Political Matters – December 2023

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By Mordecai Specktor

PolyMet scheme hits another snag
In late November, an administrative law judge issued a report that recommended that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deny a “Permit to Mine” for the proposed NorthMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota.

This is a victory for the Fond du Lac Band and environmentalists that have been campaigning to derail what would be the state’s first copper-nickel mine.

“Judge James E. LaFave found that the mine’s proposed method of storing reactive mine waste, by lining the mine’s tailings waste facility with a type of clay known as bentonite, ‘is not a practical and workable reclamation technique,’” Minnesota Public Radio reported on Nov. 28.

The sulfide mining project Up North is now branded as NewRange Copper Nickel. PolyMet is owned by Glencore, a mining giant based in Switzerland, which formed a joint venture earlier this year with Teck, a Canadian mining company.

There has been long-running campaign to derail copper-nickel projects in the state’s Arrowhead region. I’ve been writing about this issue for about 15 years. In the July issue of The Circle, I wrote that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had revoked a permit for the NorthMet copper-nickel mine because the permit did not ensure compliance with water quality requirements of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The Band has been intervening in the lengthy environmental review process.

The NewRange open-pit mine would operate near Babbitt, Minnesota, and the ore would be processed at the old LTV Steel site near Hoyt Lakes. This type of “hard rock” mining has been a disaster across the American West for decades, leaving polluted surface and groundwater in the aftermath of failed projects that have left local and state governments holding the bag for clean-up operations.

You can read the administrative law judge’s report here: bit.ly/northmet-report.

War in the Middle East
In my November column, I briefly mentioned traveling in Scandinavia in October. Shortly after my wife and I arrived in Denmark, Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and slaughtered more than 1,200 people, mainly civilians, including elders and children, and kidnapped some 240 people that they dragged back into tunnels under the Gaza Strip. This was the worst mass killing of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.

The situation has gotten worse over the past month, as Israel has pulverized much of the densely populated coastal enclave, killing thousands of civilians, including elders and children. We’ve all been disturbed by seeing TV news footage of children, some dead and some alive, being removed from the rubble of collapsed buildings.

This is off-topic for The Circle, but I see that several Native organizations have publicly rallied to the Palestinian cause and decried the ongoing military campaign by Israel, the “racist colonial settler state,” in the popular rhetoric. Of course, the United States is a prime example of a colonial settler state, along with South Africa, Australia and other countries in the global south invaded by various European empires over the centuries.
It’s a complicated situation, the Israel-Hamas conflict – and it didn’t start on October 7 – but I’ll just mention that Jews have historical roots in the so-called Holy Land that go back about 3,000 years. There was a Kingdom of Judah that had Jerusalem as its capital – the name “Jew” comes from Judah. And this patch of real estate has been conquered and colonized by numerous empires going back to antiquity. The Jews were banished from their ancestral home about 2,000 years ago, when the Roman Empire sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.

We’ve wandered the earth since then, strangers in strange lands. Jews were regarded as “the other” in European countries, subjected to discrimination, disputations, dispossessions and massacres, in the run-up to the Shoah, the “cataclysm,” as we call the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazi regime. It was the rough treatment of Jews in Europe that gave birth to Zionism in the late 19th century. In May 1948, Jews living in Palestine, then under the control of the British, declared independence and a war between Israel and neighboring Arab states ensued, which led to more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fleeng their homes. Palestinians refer to this as the Nakba, “catastrophe.”

There’s much more to this history, but I want to jump ahead to 2023, and the rise of antisemitic and Islamophobic violence around the world ignited by the conflict in Israel and Palestine. In late November, three 20-year-old Palestinian students in Vermont were shot by a 48-year-old white man in what appears to be a hate crime. Other gruesome violence has been directed against Jews and Palestinians in the U.S.

Whatever your political views on Israel and Palestine, I hope that we can strive to find common ground and avoid bringing the hate and carnage in the Middle East back to this country. We have plenty of social dysfunction here; we don’t need to import more problems from a faraway land.