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July 05, 2012

The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance

A wonderful #LongRead about one of America's greatest confidence artists. The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance | Past Imperfect
In the spring of 1902 a woman calling herself Cassie L. Chadwick—there was never any mention as to what the L stood for—took a train from Cleveland to New York City and a hansom cab to the Holland House, a hotel at the corner of 30th Street and Fifth Avenue internationally renowned for its gilded banquet room and $350,000 wine cellar. She waited in the lobby, tapping her high-button shoes on the Sienna marble floor, watching men glide by in their bowler hats and frock coats, searching for one man in particular. There he was—James Dillon, a lawyer and friend of her husband’s, standing alone. She walked toward him, grazing his arm as she passed, and waited for him to pardon himself. As he said the words she spun around and exclaimed what a delightful coincidence it was to see him here, so far from home. She was in town briefly on some private business. In fact, she was on her way to her father’s house—would Mr. Dillon be so kind as to escort her there? Dillon, happy to oblige, hailed an open carriage. Cassie gave the driver an address: 2 East 91st Street, at Fifth Avenue, and kept up a cheery patter until they arrived there—at a four-story mansion belonging to steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She tried not to laugh at Dillon’s sudden inability to speak and told him she’d be back shortly. The butler opened the door to find a refined, well-dressed lady who politely asked to speak to the head housekeeper. When the woman presented herself, Cassie explained that she was thinking of hiring a maid, Hilda Schmidt, who had supposedly worked for the Carnegie family. She wished to check the woman’s references. The housekeeper was puzzled, and said no one by that name had ever worked for the Carnegie family. Cassie protested: Was she absolutely certain? She gave a detailed physical description, rattled off details of the woman’s background. No, the housekeeper insisted; there must be some misunderstanding. Cassie thanked her profusely, complimented the spotlessness of the front parlor, and let herself out, slipping a large brown envelope out of her coat as she turned back to the street. She had managed to stretch the encounter into just under a half hour. As she climbed into the carriage, Dillon apologized for what he was about to ask: Who was her father, exactly? Please, Cassie said, raising a gloved finger to her lips, he mustn’t disclose her secret to anyone: She was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter. She handed over the envelope, which contained a pair of promissory notes, for $250,000 and $500,000, signed by Carnegie himself, and securities valued at a total of $5 million. Out of guilt and a sense of responsibility, “Daddy” gave her large sums of money, she said; she had numerous other notes stashed in a dresser drawer at home. Furthermore, she stood to inherit millions when he died. She reminded Dillon not to speak of her parentage, knowing it was a promise he wouldn’t keep; the story was too fantastic to withhold, and too brazen to be untrue. But she had never met Andrew Carnegie. Cassie Chadwick was just one of many names she went by. . . .

June 12, 2012

Matt Taibbi: The Truth About (nonexistent) Voter Fraud

The folks at Rolling Stone made a whole guide to debunking Republican myths of voter fraud, which is their go-to excuse for stealing the fundamental right to vote from millions of Americans. The 'Voter Fraud' Myth Debunked Pictures - The Truth About Voter Fraud | Rolling Stone
As we've reported at Rolling Stone, over the past few years Republicans in more than a dozen states have been knocking themselves out passing laws that make it harder for people to vote. It hasn't escaped notice that the voters most affected by these measures – from voter ID laws to restrictions on early voting – are Democrats. But no matter: Republicans deny they're waging a partisan "war on voting" – they say the new laws are needed to combat rampant voter fraud. That's the line laid down most recently by Florida Gov. Rick Scott to justify purging his state's voter rolls of alleged noncitizens. "We need to have fair elections," he said last week. "When you go out to vote, you want to make sure that the other individuals that are voting have a right to vote." But here's the thing: Not only is voter fraud not rampant – it's virtually nonexistent. The iron-clad word on the subject comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, whose 2007 report, 'The Truth About Voter Fraud,' sorts through thousands of allegations going back to the 1990s in the most in-depth voter fraud study ever undertaken. The bottom line, confirmed by all subsequent research: "Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated — and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked." In fact, "one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud."