Political Philosophy

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

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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.”

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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.

Necessary, and Not Sufficient: Election Reflections 2016

 

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November 7, 2016

Well, we made it. And congratulations to us! Despite it all, we’ve succeeded in making this entire presidential election a referendum on “Not Trump” and “Yes, first woman president.”

Both absolutely necessary, to be sure, but sufficient? Time will tell.

Regarding the facts immediately in front of us, though, most “progressives” will indeed vote for Hillary Clinton, and they should. It’s too late for anything else. It wasn’t too late in 2013 when we published this suggestion here at Newspeak Review, but it is now.

So, for all the reasons well understood at this point, let’s go ahead and hope Hillary Clinton wins. (And, by the way, let’s also hope that Jill Stein magically garners the exact maximum number of votes possible without swinging the election. Such deadening gyrations would not be necessary if we didn’t have both corporate parties quietly enforcing a voting system that does not record people’s true preferences, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Just as importantly, though, let’s also move forward with eyes wide open. Because here’s the thing:

Each little surrender like this — each time we kick the can down the road, each time we cajole and abuse each other into carrying water for the political establishment in the name of the latest immediate term imperative — has longer term consequences.

It makes the next Standing Rock more inevitable. It makes the next Syria more likely. It makes taking to the streets more necessary. As we continue our slow 40 year march of one step forward, three steps back, it makes people putting their bodies on the line to protect and defend what is left of our rights and our security and our planet yet more difficult and more certain.

I do not think this is a path that most of us favor, but it is the one we’re on.

Genuine departure from that path will involve significant risk. In this campaign cycle, for example, at no point has Hillary Clinton not been the most likely president elect. That of course feels compelling, and determinative. But such likelihoods did not and do not relieve us of the responsibility to consider issuing a different demand, despite the odds. At some point we will need to take that risk. (Of course many feel we’re already long past that point.) And, as importantly, we must openly express willingness to take that risk so others can see us doing so. We’re closer than we’ve been in decades.

In any case, it’s election day tomorrow, and here we are. We still have the right to vote in this country, and we still have some confidence that our vote will be properly counted. These are things to behold. So do your thing.

And to those of you well-meaning souls who have expended substantial energy supporting a candidate who has already shown herself almost certain to oppose the genuine change that we need, here’s to #Nov9 and on. You know what you have to do.

Happy voting tomorrow, friends.

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Labor Day Message: Another World is Possible

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By Thom Haines — September 5, 2016

Happy Labor Day in the U.S.! Another World is Possible! Proud to be an AFSCME member!

International labor solidarity is a key component to realizing another world where people and the environment are more highly valued than profit. A vibrant labor movement in the United States acting in solidarity with workers around the world will create a politically effective force that has the power to change an exploitive system supported by the armed forces and military aid of the United States and other Global North countries.

Honduras is an especially clear example of what is wrong with the current system and what is needed to fix it. The Human Rights Delegation to Honduras Report — released last week by the Alliance for Global Justice, CODEPINK, and the Honduras Solidarity Network — helps us connect the dots. Abusive labor practices, militarization of police forces in the name of fighting drugs or communism or terrorism, killing journalists, killing union organizers, killing environmental activists like Berta Cáceres, trade deals like NAFTA, CAFTA, and the TPP, and knee jerk nationalism are all components of the same problem.

The global economic system does not want to change and will not until forced. In the United States, in spite of some hopeful signs such as the Sanders campaign and Black Lives Matter, we must admit that we have not yet achieved a politically effective force to change the world. While organized labor may be weaker than it has been, rebuilding the labor movement is possible and offers hope.

At a Keith Ellison Labor Day rally in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sen. Al Franken expressed pride in belonging to three unions. I’m only a member of one, but I am proud to be in solidarity with other AFSCME members. In the coming years, it is my fervent hope that unions grow and that we see beyond the next contract to the possibility of international solidarity. Another world is possible.

Thom Haines is an Assistant County Attorney in Minnesota, where he serves on the Minnesota State Bar Association Data Practices Committee. He is a member of the boards of the United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries, the Mayflower Church Foundation in Minneapolis, and G Project, a 501(c)(3) supporting human rights story-telling in Guatemala. Thom is a former Teamster and CWA member, and current member of AFSCME Council 65.

More Hillary, and the “fates of peoples”

From “Ready for Hillary” today on facebook:

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The post and photo currently has 124,000 likes and 15,000 shares.

My take: Hillary’s strategy so far is (1) allying herself with Wall Street money, and (2) emphasizing the clear truth that it’s time for a helluva lot more women in DC. That may work for her, we’ll see. However, even just on the possibility of Hillary running there are already a lot of conflicted people who want the latter, without ceding to the former, creating divides among otherwise allies. Which causes me to question just whose, exactly, interests her running would really serve. Anyway, you know my position. Give me Warren/Sanders (or Stein/Flowers, etc).

Bogged Down in Duluth

By JT Haines – January 25, 2014

On January 16, I attended the 1300-person public hearing in Duluth on PolyMet Inc’s proposed nonferrous metal mine in northern Minnesota. The purpose of the public hearing (first of three) was to receive public comment on the proposal’s “NorthMet Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement.”

I feel deeply about this moment, and have thoughts about it a mile long. Ian Kimmer of Friends of the Boundary Waters is calling this “the most critical conservation and economic decision of our generation,” and I agree. I’ve written on the subject several times and have co-directed a documentary about a similar project in Latin America, but I have to admit, when it came time to comment publicly in Duluth, I felt a little jammed up. Public speaking is just hard, so there’s that, but a few other things travelled through my mind that day.

We’re All Friends Here

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SDEIS Open House

First, walking into a room full of energized people wearing work boots, union tees, and “we support mining” stickers did – at least for me – have an impact. Frankly, I like these guys. I doubt many in the room know me from Adam, but I grew up a couple blocks from Minntac in Mt. Iron, and rooms like this remind me of a time and place not at all unpleasant. At the end of the day, we’re all friends here, and thankfully, pretty much everyone there seemed to have that firmly in mind.

But as I stood there feeling very strongly about the topic – me with my freshly minted “who will pay for pollution” sticker – the “we need jobs” thrust weighed heavily on my mind. Wait, how sure am I about all of this, again? I mean, I’m sure — to me, we absolutely need to identify better, more sustainable jobs than this new and dangerous type of mining — but all of a sudden I’m completely re-evaluating all three thousand thoughts I’ve had about this over the past couple of years. It’s not easy.

Kabuki Theater

Second, during the week leading up to the hearing, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr made a public effort to discourage people from comments not specifically about the SDEIS. “This is not a referendum on mining,” he said. The DNR’s printed materials and official media kits drove home the message. Fair enough, I guess.

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Duluth SDEIS Hearing

Except that, there I was again, re-evaluating the legitimacy of my own sentiments for this room. I have made some effort to review the SDEIS (it’s 2200 pages long), but I think my opposition ultimately comes from somewhere else. My observations have led me to the conclusion that allowing external corporate interests to extract public resources and ship them off to international markets does not generally work out well for communities. (Not really ever, nowhere, never.) What’s the plan here, one more boost? Then what? When does it stop? Why not now, rather than in 20 years when we come up against this again, but in a worse position? Why not now when our waters are reasonably clean, rather than later when they’re inevitably less so? And by the way, who really benefits?

And then…are these sentiments appropriately specific to the SDEIS?

To be fair, charged with evaluating this specific proposal, I imagine Commissioner Landwehr believes there’s a time and place for geopolitical economics, and that this hearing wasn’t it. Whether or not one agrees with that, it was at least enough to give me additional pause.

Conclusion

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Don Arnosti, Audubon MN

Thoroughly bogged down (or just a chicken with excuses, hard to say), I didn’t speak in Duluth. I’m glad to report, though, that a lot of others did, and with comments that were remarkably coherent and helpful. Many were specific to potential flaws in the SDEIS, the trigger for formal DNR review. (Just this week, in fact, the Ely Timberjay has reported that the DNR is considering whether the key water modeling in the report is flawed.) And others were respectfully from the heart, and absolutely effective in their own right. By the way, plenty of those were in the paper the next morning too.

So my hat’s off to Minnesotans commenting on this project. I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say on Tuesday.

The final of three public hearings is scheduled for this Tuesday, January 28, in Saint Paul. For my part, I hope to have decided by then whether “Glencore Schmencore” is specific enough to the SDEIS. (Glencore is the Swiss multinational Polymet investor, chaired by Tony Hayward of BP Deepwater Horizon infamy).