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It's Time To Put Away Our Phones

Clean Out the Garage

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

According to two pieces I read over the weekend, the world is coming to an end but I am going to be out-of-town for it.

I am at JFK awaiting a flight to Accra, Ghana to whence I will be traveling on behalf of the ONE Campaign.

Ghana is introducing two new vaccines to its medical system and I'll be there to watch (and write about) the roll-out.


While I'm gone I would appreciated it if you would take some steps to straighten up the national garage. It's a mess and it would be a good thing if we started tossing out the junk and putting the good stuff in its proper place.

The first article I read was in the National Journal and was co-written by editor-in-chief Ron Fournier and staff reporter Sophie Quinton. It is titled "In Nothing We Trust" and is a beautifully written but starkly frightening look at the cancerous dysfunction of institutions based in - of all places - Muncie, Indiana.

"Government, politics, corporations, the media, organized religion, organized labor, banks, businesses, and other mainstays of a healthy society are failing. It's not just that the institutions are corrupt or broken; those clichés oversimplify an existential problem: With few notable exceptions, the nation's onetime social pillars are ill-equipped for the 21st century."

Fournier and Quinton tell the story of a man in Muncie, Johnny Whitmire, who, like the Joad family in John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath," was overwhelmed by a social and economic dust storm.

His wife lost her job due to layoffs in the Indiana State government. As a result they couldn't make the relatively modest mortgage payments which they had been making without a miss for the previous 10 years. A government-mandated loan modification turned out to be a head-fake and the bank not only returned the mortgage payments to their former level, but demanded the difference in the original and modified payments to the tune of nearly $1,900.

Whitmire got laid off from his construction job, so he put the house keys on the kitchen table, called the bank (saying he'd like to be able to buy it back some day) and moved into a trailer.

Whitmire's son went to the local public school, excited about learning. But, according to his wife, the quality of education was so bad that "the light got dimmer and dimmer, and finally he hated school."

In a turn of events more suited to a novel by Arthur Koestler or Victor Hugo than to a political newsmagazine, the City of Muncie fined Whitmire $300 for failing to mow the lawn of the home in which he could no longer afford to live.

The state failed him, the city failed him, the bank failed him, his employer failed him and the school district failed his child.

And this is just one guy who never did anything wrong from Muncie, Indiana.

The second piece was by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Tom Friedman. It was titled, "Down with Everything" in which he raised the question:

”Has American gone from a democracy to a "vetocracy" - from a system designed to prevent anyone in government from amassing too much power to a system in which no one can aggregate enough power to make any important decisions at all?"

Class Assignment:

Compare and contrast Friedman's "vetorcracy" with Fournier/Quinton's America whose "social pillars are ill-equipped for the 21st century."

Friedman points to "the Internet, the blogosphere and C-Span's House and Senate coverage" as having made "public posturing the 24/7 norm."

I'm not certain he's arguing for a return to the "good old says" of the senior male members of the House and Senate (along with senior male members of the press corps) getting together for cigars, port and who-knows-what-all to cut secret deals at their private Georgetown clubs.

Friedman argues that we have to get back to a time - not a fictional time when there was no government oversight or intrusion in private life - but when the government's role was

"Maintaining the rule of law, promulgating regulations that incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness, educating the work force, building infrastructure and funding scientific research."

We are caught in a downward spiral of dysfunction, disillusionment, and distrust.

They're calling my flight. I want our national garage to look a lot better by the time I get back next weekend.

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