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Bruce Springsteen’s Warning about Robber Barons, Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s GOP Senate Majority, and Exploitive Corporate Mining Projects That are Coming Soon to a Region Near You
Last week, on Feb 27, 2013, I listened to most of Wisconsin Public Radio’s (FM 91.3 in the Duluth area) day-long coverage of the Wisconsin Senate’s “debate” concerning GOP governor Scott Walker’s very first order of business for 2013, the sweet giveaway deal to an out-of-state mining company that has never operated a taconite mine before. That company wants permission from the state to do a single very risky mining project in the pristine Penokee Mountain Range of northern Wisconsin, right at the top of the headwaters of the Bad River flowage that empties into Lake Superior. One needs only to recall that Lake Superior contains 10 percent of the world’s diminishing fresh water supply to comprehend the seriousness of the situation.
The proposed Penokee Mountain mining project will be using Appalachian-style mountaintop removal technology (with toxic explosives) that will result in the largest—and probably ugliest—open pit mine in the U.S. It will also, with almost 100 percent certainly, lead to massive heavy metal and sulfide ore contamination of surface and ground water from the millions of tons of potentially toxic tailings, which will greatly harm adjacent lakes, streams, fish, game, and wild rice beds. If approved this time around, the reincarnated 2012 Republican mining legislation (also written by mining industry lobbyists), which failed last year, will result in a gutting of environmental safeguards and mining industry regulations for the entire state of Wisconsin, even involving known mineral deposits in some affluent areas just north of Madison.
The proposed giveaway legislation, labeled SB1 (Senate Bill One), reminded me of the powerful warning about “robber barons” from Bruce Springsteen’s latest socially conscious song “Death to My Hometown.” (See the lyrics at the end of this essay.)
But first let me explain the rationale behind the title above.
The hidden corporate agenda behind SB1
After the day-long Senate hearing of 2-27-13 was over, SB1 was speedily passed by the slimmest of margins, 17-16, on a straight party line vote. Most of those 17 Republicans, on the rare occasions when they actually spoke, had obviously been carefully pre-programmed to regurgitate a handful of carefully crafted talking points, including the usual pie in the sky slogans of “jobs, jobs, jobs,” “$60,000 salaries,” “trust us, we’re the experts”—essentially saying “screw the water,” “screw the environment,” “screw the locals,” “screw the fact that GTAC has never done taconite mining before,” and “screw the concerns of the Bad River Tribe.” Also unarticulated were the following realities that should have sunk the bill: 1) Many of the local properties and people will be permanently disappeared because of eminent domain and/or the various intolerable effects from this toxic industry, 2) Local water resources will be depleted or poisoned, 3) There will be a permanent loss of sustainable tourism and recreation, and 4) There will be many other unforeseen, probably permanently poisonous effects of the mining operation.
These seemingly deaf and dumb, anti-science Republican senators had to have been thoroughly indoctrinated by their paymasters. In each of the four hearings that I listened to, these obviously co-opted senators failed to show any decency by actually listening to reason or honestly responding to any of the concerns of the victims-to-be—which is what one would expect of civilized members of a true democracy.
So, robot-like, the 17 voted for every aspect of the bill that favored the power of Big Business (which is always plotting to weaken governmental regulatory powers over its operations). Those necessary regulatory powers are currently (and properly) in the hands of respected, science-oriented, governmental agencies such as the DNR, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the EPA, all of which are being threatened by the pro-corporate Republican mining legislation.
Wisconsin Republicans are helping Grover Norquist “drown our democratic government (and the rights of the people) in a bathtub”
Grover Norquist is the self-appointed millionaire CEO of the right-wing think tank Americans for Tax Reform. He once famously said that his long-term goal was to destroy our system of democracy by shrinking government down to such a small size (by underfunding and therefore starving programs of social uplift) that he could “drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Large majorities of Republican lawmakers in DC have signed a solemn pledge to Norquist to never support legislation that would raise taxes, no matter what.
It is instructive to note that all six members of Wisconsin’s GOP delegation to the 112th U.S. Congress were Norquist pledge-signers. They were Senator Ron Johnson (R) and House members Paul Ryan (R), Jim Sensenbrenner (R), Tom Petri (R), Sean Duffy (R), and Reid Ribble (R). It is likely that the 17 current GOP Wisconsin state senators are spiritual pledge-signers.
According to Politicus USA’s article “Norquist Pledge Signers Violate the Constitution and Must Be Removed from Office” (http://www.politicususa.com/norquist-pledge-signers-violate-constitution-removed-office.html), “Republican legislators who signed Norquist’s pledge violated the first provision of Article 1 Section 8 that says, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.”
Democracy should be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for supper
The 2-27-13 mining bill hearing turned out to be just another example of the GOP’s pro-corporate (and therefore anti-democracy) agendas related to the Big Business-controlled Roberts U.S. Supreme Court and its infamous Citizen’s United decision of 2010. That 5-4 decision granted personhood to corporations, which guaranteed the escalating corruption of U.S. elections (and every corporate-controlled politician) with massive, anonymous financial corporate bribes that mainly benefitted conservative politicians and right-wing think tanks.
Corporations, it must be remembered, have always preferred to conduct business in slave states, police states, and military/fascist dictatorships where coerced workers (often in below livable wage or even sweat shop situations) have no right to protest. Since the Citizens United decision, corporate money has been stinking up U.S. elections. The multibillionaire Koch Brothers’ agenda in Wisconsin is counting on their well-subsidized, wholly owned subsidiary, Scott Walker and Company, to implement it.
Economically powerful, such secretive special interest groups, with lots of help from the corporate-controlled media, easily overwhelm the politically weak and economically powerless with their anti-democracy agendas—never mind the fact that (especially in the case of the current mining bill) large majorities of citizens are opposed to those agendas! Who cares what you think, Wisconsin?
This sad episode reminds me of the bit of wisdom that used to be inscribed on the coffee cups at my neighborhood restaurant in Duluth (the Chester Creek Café). The inscription read, “Democracy should be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for supper.” It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out who are the wolves in the Wisconsin (or Minnesota or Appalachia, for that matter) mining issue.
Who are GTAC, the Koch Brothers, and ALEC?
Walker and the other GOP lapdogs are increasingly beholden to their Big Business sugar daddies. The most obvious group is GTAC (short for Gogebic Taconite LLC), the major identifiable beneficiary of the giveaway SB1. Two of the others include the out-of-state multibillionaire campaign donor/investors (Koch Industries) and the shadowy American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), both of which have repeatedly tried to drown democracy. Progressive voices are justifiably suspicious of the agendas of all these groups.
(Note: GTAC is the paper subsidiary of a Florida mining company whose corporate lawyers essentially wrote both the 2011 Wisconsin mining bill and the current 2013 bill that was hastily introduced—as the Wisconsin Senate’s first order of business early in January—by freshman GOP Senator Tom Tiffany. For more background information about the anti-democracy designs of ALEC and the Koch Brothers, check out the following three websites: 1) http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed, 2) the expose of the Koch Brother’s empire at http://undergrounddocumentaries.com/the-koch-brothers-exposed-full-version/ and 3) the connections between the Koch Brothers and ALEC at http://www.thenation.com/article/161973/koch-connection.)
The current crop of GOP legislators obviously has had only disdain for the sovereignty of the Bad River Band of Chippewa, a culture that has for centuries depended on the purity of the Bad River flowage and its life-sustaining resources, resources that are now being threatened by corporate elites who cannot be trusted to be concerned about the long-term consequences of their actions.
All the testimony that I heard on WPR’s coverage of the four hearings convinced me that the proposed open-pit mine in northern Wisconsin will very negatively affect the state long-term. I was outraged enough by what I heard from the many potential victims who testified that I wrote an essay about my understanding of the situation. That article, “Who Cares What You Think Wisconsin,” was published in the Feb 14th issue of the Duluth Reader. It can be accessed at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2013/02/16/1449_who_cares_what_you_think_wisconsin
My concluding paragraph said:
“Unbiased experts who have had a chance to read the 250 page Senate Bill 1 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’ a facsimile of another wetland, stream or lake somewhere else in the state. Absurd? Or Evil?”
The current batch of Wisconsin Republican legislators are neither the friends of the earth nor friends of the people
Last week’s hearing reminded me again of the hardened attitudes of Governor Walker’s Senate accomplices, the obviously bought-off, blindly pro-corporate Republican senators who again rudely ignored the testimony of concerned citizens, forward-looking legislators, and unbiased scientists and then steamrolled over the minority party members of the Senate with their unbreakable 17 member voting bloc.
The whole process was reminiscent of how the collective bargaining rights of the Wisconsin teachers’ unions were callously shredded two years ago in Madison. At the time of that historic teachers’ revolt, most fair-minded people were inspired by the Democratic senators who thrust a stick into the spoke of corporate tyranny by temporarily denying Walker a quorum (by moving to undisclosed locations out of state).
And now, whistleblower Democratic senators from Wisconsin, exemplified by the articulate, knowledgeable, and passionate “Fighting Bob” Jauch, are again doing their democratic duty by defending the “real” people of Wisconsin—rather than following the examples of their GOP colleagues by obediently submitting to their future oppressors: the corporations and the wealthy elite.
Conscienceless corporate exploiters like the Koch Brothers, GTAC, and other yet-to-be-revealed mining companies are salivating at the prospect of being able to ruthlessly extract Wisconsin’s natural resources for their own private gain, with no oversight from regulatory bodies. I say, shame on them.
Admittedly, the hearings of 2-27-13 were at times inspiring because of the passionate appeals to logic and to scientific principles by the Democratic senators who are opposing the bill. It is becoming increasingly apparent that these Democrats are the only real political friends that the average human (and the environment) still has in Wisconsin. Encouragingly, Wisconsin’s progressive Democratic Party legislators seem to have evolved into courageous stewards of Wisconsin’s natural resources and defenders of the rights of man.
“Fighting Bob” vs. “Tail-gunner Joe”
The legacy of Wisconsin’s Bob LaFollette comes to mind. One hopes that the “Fighting Bob” spirit is rising again in Wisconsin. The state really needs it now. That spirit certainly seemed operative during the 2011 teachers’ union resistance efforts and the recall efforts of 2012. Hopefully it is not too late to fight back against tyranny.
Sadly, right now the shameful spirit of the far-right-wing Wisconsinite “Tail-gunner Joe” McCarthy seems to be in the ascendency, albeit with a more friendly-faced visage.
I guess the anti-democracy spirit of McCarthyism never really died off in Wisconsin. Tail-gunner Joe’s style of fascism closely resembled the politics of Joseph Goebbels (he of the pro-corporate Nazi Party’s Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment), who once made a comment—when even he was certain that Nazi Germany was done for—that the spirit of Hitler would someday rise again in the Allied victors. Perhaps Goebbels knew what he was talking about.
One only needs to honestly look at the politics of the McCarthyism of the 1950s to see that it exhibited most, if not all, of the traits of classical European fascism. Ever since the U.S. voted in a black president, there has been a radical shift to the (racist) right in the Republican Party, led by leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and assorted other southern politicians who never could totally reject the legacies of their slave-holding ancestors. Their Confederate flag-waving constituents still believe that the South will rise again to have a rematch of the Civil War. And so the GOP is again showing itself to be as virulently anti-leftist, anti-socialist, anti-democratic, anti-feminist, racist, xenophobic, militaristic, and as pro-war as were Mussolini, Hitler, Hirohito, Franco, Goebbels, and McCarthy. Like they say about ducks: if it looks like a fascist, quacks like a fascist, waddles like a fascist, and acts like a fascist, it’s a fascist.
So the claim that the spirit of McCarthy may still be prevalent in America (and Wisconsin) is a reasonable one. (One only has to look at the politics of GOP spiritual leaders like Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Fox News, and most of the far-right-wing GOP leadership that mercilessly purged their moderate colleagues into oblivion when the non-white Obama [the horror!] became president.)
The Wisconsin Republican Party’s typical response to the mining bill testimony: “See no Truth, Hear no Truth, Speak no Truth”
The Senate mining bill hearings were, in the end, extremely disappointing for progressives because of the blindly negative votes of the Senate majority despite the powerful testimony that would have demanded adoption by any fair-minded human. Instead, “See no Truth, Hear no Truth, Speak no Truth” was the consistent monkey-like response from the conservatives. Much of the time, none of the Republican senators were even civil enough to remain in the hearing room to listen to the testimony of their colleagues. They must not have been very far away from the Senate chambers, because all 17 of them magically appeared in time to cast their obligatory “no” votes to “table” (and therefore defeat) each and every rational, science-based amendment proposed by the Democrats.
This disastrous legislation has serious consequences for many of the towns of northern Wisconsin. What happens to sheep when they get out-voted by wolves is the theme of the Springsteen song mentioned above. Here are the lyrics.
“Death To My Hometown”
By Bruce Springsteen
Video available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsjjE8jXDts.
No cannonballs did fly
No rifles cut us down
No bombs fell from the sky
No blood soaked the ground
No powder flash blinded the eye
No deafening thunder sounded
But just as sure as the hand of god
They brought death to my hometown
They brought death to my hometown
No shells ripped the evening sky
No cities burning down
No armies stormed the shores (for which we’d die)
No dictators were crowned
High off on a quiet night
I never heard a sound
The marauders raided in the dark
and brought death to my hometown, boys
Death to my hometown
They destroyed our families’ factories
and they took our homes
They left our bodies on the plains
The vultures picked our bones
So listen up, my Sonny boy
Be ready for when they come
For they’ll be returning
Sure as the rising sun
Now get yourself a song to sing
And sing it ’til you’re done
Yeah, sing it hard and sing it well
Send the robber barons straight to hell
The greedy thieves that came around
And ate the flesh of everything they’ve found
Whose crimes have gone unpunished now Walk the streets as free men now
And they brought death to our hometown, boys
Death to our hometown, boys
Death to our hometown, boys
Death to our hometown
Dr. Kohls is a recently retired family practice physician who practiced holistic mental healthcare. He has expertise in the long-term adverse neurological (and therefore “mental”) effects of neurotoxic chemicals, including psychotropic drugs, industrial pollutants, solvents, and synthetic food additives. He is also aware of the toxicity of industrial chemicals on the external environment. He has been a peace and justice advocate for most of his medical career. Dr. Kohls writes a weekly column (Duty to Warn) for Duluth’s alternative newsweekly (the Reader Weekly). The last year’s columns can be accessed at http://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn.
For more information on the mining issue, soon to be voted on in the GOP-dominated Wisconsin State Assembly, check out http://badriverwatershed.org/index.php/learn/potential-mine-information/rivers-a-streams.