The original title of this post was Nasty, Messy, Murky, and Looming. Maybe I should have stuck with that! As we turn the corner on 2013, a number of problematic, complex issues stand out for me as squirmy uncomfortable and lazily unresolved. The four I note below all make headlines regularly, but I am not seeing nearly enough being done to address the core causes. Perhaps there is not enough worry about the impact. There should be. Have a look at the list and see how closely this lines up with your own deep concerns:
Inequality: I believe completely in our capitalist economy. For the long haul. For the benefit of everyone, not a detached few. Late this year, President Obama made his case for the necessity of economic mobility as the backbone of democracy. The key to addressing further bifurcation into 1% and a 99% has to be rooted in education — brilliant, inspired teachers opening the minds of young citizens, encouraged by their families to thrive, with sound reason to believe in the American dream. Our middle class has to be strong for our economy to be strong, which means we need to have new enterprises with promising jobs, and trained minds ready to tackle those jobs and over time build careers. In a recent Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, Richard Riordan and Eli Broad made the point that “It Isn’t a Sin to be Rich,” yet at the same time they called for compassion among the wealthy to reinvest their resources in helping others. I think we’d be wise not to further politicize the notion of polarization — if we want to build a lasting marketplace of goods and services, we all need to share in its creation as well as its consumption.
Privacy: This is an awful, hypocritical mess. For most of this year our federal government declared that the NSA was not out of line parsing metadata. Late in the year a consortium of Silicon Valley titans sent a letter to the President and Congress highlighting “the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.” Many of these are the same companies perfecting advertising products that digital marketers use to better target consumers, which of course relies on the collection of personal information. Edward Snowden — whose tactics and methodology are indeed questionable and not without dire consequence — has been branded a criminal, but how front and center was our dialogue around privacy before he ignited the firestorm? Last week an individual on the other end of a customer service call with my telecom provider actually asked me verbally for my PIN “to protect my security” in verifying my account — was this something he had been allowed to see in my file or was he phishing? As someone who has spent three decades in media, I can tell you the technology around profiling is advancing way faster than our ability to digest its implications, and I urge you to continue asking a lot of questions and not take simple solutions at face value. These are civil rights we are dancing around here. You bet I want a good deal on a new HDTV and I want to be safe at the airport, but I don’t want my personal information readily available to any number of individuals who may have access today and then will be pissed off when they are fired tomorrow.
Healthcare: Something tells me that we are going to be arguing about this one for the rest of our lives, and the next generation or two will still be trying to wrestle it from abstraction to effectiveness. I believe we have taken a small step forward, but like many, I am conflicted in the immediate results I am observing. There is a very long road from dreaming to doing, and while change begings with a powerful vision, it is equally necessary to pound through the details until efficacy is more than a triumphant slogan. Insurance companies are quite good at finding their way around the delicacies of mandates, and any number of conversations you can have right now will serve up individuals who are winners and losers. Until we are all winners — until we all have truly affordable, truly high quality healthcare — our work is not done. Some of us will pay more than we did before, but no one should pay more for less service, and no one who needs care should slip through the cracks because of affordability, deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, or co-pays. There are miles to go before we sleep, and much reform ahead before we celebrate our accomplishment.
Government Gridlock: Despite the recent federal budget agreement, we are nowhere close to healing. With midterm elections on the horizon, there is reason for concern. The entire idea of “reaching across the aisle” seems to me an anachronism that has to be replaced with “do your jobs and govern responsibly.” Should those who opposed the Affordable Care Act achieve a majority in Congress, will they continue to prove obstructionist and seek to repeal the new programs, or will they do what is wise and amend the law to be more effective and constructive? Will each debt ceiling debate continue to threaten to destabilize our currency and trading floors with the outlandish notion that government default could somehow be warranted as a strategy? Does anyone even want to discuss reasonable solutions around assault weapons in hands beyond the military, and is the refocused energy on mental health relief going to be funded or a talking point? We share our democracy, we share the capital markets, we share a love of freedom, and we share a right to sensible resolution of real-time concerns through debate and consensus, not grandstanding and entrenchment. We have the right to demand better, so let’s start asking for it on a regular basis, not just when the #^%$* hits the fan.
I do think as long as we keep highlighting the ambiguities in ideology brought to bear through tangible initiatives, we have reason to be optimistic. Rigorous, heartfelt discussion is our path from here to there, and as long as we don’t sweep our messes under the rug with a label of “mission accomplished,” we should have continued reason to be optimistic. What could be more revitalizing than committing to making our world a better place? Yes, we have so much more work ahead of us. Let’s get to it, shall we? The new year begins, let’s do our best to be proud that we did something aligned stepping forward in 2014.