Coal’s End Of Days

The Article: Coal Is Doomed by Philip Bump in Slate.

The Text: Imagine I hand you the keys to an Apple Store.
It’s a big one, a warehouse-like, multiacre affair running floor-to-ceiling with Apple products in tightly packed rows. And it’s yours to do with what you want.
Obviously, you’d sell everything. And within an hour, you’d be making money hand over fist. You’d have some costs—staff, bags, whatever—but nothing big. Customers would be lined up out the door. Even if I charged you a $5 fee for every device you sold, it’s a spectacular deal.

After a while, though, things start to slow down, almost imperceptibly. You’d need more staff to pull items off shelves farther back in the store or closer to the ceiling. The hectic pace of extracting the right product would invariably lead to spills and clutter. More popular items like iPhone 5s would become harder to get to than things like first-generation iPads. But these are minor distractions.

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The GOP’s Worst Nightmare: A Shrinking Southern White Population

The Article: Republicans face unexpected challenges in coastal South amid shrinking white vote by Douglas Blackmon in The Washington Post.

The Text: Late on election night, a small melee erupted at the University of Mississippi here when a group of white students frustrated by the reelection of President Obama marched outside and began shouting racial slurs at African American students. Several hundred people gathered to watch as two white students were arrested.

“Mississippi still has a lot of work to do in race relations,” said Kimbrely Dandridge, an African American Obama supporter and president of the student body.

Yet even as that incident evoked ugly memories of an earlier era, Election Day in the South told a newer and more surprising story: The nation’s first black president finished more strongly in the region than any other Democratic nominee in three decades, underscoring a fresh challenge for Republicans who rely on Southern whites as their base of national support.

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What Comes After Labor’s Death

The Article: What Happens If Labor Dies? by Harold Meyerson in AlterNet.

The Text: Imagine America without unions. This shouldn’t be hard. In much of America unions have already disappeared. In the rest of America they’re battling for their lives.

Unions have been declining for decades. In the early 1950s, one out of three American workers belonged to them, four out of ten in the private sector. Today, only 11.8 percent of American workers are union members; in the private sector, just 6.9 percent. The vanishing act varies by region—in the South, it’s almost total—but proceeds relentlessly everywhere. Since 1983, the number of states in which at least 10 percent of private-sector workers have union contracts has shrunk from 42 to 8.

Following the 2010 elections, a number of newly elected Republican governors and legislatures in the industrial Midwest, long a union stronghold, moved to reduce labor’s numbers to the trace-element levels that exist in the South. A cold political logic spurred their attacks: Labor was the chief source of funding and volunteers for their Democratic opponents, and working-class whites, who still constitute a sizable share of the electorate in their states, were far more likely to vote Democratic if they belonged to a union. The fiscal crisis of the states provided the pretext for Republicans to try to take out their foremost adversaries, public-employee unions.

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Is Peak Fertilizer The Next Peak Oil?

The Article: Are We Heading Toward Peak Fertilizer? by Tom Philpott in Mother Jones.

The Text: You’ve heard of peak oil—the idea that the globe’s easy-to-get-to petroleum reserves are largely cashed, and most of what’s left is the hard stuff, buried in deep-sea deposits or tar sands. But what about peak phosphorus and potassium? These elements form two-thirds of the holy agricultural triumvirate of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (also known as NPK, from their respective markers in the periodic table). These nutrients, which are essential for plants to grow, are extracted from soil every time we harvest crops, and have to be replaced if farmland is to remain productive.

For most of agricultural history, successful farming has been about figuring out how to recycle these elements (although no one had identified them until the 19th century). That meant returning food waste, animal waste, and in some cases, human waste [1] to the soil. Early in the 20th century, we learned to mass produce N, P, and K—giving rise to the modern concept of fertilizer, and what’s now known as industrial agriculture.

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Buying And Relieving Debt: A Great Start But Not A Solution

The Article: Rolling Jubilee The Spark, Not The Solution by Andrew Ross and Astra Taylor in The Nation.

The Text: We don’t speak for Strike Debt, but as members of the team that helped organize the Rolling Jubilee, a campaign that buys and abolishes debt, we are happy to report that the project is already a phenomenal success. In two weeks, the Rolling Jubilee fund has raised ten times more than we expected (it is now rapidly approaching $450,000), and some debtors will be genuinely elated when the first letters from Strike Debt arrive informing them they are off the hook for medical bills they have been unable to pay. Debt relief, by any means necessary, is a lifeline to desperately overburdened people. It is also a first strike against the predators who feed off the debt system.

The Rolling Jubilee team has received tens of thousands of messages from people whose spirits have been raised by this example of mutual aid in action. Their heartfelt letters remind us that political change rests on emotional stirring among ordinary people, just as much as it is driven by debates among full-time leftists.

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