If I had any tech savvy or marketing skills I would try and develop an app to mimic the widely popular Pokemon Go, which is getting people out on the streets chasing those odd looking figures down alleyways and into buildings. But my app would be called Politics Go and would take the players on a trip across this country to find real Americans, real Americans who are struggling with serious economic, social and personal challenges that the political system is either ignoring or refuses to face.
The Politics Go app would take players to search for a veteran of our two recent wars who are suffering from post traumatic syndrome and contemplating suicide because there is little help available from the Veterans Administration.
The Politics Go app would take players to find the 43 million people mired in poverty in urban and rural areas in what is claimed to be the richest country in the world.
The Politics Go app would take players to meet those honorable police officers who risk their lives everyday to bring safety and order to a divided society.
The Politics Go app would take players to the mansions of the rich and well born who hide their wealth offshore to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
The Politics Go app would take players to a gun shop to purchase an AR-15 long rifle that has no purpose other than to kill people, a lot of people.
The Politics Go app would take players to Washington D.C., the center of our democracy, to find just one statesman or stateswoman willing to work with those they disagree with in order to fix our decaying country.
Sadly, my Politics Go app would be rejected as not interesting or exciting. The new world of augmented reality is about fun not about finding out about American reality. It would be great to see Americans walking the streets of this country trying to find veterans, poor people, police officers, tax dodgers, gun fanatics and failed politicians but a Politics Go app just wouldn’t sell; it would be too depressing.
My wife Carol recently signed up for one of those complete dinner programs from Blue Apron with all the ingredients included in the UPS delivered box. All the meals were simply delicious and easy to make, if you can follow directions.
The delivery of the latest box of dinners got me thinking about how we have begun to live these days and what the future may hold in terms of contact with the outside world. Just think about it, we can now work from home using our latest tablet or smart phone; we can have our clothes delivered by Amazon Prime; we can have our furniture sent to our door from Wayfair; we of course can have our pizza delivered hot and juicy with the new Domino’s “oven car”; and we can sit in our easy chair and watch the world of politics, sports, movies and music with just the flick of our clicker, or now by just talking into our clicker.
If you take this trend forward into the future we will not have to leave the house and stay protected from the challenges and dangers of the world in our cozy bunker- no need to interact with strangers, no need to drive in traffic, no need to dress for success, no need to go anywhere but the other rooms in the bunker. Add the fact that in perhaps twenty years each bunker will have a robot to do the mundane work of keeping everything ship shape and we are certain to be the definition of couch potatoes.
This bunker mentality likely will not be for everyone, especially those who get a feeling of joy and fulfillment by interacting with another human being, but the foundation is in place to build a better bunker, particularly if evil and violence lurk outside the door. Let the UPS driver deal with the evil and violence as we stay calm in our bunker.
Orwell in 1984 worried about Big Brother watching every move we make, but in the new brave world of the 21st century Big Brother will be joined by the Big Bunker. The sad part of this prediction is that many of us will buy into the Big Bunker mentality as we change our lifestyle from social interaction to social isolation. Got to go now, the UPS driver just pulled up to the door.
There are a laundry list of reasons why Americans are angry, disillusioned or filled with anxiety these days. For some they feel the country is headed in the wrong direction or is directionless, for others they do not trust President Obama, others are concerned about the impact of diversity on the white population, and others just see Washington as broken and a partisan mess.
Let me add another reason to this laundry list of national depression. In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Neal Gabler, an award winning writer, talked about the travails of the middle class. In his piece he referenced a yearly survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board that monitors American consumers. One of the questions asked was how the respondents would likely pay for a $ 400 emergency. The answer from 47% was that they would cover the $ 400 by borrowing the money, selling possessions or they would not be able to come up with the cash. Let me say that again, 47% of American consumers polled said that they could not come up with $ 400 for an emergency.
Now these Americans without the $ 400 are likely a cross section of our country – some may be receiving assistance, some are seniors on a fixed income, some are making minimum wage and some are folks from what used to be the solid middle class. ( I suspect a goodly number of the respondents were from what is generally described as the middle class since we are talking about a huge number- 47% of those who answered the questionnaire).
You want to know why people are angry and in a foul mood toward political and economic elites, the lack of $ 400 to cover an emergency is certainly at the top of the list. Income inequality is a fancy term used by economists to describe that in our economy there are winners and losers, but in the last twenty years, especially since the Great Recession, the number of losers has exploded and the middle class is in tatters.
Sadly, there is no short term solution to the $ 400 dilemma of the 47% – a comprehensive minimum wage increase is years away and is a band aid; significant pay jumps for workers are not in the cards, only incremental cost of living bonuses; corporations are either sitting on trillions in cash and doing little with it or are shipping it offshore to avoid government-sponsored distribution programs; and any talk of freebies, whether college tuition, universal health care, parental leave or day care, are dismissed as socialistic and contributing to a furthering of that gaping hole in the national debt.
So the short and long term condition of the middle class is an acceptance of economic and financial struggle as a fact of life and a continued erosion of the American dream.What’s astounding is that at first glance $ 400 is really not a lot of money, but tell that to the 47% of American consumers.
The child abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the United States has now spread to Europe and perhaps even to the Vatican. Tales of horrible sexual abuse of children in Ireland and Germany have shown the leaders of the Church as unwilling to take action against priests who were committing awful crimes against children.
Now this European scandal has touched the very center of the Vatican as there is mounting evidence that the Pope, when he was archbishop of the Munich diocese and later when he was the doctrinal enforcer to John Paul II, may have ignored the warnings of other bishops, medical professionals and the families of the victims and continued to move these pedofiles around without taking action.
This scandal is still evolving, but new charges are emerging such as the claim that Cardinal Ratzinger ( now Pope Benedict XVI) failed to take action against an American priest who was abusing over 200 deaf children in Wisconsin. The archbishop of the Milwaukee diocese apparently pushed the Vatican and Ratzinger to take action, but nothing was done. The priest never was defrocked or faced charges and died a priest in 1998.
The Pope recently issued a heartfelt apology about the abuse in Ireland, but took no action to remove the hierarchy who perpetuated this abuse by refusing to remove priests from their positions or to name the priests who were shielded by the Church. No where in the apology did the Pope mention his alleged culpability while the archbishop of Munich or as a Vatican official.
This strategy of apology but a refusal to remove bishops or bring openness to the process of exposing these pedofile priests is now the sad model of handling these scandals. Saying sorry is really not enough if there is no accountability or punishment for these horrendous crimes against young innocents.
There will be law suits and monetary settlements, but because the Pope is now at least a person of interest in these scandals, the media and the victims will not go away quietly. The Church leaders will certainly rally around their leader and protect him from any legal challenge. But Popes have often stressed that their power comes from moral authority and living the life of Christian example. This authority and this Christian example may now be in serious jeopardy. If it can be shown that the Pope was an enabler of sexual abuse, the Catholic Church might not be able to recover from this latest scandal.
It has been widely reported that in the next few months women will become the majority of the workforce in this country. This is a monumental development, since just forty to fifty years ago many women were stay at home moms or assembly line drudges.
But by passing the 50% mark, American women are simply taking the next employment step; they already make up the majority of university graduates and professional workers, and an ever increasing number have broken through the corporate leadership glass ceiling at Fortune 500 companies.
By becoming the majority in the workplace, women in the future will have greater financial security, more managerial power and most importantly independence. This will mean that the office, the factory floor and the boardroom will not only have a different look, but also a female perspective on leadership, decision-making and work-manager relations.
The workplace has already begun to change in anticipation of the new majority with stricter laws on sexual harrassment, equal pay and family leave. But despite these new benefits and protections, women will still have to deal with critical personal issues such as competing with men for job opportunities, child rearing demands and the division of labor at home.
Climbing the ladder of success has always been harder for women than for men, and the new majority status does not mean that women are rid of shameful discrimination and sexism on the job. As a result, the most important aspect of this change in the workplace is how men will respond to more and more women around them, especially if those women assume positions of authority and power. We could be entering a time when men enter into a battle of the sexes as they try to protect their turf or hold on to outdated practices.
But whatever happens between men and women in the new American workplace, this country is now entering a time with a new majority, and that often means majority rules.
The health reform debate in Congress and in the country has sadly brought out the worst in American politics and laid bare the waste, the greed and the stupidity of our ” system” of providing health care to some Americans, while ignoring many others. Here are a few snapshots of the state of health care reform, which unfortunately can be summed up in three words – money, lies and death:
* The hospital and health insurance sectors gave members of Congress $ 170 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008.
* Senator Max Baucus, the key player on the Senate Finance Committee that is driving the health care debate, received $ 1.5 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008 from the hospital and insurance sectors. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, received $ 2 million in campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008 from the hospital and insurance sectors.
* The Urban Institute reported that 27,000 Americans, usually poor Americans, die each year because they do not have insurance. Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida, in his now famous ” Die Quickly” speech lambasting the Republicans on the absence of a GOP health reform bill, stated that over 44,000 American die each year because they lack health insurance.
* The United States is ranked 17th in the world in access to health care, yet we spend the most per capita of any industrialized country.
* The major trade group representing the insurance industry states that insurance premiums for a family of four will go up by 18% in the coming years even with a health care reform bill. Not only is this an example of shameless scare tactics coming so close to the end game of health care reform, but if such an increase is possible it is proof positive of why this country needs a public option to spur competition and choice.
* Right wing talk show cranks have been saying that a public option included in health care reform would lead to insurance for illegal immigrants and euthanasia for seniors. No only are these claims blatantly false, but they show how conservatives will stop at nothing to stop health care reform.
* A four month old boy in Colorado has become the poster child for what’s wrong with American health care as his parents were denied an insurance policy because the boy, who is in excellent health, is 17 pounds, apparently obese according to the insurance company and thus suffering from a pre-existing condition. After media shaming, the company changed its policy. This is why this country needs health care reform.
All of these little nuggets of financial facts and horror stories give a flavor of why this country has had to wait since the days of Harry Truman to fix a terribly broken health care system. Whenever serious efforts are made to bring about reasonable and cost effective change, the monied interests dump millions into the campaign war chests of members of Congress with a handshake and a wink, lying and fear raise their ugly heads as all sorts of ideologues use an ever complex media to raise doubts and spread confusion, and most importantly the American people fall further and further behind the rest of the industrialized world in quality, cost effective care, while the insurance companies worry about a fourth month old boy’s weight.
It is impossible to stop the force of money in American politics or to silence the liars and the death mongers, but it is possible for the American people to get straight and honest answers about health care reform before more people die and we fall further and further behind the civilized world. Winston Churchill once said that ” Americans eventually do the right thing, after exhausting all other alternatives.” I hope he is right in this case.