Ochenski 

Corr values: A beginning and an end for the Mining City

I wish my friend Jackie Corr had lived just a few more days to see his beloved city in its glory last weekend. Unfortunately, Jackie, one of Butte’s great historians and an invaluable ally in the effort to hold politicians of all persuasions accountable, passed on just before 60,000 people came to the three-day National Folk Festival to listen to an incredible variety of great music, eat ethnic food and enjoy each other’s company in a resurrected Butte.

Jackie, like the city in which he spent his life, was tough. In 66 years, he had seen it all. He remembered the Copper bosses, but he also remembered the now-vanished Columbia Gardens that the Anaconda Company provided for the citizens—a place where greenery and good times offered respite from the dirty, dreary and dangerous work deep underground. Like so many others in Butte, he also remembered what happened in 1973, when the Gardens were razed to make way for the expansion of the Berkeley Pit that now sits as a 3,000-foot deep lake filled with water so toxic it notoriously killed 342 snow geese that happened to land there one ill-fated winter night.

Jackie followed politics closely and was an indefatigable researcher, flooding my Inbox with emails almost daily. He tracked the K Street crowd and wrote of their far too cozy relationships with Sen. Max Baucus, dug deep into the global financial news to connect the dots concerning those seeking to exploit Montana’s resources, and is probably the single individual in this state most responsible for heading off the purchase of NorthWestern Energy by the Australian firm of Babcock-Brown (BBI).

Thanks to Jackie, members of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) were fully apprised of BBI’s vast network of international business deals and the fallout from those deals. While Paul Polzin, the former head of the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, was cheerleading for the takeover, Jackie was busy sending hard data and news articles from around the world to reporters, columnists and those whose votes would ultimately decide the matter. In the end, Polzin turned out to be wrong, while Jackie, the man behind the scenes, turned out to be right when BBI’s shares plummeted 27 percent just last month due to short selling and concerns about its debt levels. Not a bad call for a Butte taxi driver, eh?

Nor did Jackie flinch from holding the members of both parties accountable. While he, like most Butte folks, had nothing to do with Republicans, he also held Democrats that sold out their supposed allegiance to working people and higher ideals in utter contempt. In one of his last emails to me, only days before his death, Jackie related how Robert Rubin, President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary, “put the bullet in the back of the head of the handcuffed and blind-folded Glass-Steagall Act in the basement of the White House in 1999.”

In his inimitable style, Jackie laid it out straight. “Poor Glass-Steagall,” he wrote. “He was a long-time and truest of friends of the American public and took his job seriously for 66 years. For those of you not familiar with the departed, Glass-Steagall was the New Deal banking act designed to prevent the type of criminal class meltdowns that helped bring about the Great Depression of the 1930s, the very same kind of financial treachery that began a Wall Street comeback in 1999 and, like a toxic cancer, is ravaging the banking systems of the entire world at this minute.

“And all of a sudden there is this guy making the news, Jason Furman.

“And Jason Furman is Robert Rubin’s golden boy. And Jason Furman has deep ties to the Clintons, John Edwards and Barack Obama. None of the three candidates mentioned Glass-Steagall during the just-completed primary race. Coincidence you say? Well maybe not. Not with Obama’s economic guy looking over their shoulder. You see, Jason is also a big believer in NAFTA, Wal-Mart, and never lost a minute’s sleep when Bob Rubin knocked off Glass-Steagall back in 1999.”

Jackie’s gone now, and with him that wealth of knowledge, perspective and, perhaps most importantly, the foresight to see what’s coming. But if you have to go—and we all do—he did it on the eve of Butte’s best party in decades.

The National Folk Festival, in the first year of its three-year stint in Butte, rocked the old Mining City last weekend in a way it hasn’t been rocked for a long, long time. The entire Uptown area was shut down to traffic from Montana Street to the Helsinki Bar. Organizers estimate some 60,000 people enjoyed the music, and the performers, who came from all over the nation, appreciated the crowd as much as the crowd appreciated them.

Seven stages were scattered about Uptown, where virtually every kind of music in our national panoply could be heard. The “dance pavilion” rocked to the reggae music of Clinton Fearon while, just a few blocks away in any direction, everything from Hawaiian chants and hula dancing to bluegrass and Bulgarian wedding music filled the air.

From Uptown, the Berkeley Pit is invisible, but the Butte Highlands, still draped in garlands of snow, filled the horizon with the clear blue Montana sky as a backdrop. When the nearly full moon rose over the stage, thousands clapped and danced to the hard-driving blues of Shemekia Copeland, bringing music, life and joy where, in times long past, hard-working miners in dented hard hats, clutching their metal lunch buckets, were lowered a mile deep into the earth to dig the copper-laden ore that made Butte “The Richest Hill on Earth.”

Best of all—and Jackie would have loved this—the whole event was free. No tickets, no wristbands, no hassles. Jackie’s death brings a tear to the eye, but the new vitality of Butte, the city he loved so well, brings hope to the heart.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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