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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.

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Twin Ports Banker Weighs in on USFS Lease Renewal Question

By JT Haines — July 31, 2016

Brian Waldoch is a banker in the Twin Ports area of Minnesota and Wisconsin. He recently attended the US Forest Service listening session in Duluth on July 13, on the question of whether or not the USFS should renew federal mineral leases currently held by Twin Metals. (Twin Metals Minnesota LLC is a wholly owned operating subsidiary of the Chilean company Antofagasta PLC, “one of the top 10 copper producers in the world.” The leases concern land in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota, and would be required for a proposed copper/sulfide mining project to move forward.)

After the session, Waldoch submitted his own comment to the USFS, published here with permission, edited for length.

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The famous economist Adam Smith said that we are all motivated by self interest.

I attended the public comment session held at the DECC in Duluth earlier this month and the arguments I heard boiled down to: 1.) The BWCA is a special place and we should do everything we can to protect it, and the region’s drinking water is at risk. 2.) The Range is struggling economically and we should support the people, families and their way of life. Both have merit, both are important. We could debate which one is more important until we are blue in the face but that isn’t what this is about.

This is about the likelihood of outcomes. On one end, there is the possibility that the mine returns economic stability to the Range for generations and the technologies used to develop the mine do not pollute the BWCA or Lake Superior. On the other, the mine brings jobs for one generation and does irreparable damage do the BWCA, ruining the ecosystem and polluting Lake Superior to the point that it is undrinkable. The likely outcome lies somewhere in between.

“The self interest is the same as for all companies: Profit.”

If you, like Adam Smith, believe that people and corporations are motivated by self interest, it is clear that it is more likely than not that the BWCA will end up damaged and Lake Superior polluted. We are very familiar with the interests of the people who live here. But what of the company?

At the session, I did not hear anyone representing Twin Metals that would speak about the self interest of the company. This is concerning to me because they have the most to gain from this proposal and completely control the outcome. I think it is safe to assume what their self interest is, it is the same as for all companies: Profit. Quick, painless profit. The flashiest presentation we’ve ever seen won’t change this basic reality.

What does this mean for us and the likelihood of outcomes?  What it means is that the company’s interest is to build a mine and strip it of all of its resources as fast as possible, and as cheaply as possible. That’s how their shareholders reward them. That is how they determine how successful the mine is. Sure they will boast that they did it environmentally “safe,” but really what they mean to say is “we complied with the law.” But the law doesn’t have billions of dollars studying the outcomes and does not know the true environmental impacts until it is too late.

“If there is a corner to be cut in the name of profit that sacrifices the environment, rest assured, it will be cut.”

What is perhaps the most alarming to me about this whole situation is that the Twin Metals’ self-interest is directly opposed to the miner’s self interest. The miners believe that this mine will bring economic stability for generations, when really the mine is motivated to keep it open for a short as possible. This just kicks the can down the road so that our children can have this debate 20 years from now. Twin Metals’ self interest is to pay as little as possible for a short as possible. The mine will only keep the BWCA and Lake Superior as clean and quiet as it legally has to. If there is a corner to be cut in the name of profit that sacrifices the environment, rest assured, it will be cut.

“We carry all the risk and little reward.”

All this boils down to this: if we approve this mine, we are placing our trust in a global corporation’s self interest to make the best decisions for our people and our environment. They have all reward and little risk. We carry all the risk and little reward.

All we need to do to validate Adam Smith’s assumptions is to look around the world in countries where there are fewer environmental laws — it is obvious, the mine companies’ self interest is alive and well and environmentally friendly and economically stable mines are not.

We only have one opportunity to not mess this up. Please make the right decision and do not renew the mineral leases.

Thank you,

Brian Waldoch

Brian Waldoch lives in Duluth with his spouse and works in Superior. He is an avid hunter, fisher, and camper, and a lifelong resident of the state. Reader note: Brian and I are friends; he attended the listening session at my invitation. The comment and decision to submit are his.

Naomi Klein and Rethinking PolyMet

By JT Haines, September 24, 2014

“We need an entirely new economic model, and a new way of sharing this planet.” — Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate

There are lots of ways that conversations about copper-sulfide mining in Minnesota conclude, some of them less than pretty. But what about where they start?

If we start with the proposition — and I believe we should — that we all share a stake in the health of the air and the water, as well as the soil and trees and habitats, then isn’t it the case that profits taken, and damage caused, by corporations exploiting these resources is at our collective expense? In other words, isn’t that resource-based corporate welfare? (One might argue the entire economy relies on it.)

If so, shouldn’t it follow that subsidizing public institutions (transit, schools, health, etc) by taxing investors who enjoy these profits is not “giving money away to the undeserving poor,” but reimbursing us for our losses?

Mine Sites, courtesy MN DNR

Mine Sites, courtesy MN DNR

More to the point, when it comes to the public resources at issue in the current copper-sulfide mining proposals in Minnesota (PolyMet, TwinMetals), what if we owned 100% of profits, minus a reasonable fee for the work that produced it, rather than multinational corporations owning the profits and paying taxes on a portion of it? (Incidentally, Tony Hayward, of BP Deepwater Horizon infamy, is deeply invested in PolyMet. MinnPost) Would we not then be better able to invest those revenues back into Minnesota, including a sizable fund for any cleanup-related costs and an international fee for carbon-based pollution produced?

If such a narrative were part of our discussion, then perhaps it would be more possible to have a rational conversation about the wisdom of accepting risks to our waters of generations of pollution. Perhaps it would then also be possible to speak both about jobs and environment.

I haven’t heard it. And without such a narrative, the deal has seemed cooked in the company’s favor from the outset.

Naomi Klein in her new book, This Changes Everything, is right — now is the time to “think big, go deep, and move the ideological pole far away from the stifling market fundamentalism that has become the greatest enemy to planetary health.” The PolyMet debate is an opportunity for us do our part by completely reconsidering how we think about public minerals and resources in Minnesota. According to a recent Star Tribune poll, support for the PolyMet proposal is declining. Perhaps we already are.

Papa Needs a New Pair of $2500 Seat Licenses. (poll below)

Did you hear? No, sorry, not about the developing ecological crisis and ongoing emergency in economic inequality. Minnesota’s shiny new $1B NFL football stadium! We’re all very excited.

ICYMI (although hard to believe that’s possible), Minnesota is building, with significant public funds, a new $1B stadium to serve one privately owned football team for 10 home games a year, at least 4 of which are likely to be meaningful to football fans. (To be fair, the new stadium may possibly a bring a super bowl, which would be great for corporate hotel sponsors and less great for anyone hoping to drive somewhere, or read about something else in the newspaper.) Here is the “rendering” of the stadium-in-development:

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The Minneapolis STrib is reporting this morning that tickets for the new stadium — including for my not-rich-grandpa who has been going to Vikings games since long before the last time we built a new stadium — will come with an upfront “seat license” ranging from $500-$9,500. According the the story, “three-quarters of the stadium’s 65,000 seats will have a license fee attached. The average license will cost $2,500.” The license fees go to the team’s private owners, and will evidently be used for part of their share of the building’s construction expenses, as well as marketing (you know, because a good dose of marketing is definitely going to be needed).

There is one tiny thing I like about this seat license news. It gives me an opportunity to say this:

Dear Internet, I hereby declare that I will never use my own money to pay for a seat license to this Monument of Distraction, ever. PS – Adrian Peterson, you still rule, and I genuinely hope everything works out well for you.

Do you want a say on this situation? Express yourself here!

Social Media Etiquette – Just Say Yes

You’ve seen it. There is an event or invitation posted on social media, and someone has publicly shared this:

“I would go, but can’t because of X. Winky face!”

Fair enough, only good intentions involved there I’m sure. That said, I would like to toss this friendly suggestion into the ether:

Events are posted on social media by organizers for our benefit — to inform us of the details, to offer us a chance to seize on the opportunity, to engage with the people who are interested, etc. A public ‘no’ in response doesn’t serve much of a purpose. If there are people who need to know for one reason or another that we will not be attending – or if we simply want to indicate our appreciation to the organizer – a simple private message will almost always suffice. (Even for small private events of less than 20 people, I’ve taken to usually withholding a public ‘no’ at least until the ‘yes’s’ have had a chance to come out and play.)

In my observation, a lot of people have already figured this out. If you haven’t, consider that your public ‘no’ leaves the organizer with two options: leave your stinker sitting there, or delete it as frankly not very relevant (which, being the conscientious social media user that they are, they are hesitant to do). I assume that’s not the intent.

We can do our friends and well-meaning acquaintances a favor by — almost always — kindly keeping our no votes to ourselves. Or better yet, turn them into a yes.

photo credit: FindYourSearch via photopin cc

photo credit: FindYourSearch via photopin cc