Tag Archives: money

The Mining-Labor Juggernaut, A Day After the Election

Mother Jones ran an election-day piece about corporate campaign contributions yesterday, with a map designed to show “which companies dominate” the politics of each state.

There were a few surprises: I didn’t expect to see that “Finance” contributes the most to candidates in Maine, and “Tech” to candidates in Minnesota. On the other hand, the authors, Alex Park and Tasneem Raja, warn that their categories are pretty broad and loose: “‘Real Estate’ for instance, includes donations by individuals and groups connected to both construction and the sale of buildings”; and a category like “Health” might include donations by individual doctors and nurses as well as healthcare companies.

Breaking things down by states doesn’t make all that much sense either, as I learned when I looked at Michigan, to see if it’s possible to track down some of the money driving the politics of the mining boom in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan is one of about half a dozen states in which “Real Estate” makes the most contributions to political campaigns; but this isn’t the case throughout the state.

Have a look at the Upper Peninsula on followthemoney.org, the site Park and Raja use to make their map. Political money comes mainly from big labor and “Energy and Natural Resources” along with Rick Snyder’s One Tough Nerd PAC and other Republican PACs.

Zoom in a little more. Over in Ironwood, where Orvana now has a permit for their Copperwood project, Energy and Natural Resources interests are among the biggest contributors; as I mentioned in a previous post, the district’s own outgoing Republican Matt Huuki paid big mining back when he brought a bill during the 2012 lame-duck session that relieved mining companies of up front costs and ensured they pay no taxes until they go into production. But in this part of the Western UP, contributions from labor are nearly twice those of the mining industry; and that is before you count contributions from the construction industry.

In Marquette, where I’ve been following the Eagle Mine project, you see contributions across the board in State elections from the pro-mining Michigan Petroleum Association and a group called the Michigan Laborers, an AFL-CIO affiliate. Labor and mining are right up there with big Republican donors like Randy Richardville (under the aegis of something called the Citizens Action Fund) and the Stamas Leadership Fund.

The snapshots this site and others like it afford are pieces of a larger mosaic, in which extractive industry and big labor now dominate the politics of the Upper Peninsula; and whereas they used to be on opposite sides of the fence, they are now working toward the same goals — in what is now a right to work state. I wonder how long before these strange bedfellows start kicking one another beneath the covers.

There are, at the same time, other forces at work in the politics of the UP, at least on a more local level. All four City Commission candidates in Marquette — Dave Campana, Mike Plourde, Sarah Reynolds, and Tony Tollefson — said that they want to see job growth in industries other than mining and they are all for promoting “economic sustainability” instead of riding the boom and bust cycle of mining. A candidate survey from the organization Save the Wild UP also shows all candidates saying they “[believe] that new mining developments near waterways threaten fish populations and recreational fishing” and they want to “[hold] companies financially accountable for their environmental degradation.”

Maybe that’s a start or at least a sign of intelligent life. Of course these are politicians, so I take their responses to this questionnaire with a grain of salt and I realize that they are only saying what they need to say, not necessarily what they believe. Now that Campana and Reynolds have won seats, will they have the courage, or at least the political cover, to take stands that might put them at odds with the UP’s mining-labor juggernaut? Or will big money just steamroll the entire UP? I wonder, too, if we will start to see more fractures in the politics of the region — between big mining and big labor, between local, state and industry actors over everything from trucking routes to hunting grounds and fishing spots, or between right-to-work Republicans and out-of-work locals, who probably cannot and should not count on a mining job or the economic revival big mining promises to bring.

Timor Mortis Conturbat Me

Every time I pass by the World Trade Center pit, on my way to a meeting or some other business, or drive by the blighted, barren, open grave where the towers once stood — and I do that every time I drive home from visiting my folks or friends in New Jersey, because I prefer the Battery Tunnel to the Manhattan Bridge — my heart aches, my stomach turns, my mood darkens.

More than seven years have passed since September 11th, 2001. The site of the attacks is still a ruin. Chances are I won’t like the new Supersize Freedom Power Towers Silverstein will build, and I am not bothered by the lag in construction per se so much as I am by what the lag in construction says about the city in which I live. The ugly pit at the bottom of Manhattan will stay an ugly pit until other things get worked out – money, contracts, promises, threats, political posturing, more money, a few more dead bodies, bags of money, more politics, more money. Would it be different anyplace else? Yes, I tell myself, but I am not so sure. Maybe New York just does it better, harder, deeper, so you feel it in your gut.

Yesterday Silverstein announced that construction at the site would probably not be completed until the year 2036. Chances are I will still be alive then, but I won’t have much time left after the towers are finished. Silverstein (who will most certainly be dead by then) blames the “failing real estate market,” and he’s wise to tie his own failure to the housing bust. It takes some of the pressure off; and, as I say, what’s going on at the World Trade Center site is not so different from what’s going on all over the country.

I was talking this morning with a guy who drives a produce truck for a living. He was eager to talk – first about trout fishing in Phoenicia, and then about his morning route, which includes a stop right near the World Trade Center, where there is now a Farmer’s Market. This is the worst stop on his route; he has a hard time finding a place to park his truck. Yesterday he heard about the delays in construction at the site on the radio, and the first thought he had was one of the first thoughts I had: I’ll be in my seventies. He didn’t want to talk about the credit crunch or the housing bubble or deal in economic abstractions; he was looking forward across the span of his life. He was going to live just long enough to see the towers completed; he took it with good humor, like a cruel joke.

He accounted for the delays in construction simply and bluntly: they’re milking it, he said.

And they are, of course. But more important, we all know they are, or at least that seems likely to us; and we know there’s a they, and we know they’re milking it. The truck driver thought it was the unions; I’m more likely to point the finger at developers, politicians and other criminals. We may not agree on the culprits, but we share a sense that it’s us versus them: they rule us, they rip us off, they ream us. This is everyman’s sociology. The divide between us and them — or the resentment it feeds — helps explain everything from teabaggery to Texan threats of secession. It used to be what was the matter with Kansas, according to Thomas Frank.

We know what they are up to and we’re not going to take it — or at least we’d like to believe we’re not. The fact is, we are; the open secret of our society is: we want to be them, we want to cross over to their side, or sidle up close enough to them so that we, too, can have a share of the theyness. We want to milk it.

We still want to believe in the land of milk and honey and the promise of redemption, maybe not for everybody, but for ourselves. Hollywood still takes our American faith to the bank over and over again.

Redemption simply means buying back; to redeem is to make good on a pledge, or to pay for property in the possession of another. In the common law, to deny someone the right to redemption is an action known as foreclosure — another word that has gained fresh currency and new purchase in the wake of the housing bust. We use redemption figuratively to mean that we can ransom ourselves, free ourselves from bondage or just from drudgery. In Christian theology, of course, redemption is our hedge against sin, of which the wage is death; it’s God’s way of making our broken lives whole again.

Which is one thing that pit down at the bottom of Manhattan does not do, at least in my mind, and this probably accounts for why it makes me so queasy and miserable when I pass by: it makes a mockery of redemption. It says we are not going to make things whole again (because they are milking it). It defers redemption until 2036, when for many of us it may be too late, if it isn’t already.