Published: Tuesday 25 December 2012
When even drunks can operate a manual corkscrew what's the point of making an electric one?

 

At long last, our dream has come true, freeing us from the drudgery that has oppressed so many people over the past 500 years or so — namely, having to use our hands to open a bottle of wine.

Yes, the electric corkscrew is here, and just in the nick of time for that fabulous New Year’s Eve party you’re throwing.

Not just one high-tech cork-puller is offered, but an entire bazaar of wine-opening gizmos is available from such enterprising purveyors of completely unnecessary convenience as Epicureanist, Metrokane, Oster, Ozeri, Waring, and Wine Enthusiast. New York Times writer William Grimes describes the devices as “sublime pointlessness.”

He has a point there, since popping a cork isn’t one of life’s great burdens. Especially whenbeaucoup super-cheap, super-simple extractors have long existed. These manual tools are not merely low-tech, they’re no-tech. Even drunk people can use them.

But where’s the pizzazz in those? As Grimes describes the zippy, battery-powered cork gadgets, one places the cylindrical device atop a wine ...

Published: Thursday 15 November 2012
Veterans Affairs has been a troubled agency for decades now, sometimes better, sometimes worse, rarely adequate to meet the need.

 


On October 4, a small group of American veterans went to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Washington, DC, to talk to officials there about veteran suicides, veteran homelessness, veteran joblessness, and other veteran struggles.   No one from the department would talk to them. 

 

Even the contingent of Homeland Security guards blocking the door wouldn’t explain to the veterans why they couldn’t come in.  So they stayed on the sidewalk in front of 810 Vermont Avenue, a few hundred yards from the White House, and established Occupy Dep’t of Veterans Affairs and they’ve been there ever 

Published: Thursday 11 October 2012
But let’s consider the strange notion that Hispanic voter registration is falling because the illegal aliens on the voter rolls are running back over the border, back to Mexico.

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Greg Palast's new book: Billionaires & Ballot Bandits

It’s lookin’ bad for the old white guys. Eleven million Hispanic citizens remain unregistered, Americans all, and 15 million kids between the ages of 18 and 24 who can’t be pried away from Facebook long enough to register—at least so the tally of vote registries say.

Now, add to that 16 million ex-cons who can vote but think they can’t. (It’s only in three states in Old Dixie where those who’ve served felony sentences are barred from voting.)

All these un-voters, if they suddenly registered, could rock the planet.

You think the Old World Order hasn’t thought of that?

So, then, how do they stop Americans from taking over America? Easy: first, make registering voters a crime.

In a swing state like Florida with its huge new Hispanic population (no, not Cubans, Puerto Ricans), you make it illegal to register citizens at welfare offices, churches, or voter-registration drive meetings. (Suggestion: sneak voter registration forms into handgun barrels. Guns are allowed at all these locations.)

Second, make registering voters ...

Published: Tuesday 2 October 2012
A far better strategy for strengthening our shaky retirement security system would be to increase Social Security benefits for low income beneficiaries under or close to the poverty line, add long-term care as a Medicare benefit, and contain our out of control health care economy.

A disturbing new report mandated by Congress from National Research Council (NRC) concludes that the rapid growth of the 65-plus population in the United States and the continuing strain on public resources will make Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid “unsustainable” over the next three decades.

What’s troubling, though, are not the report’s conclusions, but its bias toward a strictly budgetary outlook. Unfortunately, this study—from a federally chartered body charged with scientifically objective research--is so unbalanced that it does a disservice to the full range of viewpoints on this politically volatile issue. 

The report, titled Aging and the Macroeconomy, fails to take into account the microeconomic realities facing tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-income and ethnic minority groups. 

The report’s 14 authors are ...

Published: Thursday 13 September 2012
What America Knows How to Do Best

 

It’s pop-quiz time when it comes to the American way of war: three questions, torn from the latest news, just for you.  Here’s the first of them, and good luck!

Two weeks ago, 200 U.S. Marines began armed operations in…?:

a) Afghanistan

b) Pakistan

c) Iran

d) Somalia

e) Yemen

f) Central Africa

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Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
“The regulation monster is composed of the mounds of bureaucratic paperwork and red tape that strangles businesses.”

Those familiar with the “confidence fairy” recognize that economic policy debates in Washington are dominated by imaginary creatures. The confidence fairy, which was discovered by Paul Krugman, is the mythical creature that brings investment, jobs, and growth as a reward to countries that practice painful austerity.

Economies don’t actually work this way, but important people in policy making positions in Washington and Europe insist that they do. And they hope that they can get the public to believe in the confidence fairy, or at least a large enough segment of the public, to stay in power.

In this same vein, Mitt Romney and the Republicans are trying hard to promote the belief in the “regulation monster.” The regulation monster is composed of the mounds of bureaucratic paperwork and red tape that strangles businesses. As a result of the regulatory monster, America’s businesses aren’t able to be the job creators that they want to be.

There are a few problems with this story. First and foremost, all the data show that businesses are doing just great. The profit share of GDP is near its 50-year high. The after-tax profit share is at a 50-year high since the tax share of profits is down considerably from its levels in the 50s and 60s. This means that when we look at the economy as a whole, the regulation monster has not left any tracks.

Suppose we look at specific industries. Governor Romney and the Republicans say the ...

Published: Thursday 21 June 2012
“In a Rose Garden speech, Obama said that he and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were working to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just—specifically for certain young people sometimes called ‘Dreamers.’”

Undocumented immigrants in the United States number around 12 million people, a group larger than the populations of most countries on the planet. Among those are as many as 800,000 young people who are now most likely eligible for limited legal status, thanks to executive action taken last week by President Barack Obama. In a Rose Garden speech, Obama said that he and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were working “to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just—specifically for certain young people sometimes called ‘Dreamers.’” Behind the speech was a movement for social change, built by millions, each with their own story.

The “Dreamers” are those who are here without legal documentation, often derogatively referred to as “illegals,” but who came to this country as children, in some cases as infants. As he said in his speech: “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” For 10 years, people have pushed for an act of Congress to give these young people legal status, through a bill called the DREAM Act, short for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

People in the movement don’t consider themselves “alien.” They call themselves “undocumented Americans.” One of those who stands to directly benefit from White House’s decision is ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they -- and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self -- are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.”

 

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they -- and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self -- are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded 

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“One way or the other, the outlook for Joe Blow, Barack Obama, and Uncle Sam is all gloom and doom.”

Recent news headlines are a clear intimation that the gods are not on our side.  “Our” in this case can be read as the U.S., the West, or the Planet we call Earth – all apply.  Here’s a sampling:

“Dismal Job Market Pushes Dow into 275-Point Plunge”
 (DailyFinance)

“Obama Ordered Cyber Attacks on Iran”
 (New York Times)

“American Nuns Fight Back Against Vatican Crackdown”
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Published: Friday 25 May 2012
“With New York’s recession-battered voters supporting a minimum wage hike, the greed-is-good crowd is firmly aligned against the initiative.”

 

Headlines transmit information in its rawest form — and the best of headlines crystallize indelible truths. Such was the case this week when the New York Daily News blared this simple but iconic headline: "Cuomo: Minimum Wage Harder to Get Than Gay Marriage."

The story quoted New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), claiming that the effort to raise wages for the poorest of his constituents represents a "broader and deeper" divide than the recent successful fight to legalize same-sex matrimony in the Empire State. Though the piece quickly dissolved into the ether, it should have received more attention because it is an important Rosetta Stone — one that translates this era's inscrutable political rhetoric into a clear admission that money trumps everything else.

Decoding this Rosetta Stone requires just a bit of contextual information from Siena College. According to the school's surveys, only 58 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing gay marriage, while a whopping 78 percent support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50.

Put Cuomo's declaration next to those numbers, and the revelation emerges: In a political arena dominated by corporate money, the governor is acknowledging that politicians will champion initiatives that don't challenge corporate power, but will avoid promoting those that do. Not only that, Cuomo is admitting this is the case regardless of public opinion.

Events in New York illustrate the larger dynamic at work. As the New York Times reported, despite lukewarm public support, Cuomo was able to get the state legislature to legalize gay marriage after Wall Street financiers dumped cash into the campaign for equal ...

Published: Tuesday 1 May 2012
“Sending Debt Peonage, Poverty, and Freaky Weather Into the Arena”

When I was growing up, I ate books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and since I was constantly running out of reading material, I read everyone else’s -- which for a girl with older brothers meant science fiction. The books were supposed to be about the future, but they always turned out to be very much about this very moment.

Some of them -- Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land -- were comically of their time: that novel’s vision of the good life seemed to owe an awful lot to the Playboy Mansion in its prime, only with telepathy and being nice added in. Frank Herbert’s Dune had similarly sixties social mores, but its vision of an intergalactic world of disciplined desert jihadis and a great game for the substance that made all long-distance transit possible is even more relevant now. Think: drug cartels meet the oil industry in the deep desert.

We now live in a world that is wilder than a lot of science fiction from my youth. My phone is 58 times faster than IBM’s fastest mainframe computer in 1964 (calculates my older brother Steve) and more powerful than the computers on the Apollo spaceship we landed on the moon in 1969 (adds my nephew Jason). Though we never got the promised jetpacks and the Martians were a bust, we do live in a time when genetic engineers use jellyfish genes to make mammals glow in the dark and nerds in southern Nevada kill people in Pakistan and Afghanistan with unmanned drones. Anyone who time-traveled from the sixties would be astonished by our age, for its wonders and its horrors and its profound social changes. But science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment.

Sacrificing the Young in the Arenas of Capital ...

Published: Saturday 14 April 2012
The trouble is, Smith didn’t really echo any of the Occupy movement’s concerns.

Just about in time for Occupy Wall Street’s half-birthday last month, there was what might ostensibly seem to be a fitting reason to celebrate: Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith quit his job and, to massive fanfare, penned New York Times op-ed denouncing what his company has become. With those 1,300 words, Goldman’s stock price dropped 3.4 percent, vanishing more than $2 billion from its worth and necessitating a commiserative house call from the mayor of New York.

The trouble is, Smith didn’t really echo any of the Occupy movement’s concerns. There was no mention of the company’s habit of self-serving market manipulation, contributing to downturns from the Great Depression to the Great Recession, or its present hijacking of the very political system tasked with regulating it. The word “bailout” does not appear. What really seemed to disturb Smith, rather, was that this institution was putting its own interests before those of its obscenely wealthy clients. (He had personally worked with “two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia.”) The company from which he’d once learned that obscenely wealthy clients come first was betraying that solemn trust so as to enrich its obscenely wealthy self. This was unconscionable, in Smith’s view, so he decided to give his longtime employer a big kick in the shins — all, it seems, in the service of a hope that Goldman Sachs might once again defraud the universe in a more gentlemanly fashion.

As Occupy-six-months-on has become the subject of dutiful retrospectives, the thought of Smith’s article keeps weighing on me as a big reminder of what the movement might seek ...

Published: Thursday 3 November 2011
Herman Cain’s campaign is taking more heat after the reveal of his large corporate backing.

 

 

Herman Cain’s presidential campaign has taken heat for relying on a private corporation to pay for a plethora of campaign services, potentially in violation of federal campaign finance law. According to documents obtained by Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cain chief of staff Mark Block set up a compnay called Prosperity  USA and used it to pay for “tens of thousands of dollars in [campaign] expenses for such items as iPads, chartered flights and travel to Iowa and Las Vegas.”

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