MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling! November 5 2004

Published by MAC on 2004-11-05
Source: Nostromo Research ()


London Calling! November 5 2004

LONDON CALLING goes transatlantic

Lady Bracknell said it very quotably in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”: to lose one child may be considered a misfortune, but to lose two seems like downright carelessess.

John Kerry wasn’t careless in losing last week to George W Bush, after the Democrats’ second bid for the White House in four blood-spattered years. But he can still be held responsible for failing to deliver firm commitments to reverse much that Republicans hold dear and the rest of world finds utterly distasteful. The Kerry camp never guaranteed to sign the Kyoto Treaty (itself hardly a radical prospectus) or protect the Alien Tort Claims Act from dilution or abrogation. The Democrats also seemed confused about how to reform that epitome of free-booting, the 1872 Mining Act and whether to impose a royalty (or for how much) on hardrock mineral production.

Above all, Kerry would probably have maintained uncritical support for Israel; and done little to reverse that descent into destruction which has so far taken the lives of 100,000 civilian Iraqis – half of them women and children. (That’s certainly more victims than the tyrannical Saddam Hussain despatched over the past decade: The Lancet calculates that an Iraqi citizen is now fifty eight more times likely to die a violent death than s/he was before the invasion).

However, even if you need a magnifying glass to detect some key political differences between Lieutenant Kerry and the Reverend Bush., there’s little doubt who was popping the magnums, and sloshing back the Jack Daniels last week: the Big drug peddlers, Big “defense” contractors and Big investment banks, joined by oil, gas and coal mining companies. The latter were decidedly fearful of a return to higher taxes, re-imposition of basic environmental controls, such as the Clean Air Act and a legal ban on mountain-top mining – vital safeguards travestied or trampled on by Bush.

Mineweb’s US correspondent, Dorothy Kosich, may safely be relied on to convey the mood of optimism now prevailing among the diggers on the plains and the spoilers in the valleys and the hills.

True, she cautions against seeing US hard rock mining issues as only dictated by the party political divide. Ms Kosich points out that “Domestic hardrock mining advocate Sen. Harry Reid, Democrat-Nevada. is all but certain to succeed Sen. Tom Daschle…as the new Democratic Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate.” And this makes at least one company happy. "Thank goodness [Reid’s] there.", commented a Placer spokesman last week. For, says Kosich, “few [other] Democratic Senators understand hardrock mining issues”.

According to government affairs experts, “Mining and the investment community can expect the Bush Administration to concentrate mainly on land tenure issues which affect mining”, while “[m]ining associations have already made considerable strides in cleaning up the residue (wait for it)… of anti-mining revisions concocted by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a Clinton appointee, under Section 3809 of the Bureau of Land Management regulations”.

Voting the Miners

Meanwhile, says Kosich, “[m]ining companies are not exactly proclaiming any legislative priorities because they do not want to tip their hand to the environmental special interests.” Nonetheless, “[p]erhaps, mining's finest moment during the Presidential Election was the ‘Mine the Vote 2004’ campaign [when]….15,000 mining company employees participated in the effort to get out the vote. The states of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, and West Virginia were the focus of the campaign. National Mining Association (NMA)’s representative, Carol Raulston, praised Newmont, Barrick, and Kinross for their efforts to ensure that employees registered to vote”.

Though a mining-dependent state like Nevada had Democratic candidates just as pro-mining as their Republican counterparts, of course it was the election of a president that dominated last Tuesday’s voting slate. No prizes for guessing which presidential candidate “Mine the Vote” was actually touting for. Citizens may have had to read between the lines of the campaign’s exhortations, but with no more intellect than required of other Johnny and Jane come-latelys. When urged to cast their vote “wisely” Evangelical Christians certainly knew to pick a man communing daily with the Lord, rather than one supporting a woman’s “right to choose” and gay couples’ right to marry.

But that’s US democracy for you. As Churchill once said: democracy is the worst form of government - and every other form is worse. What does begins to smell is the fact that at least one mining company, Kinross, sent out letters to its commercial suppliers, specifically to spread the “’Mine the Vote’ message far beyond the several congressional districts in which we operate." Make of that what you may.

Meanwhile, the NMA President was actively fundraising for the Business-Industry PAC “aimed at ensuring that pro-business candidates are elected to public office.” BIPAC was “involved in the registration of 800,000 voters this year who are employed in or associated with business…eight state mining associations are using information provided by BIPAC to help mobilize pro-business voters in their states.”

Once again, make of that what you will.

In any event, says Kosich, “Wall Street was pretty darned happy that Bush was re- elected. With Republicans in even stronger control of Congress, tax cuts are secure and record budget deficits will continue. Currency traders predict that the dollar will continue to fall”.

Now that’s pretty scary news for countries, like South Africa, whose mining industry suffers from a rising domestic currency while the dollar depreciates. However, “[E]mbattled W.R. Grace saw its shares soar Wednesday despite its billions of dollars in lawsuits over asbestos- related illnesses, and the company's declaration of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Defeated Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle had led the charge to make asbestos companies pay more.”

So, that’s alright - Daschle down and Grace growing stronger. Never mind the thousands of ex-workers and families killed or scarred for life by one of America’s most damaging-ever mining outfits.

Saving the grouses?

“Is mining's future bright under Bush Redux?” Kosich had asked on November 3rd. In reply she asserted that, though “President Bush is apparently beloved by U.S. miners, his administration has often chosen to help mining through omission rather than with an assertive pro-mining agenda. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton was criticized for being a bit too fearful of environmentalists at times to accomplish much on behalf of mining public land issues. For instance, there is still a moratorium on the patenting of mining claims on public lands.

“The Environmental Protection Agency is still a thorn in mining's side… Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not exactly rolled over and played dead when it comes to proposals to designate endangered species, such as sage grouse habitat in the West”

But these concessions to conservationists are pretty paltry, especially when set against continued threats to worker’s health and safety under Bush (because of which the USWA mineworkers union had urged its members to vote for Kerry), the administration’s failure to budget adequately for mine closure and clean-up, and those outright betrayals of clean air and water legislation, previously enshrined in law.

A man for all seasons (but don’t forget the gee-gees and the dog)

Many were shocked by his eponymous company’s dirty deeds, though few spat out the kind of virulent expletives against James Hanson (who died last week aged 82) as they did against his buddy, Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady herself once said she was trying to run Britain as James Hanson did his business empire. Indeed, during the 1980s and early nineties, the transatlantic Hanson corporation did for US-UK commercial relationships what Thatcher and Reagan did for transatlantic political chicanery, and Blair and Bush are now doing for the Good of Humankind. Nonetheless, unlike these luminaries, James Hanson was a Peer of the Realm – and how we all love a lord!. A legendary pursuer of the fairer species (both women and horses), he could turn his charm on like a tap. He also peddled Jacuzzis - that most wasteful of bathroom accessories - while his company sapped vital groundwater from Indigenous lands in the US southwest.

Make no mistake: Lord Hanson was the archetypal asset stripper. It scarcely mattered what he, along with stable mate Gordon White, acquired - batteries, bricks or cancer sticks. The two of them would either run these acquisitions to the maximum, or run them off the road. Their manoeuvres to gain control of Consolidated Goldfields, offloading GFSA along the way, then seizing Newmont and thereby Peabody Coal, was an astoundingly audacious corporate play. Arguably it’s not been rivalled since, on either side of the Pond.

But the mighty do fall: in Hanson’s case through mismanagement and his own excesses on the racecourse (revealed when he made a hostile bid for Imperial Chemicals Industries, ICI). Hanson was cut down to human size and, ironically, forced to divvy-up Hanson plc itself in 1996.

Today the Hanson conglomerate typifies an era never to return. Along with “Tiny” Rowland (whose Lonrho mining conglomerate was also forced to cut its suit to fit a dwindling cloth), he represented a style of management we now consider unacceptably patrician, imperious and undemocratic. (Though, come to think of it, where does that leave Robert Friedland? Surely it’s no coincidence that Hanson’s own son - another Robert - was handpicked by Friedland as a director of Ivanhoe just a few years back?)

Our favourite anecdote of the Hanson days comes from the early nineties, when a British action group vigorously campaigned with US-based Dine (Navajo) leaders, to stop Peabody encroaching on their territory. The group had registered Sadie, its office dog, as a Hanson shareholder, and delegated her to handle corporate communications. One day Yves Newbold, Hanson’s secretary, phoned to “speak on a matter of urgency with Ms Whippet”. Quick as a flash came the reply: “I’m sorry, but at the moment she’s tied up!”

As a free canine in a libertarian environment, Sadie Whippet was anything but shackled. In fact, on this occasion, she was safely ensconced in the office’s best chair.

So far as is known Lord Hanson never heard the joke. Had he done, one fancies he would have laughed (decorously, of course).

Mining the money

M&M is returning to London at the end of this month. No, not the candy which won’t melt in your hands, but the confection which sticks in some peoples’ craws. However, this year the Mines and Money Congress isn’t exactly littered with renowned industry figures, as it was in 2003. (Unless you count the Lord Mayor of London and Prince Michael of Kent, which we don’t. And who in their right mind would?)

It doesn’t mean the affair is fated to go off at half cock. Arguably, its assemblage of relatively unknown consultants and hands-on speculators is now much more in keeping with the Congress’ fundamental aims: get out there, get digging, and hang the consequences. So far as we can tell, there will be no presentation on environmental issues and any mention of corporate social responsibility would be as welcome as Michael Moore gate crashing the forthcoming Bush inauguration.

This is as it should be: London Calling is sick and tired of miners posturing as conservationists or do-gooders. But what does intrigue is that – unlike the first M&M event, when nominations for best industry performers were loudly trumpeted in advance – this year the organisers are keeping schtum.

Could this have anything to do with MAC’s exercise last year which, by making “alternative” awards and tearing strips off the nominees, deftly turned the whole pretence on its head?

Surely not!

[Sources: Would Kerry impose a mining royalty of 8%?: Reno Gazette- Journal 22/10/2004. Mineweb 4/11/2004; Deaths of 100,000 Iraqis under the Bush-Blair onslaught: The Lancet, London, 29/10/2004; Erosion of environmental standards under Bush – see the MAC website and Planet Ark 5/11/2004; Things looking up for U.S. mining: Dorothy Kosich, Mineweb 4/11/2004; Is mining safe under Bush? Kosich, Mineweb 3/11/2004; Goodbye to Hanson: Guardian 2/11/2004; Hanson’s plays for CGF, Newmont and Peabody: The Gulliver File, 1992]

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