Archive

May 28th, 2016

Putting Free Speech Out to Pasture

    Hard experience teaches that biotech companies, chemical corporations, and other agribusiness giants have no sense of respect for Mother Nature. Now, Rick Friday has learned they have no sense of humor either.

    Friday, a lifelong Iowa farmer, also happens to be a talented, self-taught cartoonist. For 21 years, he supplemented his cattle-raising income by drawing cartoons each week in an Iowa publication called Farm News.

    Friday really enjoyed this side job — until April 30.

    The day before, the News had published his drawing of two hard-hit farmers chatting by a fence about the low prices they were getting for their products. “I wish there were more profits in farming,” mused one.

    “There is,” exclaimed the other. “In year 2015, the CEOs of Monsanto, Dupont, Pioneer, and John Deere combined made more money than 2,129 Iowa farmers.”

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Our Poverty Myth

    If you’re poor, many Americans think, it’s your own fault. It’s a sign of your own moral failing.

    I don’t personally believe that, but the idea has roots in our culture going back centuries.

    In The Wealth of Nations, the foundational work of modern capitalism, Adam Smith extolled the virtues of working hard and being thrifty with money. That wasn’t just the way to get rich, he reasoned — it was morally righteous.

    Sociologist Max Weber took the idea further in describing what he called the Protestant work ethic.

    To Puritans who believed that one was either predestined for heaven or for hell, Weber wrote, working hard and accumulating wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Those who got rich, the Puritans thought, must have been chosen by God for heaven; those who were poor were damned.

    Even major American philanthropists have subscribed to this idea.

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Memorial Weekend Ranting

    Summer is upon us, and we are facing important travel decisions. Such as who to blame when we get stuck in interminable airport lines.

    So many options. There’s the government, but how many times can you can complain about Congress in the course of a lifetime? There’s the public — air traffic up 12 percent since 2011. But really, people, don’t blame yourself.

    Let’s pick a rant that’s good for you, good for me, good for the lines in security: Make the airlines stop charging fees for checked baggage.

    Seems simple, doesn’t it? Plus, if you do manage to make it to your flight, these are the same people who will be announcing there’s a $3 fee if you want a snack.

    The largest airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag, thus encouraging people to drag their belongings through the airport, clogging the X-ray lines and slowing the boarding process as everybody fights to cram one last rolling duffel into the overhead compartment.

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How Sanders and Clinton could heal their rift

    The acrimony between Sen. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, inflamed in recent weeks, is likely to be resolved with a series of compromises that will bring relative unity in the weeks after next month's final primaries.

    Limited conversations between supporters of the two candidates have been productive and both sides are guardedly optimistic, despite the sharp barbs the campaigns exchanged in recent weeks. With Clinton almost certain to be the Democratic nominee and polls showing her in a tight race with the presumptive Republican candidate, Donald Trump, Democrats are worried that internal friction could weaken the party in the general election.

    "It's going to take a conscious effort for the winning candidate to be gracious and the opposing candidate to see the larger goal," says Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, D, a Sanders supporter. Although Merkley hasn't had any conversations with the Clinton forces, he expressed confidence that "the road is being paved" for a rapprochement.

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For Obama, human rights begin at home

    First Cuba, now Vietnam.

    President Barack Obama drew the U.S. closer to Vietnam this week, traveling to Hanoi and lifting a decades-long U.S. ban on military sales to the communist regime and strategically located former foe. Human-rights advocates were not inspired.

    "Vietnam has demonstrated itself that it doesn't deserve the closer ties the U.S. is offering," said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, to the Washington Post. In an open letter to Obama, Human Rights Watch called Vietnam a "police state" that is "among the most repressive" governments in the world.

    Obama's landmark visit to Cuba in March produced similar consternation over the Castro regime's long history of oppression while also providing eager conservatives with an opportunity, not to be missed, to use the words "Obama" and "Che" in the same sentence.

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Yes, there actually are people who believe the Clintons killed Vince Foster

    The latest thing Donald Trump is talking about not talking about is the 1993 death of White House attorney Vince Foster, which was ruled a suicide by multiple investigations but which "people" -- according to Trump -- believe was a murder orchestrated by the Clintons. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee told The Washington Post's Jose DelReal and Robert Costa that Foster's death was "very fishy."

    "I don't bring it up because I don't know enough to really discuss it," Trump said while bringing it up. "I will say there are people who continue to bring it up because they think it was absolutely a murder. I don't do that because I don't think it's fair."

    Riiight. Trump isn't talking about Vince Foster. He's just casually mentioning that a bunch of other people think his likely general election opponent and her husband had a guy killed. That's all.

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Why law didn't punish villains in financial crisis

    Historians of the future will want to know why almost no one went to jail in connection with the collapse of mortgage-backed securities that triggered the 2007-8 financial crisis. Monday's appeals court decision reversing a $1.2 billion fraud judgment against Bank of America will be an important part of the answer. To put it bluntly, the law failed -- because the law as it existed didn't properly anticipate or cover the events that occurred.

    The decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, was the result of an appeal by Bank of America from a judgment by federal district court Judge Jed Rakoff, the most outspoken judicial critic of how the legal system responded to the crisis.

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What you need to know about the next recession (starring Donald Trump)

    How should we respond to the next recession? That was the topic of an event held by the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project, where I spoke Monday in Washington with White House budget director Sean Donovan. I argued a number of points that address current concerns.

    First, I argued that the possible election of "Demagogue Donald" dwarfs congressional dysfunction as a threat to American prosperity. Beyond lunatic and incoherent budget and trade policies, Donald Trump would for the first time make political risk of the kind usually discussed in the context of Argentina, China or Russia relevant to the United States. How else to interpret threats to renegotiate debt, prosecute insubordinate publications and rip up treaties? Creeping fascism as an issue dwarfs macroeconomic policy!

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Trumping on Eggshells

    I recently asked a good friend where her boss stood on Donald Trump.

    This wasn’t an idle question. Her boss gives big money to Republican candidates. He’s both power broker and weather vane. And she talks politics with him all the time.

    But she has no idea about him and Trump. She hasn’t inquired, because she doesn’t want to know. She’s fond of her boss. She respects him. But what if he’s made peace with a candidate who called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, mocked a disabled journalist, belittled John McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war, praised Vladimir Putin’s thuggish leadership style, complimented the Chinese government on its brutal handling of the uprising in Tiananmen Square, made misogynistic remarks galore and boasted during a debate about the size of his penis?

    She can’t go there.

    I understand.

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What tax tricks doesn't Trump want us to see?

    A generation after Ronald Reagan denounced the "welfare queen," the Grand Old Party is evidently on the verge of nominating its first welfare king.

    Four years ago last week, the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, famously wrote off the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. Romney, secretly recorded at a fundraiser, said the 47 percent "who are dependent upon government" won't vote for him because "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

    Now, just one presidential cycle later, Republicans have settled on a presumptive nominee who is himself among the 47 percent of non-taxpayers. Trump has been refusing to release his tax returns, and we have a pretty good idea why: He has been feeding at the public trough.

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