Mining Minnesota OpEd Distracts from True Purpose

Mt. Polly Tailings Breach

Mt. Polley tailings breach, British Columbia, August 2014. Photo Credit Caribou Regional District.

By JT Haines — January, 7, 2015

The Mesabi Daily News published an OpEd by Mining Minnesota Executive Director Frank Ongaro on December 20, 2014, and I’d like to take a minute to offer some thoughts in response here on Newspeak Review.

In his OpEd, Mr. Ongaro claims to break down a false choice between “the environment” and “jobs.” I believe he misses the real choice — between elevating the interests of multinational corporations and that of Minnesotans.

First, let’s be clearer than Ongaro about something that should be well understood by now: multinational mining corporations like PolyMet and its chief investor Glencore are not here to support wind turbines, build boats and computers, employ Minnesotans, spare poor people in far off lands, or benefit labor organizations and communities. They are here for profit and to further enrich the wealthy. Suggesting otherwise is a distraction.

The real question is whether we as Minnesotans would be better off with the companies here or without them. Reasonable people obviously disagree about that, so it strikes me that that’s where our focus should be.

Glossy PR images featuring windmills and cell phones do not tell the whole story. From where I sit, I see a terrible record of destruction by the sulfide mining industry, including the recent Mt. Polley tailings disaster in Canada, not to mention anti-labor practices everywhere it operates. (For a statement from United Steelworkers last month on Glencore’s labor practices, check out usw-global-allies-rally-in-london-demand-end-to-glencore-labor-abuses.)

Ongaro references “recycling our scrap metal” but I’ve heard no announcements about shortages of key metals in Minnesota necessitating major ecological risk-taking, or discussions of more comprehensive recycling programs. I observe a lack of conversation – especially from industry PR shills – about whether Minnesotans and Rangers should be better compensated for public lands and resources which some propose compromising in service of the global market.

Perhaps most importantly, I observe increasing environmental and economic turmoil, and a conversation mostly bereft of serious consideration of proposals for local economic diversification that would better serve the Range and the state. Instead, old rhetoric is used to avoid this conversation.

Ongaro’s suggestion that those who use metals (live in society) are disqualified from asserting viewpoints about how we manage public resources is reductive and insulting. We don’t need more “we use metals for stuff” puff pieces. What does “copper is useful” really tell us? Minnesotans understand that we use metals. Commenting on the production, sale, use, and re-use of those resources is not environmental hypocrisy, it’s responsible citizenship.

We all love this place. We all want what’s best for our communities. Many of us believe now is the time to discuss whether business as usual is the way to get there, especially when dealing with companies built to profit by destroying our land and water precisely to the level we allow it.

When pro-Minnesota advocates talk about sustainability, we are not, as Ongaro argues, advocating for a “utopian” vision. We are advocating for the best and healthiest possible future for our communities. And we simply don’t believe that future includes PolyMet and Twin Metals as currently conceived.

The industry, its ultimate motivations clear, wants to convince us that there are no hard choices here – that we can have it all. That just isn’t true. Distraction from the mining industry’s true purpose does us a disservice.

The Police Need to Do Better

By JT Haines, December 17, 2014

I imagine some peoples’ reaction to this headline will be, “that’s so obvious as to be borderline unhelpful,” whereas others will view it as nothing less than an affront to our entire country. In other words, we need to talk.

John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer

John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer

Earlier this month, five members of the St. Louis Rams made a powerful statement entering their Sunday NFL game, drawing a variety of reactions including demands for apologies from the police — even spawning a dispute as to whether an apology was made. This week, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” t-shirt during pre-game warm-ups, drawing a variety of reactions including, again, a demand from the police for an apology.

Hawkins’ statement, delivered without notes, captures what I’ve observed to be important and widespread sentiments. I highly highly recommend the full video. Here are a couple excerpts:

“Before I made the decision to wear the T-shirt, I understood I was putting that reputation in jeopardy to some of those people who wouldn’t necessarily agree with my perspective. I understood there was going to be backlash, and that scared me, honestly. But deep down I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

“To me, justice means fair treatment. So, a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.”

For a full transcript, visit ESPN here.

The Cleveland Police have not, so far, appreciated the exchange. Cleveland Police Union Chief Jeffrey Follmer went on TV and said the following:

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law. The Cleveland Police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns Organization owes us an apology.”

“They’re free to talk about it, but it shouldn’t be talked about on a football field where we are supporting the Browns by doing security.” 

“How ‘bout this? Listen to police officers’ commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop. That eliminates a lot of problems…”

Follmer’s full MSNBC interview is here.

After being forced by the interviewer (nice job, by the way) to admit that, yes, citizens are indeed entitled to speak on matters of law and justice, Follmer reveals – I’m characterizing — that the real reason for his response is that he’s offended that anyone would have the nerve criticize any member of the force for anything they did, no matter what it was. At the end of his interview, Follmer’s frustration appears barely contained, as if he’s holding back an impulse to scream: “We’re the police. This job is hard, so let us do what we do and never ask any questions, you ungrateful punks.” (Incidentally, the way Follmer keeps calling Tamir Rice “the male” creeps me out. I don’t know if that’s training manual-speak or what, but it presents like a militarized robot — not a quality I’d look for in a spokesperson. Or a police officer.)

I don’t hear anyone questioning the challenges faced by police*, but in any event, when I watch Follmer (and the Saint Louis police spokesperson, which I wrote about here, and the MPLS police spokesperson in a slightly different context, which I wrote about here), I see anger and defensiveness. When I watch Hawkins, and when I listen to people at community forums closer to the situation than I am, what I hear are legitimate concerns about brutality and injustice.

Of course police don’t have exclusive right to interpret the facts and the law. We as citizens and as the communities who have commissioned the police have that right, and I’d say duty, as well. I would think an absolute minimum adjustment here would be for the designated police spokespeople to at least succeed in not suggesting differently on TV. (What does the unpolished version of this sentiment look like behind closed doors?)

Perhaps people are observing something that the police, because of the position they’re in, are having trouble seeing. Perhaps there are injustices here. (There clearly are.) Perhaps refusing to acknowledge them on any level is bad not only for the community but also for police. Perhaps the real issue has more to do with change than with speech.

I’m sure there are many reasons – good or bad – why police are feeling defensive right now. But, boy, it simply needs to be acknowledged that what brave people like Hawkins are saying is not only coming from a very real and personal place, it’s also exceedingly reasonable. I can barely imagine.

A deepening divide between communities and police is obviously a problem, and exchanges like the one between Hawkins and Follmer raise the question whether, on a fundamental level, the police see themselves as dedicated more to protecting the community or to something else.

We all bear responsibility for the situation, especially those of us in privileged positions, and we need to act. In the meantime, thank goodness for Andrew Hawkins.


For additional coverage of the Hawkins exchange, check out Salon here. For an interesting perspective on police reactions generally of late, including an example of what I think is a healthier police response, check out here. For a defense of Hawkins’ right to speak, check out here.


*A (modest) suggestion for the collective: People shouldn’t have to say the following every second paragraph as a precondition to speaking at all: The job of the police is hard, sometimes life-threatening, and there are police officers willing to elevate the needs of the community over the needs of the police as an institution. This is not a small thing, and no one is suggesting it is. Can we just agree that most people feel this way, whatever else they think about these incidents? I think it would aid the conversation.

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.

What’s In a Name, University of Minnesota

By JT Haines, April 17, 2014

Hail to Minnesota (photo credit JT Haines, of brother Tom)

Hail to Minnesota (brother Tom Haines and band at first Gopher TCF Bank home game)

Last weekend, I cheered the Minnesota Gopher men’s hockey team in their dramatic efforts at the NCAA Frozen Four. Everyone in my family has a degree from the U, mine from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and I get goosebumps every time the band plays the alma mater.

I proudly wear the M.

Today the University and Humphrey School are hosting a “Distinguished Carlson Lecture,” featuring Condoleeza Rice. In support of the event, which has drawn significant opposition from those who feel that accountability, context, and authentic exchange are lacking in the presentation, University President Kaler has stated that “we can’t have true academic freedom at the University of Minnesota by denying a stage to those we disagree with or disapprove of.” The Humphrey School’s Dean Schwartz added that Rice is but one of “about 20 speakers of differing perspectives that the Humphrey School will have hosted over the course of the year.” Supporters point out that the Carlson Family Foundation is paying Rice’s $150,000 fee.

Unfortunately, Condi Rice is, among other things, an intellectual author of torture, and the aspects of her legacy I find most relevant (and troubling) are, at best not part of the University’s presentation and at worst whitewashed by it.

In an open letter opposing the framing of the event, over 200 University of Minnesota professors say this:

“In that very spirit of free expression, however, and in our commitment to the principles of truth and the common good that are inscribed above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium where Dr. Rice will speak, we object to the circumstances of this particular visit. While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights – the theme of this year’s lecture series – is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror. Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let’s not ignore her record.” 

I agree with them. (If you do as well, please sign their letter here.) I wish that my school was, if not putting forward a narrative I could get behind, at least facilitating a framework of expression worthy of our name. Howard Zinn famously said you can’t be neutral on a moving train. I hope that we all have Howard in mind today because the Carlsons aren’t the only ones paying for this event. I’m paying with the M on my chest. And so are you.

Update: Good related piece in Salon on Condi at Rutgers. Well said.>

More Hillary, and the “fates of peoples”

From “Ready for Hillary” today on facebook:

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 10.19.21 AM

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).