The Copper Collar

Its my 70th birthday. I get to say whatever I want…flat out. I’m too old a dog to worry. 🙂

America is on the leash…in the collar of Big Money.

Free speech is a basic right in America. But some of us are freer than others. Because the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech. Some of us have lots of it. Most of us have a buck or two to support candidates for public office.

Montanans once referred to “the copper collar” worn by elected officials (federal, state and local), policy-makers, newspaper publishers and editors, journalists, business people, asnd relgious leaders. The copper collar kept them on the leash of the state’s largest employer and wealthiest campaign contributor, Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Montana was one big company town.

Photo of book “Forging the Copper Collar”

Step in a direction Anaconda didn’t like, and you’d feel a quick tug on the leash – a phone call, a note,  a pink slip, or worse. Want to run for office? Here’s the money. Money for things the average Montanan cannot buy, money for the “free” speech few can afford. Money for professional pollsters to learn voter attitudes and what scares them. Money for advertizing agencies that turn the polling data into ads that flood the airwaves, the internet, roadside billboards, and the print media.Money puts candidates and political parties in the collar. On the leash. Candidates who start to sniff to the side of the path on their morning walks feel a yank on the collar, a reminder that the dog isn’t walking on its own. It’s walking on a leash.  The “free” speech of candidates who stray or bite the hand that feeds them soon disappear. It was paid for by the owner.

The American colonies revolted against the ideas of a king and colonial rule. The political idea of royalty appalls us. We think of ourselves as the home of the brave and the land of the free. But aversion to kings and queens doesn’t mean we can’t be fooled into hoping that any one of us can climb to the top. We gripe about the wealth yet we aspire to it, and we think in personal terms we can understand more easily than the complicated matters of economics and arrangements between private and public institutions. The royalty and colonial privilege we love to hate find a way to disguise themselves as just another citizen with freedom of speech.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that corporations are “persons” with the same rights as a voter with “free speech” campaign contributions has put the collar on every candidate for public office. When candidates wear a collar, freedom of speech is a fiction, and the country we love becomes one big corporate town, the colonial town of the new kings and queens.

America is fast becoming a corporate town. We can bark. We can whine. We can vote. But the speech that matters isn’t free. It’s paid for. Democracy and freedom are on the leash…wearing the copper collar.

For a closer work at how it works, click “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult,” an insider’s look at what’s happening to America. Or click  “Confronting Ethical Emptiness of Wall Street” for a powerful piece, including the picture below of the raging bull.

The Wall Street Bull – symbol of ethical emptiness on Wall Street

Every day four or five emails arrive asking for a campaign contribution to fight Big Money. Just a $3 or $5 contribution will make a hug difference, say the appeals. But I know that once I give $3, the next one will be for $50 and then $100, and then…. Makes me feel real small…facing the bull.

But…if I don’t give….

The next time I watch a campaign ad, I’m going to read the small print to see who’s holding the leash to the collar.

You’ll make an old dog happy on his birthday by leaving a comment to promote some discussion.

10 thoughts on “The Copper Collar

  1. Happy Birthday.
    I would buy you an honest politician for your birthday, but there are none to be bought.
    By the way, if you do want to buy yourself a birthday present, I highly recommend Alistair Cook’s history of America. I am not sure how many Americans have read it, as he wrote it for a British readership. But it nicely exposes a lot of the myth-making around the founding fathers and establishment of the American aristocracy.


    • David, New Zealanders have a different perspective. Thanks for the recommendation of Alistair Cook’s book. I’ve always admired him. Isn’t it strange that we Americans are always talking about freedom and democracy while living uner the modern day equivalent of the old aristocracy, i.e. oligarchy? One difference, however, was the old aristocracy was educated. The new one aristocratic class knows only power and money.


  2. A little late in the day on the Happy Birthday thing, but I am sure you haven’t stopped celebrating it, as in limiting it to one day. This piece has more I need to get my head around before I comment….Thanks for posting it.


  3. Happy Birthday youngster!

    Of course I agree with and appreciate what you’ve said here -so well, as usual. But I do want to take issue with one thing. I saw the Republican candidate for president and his wife in an interview the other day. He went on about how, when he was growing up, he saw people who had more money than he did, but he wasn’t jealous of them and want to take it away from them. The clear implication was the assumption that our poverty stricken neighbors want to steal what he has. That is so far from the truth. What they want is a safe place to live and raise their children, away from hunger and violence and rats nibbling at the toes of their sleeping babies.

    I remember a long time ago now, when so many of our homeless were Vietnam vets (probably still are),a news interview with one of them in New York warming himself by a fire in the trash can. “All we want,” he said, “is a warm, safe place to go home to and food to eat.”

    I for one had a very comfortable childhood, but I honestly can’t say I aspired to the kind of wealth Mr. Romney has, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I had comfort, all I needed and more. Why would I envy the likes of him?

    I guess what I’m saying is – he just doesn’t get it. He just has no imagination or empathy for people who work hard all day — or these days maybe not — and still live in poverty. That collar you speak of looks an awful lot like the images of slaves being led from the ship to the auction block.


    • Mona, Youngster here. Your point is well-taken. I don’t believer the average American is greedy or out to take away anyone else’s money. But the myth of the self-made man/woman is in our DNA. Candidates play the music of fear that falls upon the public’s ears as the threat to freedom itself. And when someone barks “freedom” there is a wide howl. The Right Wing understands this. It’s very skilled at making a copper collar look like it’s made of sheepskin.


  4. Happy Birthday, old friend (more politely, friend of so many years 🙂 ). I think I won’t depress you on your birthday. Instead, I’ll remind you of a hymn from summer Bible School, “This Is My Father’s World.” Lately just a couple of lines keep running through my head: “…that though the wrong seems oft so strong / God is the ruler yet.” There are so many times recently that it seems incredibly unlikely that His “will [is being] done on earth as it is in heaven” that I feel pretty depressed, yet “…though the wrong seems oft so strong / God is the ruler yet.” All we can do is keep on praying and do what we can to make and keep things right as God has inspired each to discern “right.” Again, all best on your birthday!


    • Carolyn, thank you. How many of our birthdays did we spend together as children? A lot. The line from that hymn also gives me courage and calls me to a longer perspective as does Once to Every man and Nation. “Though the cause of evil prosper, Yet ’tis truth alone is strong, Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future, And Behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadows Keeping watch above His own.” – James Russell Lowell (abolitionist; 1819-1891).

      Depression comes naturally to me, countered fortunately by a ready sense of humor and playfulness. Hard to believe 70 has rolled around.

      Thanks for the good wishes. Your friend of so many years,


  5. Hello Gordon and Happy Birthday!!!!!! Your piece is right on target. I was reading along and I suddenly realized that the people who think that the wealthy earned their money in a way that entitles them to have people work ‘for’ them and not ‘with them,’ decide who you can marry, and who have the attitude that you got where you are alone, without the help of all those around you, are exhibiting the same attitude that the ruling party once had in England. This attitude created conditions so unbearable that the pilgrims set out to start anew. They sought to establish a country with the freedom to worship in the church of their choice, and the freedom to choose a ruler by election rather than by bloodlines. It makes sense that some people would fail to see what was wrong with the society our forefathers worked so hard to leave behind and would try to recreate it here and now with the mighty dollar, rather than bloodlines, to stand as the proof that someone is entitled to make the decisions for and in spite of everyone else. But now, we have no ‘land of the free’ to which we can flee. We have to make a stand.

    Thank you for sharing, and I hope you have a wonderful birthday!


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