Drill baby drill as long as it does not affect me, some may think…

April 30, 2010

So the first oil-soaked bird has been spotted in the on-going Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. Already the pungent odor of oil permeates the air of New Orleans — as if the hapless city needs more problems after Katrina and the Great Recession.

The whole fishery of the Gulf Coast, plus the valuable wetlands that both contribute to the ecosystem upon which all living things, including man, depend, as well as serve as a backstop against hurricanes, as well as the beaches and perhaps the shipping of the Mississippi River and Gulf area may be in grave danger.

I know one should not exaggerate or jump to conclusions, but when do we as a society draw the line and realize that as much as we need energy in the form of oil, we don’t want to destroy our nest called Earth in the process? I also realize that over time a lot of these environmental mishaps, both man caused and nature caused, heal themselves. But is it all worth the cost and will we eventually reach the point of no return? Have we almost done that now?

I imagine this has silenced the drill baby drill folks for the time — but I’m sure they’ll come up with some excuse as to why we have to despoil the Earth and ruin other peoples’ livelihoods (Louisiana fisherman for example, and Alaskan fisherman some time ago from the Exxon Valdez).

Yes BP will certainly have to pay for this one, but really we are all paying the price, and I for one think the price is too high.

There are safer ways to get oil, and we need to move towards other sources of energy anyway, but will never do it until something forces us to, but by the time we get there, it could be too late.

And when you drive your gas guzzler as your God-given right and enjoy nature do you still think to yourself: drill baby drill — just somewhere else where it does not affect me?

But the economic effects and the environmental effects of such disasters have dire implications for us all whether we realize it or not.

And while my non record of church attendance may make me the wrong person to ask this question, I nonetheless ask: Does God want us to treat what he created this way?

P.s.

I know that accidents happen and I assume that BP went to great lengths to prevent this very thing, but the point may be that it is nearly impossible to prevent such disasters in offshore drilling. And again, is it really worth the price? I think not.


I take another look at Arizona’s new illegal alien law; I still think it is not practical and maybe not legal, but concede it might be doing the job somewhat…

April 29, 2010

UPDATE: April 30, 2010: I’ve read reports now that other states, to include Oklahoma and Texas, are considering Arizona-type immigration laws. When the federal government fails to act, states will, it seems.


————————————————————————–


While I still think the Arizona illegal alien law is the wrong way to go, if I can believe a story I just read in today’s newspaper, maybe it has had some positive effect — positive if you are against illegal immigration, and I am.


The headline in the Sacramento Bee read: Day laborers plan to leave after Arizona jobs dwindle. The subhead read: Effects of immigrant law already felt in Phoenix.


To summarize, the story said that many day laborers have decided to leave Arizona because they are undocumented workers (illegal aliens, if you will) and they do not want to get caught, feeling they are more vulnerable under the state’s new law that would supposedly make it easier for law enforcement officers to check their immigration status and in fact makes it a separate state crime to be in the U.S. (Arizona anyway) illegally (the law actually does not go into effect until July, as I recall, but the buzz is out there).


Not from that story, but separately, I hear that Mexico has warned its citizens against traveling to Arizona lest they be ensnared in the illegal alien trap — kind of ironic being that Mexico is basically a third world country in the throws of something akin to civil war (a drug war that has is some respects made the nation a failed state). I think the U.S. has warned its citizens to beware of traveling in Mexico.


At any rate, if the law is really discouraging illegal aliens (even if it is primarily ones from Mexico) then maybe there is some positive effect from this new law that on its surface might seem problematic — what with racial profiling and an extra burden being put on police.


Its defenders are certainly correct that Arizona felt pressure to do something because the federal government has not been effective in policing the border.


As we all know, the problems are that illegals, many from Mexico, pour across the border and compete with our own citizens for work (well some say they don’t compete because they take jobs U.S. citizens won‘t do, but that is a different issue, which could be debated and is addressed to some extent later in this blog), and that drug traffickers, the same ones who are challenging civil society in Mexico, and wreaking havoc on the border and elsewhere in the U.S.


As for the lure of jobs, I along with so many others cannot understand why more is not done to keep employers from hiring illegals. I believe that in the case of farm workers (an area that I have had contact with) government authorities are actually complicit in the practice of using illegal labor. In other industries, this may be true too.


Even before word of the new crackdown in Arizona, illegals had already faced the reality of fewer jobs, especially in constriction, due to the sagging economy.


The Bee story (actually Associated Press, by Amanda Lee Myers) said, in part: “the law’s supporters hope the departure of illegal immigrants will help dismantle part of the underground economy here and create jobs for thousands of legal residents with a 9.6 percent unemployment rate.”


Another paragraph in the story quoted an Arizona researcher as saying: “That’s really the question, as to whether the existing population is willing to work those (low level) jobs… I think economics provides the answer. If job openings have no applicants, then businesses need to address that by raising the offered wage.”


And as I have blogged before, that last part is really the whole issue. There just seems to be a feeling among some, primarily employers I suppose, that certain types of work must be filled by people willing to accept lower wages and thus a lower standard of living than most of the rest of society. Certainly supply and demand does answer this problem. If citizenship or other allowed documentation were required for employment, the nation would benefit from a workforce that is a full-fledged part of the economic system and theoretically the government would not be on the hook nearly as much for jobless benefits because more work would be available. Employers still fear, however, that if only U.S. citizens were available they might have to offer better compensation and working conditions. What is wrong with that? I ask.


P.s.


I also read an article in the New York Times Opinion section that defends the new Arizona law that is aimed at giving police there more authority to detain illegal aliens and makes it a separate state crime to be an illegal alien. It said that predictably the law’s detractors had not even read the bill. I plead guilty. I blogged against it and I had not read it — still have not. I depended upon news summaries. I read the afore-mentioned article and took in its summary. It gave me something to think about, but I was still not convinced it is the way to go. I doubt I will look up the actual text of the new law. I imagine it will be challenged in court and justices will do their own legal analyses.


We do need immigration reform, which basically in my mind means we need stepped-up enforcement. But it needs to be on a national level, in a coordinated approach.


But meanwhile, maybe Arizona is getting what it wants, and, who knows? other states might feel compelled to copy it in the absence of action on the national level.


Capitalists may need to know the rules more than they need bailouts…

April 29, 2010

I don’t have the credentials to speak about finance but I have credentials to speak as an ordinary person. And I still say that the government bailouts for Wall Street investment banks and for the auto companies were a mistake.

You’re not likely to get bailed out when you go to a casino and lose a bet, why should you get bailed out when you bet in the securities markets?

In fact the whole gambling industry would go down the tubes if there was such a thing as a bailout. The game would be ruined.

For there to be winners there has to be losers and for there to be big winners, there has to be big losers — win, win does not really happen in gambling and in Wall Street securities trading.

But it is important for the game to be on the up and up — people lose interest once they realize the deck is stacked. And if they do not realize it, they stand to lose their retirement in the financial markets.

An article I read in the Wall Street Journal (I believe it was there) indicated that regulatory agencies were understaffed. While it does seem to be true that some of the high-priced lawyers were wasting time looking at porn on government computers when they should have been doing whatever they could do to protect the investing public, the article noted, the agencies were understaffed, with lawyers having to do menial work usually given to support personnel. I would say the agencies need to be beefed up and maybe we need some more dedicated personnel.

But what really caught my eye was one of those debate articles in which a for and against position was given on whether collateral debt obligations have any social value. That article was in the New York Times. It was referring to so-called synthetic CDOs that play into the Goldman Sachs controversy.

Without getting into all the technicalities, the one side suggested that they were an innovation with no social value and should not be allowed. And that in fact they were partly responsible for causing the meltdown in the housing market.

But the other side argued that innovations, such as CDOs, are not the culprit. Instead, the culprit is a lack of regulation and the expectation that if things really go wrong, the government will bail people out.

Well that was my quick interpretation of it anyway. If I have misrepresented the arguments, I still basically believe what I’ve said. I know next to nothing — well more accurately, nothing, about CDOs themselves, but I would think most people agree there needs to be at least a modicum of regulation for financial markets to be fair and work for everyone and thus have utility for society, other than to be just crooked gambling casinos. And people who know they stand to lose everything (with no Uncle Sam to bail them out) will likely put a lot more care into what they do, be they buyer or seller.

P.s.

Indications from all the latest financial news seems to be that some type of recovery from this Great Recession is taking place. And some may tout this as vindication for the bailouts. But I am not sure but what things would have recovered anyway. A lot of time is wasted in bailout efforts, because if nothing else, the capitalists have to figure out how to game that system. There is always capital out there, but it wants to know what the rules are. When you monkey with the system, some of that capital lies idle waiting for a sign as to what the new rules will be. From what I have read one of the greatest things Franklin Roosevelt did during the Great Depression of the 30s was to relieve human suffering. But despite his activism in the financial sector it took nearly a decade and finally World War II and the demand it put on the economic system for production to get the economy going.

While I would never want war to be the answer anyway, today’s modern methods of fighting war seem to be more of a drag on the economy overall.

P.s. P.s.

And isn’t it strange that the American car company that did not take the bailout money, Ford, leads the pack now?

While the bailouts may in the long run have helped GM and Chrysler, they set a bad precedent for business. What seems to be saving all American auto makers now is that they are reportedly doing everything to be competitive, including taking advantage of bad publicity suffered by Toyota for either its safety failures or its lack of or slow response to customer complaints, or all of the above. I think the American auto companies for the most part and for too long shorted customers on real quality and longevity in favor of glitz and planned obsolescence and settled for a high-priced niche market, rather than compete with the foreign companies head on. They seem to be back in the game. And it doesn’t hurt that Ford pickups have such a loyal following.


The Goldman Sachs saga: hedging is one thing, swindling is another…

April 28, 2010

The details of the unfolding Goldman Sachs story are somewhat complicated, but the general scenario of the whole housing market collapse that led to the Great Recession and the Goldman Sachs involvement is simple to grasp.

Led by the high rollers on Wall Street and politicians who supported everyone owning their own house and making it work for them so none of us would ever have to do real work again, millions were induced to buy homes that were too expensive for their own incomes.

This all made a lot of money for a lot of people, to include the lenders (several layers of them since mortgages were bundled and sold as investment) and some borrowers who were quick enough to flip their homes in time.

This could not last forever, but not to worry for some of those connected with Goldman Sachs. While they were selling mortgage-backed securities they were secretly making bets that the housing market would fail (via the procedure of what is called “short selling” — the very securities they were selling).

Now it is not uncommon in business and in fact is considered prudent to hedge your position.

I recall attending a meeting a few decades ago when cattle ranchers were being introduced to the commodities market. They were told that they could lock in a price for their feeder cattle by buying cattle futures as a hedge. The upside would be they would know what the price would be before they committed all the money needed to get their cattle to the selling point. The downside would be that if the price of cattle suddenly spiked at the time of sale, they would have any profit shaved by the difference between the futures price they had agreed to and the newer, higher price.

And certainly securities traders and other investors have all kinds of ways to hedge bets. But hedging is one thing, swindling is another.

The problem, as I see it, is when the actions taken by traders goes beyond hedging and actually unfairly distorts the market to the gain of those who caused the distortion and the loss to unwitting investors.

And there is certainly a conflict of interest when an outfit, such as Goldman Sachs, is both trading something for its own gain and selling the same thing to a client. 

Above all the real problem is when all these games and sleights of hand affect the whole U.S. economy — that is when there is a real public interest in all of this.

To be sure, much of what is taking place in the Capitol Hill hearings is grandstanding by legislators to make themselves look good and the Wall Street folks look bad (so they, the legislators, will look good).

Thee is no doubt need for some improved regulation.  We certainly need protections against the gaming of the system. But I’m sure that there is a danger of over regulation. It’s better to enforce the laws already on the books than to create more laws that will just introduce more expense into the whole process — that expense always eventually paid out of the pockets of working Americans one way or the other.

P.s.

And then there is this conflict of interest between our federal government and Wall Street.  President George W. Bush appointed Henry Paulson Secretary of the Treasury. Paulson had been CEO of Goldman Sachs. Isn’t it strange that Goldman Sachs was able to make money at the beginning of the fall of the housing market while others were losing and then had the good sense to become a bank holding company so it could get in on the taxpayer-funded bank bailout that was promoted by Paulson?


Lessons of My Lai just never took hold

April 27, 2010

I watched the documentary on the 1968 My Lai massacre on PBS Monday night and had the feeling that I had seen it all before, but it was compelling nonetheless.

American soldiers wantonly murdered unarmed Vietnamese women and children and old men and others — hundreds of them.

Americans are not supposed to commit such atrocities.

Of course we did this in our own country to the American Indians.

There are a lot of explanations for what happened or why it happened, but few of them hold up.

What good excuse would you have for killing obviously unarmed women and children and others?

But it seems these things happen in war — always have, always will.

The thing that disturbs me the most about such incidents, other than the human suffering itself, is the fact that the higher ups seldom if ever get in trouble. In this case no one really got into trouble over it, high or low.

The evidence seems clear that the chain of command supported what went on at My Lai and if they did not know what was going on, then that would be their fault too.

According to comments in the documentary, there was ongoing abuse of civilians even before the incident.

As to the individuals who took part, that is the soldiers on the ground, I have some sympathy or understanding for those who may have fired into the bush or at adult males in the distance before they knew they were just innocent (or at least unarmed) villagers.

From what we know now, the soldiers were basically told they were going into enemy territory and that they were not to leave anyone alive.

But when it comes to coming face to face with obviously innocents (especially women and children and old men), I just can’t go there. I don’t see how anyone can do this.

I do understand the quandary soldiers find themselves in when it comes to the idea that they do not have to follow illegal orders. While it is obviously illegal to be ordered to kill innocent people, the way the system of military justice works is that the burden of proof is on the poor soldier who chooses not to follow an illegal order. If the system gangs up against him, which would likely be the case, he would not stand a chance.

Given the fact, as brought out in the documentary, that the American public made its feelings known that it did not want one of the main culprits, one Lt. William Calley, who was accused of giving orders that resulted in the atrocity, punished, what chance would a lone soldier have if he had refused to follow the orders to shoot everything that moved?

(Of course the public support for Calley was over the fact as they saw it that he was simply an officer who had to make decisions in the confusion of war and that if you start sending officers and soldiers to jail for killing people in a war then we could never be successful in a military operation.)

Well, anyway, My Lai is ancient history almost. But what I really got from all of this is that it is futile and dangerous to impose ourselves into the internal struggles of other nations. We end up doing terrible things and make enemies in the process.

We went into Afghanistan supposedly to go after forces that attacked us on 9/11 and now nearly a decade later we have imposed ourselves into an internal struggle and are killing civilians in the process.

We just never learn, do we?

P.s.

Anyone who has been in the military, or even in a big organization, can probably tell you that the way things often run is that higher ups tell you to do something but at the same time let you know that if things go wrong they will swear they never had anything to do with it, but you have to go along with the program or face the consequences — you lose either way.


Environmental concerns — all I know is what I read in the papers…

April 27, 2010

One of the initial reports I heard on the latest offshore oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico (a giant oil platform explosion) was from a so-called expert who assured everyone all was fine and there was no sign of a major oil spill (and, oh, thank heavens it was a certified oil industry expert instead of some kooky environmentalist or left-wing , non-scientifically-educated reporter talking, needlessly worrying us all about an environmental calamity).

Well that was late last week, I guess.

Now I just read that as the result of this same oil rig explosion a thousand barrels of crude oil are spilling into the ocean each day. That’s got to be costly and it cannot be good for the marine environment.

(Eleven platform crew members were still unaccounted for and presumed dead.)

The good news, if there is any, is that it is believed that since the whole thing is far enough out to sea, crews have more time than they otherwise might to contain the spill.

We’ve had bad spills before and they have done terrible environmental damage, but the world goes on, and to some extent nature comes back, and I presume the attitude of many is that such is the cost of survival in modern society.

And then there are those who claim that those who are concerned about environmental degradation of the planet are just alarmists or people who are against progress and who would, in fact, like to take us all back to the Stone Age.

Well, I don’t consider myself in that category, but I am concerned about the environment, and I can say right here I would just as soon there be no offshore oil drilling and certainly no more started — but I am reasonably sure there will be, even if this newest incident has dealt a blow to the cause of drill baby drill. Just before the latest catastrophe President Obama had proposed consideration of limited new offshore drilling, no doubt for political purposes as much as his perceived need of offshore oil.

I’m not a scientist and even though I have a four-year college degree my education was fairly light on hard science. So really all I know is what I read in the papers, so to speak. I have to depend upon the interpretations, primarily written by journalists who get information from scientists, directly and indirectly.

And it only seems logical that when educated folks are studying the unknown, if they are truly being objective they are likely to come up with varying interpretations of the data they have collected and one researcher’s data might not match another’s.

But over time, if everyone stays objective, it seems only logical that some common patterns will be noticed.

At some point there has to be a general consensus among scientists. The generally accepted story has been that the majority of scientists worldwide believe in the phenomenon of global warming that seems to be caused or at least greatly exacerbated by the actions of man.

Now some scientists, we are told, do not follow that line. But I have assumed or at least suspected that many of them are in the employ of industry groups who always fight environmental regulations.

Within the last year or so I have been reading reports that in some cases that some scientists who promote the theory of global warming have been caught faking data or purposely misinterpreting it. One motivation might be that even though they actually believe in global warming, it is easier to get continued funding for study if you can spice up the dire predictions a little. Or global warming detractors would have you believe that it is all a hoax and dishonest researchers are just eating up research grants.

A seemingly straight-forward opinion (opinion, that’s important) piece by a scientist I read in the Wall Street Journal the other day flat out claimed that there is no solid scientific evidence of global warming.

So who do I believe? And do I try to get my own personal count on how many scientists think one thing and how many the other? And do I personally sift through all the data (you know I’m not going to do that and neither are you)? I would not likely be able to interpret the data and would not know how accurate it was or the veracity of those who collected it.

A lot of people have a prejudice in this matter. They see environmentalism as too costly and a threat to jobs and just a plain waste of time.

Personally I would like to have clean air to breathe and an all-around healthy environment and I would like to see the survival of the planet and mankind.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that the only way we can keep employed and feeding ourselves is to foul our nest. It just does not make sense to me.

But I have to depend upon the experts who look at the facts in an objective manner.

Cooking the books to get research dollars under the guise of objective study or simply writing the things the way industry wants it (no costly regulations) is not the kind of expert advice that seems worth anything to me.

(You have to know that the same industrialists who would buy phony research to lobby against environmental regulations would demand the most objective information they could get when making their own business decisions, such as where to drill for oil or dig for coal.)

The best the layperson can do is read as much as he or she can and stay objective and do whatever seems to be called for on a personal basis.

P.s.

“Global warming“, some have noted, should have been labeled “climate change”, as it is sometimes now, because that phraseology is easier to understand, because, as I understand it, global warming can cause warm weather in some places that have been cold and cold weather in some places that have been warm and rain in dry areas and drought in rainy areas.

P.s. P.s.

Come to think of it, I don’t have to entirely depend upon what I read in the papers — I have (we all have) seen or otherwise experienced pollution first hand, such as smog, dirty rivers and lakes and other filthy waterways, as well as garbage strewn all over.


When we intervene in others’ business murder can result…

April 26, 2010

Just saw on the New York Times website that PBS is supposed to run a documentary entitled “My Lai”, about the massacre by American soldiers of hundreds of unarmed villagers in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

It’s supposed to be on tonight (Monday) — check your local listings. I certainly plan to watch if I can.

To some it may seem like just a terrible aberration or something that just happens in the fog of war.

Well, it does happen. We are doing it today in Afghanistan and have done it in Iraq, although perhaps not on such a grand scale (unless you count the totals).

My Lai, from all accounts, was rather up close and personal — troops mowing down women and children (babies) and others with automatic weapons fire.

There were too many soldiers involved in the My Lai incident for it to be simply blamed on a deviant or two.

The Nazis did such things in World War II out of pure hatred and some terrible programmed group-think thing.

From what I have read over the years, My Lai was kind of the result of fear and frustration out of losing fellow soldiers to booby traps and a largely unseen enemy firing out of the jungle and the reasonable suspicion that villagers were either Viet Cong guerillas themselves (although the babies could not have been) or were aiding and abetting the enemy. And their command also instilled a mentality to kill first and ask questions later (and right or wrong, in the interest of survival that was probably necessary to some extent — killing women and children and other innocents still not excusable though).

When soldiers are sent to a strange land to intervene in an internal struggle (notwithstanding outside involvement of other belligerents or wider world implications) terrible things result.

That’s a good reason not to commit our troops to fight internal struggles that should be left up to the locals.

It’s kind of like the local cops going out on a domestic disturbance call. The husband is beating the wife (or visa versa), but when it’s all said and done the unhappy couple both beat up on the cops.