Commentary

There was little merry or bright this holiday season for millions of unemployed Americans who are losing their extended unemployment benefits.

Many depend on these meager payments, a federal extension of state unemployment programs that expired as of the last Saturday of 2013, to stay afloat. After tapping out their savings, downsizing their living space, and draining their retirement funds, one-time managers and MBA grads bought Christmas gifts secondhand and worry over what the new year will bring. [...]

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Nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from agricultural activity is a major source of water pollution in many parts of the country. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, half of the phosphorous and 40 percent of the excess nitrogen result from agricultural runoff, leading to algae blooms and destructive conditions for the bay’s legendary fish, oysters, and crabs.

When Senator Elizabeth Warren announced that she would not be running for president, she disappointed many who see her as one of the nation's most vigorous defenders of America's middle class. From her fight to end the risky lending practices that cost millions of Americans their homes to her efforts to protect Social Security, the Senator's calls to action consistently confront the ways that the system seems rigged against ordinary citizens.

With 10.9 million Americans still out of work and 1.3 million of them now on the verge of losing all jobless aid, the barriers that keep people from finding a job loom larger than ever. One barrier in particular stands out as especially unfair and unreasonable – the common practice of reviewing a job applicant’s personal credit history when hiring.

While the year’s end saw an uptick in concern about a new tech bubble, the truth is that there’s a much different, scarier bubble we need to worry about: the carbon bubble. What is the carbon bubble? Basically, it’s just another way to describe the worrisome fact that many energy companies are hoarding oil and gas, despite the rest of the world’s effort to move to a more environmentally sustainable economic system.

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Few names conjure the recalcitrant South, fighting integration with fire-breathing fury, like that of George Wallace.

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Even though it had been expected, I was jolted when I got the phone call with the news that after many long decades the defiant fire of resistance had gone out and Nelson Mandela had died. He was the only truly great public figure I’d ever covered, an authentic revolutionary who refused to cower in the face of the most malignant of evils.

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The holiday season is upon us. Sadly, the big retailers are Scrooges when it comes to paying their workers. Undergirding the sale prices is an army of workers earning the minimum wage or a fraction above it, living check to check on their meager pay and benefits.

Low wages are not just keeping workers in poverty, they are also holding back the economy by weakening consumer demand and keeping employers from realizing the benefits that accompany investments in the work force. Retail and fast food companies that pay poverty wages sabotage their own bottom lines and the health of the American economy, but a raise for the lowest paid would have benefits that extend to workers, consumers, and employers across industries.

The federal government’s $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase is being widely touted as a major step towards Wall Street redemption. But like so many settlements before it, this deal has much more bark than bite.

A bit of opening perspective: The $9 billion cash fine component represents just three-tenths of 1% of JPM’s $2.44 trillion of assets (assets that, by the way, rose substantially due to its government-aided acquisitions in the midst of the financial crisis the bank helped to cause).

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