Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Destruction and Subsidy Cycle

For decades, voting for the lesser evil has been normal. Northeastern Minnesota’s DFL, however, was and has always appeared the last bastion for ordinary people’s needs. In many ways, that remains true, but in others is now so utterly destructive that to vote for them is to destroy the very place we live.

The peculiar history of Northeastern Minnesota and the Range in particular has, after five generations, made destroying the communities and the natural world the norm. While southern Minnesota was first to be destroyed, settlement was dominated by agriculture and by its very essence, was very different than the ecocide of the north. The north was not settled at first; after the conquest, native lands were legally stolen and turned over to land speculators and railroad men. The first exploitative assault was to denude the forests of its most ecologically and financially valuable timber; the forests were not “cleared”, but instead demolished. Hapless American and European peasants were shipped in, railroads built, the finest timber removed, and the land covered with the remaining debris. Genocide and the catastrophic Hinckley and Cloquet fires were the first children of the rape; the second were the mineral prospectors. In the brute exploitation of both human and nature that was 19th-century capitalism, gold wasn’t found, but iron ore was. I will not glorify the destructive history of earlier times, for the history sits all around us in a demolished landscape, tainted water and desperate communities.

This history, however, is glorified and built into banal monuments honoring destruction; these show how the extreme becomes the normal and the thinking of the exploiter becomes the thinking of the exploited. And this is where I need to break with those I used to support.

Recently, Range Dfler’s joined the state’s Republicans in rewriting the state’s environmental review rules. The complaints justifying the need all spoke of timeliness and jobs, but none dealt with the actual results. They added their own special privilege: Any Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) project is exempt from the environmental review process.. In short, the public is now forced to hand over land, cash and profits to private investors, many of them foreign, in hopes that several hundred desperate people might hopefully be employed for 20 years. The chant is always “jobs” and “community” while two concepts are never mentioned; the mysterious word “profits” and the always-ignored fact that any community built solely for exploiting a finite resource is doomed from the very beginning. That the Range DFLer’s don’t recognize this shows they are now as much of the problem as the former land barons and “iron men” now honored in ridiculous murals and statues. Now, as part of the local elite, they assist the destroyers with endless subsidies: the DNR’s mineral research, infrastructure funding, education, and finally, handing over our land, water and the very resources we sit on.

The Range’s problems are complex yet simply defined: The communities, despite any booster’s glorifications, are graveyards next to wastelands. The communities and employees are trapped in the hapless modern equivalent of the company town. Their incomes and lives are bound to the corporations; that they are comparatively well paid only leads to more co-option. The endless supply of over-size trucks, ATV’s and bound mortgages colors the thinking of everyone. It is buried so deep within the mindset it is never mentioned; it is as if saying “the sky is blue”. The desperation that is the modern United States surrounds us; we work for corporate investors so we can pay debts to corporate investors so we can buy plastic toys from corporate investors who use slave labor to build them overseas. This, of course, is called the zenith of civilization.

In a rational world, albeit imaginary, we might ask of ourselves “We have this resource, perhaps of wealth, perhaps of trouble, but what do we do with it and how will it benefit us?” What do we charge the corporation for exploiting our land? What do we get in return? What will be left? How do we assure our grandchildren will still want to or be able to live here?

This is, here and now, not the case.

The mining laws of Minnesota, like most dealing with “Natural Resources,” set the state's role as promoter of exploitation, or more truly, the mother of destruction. We pay for research, we pay for infrastructure, we pay for what little of reclamation occurs and then we finally pay for destroyed communities and dysfunctional lives left over when the profit takers “downsize” or walk away. No matter what, it's a temporary fix and a devil's bargain.

The two communities most affected by the Polymet project have problems deriving from their very origins: They were both built specifically for mining only. Standing at road’s end, miles from anything, surrounded by a destroyed landscape or forest, they are mere outposts. The project’s proponents want to resolve this by destroying more public forest for private profit, supported by countless subsidies, in exchange that a few will get paid for 20 years. Their aim, of course, is to start more projects on the same ore bodies, to destroy more land, to destroy more water, all at public expense for private profit.

When I think of where I'm from, I think of the earliest labor organizers, some of whom I met and knew. Despite their so-called ignorance, they knew one fundamental fact: The owners were exploiters, and nothing more. They were not our friends, and not to be trusted. They would sacrifice anything , including their worker's lives for a few dollars more profit. Fortunately, and unfortunately, the labor fights and unions brought us better conditions and a share of the profits., but they also co-opted us. Now, many are slaves bought and paid for, their lives a collection of mortgages, four-wheel drive trucks and other toys. Like Orwell's well trained dog, they roll over without the masters watching. Anyone who questions the constant cycle of destruction and subsidy is labeled treehugger.

To end, there is one question that needs to be answered by those arguing for any extraction project: What will be left when it's done? Until the Range DFL answers that question, they are nothing more than puppets who want to sweep the crumbs off the table to the public's mouths.

Considering the results we see now, with emptying communities, rampant social problems and addiction, aging infrastructure we can't afford and environmental destruction all around us, the experiment's results are obvious; we simply need a better way.



As the fall comes new issues and old ones face our county. At a recent board workshop attendees asked what the board was doing to protect the interests of the people of St. Louis County with regard to mining in the Duluth Complex. Commissioner Forsman left the room in fury that the question would even be asked. What do people think - should the people of our region know more about the proposed mining? Who are the mining companies? Where will they be exploring, where will they mine? What will the impact to the land and water be? The Duluth Complex is huge - it runs from Canada to south of Duluth. It crosses federal and state and private surface lands. What is the impact on land owners? We've heard that the federal land owner will now allow one proposed mine to go forward as the terms of their deed forbid an open pit strip mine. The land has to be "exchanged" meaning different owners for the land with the federal land owner (the forest service) getting different land instead. How does this work when the owner is a private citizen? A county? Our state? Our county needs to explain how it will manage the planned mining - what expectations it sees for housing and property values.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

County Board Considers Resolution Against Voter ID Requirements

At their Board meeting on April 5th in Duluth the SLC Board heard from community members regarding a proposed state law that would impose restrictions on voters in the form of additional identification requirements. Those in favor of additional restrictions indicated that they believed it was a “personal responsibility” for voters to secure identification prior to voting. Additionally, they indicated that this should not be a county concern. They cited ID requirements for everything from picking up hockey tickets to cashing checks. One election judge questioned why UMD students suddenly realize on Election Day that they wanted to vote, having not secured appropriate identification in advance. This particular election judge was against the present law that allows for same day registration.

Joyce Benson, officer of the League of Women Voters, spoke in favor of the resolution, indicating that voter ID requirements would discriminate against students, the elderly, low-income people. She cited statistics indicating the voter fraud in Minnesota was virtually none. Additionally, she indicated concern regarding the cost of implementing such a system. As an election judge herself, she said she believes we have a good system now.

Joan Peterson spoke in favor of the resolution indicating, “Democracy is supposed to facilitate participation” and requiring voter ID would not facilitate this. Another speaker cited information from the Secretary State’s Office that the incidence of voter fraud in Minnesota is .0005%.

A number of speakers indicated that there is “absolutely no reason” for anyone to not have a valid ID on Election Day. There seemed to be about an equal number of people who spoke in favor and against the resolution.

Don Dicklich, SLC Auditor spoke indicating it was not his place to speak for or against the resolution. He did say there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in St. Louis County. He explained that it is clearly possible for many people to live at the same address such as in the case of an apartment building. A prior speaker had said that he had reviewed the voter rolls and that this situation constituted voter fraud.

Following the speakers there was a robust discussion with Commissioners Forsman, Dahlberg and Nelson speaking against the resolution (in favor of voter ID). Commissioner Forsman said “they drag people out from under some bridge” and have them vote and then take them to another polling place to vote again”. He said that people who do not believe in voter ID have “evil intent are uneducated or na├»ve”. Commissioner Jewell recounted all the ways that we have historically kept people from voting in this country. He went on to say that contrary to what one of the prior speakers stated, he does not believe that students are committing fraud in large numbers. He supported the resolution.

Commissioner Dahlberg said we are “turning common sense upside down” and that 80% of people in Minnesota were in favor of photo ID. He spoke in favor of voter ID. He says it is “very difficult to find voters out there who do not have ID’s”. He seemed unaware of the issue of voters moving, thus their “photo ID” has an incorrect address for the purposes of voting in a particular precinct on election day.

Commissioner Raukar initially spoke in support of the resolution saying, “here we have a solution looking for a problem”. He sees this bill being an unfunded mandate that counties would be forced to implement. Later, however, he withdrew his support, offering an amendment that he said was drafted in consultation with County Attorney, Mark Rubin. This amendment said, “…be it resolved that the SLC Board of Commissioners is opposed to local property taxpayers bearing the costs of photo ID requirements for voters in elections conducted in the State of Minnesota.” This amendment passed on a 6-1 voice vote with Commissioner Forsman voting “no”.

Commissioners then broke for lunch with the plan to return and discuss more later in the afternoon. The amended resolution eventually passed 5-2.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From the DNT Friday October 22, 2010

Reader's view: Fink’s actions make Jewell the better candidate

I applaud the News Tribune for its endorsement of Frank Jewell for County Board (Our View/Endorsement: “Fire Fink for Jewell of a county commissioner,” Oct. 15). But should we even be having this discussion?

In September, incumbent Commissioner Dennis Fink chose not to screen with the Duluth Central Labor Body, an organization that represents thousands of his constituents. More recently, he snubbed the League of Women Voters, an organization committed to our democratic process. He then told reporters he refused to disclose what “county business” he was conducting.

I find this very troubling. Just as disturbing is his travel to the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance on the county’s dime. This organization is notorious for being anti-Native American. No commissioner should be attending such conferences, especially not at the cost of taxpayers. Fink seems fine with cutting services for the disabled and elderly but then asks taxpayers to fund his travels to these types of events. It simply adds insult to injury that he is then unwilling to show up for community forums.

If Fink’s catchy slogan of “Think Fink” caught your eye the last election, I’d ask you to “think again” and cast a ballot for Frank Jewell.

Dan O’Neill


The writer is president of the Duluth Central Labor Body.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fink Reminds Us He Voted Against the Adoption of the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness

At their regularly scheduled Board meeting on Tuesday, July 6, 2010 Commissioner Fink reminded us that he voted against the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness and continues to have "concerns" related to the costs of implementation of the plan. This was within the context of an item on the agenda related to authorizing an amendment to the current contract with the State to serve as a fiscal agent for the NE Minnesota Project to End Long-Term Homelessness.

Commissioners O'Neil and Sweeney pointed out that it costs more to provide services to people that experience homelessness than to does to provide long term solutions.

Commissioners Dahlberg and Fink indicated concern regarding the salary of the Executive Director of the Hearth Connection. Commissioner Nelson says "let the market" determine salaries. He is concerned about the amount of resources dedicated to serve a relatively small number of people.

After nearly an hour of debate/discussion the Board voted to approve amending the State contract. The contract will bring $736,009 into St Louis County.