Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dear NY Times: There are a lot of trees in the forest

With school in full swing, I don't have much time to read outside of my classes. That said, I like to look at the discourses on the opinion page of the New York Times. These editorials and columns typically deal with less transient and vacuous issues than the trash which shows up in the daily news cycle. That is, they are often better than something like Feds Spent $800,000 of Economic Stimulus Money on African Genital Washing Program.

Yesterday I was looking over the Op-Ed page and couldn't help but feel angry while reading an editorial piece by staff writers and an opinion contribution by Robert Mazur. The thing is, I actually agreed with what these pieces were saying. The factual premises were sound, and through logical reasoning both authors arrived at a solid conclusion.

So why did these pieces make me angry? It's because they utterly missed the point, in the same way that an article about genital washing misses the point about the economic stimulus.

Logical fallacy #1
The first piece is about an EPA decision to allow the use of lead bullets for hunting animals. Why is lead in bullets a bad thing? Because it has been linked to bird poisonings.

The logic goes like this: lead kills animals unnecessarily. Killing animals when they don't have to die is bad. Therefore we should avoid putting lead into the environment.

The problem is, hunting itself kills animals. Usually it's just for the sake of someone's twisted conception of "sport", the animal is mercilessly killed by a human with an insanely unfair advantage, and then often left in the wilderness to rot. Now if a bird happens to die later because of lead poisoning that's obviously sad, but it completely misses the underlying problem.

Why not kill two birds, not with a bullet, but with one stone, and eliminate gun hunting completely?

Logical Fallacy #2
The second article, a column called "Follow the Dirty Money" by Robert Mazur, is significantly more disturbing because it ultimately deals with people killing people, a worse evil than people killing animals. In fact, Mazur actually stands to profit off of people killing each other if his ideas are implemented.

Mazur points out that international banks, ones with big, famous names that we see advertising on TV, are involved in shady underworld dealings to launder billions of dollars of money related to criminal activities. He brings up the example of Wachovia moving $400 billion of drug money out of Mexico. Many of these banks have been caught, and forced to pay hefty fines for their activities. However, these fines, deals brokered between the banks and prosecutors, were just a way for prosecutors to see "a small piece of the action".

Instead of handing over fines to the government, Mazur proposes that bank employees should be put in jail. To catch these people he suggests the creation of a task force, composed of individuals like himself, to go undercover and understand the inner workings of international money laundering. He also mentions that he wrote a book about his life as an undercover money launderer.

Here are some facts:
-More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since 2006. (http://www.cleveland.com/world/index.ssf/2010/08/drug_wars_death_toll_in_mexico.html)

-The cartels get the money for their massive weapon arsenals from drug and human exports, largely to the United States.

-Drugs are illegal, but hugely popular in the U.S. That's why Mexicans can make so much money importing them to us.

-Immigration to the United States is likewise illegal in most circumstances. That's why cartels do so well from human importation.

-Mazur is actually profiting off of this situation, while doing nothing to ameliorate it. He made money from his previous book, "The Infiltrator". He would make more money from a job in a task force, which would give raw material for another, potentially lucrative, book.

Now Mazur doing these things hinges on Mexican drug cartels existing. He needs something to infiltrate. If the cartels went away, he wouldn't have anything left.

The cartels will never go away from the futile war Felipe Calderon is currently waging against them. Nor will the imprisonment of morally corrupt bank employees cause them to vanish.

The only actual solution is to undermine their profit sources. That is, eliminate the demand for illegal importation of drugs and humans. To do that, we need a guest worker program, a stronger Mexican economy, and the elimination of demand for illegal drugs (the simplest method would be legalization).

Until these things happen, there will continue to be well-armed cartels, shady banks to help them transport their money, and individuals like Mazur to profit off of the situation. His band-aid task force would do nothing to solve the underlying issues and is simply a way for him to gain prestige and money off of cartels that he fundamentally has no interest in stopping.

It is sad that the New York Times, in both cases, published articles that don't really help the problems they tangentially address. The articles at first seem interesting to read, a new angle on an important world issue. However, they are just smoke and mirrors intended to distract from the fundamental issues, no better than a genital washing story.

The editorial about lead bullets can be found here:

The opinion contribution about money laundering:

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