THE PROBLEMS AND Beginning a Conversation
For TMG, there is no “right” answer to any of our problems–just a pressing need for creative thinking unhindered by political partisanship. The five “macro” problem areas below–Economics, Civil Rights, the Environment, Crime & Social Justice, and Public Health & Safety–are only a sampling of some of the most pressing issues, but there are many more.
The discussion below is meant to be nothing more than a frank summary of the problems we currently face. It’s not meant to take anyone’s side. . Some of these summaries may be less satisfactory to one end or another of the political spectrum. That’s not the point. They are just meant to get TMG Tubers and Screenwriters thinking about their own ideas that they can submit for potential posting on our YouTube channel and website.
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY
This is, unfortunately, the newest entry on the list of major societal problems. But it shouldn’t be. In fact, COVID-19 is the second pandemic to hit the US in the last 12 years. The 2009 swine flu pandemic infected 1.4 billion people across the globe and killed as many as 575,00 people. Unlike the novel coronavirus, swine flu primarily affected children and young adults, and 80% of the deaths were in people younger than 65. (A vaccine for the H1N1 swine flu virus is now included in annual flu vaccines.) There have been countless others, like the Zika virus, Ebola, SARS and the one that had the biggest impact on the US, the misnamed Spanish Flu of 1918, which may have killed 100 million people, including 500,000 in the US.
We obviously weren’t prepared for the novel coronavirus, and reacted too slowly once we learned of its spread to the US. If the events of 2020 have proven anything, it is that the US cannot continue to hope and pray that epidemics simply pass us by. The politicians who manage the federal government cannot be trusted to deploy the resources necessary to proactively protect us from them. We need to establish measures and institutions to protect our public health that are insulated from the political pressures to cut costs or shift resources to more politically desirable projects. We need the people to develop those ideas and then insist upon them.
Of course, this one can’t wait.
Every American wants clean water, clean air and beautiful forests, lakes, mountains and oceans to enjoy. Most people believe, however, that they should not be held responsible for the effects of their behavior on the environment outside of their own sphere. The net result is that we have polluted our air and water, there are enormous gyres of plastic in the oceans, mountains of toxic waste buried underground and extraordinary weather patterns that defy scientific explanation without factoring in human behavior.
Governments and businesses either ignore environmental advocates or try to listen to all of them at once, even when they espouse contradictory policies. Even projects with net positive environmental effects can be delayed for years by claims that some other, less material, environmental damage might occur. Net environmental good therefore remains an elusive goal.
Our economic system developed with little regard for the adverse impact of the conduct of individuals and businesses on the broader environment. The waste we generate and leave in the soil, the water and the air was always thought to be someone else’s problem or, nowadays, the government’s problem. There are few meaningful financial incentives for any of us, businesses or individuals, to act in an environmentally neutral way. Our feeble attempts at individual environmental responsibility, such as recycling paper and plastics, composting and our rhetoric about sustainability, have had no material effect on the ever expanding mountain of waste that will eventually bury us The cost of cleaning up the mess we have already made outstrips the resources available to do the cleanup, much less to do so without creating further environmental damage in the process.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter who or what caused the pollution and other damages to our environment. We just need to fix it. We especially need to correct the excess carbon dioxide and methane in our atmosphere that is changing the world’s climate every day, for the worse. Our squabbling politicians and self-interested business leaders do nothing but argue about it. They point fingers at each other like little children while the situation continues to worsen. Like so many other issues, we need the people to formulate pragmatic solutions for climate change, pollution and unchecked environmental damage. Then we need the people to impose the best nonpartisan ideas on our leadership. This one can’t wait.
At the beginning of 2020, the American economy was booming, albeit partially fueled by rampant deficit spending resulting from unprecedented tax cuts for business. Unemployment had hit record lows. Obscured by all the good economic news, there was still a larger than ever gap between rich and poor. Some said that the mounting concentration of wealth at the top of the financial pyramid may have contributed to social and economic problems at all levels of society, rich and poor, including educational failures, drug addiction, homelessness, crime and even violence. It is a longstanding mantra of economic stability that a prosperous middle class, especially the working class, is a critical underpinning of a successful, sustainable society. Today, however, in the financial freefall caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 the threat that economic inequality presents to our social stability has been pushed into the background once again. We are facing an economic crisis that could prove to be the worst the country has ever seen.
The United States’ fundamental economic dogma has always been to financially reward the industrious, the ingenious, the daring and even the intuitive—American capitalism. Sociologists and political scientists like to describe the United States economic model as, at least aspirationally, an “open class” system—where wealth, power and influence are achievable by anyone, irrespective of the individual’s social or economic class, race, religion, gender or other categorization. Achievement of that goal has always been less than successful, with unequal access to education and other opportunities perpetuating and, in some cases, exacerbating economic polarization and social division. Today, in the wake of the economic disaster following the coronavirus, the stakes are higher than ever.
The established political parties have responded predictably, recklessly throwing money at the problem, money that the government doesn’t really have, thereby pushing our problems into the laps of our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, a dishonest compromise between the needs of the poor and the wishes of the rich.
What is really needed to right the ship of the American economy and hasten its recovery from the “coronavirus crash” is to make some much needed, and overdue, improvements to that ship. It’s time to get rid of dead weight and power up the engine with new and creative ideas. Honestly, however, those new and creative ideas are not going to come from politicians whose primary objective is getting re-elected. Thoughtful ingenuity has to come from the people, the only group that can be trusted to look out for everyone, not just crafty politicians and special interest groups.
We remain a nation of immigrants, with Native Americans among the smallest of our minorities. We have evolved from a country dominated almost exclusively by white Christian males into one of unprecedented diversity. We are now home to a multiplicity of racial, ethnic, religious and cultural groups. Women have gained rights, privileges, wealth and power that would have been unimaginable to prior generations. The LGBTQ community has emerged as a viable political, social and economic component of our society after centuries of oppression and ridicule. Our English speaking society is challenged by demands for bilingualism from our rapidly growing Hispanic population. The reactions to these changes have not been uniformly positive. Notwithstanding the election (and re-election) of an African-American U.S. President, we have witnessed yet another resurgence of racist rhetoric and racially motivated violence. ,For each step forward, there seems to be a step back. For example, while gay marriage was held to be a constitutional right by the U.S. Supreme Court, the prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under Title VII may not survive the next Court decision.
It’s easy to say that those persons opposing these rapid changes should buck up and just accept it. It’s not so easy to make that kind of acceptance happen, especially for those groups who have borne more than their share of the economic downside of our ever increasing economic inequality. These rapid social changes may have contributed to the fracturing and polarization of American society. For example, we hear opposing sides cry Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and even White Lives Matter, when it’s obvious that all lives matter. We have seen a public resurgence of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups. Anti-Semitic violence has dramatically increased, including the widely publicized mass killing outside Pittsburgh, ironically nearly 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz. According to the FBI, hate crimes in the US, including violence against Latinos, Muslims, and other ethnic and religious groups, hit a 16 year high in 2018.
We are going in the wrong direction. We need to get all Americans back on the same page: tolerance for, and understanding of, all the different types of people in our big melting pot. We need creative, nonpartisan ideas about how we can better approach that goal. Admittedly, things may never be perfect in this area but there is plenty of room for improvement.
CRIME AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
In the U.S., crime has generally been addressed by a simple solution–lock ’em up. For example, in response to widespread crime and drug trafficking in the 1980s, Congress imposed longer minimum sentences for federal drug offenders, removing judges’ discretion. The net result was that federal drug offenders. from violent predators to small time neighborhood pushers, filled federal prisons to the point of overflowing. Unfortunately, drug epidemics persist, with opioids delivered by licensed pharmacists the current crisis, On the other hand, supporters of these harsh sentences note that, since the 1990s, violent crime and property crime in the U.S. have both steadily declined. It’s not clear that there is a connection. There is concern, however, that the incarceration of so many people, particularly black and Hispanic males, is negatively impacting society, perpetuating cycles of poverty, fatherless children and crime in minority communities.