Thirty years ago, I spent a lot of time traveling, in this country and out, and I thought CNN was the best thing ever invented.
The headline news channel was actually a news channel — you got a full new half-hour newscast every half-hour; a mix of serious and feature news. The anchors were mostly not as pretty as those on ABC, NBC, and CBS; their news budgets not as large.
But CNN was there. You could always find out what was happening from serious and responsible professional newscasters, and that was invaluable, especially in those pre-Internet days.
Today I seldom watch. Headline News has become HLN, in which a lot of celebrity news is dished up in the morning by a former Miss Ohio. The longer-form CNN channel is better, but not much.
These days, I normally watch it for about 10 minutes early in the morning while I play tug-of-war with my dog. Much of the time, I see a group of bright, cute little 20- and 30-somethings trying to out-sophisticate each other about national politics.
Most of them seem to go through life talking mainly to themselves and Other People Just Like Them. They didn't see either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders coming.
Then suddenly, all the news became All Trump, All the Time, in a way I've never seen before. But occasionally, we hear that the electorate's profound dissatisfaction is shown in the sudden emergence of "extremist" or "fringe" candidates like Trump on the right and Sanders on the left.
They hint that the two are cut from the same cloth — when nothing could be further from the truth. Donald Trump is a posturing demagogue who appears to actually believe in nothing, except in his own superiority to everyone else.
Trump spouts rhetoric and proposes policies that would destroy America economically and morally if enacted, and which would be largely impossible to put into place — like making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire border between our two nations.
The now mostly eclipsed Jeb Bush accurately noted that Trump just a few years ago said he was more of a Democrat than a Republican, and also said the economy does better under Democrats.
Trump, of course, couldn't care less about parties, ideology, or the truth, as he has demonstrated in a number of interviews, and is proudly ignorant of things any candidate for national office should know, such as the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.
The other day I asked Geoffrey Fieger (no stranger to flamboyant rhetoric) why he thought Trump had such massive, irrational appeal to so many people.
"Because he has $4 billion," Fieger said. "If any ordinary guy said the things he is saying, people would say, 'Are you crazy?' Nobody would listen to them. But because they think he made billions, they think he knows what he's talking about."
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has been accurately diagnosing what's really wrong with America, in a way no candidate has since Robert Kennedy. The biggest neglected story since 1981 has been the massive transfer of wealth from the poorest half of the population to the upper fraction of 1 percent.
We've made it nearly impossible for most people to make it into the middle class and extremely hard for working people to afford a decent four-year education at a state university.
Our infrastructure is falling apart, nationally, as well as in this state. Bernie Sanders, an independent elected from Vermont, is the only candidate talking about doing something about it, which is why he is doing so well in early polls in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, despite not being taken seriously by the media.
His only truly "radical" proposal is a call to break up the largest financial institutions in this country. How could anyone take a nutty notion like that seriously? I mean, just because Wall Street nearly destroyed the entire economy in 2008, we should force it to reform?
How could anyone ever worry about a financial system in which the six biggest banks control 60 percent of the economy?
My guess is that Teddy Roosevelt would have been right there with him. Once upon a time, we thought — correctly — that unrestricted monopolies were a bad thing. Bad for competition, bad for innovation, and especially bad for the citizens.
That was before we began to turn our politics and government over to the very oligarchs we used to regulate. Bernie Sanders isn't "speaking truth to power," to use that often meaningless cliché.
He's trying to speak truth to us, to get us to wake up, take notice of what's happening to us — and do something about it.
Sanders wants to invest $1 trillion in our infrastructure, invest more to create decent-paying jobs, fight to get big money out of politics. He would make the super-rich pay more, and says so.
Somehow, incredibly, people are noticing, which may show how devastatingly irrelevant the mainstream media often is today. They've told us this is the year of Hillary Clinton, who has been on the national stage for a quarter-century, and who has yet in this campaign to utter a single memorable phrase or idea.
To the dismay of the talking heads, the citizens they don't really know haven't seemed willing to play their little roles and accept another battle between the Bush and Clinton dynasties.
Some have been seduced by the incoherent anger pouring from Trump. But those who have been thinking about the condition they're in and who put them there are showing up in stunning numbers for Sanders. The smart boys say he hasn't a chance, especially since he calls himself a (gasp!) socialist, once an honored term in this world.
They're counting on people not to figure out that really means a vibrant private economy with a healthy public sector that educates and protects its people. Those who watch the "experts" know an old Jewish socialist could never have a chance.
Why, they might as well nominate a black guy with an African name. Here's how you'll know if the enemies of promise are finally starting to be scared by the Sanders phenomenon:
They'll claim he was born in Kenya.
No need to worry about that pesky pipeline!
Back on July 29, I mentioned that more than half a million gallons of oil and propane were being pumped through a 62-year-old pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac. If it ever blows, there goes Lakes Huron and Michigan. The pipeline is owned by the Canadian firm Enbridge.
They say they inspect it, but won't share the inspection reports with the public. And I thought there was one tiny reason to worry:
Enbridge owned a much younger pipeline in the Kalamazoo River, which ruptured five years ago. When it first broke and alarms went off, crack Enbridge employees increased the flow of oil!
Oh, well. It only took four years and a billion bucks to sorta clean it up. But never fear. Our Leaders have just created ... the Michigan Pipeline Safety Advisory Board! It has no real power, of course. And it includes a vice president of Enbridge, the president of Marathon Pipeline, and our right-wing attorney general, Bill Schuette, among many other worthies. No doubt they'll recommend only what's best for them — uh, the people of our state.
Sure they will. Glad I could ease your minds!
Jack Lessenberry is head of the journalism program at Wayne State University and the senior political analyst for Michigan Public Radio.