History Bends Inescapable 3/22/17

James Haught

Nine-tenths of coal miners are gone  – by James A. Haught

America’s coal industry is sinking sadly. Tonnage, usually above 1 billion, dropped to 749 million tons in 2016. Employment, which exceeded 800,000 in the 1920s, has fallen below 66,000. Four large mining corporations went bankrupt in the past couple of years.

The decline is glaringly visible in my West Virginia.

Our state had 125,000 pick-and-shovel miners in 1950 when I was a teen. Most of the diggers lived in company-owned towns. Coal was the state’s throbbing pulse. Explosions killing scores of miners were common. Violent strikes were common.

In the 1950s, coal owners began replacing human miners with digging machines, and misery followed. Around 70,000 West Virginia miners lost their jobs and fled north via the “hillbilly highway” to Akron and Cleveland. But coal production remained high.

In the 1970s, longwall machines could produce 10 times as much coal with half as many workers. And more jobs vanished because mining switched to huge surface pits, where monster machines and explosives do the work. The number of West Virginia miners continued falling — to the 30,000s in the 1990s, then below 20,000 in the new 21st century. Official state figures put today’s total around 12,000. The number of operating mines fell drastically.

Most of the decline happened because rich, thick seams in the Central Appalachian Basin — largely southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky — gradually became exhausted. Only thinner, difficult-to-mine coal remains. The slump worsened when horizontal drilling and hydraulic “fracking” loosed a flood of cheaper natural gas that grabbed coal markets.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says Central Appalachian yearly coal production dropped from 235 million tons in 2008 to below 60 million today — and is forecast below 40 million by 2040. That much loss is stunning.

When his coal firms were beset by unpaid fines and taxes, billionaire Jim Justice, now West Virginia’s governor, said: “The coal business is terrible, it’s just terrible…. You may be witnessing the death of the coal industry.”

McDowell County is a sad illustration. In 1950, during coal’s heyday, McDowell had nearly 100,000 population. But mines played out and closed. Thousands of jobs were lost. People moved away. Local businesses folded. Poverty and drug problems soared. Now McDowell has fewer than 20,000 residents. Departing industry leaves misery behind.

The retreat is shattering several southern coal counties. Their governments reel from lost tax revenue. School systems are near bankruptcy.

Rapid advances in solar and wind energy are another menace to coal. If renewable sources eventually generate electricity more cheaply than coal does, they’ll seize more of the power market. America now has more than 200,000 solar workers, far exceeding coal employment.

During coal’s heyday, West Virginia was called the most unionized state — and it voted solidly Democratic. As jobs fizzled, so did organized labor. The state turned “red.” In 2016, Donald Trump vowed: “We’re going to get those miners back to work” — and West Virginia voted for him by one of the largest margins in America.

But even if Trump wipes out federal pollution and safety controls, I doubt that it will “get those miners back to work.” They would stand a better chance if Trump shifted enough federal funds to training for jobs of the future instead of easy but hollow promises that he can’t possibly keep.

Inevitably, all fossil fuels become depleted. Britain’s Wales finally reached the end for its fabled coal mines. Some U.S. regions still have good reserves, but the arc of history bends toward an inescapable outcome.

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Bewildering Fathom 12/7/16

James Haught

James HaughtB

White evangelicals are fading, powerful, baffling  – by James A. Haught

Overwhelmingly, 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump — a twice-divorced vulgarian who calls women “pigs” and “slobs,” brags about extramarital affairs, and boasts of grabbing females by their private parts. He rarely attends church. Nonetheless, strong evangelical support propelled him to the White House.

Can anyone explain this bizarre contradiction? Does it mean that evangelicals care little about sexual morality and family values taught by their churches? Are they more devoted to Republican conservativism than to their church maxims? This paradox smacks of cognitive dissonance, the confusion suffered when opposite beliefs clash inside a person.

A few white evangelical Americans renounced Trump, but the vast majority comprised his biggest fan base. I hope that a profound scholar will explain what impelled fundamentalists in the 2016 election.

The outcome showed that white evangelicals still wield enormous political power, even as they dwindle in U.S. society. Many studies have outlined the retreat of religion. Here’s a capsule summary:

Since World War II, churchgoing has declined in America and many faith-based laws have ended. It’s no longer a crime for stores to open on the Sabbath. It’s no longer illegal to buy a lottery ticket or a cocktail or a magazine showing nudity. Mandatory prayer was removed from public schools. Desperate women and girls were allowed to end unwanted pregnancies. Gays were allowed to elude prison, and finally allowed to marry. Birth control was legalized for all couples. It’s no longer a crime for unwed couples to live together. It’s no longer a crime for movies and books to present sex. Teaching evolution is allowed in public school biology classes.

These social transformations rebuked the “religious right” allied with the GOP. White evangelicals feel that the ground is crumbling beneath them. Worse, young people are leaving churches.

A new book, “The End of White Christian America,” by Robert Jones, head of the Public Religion Research Institute, says that Americans who say their religion is “none” have become the largest segment in the United States. They now constitute 25 percent of adults, compared to 21 percent who are Catholic and 16 percent who are evangelical. The secular tide is sure to rise, because 39 percent of adults under 30 have no church affiliation.

In a Washington Post interview a few months ago, Jones said the retreat of faith has been “swift and dramatic” in recent decades, first eroding mainline “tall steeple” Protestants, then Catholics and finally evangelicals. Southern Baptists lost 200,000 members in 2014, then another 200,000 in 2015.

A previous book, “The Great Evangelical Recession,” by megachurch pastor John Dickerson, warned that “evangelicalism as we knew it in the 20th century is disintegrating.” He said “a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church,” and “in coming years, we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane.”

Well, those forecasts may come true someday — but in 2016, white evangelicals decided the presidency. They still have colossal power.

Strangely, they chose a president who contradicts evangelical morality. Trying to fathom America’s religio-political tides is bewildering.

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Harm Will Occur 11/23/16

James Haught

James Haught

Welcome to the Twilight Zone – by James A. Haught

Existentialists contend that humanity has a streak of irrational absurdity that defies logical understanding. The Donald Trump presidential victory rouses that feeling.

Ever since election night, I’ve felt like a Franz Kafka character caught in incomprehensible circumstances that make no sense.

Whatever possessed 61 million Americans (one-fourth of voting-age adults) to trust their nation to an off-the-wall kook?

Republican leader Mitt Romney called Trump “a phony, a fraud.” Republican leader Bobby Jindal called him “a madman who must be stopped.” Republican leader Jeb Bush called him a “jerk.” Republican leader Lindsey Graham called him “a race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot.” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called him “a serial philanderer, and he boasts of it.” Former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge called him “an embarrassment to my country.” Republican executive Meg Whitman called him “a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears.”

Yet Trump is preparing to install his national administration, and most news media treat it as normal.

Will he be the worst president in U.S. history — even worse than George W. Bush, who started the needless Iraq War on false pretexts? So far, the 2017 prospect looks ominous:

Trump vows to appoint Supreme Court justices who will make it a crime again for desperate girls and women to end pregnancies. He vows to find and deport 11 million undocumented Hispanics. He vows to halt America’s participation in international efforts against the menace of global warming. He vows to give the wealthy a colossal tax break, which will force cutbacks in people-helping programs. He called for a ban on Muslims entering America. He vows to kill the Affordable Care Act that provides health insurance for 20 million.

Trump is filling his incoming administration with known racists like Jeff Sessions and Stephen Bannon, plus a loose cannon, Mike Flynn. Incredibly, Romney, the Republican who called Trump a phony and fraud, is under consideration for secretary of state.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

Does America face four ugly years that will reverse human rights progress and damage the national safety net? With Republicans in complete control of Washington, how much harm will occur?

Already, House Speaker Paul Ryan wants to turn Medicare over to commercial insurance corporations. All other advanced nations have liberal democracies that protect citizens. Will America lose standing in this regard? Or will reality convince the GOP that it can’t undo a century of hard-won progress?

At least, everyone should hope that Trump doesn’t start an unnecessary war, as Bush did.

America is the strongest nation on Planet Earth, with the most powerful economy. It can endure almost anything. Presumably it will suffer through the coming four years in some fashion. Hold on.

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, http://www.wvgazettemail.com.

Strange Days 11/16/16

James Haught

James Haught

These are strange days  – by James A. Haught

What is happening to America? The Trump-Pence jolt throws a weird uncertainty over the future.

Incoming President Donald Trump vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices who will revoke women’s right to choose, making it a crime again for desperate teen girls and women to end pregnancies. Few modern democracies have such a prohibition.

Can he return America to the ugly era of illegal back-alley butchers? Or is he so erratic and unpredictable that he will forget this threat?

Trump vows to halt the Affordable Care Act that gives health insurance to 20 million Americans. He says he will replace it with something “terrific,” but nobody can guess what it might be.

Trump vowed to block Muslims from entering America, making this the only democracy with a religious test for entry. Can he undo freedom of religion?

Despite evidence from thousands of top scientists, he says global warming is a hoax (perpetrated by Chinese). He wants to break U.N. treaties and halt U.S. support for international programs to prevent climate disaster.

Trump vowed to capture and deport 11 million undocumented Hispanics, and build a giant wall across the southern border at Mexico’s expense. Can he make America a stockade?

Trump promises a colossal tax giveaway to the wealthy. Can he do it without wiping out billions in revenue that provide the public safety net sustaining millions of U.S. families?

In a couple of months, when Republicans take complete control of Washington, will they inflict all these drastic changes on Americans? Or will public resistance derail part of the conservative agenda?

What’s coming in 2017? Suddenly, the future seems bewildering.

Great numbers of Americans never dreamed that a Trump-Pence victory was possible. We failed to grasp the depth of frustration and ethnic resentment among so many less-educated white male voters. Was tacit racism a significant factor? Now reality looms.

As The Washington Post said, progressive Americans “awoke Wednesday morning to wonder if they were welcome in their own land.” Most of us haven’t quite absorbed the complete trauma.

Trump’s campaign lacked a well-thought-out agenda of political goals. Instead, he seemed to blurt ideas impulsively, shot from the hip. Everything revolved around his riveting, bombastic, dominating personality.

And his personality is the most vulgar and nasty I’ve ever seen in American politics. He has a petty quality. It’s almost possible to envision him trying to start a war over an insult.

The New York Times observed: “It’s a strange, distressing situation for citizens to be in — to acknowledge the danger of having a reckless, unqualified leader, while maintaining respect for the office he holds.”

Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won the popular vote. But the state-by-state electoral tally can’t be undone. Americans must live with the new reality abruptly imposed on us. These are strange days.

James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.