I haven't posted in a while due to a busy personal life, but there is a lot in the news to discuss lately.
This whole Utah mine issue unfortunately demonstrates a few issues. Granted these types of accidents are practically inevitable in this line of work, but this particular case I think illustrates much of what is wrong in the media, administration, and workplace today.
First of all, while the media have reported that there is a dispute over whether or not the accident was caused by an earthquake or by the mining practices, they haven't pressed the issue. Now that three more people have been killed in the rescue effort, the folly of not holding the mine owner, Bob Murray, to task has become even more apparent.
When Bob Murray came out being defensive and shifting blame, and basically acting like he was engaged in a cover-up, that should have been a sign for government officials not to trust what he was saying and not to trust his judgment and not to allow him to direct, or have any say, in the rescue effort. By him claiming that the initial cave-in was caused by an earthquake he misrepresented the facts in such a way that actually matters to how the rescue effort went forward. Granted people still knew that the area was unsafe, but knowing that the cave-in was caused due to structural problems in the mine is different from thinking that it was caused by an earthquake, because an earthquake is a one-time event, whereas structural problems persist. By him claiming earthquake, that focused attention away from the inherent structural weakness of the mine.
Second of all, this Bob Murray fellow actually lobbied against legislation that would have required more safety equipment in mines, and has been a major contributor to the Republican party, opponent of global warming, and a general advocate of hands-off policy towards business regulation and he is anti-union.
Basically, this entire tragedy looks like chickens coming home to roost, and this is likely one reason why he was so defensive out of the gates.
Thirdly, Richard Stickler, the man put in charge of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, a department that is supposed to be tasked with enforcing regulations on mining operations and looking out for the safety of workers, is a former coal executive whose, like many in the Bush administration, was more interested with doing the opposite of the charter of his department. Instead of enforcing safety rules and looking out for workers, under Stickler MSHA reduced it's oversight role and catered to corporate interests.
When this tragedy occurred, instead of MSHA coming in and taking over and taking a critical look at the operations, they let the mine owner run the show, allowed him to engage in his own campaign of mis-perception, and allowed him continue putting lives in danger. Meanwhile, the press mostly just sided with the mine owner and basically just became his mouthpiece.
There were a few exceptions to this, primarily the Salt Lake City Tribute, which actually did a good job and did some investigative reporting, and NPR, which basically picked-up in the job done by the Salt Lake City tribune. Basically all of the other national news organizations, though, were asleep at the wheel at best, and were accomplices in on-going mismanagement and in the spread of misinformation at worst. The government agency that is supposed to be tasked with protecting the public and the workers was instead protecting the mine owner, again aided by the cover of the news media.
At long last, now that things have turned sour and the writing appears to be on the wall, the national news organizations are starting to "question the events". (Kinda like they started questioning the Bush administration after we had been in Iraq for two years).
In the grand scheme of things this mining tragedy is a small event, but it once again demonstrates the real world results of the collusion and ideology of the right-wing agenda and the lack of objective reporting on such events.
For more on this see:
Memo shows mine already had roof problems in March
Handling of Mine Disaster Questioned
What's Wrong With America?
The illegal immigration issue
I keep hearing people talk about the illegal immigration issue, but it seems that most people simply don't get it. Now the Bush administration has recently started "enforcing the laws", which is exactly what the anti-immigrant crowd that prevented the immigration reform bill from passing Congress wanted (not that it was a good bill anyway).
What these anti-immigrant people keep claiming is that anything that would allow the illegal immigrants that are here to stay and eventually become citizens is "amnesty", and that these people are "law breakers", and should thus be "punished". They will often then go on to claim that these people don't pay taxes, yet they use taxpayer funded services, and they will talk about high crime in some communities where there are a high number of illegal immigrants, etc.
This issue can be addressed with a few simple truths.
#1 The US government does not currently grant enough legal visas to live and work in America, nor does it grant enough citizenship documents. The reason that there are so many illegal immigrants is that we don't offer enough legal means to enter the country to satisfy the demand, both of people to live here and of our economy to fill needed jobs. That means that "enforcing the laws that are on the books" is not a solution, because "the laws that are on the books" are the problem.
#2 Most of the problems that we do find among illegal immigrants are a product of their illegal status. They have to resort to criminal activity because they are denied by us the ability to engage in legal activity. This means that the fastest and easiest way to solve any crime problems that exist among illegal immigrant populations is simply to legalize them. Indeed the single best crime fighting measure that we could enact in areas with high numbers of illegal immigrants would be to grant them legal residency status.
This goes straight to the tax issue too. First of all, most immigrants, including illegal ones, do pay payroll taxes, meaning Social Security and other taxes, yet they will never receive the benefits, so in fact they actually pay more in taxes than they get back. They also pay sales taxes, etc., like everyone else. Any taxes that they don't pay are only not paid because they are illegal, but again the fastest way to fix this problem is simply to grant them legal status, which would then make it possible for them to pay taxes. Again, its our fault that they don't pay taxes, not theirs. It is our system that exempts them from paying the taxes.
#3 And as for "amnesty" and all the talk of these people having to "earn" the right to be Americans, I find this an absolute load of crap. What have people who were born in America done to "earn" being an American citizen? Nothing of course. These people have done more to earn being an American than most Americans and almost all of them work hard and for less pay than any American would take. The idea that these people haven't earned it is absurd, they have worked in farm fields picking our food for $2.00 an hour, if that isn't earning it I don't know what is.
The problem with illegal immigration is not the immigrants, it is our own immigration system, and thus the conservative mantra to "simply enforce the laws that are already on the books" is a doomed and flawed plan, as usual.
The presidential candidates
Well, I really wish that John Edwards had a better chance of making it and that he didn't have some of the personal foibles that he seems to have, because he seems pretty good on the issues, at least as good as one can expect from a real candidate, but there are just some aspects of his personality, such as his $400 hair cuts and frequently being late, and his general demeanor that aren't so great.
I have also come around to Barack Obama, despite his frequent discussion of his "faith" (especially since Hillary, and Edwards do it too anyway). I think that he was right-on when he said that he would meet with Castro, and other such blacklisted leaders, because obviously not meeting with them hasn't amounted to any good.
Overall this is what I like about Obama, he is a relative newcomer and not an insider, which is definitely a good thing, and I think that while he lacks foreign policy experience, he could do more for America's foreign policy that anyone else because he could present a totally different image for America, which is what we need. Face the facts, most foreign people, even though they may like America, don't like what is seen as the establishment in America, and someone like Obama could represent real change like none of the other candidates, and I think that simply by him being president it would improve our international standing.
I also think that Obama wouldn't have much problem attracting the right talent to help him out in areas where he lacks experience, such as in foreign policy. He would easily be able to build the right teams I think. Whether or not he would I don't know, but I think that out of all the major Democratic candidates he would have the easiest time getting anyone to sign up on his staff.
I just have a feeling that Obama would be more likely to do the right thing when it comes to foreign policy and that his administration would be able to succeed where so many others have failed, which is in the area of diplomacy and connecting with foreign leaders and foreign people who feel left out of the international system or stepped on by America, and I think that that would go farther than any hard-line or military action. People in most countries don't feel like America is a force for good in the world, and that is the biggest problem, and I think that Obama could change that perception as well as change the reality, and that that would be more effective than any war or any other possible show of force.
We need someone who can admit that America has made wrong decisions and taken wrong courses of action and who will actually seek to make changes and engender trust in the international community, and I think that Obama is the best candidate for that.
At the very least I hope that he ends up as a vice presidential candidate on whomever's ticket if he doesn't get the nomination himself.
The credit problem and the economy
Well, it took longer than I figured it would for the lending problems and the housing markets to impact the economy, but at long last some of the chickens are coming home to roost. I suspect that we haven't seen the end of the fallout from these financial problems and that this is going to continue to cause economic problems for at least months to come if not years. It is interesting how, once again, America was able to largely pawn it's problems off onto others though. What basically took place is that American borrowers lied and cheater on their loans and American mortgage lenders and rating agencies put together financial instruments that misrepresented reality and sold them to overseas investors, who thought that they were buying relatively secure investments, when in fact what they were buying was repackaged junk bonds that were still junk.
Now, interestingly enough, even though American borrowers and American lenders and American financial institutions are the root cause of this problem, it will primarily be overseas investors and overseas countries that pay the largest price. Once again we figure out a way to screw everyone else and gain at their expense.
That's not to say that American financial institutions didn't get hit hard as well, but by and large much of the financial risk was offloaded to foreign investors, and poor countries will be hit hardest by our financial misdeeds. Institutions in developing economies that thought that they were going to be able to start getting ahead by investing in a secure market will now find that they are back and square one and did no better than investing in troubled third world markets. Talk about being a bad ambassador to countries that we were trying to encourage to participate in a global economy on American terms or to adopt an American style economic system, I think we will find that over the coming months there will be a lot of international ridicule over this issue and criticism of America.
That will also be bad news long-term for our economy since we depend so heavily on foreign investment and foreign buying of our debt. There was already a developing trend away from buying American debt and investing in the American dollar, which has seen the American dollar decline steadily over the past year, and this is only going to accelerate that trend. The Fed is now stuck in a tight spot, which is the spot that I thought we would have gotten stuck in two or three years ago actually. The fundamental problem that the American economy faces is that both taxes and interest rates are low, and the lowering of taxes and interest rates has been used to keep the economy afloat, but at a certain point you can't continue to cut taxes and interest rates, indeed we need to increase taxes and interest rates, but the problem is that the economy can't really handle increases in taxes and interest rates.
Taxes and interest rates have been pretty steadily decreasing since the 1940s. Pretty much every decade since the 1950s has seen lower taxes and lower interest rates, such that much of the economic growth that has happened during that time has been facilitated by these factors. Well, at a certain point you can't continue to lower those things, and I would argue that during the Bush administration what we saw was a lowering of both taxes and interest rates below a sustainable level. Now we face the problem of how to continue to sustain and grow the economy while at the very least keeping taxes and interest rates at a steady and constant level, though at this point, due to Bush, we actually need to increase taxes and interest rates, something that the American economy hasn't really had to deal with since the 1930s.
What this current financial problem is showing us is that doing this is going to be difficult, and that the economic growth that occurred during the Bush years has not been "honest" growth, it has been growth that has been propped up with basically false accounting. So, I think that we are just now starting to see the edge of a much larger problem. Many other economic analysts out there are saying that the fundamentals are fine and everything is good, but I don't agree. The problem is that when you look at the monetary policy, the debt issues, the tax structure, the financial institutions, and the emerging economic competition abroad, things do not look good for America over the long term, and that doesn't even take into account the mounting health care, education, and energy problems.
At this point I think that technology is the only possible long term potential savior of the American economy. It is possible that increases in efficiency due to technological advances could actually make up for all this and basically make it possible to produce so much more value that we can effectively work 10 times harder over the coming 25 to 30 years to offset all of these other factors, but I think that's basically the only potential positive solution to this situation for America.
I think that what this current financial crisis is going to do is accelerate the rate at which foreign countries distance themselves from the American market and this is going to be the beginning of people taking a much harder look at investing in America and no longer seeing this as a secure and trustworthy place to invest and I think we will see a pullout of foreign money from American markets over the long term, largely spurred by this past week's financial events. Couple that with a crackdown on illegal immigration, and I think what we will see is shrinking GDP growth over the coming year. I think that between now and 2009, when a new president comes into office, the economy is going to take a downturn. The crackdown on immigration, the shakeup in the financial markets, the lack of confidence in American investments, the injection of money into the system by the Fed, the lack of funding for basic government infrastructure, the growing American debt, the beginning of the retirement of the baby boomers, this all lines up for some bad news.