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the column of lasting insignificance: Feb. 4, 2012
by John Wilcock

ELECTION BY AUCTION is pretty much what it seems to have come down to now that we have corporations pretending to be people, Super-PACS and self-interested billionaires all outbidding each other for the right to enhance their privileges. “Nothing in political history will have matched the relentless firepower of next fall’s living room wars” writes Walter Shapiro, commenting on “the ad clutter that helps explain why Americans hate politics”. In an essay titled ‘The Campaign-Industrial Complex’ in Washington Monthly, he estimates that ‘Politics Incorporated’ may raise and spend over $7 billion this year “which would put the industry roughly on a par with Visa”.
     The real crisis facing American politics is what elected officials have to do to raise the money for all those ads declares Lawrence Lessig in Republic Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It. Lessig, who was on the faculty of the University of Chicago’s Law School at the same time as Barack Obama, now finds himself pointing out the “growing alienation” of his former colleague from the financiers who are backing his rival, resulting in gloomy appraisals that “by not completely kowtowing to Wall Street, Obama risks losing the White House”.
     Nevertheless, Obama is expected to raise and spend a billion dollars through his fund-raising ties to the ultra-rich, adding to voters’ “corrosive cynicism about government and accentuat(ing) Democratic disillusion with the president.”
     Fund-raising never stops, Lessig asserts, not even for senators at the start of their terms, and campaign reform is as much a liberal fantasy as hand-gun regulation. “The core of the problem is that the same Congress that has prospered from the current system would be called upon to change it”.

AFRICAN BILLIONAIRES might sound like an uncommon species to some people, but the Economist reports that they’re a growing category, and “harbingers of hope (who) exemplify how far Africa has come, and give reason to believe that its recent high growth rates may continue”. The world’s wealthiest black person is listed as a Nigerian cement tycoon, Aliko Dangote, whose $10bn fortune is three times as large as Oprah Winfrey’s. Africa’s economies, from Ghana in the west to Mozambique in the south, are growing faster than any other region in the world, the magazine claims, adding that 60million households have incomes larger than $3,000, a number that’s expected to reach 100 million by 2015. The news is not all good, however, with the majority of the continent’s billion people still below the poverty line. Africa’s population is expected to double over the next 40 years.

“I’m accused of everything from being a cat torturer to being a rapist to being overly concerned about my hair to being too rich to being so poor that my socks are dirty. The only ones I have left now to look forward to are some kinds of combination of bestiality and pedophilia” -- WikiLeaks' Julian Assange talking to Rolling Stone about the pressures he’s been undergoing on the eve of a decision by Britain about whether to deport him to face trial in Sweden

VAGUE ANXIETY is the most common reaction when the subject of North Korea comes up. The hermit kingdom always seems to be on the verge of making trouble, maybe even of the nuclear sort. ‘No good options exist’, the pundits always say…It’s the six-party talks or another Korean War”. That’s how Asian expert Ross Terrill puts it in the weekly Standard. But, he adds: “Fortunately, a good option does exist, that would terminate the problem of nukes on the Korean peninsula. Talks would switch from Pyongyang’s ‘intentions’ and weapons to the shape of a reunified Korea”. Reunification—turning back the two Koreas into one. Is it likely? No. But possible? Of course. Terrill’s rationalization explains: “The reward for 28-year-old Kim Jong Eun would be respect from all Korea and a personal achievement absent in the life of his father and grandfather. Educated in Switzerland, with some knowledge of the West, he is young enough to glimpse redemption from His family’s horrible record by permitting peaceful reunification or the Korean people. Hawks and doves have a rare opportunity to unite in this project, a possible goal and susceptible to subtle negotiation.”

“What I learned is that acting is, to a large extent, trying to stave off self-doubt long enough to be natural and real onstage. I’m at the point in my career where I should be learning a huge amount from every job I do, and unless something’s going to give me that, I’m not really very attracted to it” —Daniel Radcliffe talking to Parade on the eve of the release of The Woman in Black, his first post-Harry Potter film

NEW YORK’S FIRST underground paper, the East Village Other, began in 1965 and closed down seven years later. Thus, this year marks the 40th anniversary of its demise, a landmark that will be celebrated with a series of events including a panel discussion (Feb 28) and a party.. “Initiated by poets, painters, artists, seers, perverts and prophets: wrote co-founder Allen Katzman, “EVO shared its pages with the likes of Buckminster Fuller, Timothy Leary, Robert Crumb, Ishmael Reed, Allen Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Baba Ram Das, Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman-- the conspiracy of the 1960s. It went just as it came – in a hail of livingness. In true American phantasmagoria, it was a legend in its own time.”

By an accident of fate, I was EVO’s editor from issue no. 3 onwards after returning from Japan, where I had been revising my travel guide, to find that the lady I had been dating, Sherry Needham, was now dating Walter Bowart, known to all as the inventor of this trail-blazing offset newspaper. All hail the noble Walter; a genuine innovator who sadly died at 68 in 2007. I was obliged to move on after a month or two, committed to a return to Japan, but I stopped en route to edit Art Kunkin’s Los Angeles Free Press which had been founded earlier that year as America’s very first underground paper.

evo1The panel on Feb. 28, to be livecast at http://nytimes.com/eastvillage will feature Ed Sanders, Steven Heller, Claudia Dreifus, Dan Rattiner and two who still live in the neighborhood – EVO editor Peter Leggieri and writer and activist Alex Gross. It will be moderated by John McMillian, author of Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Well-meaning essays comparing the US health service with the cheaper (and better) ones that other countries offer but almost all shy away from the obvious answer: healthcare costs will NEVER drop as long as it’s run by for-profit companies….Like the late Joseph Kennedy, today’s smart billionaire asks: Why settle for a mere congressman when my SuperPac might buy me a president? .....The first thought that comes to mind when contemplating Supremo John Roberts is, How can a fella so well-educated be such a fool?.... “The modern Conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy,” says John Kenneth Galbraith, “that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness”…..A Georgia newspaper publisher says he has “hundreds” of pictures given him by visitors who pose in the nearby street holding their hometown newspaper and one woman carried the picture of her mother on a stick so she could boast she’d been everywhere….After a small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital, his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was. 'No change yet,' said the nurse…..“Talk to people about themselves” said Disraeli, “and they will listen for hours”— The American Automobile Association has deployed vehicles capable of recharging stranded electric vehicles in six regions so far, and plans to eventually cover the entire country…More and more couples are choosing cemetery funeral homes for their wedding parties reports the AARP Bulletin…....Reporting on the Olive Garden’s efforts to recover from a slump in sales, Smart Money attributed it to the chain introducing “culinary forward dishes—most notably, Gorgonzola and pear ravioli with shrimp to the menu, and then wasting millions of dollars promoting them. Customers balked ….Politicians who leave office for whatever reason should be permanently banned from being able to lobby their former colleagues....China‘s near monopoly of tungsten production (needed to toughen steel) will soon face competition from mining by an Australian firm near Plymouth at England’s southwestern tip….In his prison autobiography, Malcolm X commented that “a penny matchbox full of nutmeg had the kick of three or four reefers” …..Since the Southern California station KCET was replaced by KOCE as the local PBS outlet, it’s become pretty much irrelevant to many viewers especially in places where it has been dropped by Time-Warner ….. “When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt” advised Henry J. Kaiser….. Customers at Legends Outlets Mall in Kansas can text the valet parkers to get their cars ready without having to wait in the cold… When the Cold War ended, the Soviets agreed to convert 500 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium into fuel for American nuclear plants, reports Wired, and when the program ends next year, the equivalent of 20,000 Soviet missiles will be lighting “the same US homes they were built to annihilate”… …Chance decides matters better than ourselves—Menander (342-292 BC)


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