When do we need to panic?
I think it is finally time to take that trip to Egypt I have been putting off. Chaos. Discontent. Violence in the streets. Witnesses say as many as 10,000 prisoners have escaped amidst the unrest. In Egypt, they call it Cairo. In America, we call it New Jersey.
The nature of the 24-hour cable news cycle breeds excess dissemination of news and analysis. They have time to fill; we have time to kill. As a prolific procrastinator who works from home, I often catch myself watching cable news in hour-long interludes. Fox is too far right, MSNBC is too far left, and CNN is the boring hybrid in between. They all, however, share one thing in common: they exacerbate anxiety.
On any given day, any given expert takes to the airwaves to warn us in perilous fashion of the impending threat posed by an emerging China, an unstable Iran and North Korea, the “unsustainable” U.S. debt, or climate change. The list goes on. They cry wolf with precision. The question is: when do we need to panic?
China. The country has lent more money to developing countries over the past two years than the World Bank. Experts have recently told us that China and Russia have decided to “renounce” the U.S. dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade. Frankly, the implications of such a move are far beyond my intellectual pay grade, but the very fact that Chinese President Hu Jintao — head of China’s ruling Communist Party — has made fast friends with Vladimir Putin is unsettling. In their own way, each represents a whole lot of hungry people. I am unpleasant when I am hungry, and I can only assume they share the same trait. We know that, secretly, neither particularly likes us; but when do we REALLY need to worry? What if Putin gets the old guy out for a fly-fishing jaunt, sheds his shirt, pumps a few cocktails in him, and talks him into cutting off our allowance?
Moving on . . . Iran and North Korea. We are talking about two dangerous countries led by two dangerously unattractive — and perhaps bitter — men. North Korea is the last Stalinist state on earth and, we are told, it became the latest official member of the nuclear club in 2006. There is a peculiar change-of-power in the works. Experts have taken to the airwaves to tell us that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s eldest son — a playboy (have you seen this kid’s jowls?) who frequents the Macau casino circuit — was poised to inherit power in the rogue nation. Apparently, the father thought better of it, and has been reluctantly primping his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to take the reins.
The kid is said to be 27 or 28 years of age, but looks eerily pre-pubescent. All social indicators suggest that — if empowered — he is one bad pimple away from pushing the nuclear button. Couple this with the unstable leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This guy looks like an aspiring pedophile. And the experts on cable news tell us that his miscreant minions have demonstrated centrifuge operations that constitute a technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium if they so choose; the most difficult obstacle to becoming a nuclear state. Um, when should we lose sleep over THAT one?
The national debt. The U.S. Treasury website reported that as of the last day of 2010, the national debt stood at roughly $14 trillion. It took a mere seven months for said debt to increase from $13 trillion (in June) to $14 trillion on December 31st. I have done work for many a Las Vegas casino and, even at my blackjack best (worst), I could not blow so much money in so little time. It is impossible to turn on a cable news channel without an economist telling us this is unsustainable; the doomsday tales abound. But again, will they let us know when we are REALLY on the verge of going bust? I hate to think folks will be bidding on Air Force One on eBay.
Lastly, the environment. I have never seen a polar ice cap up close (though my driveway is getting close after four feet of recent snow), but environmentalists tell us they are melting. They say that, even if humans stop producing excess carbon dioxide in 2100, the lingering effects of global warming would cause the West Antarctic ice sheet to collapse, and global sea levels to rise by 13 feet. Personally, so long as the bulk of Cape Cod remains attached to mainland Massachusetts, I don’t much care. But I don’t want my great, great, great grandchildren to suddenly drown whilst on a walk on the beach. That would be unfortunate. Again, will someone please sound the alarm when my New England lawn is truly on the verge of turning into desert dust?
I suppose it could be worse. I was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago last week whining about a flight delay. A fellow passenger asked: “Where are you headed?” I said “Boston . . . you?” “Tunisia,” she replied.
Things are volatile in Tunisia right now, just turn on the news.
Ben Clarke has worked in Washington, D.C. as a political consultant and speechwriter for the past 10 years. During that period, he has served as chief political writer for GOP strategist Frank Luntz, speechwriter for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, and communications consultant for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign. He has worked on countless House, Senate and Gubernatorial campaigns across America. He has also worked on or covered campaigns in Ukraine, Georgia and Greece. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.