Opinion: The Age of Distraction

  • by: Raphael Sassower
  • (Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:04:58 Z)

While there are those who chase the latest diatribe uttered (with no cognitive filters) by Donald Trump or the latest photos of the outfit worn by the transgendered Caitlyn Jenner, real stories go under-reported. The fascination with the latest sensation would make sense if there was nothing of importance to report on; if there was nothing monumental that is taking place. But of course there is!

The fact that more than $1 trillion is owed in student loans; that these loans are made by private banks with government guarantees; that they cannot be written off in personal bankruptcy proceedings; that they are larger in the aggregate than home mortgages; and that they carry high interest rates, is an important story.

A minor reform, such as reducing the interest rate of these loans to the level enjoyed by commercial banks (less than 1% as opposed to 5%-9%), would offer an economic bonanza! The extra money not spent on interest payment could be used for increased discretionary consumption. No, this will not bring down the financial industry! No, this isn't a socialist reform that would destroy capitalism; instead, it's a reasonable suggestion already offered in the U.S. Senate by Elizabeth Warren a long time ago. Why isn't it a headline story?

You don't have to be a tree-hugging environmentalist to realize that yes, there is a real story in closing down all coal mines in America. Stop talking about the loss of jobs -- we are killing these laborers day after day by expositing them to devastating ailments (and by the way, who'll pay for their treatment?). Start talking about technological innovations, from solar to wind energy, whose inception has been American but whose eventual execution (and the jobs associated with it) has been outsourced overseas. Yes, this is a story worthwhile putting on the front page!

What has been the cost-reduction of solar panels in the past 12 months? Does it therefore make sense to produce these panels here, in the United States? Should there be government subsidy? If not, what other subsidies are worth discussing? Is there a built-in conflict-of-interest between consumers (rate payers) and producers (energy and utility companies, private and public)? How can we align their interests and ensure cheaper and less hazardous energy production and consumption?

No, energy isn't sexy, not as much as watching the cleavage of this or that starlet; coal-mining diseases are ugly and afflict the working poor, so putting front-page photos of the latest victim isn't sexy as well. But guess what, without talking about the real issues -- no, not those I designate as real, but those that can be dealt with and solved with a bit of public input--we'll never be out of the rut in which we, the 99%, find ourselves. Occupy Wall Street's 15-minutes-of-fame may be over, but its message is not! It's our responsibility to keep it alive rather than be distracted by few billionaires whose ego is so inflated that they can relate only to each other.

Raphael Sassower profile.jpeg

Raphael Sassower is philosophy chair at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Prof. Sassower's latest books are Compromising the Ideals of Science (2015), The Price of Public Intellectuals (2014), and Sports and Religion in American Culture (2014, with Jeff Scholes). He grew up in Israel and moved to the United States as a young man after serving as an officer in the IDF.

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