Political Philosophy

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.

Advertisements

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

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

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

73402c9eca41ac93d0a36fc7efa13694_f146

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.”

marawi-residents-3

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

 

2016-us-election-logo

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.

###

Labor Day Message: Another World is Possible

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 7.38.37 AM

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.