Friday, May 26, 2006

Justice Served For Enron Victims, But, Where's Mine?

I sympathize with the victims of the Enron fraud. They basically had their livelihood taken away due to fraud and market manipulation by Ken Lay and Jeffery Skilling. The former employees of Enron Corp have, with the convictions of Schilling and Lay, achieved some closure and vindication. They more than likely will not, however, be able to recover the part of their lives which was taken from them.
I sympathize, because I, too had a lucrative career and pension which I was deprived of due to a combination of asbestos litigation and NAFTA. In a way, I am a victim of asbestos poisoning, though I was never exposed and have not become ill from it. Nor am I a perpetrator of any asbestos related crime, as I never used nor advocated the use of asbestos in ship and structure construction.
In the 1940s, the Department of the Navy required that asbestos be used in the construction of their ships. Eagle-Picher, the company I worked for in the 80's and 90's, had been one of the companies contracted to build ships for the Navy. Apparently, in the 1940s and 1950s, the dangers of asbestos were not widely known. In the late 1960s, when people began getting ill, and the illness was attributed to asbestos exposure, trial lawyers everywhere seized the opportunity to fatten their wallets by claiming "punitive damages" for the victims of asbestos exposure. The ensuing litigation, which continued for twenty years, eventually bankrupted Eagle-Picher, even before any verdict or settlement was reached, due to legal fees. Interesting to note, no charges were ever brought against the administrations of FDR or Harry Truman, or the Department of Defense, for advocating, and requiring the use of asbestos.
Eagle-Picher possibly, even likely, could have recovered from bankruptcy. Businesses, individuals, and corporations have often done so. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, proposed by Ronald Reagan and signed into law by Bill Clinton, tilted the playing field toward those manufacturers which practiced outsourcing of jobs and product or parts manufacturing to Mexico and Canada. Eagle-Picher was priced out of the market, and many career employees, such as myself, lost their livelihood and their pensions. Furthermore, I have been unable to find a job in my chosen profession, for jobs in my area of electronics skills have been outsourced to China, India, and other countries where labor is cheaper and less taxed than in the United States. No charges have been brought against the government concerning market manipulation.
There could have been some closure concerning the trial lawyers. Legislation which would have established an Asbestos Victims Fund, to be funded by companies which exposed employees to asbestos, does not pay any fees to the trial lawyers. The money would have gone to the victims or their survivors, and none of it would have gone to the lawyers. It would have been a minor victory, but it was defeated in the Senate last February.
I am happy for those former employees of Enron, who, at least, seen justice served. But as I go to work at an American sweat shop, where workers are deprived of dignity, encouraged not to feel good about their job, not even given a "well done," and basically treated like human scum, I can't help but to wonder, "Where's mine?"

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Not Amnesty? You Bet Your Sweet A## It's Amnesty!

Once again, the Philosophical and the Pragmatic Libertarian sides of me are at odds with each other, and, once again, the issue is the immigration reform legislation.
If a person has to pay a fine for entering the country illegally, and has to pay back taxes, and has to go back to the country of origin to apply legally for a work permit, then I agree that it is not a "get out of deportation free" card, which is what amnesty would be. However, there is, in the currently pending Senate legislation an item called the "Employer Protection Clause," which exempts employers who have, knowingly or unknowingly, employed illegal immigrants from fines and penalties. This is what is known as amnesty.
An employer who has accepted the required documentation, such as a work visa, social security card, and a valid driver's license or ID card, may not know if the documentaion is valid or forged, and so could have unknowingly hired an illegal immigrant. This type of employment, of course, would be at minimum wage or better, and all payroll and social security taxes would be paid according to law. Such an employer should not be held culpable for employing illegals.
An employer who knowingly hires an illegal immigrant, without asking for the necessary documentation, doesn't keep employment records, pays less than minimum wage, and avoids paying taxes is clearly committing a crime, and would greatly benefit from the proposed amnesty.
The Philosophical Libertarian side of me reasons that, if there is a useful job to be filled, the employer should be able to hire whomever fills the need. Philosophical side also questions, "why stop there? Why not grant amnesty from the IRS, the DEA, the FTC and all other Federal organizations which enforce victimless crimes?"
My Pragmatic Libertarian side wins this argument, though. Such amnesty seriously tilts the playing field, and is much closer to Socialistic favoritism than to Free Market Capitalism. It gives an advantage to those who have broken the law over those who have abided by the law. Moreover, it does nothing to solve the immigration problem. It does not dry up the incentive for more non-citizens to sneak across the border in order to find jobs, nor does it add any incentive for employers to hire employees legally.
This legislation needs to go back to the drawing board. While I dream of the day that personal responsibility and practicality take precedence over creating more victimless crimes, I could never support legislation which interferes with the free market in such a way to create favoritism.