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Who Cares What You Think, Wisconsin?

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by Gary G. Kohls, MD

The Unapologetic Message From George W. Bush and the Wisconsin Republican Party to the Concerned Citizens of Wisconsin
 (NOTE: They are NOT Your Friends)

The title quote “Who Cares What You Think” came directly from the lips of the strutting, perpetually arrogant now-ex-President George W. Bush on July 4, 2001, when he had been in office for only six months.

By the first summer of his new administration, Bush was already being widely regarded as a likely failed president. By September 2001 however, the controlled demolitions, by agents unknown, of World Trade Center towers 1, 2 and 7 (proof at http://www.youtube.com/ae911truth) made Bush a war president, which, in militarized nations such as our own, increased his popularity and saved him from being a one-term ruler.

On that July 4th, Bush’s short-comings were pointed out to him by Pennsylvania journalist Bill Hangley Jr. who, while shaking Bush’s hand, said to him: “Mr. President, I hope you only serve four years.  I’m very disappointed in your work so far.”

According to Hangley, Bush “kept smiling and shaking my hand but answered, ‘who cares what you think?’  His face stayed photo-op perfect, but his eyes gave me a look that said, if we’d been drinking in some frathouse in Texas, ‘let’s take it outside.’  A nasty little gleam.  But he was (fortunately) constrained by Presidential propriety.”

“I turned away and started scribbling the quote down in my notepad, so as to remember The Gift forever.  When he saw me do that, he got excited and craned his neck to shout at me, ‘who are you with?  Who are you with?’  People started looking, so he made a joke: ‘make sure you get it right.  But he kept at it: ‘Who do you write for?’”

“I told him I wasn’t ‘with’ anybody…Then I split.”

“Anyway, if you ever wondered if the Prez really was kind of a jerk, I’m here to tell you, he is.”

The Wisconsin Republican Party
doesn’t seem to care what you think either,
unless you are wealthy or a corporation

Now fast forward to Wisconsin and Governor Scott Walker - he of the unholy alliance with the Koch Brothers, GTAC and their rapacious, exploitive, extractive Big Business agendas.

Walker won the governorship of Wisconsin in 2010 partly because he refused to reveal his paymaster’s union-busting agenda – which turned out to be one of his first legislative initiatives. In that year, he and his heavily bribed, corporate-backed GOP accomplices in the Wisconsin Republican Party took control of both houses of the legislature and, along with various unelected corporate lobbyists and lawyers, wrote the union-busting legislation that quickly energized Wisconsin teachers into getting politically active while trying to preserve their right to collective bargaining.

And now, in their first legislative initiative of 2013, this same nefarious group is pushing legislation that is designed to deregulate the mining industry. They are obviously trying to force their hidden agendas onto the unsuspecting people of Wisconsin in what will surely turn out to be another wake-up call for another segment of the lower 99%.

Tragically, it appears to this Minnesotan that, since 2011, Wisconsin’s Republican legislators – including Janesville’s Paul Ryan - have been listening exclusively to the financiers on Wall Street, corporate CEOs and assorted wealthy elite that regard democracy as a damn nuisance to be subverted in order for them to enrich themselves and grow the already large fortunes of their paymasters. Democracy is, after all, the political system where the little guy can actually out-vote powerful bullies if they want to. Democracy is also the system where the little guy can haul out the defensive pitchforks when some corporate entity or boss is coming to rape their Mother (Earth), pillage their environment, declare unnecessary wars or suck out some hard-earned cash from their bank accounts.

Fortunately for us underdogs, there now is a second progressive backlash developing against the Walker/Koch (pronounced “coke”, as in: the popularized poster slogan “Walker has a Koch Problem”) agenda that probably wasn’t anticipated by Wisconsin’s Republican Party, and that is that it has ignited, in just two years, a second powerful grassroots revolutionary effort among indigenous people and health-conscious environmentalists that should be as potent as the one that arose around Walker’s teacher union-busting initiative. Aroused commoners are rising up in anger all over Wisconsin, only this time the coalition-building will be far easier. The skids have been greased by the justified outrage of sincere and under-valued teachers and workers.

Minnesota’s environment is likewise at risk of succumbing to sneaky corporate mining interests as well. The fragile environment of the north country is being threatened by unsafe, very risky and highly polluting sulfide mining which is being proposed for areas within the St. Louis River watershed, a system that is already dangerously polluted downstream (where you can no longer eat the fish).

The pro-worker, pro-environment, pro-education, pro-people justice-seekers and all the defenders of Lake Superior need to thank Wisconsin Public Radio (my WPR station in the Duluth/Superior area is KUWS FM 91.3) for providing the wonderful coverage of the legislative hearings that revealed how complex the issues are and how sinister are the motives behind the mining bill. WPR generously cancelled three days of its normal daytime broadcasts over the past month in order to bring extended, gavel to gavel coverage of public and legislative testimony on the latest version of the Republican mining bill. Hopefully WPR will be archiving the testimony for later listening.

SB1, the GOP’s
sweetheart deal for
Gogebic Taconite LLC

Now for more on the disputed Republican mining bill.

The version of the mining bill that has been introduced in the Senate is called “SB1”. It represents the GOP’s very first legislative initiative for the year 2013. It looks like the legislative sponsors and corporate beneficiaries are in a hurry to get it approved. SB1 was written by Gogebic Taconite LLC (GTAC) although it was introduced by GOP Senator  Tom Tiffany, a member of the mining committee. SB1, if passed into law, provides outrageous sweetheart deals specifically for GTAC that, if implemented, will produce one of the largest open-pit taconite mines in the world by using mountain-top removal methods. The excavation of the mine and the huge polluting power plant needed for operations would inevitably result in degradation of the quality of the water, air, soil, wildlife and the health of the mine’s human neighbors, especially the sovereign Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, who have lived downstream and benefitted from a healthy Bad River watershed for centuries.

The proposed mine will necessarily and artificially lower the water table below the proposed 900 feet mine depth (the only way for a dry open pit mine to operate) so that nearby residents will have their wells dry up. The nearest neighbors will have their land taken away from them by eminent domain, and the vast volume of potentially toxic mine tailings will have to be piled up and/or dumped into adjacent lakes, sloughs and streams. The massive mining operation will negatively impact tourism, fishing and hunting, devastate the pristine Penokee Hills range and irretrievably pollute the trout streams, wild rice habitat and will inevitably contaminate the Bad River watershed, all the way to Lake Superior. With this mine putting at risk the integrity and health of the Lake Superior basin (which contains fully 10% of the entire world’s fresh water!), concerned citizens from Minnesota, Michigan and Canada need to actively support the Wisconsin group that is essentially alone at the forefront of the resistance movement. They are doing yeomen’s work for the rest of us, and they deserve our help.

I listened to all three hearings and was impressed by the passionate testimony coming from each person who testified against the mining bill. Oftentimes the less well-educated made the most powerful points, and public speaking experience didn’t make any difference in the quality of the testimony. The obvious courage, intelligence, knowledge and ability to articulate the messages of those testifying made me tear up with pride at times, and I came away with some hope for our fragile democracy and way of life. What I heard was very informative and even energizing for me, but the money and raw power of the mining industry backers heightened my lack of trust in what is promised by any conscienceless political group that is committed to doing the bidding of equally conscienceless corporations or wealthy elites.

Who Cares What You
Think, Wisconsin?

The first hearing, the only one scheduled by the GOP-controlled pro-mining panel, was held at the capitol building in Madison on January 23. The announcement to the public had been made on Friday, January 18, the day before the Martin Luther King holiday weekend; five short days before the hearing! Who cares what you think, Wisconsin?

On top of the unconscionably short notice, the GOP members who were trying to railroad the mining bill through (before people could find out what was actually in it) dictated that there would be only one public hearing, that it would be in southern Wisconsin far from the proposed mine and that it would be held on a workday (a Wednesday), much to the anger of the people from northern Wisconsin – the ones who were going to be most adversely affected by the mine. The GOP leadership knew very well that most concerned people lived 5 – 6 hours away from Madison and would have difficulty getting off from work much less managing to drive down.

Democratic State Representative Janet Bewley, of Ashland, was angered by the late notice. She regarded the partisan decision as a slap in the face of northern Wisconsinites. Mike Simonson of KUWS-FM quoted Bewley as saying:

  “It is absolutely clear they (the GOP legislators) are not interested in how the people of the North feel unless they agree exactly with what they are doing. If you have a different opinion you are shut out, or you have to get in your car and drive all the way to Madison and wait in line, and hope that they’ll hear you. I am stunned, myself: I thought I had seen it all.”

The GOP chairperson at the first hearing rigidly kept anyone from talking more than 3 minutes, a woefully short period of time to get any legitimate point across or to teach any environmental science, which the GOP members obviously didn’t want to hear anyway. Their concretized minds were obviously made up well ahead of time. The gavel came down with as many as a hundred people still waiting to testify.

It was like saying, “Who cares what you think Wisconsin?”

The second hearing was about offering amendments to the mining bill. The public was not allowed to participate. The only people who could speak were occasional experts and the 5 members of the mining subcommittee – 2 Democrats and 3 Republicans (the GOPers hardly said a word). I imagined the three frowning, arms folded across their chests, hands over their ears.

It was an obvious whitewash from the start. Every GOP legislative amendment, no matter how outrageous, was voted in on a 3-2 party line vote. And, no surprise, every sensible amendment proposed by the Democrats was reflexively voted down with no debate, 2-3.

It was a disgusting spectacle by the GOP senators, but besides my anger, it made me sad to witness the negativity and close-mindedness of those obviously co-opted/ lapdog GOP Senators Tiffany, Darling and Grothman.

I was, however, impressed by the two out-numbered but well-informed minority members, Senators Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) and John Lehman (D-Racine).

But that hearing turned out to be another example of the GOP’s prevailing attitude: “Who Cares What You Think?”

The third hearing (February 9) was a 9 hour unofficial but genuine “listening” session at Ashland College. That hearing, with no time limits on the testimony, was organized by the enlightened Democratic Senator Bob Jauch. The secretive GOP leadership group that adamantly had refused to schedule any hearings up north, also refused to come to Ashland to hear the people, again saying loud and clear: “Who Cares What You Think?”

This bill was apparently written by GTAC lobbyists and attorneys, with obvious inspiration from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that has been secretly writing pro-corporate model legislation for Republican governors and legislators for decades. ALEC has been heavily supported financially by the Koch Brothers and many other multinational corporations (see www.alecexposed.com for more on this democracy-killing organization).


Scandalously, GTAC has said that it would start working on a permit as soon as SB1 passes the legislature and is signed by Scott Walker! GTAC has also made the outrageous comment that it would not do any testing of the mine site for potentially toxic sulfides prior to the passage of the bill!

Unbiased experts who have had a chance to read the 250 page bill have discovered that the bill would exempt mining companies from lawsuits and from having to follow reasonable environmental standards. The bill even allows so-called “mitigation” to compensate for destroyed and/or contaminated land and water resources. “Mitigation” means that GTAC could fill in a wetland, stream or lake with toxic tailings and then “build” the facsimile of another wetland, stream or lake somewhere else in the state. Absurd? Or Evil?

For more information on this important issue, check out http://badriverwatershed.org/index.php/learn/potential-mine-information/rivers-a-streams.

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