Politics

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.

What do those of us in the United States really know about the president of the Philippines?

May 4, 2017 – By Thom Haines

I know nothing; I suspect a few things. I suspect that the U.S. media is not telling the whole story about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. I suspect that the United States is much more concerned about Duterte’s willingness to stand up to U.S. hegemony for the sake of his own people than it is about the alleged human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war. I’m not Duterte’s guy. I know nothing. I have been observing, however, that voices from the Philippines have quite a different view of their new president that what we are seeing in the U.S. media.

An April 30, 2017, New York Times article by Mark Landler methodically beats the drum we see in most U.S. portrayals of Duterte. Landler barely disguises his shock that Duterte has been invited to the White House. The only piece of substance offered about Duterte is that he is “an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines.” The article goes on to say that Duterte’s “toxic reputation” might be grounds for denying him a visa to make his visit to the White House were he not a head of state.

I do not pretend to understand Duterte’s “drug war”; troubling accounts from respected news outlets like The Guardian, and searing critiques from trusted organizations like Amnesty International deserve close attention. That said, many in the Philippines seem to see the drug war as one piece of a complicated puzzle, rather than an issue that defines Duterte.

Cheryl Daytec is an attorney currently serving in Duterte’s Department of Justice as the Assistant Secretary of Justice, her first government appointment. Previously she was a human rights lawyer for 16 years. On Saturday, April 28, Daytec gave the commencement address, titled “A Call for a Militant Christian Ministry,” at Union Theological Seminary in the Manila metropolitan area of the Philippines.

As she put it in her address, “I went to communities, I held the hands of battered women, raped women, girls, and babies, political dissidents, the homeless, ambulant vendors, indigenous peoples, persons with disability, laborers, the LGBT community, and other marginalized sectors. I fought for environmental justice.”

Here’s what Daytec says about her boss:

“Pres. Duterte has the biggest heart for the poor among all people who became President of this country. Of course, he also has the biggest dirty, foul, uncouth mouth among them all. We hear a lot about the heaven-shaking, hell-raising statements he makes in public speeches. Frankly when he gives long speeches, I keep hoping he will not say something that will make people cringe. There is no contest that the mouth of this President is unprecedented in the history of Philippine leaders, except for Gen. Antonio Luna who was said to liberally insert expletives in his speeches. But the President has bias for the poor.

“Let us all pray that he will stop liberally spewing expletives as we continually pray that he will always remain on the side of the poor, the pariah class that the oligarchy in the current capitalist system wants to maintain to continue its supremacy. Some people may find it difficult to reconcile our strong commitment to human rights with our support for Pres. Duterte. But this support is coming from the places of poverty and wretchedness where we have been to in our human rights advocacy. It is a breath of fresh air to have a President who understands that the root cause of poverty in this country is the unequal distribution of wealth perpetuated by an unjust system that favors the rich over the poor. It is inspiring to work under a President who always stresses that we have to put the poor first, who recognizes that the poor have the right to food, the right to jobs, the right to land, the right to security in times of disaster, the right to security in times of old age, the right to housing.

“Only a President who loves the poor would appoint to the social welfare agencies in his Cabinet people who truly care for peasants, the environment, the poor and needy, the indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups, despite the opposition of a Congress dominated by the oligarchy.”

Things are complicated in the Philippines. Many in the church in the Philippines have vigorously condemned extrajudicial killings while also continuing to generally support Duterte, a nuance very much passed over by New York Times.

I know nothing, but when I consider the positions of people I trust who live this every day, there seems to be more to the Philippines and its new president than a drug war. Where’s the truth? You tell me.

Haines at UTS

The author on a visit to Union Theological Seminary in the Philippines in August, 2016.

Thom Haines is an Assistant County Attorney in Minnesota, where he 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, and G Project, a 501(c)(3) supporting human rights story-telling in Guatemala. He recently finished eight years on the board of Global Ministries (UCC and the Disciples of Christ), a Union Theological Seminary partner.

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.

It’s Go Time for Sanders Supporters. Democratic Primary Update

February 21, 2016 — by JT Haines

After three states, delegate counts on the Dem side are even at 51 (non-superdelegates, that is), and Sanders is well ahead in the overall popular vote, 60%-38%. Looks pretty good for Team Sanders, all things considered, right?

Make no mistake. Steadily and per script the corporate machinery of the DNC and Clinton campaign is grinding, quietly telling insiders that this thing could be over as soon as March 1.

The next 10 days are a probably a lot bigger than they seem to many Sanders supporters. Until now, the Sanders campaign has enjoyed tremendous success on social media, at rallies, and through millions of $27 donations. It is very clear that people want an alternative to the politics of Wall Street, Wal-Mart, and Monsanto, and they want it now. So it might feel as though the campaign can simply continue and grow, that the real Sanders v Clinton moment will happen some time in the future, like at a convention or at a general election.

That may yet happen. And because of the delegates Sanders has won and will win, the demands of the campaign will be present on some level going forward, regardless of who wins the next several states. However, the reality is, a couple more primary “victories” by Clinton would allow her campaign, and the mainstream corporate media that donates to her campaign, to pivot the narrative back from one about political revolution to the preferred narrative of inevitability. It’s happening already, even with the delegate count tied, and the next couple states are tough sledding for Sanders. If enough talking heads say it’s over, people will start to believe it.

In order for conversations about the possibility of Sanders winning to continue in their fullest form (as well as conversations about superdelegates, corporate contributions, and DNC manipulations that come with them), there will need to be a new surge on the Sanders side, and probably within the next 10 days.

This means Sanders supporters, most critically those in Super Tuesday states*, going beyond social media and talking directly to friends and neighbors about voting on March 1. Only major turnouts have the chance of counteracting the incredible amount of establishment machinery leaning on the process on the other side. (Turnout was low in Nevada.)

Short of this, a few minor concessions notwithstanding, prepare yourself for what is certain to be a really, really, unpleasant summer of being told that you must vote for a candidate who does not believe it’s necessary to challenge the system nearly as much as you do.

To vote on March 1 in Minnesota:
Go to your precinct caucus location, which you can find here: http://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/  Voting will take place between 6:30 and 8:00pm. Heads up, a few things that are confusing people:
  1. Party caucus locations are NOT election polling locations. You have to look it up. [Update: I’ve been on the doors myself this weekend. I’m finding that nearly everyone thinks they’re going to their polling place (in our case, a church), when actually they’re going to the caucus location (in our case, the high school). Gotta check — Spread the word!]
  2. You do not have to stay around for all the party business to vote in the binding presidential poll. In other words, if you want to vote and leave, you can do that.
  3. Voting is from 6:30 to 8:00. If you’re in line by 8:00 you can vote.
  4. The poll is binding — meaning, the results determine how many delegates the candidates will get at the national convention from Minnesota. Think mini-primary.

 

*Super Tuesday Democratic states include:

Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia.