Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Bits 'n pieces from east, west and beyond

| August 3, 2021 7:00 AM

East, west or beyond, sooner or later events elsewhere may have a local impact. A recent sampling:

A bipartisan effort is underway in Congress to address problems associated with the purchase of U.S. farmlands by foreign firms. Those farmlands are eligible for subsidies, former Vice President Mike Pence told the Heritage Foundation. Politico said a few states already restrict who can own local farmland. One problem: Outside bidders can artificially elevate farmland prices.

Countries that collectively own 35 million acres of U.S. farmland include Canada, China and several European nations.

This July marks 12 years since the last time the minimum wage was raised. The Economic Policy Center said that’s the longest period without a minimum wage bump in U.S. history. Adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is 34 percent less than it was in 1968.

A new poll from the Associated Press and the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center found that 83 percent of Americans want funding for roads, bridges and ports; 66 percent approve of paying for that with higher corporate taxes. Former President Donald Trump is pressuring Republicans to resist infrastructure plans.

President Joe Biden’s new executive order for trust busting will focus on the tech industry and on big agriculture, Mother Jones reported. The aim is to alleviate the current practice of many farmers and ranchers being forced into poverty through a lessened return on their labor while returns to shareholders increase. For example: Four large meat-packing companies control over 80 percent of the beef market. In the past five years, growers’ share of the take fell from 51.5 percent to 37.3 percent while the price of beef grew.

If approved, the Ultra-Millionaire Tax Act would impact Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man (who was recently in space for 10 minutes). Bezos would have owed $5.7 billion in taxes in 2020, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. Fellow billionaire Elon Musk would have owed $4.6 billion. The tax proposal is expected to collect $1.4 trillion for federal coffers over 10 years.

Only the richest 0.05 percent would pay. People with wealth between $50 million and $1 billion would pay 2 cents on every dollar. The tax rate would be 3 cents on every dollar for those with wealth above $1 billion.

Before and after brain scans available for COVID-19 patients showed that close to half had gray-matter decreases in areas linked to taste, smell and memory associated with emotional reactions. The Los Angeles Times said that can even be a result of a mild bout with COVID-19. The cause of the brain damage is not clear. The delta variant, first diagnosed in the U.S. in March, now accounts for 83 percent of all new COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.

After the release of one inmate from Guantanamo, which opened as a detention facility in 2002, 39 detainees remain. Newsweek said the former uncharged inmate was sent to Morocco and taken into custody there.

Too many potential voters dying from COVID-19 or the serious risk posed by the delta variant? After calling the pandemic a hoax, Fox News personalities are urging vaccination as is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The House Republican minority whip was vaccinated recently has urged others to do likewise, calling them safe and effective. In Alabama, where just 33.9 percent of residents are fully vaccinated, the Republican governor blamed the significant rise in new COVID-19 cases and deaths on the unvaccinated who “lack common sense” and “are not doing their part.” Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch was vaccinated in December. Trump was vaccinated in January, and has called vaccinations “a true miracle.”

Recently published: “Nightmare Scenario.” The book, authored by Washington Post journalists, details how close the previous president came to not surviving COVID-19, and the emergency measures that saved him.

The 36-member Presidential Commission of the Supreme Court of the United States, formed in April, was a response to pressure on the president about court packing. Points made by the Commission so far, via commentary in The New York Times, include: some regard the Supreme Court as a defender of rights for vulnerable minorities, but it has undermined federal attempts to eliminate hierarchies of race, wealth and status many times, historically speaking. The Court has an anti-democratic element as justices have indefinite tenure. A proposal: A super majority vote of justices should be required when the high court invalidates an act of Congress to avoid working against democratic aspirations.