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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 27, 2010

John Wilcock

“While hot lobbyists are expensive — Heather Podesta’s six-person firm is reported to have made $3.4m (last year) — they are worth every penny. A recent study by University of Kansas professors…found that lobbying expenses on one 2004 tax provision provided $220 worth of benefits for each dollar spent.” — National Review

CREATING LOCAL BANKS instead of bailing out Wall Street is the way to restore this country’s financial health writes Eric Utne, pointing out that everything started to go wrong when the British banned colonial script ordaining that people borrow from British banks to pay their taxes. Since then, “private banking interests in the U.S. have usurped the public’s power to issue money and have captured the nation by debt,” he says in the Utne Reader. His text is a book, Web of Debt, by Ellen Hodgson Brown who maintains that California has enough assets to create its own bank, charge interest rates as low as 2% and finance its entire budget out of the profits.

ALMOST EVERY RELIGIOUS FLOCK from Christians to Mennonites to Muslims now has its own mutual fund, says Smart Money, in a piece headed ‘Faith and Finance.’ “People are waking up and saying ‘What I do with my money ought to reflect my values,’” Princeton University scholar David Miller told the magazine, which revealed that religious funds now control more than $27bn in assets, reflecting “a growing hunger among religious people for financial guidance.”

THE EVOLUTION OF VAMPIRES, grinches, and witches is “a variation on the theme of defining deviancy down,” writes John J. Miller in an essay claiming that they were once creepy and haunting, but by now they’ve become “yawn-inducing bores.” Writing under the heading ‘Defanged’ in the National Review, he comments that “vampires can survive a certain level of familiarity as long as they remain menaces who want to puncture our necks and steal our souls. Lately, however too many vampires have taken a kinder, gentler turn.” Today, they’ve become “just alternative lifestyles.”

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT that you fall out of a plane at 33,000 feet you might like some advice about how to survive it, which is what the February issue of  Popular Mechanics offers in a feature, “Taking a Fall.” Your best chance is to stay with the aircraft, or at least some part of it, which will cushion your impact when you hit the ground, but failing that try to land feet first (never on your head) and into grass, marshes, or trees (not into water). The odds of any such accident are very small, PM adds, but “as a courtesy to the next passenger consider leaving (this magazine) in the seat back pocket.”

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE have never heard of Yelp but for millions of others, it affects their choices every day. Founded in San Francisco four years ago by two people who “wanted to make it easier for consumers to find good businesses and avoid bad ones,” according to Inc. which describes the result as “an online Yellow Pages with attitude.” Most Yelp reviews are positive, the mag says, but some are “painfully negative.” And many businesses claim to have been damaged or shaken down, especially if they failed to back up their listing with advertising, although others have claimed that positive reviews have saved their stores from collapsing. Yelp employs more than 300 people, has $15m in the bank, and forecasts that it will be profitable before the end of this year.

Credit: photo W. Volz

Jeanne-Claude, the longtime wife and much-admired partner of Christo who died in November will be celebrated with a memorial at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 26.

IT’S BEEN OBVIOUS for years that law enforcement doesn’t have the remotest chance of stopping drug use and last week’s five-part series in the Los Angeles Times about the influx of cheapo black tar heroin into small-town America is more proof that only legalizing drugs will end the kind of Prohibition that in the last century led to the origin of organized crime. Obviously, it’s not a satisfactory solution but legalization, along with all the restrictions that are enforceable seems inevitable sooner or later.

Nearly 80% of Afghans regard corruption as their biggest worry, surpassing concerns about the insurgency and joblessness. Afghans said they were asked to pay a bribe in 40% of their encounters with senior politicians, typically to cut through red tape or avoid poor service.
from a report last month by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime


has won previous battles to force displays of the Ten Commandments off public land, they’ll be powerless to act against a group called Project Moses which now plans to install 1,000 a year engraved marble versions on private property such as churches and synagogues. Newsmax reports that the organization has already positioned several hundred of the 5ft4in tall stones across 42 states and two Canadian provinces.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Suppose that instead of bailing out Goldman Sachs, AIG, Morgan Stanley, etc. with multi-billion taxpayer $$$ they’d been allowed to collapse, how much worse would it have been for taxpayers? Consider that next time the Wall Street crooks demand another bailout, as they inevitably will….More congressmen resigning because they’re fed up? Gee, why don’t we kick them all out and replace them with lobbyists, and then there’d be no secret about who was being paid by whom and for what….And, bayh the way, did Indiana’s Evan Bayh quit to become a (better-paid) lobbyist?…. Asked by the New York Times about America’s mixed-race future, Henry Louis Gates Jr. replied: “I’m looking forward to the time when we all look like Polynesians”…. Soon to be available is a portable switch able to turn on lights in any room after a radio transmitter has been installed in one of them….Channel Four is working on a reality show about the ordinary people of London’s Notting Hill district, planning to avoid those who seek to use the program as a “fame vehicle”…. “Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses,” quipped Quentin Crisp. “Always drag them down to your level. It’s cheaper.” …..Phosphorescent highways warmed by the sun to glow in the dark will be commonplace in a few years predicts Popular Science…. Right from when it first entered the European Community in 2001, Greece was accused of fraudulent claims over its agriculture policy…Sydney-born Hugh Jackman, 41, described by People as “the sexist man alive” is studying magic in preparation for portraying Harry Houdini on Broadway this year in a show whose music is by Danny Elfman who composed the theme for Desperate Housewives.. Good news for rabbits, whose eyes are often used to test cosmetics, is that scientists have managed to produce corneal tissue from human stem cells…..Xerox just celebrated the 50th anniversary of its paper copying machine but the first (smaller) office machine’s 50th birthday isn’t till 2013….Engineers at UC Berkeley claim that individual air-conditioning vents at each worker’s desk instead of cooling the entire room could cut a building’s energy costs by 50%….. Wouldn’t a would-be terrorist wash his hands before having them swabbed at the airport?….The whole concept of hospitals-for-profit in a society that regards itself as civilized, is so preposterous that only monumental greed heads could have envisaged it in the first place…. “Virtue has never been as respectable as money.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910)