Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Van Hollen's Rea$on$ To Bless Land Sales To Foreigners

A legal opinion on whether the state's 127-year-old restriction on foreign land ownership can still be enforced poses a conflict of interest for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and could reward one of his largest special interest supporters depending on his decision.

A legal opinion nixing the law would serve the real estate industry, a powerful special interest that stands to benefit from increased land sales, but cloaks its support for such a move by pitching the ban's demise as pro-jobs and pro-economic development.  Since 2006 when Van Hollen was elected the real estate industry has contributed $209,965 in large individual and political action committee contributions to his campaigns.  The real estate industry is Van Hollen's second largest special interest supporter, accounting for 10 percent of the $2.21 million in special interest campaign cash he has accepted. 

An opinion that nixes the ban could also directly benefit Smithfield Foods, a giant U.S. pork producer with operations in Wisconsin that was purchased last fall by a Chinese company.  Van Hollen also  accepted campaign contributions from Smithfield general counsel James Nellen in 2005 and 2009 totaling $450.

A report by Reuters last year when the Smithfield deal was in the works noted foreign land ownership restrictions in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states could affect Smithfield's operations if the deal was approved.  Some legal experts contend federal laws and international trade agreements may trump the state land restrictions, but others say these laws in Wisconsin and elsewhere could affect the company's business or draw lengthy legal challenges.

The effort to lift foreign land ownership restrictions was resurrected earlier this month when the Assembly Committee on Organization voted to seek Van Hollen's opinion on the law.  The committee action follows a failed effort by Republican Governor Scott Walker to lift the cap in his 2013-15 state budget.  No one was certain at the time - like now - why the proposal was pushed or who it benefits.  Rumblings then suggested it would help out-of-state mining interests seeking to dig a massive open-pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.  In the event Gogebic Taconite wanted out of the project it could sell its stake to a foreign interest hungry for steel production, like China.

But both Republican and Democratic legislators opposed the measure last year because of strong opposition in agricultural and rural areas over wealthy foreign interests buying huge tracts of prized Wisconsin farmland and threatening the dominance of the state's premiere industry and pricing out future generations of farm families.

Another question as the proposal makes its second round might be to ask Assembly Republicans why they think these sentiments have changed.  

1 comment:

clyde said...

Unrestricted ownership of Wisconsin land raises the specter of rapidly escalating land grabs by trans-national corporations, international speculators and hedge funds.

It is unlikely that the Penokee mining proposal is directed at iron ore - as destructive as that would be. Instead of iron, think gold, and the sulfuric acid waste and the dangerous sodium cyanide processing resulting from industrial scale gold mining. Instead of iron, think of the highly toxic processing and waste products involved in extracting rare earth metals. There is not hard evidence that that is what the mine owner is really after. After all, the truth is a closely held secret, guarded by armed mercenaries, kept from the people and our representatives. But the geology indicates that commercial amounts of gold and rare earths may be buried in the beautiful Penokee Hills. Boiled down, the new mining deregulation law in Wisconsin simply says that (a) a mine owner can take whatever it finds, and (b) a mine owner is not responsible for anything bad that happens.

Sulfuric acid is produced in huge quantities when gold bearing ore is mined. Highly toxic sodium cyanide is shipped across country in large quantities to extract gold from the crushed ore. Rare earth metal mining and extraction is so dangerously toxic that it is not done in the USA today, despite greatly increased worldwide manufacturing demand and despite the fact that such ore bodies exist in North America. China (with it's lax environmental and public health and workplace safety regulations) does most of the rare earth mining and processing today. And they are looking elsewhere to secure other mine locations.

The recent Wisconsin unleash-the-beast mining law is everything the rare earth and gold mineral extraction industry could hope for, short of slave labor and fully taxpayer-subsidized costs. The climate change and rising sea level threats that are posed by too-long-ignored and denied global warming provide "investment opportunities" in targeted agricultural land for global speculators and hedge fund investors, and the proposed Wisconsin foreign corporate land grab enabling law blows the gates off the hinges for them.

The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership treaty, if ratified, will establish the legal dominance of profit-seeking global corporations over local, state, and national government, and especially, over the needs of the people and the health of the planet. It represents corporate dominance over all forms and branches of government and the end of democracy.

So it's not just pigs and pig iron that transnational corporations and speculators are after in Wisconsin - it's gold and rare earth minerals and anything else they can make millions off of, and to hell with the consequences for the people, the water, and the life that depends on it. It's control over what remains of viable food producing land and drinkable water on an increasingly devastated and flooded planet. Those corporate war lords don't just want that land and those natural resources, they want it without paying for it or the adverse consequences of getting it.

The recent initiatives (mining deregulation and state usurpation of traditional local control and the end of restrictions on trans-national corporate and foreign ownership of Wisconsin land and natural resources) of those politicians who currently control Wisconsin are meant to place Wisconsin first in line when the currently proposed (and secretly negotiated) Pacific and Atlantic international "trade agreements" are rammed through our Congress, using "Fast Track Authority", without Congressional oversight or real public hearings. The current Wisconsin attorney general and governor, returning the favor of their corporate backers with extravagant gifts of Wisconsin's land and resources, the fruit of the labors of past generations, and the legacy that should belong to the future, are just part of a Perfect Storm heading first towards
Wisconsin and ultimately, towards our nation and our planet.