Let’s Watch 50 Minutes

In a whole year of covering climate change, the TV networks, all of them combined, didn’t even get to 60 minutes.

On their evening and Sunday news programs during 2016, the four major American television networks devoted 50 minutes of their airtime to covering climate change. No, that’s not 50 minutes a week, or each, it’s all of them combined for the whole year. 50 minutes (according to a study by Media Matters). CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox (which is cable, and does not have an evening newscast but is prominent among Sunday news shows), all of them, all year, produced enough content about climate change to fill a single edition of 60 Minutes.

This was in a year that was, worldwide, the hottest year on record and the third year in a row to set that record; a year that set records in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, sea level, shrinkage of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica; that saw wildfires, tornadoes, floods, storms and droughts of unprecedented numbers and severity; and in which 120 nations gathered in Paris to actually start to think about planning to do something about all this. But 50 minutes was all it took to tell the tales. And that was a decline of 66% from the meager amount of time they spent on the subject in 2015. Continue reading

DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE! DEE-FENSE!

The F-35 has single-handedly made America Number One again — at wasting money on weapons that don’t work. But wait there’s more. (Photo by Heath Canjandig/Flickr)

It is entirely fitting and proper that we scrape together $85 billion by defunding federal programs that “show no results” — such as Meals on Wheels, school lunch programs and health care for poor people — and give it to the defense department. Because unlike these loser programs, the defense department always gets results. If you have any doubts at all about this, three examples should suffice to set you straight: Continue reading

Repeal Obamacar and Set Car Insurance Free

See, it’s drivers like this who are ruining the insurance industry under Obamacar. No more, if the Trumpists have their way. (Wikimedia Photo)

The Trump administration is preparing legislation to repeal and replace Obamacar — their name for the automobile insurance industry, which they say is imploding because of President Obama. “The American people are sick of being forced to buy this hated insurance,” said a Trump spokesman who declined to be identified on the grounds that the President is certifiable and could turn on him at any moment.

“The first thing we’ve got to do,” said the spokes individual, “is get rid of the mandate. It is simply not fair to make everyone buy one-size-fits-all insurance. Or to ask someone whose Mercedes is parked in an air conditioned garage most of the time to pay for the mishaps of someone running around and running into things in a 1989 Honda. In the future we’re only going to sell car insurance to people who don’t have car accidents. Besides, people don’t want to have car insurance, they want access to car insurance, and we’re going to give them lots of choices they can’t afford. Because freedom of choice is what matters.” Continue reading

American Cities Fight for Their Lives — Alone

The city of Homer, Alaska, achingly beautiful, is fighting for its life against a relentless enemy. Like several other American cities, it is losing its war. The government in Washington insists it’s not happening.

This American city of 5,000 people is under siege by an implacable enemy. Its food supply has been poisoned, its water supply affected, its main industry crippled, it loses big chunks of its territory every month or so, and several times the enemy has almost severed its only road out. The city has committed all its resources to the fight and regularly pleads with the state government for help, but the state is so besieged by other towns and cities, also under attack, that there is not enough to go around. Appeals to the national government are pointless because in the view of the national government, the enemy does not exist. Continue reading

The American Dream Has Retired

This what you had in mind for your retirement? Think again. (Photo by kenteegardin/Flickr)

It has always been an essential part of the modern American Dream that after you have put in 20 years of work, your company rewards your loyalty with a pension, to keep the gold in your Golden Years. Like most promises of the Industrial Age, it was a wonderful dream as long as no one did the math. What would happen, no one asked, when there were more pensioners than workers? Nothing, the answer would have been, because funds for each and every pension were set aside as the worker worked, and invested wisely, so that there would be plenty of money for each and every retiree.

But what would happen, no one thought to ask, if American industry and government lost their basic decency, and sacrificed the welfare of future pensioners to swell the fortunes of the current Masters of the Universe? What would happen, no one wondered, if the managers of the pension funds were so incompetent that instead of fattening the accounts, they starved them. Now we know what would happen.    Continue reading

The Oil Industry’s Alternate Facts

The two articles appeared within 48 hours of each other. One was produced by Bloomberg News, one of the most respected names in traditional journalism. The other appeared in Oilprice.com, a veteran and well respected source of objective news about the oil industry. No one has ever credibly accused either of these organizations of producing “fake news.” Yet when each of them decided to publish an assessment of the state of the American shale oil industry in the first week of March, 2017, the two articles were diametrically opposed in all their conclusions. Continue reading

This is Not Your Father’s Cold War

It all has such a familiar feel. Russia is once again our primary enemy in the world. Implacably, tyrannically, cunningly, it plots our downfall, engineers our destruction, and prepares for war without ceasing. It’s déjà vu all over again, we even catch ourselves referring to them as Soviets, and Godless Communists, which is silly, they are no more Communists than Trump is a Republican. But the thrill is the same as it used to be, the thrill of the monster under the bed, the nameless, faceless dread from which only Mom, or Saint Ronald of Reagan, or The Donald, can save us.

Nothing that feels so right and familiar has to make sense, and that must be a good thing, because none of this does. Start with the fact that the $600 billion elephant (that’s what America spends on “defense” every year) is pretending to be terrified of a $50 billion mouse. That’s right — The Donald’s proposed increase in military spending for the next budget equals the entire annual Russian defense budget. Continue reading

In Praise of Sin Taxes

The world’s best example of the evils of unearned wealth argues against it. Of course, it should read “…discourage them from working and achieving…” but, hey, if he could speak the language he wouldn’t be who he is. Whom?

In the 1970s, Republicans discovered they could reliably win elections by pronouncing taxes to be anathema, which is to say, evil, irredeemable, on a par with the seven deadly sins. Henceforward, they declared, there would be no new taxes and no tax increases. Also henceforward, members of the other party  would be referred to exclusively as “tax-and-spend” Democrats.  It worked so well that now, Republicans are in control of everything. Continue reading

Technology Oncology: The Spreading Plague

Captain? You can stop pounding on the GPS receiver now. I don’t think it’s working.  (Photo by motorkid.com/google images)

Ayurveda teaches us: “as is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm.” Stuff happens pretty much the same way whether on a very small scale, as in subatomic, or a very large one, say cosmic.

So here’s the microcosm: I have a so-called “smart” phone that, when I got it four years ago, was very smart indeed. Since then, several times a day, it has been subjected to countless improvements, otherwise known as updates — security patches, glitzy new capabilities that no one asked for or wants, repairs of really glonky mistakes that lurk in the code —  that have steadily diminished its reliability and usefulness. It now takes up to a half hour to get started, and every once in a while announces that it is tired and is going to take a nap. (Come to think of it, we are getting more and more alike.) Continue reading

On Being President Chance the Gardener

[NOTE: Promotion of this post was rejected by Facebook. No reason given.]

In his 1971 novel Being There, Jerzy Kosinski told the story of Chance the Gardener, a simple-minded laborer cloistered his whole life in the townhouse of the wealthy man for whom he worked. When, on the death of his employer, Chance is cast into the world, people insist on mistaking his profound ignorance — he can’t read or write, knows only what he has seen on TV or in the garden — as Zen-like wisdom.

In the novel, virtually everyone who encounters Chance refuses to accept that he could be as limited as he seems, and imagines for him an alternate reality of profound wisdom, which they then manage to see confirmed in the real world. Before long, Chance is advising the President of the Unites States on economic policy. This scene demonstrates how it works:: Continue reading