Bloomberg Business: FEMA Will Be Broke by Friday

Requests that Hurricane Irma hold off for a few days while Washington figures out how to pay for Hurricane Harvey have not yet had any effect.

Bloomberg Business News, relying on anonymous staffers in the US Senate and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reports that FEMA is burning cash at a rate of $9.3 million an hour, and will be broke in about 48 hours (as of Wednesday, September 6). This spending is in response to Hurricane Harvey’s assault on southern Texas, the costs of which are just starting to come in. Just about 72 hours from now Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes in history, will slam into Miami.

According to Bloomberg’s sources, FEMA had only $2.14 billion on hand last Thursday morning, and by Tuesday morning had spent over half of it. Of the billion dollars left, only half of it was available to spend. Presumably, if this liquidity problem cannot be solved within hours, FEMA will be out of money even sooner than Friday. Continue reading

Forget Korea: Irma is the Existential Threat to America

Meet Hurricane Irma. Her cloud is not mushroom-shaped, but it’s a greater threat to our well-being than Korea. (Wikimedia photo)

For years a gathering storm of mortal threats to our well being, threats obscured by the Kabuki Theater of national politics, threats ignored by the Keystone Kops who pretend to be our leaders, threats fueled by the Masters of the Universe who are happily burning the world to stay rich a little longer, threats to our food and water and air and shelter and climate — all these threats have gathered, and worsened, and all this time we’ve wondered: where’s the breaking point?

Hurricane Irma may well decide. If she fulfills the worse expectations of her — and recent storms such as Harvey have wildly exceeded the worst expected of them — she will barrel into Miami, or close along the vulnerable Florida Coast, as a monster Category Five hurricane. If she does, she could well break us.

Before Harvey hit, FEMA was bankrupt, by any normal measure, it was holding $20 billion in debt that it has no possible way to repay. The fact that this debt is to the US government does not alter the fact that it is debt which, if not repaid, could ruin the deeply indebted creditor. Now, the governor of Texas says his state will need $120 billion to rebuild. Continue reading

A Gift from the Great Predator

The Great Predator makes a selection. Does he also bring a gift? (Photo by featherlightphoto.com)

I have not lately spent as much time afield in search of nature’s lessons as I once did. Nature has responded by striding up to my recliner and dumping lessons in my lap. She’s like that: maddeningly impervious to urgent investigation, then suddenly extroverted when your attention wanders.

The other day I was observing the one ritual that remains inviolable in our household — happy hour — from my perch on the second-floor deck that overlooks the east pasture. It has been a remarkable summer here, with no heat waves (half the days in August we did not even turn on the air conditioner), and rains frequent enough that the grass is lush and the roads are not dusty. This long spell of perfect weather, I have decided, has been given to me by the universe so that I can think and write more objectively about global warming. Continue reading

You Might be a Democrat! Take the Test if You Dare!

[I have graduated from clickbait headline school See the difference?]

Who, me? A Democrat? You’re kidding. (Flickr Caricature by Donkey/Hotey)

If it makes sense to you, after seeing a riot in Charlottesville staged by gun-toting, swastika-wielding, white-hood-wearing psychopaths, to propose as a remedy the removal of pigeon-stained, previously unnoticed statues from town squares across the country — if you think the country will be much better off once all those statues are gone — you might be a Democrat.

If it seems right to you, after seeing the opposition party blow itself up trying to get rid of Obamacare, after seeing the massive eruption of popular support for Bernie Sanders during 2016, after reading the polls that say most of the people in general, even most of the people in Congress, are ready for single payer health care insurance — if your response to all of this is to propose sticking a few band-aids on the sore spots of Obamacare and to resolutely ignore the prospects for single payer — why, then, you must be a Democrat. Continue reading

The Global War on Tourism Intensifies

This is the enemy army, just disembarked from its troopship in the background. We must stop them on the beach. (Wikimedia Commons photo.)

“Tourism kills what tourism touches,” Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have said. He said it a long time before Airbnb, Uber, cheap cattle-class airfares and $100 cruises, the advent of which has made what he said even more valid. Now, across the world, a backlash is rising against militant tourism and the suffering it inflicts on the innocent. Some disgusted locals in Barcelona inscribed on a wall this summer, “Why call it tourist season if we can’t shoot them?” Other Catalans vented by temporarily hijacking tour busses and slashing their tires.

Similar outbursts have occurred across Europe this summer as besieged residents of quaint destinations reacted to the overcrowding, pollution, inflated prices and hideous clothing of foreigners wandering around their streets at leisure. In addition to Barcelona, Mallorca, San Sebastián, Dubrovnik and Venice saw anti-tourist demonstrations this summer. Continue reading

Digital Advertising: The Rise and Fall of Crappy Crap

Loud, obtrusive, surgically targeted, and, apparently, utterly worthless: digital ads.

A funny thing happened at Procter and Gamble in the last quarter of 2016. P&G manufactures hundreds and hundreds of consumer products, and with annual revenues of over $65 billion a year is one of the largest advertisers in the world — it spends something like $8 billion a year — and in the final quarter of last year it made a significant change. It cut $140 million from its budget for digital advertising, just in that quarter. That amounts to a reduction of $1.5 million per day. And nothing happened.

Let’s be clear about what digital advertising is. It’s the ad that pops into view in the middle of your Facebook page, or your Google search, or that suddenly obscures an article you’re reading until you can figure out how to get rid of it. Or, and this is my personal favorite, it’s the video that starts playing loudly despite the fact that you have your computer sound muted; and after you mute your sound again, the ad simply unmutes it and carries on. It’s the ad for a new refrigerator that appears on just about every page you look at, right after you send an email to a friend about looking for refrigerators. Continue reading

The “Self-Driving Car” is Only an Oxymoron

Note that this “driverless car,” like all “driverless cars” now on the road, has a driver. Not that there’s anything wrong with that….(Wikimedia Photo)

Over at Tesla, Google, and Uber — and now the contagion has reached Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and beyond — the smartest guys in the room are talking autonomous vehicles. Over at every hedge fund, venture-capital and wealth-management shop in the universe, the smartest guys in the room are throwing money at the concept. Why? Because it’s the Next Big Thing, that’s why. Billions of dollars are in play.

Which is why we are seeing an avalanche of faux-news stories about the coming era of driverless cars, how they’re on the streets now, how well they are doing in testing, how soon there will be nothing but driverless cars on all our roads. And all this chum in the financial water has served its purposes: the hedge fund sharks, and the Masters of the Universe they serve, are in a feeding frenzy; and the gullible public is giddy with anticipation.

Meanwhile people with a lick of common sense are saying, wait a minute, doesn’t this sound oxymoronic, like clean coal, or safe sex? In today’s world, people with licks of common sense do not get funding to answer their questions, and therefor the skeptical questions you might have about “driverless cars” are almost unanswerable. Until right now, right here: Continue reading

The Auto Nation is Down

You all did love cars once, not without cause. What cause withholds you now?

Few countries have embraced any industry with the fervor America used to have for its automobiles. Cars weren’t just a product, they were part of our culture, our very identities. In my youth our neighbors were Chevy people like us, or Ford people or something else, the Other, and everybody knew who everybody was. Getting your driver’s license and your first car, which often happened on the same day, were major, unforgettable milestones in your life. Families celebrated the arrival of a new car as if it were a new baby — with gloating tours of the neighborhood, distribution of pictures, and so on.

In 2009, when a chain reaction started by the financialization of subprime loans for real estate threatened to destroy the world’s economy, America declared that the auto industry was too big and too important to fail, and rescued it just before it did, with massive infusions of imaginary government cash. General Motors and Chrysler tiptoed back out of bankruptcy, and the whole industry tiptoed back from the brink of the abyss. Continue reading

Health Kare in Amerika

This is how the poor in America get their health care now: once a year, in a cattle barn. This is the Remote Area Medical clinic in Wise, Virginia, as covered by a British newspaper.

They came by the thousands (1100 on the first of three days), out of the dark mountain hollows where they live, the sick and the lame and the hurting, the half-blind and half-deaf, drawn by a once-a-year chance to be given something they could never afford to buy for themselves: relief from their afflictions. They came in derelict, rattletrap, rusted cars and trucks, they came one or two days early and slept in their vehicles or in the fields to assure a place in line for a slightly better life.  Then they stood in lines hundreds and hundreds of people long, waiting like so many beasts of burden to be allotted a few minutes on a folding cot in a cattle barn to have teeth pulled, lesions sliced off,  blood drawn, tests administered.

These are not Haitians, or Yemenis, or Venezuelans, not denizens of some failed state in some poverty-ravaged, storm-lashed, drought-stricken country. These are citizens of the United States of America, which claims to be the richest (on average) country in the world (actually, the US is number 13, well behind Ireland, for example) and to have the world’s finest health care system (No again, that would be Denmark). Continue reading

Easy New Trick for Full Employment and a Roaring Economy

We can solve all our problems if we just study more. Let me explain.

(I’m taking a course on writing clickbait headlines. How’m I doin?)

The best minds of the age have been grappling unsuccessfully with the central economic mystery of the age: how to keep consumers buying houses, cars and cheap crap from China when they don’t have jobs. The Best Minds tried turning houses into ATM machines; they tried dropping no-limit credit cards from helicopters over urban areas; and of course they tried, over and over again, lowering taxes on billionaires. Nothing seems to have worked.

All along, the solution was right under our noses. As dramatically as America has turned from a nation that made things, into a nation that consumes things, so, just as dramatically, it has turned into a nation that spends unlimited amounts of money researching the answers to stupid questions. If you don’t think it’s a major industry, flourishing right under our noses, consider a sampling — just a small sampling — of the 204,000,000 results I got when I Googled “a new study says:”    Continue reading