Level play­ing field for Amer­i­can min­ing

Over­reg­u­la­tion dis­cour­ages in­vest­ment in do­mes­tic min­er­als

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Hal Quinn By Suzanne Fields Re­viewed by Peter Han­naford

ETar­lier this month, Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced the United States is fil­ing a chal­lenge with the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WTO) against China’s ex­port re­stric­tions on rare earth min­er­als. This marks the sec­ond time since 2009 our na­tion has brought a WTO case against China over min­eral ex­port re­stric­tions and calls at­ten­tion to the vi­tal im­por­tance of min­er­als to the U.S. econ­omy.

From rare earths and cop­per to gold and iron ore, min­er­als are es­sen­tial to U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing, con­struc­tion and tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion and are key to a range of prod­ucts, in­clud­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cles, high-tech de­vices and life-sav­ing med­i­cal tech­nolo­gies. All told, min­er­als were used by down­stream in­dus­tries to add $2.2 tril­lion to the 2011 U.S. gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

But if U.S. com­pa­nies are to con­tinue in­no­vat­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing the prod­ucts crit­i­cal to our na­tion’s eco­nomic fu­ture, they need re­li­able ac­cess to min­eral raw ma­te­ri­als.

For­tu­nately, we don’t have to go far. We don’t have to go any­where — not with $6.2 tril­lion worth of key min­eral re­sources here in the United States. Our na­tion leads the world in the breadth of its com­mod­ity min­eral re­serves — a po­si­tion that en­ables us to con­trol our own destiny and boost U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing prospects sim­ply by fix­ing a badly bro­ken reg­u­la­tory process.

It cur­rently takes up to five times longer to get ap­proval to mine for min­er­als here than it does in other coun­tries, driv­ing in­vest­ment, pro­duc­tion and jobs away from Amer­ica. From the time a project re­quest is sub­mit­ted to the time a final rul­ing is made, a decade can slip by and pa­per­work as much as 6 feet high filed and re­viewed — re­peat­edly. Not sur­pris­ingly, when in­vestors are ready to move on a project, they turn to coun­tries that are ready to do busi­ness, rather than tackle the Byzan­tine reg­u­la­tory re­view he In­ter­net is the lat­est tool for com­pas­sion­ate ac­tivism. When the sight of Angelina Jolie’s legs goes vi­ral, she mag­ni­fies her fe­male celebrity by fo­cus­ing at­ten­tion on the mis­eries of Dar­fur. She teases and tit­il­lates in a celebrity cul­ture and uses her fame for a good cause.

But the In­ter­net is not nec­es­sar­ily the best means for ed­u­cat­ing the public about in­jus­tice. It con­fuses and de­ceives as well.

When a re­mark­able doc­u­men­tary video called “Kony 2012” cir­cu­lated on Face­book and Youtube, pro­moted on Twit­ter by Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties, it drew more than 80 mil­lion view­ers. Ja­son Rus­sell, the young film­maker who made the video, be­came an in­stant hero for telling the world about Joseph Kony, a bru­tal Ugan­dan war­lord who kid­napped un­sus­pect­ing chil­dren and forced them into pros­ti­tu­tion and a chil­dren’s army to wreak mur­der and may­hem.

In­stant fame is not al­ways be­nign. It turns out that Mr. Rus­sell, a co-founder of In­vis­i­ble Chil­dren, an or­ga­ni­za­tion try­ing to find Kony and res­cue the chil­dren, was not care­ful with the facts. His video con­tains er­rors; its his­tory is out­dated; and the African con­flicts are dan­ger­ously sim­pli­fied. Kony fled Uganda six years ago and hasn’t been seen there since, and the chil­dren’s army is di­min­ished and scat­tered.

The sloppy re­search seems aimed at a kinder­garten men­tal­ity, lit­er­ally, as the film­maker uses his son, age 5, to act as a “com­men­ta­tor.” Com­mer­cial short­cuts ped­dling feel­good slo­gans in­scribed on bracelets and splashed on posters protest­ing the war­lord’s evil deeds even­tu­ally drew ques­tions about the film­maker’s fi­nances. He col­lapsed with a men­tal break­down. He was video­taped run­ning naked down a street in San Diego. He was di­ag­nosed with a “re­ac­tive psy­chosis” and put in a hospi­tal.

This is a story re­flect­ing un­in­tended con­se­quences of the dig­i­tal age run amok. It has far­ci­cal and pitiful di­men­sions of an In­ter­net melo­drama ris­ing from undis­ci­plined, unedited, un­e­d­u­cated elec­tronic over­load, when there are no re­spon­si­ble gate­keep­ers to make sense of high-speed in­for­ma­tion mov­ing process here in the United States.

In the past 20 years, our na­tion’s share of global in­vest­ment in min­er­als min­ing has de­clined from 21 per­cent to 8 per­cent. Not only are we get­ting a smaller share of in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal for min­ing, we’re also in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on min­eral im­ports from other coun­tries. Peo­ple won­der why our econ­omy isn’t hum­ming the way it should. You know there’s a prob­lem when we rely more ev­ery year on min­eral im­ports de­spite hav­ing the good for­tune of lead­ing the world in the di­ver­sity of our do­mes­tic com­mod­ity min­eral sup­plies.

The United States is dis­tin­guished from other coun­tries by its no­table lack of a for­ward­look­ing min­er­als pol­icy. Ja­pan, for ex­am­ple, al­lo­cated $650 mil­lion of its fis­cal 2011 bud­get to­ward mit­i­gat­ing sup­ply risks for min­er­als and key re­sources. In Australia, min­ing poli­cies are de­signed to bal­ance in­vestors’ needs for a sta­ble in­vest­ment en­vi­ron­ment with fair reg­u­la­tions, tax­a­tion and sus­tain­able min­ing prac­tices.

China, which is nearly as de­pen­dent as the swiftly like a rac­ing car with­out brakes on the dig­i­tal su­per­high­way. When videos go vi­ral, they com­mand a huge au­di­ence, gen­er­at­ing a dig­i­tal din more like bar­room bab­ble than se­ri­ous de­bate.

The “Kony 2012” phe­nom­e­non has lessons for how we ab­sorb and ap­ply in­for­ma­tion trans­mit­ted elec­tron­i­cally. The medium is not the mes­sage, but an un­tamed process. Thought­ful an­a­lyt­i­cal en­gage­ment gets lost in a frenzy of self-in­dul­gence in the self-ab­sorbed so­cial me­dia. The dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion has been hyped as ush­er­ing in a utopian world of knowl­edge that would ex­pand minds with facts faster than the speed of sound and light (and far faster than Su­per­man’s speed­ing bul­let). Cy­ber­prophets promised a fu­ture world il­lu­mi­nated by wiz­ardry and mag­i­cal teach­ing, as if con­sum­mate handto-eye co­or­di­na­tion could turn John Locke’s tab­ula rasa into a hu­man en­cy­clo­pe­dia.

We’re be­gin­ning to dis­cover that com­put­ers have lim­i­ta­tions, and it’s time to com­pute United States for out­side sources of the min­er­als it needs to sup­ply its grow­ing econ­omy, is ac­tively so­lid­i­fy­ing its con­trol of the world min­er­als mar­ket by ac­quir­ing min­eral projects around the world, in­clud­ing a world-class cop­per re­serve in Afghanistan. Canada, de­spite ex­ten­sive min­ing reg­u­la­tions, still main­tains a fairly ex­pe­di­ent min­ing per­mit­ting time­line by im­ple­ment­ing a flex­i­ble sys­tem of over­sight that seeks to min­i­mize du­pli­ca­tion, un­cer­tainty and de­lays. The coun­try is also spurring min­eral de­vel­op­ment through Plan Nord, a 20-year gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive that will see more than $33 bil­lion in Cana­dian dol­lars in­vested in min­ing and re­lated projects.

The United States must fol­low suit and de­velop a strat­egy to bring more U.S. min­er­als min­ing op­er­a­tions on­line. If our lead­ers fail to act, sup­ply dis­rup­tions will con­tinue to pose a threat, not only to min­er­als users and man­u­fac­tur­ers, but to the U.S. econ­omy as a whole.

Some in gov­ern­ment have taken steps to ad­dress this risk: 19 mem­bers of the Se­nate and 35 mem­bers of the House have signed on to leg­is­la­tion that would en­act a re­view of the min­ing per­mit­ting process, and en­dorse as­sess­ments of the na­tion’s min­eral needs and re­source po­ten­tial. These bills could lead to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­creased do­mes­tic min­ing and job growth across the econ­omy. In­stead of sim­ply try­ing to co­erce China into play­ing fair, Washington must re­al­ize that Amer­ica’s wealth of min­eral re­sources is an op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress sup­ply con­straints and bol­ster U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing, in­no­va­tion and na­tional se­cu­rity. With the right poli­cies in place, we can take con­trol of our own destiny by fully uti­liz­ing our do­mes­tic re­sources and work­force, putting our econ­omy on the path to­ward sus­tained growth. that, too. In South Korea, which leads the van­guard of dig­i­tal ed­u­ca­tion, ed­u­ca­tion thinkers are re­con­sid­er­ing their idea to dig­i­tize all tra­di­tional text­books.

“The con­cern about the dig­i­tal text­book is that young stu­dents won’t have as much time to ex­pe­ri­ence real life and real things,” a school ad­min­is­tra­tor of a pi­lot dig­i­tal pro­gram in el­e­men­tary schools in Seoul tells The Washington Post. “They’ll just see the whole world through a com­puter screen.” Kore­ans, whose chil­dren fa­mously achieve high scores in math and sci­ence, have found that 1 in 12 stu­dents be­tween the ages of 5 and 9 is so ad­dicted to the In­ter­net that the child suf­fers de­pres­sion when ac­cess to a com­puter is with­drawn. Sim­i­lar find­ings for In­ter­net ad­dic­tion among school­child­ren have been cited in the United States, too.

We’ve only scratched the sur­face of the ways the na­ture of elec­tronic teach­ing will change not only what chil­dren learn, but how they learn and how that will af­fect fo­cus, con­cen­tra­tion, mo­ti­va­tion and mem­ory. An­other prob­lem is the way the In­ter­net cre­ates opin­ions and ob­ses­sions while at the same time dig­i­tal words are eas­ily erased from the screen and knowl­edge is deleted from the mind. Fleet­ing feel­ings dis­con­nect from deeper emo­tions.

“Kony 2012” ex­poses one way a video gone vi­ral can do harm and cloud crit­i­cal un­der­stand­ing. We don’t yet know what will fol­low in its wake, but we should be pay­ing scrupu­lous at­ten­tion to what the elec­tronic me­dia is telling us. What we need to see is not nec­es­sar­ily what’s in front of our eyes.

This is a well-re­searched, highly read­able book that ef­fec­tively an­a­lyzes the re­la­tion­ship of the two lead­ers. But its sub­ti­tle, “The Dif­fi­cult Re­la­tion­ship,” is off the mark. A more ac­cu­rate one would have been “A Warm Re­la­tion­ship in Dif­fi­cult Times.”

Hav­ing been with the two dur­ing their first two meet­ings, both in London (one in 1975, the other in 1978), this writer can tes­tify to the fact that from the first mo­ment, it seemed as if they had been good friends for years. Both had heard and read a good deal about the other. They had sim­i­lar views on the role of gov­ern­ment. Their eco­nomic think­ing had been in­flu­enced by the writ­ings of Friedrich Hayek. Both came from hum­ble back­grounds, Mar­garet Thatcher, the daugh­ter of a gro­cer; Ron­ald Rea­gan, the son of poor but proud par­ents. Each came from fam­i­lies that prized self-reliance and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Those meet­ings trig­gered a fre­quent ex­change of let­ters as well as ma­te­ri­als from their staffs. It was log­i­cal that shortly af­ter his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan in­vited Prime Min­is­ter Thatcher to be his first of­fi­cial state vis­i­tor. The visit was a vir­tual love-in be­tween the two part­ner coun­tries in their “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship.”

The warmth of their friend­ship was soon tested and would be al­most ev­ery year they held their re­spec­tive of­fices. It be­gan with sharp dis­agree­ment over a pipe­line the Soviet Union was build­ing from Siberia to western Europe. By then, Rea­gan’s Cold War strat­egy was in place. Its main el­e­ment was to force the Sovi­ets to the brink of eco­nomic chaos so they would come to the bar­gain­ing ta­ble to ne­go­ti­ate an end to the Cold War.

He had the U.S. gov­ern­ment im­pose sanc­tions on U.S. com­pa­nies and their sub­sidiaries from do­ing busi­ness with those sup­ply­ing the pipe­line project. Sev­eral Bri­tish com­pa­nies had im­por­tant con­tracts with the projects. Mrs. Thatcher was fu­ri­ous with the U.S. decision, and other NATO mem­bers were un­happy. Rea­gan, how­ever, was de­ter­mined to im­pede the USSR’S abil­ity to get hard cur­rency.

While the two pa­pered over their dif­fer­ences, a more omi­nous split was in the off­ing. In early 1982, Ar­gentina, af­ter much blus­ter about sovereignty, in­vaded the Falk­land Is­lands. Rea­gan had called them “a lit­tle ice-cold bunch of land.” Mrs. Thatcher ex­pected the United States to im­me­di­ately sup­port the United King­dom’s po­si­tion that this was Bri­tish sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory, and its in­hab­i­tants had made it clear they wanted it kept that way. The Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion was am­biva­lent. It was de­ter­mined to im­prove re­la­tions in Latin Amer­ica and, to Mrs. Thatcher’s dis­may, ini­tially took a neu­tral po­si­tion. Sec­re­tary of State Alexan­der Haig en­tered in a round of fruit­less shut­tle di­plo­macy. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment or­ga­nized a task force to re­take the is­lands. When the Ar­gen­tines flatly re­jected Haig’s final of­fer, the U.S. fully backed the U.K., which took back the is­lands.

In 1983, the United States in­vaded Gre­nada in or­der to res­cue Amer­i­can med­i­cal stu­dents. Amer­i­can troops also sought to throw out Cubans — who seemed to be build­ing a Soviet-in­spired base — and Com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies who had killed the is­land na­tion’s prime min­is­ter. Se­crecy was es­sen­tial, so Rea­gan did not give Mrs. Thatcher no­tice un­til four hours be­fore the in­va­sion. Gre­nada was (and is) a mem­ber of the Com­mon­wealth, so she was un­der­stand­ably up­set by the news. Her sharp com­ments sur­prised Rea­gan, who was dis­mayed that she had not backed his ac­tions. Ap­par­ently, he did not tell her be­fore­hand be­cause he was afraid she would say, “no.”

There were sev­eral other points of fric­tion. Rea­gan’s an­nounce­ment of the Strate­gic De­fense Ini­tia­tive sur­prised not only Mrs. Thatcher, but sev­eral of his own Cab­i­net mem­bers. Its pur­pose was to force the Sovi­ets to try to match an ef­fort they could not af­ford with­out bankrupt­ing their econ­omy or come to the peace ta­ble. Mrs. Thatcher, for whom Mu­tu­ally As­sured Destruc­tion was an ar­ti­cle of faith, thought Rea­gan’s ini­tia­tive was po­ten­tially desta­bi­liz­ing and dan­ger­ous. This might have changed had he en­tered into a long dis­cus­sion of it with her be­fore­hand, but he did not.

The Reykjavik Sum­mit dis­cus­sion of the “zero op­tion” — that is, ul­ti­mate elim­i­na­tion of all nu­clear weapons — fright­ened Mrs. Thatcher, who saw it as highly dan­ger­ous. It did not oc­cur, of course, but had it, Rea­gan saw it as a long-term plan, not an im­me­di­ate one.

To show that she was never a “lap dog” to the U.S. leader, as crit­ics as­serted, she made a point of vis­it­ing Mikhail Gor­bachev when he be­came the Krem­lin’s leader in 1985. She con­cluded he was a man “we could do busi­ness with.” She shared her in­sights about him with Rea­gan, which helped him get his own first sum­mit off to a pos­i­tive start.

Through all the 10 or so years of their work­ing to­gether, both lead­ers of­ten went out of their way to shower the other with grat­i­tude and praise. These were not ges­tures to get head­lines, but gen­uine ex­pres­sions of ad­mi­ra­tion. In many ways, their per­son­al­i­ties were dif­fer­ent. She was out­spo­ken, loved a good de­bate and was iron-willed (of­ten called the “Iron Lady”). She of­ten harped on de­tails. He pre­ferred to cover his de­ter­mi­na­tion in a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally con­ver­sa­tional man­ner. He of­ten ar­tic­u­lated large ideas and de­vel­oped a grand strat­egy that led to the suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion of the Cold War.

As the au­thor tells us, each had tri­umphs and set­backs. Some­times they fought each other. Yet each came to the de­fense of the other when it seemed most needed. They were an ex­tra­or­di­nary pair.



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