Commentary

The debate over whether oil prices are being driven by speculators in the futures market or by the fundamentals of supply and demand for the physical product slides right on by a central point. The question Congress and regulators should be focusing on isn't who is driving prices, but how prices are being driven.

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By all accounts, Barack Obama is quite far along in his deliberations over a running mate. If he hasn't already made his choice, it's down to a tiny handful of people. The time for suggesting new names, in other words, has long since passed. But with Michigan and its pivotal role in the election on my mind, I can't help but throw out another possibility, one so seemingly ideal I'm surprised we haven't heard more about him already: Senator Carl Levin.

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After months of housing-market debris, Congress is still grappling with temporary solutions. One question they should be asking this week: How could these problems have been avoided?

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Doll inspectors squinting helplessly at hanging chads was the lasting image from the federal election of 2000. We were shocked and frustrated by the fragility and archaic infrastructure of our election system. If only we could replace those dastardly little squares of paper with something better, something modern, electronic and foolproof, then all would be well in America.

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"Five years ago, I had a lock on things," says Mike Jimenez, the president of the California Correctional Peace Officer's Association. With his sunglasses, slicked-back hair, and trimmed beard, the 47-year-old looks more like an aging rock guitarist than the head of the nation's largest prison guards' union.

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As the economy moves from Maoist socialism to a strange type of quasi-Maoist capitalism, farmers are fighting off land grabs, which, as in the case of Da Ba, are often linked to industry's voracious appetite for space and resources.

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That's right. The Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing today on credit card marketing to college students. And even though I know a lot of you in the C-SPAN set were watching the streaming feed on the Committee web site, I'm here to give a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings for anyone who may have missed it.

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Certainly, there is a housing bubble, and it is partly the result of bad policy — notably the takeover of a good deal of mortgage lending by predators, and the abdication of financial supervision by the government. However, it is a mistake to think that the best policy is one of benign neglect, for there is nothing benign about a situation in which American homeowners stand to lose two trillion dollars of their net worth, and foreclosures proceed at the rate of 25,000 a week.

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One night last winter, Sally Judson was arrested for prostitution and disorderly conduct. She was also charged with resisting arrest and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. Judson, who has schizophrenia as well as a heroin addiction, is one of hundreds of thousands of Americans clogging the criminal-justice system for drug offenses. Many, like Judson, are also mentally ill, and the system often fails to treat the mental illness and instead ends up just submerging it in the criminal behavior.

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Last week, new consumer price data released by the US Labor Department confirmed what most shoppers already suspected: Food prices, which took their biggest one-month leap in nearly two decades in April, rose even further in May. Energy costs, too, went up last month. The big question, though, is why?

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