Flood Insurance Follies

Darn. Wiped out. Let’s do it all over again and expect a different result. There’s a government subsidy for that. photo by Pam Andrade/Flickr

Imagine an insurance program that lost so much money in private hands that the government had to take it over, that the government forces people to buy (Really? Is that constitutional?) and that is $19 billion in debt with no hope of ever achieving solvency. If that sounds like the worst of socialist tendencies in the hands of big government, it is. Odd that it is not an issue in the campaign for the presidency, like Obamacare is. But wait. Health insurance benefits the sick and the poor. Flood insurance, on the other hand, restores vacation homes.

Continue reading

Virginia: The State of Denial, Sinking

The harbor at Norfolk Virginia

Norfolk, Virginia, on one of the world’s great harbors in the world’s largest estuary, has long prospered because of its proximity to the sea. That tide is changing. (US Navy photo)

The rising waters of climate change are lapping at the foundations of Virginia’s second-largest city, and are repeatedly rolling over one of its premier tourist attractions. Norfolk city officials and National Park Service managers on Assateague Island are trying desperately to deal with the rising threat. But they get no help or even encouragement from the state government, whose official position is that there is no such thing as climate change, therefore the sea cannot be rising. Continue reading

Can You Say Infrastructure? Now Say Brace for Impact

A 24-inch water main spills its guts near the National Mall in Washington DC in October of 2010. Flooding reached the National Museum of Natural History. There is much more to come. (Photo by Mr T in DC/Flickr)

It was a rare occasion and a good way to start the new year — a major American newspaper gave front-page coverage to a major American problem. This morning’s Washington Post features prominently a story detailing one reason why this country is about to crash: the machinery that delivers water to city dwellers, and treats their sewage has been neglected for nearly half a century. Like all neglected machinery, it is about to break down. And it’s the machinery that makes urban life possible.

Continue reading

This Space is Occupied: Now What?

In September of 2011, Wall Street was Occupied. But does it mean more than the little flag on the door of the Porta-Potty? (Photo by PaulS/Flickr)

Our history has seen a lot of rallying cries, from the spine-tingling — “Give me liberty, or give me death!” — to the overly specific — “Fifty-four-forty or fight!” (Give up? A vocal minority wanted to set the US boundary with Canada at 54 degrees, 40 minutes of latitude, rather than at the present 48th parallel, thus leaving Canadians with nothing but tundra.) The slogans that lasted, and were effective, called for something specific to happen. A generation ago, an American populist convulsion sought to end the war in Vietnam, and did. Now comes Occupy Wall Street, and a question: when we have occupied Wall Street, or anywhere else, what have we done? Continue reading

From Arab Spring to American Fall

The Occupy Wall Street folks wear funny hats, brandish simplistic signs and offend regular people. Just like the Tea Party, only without the Koch Brothers' money. (Photo by David Shankbone/Flickr)

The leaves have come off the Arab Spring, and now we see, perhaps, the colors of an American Fall. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria are still poor, still hungry, still imprisoned, tortured and dying despite their revolutions begun this spring. Now, in the fall, in numbers and diversity not seen since the Vietnam War era, American people are in the streets, railing against their economic overlords. Walking like Egyptians (in the phrase coined by supporters of Wisconsin public-employee unions). To what end?

Continue reading

Omens of Collapse: A Stage and a Fence

The concert stage at the Indiana State Fair was built to impress, and to last a day or two longer than it did. Does anyone else see an omen here?

Things that are done for show don’t work well, don’t last long, and can hurt a lot of people when, inevitably,  they collapse. This lesson was demonstrated anew this past week in two widely separated — and wildly different — places: the Indiana State Fair and the Mexican border. Continue reading

Is This a Congress, or a Mob?

Is this what the Founders had in mind when they first assembled Congress?

The bus of state is speeding toward the edge of a very tall cliff  — the unnecessary and politically-motivated default of the US Treasury next Tuesday — and almost all of the people who are wrestling for control of the steering wheel a) do not believe in cliffs, b) do not believe in gravity, and c) would rather be the center of attention than anything. It’s bad enough to realize that these people, despite their ignorance of economics, history, political science and the English language, are strongly affecting the course of our government on behalf of the country’s richest and most powerful people and companies. What is truly terrifying is the fact that they have now slipped the leash of their masters, and are running riot. Continue reading

Go Toward the Light. Not the Bulb, the Light.

Endangered species? The incandescent light bulb is not only still here, but has become the latest side show in an increasingly demented national shriekfest. (Photo by James Bowe/Flickr)

The recent Congressional kerfuffle over light bulbs — please do not refer to it as a “debate” — would have been funny if Jon Stewart had staged it for The Daily Show (“For the latest, here is our Senior Light Bulb Correspondent…”). Instead it was a performance staged by the senior legislators of the United States, a country beset by multiple threats to its continued existence (it’s a long list, to be sure, but light bulbs are not on it), and as such it was simply terrifying. Continue reading

Gardening a Crime In Canada, Too

Growing vegetables in this yard, on Canada's Vancouver Island, could get its owners six months in jail. Note the unsightly piles of dirt, and the criminally edible produce.

A couple who live on Vancouver Island (off Canada’s western coast) has been threatened with six months in prison for growing food on their 2.5-acre lot in a semi–rural location. When Dirk Becker bought the property in 1999, the soil had been stripped down to bedrock and sold by the previous owner — that was perfectly legal. Since then, Becker has been slowly and laboriously building soil, in which to grow fruits and vegetables. That is illegal. Continue reading

Apocalypse Now? Not With a Bang, but a Blunder?

The US Capitol, becoming a beacon of stupidity, lighting the way down.

It is increasingly possible that the catastrophic unraveling of the Industrial Age may begin in two weeks, not because of global warming or oil shortages or water wars or natural disaster, but because of a stupid political ploy by the Know-Nothings who are now ascendant in the US Congress. Instead of “starving the beast” — by which they mean disabling government by preventing it from raising revenue — they have discovered that they can kill the beast by preventing it from borrowing revenue. Gleefully, they are threatening to refuse to raise the technical limit on US debt, by which means they may throw the government into default on or about August 2. Continue reading