Commentary

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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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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