The Search for More Credible Cattle

When that Jinglebob herd come up the trail one day in the late seventies, instead of slowing for the approach to Wichita, the herders fired ’em up with rebel yells and gunfire, and they all commenced a stampede which overran the Katy station and some of the holding pens besides. Ol’ J T Jinglebob lamented, and said to the station master, “I try and talk to them cows, but they’re so upset about the high freight rates to the east, there’s nothing to be done with ’em.”

And then Bill Hickock strode down Allen Street, said to J T, “Cattle are sure unpredictable, right as rain. But any one of them standing on railroad property come sundown belongs to me, and the station house and pens of Katy will be good as new before a single head of yours be shipped. You savvy?”

J T, he savvied. Then he consulted with his trail bosses. Boys, he said. We need a more credible brand o’ cow.

Towards the turn of the century, the new Jinglebob was named Rockefeller, and he commenced corralling all the oil bidness on the eastern seaboard, then branched out, like they do. When an upstart combine dared present an oil line to rival the Standard, Rocky refused rights to run it across his land, of which he owned considerable, adding more and more every day. So the pretender took to carting his oil in barrels down the track, whereupon Rocky simply moved his own cars over his interceding tracks to cut ’em off.

We were in progress of becoming the United Standard of Oil, with subsidiaries involving everything else. That’s how capitalism works; that’s how it goes.

But a single lady rose up.

. . . Until the people of the United States have solved the question of free and equal transportation it is idle to suppose that they will not have a trust question. So long as it is possible for a company to own the exclusive carrier on which a great natural product depends for transportation, and to use this carrier to limit a competitor’s supply or to cut off that supply entirely if the rival is offensive, and always to make him pay a higher rate than it costs the owner, it is ignorance and folly to talk about constitutional amendments limiting trusts. . . So long as the Standard Oil Company can control transportation as it does to-day, it will remain master of the oil industry, and the people of the United States will pay for their indifference and folly. . . .
. . . We are a commercial people. We cannot boast of our arts, our crafts, our cultivation; our boast is in the wealth we produce. As a consequence business success is sanctified, and, practically, any methods which achieve it are justified by a larger and larger class. . . .

That was Ms Ida M Tarbell, rest her soul, writing in a series for McClure Magazine which ran from 1902-4. (Funny how women have stirred up trouble for magnates in that era – remember Abe Lincoln referred to Harriet Beecher Stowe as “the little lady who wrote the book which caused this great war.” )

Then some more words were written, this in STANDARD OIL COMPANY OF NEW JERSEY et al.* v. UNITED STATES 221 U.S. 1 (1911):

We think no disinterested mind can survey the period in question without being irresistibly driven to the conclusion that the very genius for commercial development and organization which it would seem was manifested from the beginning soon begot an intent and purpose to exclude others which was frequently manifested by acts and dealings wholly inconsistent with the theory that they were made with the single conception of advancing the development of business power by usual methods, but which, on the contrary, necessarily involved the intent to drive others from the field and to exclude them from their right to trade, and thus accomplish the mastery which was the end in view. . . .

Standard Oil was held in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and broken into pieces. But the spirit of old J T Jinglebob lives on. We’re now in Money, Mississippi, circa 2008, and the organizers are herding onto a platform for study certain bovines hand selected from the community. There is a jack gadget which evens the stage, using not a carpenter’s level but simply equalizing the drivlets of spittle down both sides of the yaps of the test group.

“Now, see here, I ask you first off, say there is an insurance company, and your child needs expensive care. That insurance agency is either private, which means what it pays you it cannot hold for its executive board, or government, which has no pecuniary interest in the transaction. Now, why would you not want your insurance overlord to be the government?”

L G: “Why, cause that’s socialism! Hitler smokin’ Pol Pot! (turns to his neighbor) Ain’t that right, Lem?”
Lem: “Reckon so; that ‘r communism, one …”

The Birther Death Panel Teabaggers are branded and herded into the Pox Noise machine. They moo and shuffle and graze and create incoherent rumbles and much methane. The difference from the Jinglebob herd is that these can talk, after a fashion.

They wail about socialism and they bring their weapons and their placards, and then the suits who pull their strings slide into the studios and proclaim, “They are a natural grass-roots uprising protesting the dread crimping of corporations after Sarbanes–Oxley with resultant loss of incentive, innovation, and capital infusion.”

AT&T would like to be the new Standard Oil. If you remember your Tarbell, control of the course of business is key, and the railroads are now replaced by the Internet. The new Rocky will block Skype from your iPhone because they want to sell you something else. They do this by dragging a boxcar across your line.

And they feed their cattle. This is from about consideration of the new rules on Standardizing the Net:

More than 400 letters were filed with the FCC over the past week, including letters from South Carolina-based entities such as Claflin University, Allen University and the Cherokee County Development Board. The letters included the same line: “Thousands of South Carolinians have jobs and millions of investment dollars are in this state because of existing government policies that encourage competition in telecommunications while assuring open access to the Internet.”

Imagine the FCC struggling to accept that the line fed the herd spontaneously combusted in all their four hundred skulls at once. Four hundred South Carolina skulls. Nevertheless, the FCC jumped the boxcar and continued down the track to consideration of keeping those lines open.

But remember this. Rocky is much more powerful than Ida unless the public is paying attention. So pay attention.

Thanks for paying attention this far.

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