Mining Bill will be voted on in Committee February 6

This afternoon Wisconsin State Senator Tom Tiffany and Rep. Mary Williams announced an Executive Session in both Senate and Assembly Committees taking up SB/AB1 (The Mining Bill).

The Assembly Committee will take up The Mining Bill in Executive Session:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
10:00 AM
417 North (GAR Hall)

The Senate Committee will take up the Mining Bill the same day:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
10:00 AM
201 Southeast

The Executive Session will occur three days prior to the hearing scheduled in Ashland by Senator Bob Jauch and Rep Janet Bewley, who serve constituents that would be directly impacted by a Taconite mine in the Penokee Range. That hearing is scheduled for Saturday, February 9 at the AmericInn in Ashland.

No “official” hearing is scheduled in the region, and based on the scheduled Committee hearings and likely vote to message to the full legislative bodies, the current mining bill appears to be fast tracked in spite of significant technical and legal issues with the bill as written.

A representative in Mary Williams’ office confirmed to Badger Democracy this afternoon that the bill would be voted on to refer out of committee on February 6.

The hidden danger in the Mining Bill version 2013

Tomorrow, Wednesday January 23 at 9:00 AM, Room 411 South at the Wisconsin State Capitol will be the only scheduled hearing  (for now) on the new Mining Bill.  The hearing takes place before a joint committee, and will undoubtedly be contentious. One of the greatest miscarriages of justice in this process has been the omission of participation, and lack of  recognition of the Bad River Nation and the impact on this legally sovereign entity.

This is intentional, as there is a hidden danger in the new Mining Bill which has received little attention in the press. The result, if this bill is passed, will be a bad law – which is what happens when corporate influence holds outsized sway over a legislative body. The only jobs that will be created if this bill passes will be for attorneys, and rightly so. The current bill has language that will virtually deregulate one of the greatest hazards to freshwater and the Great Lakes – sulfide ore. The passage of this bill could lead to mining activity that would turn surface water into acidic runoff, ruining the environment in one of the greatest freshwater basins on earth.

Senate/Assembly Bill 1, page 3 contains the Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis of the change in “sulfide ore” regulation:

Current law prohibits DNR from issuing a permit for metallic mining in a sulfide ore body (a mineral deposit in which metals are mixed with sulfide minerals) unless it finds, based on information provided by the applicant, that two conditions are satisfiedUnder the bill, these conditions on issuing a permit for metallic mining in a sulfide ore body do not apply to issuing a permit for iron mining.

The expedited release of sulfide ore deposits into surface water, and the damage it causes has been well documented over several decades:

The acidic discharge and metal-laden leachate from mining activities is known as acid mine drainage (“AMD”)…AMD is one of the most damaging and widespread pollutants associated with the mining industry throughout the world.  As of 1997, over 60 mines or mineral processing plants were on CERCLA’s National Priorities List, indicating contamination so severe that it requires federally-funded cleanup. (S.R. Jennings, D.R. Neuman, and P.S. Blicker (2008). “Acid Mine Drainage and Effects on Fish Health and Ecology: A Review”. Reclamation Research Group Publication, Bozeman, MT for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anhorage Field Office. Available online at http://www.pebblescience.org/pdfs/Final_Lit_Review_AMD.pdf)

Among some legislators associated with this bill, there is confusion regarding iron ore mining and sulfides. This confusion has been propagated by GTAC, in the hopes of keeping the facts (and legislators) in the dark. Part of the confusion is based on facts regarding iron ore mining:

It is important at the outset to clarify some common confusion surrounding sulfide mining and to distinguish it from other traditional forms of mining in the region. While iron mining has a long history and still continues in the upper Midwest, it does not involve the mining
or disturbance of sulfide ores. Iron is generally mined out of an iron oxide ore, not an iron sulfide ore, and iron oxide ores do not degrade and toxify the same way that sulfide ores do. (Environmental Protection Agency, Region 5, “Great Lakes: Basic Information.” http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/basicinfo.html)

The Penokee Range Taconite is unique, however. A report issued by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and scientists at Michigan Tech in March, 2012 draws the distinction:

This issue can be confusing because iron sulfides (e.g., pyrite, iron disulfide) are among the most prevalent of sulfide ores, so they are often the leading causes of acid mine drainage (“AMD”) in a sulfide mining operation. This does not, however, mean that iron mines are always associated with sulfurous AMD. In fact, the presence of sulfur in an iron ore is considered a weakening factor, rendering the ore undesirable for iron extraction. Iron sulfides are simply a common byproduct of the extraction of other metals from sulfide ore bodies. 

A taconite mine that disturbs sulfide ore bodies, on the other hand, would present the same hazards as non-ferrous metallic mines. The Gogebic Taconite mine under development in northern Wisconsin is an example of a taconite mine that may disturb sulfide minerals.

A recent article published by The Wisconsin Academy titled “Ironwood: The Rocks of the Penokee Range” confirms and details the unique geological features of the formation:

Figure 2. Block diagram showing the Ironwood Formation and adjacent bedrock layers. The view is looking toward the west (from U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1730)

Geologist Tom Fitz details the composition of the “Tyler Formation;” the large, wedge-shaped layer above the “Iron-Formation” layer (see figure, above).

There is also pyrite present in the Tyler Formation, some of which would end up in the tailings as well. When pulverized and put in contact with oxygen and water at the Earth’s surface, pyrite and other sulfide minerals can undergo chemical reactions that create sulfuric acid. This acid can leach harmful metals and compounds that end up in groundwater and surface water.

It is also possible that sulfate ions released during the weathering of pyrite would affect the growth of wild rice and other elements of the sensitive ecosystem found downstream from the mine. 

 The legislation passed in January 2012 by the Wisconsin State Assembly would have decreased the rigor required in scientific studies regarding potential impacts, making assessment of potential damages difficult. At the same time it would weaken many environmental regulations that protect the Bad River and its tributaries from significant water quality changes.

THAT is the hidden danger in the current Mining Bill. The authors have created a special exception for Iron Mining, taking away the regulations and processes that will protect the surface water and Lake Superior watershed from the harmful sulfides created from extracting iron ore through a heavily pyrite layer. The waste runoff created from destruction and disposal of the sulfide ore will have a longterm impact on regional water quality:

Figure 4. Map of the Bad River Watershed showing the location of the iron ore and the Bad River Reservation

The major corporate entities poised to benefit from the bill have intentionally perpetrated a fraud in this bill, and it endangers the very lifeblood of North Central Wisconsin – the water. The reason? They cannot mine the ore because of the low price of iron, and make millions of dollars in profit unless they are able to pollute the water – and they know it. THAT is why they created this provision in the bill. From the NWF Mining Study cited above:

Wisconsin’s sulfide mining law has perhaps the greatest regulatory scope of any of the
U.S. jurisdictions surveyed…Notably, state agencies are charged with the essential task of completing the environmental review for the project in the application phase, rather than the permittee. Special attention is paid to siting criteria and water quality, and the financial assurance mechanisms are written to ensure that any necessary cleanup will be fully funded by the permittee.

If you wanted to make a quick, multi-million dollar deal on a mine, this is how you would do it.

For the record, this has NOTHING to do with creating jobs. It’s about creating a “boom” economy in North Central Wisconsin, so a few people can make a quick buck.

Who cleans up when the bubble bursts, as it always does?

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and “Conscious Capitalism” – putting lipstick on a pig

John Mackey is the co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, its founder, and a self-proclaimed independent libertarian. Mackey has also recently authored a book, “Conscious Capitalism.” While he speaks in platitudes about corporations acting as conscientious citizens of the world, Mackey’s actions as CEO of a major corporation betray his real motivation.

Mackey was forced to back pedal from his comments on the Patient Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”):

Technically speaking, it’s more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn’t own the means of production, but they do control it — and that’s what’s happening with our health care programs and these reforms.

Mackey is dead wrong on the government-corporate relationship under fascism. Italian historian and fascism authority Emilio Gentile gives the authoritative description:

Corporative organization of the economy that suppresses trade union liberty, broadens the sphere of state intervention, and seeks to achieve, by principles of technocracy and solidarity, the collaboration of the ‘productive sectors’ under control of the regime, to achieve its goals of power, yet preserving private property and class divisions. (Payne, Stanley G (A History of Fascism, 1914-1945). University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 5–6)

More importantly, it is time to call Mackey’s vision of capitalism (and Whole Foods Market) what it is, and this writer does not use this term loosely. “Corporate fascism” is an accurate and apt description of the Mackey philosophy. Consider Gentile’s definition. above, in light of Mackey’s actions and writings.

Mackey is a staunch proponent of a corporate-centric economy, with no government or regulatory intervention. Both Whole Foods Market and Mackey are anti-union, anti-worker’s rights. The Mackey philosophy would see a collaborative corporate control over the means of production, to achieve its own goals of power through corporate solidarity (WMC, US Chamber of Commerce, etc.). Preservation of private property and class division are a necessity for the Mackey vision, as there can be no cheap labor production without class division. Ironically, Mackey is a proponent of the expansion of state intervention, as long as it is on behalf of corporate welfare expansion. There is plenty of proof to support this assertion…

On November 16, 2011, Mackey penned an op-ed by invitation in the Wall Street Journal, titled “To Increase Jobs, Increase Economic Freedom.”  In a response to Mackey’s article written on February 1, 2012, Badger Democracy addressed the fundamental arguments in the op-ed:

1. Cut the size and cost of government - 100 years ago, government spending was 8% of GDP; today it is 40% of GDP. This additional money spent by the government could be used to “create jobs.”

2. Cuts should be made in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Defense – many of these services could be privatized, using the “success” of Chile and Singapore as models.

3. Stimulate the economy by cutting taxes and regulations - Mackey explains that cutting taxes would “increase revenue… as entrepreneurs create new businesses and new jobs and as people earn more money.”

In his own op-ed, Mackey supports further provisions which would continue the US economy down a dangerous path. Greater corporate consolidation of power, greater consolidation of wealth, greater class inequity, and greater corporate influence on policy which would regulate said power.

The dagger in Mackey’s theory is a recent report in the conservative-leaning Financial Times, also reported in the New York Times. The article cites a steady decline in earned wages and a steady rise in investor income through profit and interest:

“58%…is the share of US national income that goes to workers as wages rather than to investors as profits and interest. It has fallen to its lowest level since records began after the second world war and is part of the reason why incomes at the top – which tend to be earned from capital – have risen so much. If wages were at their postwar average share of 63 per cent, workers would earn an extra $740 billion this year, about $5,000 per worker, according to FT calculations.”

More power and wealth for the corporate fascists, with less taxes and accountability means more money to influence and drive politics and policy:

 

Corporate Taxes Paid by US Corporations, 1950-2010

(Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis analysis)

Corporate income tax graph

 

Cheap labor production is possible due to the expansion of the wealth gap and class disparities:

 

 

John Mackey’s Whole Foods Market has also forced employees to “vote” to cut their own wages and benefits. Wages have been cut due to reduction in hours, and employees will be forced to contribute more in spite of enormous corporate growth:

In 2007, WFM profits (after taxes and expenses) totaled $182.7 million. Four years later, in 2011, profits totaled $342.6 million – nearly double in 4 years.  For the first sixteen weeks of 2011, total profits were $88.7 million; for the same period in 2012, profits totaled $118.3 million. Store expenses have decreased by 38 points in 2011, including 28 points due to wage cuts. In real numbers, most stores have executed 3% cuts in labor over the past fiscal year, resulting in most employees seeing a 5-8% cut in wages (due to hours being cut).

Of course, Mackey built Whole Foods with his own two hands, with no government help (sarcasm)…therefore, government should stay out of his business. This is the great lie of corporate fascism. Mackey and his ilk want the government to work for them. The doctrine of so-called “corporate conscious” follows in the words of Gentile:

…broadens the sphere of state intervention, and seeks to achieve, by principles of technocracy and solidarity, the collaboration of the ‘productive sectors’ under control of the regime, to achieve its goals of power.

The corporate fascists would have us believe the great lie of their own self-determination and success, that personal strength and sacrifice alone built their empires. Mackey is as guilty of this as any of them. Whole Foods is a prolific recipient of government intervention and welfare on its own behalf.

In 2011, an $8 million tax break for a new Washington DC Whole Foods development raised questions of return on public investment and why public money was even needed:

And why does this project require a special subsidy to move forward in the first place?  This Whole Foods already would qualify for a set of tax incentives for grocery store development, including a 10–year property tax break on the store itself.  Moreover, while some projects near Nationals Park have languished in the recession, this area is likely to be part of the emerging rebound, thanks in part to prior public investment by the District.  Finally, if a Whole Foods will revitalize this neighborhood as it did in Logan Circle, why won’t private market interests step up to make it happen?

In the same year, Whole Foods received $4.2 million in tax subsidies to open a Detroit area store, uncovered only by FOIA requests:

The documents, obtained by the Chaldean News under the Freedom of Information Act and provided toCrain’s, show that Whole Foods is asking for $4.2 million in city, state and federal incentives to open a store in downtown Detroit.

According to the exchanges, the 21,000-square-foot project is expected to get $1.5 million in local and community foundation funds, $1.2 million in federal tax credits under the New Market program and $1.5 million in state incentives.

Michael Sarafa, president of the Bank of Michigan and co-publisher of The Chaldean News, questions the use of incentives to lure a national grocery chain to Detroit. He said there are 83 independently-owned grocers in the city, many of them owned by Chaldeans, who did not receive incentives.

 

Controversial “TIF” funds are being used for construction of a Whole Foods-anchored development in St. Louis, hardly in a blighted area.

The new Whole Foods development in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago is being partially funded by an $11.3 million “TIF” in an already well-developed area.

Mackey is now on the record confirming that Whole Foods will begin eliminating full-time employees as a result of “Obamacare” being fully enacted. This in an interview with Greta Van Susteren:

…there will be a strong temptation for businesses to keep people under 30 hours, so they don’t have to provide health care. And you will have a lot of part-time workers and fewer full-time workers, a lot of people underemployed.

Whole Foods prided itself, we’ve always had a higher mix of full-time to part-time workers like 80 percent full-time and 20 percent part-time, which is very rare in retail. But as I suspect as our health care costs are driven up by health care reforms then we’ll end up gradually lower our full-time ratio to a much lower number.

There is no fiscal truth to this statement. As proven in Whole Foods’ own financial statements and a previous Badger Democracy blog, the company’s health care costs per employee are actually lower than they were before “Obamacare’s” passage. The reason for Whole Foods’ higher total costs is simple – the company is growing. With government and public help.

It is time to take the lipstick off the pig. The philosophy of John Mackey should be called what it is. Corporate freedom, rights, and independence over all – even the individual. No worker’s rights, no government regulation or intervention EXCEPT on behalf of the corporation and its own interests. In short…corporate fascism.

And Mackey calling “Obamacare” fascism? Pure projection.

 

Supreme Court Denies Van Hollen petition on Voter ID

In considering Wisconsin State Attorney General JB Van Hollen’s November 7, 2012 petition to bypass the Court of Appeals and consolidate the two Voter ID cases (League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, Inc, et al. v. Scott Walker, et al.,and Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP, et al. v. Scott Walker, et al.), the state’s high court denied the petition on both counts.

In the decision published this afternoon, the Court again refused to take up Voter ID, pending the Court of Appeals hearing, and also refused to consolidate the two cases.

This represents the second refusal of the State Supreme Court to take up Voter ID ahead of the Court of Appeals. On September 27, 2012, the Court denied another similar Van Hollen request, citing the motion as being “premature.”

Van Hollen has made enactment of Voter ID a centerpiece of his term as Attorney General, in spite of the staggeringly low occurrence of voter fraud in previous elections.

Why is Paul Ryan still considered a “serious” person…when he suffers from DCFS?

After a brief hiatus, Badger Democracy is back. We’ll get to Paul Ryan and deficit hawks in a moment, but first, some announcements.

Thanks to all followers of Badger Democracy for your comments and participation in 2012. 2013 will be a critical policy year in Wisconsin, so continue to stay informed and engaged in the democratic process. To that end, Badger Democracy will focus on media coverage of political events in Wisconsin, and look to fill the void, offering media criticism when and where appropriate.

Next, Congratulations and welcome back to Sly! There will again be a little balance on political talk radio in the state. Sly is taking over afternoon drive time with a three state on-air reach (Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa), and worldwide on the web. Starting February 4th, Sly will be heard from 3 – 6:30pm, Monday – Friday on 93.7 WEKZ-FM. Updates and archived segments will be available on the revamped “Sly’s Office.” Watch out Rahm and Pat Quinn, Sly can now be heard in Illinois…

Now, for Mr. Ryan. Congressman Ryan rejoined the ranks of “serious people” on Sunday, joining Greg Neumann on Capitol City Sunday. The Congressman from the 1st District of Wisconsin continued his litany of deficit reduction being of greatest importance to the fiscal health of the nation. Unfortunately for Mr. Ryan, he is suffering from DCFS – Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome.

The President got his tax increase.  That pays for about five percent of the deficit, (and) spending is the ultimate part of the problem here that we have to deal with.  The President has been trying to hide, or stay away from a conversation about spending.  We gotta deal with spending.

I want to do this in a responsible way, but I do not want to let an opportunity slip by to get a control on spending, which we so desperately need if we’re going to prevent a debt crisis.

Classic DCFS (Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome). If using serious language is the new standard for being taken seriously, our nation is in serious trouble. The media in Wisconsin needs to read the memo from real economists, and see through the talking points. The deficit is not our biggest problem. Chronic, long term unemployment is our biggest problem. What the new breed of conservatives refuse to acknowledge is that by creating real, family-supporting jobs and an increase in revenue, our deficit problem will be solved.

Brad DeLong illustrates the point rather nicely today.

…policies to reduce the deficit in the short run–before 2016, say–are highly, highly likely to actually increase the long-run burden of the national debt. Even making the unlikely assumption that deficit reduction in the near future would reduce rather than increase the long-run burden of the debt, the fact is that the debt-to-GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio is now stable until at least 2020. A lower debt-to-GDP ratio would be a good thing in the long run, but there is absolutely no urgency. And there is enormous urgency in getting the economy moving again. (emphasis added)

“Moving again…”- as in investment to create those illusive, family-supporting jobs that pay more than $15/hour. The truth about the deficit is, that with the current growth of the economy (as slow as it is) and recent revenue measures, the debt-to-GDP ratio is already beginning to stabilize. Paul Krugman posted the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities graph last Thursday:

Image

 

The vertical line represents the projected debt as a percentage of GDP. Each colored line projection represents a different scenario affecting the deficit. Krugman breaks down the analysis:

The blue line at the top represents the projected path of that ratio as of early 2011 — that is, before recent agreements on spending cuts and tax increases. This projection showed a rising path for debt as far as the eye could see.

Conservatives are framing the discussion as if that dark blue line represents the current fiscal reality, because it re-enforces DCFS (Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome)…but that is not the truth of the situation. Krugman continues:

The orange line shows the effects of those spending cuts and tax hikes (Budget Control Act 2011, American Taxpayer Relief Act 2013): As long as the economy recovers, which is an assumption built into all these projections, the debt ratio will more or less stabilize soon.

“The debt ratio will stabilize soon.” The CBPP advocates for an additional $1.4 trillion in combined revenue and spending cuts, represented by the red line. As a frame of reference, in 2010, debt-to-GDP exceeded 100% and has been on the decline – dropping to about 72% in 2012:

Based on the factual data, not Paul Ryan’s DCFS talking points, the deficit situation, even without any additional revenue or cuts, is stabilizing. It has been stabilizing since early 2011, a fact that is consistently ignored as the media continues allowing Ryan and company to get away with promoting their DCFS talking points.

The runaway debt crisis talking point is something that should be relegated to the 2012 election dustbin. The focus should really be jobs that get the economy moving again, and investment to make that a reality.

With all due respect to Greg Neumann, who is one of the best political reporters in the state, I would suggest referencing the final point from Krugman for his next interview with a conservative who attempts propagating Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome (DCFS):

  …at this point reasonable projections do not, repeat do not, show anything resembling the runaway deficit crisis that is a staple of almost everything you hear, including supposedly objective news reporting.

Fear never solved anything. Paul Ryan and company need help getting over DCFS-Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome, so we can get down to something REALLY serious – solving our long-term unemployment problem.

 

 

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