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.

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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.

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.

“This is politics, so get over it.” An Occupy Organizer’s Case for Bernie

By JT Haines – January 26, 2016

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 1.06.42 PMNew York-based Wildfire Project Director Yotam Marom supports Bernie Sanders for President. As a former Occupy organizer and leftist with a fairly large and national group of followers, Marom’s posts fill a space in the conversation not often reached by the MSM. This morning he directly and concisely addresses many of the questions about Sanders I often hear from those concerned the Sanders campaign isn’t left/progressive enough. If you’ve heard, or have, these questions also, I recommend this as well worth a read:

Folks, I think at this point, it’s just irresponsible for movement people not to support Bernie Sanders for president. Bianca and I watched the democratic town hall on tv last night. Millions of people got to listen to Bernie rail against Wall Street, demand that capitalists pay for social programs, preach against the war, popularize the term socialism, explain programs like single payer health care and free higher ed as common sense, and more. Bernie ain’t perfect: His foreign policy is weak, I wish he was stronger on race, and this election isn’t going to fundamentally change the system one way or the other. And still, nothing could be better at this moment – both for our movements and the hundreds of millions of working people in this country – than the continued possibility of a Sanders presidency, and the immense political education the public is undergoing with every day of this election cycle as a result of the megaphone our movements have given him. But if he loses Iowa or New Hampshire, it’s over, the megaphone goes away, and we go back to business as usual, a boring ass election between a bunch of right wingers. If you’re a cautious democrat: You have nothing to lose by gambling on this; the only thing holding Bernie back is our fear that he can’t win, but he will if you back him. And if you’re a leftist holding out for the revolution: Me too. But this is politics, so get over it. We use all the tools at our disposal that might move us forward. Your silence on this – like neutrality in the face of any imbalance of power – is actually a vote for Hillary.

Mr. Sanders and his campaign are indeed far from perfect. With that firmly in mind, this may be the healthiest conversation in many decades about the opportunities and limitations of any one campaign. For that alone we should be thanking Bernie, and giving him a fair amount of latitude on his decisions about how, where, and with what party to run.

This is not 2008. I think posts like Marom’s make that clear. And (as is no secret), I certainly share Marom’s conclusion that the tools the Sanders campaign is offering us right now are far too useful to pass up.

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Did Bernie Just Kinda Win?

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By JT Haines, December 19, 2015

Mark December 18, 2015, on your calendars.

The Sanders campaign has been gaining momentum for months, picking up a number of significant labor endorsements (CWA, AWPU, NNU), hitting two million individual contributions before Obama topped out at one million, and gaining in the polls. He’s also polling better against Republicans, and Hillary Clinton’s favorability ratings have been trending badly in the wrong direction all year. And, anecdotally, the people who say they simply won’t vote for Secretary Clinton with or without a nomination seem to this time really mean it. (Don’t they? Disclaimer: I am a Bernie Sanders supporter, and my social media feed is a verifiable silo.)

But even with all this, the conventional wisdom has continued to be: Secretary Clinton simply has too much (corporate) cash, even bigger labor endorsements (NEA, AFT, AFSCME, SEIU, Building Trades), and too many super delegates already lined up for any of the rest of it (i.e., real people voting) to matter.

That is, perhaps, until yesterday.

Briefly: A vendor-caused glitch in a voter file program recently allowed both campaigns to temporarily view one another’s voter data. At least one Sanders staffer saw some data. (It has been alleged that the Sanders campaign reported the glitch two months ago.) Yesterday, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) shut down the Sanders campaign’s access to voter files as a result of the breach.

The reaction has been swift and revealing.

For its part, the Sanders campaign immediately sued the DNC, with campaign manager Jeff Weaver making this pretty astounding statement: “The leadership of the Democratic National Committee is actively trying to undermine our campaign.” (CNN)

Here’s a tweet from David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, about the suspension of access:

And former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich said “it seems like the DNC is doing all it can to blunt the momentum of Bernie’s campaign.” (Time)

Access was granted by the end of the day, but the damage may have been done, as the general response on social media has been intense, bordering on outright revolt.

For a good example, I recommend a swing through former Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak’s facebook page. Yesterday, Rybak posted a lengthy comment seeking to explain what is going on with the data breach and subsequent DNC actions. RT is a powerful and popular Democrat, and now the Vice-Chair of the DNC, so one might expect comments on his feed to be somewhat muted. Or at least more muted than elsewhere. But the vast majority of the now 94 comments — often from Rybak’s own apologetic fans — are openly distrustful of the DNC and the Clinton Campaign.

Here’s one:

“As always, this is not a reflection on my apprecration (sic) for all you do RT. I am simply angry. This also happened October and the Sanders campaign made sure the DNC fixed it poste haste because, while the Sanders campaign could see Clinton’s campaign, the Clinton campaign could also see the Sanders’ campaign. How come no one is asking to audit the Clinton campaign? Debbie Wasserman Schultz and NGP must be fired.”

What’s the big deal, you might ask, won’t we be on to the next thing by January? Perhaps. But this to me feels different. It’s as if permission has now been granted for a lot more people to move past private suspicion and concern about things like debate timing and media coverage, to now openly questioning the DNC and democratic establishment. That’s going to be an even bigger deal come caucus/primary time. As Buzzfeed put it, “this is the war Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ progressive coalition was ready for.”

I thought my friend Matt Barthelemy captured the sentiment well:

Hesitant Hillary Clinton supporters – especially all you electeds/opinion leaders who have already publicly endorsed her – if this blow-up turns out to be the establishment-favoring-its-candidate BS it smells like, it’ll be a great chance for y’all to justify jumping ship and pivoting over to support this election’s People’s candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, so we can win this for real.

‪#‎FeelTheBern‬

So let’s see what happens. In the meantime, mark December 18, 2015, on your calendars. I wonder if, by next November, we might just look back on it as the day Bernie Sanders won the presidency.

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Update: By the way, this Dec 21 HuffPo blog piece (Hillary Clinton Is Better Than the Republican Candidates. But I Still Wouldn’t Vote for Her) exhibits the exact sentiment I’ve been talking about. I saw some of this in 2012 among those disappointed with a perceived abandonment of progressive priorities by Obama in his first term. I see a lot more of it now. Lines in the sand are being drawn, with eyes wide open towards the costs and benefits. At some point, the DNC may have to answer a question: Is it defending the party? Or is it defending specifically HRC and the version of the party she represents?