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Monday, Oct. 22, 2012

Tommy Thompson’s Brazen Hypocrisy

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The brazen hypocrisy was stunning when Republican Senate candidate Tommy Thompson accused his opponent, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, of being soft on Iran, identifying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a madman who could start a nuclear war.

That’s because Tommy Thompson, until the very day of that political debate last week, actually owned stock in a company that—in partnership with both Iran and China—is mining uranium in the African country of Namibia.

You know, uranium, which when it’s enriched is the key component in the production of nuclear weapons.

The audience laughed outright when Thompson, busted by Baldwin for investing tens of thousands of dollars in companies doing business with Iran and China, claimed he’d just learned of those investments and sold them the day of the debate.

How convenient, a comedian on “Saturday Night Live” used to say.

It’s also not particularly credible, since Thompson is very familiar with that company mining uranium with Iran. It is Rio Tinto, the parent company that operated the open pit Flambeau mine near Ladysmith, Wis., from 1993 to 1997, while Thompson was governor.

In fact, last year during the controversy over Republicans’ failed attempt to loosen state mining regulations, we learned water samples near the Flambeau mine, which had been operated by Rio Tinto’s Kennecott unit, still show high levels of toxic pollutants threatening aquatic life 15 years after the mine closed.

Accusations of environmental destruction are not new to Rio Tinto. In 2008, Norway’s government pension fund divested itself of $855 million in Rio Tinto stock and banned further investment because of what it called “severe environmental damage” and “grossly unethical conduct” in the company’s mining operations.

In English, Rio Tinto translates as Red River, which seems appropriate for a company that leaves behind toxic levels of copper in waterways. In Wisconsin, rivers are supposed to be blue.

Last year, the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council and other environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Flambeau mine of unlawfully discharging polluting toxins dating back to 1998, when Thompson was governor.

Kennecott claims to have spent $20 million for property reclamation since closing the mine, after periodic tests and accidental discoveries during construction projects continued to reveal lingering toxic contamination.

That sum pales, of course, next to the $341 million in revenue Rio Tinto’s Kennecott reported during the life of the mine.

 

Thompson’s Investments

Even without issues involving uranium mining and Iran, questions could be raised about a former Wisconsin governor who made hundreds of millions of dollars for a private company acquiring stock in that company after he left office.

Unlike Baldwin, Tinto Tommy has refused to release his income tax records, so voters don’t really know exactly how he became a multimillionaire so quickly after leaving government.

With serous issues about environmental destruction and nuclear war being tossed around, Thompson’s attempts to stir up controversy about Baldwin’s congressional votes over the years, sometimes for and sometimes against sanctions against Iran, seem a little absurd.

Baldwin appeared amused during the debate by Thompson’s fumbling attempts to repeat exaggerated stories spread by right-wing websites that a group they incorrectly identify as pro-Iranian had contributed to Baldwin’s campaign.

Thompson forgot the name of the group, referring to it as “a company” and as the “Council for a Living Earth,” which he said contributed $60,000 to Baldwin.

Baldwin was able to correctly reply she’d received no contributions from any group with that name and, even under this year’s toothless campaign regulations, no company could legally contribute that much to her.

The Council for a Livable World is not a pro-Iranian group. It is a nonpartisan organization seeking to reduce the danger of nuclear weapons and solve world conflicts through peaceful diplomacy. Its leaders include Nobel laureates, scientists and progressive political leaders such as Julian Bond and former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder.

It's no surprise (or scandal) the organization supports progressive Senate candidates such as Baldwin in Wisconsin and Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts instead of saber-rattling, right-wing bullies.

The problem with the right is it believes all the lies they tell each other. You can’t rely on right-wing bloggers for “facts” or Fox News for “news.”

That’s why Karl Rove and the Koch brothers wasted most of the millions they poured into negative ads attacking Baldwin as an extremist for supporting single-payer health care.

There’s nothing extreme about single-payer health care. Medicare and Medicaid are single-payer systems.

An Oconomowoc tea party group cheered Thompson when he declared: “Who better than me…to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?”

But seniors and the poor whose lives depend on those programs consider politicians who threaten to end their health care as the extremists.

And the health of the entire world is threatened by someone like Thompson who invests in mining uranium that could be used to arm Iran with nuclear weapons.

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