We’ve Got Issues: A Weekly News & Politics Column

MITT ROMNEY LIKES TO FIRE PEOPLE and, by the way, you should avoid orange juice.  That seemed to be the main message coming from the media this week if one glanced at the headlines.  But beneath the chatter, buried under heaps of trivial information, were some real stories.

Here were some causes for concern and celebration in last week’s news:

THUMBS UP

Class Awareness

A new poll shows Americans are more aware than ever of the gulf between the rich and poor.  Back when I was in high school, when the Washington Consensus reigned supreme, my economics class instructor was largely mum on class differences and low laborer wages, instead offering a rosy picture of capitalism defined by “creative destruction.”  I have no clue what his curriculum looks like now, but if the recent changes in popular discourse wrought by the economic downturn and Occupy Wall Street are any indication, the income difference between the rich and the poor should be more apparent.  While, according to this poll, many Americans still claim that the rich have earned their fortunes, increased awareness of class could mean a greater push for education spending and Wall Street regulation, so that while Mr. Moneybags may have fewer yachts to choose from, ordinary Americans will be able to afford to raise a family and take a vacation from time to time.

Zero Polio Cases in India for over One Year

Many of us here in the developed world have a tendency to bemoan the little things: the popularity of the internet’s #firstworld problems meme is proof of this.  This tendency is reflected in our media as well, where tech writers will kvetch about the bugs in a recently released smartphone.  However, India’s one year period of having had no new recorded cases of polio is cause for celebration.  The country, which is home to over 1 billion people, may have finally freed itself of a debilitating disease that was long ago eradicated in the U.S. and other developed countries.  The news may be filled to the brim with stories depicting unbridled greed, hatred and violence, but buried in the mix are reasons to believe that the world is becoming a better place, even if your new iphone occasionally malfunctions.

THUMBS DOWN

Reckless Soldiers

It was recently announced that the U.S. government and the Taliban may begin negotiations, in spite of continued fighting.  But simmering tensions between the two mortal enemies suffered a blow this week, when it was revealed that four U.S. soldiers urinated on several dead individuals in Afghanistan.  The act was condemned by Obama.  Still, the photographs are serving as fodder for U.S. hatred, with reports being released that the video of the act is being used by Taliban to attract new recruits.  In the wake of the Arab Spring, the state department has been trying to mend its image in the Muslim world, a cause that these soldiers have hurt.

Apple

If there’s any company that has gotten a free pass from liberal activists, Apple is it.  The iconic electronics retailer, founded by college dropout entrepreneur Steve Jobs in 1976, has transformed from a garage based operation to the most valuable company in the world.  So it is not surprising that newly appointed CEO Tim Cook was paid 378 million dollars (hint: that’s more than Twitter made last year).  His salary has attracted ample criticism, but perhaps even more obscene are the working conditions of employees at Foxconn factories, which produce Apple products.

Some of the company’s employees have committed suicide and have died in factory explosions.  Apple has joined the Fair Labor Assocation and has invited independent observers into the factories where their products are made.  Still, it does not take a genius to realize that a company with 82 billion dollars in cash reserves (most of it in offshore accounts) and a consumer appeal that led a Chinese boy to sell his kidney for an ipad2 could easily improve conditions for the employees that manufacture its products without becoming unprofitable — that, or, you know, bring all those jobs back to the U.S.

Tune in next week to find out if it’s safe to drink orange juice yet!

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