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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 21, 2011

John Wilcock


How Wall Street Crooks

— headline on a story by William Greider in the Nation
which, among other reasons, explains that “Criminal indictments would not be good for investor confidence.” (Now that Rajar the Rat has been convicted of insider trading, shouldn’t Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein follow him to jail?)


IT’S A MYSTERY why the have-nots (which include all dedicated Democrats) shy away from the subject of class warfare when that’s exactly what’s needed if there’s any hope of a redistribution of wealth. And, of course, it’s exactly that that Rush Limbaugh’s fans have seized upon. How dare anybody suggest that people who have more money than they’ll ever need give some of it up, voluntarily or otherwise, to help the millions who have barely enough to survive? Yet class warfare — a give-no-quarter fight between the have-nots and the plutocrats — is the only way this situation will ever change. “As long as those three catchphrases — class warfare, social engineering, redistribution of wealth — provoke the same Pavlovian responses from Republicans and Democrats alike, the rich have nothing to worry about,” writes David Macaray in CounterPunch. “While the bottom four-fifths struggle to stay afloat, and the upper one-fifth cautiously tread water, the top 1 percent continue to accumulate wealth at a staggering rate.” And he reprints an old joke:


An Oxford professor meets a former student and asks what he’s been up to. The student tells him he’s been working on a doctoral thesis about the survival of the class system in the United States. The professor expresses surprise. “I didn’t think there was a class system in the United States,” he says. “Nobody does,” the student replies. That’s how it survives.”


THE CUPCAKE CRAZE has become such a phenomenon that it’s earned an eight-page feature in the May issue of the business magazine Inc. But even its multitudinous makers and bakers are beginning to wonder when the fad will fade and are pondering what they will do next. “The fashion seems euphoric,” writes Burt Helm, “too good to be true” while dropping the names of fans such as Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Streisand.

  Although the tiny treats can now be found anywhere, apparently it’s Washington DC that has become Cupcake Central with sugary shops on almost every block. The capital, not only houses Crumbs, the nation’s biggest cupcake company (35 shops, $31million annual revenue) but even has its own TV show, DC Cupcakes, now in its second season. Crumbs offers 74 varieties from Apple Cobbler to Vanilla Rose, competing with, among others, Georgetown Cupcakes, which recently opened a bakery at Dulles airport to facilitate nationwide distribution ($29 per dozen, plus $26 shipping).

Part of the widespread cupcake explosion is the simplicity of the product (basic ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, and salt) which means that the larger companies provide the recipe and contract with outside companies to actually produce the cakes. “Not one of the Crumbs bakeries is really a bakery,” says Inc. “Not one has, or ever has had, an oven.” The company, however, plans to open in 200 locations and trade its share on Nasdaq this month.

Wikipedia reports that “the first mention of the cupcake can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of ‘a cake to be baked in small cups’ was written in American Cookery by Amelia Simms.”

FRESH-BAKED PASTRIES are a bigger draw in Shanghai than coffee, which accounts for the success of the Taiwan-based chain 85C, over its rival Starbucks. The latter sells pastries too, but they’re delivered from factories, whereas (reports Stores) 85C has glass-walled kitchens in which breads and cakes are made in plain view of customers. There are usually lines around the block. And, in contrast to Starbucks’ coffee prices of up to $4 a cup, 85C charges about half as much.

CONSIDER A WORLD without photographs of the past. That’s what we’re headed towards, predicts Scientific American, if everything is to become digital images with no long-lasting prints. Because current digital files will inevitably be obsolete in a few years, and then nobody will be able to read them — just like all the other defunct electronic systems and online storage facilities that have already disappeared. “Make a commitment,” SA advises, to keep copying your pictures “to whatever the latest storage medium happens to be.”

THOSE AGGRAVATING TELEPHONE machines that keep you on hold while you wait…and wait…and wait for a real live person to attend to can be bypassed, it seems. AARP Bulletin lists or through which you can look up the numbers of numerous companies and find a way to break through. It also mentions where you’ll get the option of leaving your number and awaiting a call back when there’s actually somebody on the line.

FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE set by British tax protesters who have been picketing corporations, USUncut now has 40 local chapters reports In These Times which says that roughly a quarter of the largest US companies reported zero tax liability in a recent year. Citizens for Tax Justice estimate that corporate loopholes will cost the US Treasury Dept $365bn this year alone. Members of US Uncut have been standing guard with challenging signs outside the likes of Boeing (tax rebate of $75m on $9.7bn in profits) and GE. The major loophole allows US corporations to defer taxes on profits made overseas until brought back home (which may be never). Commenting on the 35% tax rate ostensibly imposed on US corporations, National Review comments: “We are the only major country to impose such a high national rate on all the international earnings of domestic companies, and then we complain that companies keep those profits overseas to avoid punitive taxation.”

RUNNING BAREFOOT is better for the feet because the initial thrust is on the toes rather than the heels. Thus, the Italian company Vibram has designed Five Fingers, a running shoe in which each toe is wrapped separately like in a glove. They’re about to go mainstream, reports Forbes. “The age of the modern running shoe that began in the 1970s with Phil Knight and Nike may just be entering its twilight.”

IN A STORY spreading over six pages, Advertising Age celebrated the 125th anniversary of 125 years of Coca-Cola’s start as an advertiser, a campaign into which it was soon pouring a million dollars a year. (Today its annual ad budget is $2.9 billion). One of Coke’s earliest gimmicks was the distribution of coupons for a free drink, the first company to try that. And it’s managed to stay top of the heap, despite longtime rivalry from Pepsi which it even displaced from the #2 spot after the introduction of Diet Coke which now claims to sell 110 million servings per day.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The pathetically paranoid Chinese government has now declared war on flowers……“The first rule of American commerce now seems to be that one must not offend the Chinese Communist party. There hardly seems to be any need for an actual invasion,” says National Review, commenting on changing the villains to North Koreans in the remake of the movie Red Dawn ….RON PAUL HAS BEEN CRAZY FOR SO LONG, HE’S STARTING TO MAKE SENSE — front page blurb from Esquire…….Convicted financial crooks who are found guilty should go to jail before their appeal not afterwards….In the contest for the biggest hypocrite, it’s hard to choose between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich….. “On a scale of 1 to 10 how weird would you say you are?” is one of the questions put to applicants who seek work at Las Vegas’ shoe company Zappos “There is no right answer to that question,” says recruiting manager Christa Foley…..A rip-off outfit called the World Reserve Monetary Exchange is offering to send suckers five $2 bills for $48 plus shipping…. If it’s true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?…. I do not Twitter, therefore I have no “followers” except, perhaps, the readers of this column…. If you bought a gallon of print ink at the same price as

The Spectator

they charge for it in the cartridges, it would cost you $4,731…. If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UP?….As the spring climbing session begins on Mt. Everest, it will be possible for the first time to make calls and send text and video from the new solar-powered base station at 17,060 feet. Last year 32,000 trekkers checked in here but only 486 climbed to the summit…. One-third of American companies provide coffee to employees, 54% of which describe the coffee as “tolerable” and 10% as “terrible….Sweden’s Karolinska Institute claims that drinking two or more cups of coffee a day reduces the chance of a stroke….Florida-based Green Secure Solutions is visiting supermarkets with a truck equipped to sanitize shopping carts which it claims “are brimming with bacteria”….In Portland, OR, Amy Henderson has opened Geezer Gallery to encourage pensioners to get off their butts and create art…. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman. ….Noting that even the wettest dog can shake itself dry within moments, researchers at Georgia’s Institute of Technology are working with Whirlpool to see if similar shaking motions can be simulated to speed up drying machines… “A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)