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the column of lasting insignificance: December 28, 2013
by John Wilcock

“When it comes to defense spending, no country can compete directly with the United States, which spends more than the next 10 countries combined—including potential rivals Russia and China…We paid for two wars with credit…Where does the Pentagon’s money go? The exact answer is a mystery because the Pentagon’s books are a complete mess. They’re so bad they can’t even be officially inspected, despite a 1997 requirement that federal agencies submit to annual audits—just like every other business or organization.”
—Mother Jones

THE FIGHT AGAINST FRACKING may be already lost because of the huge sums at stake; there’s enough shale that can be extracted from North America alone to satisfy world demand for up to 15 years. “The United States will not quite gain energy independence” says the Economist, “but is likely to depend on imports only from Canada and Mexico…and if the world should fall to pieces, American supplies will be guaranteed”. The industry’s insistence that fracking is safe is constantly challenged—Oklahoma is currently trying to blame it for a series of earthquakes caused by pressure from the huge volumes of water stored in so-called ‘disposal wells’—but claims the benefits of fracking outweigh the problems. Economic growth in Pennsylvania’s Williamsport area, where gas companies have drilled thousands of wells, is exceeded only by two other areas in the country, at least partly because state officials are in thrall to the natural gas industry which (according to Common Cause) has spent $21.6 million lobbying them. “The industry knows that public disapproval is its number one threat” asserts The American Prospect which devotes a 12-page story to “the unlikely activists” of The Shale Rebellion.
To fracking    Stretching from New York to West Virginia, the mag says, is the 95,000 square mile formation known as the Marcellus Shale containing more than $500bn worth of natural gas in Pennsylvania alone. This has predictably drawn both energy companies and protestors—“a loose-knit resistance that over the past three years has fought a desperate battle to stop the drilling frenzy”. Households have been evicted, chemicals linked to water pollution, bulldozers held off, lawsuits filed, legislators’ offices picketed and the landscape fragmented by industrial extraction. The industry insists that fracking is safe but more than one scientific study has disagreed. “Fracking remains poorly studied” says TAP, “partly because drillers have successfully lobbied not to disclose the chemicals they use”.
    “California Plans Tighter Control of Fracking, but not enough for some” read the headline on a NYT story last week. Which pretty much sums up where things are at.

EXPECT TO SEE what Forbes describes as “an inescapable cycle of gear, greeting cards, clothes and even a holiday album” this Christmas as A&E’s sophomoric reality show Duck Dynasty cashes in on its 12 million viewers. Industry sources estimate that items from mugs, fishing rods and graphic t-shirts, to bobbleheads of the bearded cast, are current best sellers. Licenses have been issued for 75 products ranging from rain boots to anti-bacterial bandages and the cedar duck calls with which the business began are alone fetching $50m in retail sales. “It’s the American dream. They made themselves millionaires” says marketing agent Charlie Anderson, speaking admiringly of the bayou Robinson family who net $200,000 from each weekly episode.

ONCE KNOWN AS the most powerful man in Hollywood, (who) “fell from his throne” says Fortune, “only risks having the inglorious chapters of his past resuscitated”. They’re talking about the former uber-agent Mike Ovitz who the mag avers was both loved and loathed to an extent that even today interviewees for their story insisted on remaining anonymous. Recapping his plunge, they point to a bullying career in Hollywood, followed by a “disastrous” and brief role as no. 2 at Disney; and then his arrogance and “colossal failure” while losing $100 million with his Artists Management Group. Now Ovitz is making the rounds of Silicon Valley, trying to escape his past, associating with the stars of tomorrow, Fortune reports, “but of course he wants a piece of the action. Some Valley veterans see that as the sales pitch of an imposter. ‘The naïve are buying into a cult of personality’ says one Valley veteran”.

“I will stay involved with cases I care about. I’m not just going to give away money. I want to actually be involved with guns and immigration and public health…I can tell you what I won’t do. I’m not going to become a professional investor. That’s somebody else’s job. I don’t want to teach. I don’t want to become a consultant. These things don’t appeal to me. I’m not going back to Bloomberg LP. I don’t want to start a new company…I’m also going to work on my Spanish. I’m adamant that I want to speak Spanish like a native.”
—From Forbes’ essay: Michael Bloomberg, the exit interview

WHAT LOOKS LIKE a floating apartment building is actually a $10bn project called the Freedom Ship on which rich folk can live while they travel the world. One mile long and 25 storeys high, it will be too big to enter any existing port. Offering access for its thousands of residents from a top-deck airstrip. Hotels, a hospital, banks, offices, shops and sporting facilities will be tucked into a nautical space four times bigger than the Queen Mary. The Florida sponsors promise that its website will be up and running in January.

THE BBC IS UNDER FIRE again for the exorbitant annual $200 fee that Brits have to pay whether they watch it or not. Spectator columnist Charles Moore is one of the thousands of TV set owners who refused to pay and ended up in court. More than 10% of all the court cases in the country are people accused of this evasion—“an unbelievable waste of court time and public money…single mothers who cannot scrape together the £142.50 demanded are dragged before the magistrates to pay the six-figure salaries of BBC bosses and stars”. Although there are many other radio and TV channels, ALL the money goes to the BBC, which outside critics agree is heavily overloaded with over-paid middle managers and wasteful schemes. The BBC’s former director-general, Mark Thompson, who was ill-advisedly hired to command the New York Times is still insisting he knew nothing about the notorious pedophile who infested the corporation for a decade. Last week he was censured by a British parliamentary committee for handing out multi-million severance payouts to his pals before he left. (London) Times columnist Libby Purves asks why he felt it necessary to give his $750,000-a year departing deputy an extra million bucks from the BBC’s apparently bottomless coffers.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Despite losing its battle to have Sea World’s orcas defined as slaves, the long-term aim of PETA and the Nonhuman Rights Project is to allow suits to be brought in the name of animals writes Wesley J. Smith in the Nation….Greedy TimeWarner Cable has been blocking off more and more channels offering subscribers less and less unless they pay more and more….. Somebody—oh, please, anybody—rescue Harlemites from the dishonorable Charles B. Rangel who plans to run for a 23rd Congressional term….New Yorkers are already criticizing incoming police chief William J. Bratton because they say he’ll check for jihadists in Muslim communities. Where else would he look?.... ….More than 800 ‘inventors’ submitted designs for new condoms, of which 11 were recently given grants by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Some are of graphene, the thinnest material ever produced, others resemble socks…..In an attempt not to be found liable for any mistreatment of detainees, says the London Review of Books, medical staff at Guantanamo have adopted such Shakespearian names as Leonato (senior medical officer), Varro (force-feeding doctor) and Lucientio (nurse)…. Amazon.com, EBay, and Wal-Marts are fiercely competing to offer the fastest deliveries with the ultimate goal of shipping and dropping off any item anywhere the same day it’s ordered…With only 15% of the world’s population, says the Daily Telegraph, North America accounts for 35% of its weight…..”….Rupert Murdoch’s close friendship with Britain’s Tony Blair is definitely over, says the Mail on Sunday, with persuasive rumors about what might have transpired between Blair and Murdoch’s wife, Wendi Deng—a serial marriage cheater—during their “multiple encounters”….. Los Angeles real estate tycoon Donald T. Sterling seems to have hijacked Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, featuring huge pictures of them in successive ads for his charities….. William I. Koch, the least-known of those greedy right-wing brothers just successfully sued his wine dealer, claiming the couple of millions he’s spent on wines bought him only fakes. Poetic justice….It’s definitely an education to learn how much college presidents are paid—more than $1m a year for 42 of them, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education, half a dozen topping more then $2m each ….Do You Believe Magic? by Paul A Offit is subtitled The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine and warns readers (writes reviewer Temma Ehrenfeld) “that nonsense can be deadly and its purveyors need more policing”…..Watch out for hair thieves, warns Venezuela’s El Nacional, reporting on a rapidly growing number of assaults by gun-wielding robbers wielding garden shears who can sell shoulder-length locks for hundreds of dollars…..“The philosopher has never killed any priests, whereas the priest has killed a great many philosophers.” –Denis Diderot (1713-84)


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