Bits ‘n’ Pieces: July 29, 2021

By Lorraine H. Marie
Reader Columnist

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. According to Politico, some states already restrict who can own 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 countries. 

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

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

President Joe Biden’s new executive order for trust busting will focus on the tech industry and Big Ag, Mother Jones reported. The aim is to depart from the current practice of many farmers and ranchers being forced into poverty with less return on their labor, while returns to shareholders go up. Example: four large meat-packing companies control more than 80% of the beef market and, in the past five years, growers’ share of the take went from 51.5% to 37.3% — all while the price of beef rose.

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. A quick sketch: only the richest 0.05% would pay. They would pay 2 cents on every dollar for people with wealth between $50 million and $1 billion; the tax rate would be 3 cents on every dollar for wealth above $1 billion. 

Billionaire wealth grew 60% since March 2020. Taxes are not currently paid on assets that are increasing in value until they are sold — and they might never be sold. If wealthy assets are sold, ATF says the tax rate is about half (20%) of the top 37% rate paid on income from wages.

Brain scans available for before-and-after COVID-19 cases showed close to half had gray-matter decreases in areas linked to taste, smell and memory associated with emotional reactions. That can even be a result of mild COVID-19 cases, reported The Los Angeles Times. The cause of the brain damage is unclear. The delta COVID-19 variant, first diagnosed in the U.S. in March, now accounts for 83% of all new COVID cases, according to the CDC.

After calling the pandemic a hoax, Fox News personalities are urging vaccination, as is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The House Republican minority whip was vaccinated recently and urges others to do likewise, calling them safe and effective. In Alabama, where just 33.9% 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.” 

June weather tally: It was the hottest in 127 years of record keeping, with the Pacific Northwest 40 degrees above average during the heat dome event, NBCNews reported. July: deadly mudslides in India; massive flooding in parts of China (a year’s worth of rain in three days), New Zealand, Nigeria and Iran; and heat waves in Siberia. The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization said greenhouse gasses made it at least 150 times more likely for excessive heat events.

The 36-member Presidential Commission of the Supreme Court of the U.S., formed in April, was a response to pressure on the president about court packing. So far, points made by the Commission, via commentary in The New York Times, include: some regard the USSC as a defender of rights for vulnerable minorities, but, historically speaking, the USSC has undermined federal attempts to eliminate hierarchies of race, wealth and status numerous times. 

Blast from the past: U.S. Black history revision, for public school children, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s cartoonist: “After getting free passage to America, they immediately received jobs.”

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