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Pierce writes: "We have been concentrating a little heavily for a number of reasons on the truly atrocious mining bill that finally passed the Wisconsin Assembly last night."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, 04/13/12. (photo: AP)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, 04/13/12. (photo: AP)

Wisconsin, Inc.

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

09 March 13


e have been concentrating a little heavily for a number of reasons on the truly atrocious mining bill that finally passed the Wisconsin Assembly last night. The first is that it is yet another indication that Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin, plans to run for president, so it's a good idea to judge him by his works. The second is that the bill is an almost perfect example of the conception held by modern conservatives — which is to say, Republicans — of the way things are supposed to work, and an almost perfect example of the conservative idea of self-government as public oligarchy. And the last one is that it truly is an atrocious bill, being, at the same time, an environmental catastrophe, a staggering economic giveaway, and a deliberate and obvious offense against the idea of a political commonwealth.

It is the latter that is the most disturbing. They not only passed the bill, but eliminated any chance the people of Wisconsin had to protect themselves. For example, nobody denies that the massive open-pit mine that Gogebic Taconite plans to gouge out of northern Wisconsin is bound to do environmental damage. The Republicans who pushed for the bill admitted that openly.

And, with numerous groups already vowing to challenge the bill in court, Sen. Tom Tiffany also acknowledged that changes were made to the legislation to put the state on stronger legal ground to withstand such a challenge. "The bill reflects the reality of mining. There are going to be some impacts to the environment above the iron ore body," said Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. "If the law is challenged and ends up in court, the judge needs to know it was the Legislature's intent to allow adverse (environmental) impacts. That way, a judge can't find fault if the environment is impact.

The legislation was written in such a way as to defang the state's Department Of Natural Resources, provide what is essentially a liability shield for the company, overturn over a century of environmental protection laws for the benefit of a single company. The mine also would benefit from a proposed budget provision that would repeal a state law dating back to the 1880's that prevented Wisconsin land from being controlled by foreign corporations or governments, leading more than a few people to wonder exactly who's going to get the 75 kajillion jobs that Walker and his pet legislature insist the mine will provide. In short, despite the fact that polls show substantial opposition to both the bill and the mine itself, and despite the fact that its sponsors concede the destruction it inevitably will cause, the Wisconsin legislature passed a law not only to permit the project to go forward, but to immunize the corporation against responsibility for any destruction the project might wreak on the state and the people therein. They gave away public lands to this company while arranging that the political entity known as the state of Wisconsin, and therefore the people they ostensibly represent, would be unable to protect themselves from the damage the company will do. Self-government, and the political commonwealth that arises from it, is just something else gouged out of Wisconsin for a buck. This is astonishing. This is something that happens in China.

This is raw state capitalism at its most egregious, and it demonstrates clearly that the conservative movement has plans that go back in history beyond rolling back the Great Society or the New Deal. They are after every progressive advance made since the end of the 19th Century. This isn't something that the conservative movement is trying to hide. In the middle of his filibuster the other day, Rand Paul threw a bouquet at the Lochner decision, the horrid 1906 ruling by the Supreme Court that hamstrung for decades the ability of workers to organize. The Citizens United ruling codified the corporate-personhood heresy that arose out of clerical chicanery in Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886, and then CU itself was used to strike down state laws of that same era corporate campaign contributions in places like Montana. On the fringes, Glenn Beck made a fortune tracing the Great Progressive Conspiracy through the cobwebbed canyons of his mind, and the likes of Jonah Goldberg got rich explaining how Adolf Hitler really was nothing more than a proto-Green Party activist with an air force and submarines. Teddy Roosevelt didn't have three votes in the Wisconsin Assembly this week, let alone Bob LaFollette or FDR. They are playing for a newer, and far more permanent Gilded Age, and it is not coming about by accident.

(UPDATE - This one was cleaned up a little because my grammar went to the zoo this morning, and because top commenter Saunders got me to sharpen the Gilded Age point, and because a Wisconsin friend cleared up the details on that 1881 law.)

Charlie has been a working journalist since 1976. He is the author of four books, most recently "Idiot America." He lives near Boston with his wife but no longer his three children. your social media marketing partner
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