Nov 1 2009


Wake Up and Sell the Coffee

The October 5 edition of Time magazine reported that some people are wondering if Fair Trade coffee is too cheap—in other words, if the program that is supposed to provide a better deal for coffee growers is paying too little for beans. The minimum price for Fair Trade coffee is $1.35 a pound, and Time quoted observers saying it needs to be raised above $2 to actually give farmers a living wage.

This simple solution isn’t feasible, the magazine’s Ezra Fieser suggested, pointing to a Fair Trade supporter in Miami drinking a $4.15 Fair Trade brew from Starbucks: “Asked if she’d pay, say, $4.50 or even $5 to help absorb higher Fair Trade prices, [Connie] Silver raises her eyebrows and says, ‘Wow, these days, that’s a tough one.’”

That’s some peculiar arithmetic. A pound of coffee makes about 25 brewed cups, so raising the price by 65 cents a pound would directly add less than three cents to the price of each cup. Even accounting for the magic of markup, it’s hard to see how that turns into a 35-85 cent increase for the consumer—unless you’re trying to convince that consumer that living wages are unaffordable.

‘Vindicated’ by the Memory Hole

On September 25, the New York Times front-paged a poll it conducted with CBS, but the most newsworthy finding was buried: “On one of the most contentious issues in the healthcare debate—whether to establish a government-run health insurance plan as an alternative to private insurers—nearly two-thirds of the country continues to favor the proposal.” The actual question, involving “the government offering everyone a government-administered health insurance plan like Medicare,” was more progressive than the actual “public option” proposals being debated in Congress, resembling the “Medicare for all” plans that the Times had trashed the previous Sunday (9/20/09; FAIR Action Alert, 9/22/09).

After being buried, that news was quickly erased from the Times’ memory. In a story four days later (9/29/09) about the Senate Finance Committee voting against adding a public option to the committee’s healthcare bill, the paper reported, “The votes vindicated the middle-of-the-road approach taken by the committee chairman, Senator Max Baucus.” The Times poll had found just 26 percent opposed to a public option, so for the Times, the middle of the road is the same as the rightmost one-quarter.

Broderism and Accountability

Prominent pundits were in a huff about Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to review the CIA’s conduct in torture cases. Washington Post columnist David Broder (9/3/09) claimed that he supports “accountability for illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials,” noting that he called for President Bill Clinton to resign in the Lewinsky scandal. But, he argued, Holder’s appointment of a special prosecutor gives him pause, because “it is the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials.” What was that about the importance of accountability again?

Broder asked: “Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?” For the columnist, the clear answer was no: “The cost to the country would simply be too great.” Good thing there weren’t similar costs when Broder was calling for the president to step down for trying to conceal an affair with a former intern.

USA Today’s Afghanistan Non-Debate

From USA Today’s left/right op-ed feature (9/17/09) on Afghanistan, featuring arch-conservative Cal Thomas and TV “leftist” Bob Beckel:

Beckel: As much as my liberal instincts want us out of this war, I have to agree with you that it’s time to stay and fight. The more dangerous path would be to retreat.

Thomas: Among the many things I admire about you, Bob, is that you are often able to overcome your instincts when facts get in the way. Your party was once a keeper of freedom’s flame when it came to engaging and defeating Communism. Now we have a new enemy. Nothing would benefit America more than to see Democrats and Repub-licans unite to defeat this enemy.

A 218-Year-Old ‘New Deal’

Washington Post CIA correspondent David Ignatius (9/17/09) endorsed the proposal of David Omand, former coordinator of British intelligence, for a “paradigm shift”—replacing the old system, “in which intelligence agencies could do pretty much as they liked,” with a new system where “the public gives the intelligence agencies certain powers needed to keep the country safe.” Ignatius treated this notion of expecting that intelligence agencies operate under the law as a new, rather radical idea—one that would require concessions on the part of the citizenry: “In this new ‘grand bargain,’ Omand stressed, the public must understand that if it decides—for moral and political reasons—to limit certain activities (as in interrogation or surveillance techniques), it also accepts the risk that there will be ‘normal accidents.’”

Ignatius really ought to understand that the U.S. public made that decision a long time ago—back in 1791, when it ratified the Bill of Rights.

Hopelessly Devoted to Whom?

William Bennett at the Values Voter Summit (AlterNet, 9/22/09):

I don’t know why more of the African-American leadership doesn’t talk about Frederick Douglass…. Probably because of his deep devotion to Lincoln, and his deep devotion to this country.

Frederick Douglass at the dedication of the Freedman’s Monument in Memory of Abraham Lincoln (4/14/1876):

Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man’s president, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men…. You, my white fellow-citizens…are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children.

More SoundBites

December 2009 / October 2009