Level playing field for American mining
Overregulation discourages investment in domestic minerals
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.