Political and social trends


Mission_Impossible_singleSo, Tom Cruise says to his girlfriend when she gives him a hug: Hey, watch the ribs.

He’s just been in a fiery helicopter crash in the Kashmir mountains, scaled sheer cliffs to avoid plunging to his death, fought a life-and-death battle with a bad guy who wanted to destroy the world, and all he’s got is some sore ribs. His face hardly has a scratch.

And so ends Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the current far-and-away top grossing movie, which I went to see because there’s something compelling about the franchise that has been lighting audiences’ fuses ever since Mr. Phelps watched the first tape-recorded message self-destruct in 1966.

Well. Since this is the latest episode, I suppose I should have put a spoiler alert at the beginning of the post. But really, did you think Tom Cruise was going to bite it at the end of a Mission: Impossible movie?

The enjoyment in watching this kind of movie, anyway, is to find out how the IMF team is going to get out of it in one piece, and accomplish the mission, which we can tell at the outset is pretty much impossible. Ordinary spies couldn’t do it, the whole thing’s too outrageous.

For one thing, they don’t know how to make face masks that turn them into carbon copies of the bad guys. That can be a detriment when the future of the world is at stake.

The members of the IMF know that if they get it wrong, we’ll all be washing our clothes down at the radioactive creek.

It’s true that the action scenes are over the top in Mission: Impossible — Fallout. The stunts are overblown and absurd, especially to someone who’s tripped over a garden hose in their backyard or stubbed their toe walking down the hallway to the bathroom.

But it’s inspiring to see that someone can be in a raging gun battle, ride a motorcycle at 70 mph against congested city traffic, blow through red lights, slam head-first into a car and get thrown off the bike, skid 20 yards on the pavement, get up and jump into a sewer where a boat is waiting and hook back up with his pals without so much as a how-d’-do.

Good stuff.

One of the main reasons I went was to hear the theme song played on a professional big screen audio system. It was written by Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin, who still gets prominent credit in Fallout and all of the other franchise films. And rightfully so, since it’s the absolute best TV show theme song ever, hands-down, one theory being that the beginning of the piece is the musical version of Morse code for M.I. — dah-dah-dit-dit.

This is not your ordinary action flick, though. Mission: Impossible — Fallout explores much deeper social issues and will be analyzed in-depth by many film critics in the weeks and months to come.

Well actually no … but I had you for a second, hey?

All right, try this one. In Fallout, the bad guys are intent on destroying the old world order. Sound vaguely familiar?

Question. How come so many people want to go topsy-turvy on the old world order these days? What exactly is so horrible about how the world order has evolved, with the end of the cold war, a western emphasis on human rights and at least a nod toward political and economic equality?

Are the movie’s writers reminding us that the world order is slipping away? That it seems impossible to save it?

Should we try to keep what we’ve got and make improvements on that rather than start from scratch? Because that could lead to who knows what?

Maybe that’s our mission, should we choose to accept it.

Image: Mission: Impossible single via Wikipedia

Advertisements

If you needed a reminder about the state of American politics in 2018, the exchange between former Vice President Biden and President Trump this week summed things up nicely.

Biden, in a Miami speech, said Tuesday: “They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman, and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.”

PlaygroundRulesWashDC_fixperspectiveTrump tweeted on Thursday: “Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!”

Biden should reply that he’s rubber and Trump is glue. Or to Trump’s description of him as crazy and weak, he could say: “I know you are but what am I?

All of this, while the stock market teeters, a trade war looms, unprecedented amounts of debt are being downloaded onto the U.S. economy, and Congress can barely agree on a budget.

It does make you wonder whether Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un might devolve into a mud wrestling match.

Trump is often compared to Nixon, but Nixon had a baked-in respect for the American system of government and a sense of public decorum.

In his History Unfolding post Saturday, historian David Kaiser noted: “Like Trump, Nixon was a narcissist who could not accept any opposition to himself personally or to his policies. He too felt the need to vent his hatred on almost a daily basis. But Nixon had grown up in an era in which bright young men understood that they had to make a good impression on their elders, and keep their nastiest feelings to themselves. In public he almost always maintained an iron self-control, and his aides collaborated in keeping his inner self away from the public.”

But “Trump, on the other hand, grew up while his contemporaries were joyfully tearing down traditional emotional restraints, as well as restrictions on language, clothing styles, and what could be seen and heard in movies and on television. He built his persona on unrestrained excess, and when he entered politics, he built his appeal around unrestrained hatred, free of any code words.”

To put this into additional perspective, imagine a similar discussion between Kennedy and Nixon in the lead-up to the 1960 presidential election.

Suppose Kennedy said he would have beat up Nixon in high school, and then Nixon replied that Kennedy was “weak, both mentally and physically” and that during a fight Kennedy “would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.”

And this would have been reported on the evening news with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. They would have had to cut to a Lucky Strike commercial after the clip to figure out what they were going to say next.

American public opinion would have sent Nixon back to clerk at his father’s grocery store in California and Kennedy would have been lucky to get a job organizing yacht races.

Ditto for Nixon-Humphrey, Carter-Ford and Carter-Reagan.

But that was then and this is now, when Americans relish public figures who “tell it like it is.”

All of this could get pretty interesting if Biden runs against Trump in 2020. But if that happens, don’t bother holding the first debate at a university. Have it on a playground.

Playground rules via Wikimedia Commons

Bernie_Sanders_on_a_smartphone_(21580048468)

A young adult captures an image of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a September 2015 campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa. (Credit:  Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons)

UPDATE: Almost 40 percent of Americans with student loans may default on them by 2023, a new study says. Default rates are much higher among those who have attended a for-profit college.

*

We already have class warfare in the U.S. — do we really need generational warfare, too?

Millennials worry that their future is not bright, with continuing trends toward low-wage jobs, high health care costs, and a Social Security system that may not be there when they need it. The cost of going to college is astronomical, and working millennials are finding it difficult to buy a house.

Sometimes, because of student loan debt or just the kind of bad financial decisions that people across all age groups make, their credit scores are so low they can barely qualify to rent an apartment.

The statistics keep pouring in, and they don’t look good.

Writing for Huffington Post’s Highline magazine, Michael Hobbes, explained “Why millennials are facing the scariest financial future of any generation since the Great Depression.”

He says millennials have taken on 300 percent more debt than their parents, are half as likely as their parents were to own a home when they were their age, and are saddled with a stunning poverty rate of 20 percent. “Based on current trends,” he says, “many of us won’t be able to retire until we’re 75.”

It’s an impressive analysis, especially his conclusion that fundamental changes in the job market — that over the last 40 years, companies have shifted from long-term investment in employees and infrastructure to short-term profit-making and stock run-ups — have taken a heavy toll on millennials.

“The Olds” (the term younger folks use to describe older people who “don’t quite get it,” the Washington Post explains) believe that the millennials’ problems “are all our fault,” he says.

“We got the wrong degree. We spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need … We killed cereal and department stores and golf and napkins and lunch. Mention ‘millennial’ to anyone over 40 and the word ‘entitlement’ will come back at you within seconds, our own intergenerational game of Marco Polo.”

A Q&A on Vox was more bitter, running under the headline: “How the baby boomers — not millennials — screwed America.”

It’s an interview with Bruce Gibney, author of “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America.”

“The boomers inherited a rich, dynamic country and have gradually bankrupted it,” Gibney said. “They habitually cut their own taxes and borrow money without any concern for future burdens. They’ve spent virtually all our money and assets on themselves and in the process have left a financial disaster for their children.”

On his show, Morning Joe,  host Joe Scarborough basically echoed the sentiment in a whack at the recently passed tax cut.

“Millennials, you just had $1.5 trillion stolen from you,” he said. “Past Congresses have stolen $20 trillion from you, and over the next ten years, they’re going to steal another $10 trillion from you. And they’re going to die, and then you’re going to be left holding the bill.”

Gibney blames boomers for electing officials responsible for the tax cut — and the “fantasy about trickle-down economics” used to promote the tax package. “They’re still clinging to this dogma, and indeed the latest tax bill is the latest example of that,” he said.

It should be noted, though, that the Pew Research Center reported in summer that millennials and generation Xers — people age 36 to 51 — represented the majority of voters for the first time in 2016.

According to NPR, 69.6 million millennials and gen Xers cast votes in 2016, compared with 67.9 million baby boomers and older generations. And so apparently enough of the younger folks agreed that trickle-down economics deserved another shot, even after the historic flop of the Bush tax cut a decade-and-a-half ago.

Most people think millennials trend Democrat. But NPR says another 2016 study found that young people born between 1980 and 1994 were more likely to identify with conservatives than boomers and Xers at the same age.

The millennials — and to perhaps to a lesser extent the Xers — have legitimate beefs. The cost of college is a national disgrace, and loading college graduates down with crushing debt as they start their careers is a terrible injustice.

Politicians, and a lot of “The Olds” too, will tell you that young people waste their time with unusable degrees. But that’s not true. We don’t need the university system to churn out an endless stream of graduates with degrees in business, management and marketing.

In a society that desperately lacks perspective, the world needs art history majors more than ever.

But the costs of getting that perspective have reached new levels of absurdity. Forbes calls student loan debt “a $1.3 trillion crisis” and notes that total student debt is now higher than credit card debt and car loans. It’s second only to mortgages.

The magazine says 44.2 million U.S. borrowers are dealing with student loan debt. Everyone’s heard anecdotal accounts of people finishing a bachelor’s degree more than $50,000 in debt, or a law or medical degree with $250,000 worth of debt.

Helping people get this under control should be one of the top five issues in national campaigns. Democrats did bring it up in 2016, but it never gained much traction.

On the other hand, as a boomer myself, it won’t surprise anyone that I think Social Security and Medicare should be saved. And not just for The Olds, but for the younger people coming up the line who have already figured out that defined benefit pension plans won’t be around to see them through their senior years. Ditto for retirement health care programs; hence the argument for Medicare.

These programs — which workers pay into — should be around for everybody, not just the silent generation and the boomers.

So I would propose that like-minded boomers join forces with Xers and millennials to address a whole range of social issues, not just those peculiar to one age group.

Class warfare is dog-bites-man. It’s something that has roiled societies, and governments, since the first civilizations were created 5,000 years ago. It waxes and wanes. It certainly seems to be on the increase these days.

But really — is there any reason why a more just society shouldn’t be a cross-generational effort?

The big retirement plan these days is a simple one: Keep working.

But as Bloomberg notes, staying active in your career after traditional retirement age isn’t always realistic. It makes sense that if you have a desk job, you can stretch things out longer than if you have a job that requires more physical endurance.

The younger you are, the more apt you are to say you’re going to keep at it in your 60s, 70s and even 80s.

roofer

Roofers are among the professions most likely to “age out,” a survey says. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Big majorities plan to keep working past the usual retirement age, but in fact only 17 percent of retirees in a Bloomberg survey have a job. The financial news service looked at which workers are most likely to “age out” of their careers. They considered 954 occupations.

At the top end of the scale — the jobs that are least likely to lead workers to age out — are sociologists, lawyers and chief executives. Librarians came in at 172 and editors scored 272 out of those 954.

Most likely to age out: Roofers and plumbers.

Fitness trainers came in at 861 — although the late-great TV fitness icon Jack LaLanne would probably take issue with that. He was active until two years prior to his death at the age of 96, and completed a workout the day before he died.

*

Russian intelligence successfully promoted candidates of their choice during the 2016 election, according to CIA sources cited by The Washington Post and The New York Times.

As disturbing as that news is, there’s at least some reason to believe that this is unlikely to happen again, since campaigns from here on out — on both sides of the spectrum — will make hiring cybersecurity experts job number one.

Of greater concern, perhaps, is the “fake news” phenomenon that swept across the Internet during the primaries and general election. A recent BuzzFeed survey indicated that 75 percent of Americans who viewed fake news headlines thought they were accurate.

For the pro-Trump/ anti-Hillary fake news, more Trump voters believed them, according to BuzzFeed, but almost half — or more than half — of Clinton voters believed them, too.

For example, 85 percent of Trump voters bought the story about an FBI agent suspected in Clinton email leaks being found dead in “an apparent murder-suicide.” But 52 percent of Clinton voters belived it as well.

Eighty-nine percent of Trump voters believed a fake story that a Trump protester was paid $3,500 to protest at a Trump rally, as did 62 percent of Clinton voters.

A lot of this stuff ends up on Facebook.

And most of it was anti-Clinton and pro-Trump because that’s what attracted the most clicks. And clicks are what produce income. A fake news poster told The New York Times: “This is all about income.”

So it’s a cottage industry that packs a punch — and is unlikely to go away.

kennedy_nixon_debate_new_york_1960

Photo: Kennedy and Nixon debated the “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1960. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With the presidential election just about a month away, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the major issues that shaped national races over the course of the country’s history.

Let’s get right to it:

  • 1856/ 1860: Slavery, and violence in the Kansas Territory over the issue. Secession.
  • 1876: Reconstruction of the South and the maintenance of federal troops in the South.
  • 1892: Tariffs. Republicans favored higher tariffs, Democrats lower tarrifs. There were calls for government ownership of the railroads and monetary reform.
  • 1900: The U.S. involvement in the Philippines after the Spanish American War was debated.
  • 1904: Controversy over Teddy Roosevelt’s antitrust policies.
  • 1916: Keeping the U.S. out of World War I.
  • 1932: How to address The Great Depression. Repeal of Prohibition.
  • 1940: Keeping the U.S. out of World War II — or coming to the defense of Europe which was under Nazi siege.
  • 1948: Civil rights.
  • 1952: President Truman’s handling of the Korean War. Inflation.
  • 1960: The “missile gap” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
  • 1968: Civil rights, student protests over the Vietnam War.
  • 1980: Inflation, and the Iranian hostage crisis.
  • 1992: The recession.
  • 2004: Terrorism and how to address threats in the U.S. and around the world.
  • 2008: The Great Recession, economic collapse, bank bailouts.
  • 2016: Debate over whether former Miss Universe Alicia Machado participated in a porno tape; Barack Obama’s place of birth; discussion of whether or not Rosie O’Donnell is an attractive person; Donald Trump’s hair; Hillary Clinton’s pant suits.