In Memoriam: JFK

“Once upon a time the world was sweeter than we knew. Somehow once upon a time never comes again.”

Monday is the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy. I suppose we should do as Christians do — celebrate the birth on its anniversary, mourn the death when its date comes around, but I cannot separate them.

I remember all too well having a President who embodied grace, intelligence, learning, excellence and humor; whose every utterance, from formal speeches to casual asides, reminded me that I was a citizen of a remarkable country, summoned in me a swelling pride in its principles and achievements, while at the same time calling me to strive to make it better.

If you did not live through that time, or if you do not agree with some policies or beliefs he espoused (as I did not, at the time) you will find it easy to dismiss my pain as the edited dreams of an old man remembering a Golden Age that never was. You would be wrong. My memories are verifiable.

I make no claim that it was an easy age. The arms race, the Cold War, the failed invasion of Cuba followed by the terrifying Cuban Missile Crisis, the first mutterings of the storm that would break in Vietnam, the crisis in civil rights in America, all these were part of an age that was far from tranquil. But we were led by a man who held before us constantly a vision of a country that stood for things — important things such as honor, compassion, human rights, freedom. And we stood for those things, as he once said of the race to the moon, not because they were easy, but because they were hard. And that is why that difficult age was, at the same time, golden.

Until that awful afternoon and endless night in November of 1963. It was then, for me, that the music died. And it seems to me now, although it’s probably just coincidence, that it was on that very day that America began its long, inexorable slide into the status of a Third-World banana republic — a slide that, for 99% of our people, has yet to slow down. We never saw his like again.

So I wish your spirit Happy Birthday, Mr. President. I hope you will forgive me if I am not able to celebrate.

Fuel Subsidies Are Destroying the World

(Photo by Gideon Wright/Flickr)

One of the most potent forces acting to destabilize the world is seldom mentioned, let alone acknowledged, by corporate journalists or industrial politicians. It is so unfamiliar to Americans as to be virtually invisible, and requires a somewhat lengthy introduction.

Let’s start with the worst exemplar — Saudi Arabia. For many decades, Saudis have enjoyed the cheapest gasoline and diesel-fuel prices on the planet — in 2011, gas sold there for 57 cents a gallon. Now it costs 91 cents. (Think about that for a minute: while world oil prices have dropped to less than half what they were in 2011, the price of Saudi gas has nearly doubled?) Continue reading

This Week in Amerika

Back in Washington D.C. in 2002, Neo-Nazis were on one side, police on the other. Now, the distinctions are getting blurry. (Photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, during the last few weeks, the following things have occurred:

A 61-year-old woman was convicted of disorderly conduct after a two-day jury trial in Washington. Desiree Farooz faces a sentence of up to one year in jail for what federal prosecutors described as an attempt to “impede, disrupt and disturb orderly conduct” of a Senate committee hearing back in January. It was the confirmation hearing for the nominee to be the next Attorney General of the United States, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama. During the hearing, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby said out loud that Sessions — a renowned racist who for that very reason was once denied a federal judgeship by that very Senate — had a “clear and well-documented” record of “treating all Americans equally.” Ms. Farooz laughed. According to witnesses it was not a particularly loud or prolonged laugh. Other witnesses said it was the only appropriate response to Shelby’s outlandish claim. Capitol police pounced and hauled her away to prison. Continue reading

“Climate Gentrification” a.k.a. Miami Vice

The sea is coming for Miami, and the rats — protesting that they don’t believe it — are making deals. Is “Miami Vice” redundant?

It’s hard to imagine that the plug-ugliness of the American climate-change denier could be made more loathsome, but it has been. The Masters of the Universe and their wholly-owned-and-operated politicians have plumbed new depths in their ability to make money while aiding and abetting the increasing misery of their fellow human beings.

Their latest refinement has been detected in Miami, which is fitting, because few places on earth rival Miami’s wretched excess in the heedless pursuit of megabucks. Fitting, too, because Miami may well be the first large American city to be submerged by seas rising in response to climate change. The prospect is of course hotly denied or coldly ignored by Miami’s politicians and uglygarchs, who insist there is nothing to see there, even while the rising waters — especially in South Miami, Coral Gables and Miami Beach — are quite literally, with increasing and dismaying frequency, lapping at their ankles.

Now it appears that Miami real estate developers are actively working to profit from the thing they deny is happening — the rising of the warming sea. Their schemes have been illuminated in, of all places, the website of the venerable science magazine Scientific American. Continue reading

The Columbo Gambit: Just One More Thing

The TV detective Columbo had a favorite ploy: he would allow his suspect to seem to outwit him, and then, as he was shambling out the door in apparent defeat, he would turn and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” And that question would crack the case like a hatchet applied to a year-old egg.

I highly recommend yielding the hatchet of “one more question” as we wend our way through the age of fake news and truthy information. In many cases, the suspect’s prepared answers all indicate innocence, truth and utter reliability, until we can think of that “one more question” that reverses the magnetic field and exposes the guilt.

A recent, pretty spectacular example: The suspect says he has discovered a worm that eats plastic, so all we have to do is cultivate the worm, set billions of them to work, and we can continue, guilt-free, to litter the planet with water bottles. Almost out the door to buy a case of water, we think to ask: wait, worms are larvae, what does the moth eat? Guilty response: the moths eat beeswax, and any significant increase in their numbers would doom bees and thus humanity. Hmmm. Continue reading

Industry Kills What Industry Touches: Now Solar Power

Concentrated solar power — in which sunlight is focused to boil water, for example, which then is used to generate power — is the highest industrial form of renewable energy. And is turning out to be a very big mistake.

When a practice arises that is detrimental to the profits of industry — you know, any practice that helps to heal the planet and its human occupiers — industry has a long-practiced, graduated response. First it ignores, then it attacks, and if all else fails it co-opts, and having co-opted, advertises heavily.

Organic farming, for example, was first ignored as a fad, then derided as “no way to feed the world,” then co-opted. Now every other box and package in any supermarket, including cow milk and chicken parts, bears the label “organic.” And by this stage, you know it’s a lie. When asked if he would seek federal certification as an organic grower (federal certification follows industrialization, as the flies the garbage) Joel Salatin famously replied that he would never lower his standards that much.

Another example: Do you remember what happened to the first mass produced electric car, General Motors’s EV1, when the idea was first recognized by industry back in the 1990s? Yeah, me neither, and I drove one. Continue reading

Hack My Tractor. Please.

Touch a new tractor with that old wrench and you’re going to court, Elwood. Yes, even if it’s bought and paid for. Yes, even if you’re in the middle of harvest.

If you’re an industrial farmer, making a living from monoculture — and that’s most farmers today — your life consists of months of boredom punctuated by weeks of unrelieved terror. The terror comes once in the spring, when you’re trying to get your crop seeded between rains before the window closes on the growing season; and once in the fall when you’re trying to get your crop harvested before the first blizzard. (I am leaving out the brief summertime terrors induced by approaching thunderstorms, they are not part of this story.)

Imagine you’re in the harvest terror, you’re just getting started doing whatever your crop requires, and your tractor starts coughing like a lifetime smoker and falls on its face in midfield, as inert and unresponsive as a power drinker on Sunday morning. Your entire year’s income, maybe the future of your mortgage,  is lying there in those fields and, as they say on Game of Thrones, winter is coming. Continue reading

No Electricity, No Russians, No Story

San Francisco, noon, April 21, 2017. Traffic not moving, buildings dark. Similar things happening in New York and Los Angeles. Was it the Russians? No? Then forget about it.

Last Friday, the lights went out in New York. And San Francisco. And Los Angeles. Not all the lights, and not all day, but still. It’s only April, three months before the summer heat challenges the electric grid to within an inch of its life, as the summer does every year. Three serious outages in three major cities seems like grist for the cable news mill, wouldn’t you think, with talking heads wall to wall saying things like, “Well, I know nothing about it, and none of us will for days, but it could have been a Russian cyber attack.”

That happened, of course, but only on a handful of conspiracy-loving, fake-news-peddling, objectivity-challenged publications. Like the Washington Post and the New York Times. (Just kidding. They didn’t pay much attention to the story at all.) Let us look at what happened, as exactly as we can, and then consider how it was handled. Continue reading

Not with a Bang, or a Whimper. A Tink.

The bridges of Coral Gables, Florida, have become harbingers of the havoc to be wrought by climate change.

The mayor of Coral Gables, Florida believes the world will end not with a bang, but a tink — the sound of an aluminum mast striking a steel girder. That sound, he explained to Bloomberg News the other day, will be the manifestation of climate change that crashes the Florida real estate market and brings on the Apocalypse. Okay, he didn’t say anything about Apocalypse. But his explanation, and the fact that Bloomberg gave it a lot of attention, is striking evidence of the growing awareness of the inevitability and imminence of the ultimate disaster that is climate change. Continue reading

The Flight of the Titanic

This is your captain speaking. Everything is proceeding normally, and we expect to arrive at our destination in about 30 seconds. Thank you for flying with us, and have a nice day.

The pilot of our great metaphorical economic airplane has just been on the PA system — again — to assure us that everything is going great. But it’s getting harder and harder to believe him. He says we’re making a slow and careful ascent to cruising altitude but it’s been hours since takeoff and we’re only 50 feet above ground. Is that normal? Should there be flames erupting from all the engines? With the turbulence, and the violent maneuvers to fly around tall buildings, concentrating on watching the movie and eating our peanuts is almost impossible. And we just heard the captain mutter, unaware that his mic was on, “What the hell does this button do?”

The state of the industrial economy, 2017. Continue reading