Archive

December 12th

Put This Coal Kingpin in the Stocks

    Disgraced coal baron Don Blankenship didn’t get what he deserves in his recent federal trial. But he richly deserves what he got.

    “Guilty,” declared all 12 West Virginia jurors, who convicted this arrogant and avaricious former CEO of Massey Energy of willfully conspiring to violate America’s mine safety laws. As a result of that conspiracy, 29 miners were essentially murdered by the corporation in a horrific explosion deep inside Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine back in 2010.

    Blankenship — a multimillionaire right-wing ideologue, union-buster, and political heavyweight — ran the doomed mine as a lawless operation. This kingpin of King Coal relentlessly put profit over people, recklessly endangering miners. He made Upper Big Branch one of the most dangerous workplaces in the country,

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Of course, most Republicans would be fine with President Trump.

    The question of the day is whether Republicans, particularly the Republicans running for president, would support Donald Trump if he were to become the party's nominee. Much as they might hem and haw when they get asked -- many insist that it's a moot point since he won't be the nominee -- the real answer is simple: Of course they would.

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It’s Time to Fire Trump

    I’m white. So is Donald Trump.

    I work as a teaching assistant in a sociology course on race while I pursue a PhD. Trump alone provides enough material to supply half my curriculum.

    Over the years, he’s said he thinks he’d be better off if he were “a well-educated black,” and that “laziness is a trait in blacks.”

    Nonetheless, he clarified a few years back, “I have a great relationship with the blacks.” He repeated that assertion more recently, but refined his terminology to call them “African Americans.”

    That’s right. Trump thinks the problem with those statements is the term he used for black people — and not that he called them lazy and entitled, and then claimed they love him.

    For the record, to correct The Donald, a well-educated black person is not better off than a well-educated white person. As of 2009, a black person working full time with an advanced degree made $14,000 less per year than a similarly situated white person.

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Is Obama losing steam, or conserving energy?

    Eloquence is rare in American politics. But running for president in 2007 and 2008, Barack Obama had it, knew it and occasionally exploited it to dazzling effect.

    By contrast, speaking to the nation Sunday night on both the threat of Islamic terrorism and the threat of over-reacting to it, the president seemed dulled and emotionally spent. Appearing uninspired himself, he failed to inspire.

    Political analyst Charlie Cook wrote that Obama was pressed "to address an almost impossible situation about which there really isn't much you can say or do." Perhaps it's simply too much to expect even a gifted orator to exhort the people to put their fears and passions in a rational compartment and quietly stand down.

    That, after all, was more or less Obama's message the other night: Don't panic. Don't pay attention to Donald Trump. Carry on. Such rhetoric inevitably has a duller edge than a call to arms. As Lyndon Johnson once remarked in a different context, peace translates as a passive "condition," war as an active "event." Only one makes the patriot's blood boil.

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Giving the gun culture another pass

    Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of President Obama's rare Oval Office speech to the nation Sunday night was its total focus on terrorism. There was barely a mention of the easy availability of guns on the home front with which it is carried out.

    The FBI has determined the mayhem that claimed 14 American lives at a Christmas party in San Bernardino was indeed an act of terror, inspired if not ordered by radical Islamic terrorists. It enabled Obama to cast the whole horrible episode in those broad terms.

    But it also unfolded in the context of a rampant epidemic of human slaughter in the communities of America facilitated by a particularly American gun culture that has entrenched firearms ownership and use as integral to our national identity.

    Obama put his finger on the reality in saying of the San Bernardino killing: "The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in the country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world."

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Don’t Be a Fossil-Foolish Investor

    Investors who choose to steer clear of oil, gas, and coal are protecting their portfolios in the short term and the long run.

    Who has divested lately? The fast-growing list includes the University of California, insurance giant Allianz, the German city of Munster, and the London School of Economics. Portfolios that add up to a total of $3.4 trillion are now either entirely fossil-free or exclude specific kinds of dirty energy like coal and tar sands.

    Rather than punishing the people and institutions who commit this act of climate kindness, financial markets are rewarding them. Shunning fossil fuels has boosted returns for the past decade, as measured by a specialized index the financial tracking firm MSCI manages.

    And while markets and energy trends are hard to predict, you don’t need a crystal ball to see that 2016 looks like a terrible year to bet on fossil fuels. For one thing, OPEC just passed up an opportunity to cut its oil production. Oil prices, already driven low enough to gut profits worldwide due to oversupply, are diving again.

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Being Muslim in America was already hard. Donald Trump is making it even scarier.

    I went numb when I heard about the San Bernardino shooting. I started cleaning the house, as if it would clean the mess created by the killings. A wave of despair accompanied by the thought, "Oh, no, not again," covered me from head to toe. Questions flooded my mind: "Will I once again have to apologize because I am a Muslim?" "Will I be living with the shame that some of my family members, my Muslim friends and I feel when there is a bombing or killings that we didn't do?" "How will I face my non-Muslim friends?"

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America's definitive voice

    When it comes to the birth of American geniuses, 1915 was a very good year. This year marks the centenary of Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow and, on Saturday, the guy who gave eternal life to the Great American Songbook - Frank Sinatra.

    Bellow and Sinatra also have something in common more important and remarkable than their birth year, their affinity for fedoras, their decades-long political drift from left to right and their tempestuous personal lives. It wasn't until 1953 that each found his voice.

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Constitution speaks up on 'one man, one vote'

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether states' drawing of legislative districts should be based on total population, as it is now, or voter population, as some conservatives want. The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, raises a fundamental question about who is represented in our democracy. But as so often happens, the oral argument took a turn in the direction of our history with a focus on the drafting of the Constitution.

    The key moment came when Justice Elena Kagan asked petitioner William Consovoy what would seem like devastating question: The Constitution requires counting total population when apportioning congressmen, so why should the states have to count voters rather than population?

    Consovoy's answer related to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in the hot summer of 1787. It's a bit shocking, so I'll quote it in full:

    Apportionment at the time of Article I's framing was focused on taxation issues, on giving States autonomy with respect to voter qualifications. And there was a real concern. That's why it was a -- the great compromise.

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A tradition of risky thinking

    As Donald Trump's proposal to prevent terrorism with "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our representatives can figure out what's going on" illustrates, our country is always at risk for sloppy thinking about, well, risk.

    Fortunately, there's an antidote: Wall Street Journal columnist Greg Ip's new book, a short, sharp history of the United States' never-ending search for safety - against every kind of threat, from terrorism to forest fires to financial crises.

    Aptly titled "Foolproof," Ip's volume is an extended meditation on a paradox: The more we succeed in controlling or eliminating the risks we know and understand, the more we render ourselves vulnerable to the ones we don't.

    The problem isn't that effective risk control breeds a false sense of security; the problem is that it breeds a well-founded sense of security.

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