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Archive for May, 2010

Just a few things popping through my mind last couple of days.

  • Been seeing a lot of UAW workers striking on Cherry Ave. near my house.  Can’t help but see it as bad form to be striking while so many are without jobs and hungry for work.
  • The other day on my way home there was a major backlog on the 405 North.  When I finally reached the problem I discovered (as is not uncommon) that the issue was on the other side of the freeway where two firetrucks and paramedics were working on something… no problem on the northbound.  And I thought that maybe this phenomenon could be analogous of the difference between theory and practice.  In theory the northbound side should have been flowing as smooth as normal, but in practice the rubber-neckers had created a domino effect that slowed things to a stop.  Need to remember that whenever I (or an idealist from the other side) propose some fix for the woes of our society.
  • Also seen on the freeway… a truck covered in Oregon stickers, U of O, Ducks, etc. but with California plates.  If you love Oregon so much, why are you here?  I always hate it when people are proudly celebrating some other location, rather than the one they are in.  Either keep it to yourself, or move back.
  • Finally… forgot to update you on a Chelsea-related post.  We did win the Premier League title, AND then went on to win the FA Cup for the so called domestic double.  Thanks for all your best wishes, I know you were all rooting for them as well.

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I am absolutely seething about the oil leak in the Gulf. I don’t know if the gravity of this situation has sunk in with people. I also don’t have the time right now to research and explain the ecological consequences, but I would assume that I’m addressing a smart enough audience that I don’t need to. It’s bad, and it’s going to be bad for a long long time. This spill is much larger that the Exxon Valdez spill, and it has occurred in a much more ecologically sensitive area. The Exxon Valdez spill reaked havoc on the environment for more than 20 years, and some would argue that it still affects that region. Enough said.

So, I’m heartbroken by this, but I’m also mad. I’m mad partly because of the amount of times I’ve listened to politicians (mostly on the right but not always) who claim that drilling in ecologically sensitive areas is environmentally safe. Can we please throw out that argument? It’s not safe. It’s risky. I believe that drilling compromises an environment even without a disaster like this, but I don’t expect common ground on that. Can we all just agree that there is a significant risk that goes along with drilling especially in challenging areas?

Can we all also agree that although accidents may not happen often, when they do happen they are devastating not only to the environment but also to the communities that surround it? This spill isn’t only going to obliterate an ecosystem, which I’m sure I care a bit more about than some of my friends on the right, but it’s also going to obliterate many coastal industries.

Now here’s the part that I’m most mad about. At some point, someone passed a law that the oil companies would be liable for only 75 million dollars in the event of a disaster. I haven’t researched this law, so I don’t know if it’s conservative or liberal politicians to blame. I’m sure it was pushed for by the oil lobbies, and I can safely guess that it was considered pro-business. I’ve heard an opinion that through a combination of laws the company could end up being liable for as much as 3 billion but it would take years of litigation to get that much out of them, and it’s not likely ever to happen. The total clean up from this is right now estimated at 20 billion.

First off, how pro-business is this law when one company can literally wipe out business for several industries and not be completely liable to them? How fiscally conservative is such a law when it places the burden of at least 17 billion dollars of clean up on the government?

Here’s the common ground I want. Can we agree that when an oil company drills, they should accept complete liability for the consequences of any mistakes they make. The only limit to their liability should come from legitimacy of the claims against them, not based on a dollar amount. Such a policy would make them think twice before drilling in questionable areas and taking short cuts along the way. Can we agree to that?

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As the Greek stock market tumbles and European CDS of all non-Greek PIIGS explode, the IMF is now in a position to bailout all the European PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain). What’s happening in Greece is just another domino in the economic Rube Goldberg contraption known as Globalization. What started out as the exploitation of the Third World is now heading West.

The IMF austerity measures are nothing more than economic enslavement. John Perkins has gone into great detail about his work there and if you haven’t read his book, “Confessions Of An Economic Hitman”, it’s a must read. Even before Perkins went public, though, reporter Greg Palast revealed the secret documents from the IMF, World Bank, and WTO that show just how toxic the austerity measures are and what they are really intended to do.

Here’s how it works:

(more…)

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A couple things lately have piqued my interest about President Obama.

  1. The government okaying wind-farms off Nantucket… which had been stalled for nine years (mostly, as the story is told, because Ted Kennedy and other hoighty-toighties didn’t want their vacation home views interrupted).  Good work to Obama to forge ahead despite that view held by many democratic supporters… although I wonder if he would have if TK was still alive.
  2. Dept. of Education’s Race to the Top program.  While regular  readers will not be unaware that I am hardly a fan of the DOE or Bush’s humongous enlarging of it with No Child Left Behind… I do want to credit the president for applying rules and language to schools fighting for fed dollars that they must be willing to reform their practices on how they hire and fire teachers.  Language such as:

    reforming and improving teacher preparation; revising teacher evaluation, compensation, and retention policies to encourage and reward effectiveness; and working to ensure that our most talented teachers are placed in the schools and subjects where they are needed the most.

    The White House has made it clear that when it announced Tennessee and Delaware as the first winners, that having union support of reform plans was crucial… basically saying, “unions you need to realize you are going to reform, or else you aren’t getting any money.

Kudos to the president. It may be harder than I would like to find things to agree with our president on, but I think it is appropriate to point out when I do.

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A while back I wrote about Toyota and the question of whether the free-market may have failed in regulating itself by the presence of the safety failures that occurred in their cars and trucks.  And now we are facing back-to-back tragedies with the mine explosion in Virginia, and now the BP oil-drilling rig explosion in the gulf.  Both companies had numerous fines and citations to their record (but, ironically BP was up for two government safety awards meant to be held this month).  So what is the deal here?  Has regulation failed?  Capitalism?  Does it all boil down to greedy CEO’s?

I would say a little bit of it all… plus other intangibles.

Did regulation fail?  I’m thinking, yes.  How exactly is it that a company receives 500 citations and fines a year and is continuing operations?  Look at the mine example:

Among the hazards are infractions related to air quality; development of a mine ventilation plan; equipment testing; and accumulation of combustible materials, such as coal dust, according to U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration records.

As production at the mine has increased, so, too, have the violations.

In 2008, the mine produced 363,923 tons of coal and received 197 citations. Last year, it produced 1.2 million tons of coal and racked up 515 violations, the highest amount of violations in the past decade. The proposed fines for those violations amount to nearly $900,000.

I understand that companies are able to appeal certain decisions, and continue operating while working on citations.  But perhaps there should be a limit to that – say your first 20 violations?  I’m not completely versed in this world, so perhaps these are tickey-tack violations that should not disrupt the flow of operations… but they sound pretty big to me.  I’m curious if there is a combination between owners bent on profit, regulators enjoying revenue from fines opposed to work-stoppages, and some serious connections to lobbying efforts in DC to keep things running smooth.

BP meanwhile is an interesting study.  The CEO of BP had apparently done great work in the name of increasing their safety record and costs.  And the oil rig belonged to a contractor, not BP, though the British giant certainly is the overall boss here.  But this case includes not only loss of life, but an extreme environmental catastrophe with a deep-water gusher spewing out thousands of barrels of oil a day into the gulf – with no convenient way to stop it.  So, again… who or what deserves the blame?  Again, I will have to say I don’t know.  But I’m inclined to think it is dysfunction between government and business.

It’s not business completely, because there are lots of companies out there that have sterling reputations for safety and low accidents – so why should these bad examples eliminate the good ones’ self-regulating behavior?  It’s not government completely… they are finding the issues many times.  As I was talking to my brother this weekend I was discussing how libertarian’s are not anti-regulation, or law.  That’s anarchy – rule of law is entirely necessary even in a limited-government view.  My problem with regulation is more typically reserved for personal liberties (such as the ability to smoke, or ride a motorcycle without a helmet) that over time serve to create a nanny-state that creates even greater dependence on government and absolution on personal accountability.  The ability of a government to safeguard our coastline from anybody drilling willy-nilly is not something I oppose.

I think the overall failure could in the area of follow-through.  If your punishment for an infraction is a fine not a fix, then expect people to often just pay the fine.  If your punishment is an order to fix something within a year… expect it to take a year.  I don’t think we need new regulations per se, just better and stricter enforcement of the ones we have – a similar argument to that of our immigration laws.  Bernie Madoff was flagged for his investment scheme – but without follow up.  Massey Mines was flagged but allowed to continue operations.  Deepwater Horizons (the leased rig at the center of BP’s problem) had a history of issues… but was not considered above average by any means, and hadn’t had a reported issue since 2005.  I would say that is pretty successful, but when dealing with oil and environment perhaps even one issue can be one too many.

This is a more fully nuanced discussion than we can have here… but the fact remains, these are tragic events and we should rue them happening.  Where the problem and solutions lie I think is not entirely in one camp, but a failure of many… as is the case quite often.    But be sure, that despite where the fault completely lies… the financial cost of all this will be borne by Massey and BP, not by the United States government or any regulating body.  Which in my mind causes me to think the companies needed to do better to stave off these accidents, and that their share of the fault is higher than any other entity I could drum up.

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Just an Idea

The other day I was talking to a friend about an opinionated, Libertarian public school teacher. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against Libertarians. Ron Paul was my favorite candidate in the 2008 Republican primary. At the same time, doesn’t it seem like a contradiction to be an anti-government, government employee? I’m wondering if in this person’s quest to shrink government, he’d consider eliminating his own position. Thoughts?

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