May 07, 2010

This could explain a thing or two

A new genetic and statistical study suggests that some early humans and Neanderthals mated after all, something that had previously been doubted. The New York Times reports that the team conducting research into the Neanderthal genome concluded that "concluded that about 1 percent to 4 percent of the genome of non-Africans today is derived from Neanderthals."

GOING LOCAL. Re-booting local economies could make us less lonely.

A FALSE CHOICE. AFLCIO president Rich Trumka told attendees at a Green Jobs/Good Jobs conference that we need both now.


May 06, 2010

What he said

West Virginia Senator Robert C. Byrd has done it again. Yesterday, he released a powerful statement in response to the Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Here's the whole thing. And here are some excerpts:

First and foremost, the coal industry must respect the miner and his family. A single miner's life is certainly worth the expense and effort required to enhance safety. West Virginia has some of the highest quality coal in the world, and mining it should be considered a privilege, not a right. Any company that establishes a pattern of negligence resulting in injuries and death should be replaced by a company that conducts business more responsibly. No doubt many energy companies are keen for a chance to produce West Virginia coal.

The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.

The sovereignty of West Virginia must also be respected. The monolithic power of industry should never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities. Our coal mining communities do not have to be marked by a lack of economic diversity and development that can potentially squelch the voice of the people. People living in coal communities deserve to have a free hand in managing their own local affairs and public policies without undue political pressure to submit to the desires of industry....

The old chestnut that "Coal is West Virginia's greatest natural resource" deserves revision. I believe that our people are West Virginia's most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.

Thanks once again, Senator Byrd for speaking the truth in a way that only you, out of all of West Virginia's leaders, have the courage to do.

PLENTY OF LAWS, NOT MUCH JUSTICE. Here's an op-ed by a friend on related issues.

BOOK EM. Here's a call to prosecute corporate criminals.

FROM KNOW NOTHINGS TO TEA PARTIERS. Here's a look at fringe political movements in the US that sometimes reached the mainstream.


May 05, 2010


A recent article in The Nation about European labor practices reminded me of the Mondragon worker cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain.

Founded by Father José Maria Arizmendiarrieta in the bitter aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, the Mondragon worker-owned cooperatives now employ almost 100,000 workers/owners in a variety of industries ranging from manufacturing to finance. They are by far the most successful examples of how a business organization based on worker-ownership and control can survive and compete in a global economy. I was glad to learn that Mondragon had weathered the most recent recession and was still going strong.

Cooperatives have had a pretty tough row to hoe in the US, but as Steven Hill wrote in the article cited above,

They produce an estimated 12 percent of the GDP in the European Union and involve, directly or indirectly, at least 60 percent of the population.

Last fall, the United Steelworkers of America announced a partnership with Mondragon in order to work toward making union worker cooperatives a viable alternative in the US economy. Union president Leo Gerard said that

“Too often we have seen Wall Street hollow out companies by draining their cash and assets and hollowing out communities by shedding jobs and shuttering plants. We need a new business model that invests in workers and invests in communities.”

At the time, Josu Ugarte, President of MONDGRAGON Internacional added

“What we are announcing today represents a historic first – combining the world’s largest industrial worker cooperative with one of the world’s most progressive and forward-thinking manufacturing unions to work together so that our combined know-how and complimentary visions can transform manufacturing practices in North America.”

While nobody knows what seeds will grow from that effort, it is high time to consider economic alternatives that meet the needs of both workers and consumers.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH, a watchdog group is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Massey Energy officials.

POTS, KETTLES. Massey CEO Don Blankenship has called critics of his organization evil, as Ry Rivard reports in the Daily Mail.

MIGHT AS WELL THROW THIS IN. This post from the AFLCIO blog argues that union mines are safer, a belief shared by lots of people.

SAD TO SAY, there was another mining death in WV yesterday. As coal Uber-Blogger Ken Ward pointed out here, this is the way most miners die: one at a time.

NOTE: This post was scheduled for publication Tuesday night as El Cabrero is on the road. If anything bad happens between now and then, let the record show that I was against it.


May 04, 2010

A reality check

The Upper Big Branch mine disaster and related issues have weighed heavily on my mind for the last few weeks and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

In the wake of the disaster, many people, rightly, have wondered why agencies like MSHA aren't more aggressive about shutting down production at dangerous mines.

The reality, at least until this disaster, was that the coal industry and its supporters have pretty much perfected the art of the hissy fit and they have been really good at getting political leaders to fall in line.

My guess is that the reaction to a preventive shutdown by MSHA would have been about the same as what happens when a mining permit is delayed or denied: an all-hands-on-deck order would be sent out to denounce the Obama administration's "war on coal." Everybody who was anybody (or who wanted to be anybody) would have joined in.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, here's an interesting take on the history of the Upper Big Branch mine from Vanity Fair.

YOU DON'T NEED A WEATHERIZATION MAN to know which way the wind blows. You can just read this op-ed by Paul Miller and yours truly instead.

UNEMPLOYMENT for African-American men is at 20.2 percent, more than double that for whites.

MONKEY LOVE. In the event you've ever wondered whether male chimps use tools to attract females, click here.


May 03, 2010

Silver linings?

Lately the news seems to be all disasters all the time (although the one in New York was fortunately averted). Silver linings seem few and far between.

But Paul Krugman makes some interesting points about a possible silver lining in the Gulf disaster in today's New York Times. He notes that the environmental movement has been declining in influence for many years, largely because of successful efforts at reducing visible pollution. But

as visible pollution has diminished, so has public concern over environmental issues. According to a recent Gallup survey, “Americans are now less worried about a series of environmental problems than at any time in the past 20 years.”

This decline in concern would be fine if visible pollution were all that mattered — but it isn’t, of course. In particular, greenhouse gases pose a greater threat than smog or burning rivers ever did. But it’s hard to get the public focused on a form of pollution that’s invisible, and whose effects unfold over decades rather than days.

The decline in visibility made it easier for the right wing and business groups to push back against environmental regulations.

Then came the gulf disaster. Suddenly, environmental destruction was photogenic again.

It's too soon to tell if this will lead to a change in attitudes, but images are powerful things.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL and a new therapy based on it may help people accomplish goals and get through hard times.

GETTING LOCAL. Here are some ideas about revitalizing local economies.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Here's a look from The American Conservative about the possibility of a Right/Left coalition against war and empire.