Friday, June 11, 2010

Buying American part two

In the last blog post for Responsible Community, the personal decision to buy American was discussed. Here we take a look at the same decision from the view point of official U.S. policy.

In the fine print it states that if you include American made products as a high percent of your total investment you will be able to bid on a project. The project is part of the stimulus package created by congress. It is for, of all things, waste water management, heavy industry items that are at the core of American manufacturing.

Meet Mr. Pokorsky owner of Aquarius Technologies Inc. located in Port Washington, Wisconsin. His company makes equipment for waste water treatment. His equipment is all manufactured in America with some suppliers located in other parts of North America. With $6 billion of the stimulus package earmarked for just what he makes, this was to be a boom for Pokorsky.

Except Canada heard about the Buy American prevision of the package. Some of Pokorsky's suppliers and many of his clients in the great country to the north didn’t like the possibility of being excluded from the contracts. As an example, the town of Halton Hills west of Toronto decided to do something about that. The town of 50,000 people is amending their procurement policies to make sure American made products don’t get used. As Mayor Rick Bonnette says, "We won't be taking any products from any country that is discriminating against us."

In response to the movement in Canada to amend procurement policies Pokorsky said, "If that sticks, well, there goes 25% of my business.  To me, Ontario may as well be Indiana."
Many people are examining the Great Depression because of the current economic climate. It is argued that the depression was made even worse because of another way of supporting American made products. The U.S. government at the start of the down turn attempted to protect American jobs by placing a tariff on foreign goods. France, England and Germany responded with their own tariffs on our products. Trade dropped dramatically and made the economy all over the world worse.

As a selling point in the unofficial market place, being made in America can be seen as a benefit to the buyer, if the buyer is American. But, if you are Canadian, Mexican or another country making decisions based on the content of the material, maybe that wouldn’t be such a great benefit.

As a community, if we want to make policy decisions based on maintaining and growing American jobs we need to avoid building the castle of protectionism. The official policy theory of buying American to protect American jobs is a great sound bite in an election. But, the way official policy works out in practice is occasionally just the opposite.

Protectionism as a community policy is a great idea… that doesn’t work.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Buy American may not be the best way to help us

Driving around town you can’t help but occasionally see a bumper sticker that says, “Buy American, the job you save may be your own.” So, given the clear choice, who would you save if you were in the situation, you, your family, your country, or the world?

It is rare that a decision in the market place doesn’t come down to that. If we buy an American car, you may be supporting yourself, your family and your country. But, that makes other countries economically weaker. If you buy a foreign product, you are helping the world and your country (storage, shipping, dealerships are all in the states, sometimes the car is even built here) but may not be helping you or your family. That is a simplistic view, but it helps set up a solution.

The reality is each country tries to control every aspect of economics so that investment and business will come to their part of the world, to the detriment of other countries. The products and services that are produced are actually secondary to the jobs that it provides. Every country knows that jobs and income create stability in a community. Illegal immigration, civil wars, terrorism and other ills are born directly from a lack of economic prosperity. If people do not feel like their future will get better for them or their children, they will look for ways to express their dissatisfaction.

To get the investment for jobs, third world countries have many tools that will make their countries interesting, both formal and informal. Taxes can be reduced to start with, environmental laws can be weakened, and regulation of the production process and of human resources can be lessened. Countries that haven’t dropped all regulation often ignore their own laws to keep a job providing company in the country. This degrades the environment and the human condition. It can be argued that it actually makes things worse because when the false promise of prosperity is found out, people will rebel.

Some of these countries are rogue states that do not deserve our support. Those countries that don’t allow the same rights and freedoms that we enjoy in America should not receive a favorable position in the market place. But, other than boycotts, there is no individual country mechanism that controls that other than legislation and taxes. No law will totally guarantee that some money will not get into the wrong hands, but it can be limited.

If we as a culture and a nation believe in the universality of human rights (as the Declaration of Independence states, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal”) why should the question be them or us? If we are to stop illegal immigration, civil wars, terrorism and so many other ills, we must find a way to support third world countries. It could be by just giving them money, a payoff for our own lack of direction and no united front by all successful nations.

But, the better way, to borrow from an old adage, is to teach them to fish. Instead of just giving aid, if we understand that economics and the market place do have a place in solving world problems, then maybe making a decision in the market place that supports everyone will help. Purchasing products and services from other countries spurs more investment in the host country.

When people earn money and instead of just taking it, they see a better future.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Suspects must speak to protect their rights, Supreme Court says

Supreme Court ruled recently that people must clearly speak their intent about remaining silent during an integration or the police will be allowed to presume that they can proceed. This seems like a sensible decision.

In a case out of Michigan, Berghuis v. Thompkins, No. 08-1470, Van Chester Thompkins was arrested as a suspect of a murder in Southfield in 2000. After being advised of his rights to remain silent under the court’s rules of the Miranda Warning, the police asked him if he understood his rights. They also asked Thompkins to sign a statement that clearly stated that he understood his rights. Since Thompkins did not say he wished to remain silent nor did he sign the statement, the police continued with their questioning. After almost three hours of integration Thompkins was asked three questions that he answered. He said “Yes”, to one of the questions, which was, “Does he pray to God that he will forgive him for the killing”.

That statement was used in court against him. He was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. He later argued that he intended to remain silent, therefore, the police should have stopped the questioning. Thompkins argues, therefore, that the answer to the question if he wanted God to forgive him for the murder should not have been used in his trial. (This assumes, of course, that it was the most incriminating evidence against him and that all other evidence was inconclusive without this statement.)

The Miranda Warning does have many variants. The Supreme Court didn’t suggest a specific wording. But it did say, as of interest to this case, “prior to interrogation, [the suspect must] be clearly informed that he or she has the right to remain silent”, and “the person must be clearly informed”. The defense didn’t contest that he wasn’t informed before the integration nor that he wasn’t clearly informed, only that he remained silent. Just because he didn’t say anything, didn’t mean the officers were to interpret it as meaning he wanted to remain silent. As a matter of fact, when he answered the questions, it was clear that he wanted to talk.

In this situation, suspects must clearly state their intentions. This is a sensible decision that should be supported by the community.

Of course, there are exceptions that hopefully will be worked out in practice. Police and others can’t assume that someone understands English enough to comprehend what is required of them. The suspects also can’t be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, recreational or prescription. Also, if the suspect is from another country or if his lawyer gives him bad advice about speaking to police, the suspect must be given the benefit of doubt about his understanding of the protections in the United States.

The United States has a very well regulated police force that rarely gets out of control. They also have well established legal rights that every individual is aware of if they have spent a reasonable amount of time in country. The police have a tough job to do and should be granted some room to do that job.

Given this situation, individuals must take responsibility for acting on these rights when confronted by authorities.