Hoover Boys

our Chicago correspondent sends us this find:

The authors:


Robert Caro’s two hour audiobook

Strong endorse to an audio only, 1 hour 42 minute semi-memoir by Robert Caro, boiling down the central ideas of The Power Broker and the LBJ series.  If you’ve read every single extant interview with Robert Caro, as I have, some of its repetitive but I loved it and loved listening to Caro’s weird New York accent.

 

Two details: he tells how James Rowe, an aide to FDR, told him that FDR was such a genius about politics that when he discussed it almost no one could even understand him.  But Lyndon Johnson understood everything.

James Rowe, from the LOC 

Caro tells that when LBJ ran for Congress the first time, he promised to bring electricity.  Women had to haul water from the well with a rope.  A full bucket of water was heavy.  Women would become bent, a Hill Country term for stooped over.  LBJ campaigned saying, if you vote for me, you won’t be bent.  You won’t look at forty the way your mother looked at forty.

from the Austin American Statesman collection at the LBJ Library.  The woman’s name is Mrs. Mattie Malone.  


Which one of you jokesters

cc

Ordered me two copies of The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen?

Very funny.

Mission accomplished, it’s next up after I finish Tom Ricks:

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More California Ballot Cranks

Hayes D. is back with a look at some legendary ballot cranks of California history:

I took a sick pleasure in writing about Measure S and Michael Weinstein the other day. Thanks to Steve for asking me to do that.

While I was at it, I dug into some of the other rich, angry men who took advantage of the California ballot system: guys like Weinstein who spent a ton of money and made pretty extreme changes to the law without ever actually being elected to office.

Here are two!

HOWARD JARVIS

Howard Jarvis was the guy behind Proposition 13, a 1978 state ballot initiative that slashed the property tax for everybody in California by about 60 percent.

That tax cut now costs California somewhere between $20 billion and $150 billion a year.

“Is that a lot?” Well, the entire state budget for 2017-2018 is $179.5 billion. So if you take the middle of the Prop 13 cost estimate, that means one slightly overweight businessman from West Hollywood basically cut California’s budget by a third.

Jarvis was a millionaire from LA who got rich making airplane parts and garbage disposals and other stuff. Your classic 1950’s generic “businessman.” What separated him from his peers was how much he hated taxes.

So after he retired in 1962, he ran for office a few times on an anti-tax platform. Lost every time. Then he discovered the ballot initiative route, and in 1979 he wrote up Proposition 13: a rule that the property tax could only be about 1% of the appraised value of the property, and it couldn’t go up unless the property was sold.

With the help of the base he built from his other campaigns, he and his wife gathered 1.5 million signatures to get it on the ballot. Then Jarvis went on a barnstorming tour of California and riled everybody up so good that the measure passed with 65 percent of the vote.

How did he get this thing passed when basically every elected official in California was against it? This section of his LAT obituary about his rallies might sound familiar to those of us who were alive in 2016:

“When I have three, four, five thousand people, I really pour it on,” he said in his gravelly voice. “Like a goddamn Baptist preacher. I tell ’em how government is clobbering them. I rev ’em up. I talk about basic human rights.”Jarvis was quick to admit that playing on the public’s fears was one of the trump cards that made Proposition 13 a big winner.

Fun word choice in that last sentence! Like being mocked from the past.

Also familiar in modern times: Jarvis was rich but managed to come off as an everyman because he was a loud, fat, funny slob. Here’s one of several observations about his pipe habits from this article by a guy who worked for him:
When he got excited, Jarvis would puff harder on his pipe, and this created a lot of excess “tobacco juice.” During one unfriendly interview with a reporter, Jarvis got agitated and started puffing hard. At one point, sitting behind his big, false desk with no drawers, Jarvis leaned forward and spit some of the excess tobacco juice into a waste can. Jerry Carroll, on the other side of the desk without benefit of a full view, wrote in a 1994 San Francisco Chronicle story that at one point in an interview Jarvis, “jerked opened a drawer in his desk, spit into it and slammed it shut.”

Buried in that passage is the revelation that there is such a thing as a “false desk.”

Jarvis made a bunch of commercials for Prop 13 starring himself and was constantly on TV talking about it. Somehow he got nationally famous doing this. He made the cover of Time!
A 75-year-old California anti-tax activist! On the cover of Time Magazine! The past: it was different.

Here’s maybe the most insane thing. Remember the guy in Airplane! who waits in the cab for the entire movie? That’s Howard Jarvis.

Some people seem to think that his cameo was some kind of inside joke referencing Prop 13. I’m not persuaded by that.

Prop 13 is still California law today, and the legacy of it is… just incredibly depressing. It’s so bad.
Here’s a KPBS reporter talking about it in 2010:

FARYON: Well let’s go back to prior 1978, back in the day when schools needed money. More money to hire students, to pay for classrooms, supplies, and so on. They basically looked to the local taxpayer for money in the form of property taxes. And in fact, they set their budgets, went to the county assessor, the property tax rate was set, and then they collected enough money. As much money as they needed. After 1978, what happened was we couldn’t do that anymore. It was a statewide cap. One percent – that’s all the money that you got. So as a result, before 1978, before Prop 13, statewide the schools had a $9 billion budget. After Prop 13 they lost $3 billion – a third of that – overnight.
***
Here’s a look at California’s per-pupil spending for the past four decades in comparison to other states. The last time California was at the top of the heap was 1965, when it ranked 5th. In 1978 – the year Prop 13 passed –California was 14th out of 50. The next year, the state fell to 22nd place. In 1988, California fell below the national average for the first time and never recovered. The state now ranks 43rd.

Somewhat relatedly, LAUSD is currently running a deficit of 1.46 billion.

Lots of clips of Jarvis and stuff about the present-day effects of Prop 13 in this fun NYT docushort.

Ron Unz

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Ron Unz with 80 dollars. Source

Ron “Make ‘Em Say” Unz wrote and spent $750,000 of his own money on Proposition 227, a ballot initiative that made it against the law for California schools to teach in any language other than English.

He was born in North Hollywood under cool, 60s-style circumstances. From an LA Weekly profile:
When Ron Unz’s mother, a politically active left-wing schoolteacher from Los Angeles, was in her mid-20s, she met an older professor from the Midwest on a flight to Israel. He seemed odd, eccentric even, but clearly brilliant, too, and Esther-Laio Avrutin decided, after he‘d visited her several times when she’d returned to L.A., that she would a have a child with him. When Esther-Laio wrote to her lover to let him know about her pregnancy, the letter was opened by the professor‘s wife — the existence of this wife came as startling news to Esther-Laio — and that ended any possibility that, her sister says, they would be married.

Unz only met his dad a couple of times in his life. A sad thing I discovered: the dad’s obituary does not mention Ron among his children. Oof.

A few details from this somewhat excessively flattering New Republic cover story:
After college, Unz became sort of a nineties proto-Peter Thiel: he got rich writing software for the financial industry, then got involved in libertarian policy and spent $2 million to run in the Republican primary against the incumbent governor of California, Pete Wilson.

He got 34 percent of the vote, which seems like a lot? Against a sitting Governor, as a non-famous person? Would real Peter Thiel even get that much today?

In 1998, Unz simultaneously ran for Senate and launched Prop 227, because he thought teaching immigrant children in their native language wasn’t preparing them to get good jobs. His staff for both campaigns was only two people.

Here’s an ad for 227, seemingly targeted at Latino families:

Unz whiffed on the Senate run, but 227 passed with 61% of the vote. Did it help kids? A 2014 Stanford study conducted with 18,000 students over ten years looked into that:
The results show that while students in English immersion programs perform better in the short term, over the long term students in classrooms taught in two languages not only catch up to their English immersion counterparts, but they eventually surpass them, both academically and linguistically.

So: no, not really. Forcing kids who didn’t speak English to be taught exclusively in English was, it turned out, not a great idea.

Unz put a lot more measures on the ballot, none as successful as Prop 227. But the fact that he was able to rally millions of people to do anything at all is still impressive, because Ron Unz is not, uh, traditionally charismatic. Listen to this voice:

That’s from his 2016 Senate bid. Not successful. Prop 227 also got overturned by a huge margin in that same state election. Also in 2016, Unz staged a failed coup against the Harvard Board of Overseers as part of a very strange, backhanded campaign against affirmative action. Tough year for Ron Unz!

Eisenhower appears in a dream

Last night in my dream Dwight Eisenhower appeared.  What would he make of all this?  We didn’t have a chance to discuss it.

A golfer.  A university president.  Chosen over other generals to command the Allied Expeditionary Force because of his understanding of and gift for diplomacy.

100% white men around him.  What would’ve been his view on trans bathrooms?

A Republican who invested the government in big projects, like the interstate highway system, and warned against defense spending in his farewell speech, which is thought-provoking:

Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

Confidence, competence.

The current president like a clown version of him, a grotesque vision from a nightmare.

Source

Source: the Wikipedia article on “grotesque”

Eisenhower was from Abilene, Kansas.

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First president to ride in a helicopter.

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Emolument

mill-wheel

Source: giphy

emolment

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From the Heritage Foundation, about as conservative as it gets:

Similarly, the Framers intended the Emoluments Clause to protect the republican character of American political institutions. “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” The Federalist No. 22 (Alexander Hamilton). The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation. Louis XVI had the custom of presenting expensive gifts to departing ministers who had signed treaties with France, including American diplomats. In 1780, the King gave Arthur Lee a portrait of the King set in diamonds above a gold snuff box; and in 1785, he gave Benjamin Franklin a similar miniature portrait, also set in diamonds. Likewise, the King of Spain presented John Jay (during negotiations with Spain) with the gift of a horse. All these gifts were reported to Congress, which in each case accorded permission to the recipients to accept them. Wary, however, of the possibility that such gestures might unduly influence American officials in their dealings with foreign states, the Framers institutionalized the practice of requiring the consent of Congress before one could accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from…[a] foreign State.”

Meanwhile I read the news:

China awards Donald Trump valuable trademark deal

Donald Trump sons set for UAE visit to open Trump International Golf Club Dubai

(A fun aspect to the Trump deal is: feels like every Joe and Josephine on Twitter is rapidly presenting themselves as a self-taught expert on like intelligence practices and the Ninth Circuit and what “emoluments” means.)

A thing I don’t understand: there must be at least one or two of the 248 Republican congressmen who’ve fantasized since youth about a chance to go full Profiles In Courage.

profiles

Here’s your chance bro!  Take on your scumbag President, go down for it, live on!  Are they all too lame? (Update: a possible candidate)

Anyway.  A chance to revisit famous mills of my youth:

Wayside Mill, Sudbury, MA

Wayside Grist Mill, Sudbury, MA

 


Well? Did I?

mvb

MVB is today’s Met Artwork Of The Day, snapped by Matthew Brady.