise, yet probably accurate. (First, do no harm.)

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].