Mount Polley and PolyMet: What happened in Canada must not happen here

By JT Haines, Bridget Holcomb and Libby Bent | 02/26/18

Final permit decisions on PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet Mining Project are approaching, and for all the celebration of the process by politicians and company promoters here in Minnesota, we have grave concerns. We bring this message from Duluth, where we live downstream of the proposed PolyMet mine.

Last week we welcomed a delegation from Amnesty International to discuss their experience with a British Columbia copper sulfide mine upstream of their own communities. This is a group that has heard it all before: promises of safety from mining companies, claims of new technology that isn’t, guarantees of zero discharge, and assurances from government officials that it will all be fine.

Unfortunately, in 2014, the dam upstream of them collapsed, sending toxic water and tailings into nearby Quesnel Lake, effectively turning the pristine lake into a waste pit. The Mount Polley dam breach is the worst environmental disaster in Canadian history, and it is ongoing.

Local people who drank straight from the lake now drink bottled water out of fear of cancer, miscarriages, and neurological disorders. Indigenous communities are currently sitting out their fourth consecutive salmon season, a resource as important to them as wild rice is here. These downstream communities have seen no justice.

Troubling similarities

JT Haines

While this is a Canadian story, we are shaken by the similarities. The companies promised safety, but at every turn have promoted their bottom line over best practices and best technology. Government officials repeated assurances of a rigorous environmental process, but have granted continuous exceptions and variances to the company. Unbelievably, downstream communities, including indigenous communities, were not consulted on emergency response planning.

The Amnesty delegation urges us to avoid blind faith in regulatory regimes that are conflicted in mission, limited in scope, lax in enforcement, subject to regulatory capture, and which have yet to protect surrounding waters from this particularly toxic industry. British Columbians believed in their process, and that trust was shattered.

Bridget Holcomb

Here in Minnesota, PolyMet has said that the comparison between its proposal and Mount Polley is unfair, citing that the slope on its proposed tailings dam would be less steep. The Mount Polley dam failure, however, was not attributed to the steepness of the slope, but to an unstable foundation. If permitted, the PolyMet dam would be built on unstable taconite tailings on top of a wetland, at a height of nearly twice that of Mount Polley, with an upstream wet tailings design. DNR’s own consultants have pointed out the similarities. PolyMet officials either did not read the Mount Polley Independent Expert Investigation and Review Report, or they are trying to deceive Minnesotans.

Libby Bent

You might ask, where are our elected officials? Despite the clear importance to her city, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has so far declined to publicly assert our stake in this matter. (Notably, neighboring Carlton City passed a resolution last week expressing its stake and requesting a moratorium on sulfide mining in Minnesota until a 20-year record of safety is shown.) Gov. Mark Dayton has made baffling statements that oppose sulfide mining as too dangerous for the Boundary Waters but are generally supportive of it where Duluth and Lake Superior would be at risk. Our own Rep. Rick Nolan has promoted legislation that would force a land swap to allow mining on federal lands, limit environmental review of copper sulfide mine proposals, and stop scientific study of the cumulative effects of copper sulfide mining in northern Minnesota.

For their part, the Minnesota Legislature and DNR seem unclear between them whose job it is to actually decide if this is a good or bad idea for Minnesota. Sadly, our own confidence in our elected officials and government is in jeopardy.

Driving a wedge between us

We appreciate that the boom and bust cycles on the Iron Range make the promise of new mining jobs attractive. PolyMet is capitalizing on this and dividing all of us who live in northern Minnesota by playing to emotions of trust and heritage. It is painful to see a foreign corporation drive a wedge between us, despite our shared values, and obscure the facts on which this decision should be based.

This is what PolyMet does not want us to know:

The record of sulfide mining is abysmal. Worldwide, the industry has failed and failed again to store its waste, and has left a legacy of rivers devoid of life from mining waste settling into riverbeds, ensuring that toxic heavy metals will continue to prevent life for centuries. While we may want to believe we have stronger oversight and regulations, performance in the US is horrid. According to the U.S. Forest Service 2016 study, 100 percent of sulfide mines have had spills, and 28 percent have, like Mount Polley, had outright dam failures. A 2017 U.N. report shows that catastrophic spills are actually increasing, as mining companies seek to lower costs and increase profits.

Glencore, PolyMet’s main investor, has a history of broken promises and abuse of union workers and communities across the globe. Worldwide this industry is replacing workers with robots. This is not how we continue Minnesota’s proud union tradition.

At the recent public hearing in Duluth, several PolyMet supporters borrowed a well-worn talking point and tried to shame opponents for using copper in cellphones and cars. Rarely included with such statements is the fact that we Americans throw away more copper every year than the proposed PolyMet mine would produce. To those who are truly concerned about how much copper is being used by consumers: Copper is infinitely recyclable and in abundant supply, and recycling creates jobs and reduces carbon emissions.

Our truly precious resource

The truly precious resource we have in northern Minnesota is our freshwater complex, which includes the headwaters of Lake Superior and 10 percent of the world’s supply of fresh surface water.

It is too late for Mount Polley, and we stand in solidarity with our Canadian friends as they fight for reparations for the unmeasurable harm caused to them.

It is not too late for us. It is not too late to protect northern Minnesota from a catastrophic, irreversible decision that does not have the consent of downstream communities.

The DNR is now accepting comments on the draft permit to mine for PolyMet. Please comment before March 6, and tell the DNR, elected officials, and candidates around the state that this proposal is simply too risky for Minnesota and for Lake Superior.

PolyMet has divided us for too long. It is time for Minnesota to act, and to identify a better option. We stand ready to support leadership that would unify us around true economic development that celebrates our history without risking our future.

JT Haines, Bridget Holcomb, and Libby Bent are residents of Duluth and members of the group Duluth for Clean Water, which welcomed a delegation from Amnesty International to Duluth on Feb. 12 and 13.

This piece also appeared in MinnPost on February 23, 2018.


What is “Nonviolence”? Reflections on the Honduras Election Protests

Photo (c) Mark Coplan. Youth and police, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

February 21, 2018 — By Thom Haines

From January 23 – January 30, I was part of an emergency delegation to Honduras in the wake of another highly controversial election in that country. Tens of thousands of Hondurans flood the streets and highways in protest of what is widely seen as a stolen election and an attack on their democracy. A heavily armed military and police presence is everywhere.

Our delegation of 50 faith leaders from around the US was present in solidarity with protesters who — like Honduran Jesuit priest Padre Melo –are under threat, and to bear witness.

Author’s Note: In my mind, and in the mind of most everyone we met and every grassroots NGO with whom I work, the 2017 election in Honduras was indeed stolen by right-wing oligarchs, with the approval of the United States — just as the 2009 coup in Honduras was conducted with the approval of the United States and involved many of the same parties. We heard zero doubt that the election would not have been stolen and the violence would not be occurring without the approval of the US government — which government is principally in support of the multinational corporations extracting minerals, agricultural products, and hydroelectric power at the lowest cost. It is a repressive relationship with a long and complicated history that precludes brief summary. The reader is of course encouraged to conduct to their own research.

Since November, dozens of protestors have been killed by the police. Protestors on the highways are often quite young, some as young as twelve or thirteen, with parents observing from a short distance away. They must worry about the risks their children take as they face a police presence armed to the teeth. They also clearly support their children’s actions and judge them worth the risk.

Militarized forces in Honduras — whatever the publicized intent — uphold an economic status quo that benefits the elite and represses anyone who dares challenge it. Dole trucks rolling past the highway protests were a potent symbol of where the riches of Honduras end up. (The drivers of the trucks, though, seemed universally supportive of the protestors.)

In the face of this violent presence, sometimes the protestors had sticks. Sometimes they would burn tires in the highway. I did not, and do not, object, just as I did not and do not object to the fires on the streets of the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis during the Jamar Clark protests, or to the sticks and stones wielded by Palestinians against the massive force of the Israeli army.

Claiming to be “nonviolent,” though, I observe my own pangs of discomfort at these token indicators of what would surely (and glibly) be characterized by Fox News as violent intent.

But what is nonviolence? What of the decades of activists claiming it in the US?

In Graham Green’s The Comedians — set in Haiti during the period of rebellion against the brutal dictator, Papa Doc (Francois Duvalier) — we read of a funeral of three ill-equipped rebels:

“The priest … preached a very short sermon on some words of St. Thomas the Apostle: ‘Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him.’ He said, ‘The Church is in the world, it is part of the suffering in the world, and though Christ condemned the disciple who struck off the ear of the high priest’s servant, our hearts go out in sympathy to all who are moved to violence by the suffering of others. The Church condemns violence, but it condemns indifference more harshly. Violence can be the expression of love, indifference never. One is an imperfection of charity, the other the perfection of egoism. In the days of fear, doubt and confusion, the simplicity and loyalty of one apostle advocated a political solution. He was wrong, but I would rather be wrong with St Thomas than right with the cold and the craven. Let us go up to Jerusalem and die with him.’”

As US citizens, we all reside somewhere on the spectrum of oppressor and oppressed, but our experiences vary according to our privilege. So, I say the following only for myself and for those similarly situated: We live in a bubble of “peace” created and enforced by a violent empire, and we benefit from this negative peace economically and personally. This violence is evident on the streets of Minneapolis as well as the highways of Honduras.

Can those of us who live as economic beneficiaries of a violent system claim to be nonviolent merely because we are reluctant to pick up a weapon? What is our standing to critique the violence of others — however minor — who are motivated by suffering, if we ourselves are ignorant to the full extent of that suffering?

Young Hondurans see a very different Honduras than that seen by the US State Department and mass media. Yes, we are compromised by our position of privilege. That does not relieve us of our moral obligation to call for a radical change in US policy and to stand in solidarity with those who are exploited and repressed.

The mobilizations we witnessed in Honduras are components of an existential struggle for justice that connects directly to us here. A better world is possible, and it starts with each of us.


On January 29, I was one of the nine spokespeople at the US Embassy in Honduras on behalf of our delegation. We went to the embassy with Padre Melo to amplify the voices we heard in the community. Here is a summary of my message to Chargé d’Affaires Heide B. Fulton and members of her staff:

A couple of days ago our delegation spent hours standing by highways in and around El Progreso. I was amazed and appalled at what I saw. Dozens of young Hondurans, some possibly as young as 13, were willing to risk their lives to protest the recent election of Juan Orlando Hernandez. They faced police and army units armed to the teeth. There were chants of “Fuera JOH!” (“Juan Orlando Hernandez, OUT”) and a passing parade of supportive vehicles including Dole trucks.

I was inspired, on the one hand, and appalled, on the other, by how encouraged the young people were to see us. When our delegation arrived, the youth at first were afraid, thinking we were reinforcements for the armed forces. They were happy and relieved to see it was us. They looked to us for protection. They felt safer because we were there. It is extremely unfortunate that police and military supported by US aid that should be protecting them are, instead, potent symbols of repression.


Thom Haines is an Assistant Carver County Attorney in Minnesota and a member of the Mayflower United Church of Christ Global Justice Advocacy Team in Minneapolis. Thom is a regular contributor at Newspeak Review. 

The News According to BlackRock

Stock Ticker

Whoever controls the media, controls the mind. —
Jim Morrison

The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.Joseph Goebbels

If those in charge of our society – politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television – can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves. —
Howard Zinn

October 4, 2017, by JT Haines

On the one hand, it’s simple enough. As my friend John recently said in response to the question “Do you know who owns CNN?,” he said, “Umm, the same people who own everything else.” Fair play.

On the other hand, I observe a surprising willingness among even the most politically active among us to receive the current narrative. Is that for lack of a trusted alternative? Time to do research? General democracy fatigue? I don’t know, but in any case Jim Morrison and I don’t love the set-up.

While not exactly news, the agenda of the mainstream media seems worth bearing in mind from time to time. So let’s just get right to the point. Here is ownership information for CNN, the New York Times, and NBC:


CNN is owned by Time Warner Inc (TWX), an $80 billion mass media corporation which also owns HBO, TBS, TNT, truTV, etc. Time Warner is 81% owned by financial institutions, the top holders of which are:
Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 9.45.11 AM
 (Source Yahoo Finance)

The New York Times

The New York Times Company (NYT) is owned 69% by financial institutions and 22% by insiders (corporate officers, etc). Here are the top institutional holders:
 Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 9.45.23 AM
 (Source Yahoo Finance)


NBC is owned by Comcast, a $180 billion global company 84% owned by institutional holders:
Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 1.39.31 PM
(Source Yahoo Finance)

BlackRock, by the way, is the “world’s largest asset manager with $5.7 trillion in assets under management as of July 2017. BlackRock operates globally with 70 offices in 30 countries and clients in 100 countries. Due to its power, BlackRock has been called the world’s largest shadow bank.” Basically, it’s an investment firm for rich people, and it manages a lot of money — a third of the US GDP-type money. And, significantly, it owns the paper of record.

I won’t pretend to tell anyone what to read, but for goodness sakes, let’s start with the assumption that we receive a corporate narrative and go from there. The New York Times is not a “liberal rag,” it is a corporate rag.

As Howard Zinn and others have consistently reminded us, what we are daily subjected to is the narrative of the powerful. To understand a people’s narrative, we must steel ourselves and look for it.

**The Washington Post and Duluth News Tribune, by the way, are privately owned — WaPo by the Amazon guy and DNT by Forum/the Marcil-Blacks of Fargo. (Forum owns the DNT, Brainerd Dispatch, Bemidji Pioneer, several TV stations, and numerous other regional outlets.).

Diagnosis: Myopia. US Narratives about the Philippines Continue to Miss the Picture


June 21, 2017 — By Thom Haines

When I think about the presidential election in the United States, I continue to shake my head. As with many things related to the office, Donald Trump has only increased my head shaking. He didn’t start it.

It seems that it is difficult in the US to have a policy discussion that doesn’t focus on the limited reality visible from within our borders. In the presidential debates, for example, virtually the only discussion of how the US should relate to other countries related to ISIS and (a narrow view of) how to contain it. There was no discussion of the obscene “defense” budget or why it supposedly makes sense for the US to have armed forces in every region — indeed, nearly every country — of the world.

What is the role of the US in relationship to other countries? Is it right for our corporations to steal resources and exploit labor? Points made in the debates about NAFTA or the TPP focused on the harm to US workers, rarely the devastation wreaked on our fellow human beings in other countries.

It’s past time to become aware of and take responsibility for US imperialism. The rest of the world sees the US as an imperial power. Myopia, intentional and not, prevents many in the US from seeing our country as such.

Myopia (Merriam-Webster):

1) a condition in which the visual images come to a focus in front of the retina of the eye resulting especially in defective vision of distant objects.

2) a lack of foresight or discernment: a narrow view of something.

We seem oblivious to what is happening beyond our borders except as an extension of what’s happening within them.

Mainstream media reporting on the Philippines is again an example. The city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao has been devastated by recent violence. In a recent Washington Post article, Dan Lamothe writes:

“The United States is grappling with a hardening reality: Islamic State terrorism is on the rise in Southeast Asia, and it could worsen as foreign fighters abandon the battlefields of Iraq and Syria for new regions. The issue has snapped sharply into focus in the past three weeks, as militants and Philippine security forces have been locked in a bloody fight for Marawi, a lakeside city of about 200,000 people in the southern Philippines.”


Residents fleeing Marawi

A little bit of context would help. Washington Post readers might appreciate knowing that this story is about a whole lot more that how ISIS activity on Mindanao is challenging US hegemony in the region. Do most readers know, for example, that Marawi’s population is 99% Muslim? Do they know that virtually the entire city of 200,000 has been forced from their homes by the violence? Do they know that Muslims have lived in this region of what is now a predominately Christian country since about 200 years before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century?

Do readers know about allegations that the US is using the ISIS connection to the violence in Mindanao as a tool to destabilize and overthrow the democratically elected president of the Philippines, hardly a US favorite?

Might they be interested in Dansalan College, a United Church of Christ in the Philippines institution in Marawi attacked and burned in the recent violence where 95% of the students are Muslim and 80% of the staff are Christian?

The rest of the world would much appreciate evidence that those in charge of US foreign policy and those who report on it are beginning to, at least, acknowledge that there are many perspectives from around the world that are of actual value. Meanwhile, of course, these perspectives continue to get short shrift by myopic politicians and reporters.

Thom Haines is a regular contributor at Newspeak Review. An Assistant County Attorney in Minnesota, Thom serves on the Minnesota State Bar Association Data Practices Committee and is active in his AFSCME union. He is a member of the Mayflower United Church of Christ (Minneapolis) Global Justice Advocacy Team, the UCC Minnesota Conference Global Partnerships Team. He recently finished eight years on the UCC board of Global Ministries.