Imagine if the Chicago Bears proposed to gauge Lambeau Field from end zone to end zone 30 yards wide and 50 deep, with lots of littered blue-and-orange insignia to go around. How well do you think that would go over? Or better yet, the Vikings, up to and including all the connotations of sacking cities (not quarterbacks) and looting. Or what if Mexico just said, You know what? You have completely desecrated Texas, so we’re taking it back. To hell with your Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and your pugilistic James K Polk! So it is peculiar that one matter strangely absent in the debate and debacle of the proposed Gogebic mine in northern Wisconsin is the apparently bypassed sovereign nation status of the Bad River Tribe of Ashland and Iron Counties, recognized by the federal government of the United States of America, if not by Governor Walker or the Republicans in the State Legislature. Perhaps they can make it up to the tribe by renaming a school mascot — say from the “Fighting Chiefs” to the “Corporate Whores.” At least the Raiders, the Plunderers, because all it comes down to is landscape piracy and ecological racism. Hut hut, hike!
The contentious issue of the proposed mine in the Penokee Range (aka AB 426) has been bandied about for nearly a year now, and there is little I can add that is not already widely known. Here’s a quick primer though, let’s call it “Mining for Minions, 101.”
1) A company from Florida wants to mine for iron in an area of Wisconsin that sits on the watershed of the Bad River Tribe of Ojibwa Indians. The company is called Gogebic Taconite (or GTAC), which is a subsidiary of Foresight Reserves, a privately held company owned by billionaire coal magnate Chris Cline (who believes climate change is caused by sunspots) which is a portfolio company currently held by the ultraconservative Carlyle Group, a global asset management firm in D.C. (that happens also to be the third largest private equity firm on the planet) that has sullied its hands with everything from Department of Defense contracts, privatized nursing homes in California, state pension funds in New York, mortgage-backed securities in the sub-prime nightmare, and toxic sewage sludge; whose companies range from Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins to Hertz car rental; and whose alum including such luminaries as Secretary of State James Baker, President George H. W. Bush, and Prime Minister John Major. This is not without mention since GTAC itself fails to mention any of it: http://gogebictaconite.com/about_gtac.html
(Am I alone remarking that the best graphic this lucrative LLC could come up with is what looks to be like Cocoa Puffs or rabbit turds?)
2) The pit GTAC has lobbied hard for would be the largest in the history of Wisconsin: 4 1/2 miles long, 1/3 mile wide and 900 feet deep. It would be like Rib Mountain in reverse. Though to be clear, this is just Phase 1; the endgame would be a 22-mile long strip of open-pit mining along the Penokee-Gogebic Range — one of the oldest mountain chains on planet Earth that in their prime rivaled the Alps — that after 35 years is calculated to result in the shipping of more than 25 percent the total amount or iron ore mined in the entire Penokee-Gogebic Range from 1880 to 1966. Abracadabra: from a tapestry of rolling hills rich with history to an industrialized mega gauge rollicking with heavy machinery and truck traffic, open pits like sick sarcoma cells, and eye-sore piles of waste rock hundreds of feet high in what can only be called an environmental sarcophagus.
3) The proposed mine would sit atop the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Copper Falls State Park, the Bad River Reservation, and into the Bad River Slough — which together with the Kakagon Slough is the largest intact freshwater slough in the world and is home to over 70 rare species of plants and animals not to mention a complex system of wild rice beds that have been integral to the Ojibwe culture for centuries. The pollutant effects of the mine would threaten this 700,000-acre watershed, to say nothing of the way of life for a people who have been here since way before wee Chris Columbus was a wink in his mother’s eye.
If you would like more information about why this would be a terrible idea, please see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (which is probably the most objective and thoroughly thought out of everything I have come across so far), just to scratch at the surface, so to speak. Or from another angle:
But all that has been unearthed already. (Alright, no more bad puns.) What I am interested in, and find baffling, is how little press has been given towards the issue of sovereign nation rights (or the direct consequences of environmental racism). Like so many matters in the media, this entire fol-de-rol has been framed around a bland diatribe of either you’re pro-environment or pro-jobs. (Like these things are mutually exclusive, besides. We can’t create jobs with 21st Century technology without wreaking havoc onto the landscape?!?) Even Huffington Post has toed the line by repeating the sophistry that lawmakers and conservationists are at loggerheads over balancing business interests and preserving the environment. Thus caught in the crossfire of a false dichotomy, the entire point is singularly missed, which is that federal law trumps state law. Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution states that “Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” Congress. Not the Republican-controlled State Legislature of Wisconsin, not Scott Walker, not GTAC, not ALEC. But Congress. And the Bad River Tribe is such a recognized entity.
The Republicans in Madison are acting as though boundaries or precedents simply do not apply. Like a couple kids “camping out” in a tent in their parents’ backyard pretending they are free pioneers outside of whose experience and curiosity nothing else exists, Wisconsin Republicans are behaving as though there is no such thing as tribal agreements or that they are independent of federal law. They aren’t, and AB 426 has no legal authority. The media is complicit in failing to portray this issue as one of legal sovereignty. “A new level of arrogance and ignorance” is how the attorney for Bad River Tribe, Glenn Stoddard, summed the State Legislature’s fast-tracked approach to this bill, and he is right. I would add that its presumptuousness is both bombastic and appalling. Again, imagine this whole scenario if the roles were reversed; and count the milliseconds it would take for the White Men to become berserk insurgents. Especially now with concealed carry.
What is perhaps (and I use that loosely) most insolent is that the Tribe was never consulted in the first place. Operating apparently under the philosophy of “Let’s not, but say we did,” this should not be so surprising when no one could even shed light on the author of Assembly Bill 426 in the first place. Or that it was all done behind closed doors and the public knew something screwy was happening, and the GOP had to have known that the public knew this (not to mention their Democratic colleagues), and still it was all kept cloak-and-dagger for months on end. Not only that, but why was it expedited so quickly? What exactly is wrong with the state’s current mining application process? The iron in the range has been there for, oh, about a billion years, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon. And are there other mining companies knocking on Walker’s door with a quick poke-through wondering if we’re still open for business? So why has Wisconsin allowed a mining company from Florida to wag the dog? (Here’s a hint: think new mascot name.)
For a thoughtful discussion on this matter, please see here and click on the television icon to play the video.
A couple last points. Remember back in history class when we learned of big business or the industries having their way with legislation and ruining the landscape in the hot pursuit of fleeting profit? Those days ain’t over, not by a long shot. We like to clap ourselves on the back as having evolved, learned lessons and grown wiser, but this is the same old shit as ever before — and exploited probably in the same way: we need jobs. Either you care about families in need who live in area of high unemployment or you want to hug trees and fish for trout. People don’t just move to a rural area because there’s no work. There used to be work, and then the factory or the mill went away, which is what GTAC will do in the end. So it’s rather sickeningly disingenuous to hear the pro-family values/ pro-business Republican Party use out-of-work and desperate people as hijacked pawns in a game of corporate greed. And much as the Republicans, ever fond of nostalgia, like to point out that there is a miner on the state seal —
— let’s be neither delusional nor naive about local guys and gals up in Hurley and Melon, WI, swinging pick-axes with cute little spelunking helmets and headlamps. Those days are over. Required to operate such a mine are high-skilled tech jobs for which GTAC will undoubtedly bring in its own retinue of workers. Maybe, just maybe the locals could get a gig shoveling sulfuric acid from the pits, if they’re lucky. Or eat those rabbit turds.
While we’re harkening back to our past, might I point out that the original seal for the Wisconsin Territory was this:
You don’t need to be a classics scholar to translate that the Latin motto means “Civilization succeeds barbarism.” Isn’t that a bit harsh? Isn’t that, in essence, what is still being implied? Who the hell cares about your wild rice? There are [white] families who need jobs, damn it! Get out of the way of progress already!
Those are family values, remember. Not this:
For my money I would pay top dollar to witness the hysterical hue and cry that would occur if so vaunted a landscape as say Whistling Straits, the posh pro-level golf course in Sheboygan, WI, were subject to a ferrous mining excavation. If for no other reason, it would be nice to hear Republicans talk about protecting the environment. And yet, while one is mere leisure (that only the wealthiest amongst us can afford in the first place) and the other critical habitat and sacred heritage far beyond the callous comparison for the sake of argument, I think that at least entertaining the thought experiment of putting the Penokee Hills and Whistling Straits side by side illustrates the critical cultural distinctions.
I’d like to ask “when will we ever learn?” But I have my doubts. All the same, if you wish to voice your opposition to this — and I do encourage you to — kindly click here if you have not already. Or if you would like to thank state Senator Dale Schultz, the only independent-minded Republican quite possibly in the entire State Legislature, for adamantly opposing AB 426 (but forging a compromise/ bipartisan bill with state Senator Bob Jauch that was summarily dismissed by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald), you can send him a high-five at Sen.Schultz@legis.wi.gov. (By the way, if the Democrats had not flipped two seats in the state Senate last year, this mining bill would have passed. So while the entire chamber did not switch — yet — the tireless actions last spring and summer culminating in two successful recalls are showing their full effect, thank you very much.) Either way, I strongly encourage you to watch this clip; it’s a rare thing to hear a Republican speak so democratically. (And if you’re feeling curious about the recent “tour de up nort” that Senator Schultz refers to, you can see a summary of it here. If nothing else, it’s yet another rarity to see public officials acting like real people amongst real people, and not suits behind closed doors with briefcased lobbyists.)
The good news is that the bill as originally written and proposed will not pass in all likelihood. And even if it were to, it would be challenged and all but certainly struck down in federal court. But in the meantime my mind keeps coming back to this:
No, we can only worship it. Unless The Carlisle Group is tinkering with a patent for edible dollars… In that case, maybe we are what we eat. Either way, they’re full of shit. More copraphagic Coca Puffs please!
Foresight Reserves LP