Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ReWriting the 100 Years War: A Montana Primer

History's Irony Visits Big Sky Country

Two rather smelly developments were craftily scheduled to emerge under the covering illumination of the Supreme Court's unanticipated permission for Americans to purchase some sort of semi-rational health care.  First, anyone bored enough to follow the "evidence free," wing nut, Romney infomercial of House car thief Darrel Issa's indictment of the AG for contempt missed the whole thing -- it quietly evaporated during one of the inevitable yawns.

The second story, however, deserves at least a glancing blow from MeanMesa.  This other development was a Supreme Court ruling that, no matter what laws the local state citizens might pass, the toxic soup of Chief Justice Roberts' Citizens United will roll over state law just like the reactionary Juggernaut it has been at the federal level.

Read about the Montana Story.

The reason that the Montana Story is showing up here is because it follows the recent MeanMesa infatuation with the saturating irony of contemporary politics.

Right away, we might conclude that since this was a Supreme Court decision, it could, conceivably, have something to do with classical jurisprudence instead of the mark down counter "red meat" of 2012 politics.  Of course it doesn't.  Chief Justice John Roberts is a political creature down to his bones.  Any momentary remission of the normally well deserved disparagement for the man which might have temporarily surfaced from the health care verdict won't fly any farther than the nearest garbage can in MeanMesa's cluttered kitchen.

Let's Get Right To The Historical Irony

To set the stage for this exquisite comparison of grisly similarities, we must first visit the 100 Years War.  For MeanMesa visitors not familiar with this blood drenched saga of Medieval conflict, we'll settle for just a few of the facts.

Of course, the most pressing similarity should come first.  Both the oligarchs' Battle for Montana and the actual, blood drenched 100 Years War in Medieval Europe lasted 100 years.  This is notable for several reasons. Long wars, sometimes cited by liberal pessimists as "endless wars" -- such as the current conflicts in the Middle East, reflect a certain strategic stubbornness which is notably militarily suspicious and sinister. In these, military objectives slowly and painfully migrate from understandable tactical goals to far less comprehensible objectives of mercantile advantage, political manipulation, geopolitical posturing or domestic ambitions of all sorts.

The actual, historical 100 Years War began around 1337 AD when the respective royal families of England and France -- all sanguinely related, of course -- decided that both kingdoms were rightfully theirs.  The awful thing raged as a "world war" until the exhausted parties -- all, by then, the equally ambitious descendants of the initiators -- fought one last grisly deluge at Castillon in 1453.

Hundred Years' War
Clockwise, from top left: John of Bohemia at the Battle of Crécy,
English and Franco-Castilian fleets at the Battle of La Rochelle,

Henry V
and the English army at the Battle of Agincourt,
Joan of Arc
rallies Valois forces at the Siege of Orléans

At this point, more sophisticated historians than MeanMesa rush in as apologists for the mess, citing every sort of "implied necessity" in play at various times through the struggle.  However, the analysis of motivation for the struggle seen on this post amounts to unmitigated royal greed.  Further, "royal greed" was, at the time, tacitly considered to be not only an inescapable element of "royal genetic make up," but also quite acceptable as a feature of the fundamental character of such a man.  How else would the King be able to make his Kingdom larger?  In other words, this following conversation was not ever heard in more than a fleeting whisper during the whole affair.

"Darn it, if that King of ours weren't so doggoned greedy, we wouldn't have to keep fighting this stinking thing year after year."

On to Montana

When the fever that is greed swells to avarice, the obsession becomes even more patient.

Let's have a look at some excerpts from the WIKI article about Anaconda Copper in Montana around the turn of the 20th century. (Read the whole article here.) This may seem to be quite a bit of "background," but this story tells everything about the ambitions of the US Supreme Court and the Citizens United decision.  This is a glimpse of the America about which the fascists on the Court and their oligarch masters have wet dreams.

Montana and Anaconda Copper
and, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Banksters and the Brokers

Superfund site

The area of Butte, Montana, Anaconda, Montana, and the Clark Fork River were highly contaminated. Milling and smelting produced wastes with high concentrations of arsenic, as well as copper, cadmium, lead, zinc, and other heavy metals. That’s why, beginning in 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the Upper Clark Fork river basin and many associated areas as Superfund sites - the nation's largest.

The EPA named ARCO as the "potentially responsible party." Atlantic Richfield Company was obliged to remediate (clean up) the area. Since then, Atlantic Richfield has spent hundreds of millions of dollars decontaminating and rehabilitating the area, though the job is far from finished.

ARCO, officially BP West Coast Products LLC, is now a subsidiary of BP.

Shows the terraced levels and access roadways of the open mine pits at the Berkeley Pit section. (image source WIKI)
Glorious No Holds Barred Capitalism In Montana (image source)


Anaconda Copper Mining Company started in 1881 when Marcus Daly bought a small silver mine called Anaconda near Butte, Montana. (Anaconda would eventually own all the mines on Butte Hill.) He asked George Hearst (father of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst) for additional support, who agreed to buy one-fourth of the new company's stock without visiting the site. Huge deposits of another mineral, copper, were discovered soon and Daly became a copper magnate. Daly quietly bought up neighboring mines forming a mining company. He then built a smelter at Anaconda which he connected to Butte by a railway.

Butte, a small and poor town, became one of the most prosperous cities in the country, often called "the Richest Hill on Earth." From 1892 through 1903, the Anaconda mine was the largest copper-producing mine in the world. It produced more than $300 billion worth of metal in its lifetime.

The Rothschilds

In 1889 the Rothschilds attempted to control the world copper market. In 1892 the French Rothschilds began negotiations to buy the Anaconda mine. In mid-October 1895 the Rothschilds, French and British, bought one quarter of the stock in Anaconda for 7.5 million dollars. By the late 1890s the Rothschilds probably had control over the sale of about forty percent of the world’s copper production.

The Rockefellers

The Rothschilds' role in Anaconda was brief. In 1899, Daly teamed up with two directors of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil to create the giant Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, one of the largest trusts of the early 20th century.

By 1899 Amalgamated Copper acquired majority stock in the Anaconda Copper Company and the Rothschilds appear to have had no further role in the company. Marcus Daly had just become president of the seventy-five million-dollar holding company at his death in 1900.

The leading roles in the takeover were played by Henry Huttleston Rogers (John D. Rockefeller’s friend and a key man in his Standard Oil businesses) and William Rockefeller (John’s brother).They were aided by company promoter Thomas W. Lawson. Although Rogers and William Rockefeller were Standard Oil directors, Standard Oil itself did not take part, nor did its founder and head, John D. Rockefeller, who disliked such stock promotions.

Lawson later had a falling out with Rogers and Rockefeller, and wrote of the experience in a book Frenzied Finance. Although not totally objective (probably due to Lawson's bitterness) it offered insight into aspects of high finance. Publicity from revelations such as these fueled public sentiment for controls which led to U.S. anti-trust laws such as those championed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

The golden twenties

During the 20's metal prices went up and mining activity increased. Those were really the golden years for Anaconda. The company was managed by dexterous Ryan-Kelley team and was growing fast, expanding into new areas of activity: manganese, zinc, aluminum, uranium and silver.

In 1922 the company acquired mining operations in Chile and Mexico. The mining operation in Chile (Chuquicamata), which cost Anaconda $77 million, was the largest copper mine in the world. Then it was the source of two-thirds to three-fourths of the Anaconda Company's profits.

The same year ACM purchased American Brass Company, the nation's largest brass fabricator and a major consumer of copper and zinc. In 1926 Anaconda acquired the Giesche company, a large mining and industrial firm, operating in the Upper Silesia region of Poland.

At that time Anaconda was the fourth largest company in the world. These heady times, however, were short-lived.

Great speculation

In 1928 Ryan and Percy Rockefeller aggressively speculated on Anaconda shares, causing them to go up at first (when they sold) and then to go down (when they buy them back). Known today as a "pump and dump", at the time it was not illegal, and was actually quite common. The prices, under the pressure of a "joint account" set up by Ryan and Rockefeller of nearly a million and a half shares of Anaconda Copper Company, fluctuated from $40 in December, 1928 to $128 in March 1929.

Smaller investors were completely wiped out. The results are still considered one of the great fleecings in Wall Street history. The American Senate hearings concluded that those operations cost the public, at the very least, $150 million. A 1933 Senate banking committee called these operations the greatest frauds in American banking history and a leading cause of the 1930s depression.

Great Depression

In 1929 Anaconda Copper Mining Co. issued new stock and used some of the money to buy shares of speculative companies. When the market crashed on Oct. 29, 1929, Anaconda suffered serious financial setbacks. Moreover, at the same time, copper prices started going down dramatically. During the winter of 1932-33 copper prices had dropped to $0.103 per kg, down from an average of $0.295 per kg only two years earlier.

The Great Depression took its toll with massive unemployment in both the United States and Chile (up to 66 percent unemployment rate in the Chilean mines). On March 26 1931, Anaconda cut its dividend rate 40%. John D. Ryan died in 1933 and was buried in a copper coffin. His mighty Anaconda shares, once worth $175 each, had dropped to $4 at the bottom of the Great Depression. Cornelius Kelley became the Chairman in 1940.

The "Copper Collar"

The term copper collar, coined in the late 1800s, was a metaphor used to describe a person or a company directly influenced or controlled by the Anaconda Company. “From the 1920s until 1959, journalists working at the newspapers could write nothing that clashed with the company’s business enterprises. Journalists were thus not allowed to develop and exercise their professional skills through their news judgment—lawyers and accountants made news judgments, not journalists—and were frozen for decades in this pre-professional model.” By 1920, the Anaconda Company owned several of the states newspapers including the Butte Post, the Butte Minor, the Anaconda Standard, the Daily Missoulian, the Helena Independent, and the Billings Gazette.  The Anaconda Company controlled the economic and political dealings throughout Montana well into the mid-1900s.
"Semiotic Square of the Anaconda Copper Company and the "copper collar"."

As the state's largest employer, the Anaconda Company dominated Montana politics. In the political arena the "copper collar" symbolized influence, wealth, and power. In 1894, Montana held an election to decide which city would be its capital. Marcus Daly, an Anaconda supporter, used his power over the papers to further his cause. While campaigning, “Anaconda’s supporters portrayed Helena as a center of avarice and elitism while promoting their choice as the pick of the working man. In return, Helena’s backers claimed that if the victory should go to their opponent the entire state would be strangled by the “copper collar” of Daly’s Anaconda Copper Mining Company." Daly’s campaign was unsuccessful and Helena became the states capital. Flexing its political muscle again in 1903, the Anaconda Company closed down operations, putting fifteen thousand men out of work, until the legislature enacted the regulations it demanded. Montanans were angered by this decision and from that point forward to suggest that a politician “wore a copper collar” could cost him the election.

The copper collar symbolized oppression and control to the people of Butte. In the early 1900s, it was believed that Butte’s culture with its “perverse pride in its wide-open character was a response to the people’s belief in the all-encompassing power of the company. Butte’s bars, gambling dens, dance halls, and brothels were among the few public institutions not owned or controlled by Anaconda. It was not only the hazards of mining and the grim environment of Butte that propelled men and women to frenzied gaiety, but also the thought that here were arenas of self-expression denied them elsewhere in a city ringed by the 'copper collar'.”

Choosing sides in this battle was unavoidable. According to Author Fisher’s piece, Montana: Land of the Copper Collar, “Six months is the longest one may live in Montana without making the decision whether one is "for the Company" or "against the Company." The all-pervading and unrelenting nature of the struggle admits of no neutrals. Since the territory's admission to statehood in 1889 the struggle has continued.”

The use of the term "copper collar" has found its way into historical novels from that period. In The Old Copper Collar, a tale of the course of a senatorial election in Helena in the early 1900s, Dan Cushman makes a reference to the "copper collar": “At this point the galleries packed with Bennett sympathizers commenced heckling him with suggestions he wore the Copper Collar, but these hoots and catcalls he contemptuously ignored, reiterated his freedom from all cliques, factions, and corporations and that his purpose had been purely and simply to prove or disprove unlawful practices, and sat down.” Even the suggestion that a person wore the “copper collar” created pandemonium from the crowd.

Ivan Doig also makes references to the "copper collar" in his story Work Song. In 1919, Gracie resists the powerful Anaconda Company as they attempt to bully her into sell her property. She says, "Leave this house at once, Whoever-You-Are Morgan. I’ll not have under my roof a man who wears the copper collar." The workers who are under the “copper collar” are referred to as “snakes” and the Anaconda Company is referred to as an “ogre."

The "copper collar" symbolized different things to different people but one fact holds true, “the Anaconda Company used the tactics of an authoritarian state to quash a legitimate labor movement within its corporate fiefdom. That the press, an elemental part of democracy, was used in the assault marks a black period in the history of American journalism.” For decades Anaconda Company “mined and smelted metal, leveled forests, owned the newspapers, bribed the legislature, set the wages, murdered union organizers, exported the earnings, and finally shut down, leaving Butte and Anaconda the poorest cities in the states and the largest EPA Superfund site in the country.”

The phrase "copper collar" is also an example of metonymy when it is substituted for the act of the Anaconda Company controlling a person. It is closely related to the company because it is made of copper, which is what the company mined. A collar is device used to control, which is what the company used the copper collar for. [sic]

In the Semiotic Square for the "copper collar" (see illustration), Marcus Daly is considered the assertion and Miners is the negation in the first binary pair. The second binary relationship is created on the “control” axis. Union, the not Marcus Daly element, is considered to be the complex term, and "copper collar", the not Miner element, is the neutral term. Both a union and the "copper collar" are things that are used to gain control. The Anaconda Company used the copper collar to gain control of the papers and legislature and the Miners wanted to establish a union to gain some control over their working conditions.

 More Than Just the Unions

Of course, working conditions in this oligarchic monstrosity were terrible, but the WIKI article indulges a common and convenient mis-perception and, consequently, an over simplification.  The picture unintentionally painted is that the conflict was entirely between the mine workers and the Anaconda oligarchs.  There were other parties with an interest in Montana ranging from the cattle ranchers, conservationists and middle class merchants to everyday Montana residents with simple ideas of fairness and freedom.

By 1912 the corporate outrages of this beast had driven Montana residents -- and not just union workers -- to the end of what could be tolerated.  The precise mechanism of the revolt doesn't matter as much as the spirit of it.  One thing led to another, and the voters of Montana pushed a law by referendum over the skeletal bones of the remnants of their representative state government to stop it.

All this would have amounted to an understandable reaction on the part of those citizens.  Although this post is already a little lengthy, let's have a look at the statement of Montana Governor Schweitzer (D - Montana) when he heard the news of the Supreme Court's decision.  (Read the entire article here.  There is also a nice video interview with the Governor and Chris Hayes, MSNBC.)

Campaign spending limits helped Montana create a "pure democracy" that the Supreme Court has now overturned, said the state's governor, Democrat Brian Schweitzer. On Sunday's Up with Chris Hayes, he explained the history of Montana's Corrupt Practices Act, which the Supreme Court struck down on Monday in a 5-4 ruling.

Schweitzer said that the Corrupt Practices Act, which was passed in 1912 by referendum, was designed to check the power of the Montana "copper kings" who ruled the state.

"They owned everything," Schweitzer said. "They owned the mines, they owned the newspapers, they bought the legislature outright."

One of the most famous copper kings was William A. Clark, who Mark Twain once described as "as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag." Clark, Schweitzer said, "advertised in his newspapers that he would pay $10,000 cash money to any Montana legislator who would vote to send him to  Washington DC as a US Senator." (This was back when senators were appointed by state legislatures, not democratically elected.) It was such an egregious act of bribery that senators from other states—who, according to Schweitzer, "all bribed their way into the US Senate," albeit by more subtle means—felt obliged to refuse him a seat in Congress.

Clark's malfeasance was an extreme example of what the Corrupt Practices Act was designed to check. The law, which sharply limited outside expenditures on political campaigns, was seen to conflict with the Court's Citizens United ruling.

Schweitzer touted the act as a success and excoriated the Supreme Court for striking it down:

The people of Montana in 1912, we passed the anti-corruption act. We said, look, we're not going to allow these corporations to continue to loot and rape our land, and kill the miners that are working in them. We're going to have a legislature that works for the people. And so, for 100 years, we did. We had a pure democracy. We had legislators who were farmers and lawyers, they're doctors and nurses. They would serve just 90 days every other year, and they would raise three to six thousand dollars. Maximum contributions is $160. We had a system that actually worked
And the Supreme Court in Washington DC—a place where nothing works—they told us, 'No, we don't like your system. You oughta go to the corrupt system we're using in Washington DC. What could go wrong?'

When host Chris Hayes asked a question about differences between the current state of money in politics and that of the Gilded Age, Schweitzer scoffed.

"Gilded Age?" he said. "You're calling that the Gilded Age and this is not? They were pikers compared to what we're doing now."

The Vision of Things to Come

Make no mistake.  The Montana prior to 1912 represents exactly what Citizens United is designed to ultimately create all across the country. Further, the insult has occurred on two important planes.

First, The Supremes have effortlessly -- without so much as an oral argument -- vaporized Montana's plebiscite referendum, the Montana Corrupt Practices Act.  The state is staring at oligarchs today who make the violent thugs of 1912 "look like pikers."  21st Century Montana is rich with natural resources.  The oligarchs sponsoring the Supremes' attack in the hands of their servant, Chief Justice Roberts, are faced with the alternatives of simply "recapturing" the state government politically or dealing with the modern reality of legislatively regulated extraction practices.

Second, as the Chief Justice and his dependably loyal minions delivered the edict that Citizens United style corruption was once more legalized in Montana, he effectively neutered the political will of the State's citizens.  They would now be prey to the toxic corruption empowered by the federal Citizens United ruling whether they agreed or not.

It's MeanMesa's opinion that Roberts, being the reactionary creature he is, decided to reach into his Supreme Court bag of "Constitutional laws" -- there is no judicial foundation for most of what the man is spewing forth on command weekly -- and give the "little people" a respite on the Affordable Care Act in order to obscure his larceny on the state level in Montana -- and, eventually everywhere else.

And, by the way, that Affordable Care Act's "Congressional Tax powers" gizmo is perfectly designed for a painless Congressional dissolution should Romney become President.  The ruling is not a durable rescission of the claims by the corporate health insurers that they enjoy rights to a perpetual "cut" of every health care dollar spent in the country.  It amounts to no more than a conveniently temporary hiatus -- a few more chips cast on the poker table which will be the 2012 election.

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