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

I Told You Not to Worry About the Climate

“This is the Captain speaking. First, let me make this absolutely clear: there is no reason to worry.”

On a mid-morning in May, the telephone rang in the modest home of the mayor of Tangier, a village of 470 people on tiny Tangier Island, 12 miles off the coast of Maryland in the Chesapeake Bay. It was the president of the United States calling. If you lived there, you would not know which to think more odd; that the president was calling James “Ooker” Eskridge, or that Ooker was in his house to take the call, on a fair-weather weekday, and not on the water crabbing (he had been warned the call was coming).

If you live anywhere else on the planet Earth, you will be hard put to decide which part of the ensuing conversation was the most strange. Continue reading

Turns Out We Won’t Always Have Paris

In the movie Casablanca, Rick and Ilsa had a great time in Paris, then the world descended into war. In real l;fe, we really aren’t going to have any reason to remember Paris.

Politicians around the world have perfected the art of appearing to do something about a problem, when actually doing something about it would harm the financial interests of their industrial sponsors. This was never better illustrated than by the Paris Climate Accord.

If anyone is paying attention to words any more, please note that the thing is called an “accord,” or “agreement,” not a treaty —  because treaties are binding, and cannot be violated without consequences. An “accord,” on the other hand, is a statement of a wish, as in “wouldn’t it be nice if we had world peace?” A treaty says, “If you attack my friend I will beat you to a bloody pulp,” whereas an accord says, “I really wish you wouldn’t speak harshly to my friend.”

If anyone is paying attention to science (or simply arithmetic) any more, please note that the primary goal of this accord is to limit global warming caused by industrial pollution to two degrees Celsius. So far, since the Industrial Revolution began we have raised the world’s temperature by almost one degree (.8 degree Celsius), so we’re already halfway there, with the rate of warming steadily increasing. Moreover, the warming effects of greenhouse gases have a 40-year cycle, so whatever we do to reduce them now will not have any effect on temperatures until about 2060. There is no possibility that warming will be limited to two degrees by any actions taken now, if in fact anyone ever does take any significant action.  Continue reading

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