08 August 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment, Part IX: Autolycus Among The Rubes

[NOTE: A story appeared this weekend on the front page of the Portland OREGONIAN. (Front page; Saturday edition: which sort of cancel each other out.) I am one of the "Oregon bloggers" identified (or, rather, not identified), and it is an interesting piece, as far as it goes. Read it HERE]

"It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are." -- from "The Octopus Marooned," by O. Henry
There is a book by O. Henry, all but forgotten now. How it came into my hands is a story in itself, but, having obtained the (at that time) rarity, I casually started to read it, expecting not a lot.

You remember O. Henry: He wrote "The Ransom of Red Chief" (the kid so obnoxious that the kidnappers pay his father to take him back) and "The Gift of the Magi," about the impoverished newlyweds with her beautiful long hair and his pocket watch. Some English teacher surely forced you to read one or the other at some point.

I don't really like reading O. Henry. He had one trick that he liked to work to death, and that was the twist at the end. And, because his stories are always a kind of straight-faced joke, punctuated by an often cutsie or corny punchline, I'd not read him since my teens. But the first story was surprisingly delightful, and so, I kept reading.

What he was writing about was perfectly suited to his writing trick, and the stories together formed a thematic novel.

He'd collected together a number of stories that indicated -- from their internal evidence -- that the author had a deep fascination with the confidence games and swindles that abounded in his day.

It is a catalogue of con games, flim-flams and the gullibility of rubes -- decent, honest folk who, given a chance to make a quick buck, willingly let the flim-flammer fleece them. The scoundrel moved on to greener pastures, and rube would keep his mouth shut, generally, because to explain how he'd been duped was both an embarrassment, and a self-indictment of his own temptation that had allowed the con.

from The Gentle Grafter and other stories, by O. Henry, 1908:

On an east-bound train I went into the smoker and found Jefferson Peters, the only man with a brain west of the Wabash River who can use his cerebrum, cerebellum, and medulla oblongata at the same time.

Jeff is in the line of unillegal graft. He is not to be dreaded by widows and orphans; he is a reducer of surplusage. His favorite disguise is that of the target-bird at which the spendthrift or the reckless investor may shy a few inconsequential dollars. He is readily vocalized by tobacco; so, with the aid of two thick and easy-burning brevas, I got the story of his latest Autolycan adventure....
"Autolycan"? Alas, it comes from another age, when everyone knew the players of Greek Mythology, and often used them by way of analogy.

Autolycus is the son of Chione and Hermes (or Mercury, in the Roman parlance); he is called the "Prince of Thieves."

It's pronounced: aw-TOL-ih-kuhs.
Autolycus was a renowned thief (skills passed down from his father, the God of Thieves) and wrestler (which he taught to Hercules). Autolycus stole the cattle of Eurytus and the helmet that his grandson, Odysseus, eventually wore during the Trojan War. Autolycus was one of the Argonauts. [Wikipedia]
As in Jason and the Argonauts. His mother Chione was, by the by, so beautiful that even the gods fell in love with her, and she was killed by Artemis (the Roman 'Diana') for her vanity.

O. Henry should be taken as something of an expert in the subject of confidence games, having begun his writing career in the Ohio State Penitentiary, in Columbus. He may well have learned about the classic swindles from other inmates as he began writing under his pen name, and not his real name, William Sidney Porter. Porter swore to never speak of his prison experience -- for what may or may not have been embezzlement -- but he certainly knew his swindles. He wrote as O. Henry to keep his prison history secret.

You can read the rest of "The Ethics of Pig" [for free] at http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/8/0/1805/1805.txt

But these lines from the tale should suffice if you don't:
"Mine was a legitimate and moral attempt at speculation. Buy low and sell high--don't Wall Street endorse it? Bulls and bears and pigs--what's the difference? Why not bristles as well as horns and fur?"
rationalizes the con-man in the story.

Now the con here seems to be that the friends of Howard Rich want to swindle you out of your vote. They offer you a proposition that's too good to be true, and, sure enough, it generally is.

They're going to cap spending. They're going to get rid of "professional politicians" with term limits. They're going to protect you from bad "activist" judges. And they're going to save your home from the bulldozer and the wrecking ball.

And meantime, our ever-wide-eyed media are gathered 'round the table, as the shell game is run on them.

To run that con, all you need is a practiced barker, and a good shill, as O. Henry well knew -- although he used the term "capper." The term "shill" was originally was applied to the partner in this particular con, but has since come to mean a "planted" person in an audience who laughs at the right time to get the audience to laugh, and applauds when it's the right time for an applause line. (Comedians and politicians use them all the time. Listen for that FIRST, overeager clap, and don't be surprised if you don't hear that hasty first clap throughout the performance.)

That's a shill.

In this shell game, a local shill is recruited to lead a 'populist' movement on term limits, eminent domain, state spending, or what-have-you.

From O. Henry:
"That night I went down to the circus tents and opened a small shell game. Rufe was to be the capper. I gave him a roll of phony currency to bet with and kept a bunch of it in a special pocket to pay his winnings out of. No; I didn't mistrust him; but I simply can't manipulate the ball to lose when I see real money bet. My fingers go on a strike every time I try it.

"I set up my little table and began to show them how easy it was to guess which shell the little pea was under. The unlettered hinds gathered in a thick semicircle and began to nudge elbows and banter one another to bet. Then was when Rufe ought to have single-footed up and called the turn on the little joker for a few tens and fives to get them started. But, no Rufe. I'd seen him two or three times walking about and looking at the side-show pictures with his mouth full of peanut candy; but he never came nigh.

"The crowd piked a little; but trying to work the shells without a capper is like fishing without a bait. I closed the game with only forty-two dollars of the unearned increment, while I had been counting on yanking the yeomen for two hundred at least. I went home at eleven and went to bed. I supposed that the circus had proved too alluring for Rufe, and that he had succumbed to it, concert and all; but I meant to give him a lecture on general business principles in the morning. ("The Ethics of Pig").
It is a problem finding good help. The Nebraska connection between Missoula and Spring Green, Wisconsin would have never shown up, had not the "SOS Nebraska" spokesman slipped up and put the Spring Green post office box of Leslie Graves on one of the Contributions and Expenditures reports, instead of using the Omaha PO box that appears on all other SOS Nebraska and NE Humane filings.

Nor would another spokesman have inadvertently linked Howard Rich and another purportedly "independent" group in the story that we're working on right now, had he not inadvertently transposed suite numbers on the C&E filing in another state that we've uncovered.

Still, the shell game is the shell game, and finding good help is always important. Which is why, in Michigan, they chose spokesmen who they knew could be counted on.

O. Henry, again:
"In my line of business," said Jeff, "the hardest thing is to find an upright, trustworthy, strictly honorable partner to work a graft with. Some of the best men I ever worked with in a swindle would resort to trickery at times.

"So, last summer, I thinks I will go over into this section of country where I hear the serpent has not yet entered, and see if I can find a partner naturally gifted with a talent for crime, but not yet contaminated by success.
The friends of Howie Rich have found at least two talented partners, however. And the shell game that has commenced in Michigan has a familiar ring to it.

The Heartland Institute published this:

Author: Kurt O'Keefe
Published 06/01/2006

Voters in Michigan may get a chance this November to make big changes in state policy and how the state manages its tax revenues.

Petitioners across the state are gathering signatures to put the Stop OverSpending (SOS) initiative on the 2006 ballot. SOS, as its supporters call it, is designed to give voters a say in state spending decisions. The goal of SOS is to stabilize state spending so it doesn't go through a bust-and-boom cycle.

Given state spending conditions in Michigan in recent years, some people believe the timing couldn't be better.

"We're getting a tremendous response on the grassroots level," said Scott Tillman, who serves on the Michigan Stop OverSpending committee. "We're working to put the people back in charge of how their money is spent, and that really resonates."

Tillman, who also works with Americans for Limited Government, a national group sponsoring similar measures across the country, said the committee is working hard and gaining volunteers every day. The petition signatures are due July 10.
Well, they have a willing capper in Scott Tillman, whose name is suspiciously akin to that of Americans for Limited Government's Board member John Tillman. And Kurt O'Keefe, whose name sounds suspiciously like that of Eric O'Keefe, Chairman of that same board that John Tillman serves on. Whether they are related or not, though, certain similarities attend.

They are the two spokesmen for "Stop OverSpending Michigan," that franchise ballot operation that's running in Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, and Montana, and which was disallowed for the November ballot in Missouri and Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, the "pig" symbol for "politicians" figured prominently, as it did in the fall of 2005 in New York State, when Americans for Limited Government loaned it to New York groups backing Proposal 1. (This has been discussed in Part V, "The Locusts.")

And their "populist" rhetoric is stirring, if disingenuous: remember, this is a self-appointed wealthy elite, pushing their carefully test-marketed and slickly packaged agenda in a raft of states in which they do not live, interfering in the lives of the citizens of those states without facing any consequences should their laws prove harmful, hurtful or disastrous. But listen to these would-be overlords railing against the powerful and those who would hold themselves unaccountable:

The "grassroots" to which Tillman refers, in the article attributed to O'Keefe, with whom he has a long history of campaigns in the service of Rich friends, are only the paid petition gatherers, often a bare step from homelessness, if not already there; the "Okies" from THE GRAPES OF WRATH migrating into Michigan to pluck ripe signatures from fertile fields, paid for piecework, and then asked to move on when the harvest is in.

Thus far, their campaign consists mostly of O'Keefe and Tillman as spokesmen, a clever staged photograph of O'Keefe posing with boxes of signatures in temporary fiberboard file boxes, and one of O'Keefe -- who runs a bankruptcy legal practice with satellite offices all over Detroit -- wheeling a stack of boxes on a hand-truck, with the Michigan state capitol dome carefully framed in the background. That out-of-state money buys very good PR campaigns.

It is reminiscent of George Bush's moment in Jackson Square in New Orleans, with the cathedral and equestrian statue neatly lit in the background. A classic sort of photo op. See it HERE.


With unintentional irony, O'Keefe was quoted in an AP story July 6:
Associated Press Writer

"We want to let more people participate," O'Keefe said. "We want to have as many signatures as possible. You can't have too many."
But O'Keefe's sympathy for the "little guy" goes further than that. On July 1, interviewed by a different AP reporter, who seems to have written her report based on a TV show she watched: "During the taping this past week of public television's 'Off the Record' program, Detroit lawyer Kurt O'Keefe said the Michigan Stop Overspending Committee expects to be comfortably over the 317,757-signature minimum when it hands in its petitions to state election officials July 6."

The story goes on to show O'Keefe's fiery rage at those who consider themselves "above" the rest of us:
July 1
Associated Press Writer

"We're not professional politicians or Lansing lobbyists. We're just concerned citizens," said Kurt O'Keefe, executive director of Don't Touch Term Limits. "But government is supposed to work for the people, not powerful special interests. So, we're going to fight them." ...

"Term limits, by ridding our state of legislative dinosaurs, have thwarted powerful lobbies like the Chamber, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others," O'Keefe said. "That's why voters love the current limits. The Chamber may be slick, but not slick enough to fool the voters."

O'Keefe, however, said the proposal would give voters more of a say over how their tax dollars are spent.

"I'm in favor of letting the people decide. It's their money," he said...

The proposal also would prohibit state-paid pension plans for lawmakers. Opponents say that's included only as a deceptive "bait and switch" technique to get people to vote for the measure.

O'Keefe said lawmakers should not receive pensions because "it's supposed to be public service."

Michigan is one of several states this year with voter petition drives aimed at limiting the growth of state government spending. In many states the proposals have been backed by national groups such as Americans for Limited Government and Americans for Tax Reform.

O'Keefe said more than half the money to support the petition drive has come from out-of-state groups, but he added that more than 250 Michigan donors also have given money. The group spent about $200,000 to collect the needed signatures. He didn't say how much the group has raised.
As O'Keefe quoted Tillman in his Heartland Institute article, happily, in the fall, Tillman had returned the favor of quoting O'Keefe in a press release from "Don't Touch Term Limits," a group which, coincidentally, they also are spokesmen of, and which is, again, mostly funded by the friends of Howie Rich.
For Immediate Release
Contact: Scott Tillman
September 15, 2005

Term Limits Group Vows to Fight Chamber
"These lobbyists need term limits, too" says leader

(Lansing, Michigan)-Michigan term limits leaders today announced that they will fight a new initiative constitutional amendment proposed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to weaken the state's legislative term limits by allowing state senators to serve 75 percent longer and representatives more than twice as long as under the current term limits law.

"We're not professional politicians or Lansing lobbyists. We're just concerned citizens," said Kurt O'Keefe, executive director of Don't Touch Term Limits. "But government is supposed to work for the people, not powerful special interests. So, we're going to fight them." ...

"Term limits, by ridding our state of legislative dinosaurs, have thwarted powerful lobbies like the Chamber, Blue Cross Blue Shield and others," O'Keefe said. "That's why voters love the current limits. The Chamber may be slick, but not slick enough to fool the voters."
Well, not as slick as Howie Rich, Eric O'Keefe, John Tillman, Ed Crane and those providing the money for these campaigns, certainly.

[And yes, that press release is, verbatim, what the AP reporter printed. No one will make a fuss about the plagiarism, however.]

It must have been a frenzied fall for Scott Tillman of Fremont, Michigan. Not only was he the "go-to" guy for the two Michigan campaigns, but he even had time to travel to New York on behalf of Americans for Limited Government:
WXXI Local Stories

Group Uses "Porky" to Oppose Budget Proposal
by Bud Lowell

The giant pig itself was sculpted from plastic foam around a metal frame by Scott Tillman. He's a trucker from Fremont, Michigan who decided to go into business building protest symbols.

After election day, he plans to tow "Porky" the pig back to Michigan. He says he's already got several groups interested in using it in for political campaigns back home.

Tillman also drives the van that tows "Porky," who is 18 feet long, ten feet high and eight feet wide.
[The Washington POST ran this photo with the caption:
Oct. 27: Scott Tillman walks next to a huge pig he built in Rochester, N.Y. Opponents of an amendment that would give the legislature greater control in writing state budgets have taken to the streets, saying the proposal would provide more pork barrel spending.]
And, we find the same "populist" rhetoric from this "trucker" from Fremont, Michigan, expressed in the mediagenic form of a giant foam pig:


This Little Piggie Went To ... Rochester

An 800-pound pig rolled through Rochester, NY on Thursday as part of a statewide campaign urging New York voters to vote "No" to Proposition One on Election Day. The proposition would give more power to the legislature in regards to the state budget, which has been late 20 times in the past 21 years. Also, the proposition would allow legislators to have more control of the budget if it is not passed by the spring deadline. The pig was built to represent a legislative kind of pork. Scott Tillman, the builder of the pig, and other critics of Proposition One fear that if it passes legislators will push millions more dollars of pork projects into the budget. However, legislators argue that this is not that case and that they require more power over the state budget so that they can finish it on time, as they did this year, in years to come.
Oh, Kurt O'Keefe is not only involved in two of Eric O'Keefe's ALG campaigns, but he is also a signatory to the Alliance for the Separation of School & State's Michigan register, as is Eric O'Keefe a signatory to their Wisconsin register. One is curious as to what their connection is. We find this on one of their blogs:

Saturday, May 20, 2006
Fwd: Fw: Colorado Governor Owens Sets Record Straight on TEL
From: Kurt O'Keefe koklaw@hotmail.com
Date: May 12, 2006 2:09 PM
Subject: Fw: Colorado Governor Owens Sets Record Straight on TEL
To: koklaw@gmail.com


From: "Eric O'Keefe" eoke@mhtc.net
To: "Kurt O'Keefe" koklaw@hotmail.com
Subject: Fw: Colorado Governor Owens Sets Record Straight on TEL
Date: Fri, 12 May 2006 10:56:24 -0500

----- Original Message -----
From: FreedomWorks
To: KELO-ScottTillman ; KELO-PaulJacob ; KELO-John Tillman ; KELO-Heather Wilhelm ; KELO-Eric O'Keefe
Sent: Thursday, May 11, 2006 5:12 PM
Subject: Colorado Governor Owens Sets Record Straight on TEL

Setting the Record Straight on Spending Limits
By Bill Owens, Governor of Colorado
May 10, 2006 [...] (article snipped)
Well, they certainly are all in it, thick as thieves, whether they are related or not (tomorrow I will add someone who definitely IS related).

Kurt A. O'Keefe was on the 1980 Michigan Libertarian Party's slate of presidential electors, as well. Had Ed Clarke won the Michigan vote, he'd have cast a vote in the electoral college.

But this does not bespeak any sort of grass-roots movement. It simply traces out a shell game. We've shown a lot of other shells in prior columns, and even, very occasionally, the pea. But here is that classic shell game of which O. Henry writes: two shells in Michigan, one shell in New York, and, of course, the ethics of pig:
Evan Dawson (Rochester, NY) 10/27/05 -- An 800-pound pig rolled through Rochester Tho" to Proposition One on Election Day. (sic)

The proposition would give the legislature more power over the budget, which has been late for 20 of the past 21 years.

Scott Tillman built a 15-foot pig to represent a legislative kind of pork. Critics of Proposition One fear that if it passes, lawmakers will shove millions more dollars of pork projects into the budget.

Tillman said, "This just opens things up for people to talk about it. They say, 'Hey, did you see the pig?'"
Autolycus would be pleased.


(the O. Henry story is at: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/8/0/1805/1805.txt)


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