As the Occupy protests spread, the latest phenomenon to emerge is the Stealthy Wealthy. Sensitive to negative perceptions of extreme wealth inequality in hard times, and concerned about the possibility of history repeating itself, the super-rich have been swapping their limousines for nondescript-looking yet luxuriously outfitted cargo vans.
Film director Roman Polanski, who won numerous awards for films like Chinatown and The Pianist, has been detained for extradition to the US, whilst travelling to Switzerland to collect a lifetime achievement award at the Zürich Film Festival. [more inside]
How Wal-Mart's values are shaping America's economy -- and why this is a very bad thing:
Around the time that the young Sam Walton opened his first stores, John Kennedy redeemed a presidential campaign promise by persuading Congress to extend the minimum wage to retail workers, who had until then not been covered by the law. Walton was furious. Now the goddamn federal government was telling him he had to pay his workers the $1.15 hourly minimum. Walton's response was to divide up his stores into individual companies whose revenues didn't exceed the $250,000 threshold. Eventually, though, a federal court ruled that this was simply a scheme to avoid paying the minimum wage, and he was ordered to pay his workers the accumulated sums he owed them, plus a double-time penalty thrown in for good measure. Wal-Mart cut the checks, but Walton also summoned the employees at a major cluster of his stores to a meeting. "I'll fire anyone who cashes the check," he told them.
The Guardian ran a series of articles looking at the state of high-speed rail travel today. France intends to double its length of track over the next decade, and China is planning a massive rail-building programme, including a high-speed line which will halve the travel time between Beijing and Shanghai to 4 hours. In Germany, domestic air travel is rapidly going extinct, and Spain's network has made day trips between Madrid and Barcelona a possibility. The USA, which has long neglected its rail network, is planning up to 10 high-speed lines. Meanwhile, Britain's only high-speed line goes to France, but there is talk of a 250mph line from London to Birmingham and beyond, possibly by the early 2020s. Meanwhile, the CEO of France's rail operator, SNCF, weighs in on what the UK should do.
The author of a new book on how rising oil prices will change America makes the claims that higher gasoline prices will make the country healthier and safer. Christopher Steiner asserts that, for every $1 that gasoline prices rise, obesity rates drop by 10% (as people walk more and eat out less). As for "safer", that comes in when high gasoline prices force police out of their cruisers and onto bicycles and foot patrols, where they can interact more closely with their communities. [more inside]
Second Great Depression? We should be so lucky. Or so Dmitry Orlov says. Orlov, an engineer who watched the collapse of the Soviet Union, argues that the United States is well into a similar process of collapse. In Orlov's model, collapse is divided into five stages: financial, commercial, political, social and cultural. The first one is currently happening, and the next two are guaranteed to follow; as for cultural collapse, that happened a long time ago, but people were to narcotised by consumerism to notice. And things look set to get very, very dire indeed, with runaway hyperinflation, shortages, the breakdown of political institutions, the fragmentation of the US, and, if the "social collapse" stage is reached, roaming gangs and ethnic cleansing.