Moni Bassu writes in CNN:
Robert Samuels reports from Gillette, WYO for the Washington Post:
“In Gillette and surrounding Campbell County, people were beginning to feel the comeback they voted for. Unemployment has dropped by more than a third since March 2016, from 8.9 percent to 5.1 percent. Coal companies are rehiring workers, if only on contract or for temporary jobs. More people are splurging for birthday parties at the Prime Rib and buying a second scoop at the Ice Cream Cafe.
Maybe it was President Trump. Much was surely because of the market, after a colder winter led to increases in coal use and production. But in times when corporate profits are mixed with politics, it was difficult for people here to see the difference.
“I’m back to work,” Gorton said. “It’s real. Did Trump do it all? I don’t think so. But America voted in a man who was for our jobs.”
In a divided nation, optimism had bloomed here in a part of the country united in purpose and in support of the president. Close to 90 percent voted for the same presidential candidate, and 94 percent of the population is the same race. And everyone has some connection to the same industry. They felt optimistic about the tangible effects of the Trump economy, which favors fossil fuels, and the theoretical ones, which favor how they see themselves. Once on the fringes, their jobs had become the centerpiece of Trump’s American mythology.
. . . .
“We once powered the nation,” Gorton said. “But you got the feeling that things are not quite the same and that political forces are encroaching on your livelihood. It’s like they are willing to take away your town.”
Now the fear of what might be taken away was carried by someone else. There was another side of this American story, a tenser and more terrifying one, where immigrant families worried about deportation raids and liberals marched with witty placards to protest the “war on science.”
Far beyond the borders of this isolated town, many Americans were gripped by the latest evidence of the president’s coziness with the Russians, and wondered why the white working and middle classes hadn’t abandoned their increasingly unpopular president. In that America, the early optimism about Trump was fading. A Quinnipiac poll released last month said that 52 percent of Americans were pessimistic about the country’s direction, 20 percent higher than when Trump was inaugurated. And Friday’s anemic employment report, showing the country gained only 138,000 jobs in May, provided little consolation.
Gorton found it difficult to reconcile those two polarized feelings; it seemed that either you had to believe in the country’s pending prosperity or its impending doom.
“I know there are people who are scared about where the country is headed, but before I was scared,” Gorton said. “Either they’re dreaming, or I’m dreaming.”
The question is, once Trump and his cronies are done with their policies of hate, disrespect, and divisiveness, will anyone ever be able to put the pieces of America together again?
Seems like folks on both sides of the aisle should have been able to get together and solve the problems of the nice people of Gillette without reigniting an essentially dying industry that, in the long run, is neither economically viable nor environmentally desirable. When the world fries, I doubt that God will exempt Wyoming from the consequences. Those skies could get cloudy some day. And, by that time, the Trump crowd will be long gone.
Sadie Gurman reports for the AP:
“WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has issued a stern warning to U.S. companies as they begin applying for coveted skilled-worker visas, cautioning that it would investigate and prosecute those who overlook qualified American workers for jobs.
The message came on the opening day of applications for American employers seeking visas known as H-1B, which are used mostly by technology companies to bring in programmers and other specialized workers from other countries.
“U.S. workers should not be placed in a disfavored status, and the department is wholeheartedly committed to investigating and vigorously prosecuting these claims,” Tom Wheeler, acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.
The Obama administration sued companies for violating the Immigration and Nationality Act’s anti-discrimination provisions, including businesses that favored foreigners over U.S. workers. But Monday’s warning in a news release at the start of the visa process appeared to be a first-of-its kind signal to employers not to put American workers at a disadvantage.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services also announced that it would step up its reviews of employers that use H-1B visas, saying “too many American workers who are qualified, willing and deserving to work in these fields have been ignored or unfairly disadvantaged.”
The statements were the latest indication that even legal immigration will be scrutinized under the Trump administration.”
Interesting that Jeff Sessions and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are getting so involved in the H-1B program. Normally, H-1B enforcement would be a matter for the DHS, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration-Related Employment Practices at the DOJ. But, I suppose without any voting rights or police abuse cases to investigate, the Civil Rights Division will have some time on its hands for taking on some new immigration enforcement responsibilities.
Another thought. Rather than battling the Administration over the H-1B program and threatening to move tech operations to Canada and elsewhere if their demands are not met, why don’t U.S. tech companies and Democrats “think outside the box.”
Why not make areas of the “Rust Belt” with willing workers and high unemployment the new “Silicon Valley East?” Use H-1Bs to re-train U.S. workers for permanent jobs in technology. Build new offices or refurbish abandoned plants. Establish training programs with local community colleges and technical colleges. Fund some opioid addiction treatment programs to get capable workers off of drugs and into jobs where they have some future. Support regional airports in “the hinterlands” that Trump is trying to shut down.
Trump seems only vaguely interested in addressing the real problems of unemployed and underemployed workers. If he actually does succeed in so-called “health care reform,” (that is transferring money from the needy to the rich) their situation will become immeasurably worse. Futile grandstanding like relaxing environmental controls for an “ain’t gonna happen” revival of the coal industry, appointing Gov. Chris “The Bridge” Christie to a form a new governmental committee on opioid addiction, or having Jeff Sessions divert the Civil Rights Division into H-1B investigations aren’t serious attempts to address the issues.
But, so far, the Dems and the leaders of the tech industry have been largely MIA on practical solutions to these problems that Trump seems unlikely to address in any realistic manner. So, while the Dems are tilting at the “Gorsuch Windmill,” which I can guarantee you isn’t a concern for most “Dems turned Trump voters” in the Rust Belt, the opportunity for real leadership, genuine concern for U.S. workers, and demonstrated problem solving is going by the boards. Maybe that’s how Donald Trump became President with 46.4% of the vote.
Just proving once again the Trump might not have to act presidential or accomplish much of positive value to be a two-term President. And, as he has already shown, he can do that relatively easily even if he never attains the approval of the majority of Americans.
**Bruce Springtsteen — My Hometown
Hiroko Tabushi writes in the NY Tmes:
“In Decatur, Ill., far from the coal mines of Appalachia, Caterpillar engineers are working on the future of mining: mammoth haul trucks that drive themselves.
The trucks have no drivers, not even remote operators. Instead, the 850,000-pound vehicles rely on self-driving technology, the latest in an increasingly autonomous line of trucks and drills that are removing some of the human element from digging for coal.
When President Trump moved on Tuesday to dismantle the Obama administration’s climate change efforts, he promised it would bring coal-mining jobs back to America. But the jobs he alluded to — hardy miners in mazelike tunnels with picks and shovels — have steadily become vestiges of the past.
Pressured by cheap and abundant natural gas, coal is in a precipitous decline, now making up just a third of electricity generation in the United States. Renewables are fast becoming competitive with coal on price. Electricity sales are trending downward, and coal exports are falling.
All the while, the coal industry has been replacing workers with machines and explosives. Energy and labor specialists say that no one — including Mr. Trump — can bring them all back.
“People think of coal mining as some 1890s, colorful, populous frontier activity, but it’s much better to think of it as a high-tech industry with far fewer miners and more engineers and coders,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
“The regulatory changes are entirely outweighed by these technological changes, not to mention the price of natural gas or renewables,” Mr. Muro said. “Even if you brought back demand for coal, you wouldn’t bring back the same number of workers.”
. . . .
“In 1980, the industry employed about 242,000 people. By 2015, that figure had plunged 60 percent, to fewer than 100,000, even as coal production edged up 8 percent. Helped by automation, worker productivity more than tripled over the same period, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and the Brookings Institution.
And a recent study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment predicted that automation was likely to replace 40 to 80 percent of workers at mines.
Automation makes mines more “safe, efficient and productive,” said Corrie Scott, a Caterpillar spokeswoman. “While mines would not need as many drivers, they will need more people who use and understand the latest technology,” she said.
“However way you spin it, gas and renewables are going to continue to replace coal,” said Nicolas Maennling, senior economics and policy researcher at Columbia University and an author of the automation study.
“And in order to stay competitive, coal will have to increase automation,” he said. “What Mr. Trump does will make little difference.”
Yup, I understand the President is a leader, not a technocrat. That’s why a good political leader surrounds him or herself with competent staff and also draws on the huge wealth of technical expertise available in the Federal Civil Service.
Surrounding yourself instead with idealogical know-nothings and sycophants like Bannon, Miller, and Priebus is pure political malpractice at the highest level.
(Note that I didn’t include Conway in the group. I think she’s probably the smartest of the bunch. She was the “brains” behind what has to go down as one of the most unexpected electoral triumphs in American political history, regardless of whether or not you like the result. And I wouldn’t accuse her of being a sycophant. But, she is totally loyal to a fault, and therefore keeps throwing herself on her sword over and over for The Leader. I also didn’t include Spicer. He has his bad days, for sure. But, he has the hardest job in Washington, and that includes The Leader himself. I actually doubt anyone could do it better. He won’t last too long. But, after he’s gone, not only Melissa McCarthy is likely to miss him.)