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the column of lasting insignificance: Dec. 17, 2011
by John Wilcock
Between 2008 and 2010, “thirty companies paid a negative tax rate, meaning that through clever accounting and generous subsidies, they got money from the government while raking in $160.4bn in profits.”
--The Nation, quoting from a report by Citizens for Tax Justice

THE CLIMATE OF HATE that built up before, and probably contributed to, the assassination of President Kennedy seems dangerously similar to what’s happening today about President Obama Frank Rich asserted in New York magazine. The hate, he said, went into temporary hiding but has been “a growth industry” ever since. “There are plenty of comparisons to be made between the two men, but the most telling is the vitriol that engulfed both their presidencies,…The hatred (JFK) aroused, while from a minority of voters, was “heated and ominous”. Rich recalled “the torrid atmosphere of political rage” prevailing in Dallas where both Lady Bird Johnson and Adlai Stevenson had been spit upon before the Kennedy visit.
    And today’s atmosphere is just as “nightmarishly disproportional” to either president’s actual beliefs. “Both presidents were centrists in the Democratic parties of their respective eras” says Rich. “Neither could remotely be described as radical, let alone ‘socialist’, as critics of both have contended…The tragedy of the Kennedy cult is that even as it fades, the hothouse brand of American malice that stalked its hero, stalks our country still”. Last week, many readers of the mag agreed, although some begged the question by maintaining that it was Oswald who killed and not “haters”. One reader called Rich an “apologist” and described the Kennedy murder as “an orchestrated takedown of a president who was pushing the envelope too far”.

REMEMBER THAT FIASCO in Afghanistan a couple of years ago when some clueless commanders set up a base close to an enemy village in the bottom of a valley, hemmed in by mountains full of Taliban? The tribal fighters swooped down pretty much before the Army had finished building it, firing from the rooftops of the village where they’d stashed their arms. Vanity Fair’s December issue recaps the story suggesting that Army bigwigs, far from being brilliant strategists, could be at least as stupid as any sinful civilian. The broken base was eventually terminated, and 14 closely-detailed pages, reveals that an inquiry team first exonerated the brilliant plotting planners, then reversed their verdict, finally deciding more research was needed before the final whitewash.

An American tourist was boasting to a Kerryman about the fact that the Americans had just put a man on the moon. ‘That’s nothing,’ said the Kerryman, ‘we have plans to land a man on the sun.’ ‘That’s crazy,’ said the American, ‘he would burn to a cinder before he got within a million miles of the sun.’‘We’ve thought of that too,’ said the Kerryman, ‘we’re sending him at night.’

A PILL-POPPING NATION is what Fortune calls us, with the revelation that deaths from “opioid” overdoes have tripled in the last few years: Opioids refer to such as Percocet, Vicodin and Fentanyl—all derived from natural or synthetic forms of opium or morphine. Their chemical composition, explains the mag, “is such that the U.S. is just a few carbon molecules from being a nation of heroin addicts”. OxyContin, made by the number one drugmaker in this class, Purdue Pharma, surfaced in 2007, when Purdue was fined $653 million for misbranding the drug “with intent to defraud and mislead the public”. Defensively, Alan Must, one of the company’s VPs, acknowledged that it was not unusual for patients to become physically dependent, but he added, “the idea that our business model is based on getting patients addicted is absurd”. Fortune concedes that Purdue (OxyContin sales: $3.1bn) is spending large sums of money to fight abuse and law-breaking, but also makes known that the company has given thousands of height charts to pharmacies “to help witnesses guess the height of robbers”. In a separate story, the AARP Bulletin reported that drug dealers were flying to Florida—described as the nation’s prescription drug-abuse capital—to buy oxycodon pills for $2 each which they sell in Kentucky for $80 each.

IF THE POST OFFICE had given more thought to their financial problems it might have occurred to them that people who value first class mail would not protest a substantial increase in postage costs (say, 50c). Other countries pay much more for first class mail. And if junk mailers think their mass solicitations are effective they should also be paying first-class postage rates, especially as very few recipients want to receive their wares. Surely, not many people would miss Saturday deliveries, but why not lease space for post offices in local shops in small places?

THE BACKLASH AGAINST the saintly Steve Jobs (“a genius and also an SOB”) is partly based on how little he dispensed his $8.3bn assets according to Nation columnist Eric Alterman who compared him to “poor, square Bill Gates who is devoting the better part of his fortune to improving the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people”. [In Commentary, Andrew Ferguson writes: "There is no public record of (Jobs) giving a dime to charity"]. The American Spectator takes a different view of the matter, characterizing it as ”Steve Jobs vs Bill Gates”, a contest they claim was won by the former, Apple’s value increasing from $6bn to $364bn while Microsoft’s dropped from $642bn to $229bn. Gates, declare the authors, “lack(ed) Jobs’s charisma and his outrageous, uncanny and often hilarious ability to bend other people to his will”. Both men were born in 1955.

Banana Carving
Erin Baiano for the New York Times.

HOW EXCITING IT SEEMED to learn that Archie Panjabi had leaked a week’s worth of her personal diary to the New York Times. Maybe it would assuage the yearning for The Good Wife’s redoubtable Kalinda about whom every red-blooded male has a helpless crush. Here’s a typical extract from the diary:

“Later that evening, I dressed for dinner at Kyo Ya in the East Village. Wore a pair of Helmut Lang stretch back leather skinny pants, an Alexander Wang draped wrap cardigan in aubergine and a herringbone Smythe coat. I also looped on beaded necklace given to me by the people of Lolyangalani in Northern Kenya and wore silver bracelets from Morocco.”

What a bummer! Only belatedly did one notice the diary’s subhead: WHAT I WORE. But naturally, we red-blooded males don’t give a fig for fashion.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Most countries don’t see a push for democracy until per capita incomes exceed about $10,000 says Bruce Gilley in Current History, and in China it’s so far reached about three quarters of that….The filthy rich Goldman Sachs says it’s cutting down its bonuses this year and handing out a mere $10bn to its already overpaid executives….The reason why cities and states usually have to trim back all their plans is that unlike sensible households they base their budgets on what they think they might get instead of what they know they have…. And what kind of incompetent idiots devise contracts that mandate employees who are fired receive million-dollar payoffs?.....Once Gingrich arrived even Romney started to look good…..BTW, that famous magic underwear has to be shown to allow admission to a Mormon temple….That British director should change or amend this name. There’s only one Steve McQueen…. …. “If you worship money” says artist Tom Sachs, “you’ll always feel poor”…Santa Barbara is about to spend $30,000 on poverty—not relieving poverty, studying poverty….…One question that Barbara Walters omitted to ask Syria’s dictator: how does he justify his family’s stranglehold on the country for four decades?......Jonathan Kaplan (who invented the Flip video) has opened an eatery in San Francisco, The Melt, what he says is the first of what will be 500 restaurants specializing in melted cheese sandwiches. “Customers come in with a smile on their face” he says…. Bristol University is testing a way to reduce obesity by serving meals on an electronically-rigged plate that monitors people who eat from it and remarks on whether they’re consuming too fast and too much…. Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it…..Seeking to add prostitution charges to women arrested by the Egyptian military for protesting, “virginity testing” is said to be on the rise…..Endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate and greeted with rave reviews, The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz pretends to be the reminiscences of Dr. Watson who embargoed it until a century after his death…. Santa’s elves are subordinate clauses…. “You can always tell a lot about somebody by the way they put their hands on an animal” says Betty White, for whom the Los Angeles Zoo is Christmas all the timestaging a 90th birthday party next month….Another January birthday (55) will be that of fanatic rightwinger John Roberts, 17th boss of the Supreme Court, who is responsible more than most people for the birth of the Occupy movement, triggered partly by his “Corporate Personhood” nonsense…... A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat…. The misbegotten US air strike from Pakistan that killed 24 Afghanistanis is described as “a misunderstanding”. Maybe they were aiming at some other country….….Indian-born sculptor Anish Kapoor who designed the “looping steel tower” for next year’s London Olympics made $48million last year, only slightly less than our richest movie star Johnny Depp….…. Perhaps the only way to get those criminals heading Countrywide, Bank of America and Citibank behind bars, would be to write in Eliot Spitzer for president…Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom—Thomas Jefferson1743-1826)

12/10/11

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