Archive

November 13th, 2015

Who Can Follow This Climate Leader?

    Remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy hits a fork in the Yellow Brick Road? As she stands there stumped, a friendly character who will accompany her to the Emerald Palace pipes up.

    “Pardon me, that way is a very nice way,” the Scarecrow advises as he points in one direction. “It’s pleasant down that way too,” he adds, now pointing in the other. Then the Scarecrow crosses his straw-stuffed arms and unhelpfully declares, “Of course people do go both ways.”

    President Barack Obama’s climate leadership is as hard to follow as the Scarecrow’s directions.

    After seven years of waffling, Obama finally rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. If completed, this conduit would have moved more than 800,000 barrels a day of filthy oil mined from the Canadian tar sands through Nebraska and five other states to refineries along the Gulf Coast.

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Will This Lord of the Manor Get Locked Up?

    Don Blankenship had it all.

    The West Virginia coal baron had personal wealth, absolute control over his workers, and unmatched political power that extended through every branch of state government — and deep into the back rooms of Washington policymakers. In the house of Big Coal, Master Blankenship lorded over the manor.

    But soon, he could be moving into an even bigger house — as in “the big house.”

    The former Massey Energy CEO is presently on trial for intentionally neglecting mine safety laws, conspiring to cover up the violations, and effectively causing an explosion of methane and coal dust that killed 29 miners in Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in 2010. It was the worst mine disaster in modern American history.

    In a rare turn of events for the corporate world, the boss himself has now been brought before a jury of common West Virginians to answer criminal charges that could put him in prison for 31 years.

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What's killing Trump's voters?

    What's killing Donald Trump's voters?

    That's my reaction to the highly disturbing health news that two Princeton economists have uncovered about a key slice of the billionaire presidential candidate's support base.

    Since 1999, middle-aged white Americans with a high school diploma or less education have been dying in record numbers, according to Angus Deaton (a winner this year of a Nobel Prize) and his wife, Anne Case.

    For example, the mortality rate for non-college-educated whites 45 to 54 years old increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014. By comparison, the death rate for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics continued to fall steadily during the same period, as did the death rates for younger and older people of all races and ethnic groups.

    Death rates for middle-aged, non-college whites in other wealthy countries also declined.

    And the rate for middle-aged Hispanics is far lower than for middle-aged whites at 270 per 100,000.

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Virginia can ease the student debt crisis

    Work hard. Stay in school. Go to college. Earn your degree.

    Those are the steps we laid out for young people, regardless of where they started out, to climb the economic ladder and achieve the American Dream.

    That's what we tell our kids, but have we been making false promises? Is their investment in higher education a down payment on a better life, or are they buying into a 21st-century Ponzi scheme?

    A looming student loan crisis is derailing the dreams of Virginians.

    Nationally, student loan debt now tops $1.3 trillion. That's a big number, larger than credit card and auto loan debt. Virginia's share is substantial. And that number is climbing.

    The average Virginia college graduate leaves school more than $29,000 in debt. These eager young graduates should be entering the workforce brimming with energy and enthusiasm. Instead, they often feel two steps behind, burdened with significant debt and monthly payment obligations.

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Trump had a bad night in the Republican debate

    The fourth debate of Republican candidates started badly for the front-runner Donald Trump. He was booed when he put down John Kasich with his oft-repeated line that the Ohio governor's turnaround of his state's economy was due to a windfall from fracking. That only gave Kasich an opening to give a granular enumeration of his achievements.

    He had another bad moment when he went off on a rant against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its supposed benefits for China, only to be corrected by Sen. Rand Paul, who pointed out that China had no part in the deal.

    The real estate mogul tried to rally by answering a question about Syria, Ukraine and Russia with a boast that he could deal with President Vladimir Putin because they "were stablemates on '60 Minutes' and that went pretty well." This time, he was put in his place by Carly Fiorina: "I've met him as well, but it wasn't in a green room before a show. It was a private meeting."

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Sandra Bullock’s New Film Gets History Oh So Wrong

    Sandra Bullock’s latest film flopped. And it deserved to — but not only because of its inability to entertain.

    A comic political drama based on a documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis is a fictionalized retelling of how U.S. political consultants got an unpopular former president re-elected in Bolivia back in 2002. Bullock plays the lead strategist.

    The film paints her candidate — “Pedro Gallo,” a character based on real-life Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, or “Goni” — as an out-of-touch, un-charismatic underdog. Among other departures from the 2005 documentary, it fails to mention that he was also an authoritarian autocrat.

    Here’s some context.

    Bolivia has been compared to South Africa for its brutal history of minority white rule. Majority-black South Africa got its first black president in 1994. Bolivia, with a mostly indigenous population, was ruled by whites until 2005.

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Rubio immigration plan is 3 steps to nowhere

    Marco Rubio has a three-step plan on illegal immigration. Trouble is, it's a three-step plan for Rubio to gain the Republican nomination, not to address illegal immigration.

    The first step consists of "enforcement measures," including securing the most vulnerable sectors of the southern border, and implementing a tracking system for visa holders and mandatory E-Verify at workplaces to prevent undocumented immigrants from working.

    The second step is to "modernize" the legal system to give priority to immigrants with skills instead of immigrants with family ties in the U.S.

    Once these two elements are in place, Rubio says then and only then will the nation be able "to address the most politically sensitive aspect of immigration reform: what to do with more than 12 million people currently here illegally."

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Republicans cut taxes and expand deficits

    Have the debates told us anything about what Republicans would actually do about taxes and the federal budget if they took over the White House?

    For all the popular cynicism about the promises politicians make to get elected, presidents try to do what they said they would do. But just because a president wants something doesn't mean he or she will get it. This will be true even if Republicans keep their majorities in the House (virtually certain if they win the White House) and the Senate (less certain, though still likely in a good Republican year).

    If there's one safe bet in a Republican presidency, it's that substantial tax cuts and large budget deficits will follow.

    Every Republican candidate for 2016 is pushing some tax cut, several with enough specificity that outside groups are able to "score" their distribution and budget effects.

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Policing free speech at the University of Missouri

    At the embattled University of Missouri, where the president and chancellor are stepping down, university police sent students an e-mail Tuesday urging them to call and report if they "witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech." The e-mail urged witnesses to provide descriptions of the speakers and, if safe, snap pictures of them with their phones.

    The First Amendment applies at a state university campus, and those who speak hatefully or hurtfully can't be criminally punished. But they can be penalized or expelled if they create an environment that's hostile on the basis of race or sex. There's a serious tension between these interests, and the Missouri e-mail raises a pressing question: Does the use of campus police to enforce anti-discrimination advance the goal of knowledge or detract from it?

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Paying for Patriotism

    I go to a lot of Major League Baseball games. I really love the sport.

    Yet if you’ve been to a baseball game in the last decade, you’ve probably noticed some changes. National Guard members now perform flag ceremonies between innings. Military recruits are enlisted right on the field. Surprise reunions of deployed men and women and their families play out before an audience of thousands.

    The games have morphed into choreographed patriotic events. Who’s paying for this hoopla? As it turns out, the Pentagon.

    Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake announced recently that over the past four years alone, the Pentagon has shelled out at least $6.8 million for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and other sports leagues to “honor” troops with cheap stunts at sporting events. The details are listed in a new Senate report.

    The total tally may top $10 million — and even reach $100 million, if you count the military’s marketing deals with NASCAR.

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