A Mining Writer Looks Back
New Patmos, Idaho – It's good to go back to basics which, for this reporter, is just plain writing about things I see and hear. For the past dozen years I've been a “non-ferrous metals equities reporter” for a number of publications, both print and web-based, ranging from creakingly establishment McGraw-Hill to the out-there-in-the-ozone websites like LeMetropole Cafe. It's been a fun ride.
But you can't really properly, old-school-reporter-style, get cranky covering a mining company's conference call on third-quarter earnings. It's pretty cut-and-dried, garbage in and out, although I did fly off the handle during a Barrick Gold Corporation earnings conference call a few years back when they laughed off the notion that shorting a trillion dollars worth of gold at $300, when the price was thrice that at the time, was dumb.
But Barrick is still around, so am I, and it only cost $125 to replace the telephone handset and the window I flung it through.
Writing about “non-ferrous metals equities” with all its dull and technical drabble has, however, blessed me with a front-row seat on the world and equally has blessed me with introductions to the finest men and women on the planet.
Because to write about “non-ferrous metals equities” means you're writing about silver, gold, copper, lead and zinc miners, and they are the best. Whether they are hustling money at the annual investment conferences in Zurich, London, Toronto or Beijing I attend, standing their ground against the continued assault by the EPA on property rights in Kellogg, or drilling a heading a mile underground, they are the most unusual and most decent people I have ever met. For every charlatan who works this trade there are 1,000 others doing decent, honourable labour, and in their toils to make a living or get rich, they enrich our lives.
Do I really need to tell the silver story here in Shoshone County, the self-proclaimed silver capital of the world? (Well, maybe excluding Mexico and Bolivia, but what does a chamber of commerce care for such nuances?) We have a silver mining industry here because hustlers 120 years ago were able to raise capital to build the first mines, and we have a silver industry now because good people continue to produce silver for a wage, and promoters continue to hustle money to keep the mines going.
I find what miners do here, and what miners in Canada, China, Africa, and Central and South America do, fascinating and honourable. The purveyors of products and services, indeed our very economies stand on the shoulders of miners. It's too bad this simple fact of life, that if it can't be grown it's got to be mined, is not taught in our local schools.
You couldn't start your car without the labour of a silver miner; your fridge wouldn't run, your washing machine would quit and your computers and cell phones would be so much detritus. When the late Hank SiJohn of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe did his best ticked-off Indian routine up at the Star Mine dump to pump up support for our EPA/Superfund hegemony two decades ago, I wondered if he had ever wondered where the zinc for the bumpers on his gigantic Buick had come from. Most likely out of that mine portal he was standing below.
But this rant will not be about mining, at least not always. Nor will it always be about the EPA bumpkins who have squatted in our neck of the woods like a deranged and disagreeable relative who won't ever leave your guest room, despite numerous broad hints, and demands regular meals served in bed.
We'll leave local politics out of this conversation as well – for the most part. If you want my opinions, read the Letters to the Editor column. But I do miss our old politicians: Fred Cantamessa. George Gieser. Bill Noyen. Lou Horvath. Bill Lytle. Vern Lannen. God rest their souls. As a young reporter-slash-editor I could walk in to the county commissioners' den and get honest answers, and a lively dialogue would ensue. I remember the weekly phone hook-up at the Kellogg Chamber meeting, engineered by Ray Chapman, when Lou, Bill and Vern would fill us in on the shenanigans in Boise. I remember driving to Wallace from “up the river” and maybe killing a grouse along the way, gutting it, stuffing into a bread-sack, and keeping it cool in the county's pop machine while I walked my rounds.
I remember when there was a cigarette machine at the bottom of the county courthouse steps, instead of a signed scolding not to get near that marble facade with a fag lit within 20 paces. (Heck, I'm even old enough to remember when the airlines gave you a little pack of Winston cigarettes to smoke after your in-flight meal and let every curious kid up to the cockpit to help drive those great, beastly DC-6Bs and Lockheed Connies, fueled-up with 130-octane avgas stored right underneath all those cigarette smokers, and even if you were just seven years old, you wore a tie to fly. Back then, the airlines might not let a slob onto one of their mighty liners, but they certainly wouldn't balk at a nail-clipper or a personal handgun.)
We are living in a much meaner, rule-obsessed world now.
When did the policeman cease to be your friend and become instead your lurking law-enforcer, hiding behind a rock to catch you committing a victimless crime?
When did adults start needing to supervise a kids' game of pick-up or scrub?
When did cops feel the need to break up a high-school homecoming bonfire?
When did kids getting into a rock-or fist-throwing event with the kids up the street become a crime, requiring expulsion and counselling? Or for that matter, when did kids become encouraged to snitch on their parents at school for smoking a wild herb? Or to feel good about themselves even when their study habits were sloppy and by Grade 12 they still could not write a simple declarative sentence?
When did a cabal of private and unaccountable banksters get to decide what our wages might buy?
When did miners need the permission of a multitude of unelected and unaccountable government-crats just to do their jobs?
Well, the last two answers are easy: it was in 1913, when the Federal Reserve, under Woodrow Wilson but OK'd by Congress, was established and began to poison our wages, and took over our money. The Great Depression and the income tax ensued. And of course it was in 1971 when that foulest of U.S. presidents, Richard Nixon, created the EPA, and in 1979, when the second most-foul of presidents, Jimmy Carter, created Superfund.
But the question is not really When, but Why? Perhaps in these upcoming weekly peregrinations, we can discuss such things and maybe, in them, find some hope for this dying Empire. That's what this column will be about.
The News-Press website is not really set up for a web dialogue (for the unitiated, a “blog”), but you can email me at: email@example.com if you have a comment, suggestion, or your own personal rant. Please, no spam. Had it for lunch.
Author, The Silver Pennies