The Charlotte News

Tuesday, November 22, 1938


Site Ed. Note: It's an old story: war and war industry brings prosperity to big business. Query whether later, the prospect for peace appeared too much for some to take lightly, those who only can see life through the distorted prism of their purse, and so, not caring too much for the New Deal ever anyway, and not caring for the new generation of New Dealers, decided to return things to the Olde Deal--the old, olde deal, like an olde mobile.

Hard to believe that a nine-month lull in mob violence in the South in 1938 was at the time the longest since the Civil War, but there it is--only to be broken by some recalcitrants in a small town in Mississippi halfway between Hattiesburg and Biloxi, along Highway 49.

But, we venture, for its past placed up close to the young 40 years ago, Mississippi learned in its present generation those lessons more starkly and probably better than any other place in the South, maybe than most places in the entire country. Oh, as with any place, there are some still who cling to old notions of tradition, dark tradition, no doubt still, but that is fading fast, the worst of it, as time cleanses and heals with each new aborning.

Hard to believe also that Daladier planned to have concentration camps in France in 1938; but who would have thought that the United States would imprison Japanese-American citizens in 1942 for nothing more consequential than being Japanese? Who would have thought that in the year 2001, the United States would start placing people in Guantanamo, incommunicado? In many cases, without that evidence necessary to constitute probable cause for arrest or detention, in any event a premise which went untested, and for the very reason that light to the day would have shown sometimes detention merely on hearsay and hunch or even more tenuous evidence of connection to "terrorist activities", merely for their race and national background. Suspend the Constitution, you see, when it is inconvenient for us to have it--such as on election day, in some places. A nation can inspire justice and democracy only to the extent it adheres to its mighty principles and sets the example for others to follow, and does so in the times most stressful to its foundations imparted.

Today, we posit, as with few times in the past--early 1970's keeps coming to mind for some odd reason--the United States is doing on the whole a pretty lousy job of it, and in every branch of government.

Forty years ago, we would never have thought that we could look to the State of Mississippi as an exemplary pattern of modern democracy, but there it is, it would appear, in 2005.

We cannot trade justice for expediency, celerity of movement through court calendars to get the cases processed, civil and criminal, just to get them processed, and expect respect for such a system, now or then, then or now.

Here, Hugh Johnson's column of this date--on the 1938 powwow of the petroleum industry to remediate its inability to understand the sins of its growing monopoly.

The piece refers to Homer Cummings, Attorney General, who had announced his resignation effective January 2, 1939. He would be replaced by Michigan Governor Frank Murphy, future Supreme Court Justice.

It also remarks on Senator Joseph O'Mahoney, a Democrat from Wyoming, originally of Massachusetts, originally a journalist, becoming a lawyer, then politician in the 1930's, serving in the Senate from 1933 to 1953 and again from 1954 through 1961--a good old-fashioned trust-buster. Where did they go? All got the chicken flew, maybe?

The War and its aftermath would largely consolidate the oil industry in the hands of a few large producers and suppliers. The Cold War would do even more in that direction over time. One does not shed tears in the direction to which the General's 1938 take on matters seeks to lean the reader?

But the article is interesting for its rendition of gas prices of the day at around 20 cents a gallon--about the same as it was at the pumps through the mid-sixties. One does not have to be that old actually to recall seeing 18 cent gas prices. It is rather coincidental, when one thinks on it, in fact, that through all those decades, even unto the early 1970's, gas prices, believe it or no, if you are too young to remember back that far, were below 40 cents per gallon, standing, if memory serves, in 1970 at around 35 to 38 cents, a couple of years earlier at below 30 cents, 28 rings a bell on the old pumps--ding, fill 'er up.

Only in the O.P.E.C. cartel era of long lines and restricted flow, during the Ni-yonian era, post-break-in, 1973, did those prices begin rising, rising, rising, never much to fall again, all of course the doings of those bad, bad, greedy people overseas, always fluctuating within an ever higher range, always slowly, slowly twisting upward. (They told you to be thankful always, still do, of course, that the price was and is as low as it was and is, for they pay even more in Europe, they say. God bless the Euros, for we would have no frame of reference otherwise as to how good we have it here in the States, you see.) They got rid of most of the attendants then, to save us money by encouraging us to pump it ourselves.

Well, at any rate, look at those rolling little numbers on the pump today--oh, much, much better than just couple months ago, though, wheeee, it's coming down!--look at the measure, however, of the Tropical Storm-Hurricane index for the year, record setting to Gamma, Pilgrim, and do some figuring on it all.

Is it worth it to destroy the planet and everything on it--irreparably?

Some will say, maybe, well, make up your mind, Mr. Ecologist: is it warming or is it freezing? Both. The grim reaper will adduce for your everlasting pleasure tropical climes, higher sea levels in coastal areas, but, alas, an ice age in other regions not recently frozen, say in about the last 11,000 years or so, while messing with the world's food production in unpredictable ways in the process? Oil--the fossilized, compressed carbonized remains of all organic matter, formerly constituting life, churned down, buried down there below the sand, below the shale, below the ice. It emanates from way down there, deep in burning everlasting Hell at the core, somewhere down there where no living person has gone, for it's hot. We pump it up and burn it black and blue, bending vapors, warping light rays through the air, a pungency overtaking all other odor near it. The treasure--the cursed treasure. Strange, indeed. Continental shifts, anyone?

Here a suggestion, a kind of reminder. Next year, let's just call it what it is, one big, continuous storm--Hurricane Oil.

What Makes A Monopoly

By Hugh S. Johnson

Chicago.-- Annual conventions of the big trade associations are peculiarly an American institution, at least in the way we run them. They are pre-historic here. The Indians called them powwows. Before Columbus, the tribes came thousands of miles to the big ones. They smoked and ate and danced a lot but not nearly so much as they talked. Talk is what they were there for. If they had had hooch, they would have guzzled a lot and then there wouldn't have been any difference at all between one of Hiawatha's continental peace parties and a modern trade convention.

Just the same, they learned much. They knew what other tribes were planning which way the buffalo were drifting, and other dope on how to keep fat and happy--which is the principal human occupation anywhere and at any time.


Because it is the business of the columnist to try keep informed about what is going on in business and politics, I attend these big annual sun dances whenever I can. This is my fourth this year--four cross sections of four of the biggest industries. They are all colored with exactly the same thought which was the principal subject of discussion at each. Is the policy of this Administration going to be to continue to berate, bulldoze and break up American business? Is the O'Mahoney monopoly investigation to be really an investigation or cavalry charge by the household dragoons--and, latterly, does Mr. Cummings' resignation mean that the Department of Justice is now going to be turned on business like a wolf pack after a stag?

If any such destructive and paralyzing political policy is to continue to prolong oppression and increase unemployment, these industries want to know what the excuse is. They are told it is monopoly oppressing the public. Then they ask: "What is monopoly?" And how is the public oppressed?

These questions were the foremost ones at the petroleum convention--asked in real bewilderment and, I think, perfectly sincerely.


If it means that monopoly is where any company controls any considerable percentage of the whole oil business, the plain figures make that absurd on its face. If it means that there is restricted competition among companies, every driver of an automobile knows that all the roads are simply infested with too many filling stations of a dizzy diversity of ownership. If it means that high, inflexible gasoline prices have been maintained, the facts are that the "all-commodity" price index in June stood at 78.3. The gasoline index was at 56.3--the lowest principal price in the lot. Consumer price for gasoline has always showed the greatest shrinkage. In 1920 it was about 29.7, in 1926, the so-called "normal" year, it was 20.97. In 1938 it was 13.7--and the quality of the product at the greatest lowered price was much improved as everybody knows. Science, invention and competition have constantly lowered gas prices. It is increasing sales taxes--Federal, state and local that have recently kept from 6 to 9 cents higher than the figures just quoted.

If monopoly means too much profit, the highest average yearly return on capital in twelve years was 5 per cent and the average 1.4 per cent. If it means oppressing labor, the manufacturing end of this industry shows the best labor conditions in wages, hours, and turnover and the greatest improvement of any major industry.

That is the oil companies' case. There may be holes in it but if so they are insignificant in comparison with the general result. I should think the industry would welcome Senator O'Mahoney's investigation: I should think, if the Senator simply wants to make a business-baiting case, he wouldn't select this one as a horrible example. It might prove a fatal boomerang.

Cannons Go "Boom"

"Realistic" is the word for the new policies of the Administration. To our foreign friends who look with covetous eyes on South America, a bristling show of guns, not only realistic but wholly real, will be made; while at home both the New Deal and Big Business are going to enlist for the duration of the war scare and fight it out side by side.

It's going to take a lot of money, you see, which is no novelty in the record of recent American government. But, ah! this is different, so different that we find Business spokesmen rattling on breathlessly about making peace with the Government on terms which will "preserve existing gains of liberal social legislation," and vaguely describing "a swift drive to end unemployment, labor strife and economic troubles within the United States."

The explanation of all this excitement is Business's hunch--it could be more than a hunch--that the near future looks exceedingly rosy. Evidently our industrial emperors are hep to something which they translate into terms of such profits that they can afford magnanimously to tolerate social reforms and high taxes too. Verily, messires, it looks like the beginning of another era, bigger and better than ever. It's time to resurrect that ancient tip, "Don't Sell America Short."

One Comfort

Whatever dim hope there may have been that the South was about to abandon lynching has gone by the boards. At the beginning of last July, the section had seen nine solid months without a case of genuine mob violence--the longest lull since the Civil War--and it began to look as though the old sport was dying out. But alas for that, the case at Wiggins, Miss., yesterday brings the total number of lynchings since July 1 to six, according to the figures of the Tuskegee Institute. Last year, there were eight, and the year before the same number. That was a great drop over 1935 when there were twenty. But in earlier years, the number has sometimes dropped to as low as four. So we seem to be getting nowhere rapidly.

There is but one crumb of comfort in the situation. It is this: the South lynches, but it is more and more the lower South. Of the lynchings this year, Mississippi has accounted for three and maybe four. Last year it accounted for two, though it lost its customary first place to Florida which had three. The upper South, including South Carolina, once almost as active in the field as Mississippi herself, hasn't had a lynching in two years. Tennessee got listed for one last year, certainly, but it was the far southern part of Tennessee, which properly belongs to the lower South.

In sum, the area which is fairly well immune to the practice seems to be growing slowly. But having said that, we hastily cross our fingers and hope to heaven that this gets into print before something happens to contradict it.

Signs of Weakness

M. Daladier seems bent on turning France toward becoming a Fascist nation on her own account. In addition to proposing the suspension of Parliament for two years and to decreeing that the Government may take action against any newspaper making uncomplimentary remarks about Adolf Hitler or other "heads of nations," he now proposes to establish concentration camps. To begin with, indeed they are to be only for undesirable foreigners. But once established, they are very likely to be used for recalcitrant Frenchmen as well.

But the outlook for Daladier's schemes grows less and less promising. On the eve of his meeting with Chamberlain, the Associated Press reports:

Should there be a vote tomorrow--the Chamber convenes December 6--even the Premier's friends concede he probably would be tumbled out of power.

And it is highly unlikely that he can regain his popularity in the next few weeks. For the talks with Chamberlain are admittedly taking place in an "icy atmosphere," due to the British refusal to accept the French scheme for a big British army. Both men are so plainly out on a limb with their "appeasement" program that their supporters admit that they are going to have to shelve it; and the feeling against the Munich agreement in France is rising. So unpopular is it, indeed, that Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet has already sought to get from under it by publicly saying that it was not the fault of the French at all but that it was forced on them by Chamberlain's refusal to back France in defiance.

Potentially a Model

Cherished aims of the Agricultural Department of the Chamber of Commerce are to establish processing plants for poultry, for livestock, for dairy products. These facilities would contribute greatly to the balance of the community between industry, commerce and agriculture, and would give its farmers a ready and, in all probability, an expanding market for something besides the traditional cash crops and garden truck.

The Chamber hopes for important developments along these lines in early 1939, and that would be fine. The territory seems, indeed, in no danger of going backwards. Duke Power's investment of several million dollars in a steam plant to take care of future needs is a sign of confidence that will beget business activity in the process, and a greater demand for industrial power means, can't help meaning, a greater market for farm products, which in turn means a greater demand for electric power on the farm.

It all calls up a favorite theme--that Mecklenburg County contains all the essentials of a model county. The division between urban and rural population, between commerce and agriculture, is ideal, and needs only a few progressive touches to bring the two into balance.

Haven For Drunken Drivers

Some inattentive copy reader missed one of the hotter stories in Sunday's News and, for all its being exclusive, let it go unheadlined in the body of a comparatively unexciting account of proposed legislative action on Mecklenburg's court situation. A good stout two-column head seems to have been justified by this material to which we refer, something like this:


Our diligent Mr. Paul had examined the records of twenty drunken driving cases in Superior Court, chosen at random but consecutively, and he had found--listen to this, now--that in the entire twenty there had not been a single conviction. In three cases, the verdict was acquittal. Fourteen of them had been nol-prossed, which means that the officers of the court chose on their own authority to let them go scot free. In two, the defendants, with the court's approval, pleaded guilty to reckless driving, a lesser charge which carries a smaller fine than drunken driving and no revocation of driver's license.

The twentieth case was remanded to City Police Court.

Solicitor Carpenter's penchant for nol-prossing drunken driving cases is well known. As long ago as 1933, City Solicitor Brock Barkley quoted facts and figures to show that of 22 drunken driving cases appealed to Superior Court from the lower court, 15 were nol-prossed. Indeed, of 360 cases of all kinds appealed in a six month period, 116 were never heard by the court. More nollepros.

Drunken driving is one of the crimes which public opinion agrees is serious. Drunken drivers are menaces not only to themselves but to everybody else, motorists and pedestrians, on the road. Even the anti-prohibitionists, who argue that a man is entitled to his personal liberties, never have had any excuse to offer for drunken driving. In fact, far from defending the practice or asking for lenience, the wets have insisted that drunken drivers had punishment coming to them and ought to receive it without let or hindrance.

But they don't get it in Mecklenburg. The cases which are nol-prossed in Superior Court and the instances of drunken driving which never get to be cases add up to immunity, except in the most flagrant offenses, for persons of any influence or affluence.

There will always be nolle-prosses, especially in courts run by politicians, and the number of them does not necessarily indicate of itself that justice is being too much tempered with accommodation. But the number of nolle-prosses and lesser pleas accepted in drunken driving cases in Superior Court in Mecklenburg County plainly warrants a thorough investigation. Either the police are making arrests capriciously or the Solicitor is taking the administration of justice too much unto himself.


Framed Edition
[Return to Links-Page by Subject] [Return to Links-Page by Date] [Return to News--Framed Edition]
Links-Date -- Links-Subj.