Commentary

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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In Vittorio De Sica’s bleak, postwar Italian movie “The Bicycle Thief,” a man is humbled by a personal catastrophe involving a tiny amount of money: unemployed, he is given a chance at a job, but he is required to have a bike to travel to work sites. Antonio Ricci doeshave a battered old bike, but he is in the process of pawning it for food. Undaunted, his wife pawns the family linens instead. All is good until the bike is stolen, leaving Ricci to haunt the markets of Rome while trying to find it.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark paper that helped delineate the federal poverty line. A huge leap forward in its day, the poverty line established credible criteria for what constituted an acceptable standard of living.

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Three and a half years have passed since the afternoon when the stock markets went into a trillion-dollar free fall and just as suddenly reversed course, recovering 80 percent of that loss. It all happened in less than 45 minutes.

I discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s McCutcheon  case Saturday on Karen Finney’s MSNBC show Disrupt, and also last week in this HuffPo commentary.

Next month, voters in Washington will decide whether their state will be the first in the nation to require labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients. In this debate, a key point of contention is whether food costs would rise if I-522 passes.

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At a small gathering in Los Angeles recently, Miles Rapoport, president of the 13-year-old progressive think tank Demos, expressed optimism about the future for progressive values and policies.

Miles's talk was inspiring, but I asked him to elaborate by answering questions from a skeptic's point of view. Following is Part 2 of our dialogue. (Here is Part 1.)

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TaskRabbit.com markets itself as a Web service that matches clients seeking someone to do odd jobs with “college students, recent retirees, stay-at-home moms, [and] young professionals” looking for extra income. The company website calls it “a marketplace dedicated to empowering people to do what they love.” The name Task Rabbit doesn’t exactly suggest the dignity of work, and the love often takes humble forms. Customers hire Task Rabbits to clean garages, haul clothes to the laundry, paint apartments, assemble Ikea products, buy groceries, or do almost anything else that’s legal.

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The American Prospect
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