2012-02-17 / Columnists

The Progressive

Commentary By John Paul Culotta

The past few weeks our media have had many human interest stories that, at least for me, raise many questions as to what direction our nation is facing. Recent developments in the Republican Party’s primary campaigns demonstrate a discontent in the nation that is revealing when Republicans realize a populist message can generate votes and support. Although the message may be populist, their proposals are regressive and may eliminate the middle class that is struggling to remain afloat.

During the Christmas holiday season, there was a tragic fire in Connecticut in a prominent family’s home which resulted in the deaths of children and grandparents. Reams of tabloid ink and air time were spent milking the emotional aspects of the story. Recently, there was a report that a criminal investigation is being conducted as to whether or not there is a criminal aspect to the fire. This raised many questions for me. Many children and elderly people across this nation live in substandard housing where, because of poor wiring, age, and horrendous living conditions, fires occur. Our media does not devote much ink or air time and few criminal investigations occur (unless arson is suspected) when poor children or their adult family members perish. It is certainly not a national story. Why? Our sympathy and emotions seem to be aroused when the deaths are unusual. Prominent and wealthy people do not often perish in such a tragic manner and that makes a more sellable story and yet I believe our media need to direct some attention to substandard housing.

I have begun to read the Neediest Cases stories in the New York Times. The stories are very interesting and in many cases inspiring. Reading these stories has allowed me to understand that the lives of struggling New Yorkers are as interesting as any celebrity. Their fortitude and, yes, optimism against formidable odds can lead you to question the lack of solutions of our social and economic evils in our political debate.

Archbishop Dolan has begun a campaign urging Catholics and all of good will to seek ways to share their bounty with the hungry. This is commendable and again it raises the question as to why religious leaders are not speaking for dramatic reform in the questions of income inequality that cause the hunger and need in our midst. Our poor, unemployed, physically challenged, and deprived demand justice – not charity.

It was shocking to read about an Asian American’s suicide while serving our nation as a volunteer for the military. The hazing he encountered was horrible and again raises the question as to why racism still exists to the extent it does in American society. Another question this story raises is how dehumanizing and violent military service can be. As a nation, we need our military but the use of brutal means to develop soldiers may develop a group of people that may find it difficult to reenter civilian society. Photos showing our military urinating on dead Taliban soldiers did not shock me. War, unfortunately, brings out the worst in human beings. At the same time, this raises the question as to why we use our military so readily to settle international disputes. Maybe, we should encourage the study of diplomacy. War never really is a solution.

On Staten Island, a teenager committed suicide, according to her family, after being bullied by youngsters on her Facebook page. After her death, the comments placed on her memorial page were disturbing. Although we cannot know the true reason for this girl’s death, her death raises questions as to how schools and society can address the problem of bullying and harassment on the Internet and in our schools, military and workplaces.

Italians, according to the broadcast news from Rome that I listen to and from family members, are upset about the ship captain who abandoned the ship that was sinking. Carnival, that operates the Costa line, is also generating the idea that the ship captain is responsible for the tragic event. This does not answer why the cruise staff was so unprepared and gave faulty instructions to the passengers. It does not answer the question of why undocumented passengers were on board. There is some question as to whether captains are encouraged to take risks when being near shore helps advertise the cruise line. Before this tragic event, reports of poor working conditions on board for cruise ship staff were made by investigative reporters. Are cruises acceptable if companies require passengers to sign agreements that limit their liability in event of accidents?

Working conditions of Chinese workers manufacturing Apple products were highlighted in a special report in the New York Times on Sunday, January 21. These workers live in crowded factory dormitories and work 12 hours per day. Suicides are commonplace. It has been asserted that American workers are unwilling to work under these conditions and therefore Apple and other electronic companies will not return the manufacture of i-Pads and other products to the United States. It raises the question of why products manufactured that dehumanize the worker are allowed into the country. This is not a matter of free trade but one of morality and ethics.

Sexual child abuse is horrendous. Abuse by clergy, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, parents, relatives and other authority figures are unspeakable crimes. Often, abuse never is revealed. When Coach Joe Paterno died all the reports state that he did not report possible abuse to the police. It begs the question as to what would have been appropriate when given hearsay information regarding abuse. Paterno was told that abuse occurred in the locker room and reported this information to a supervisor. Paterno did not witness the abuse. Reporting hearsay to the police may not have resulted in a more favorable outcome. Often, police officers would not have the resources to investigate hearsay. Maybe, reporting hearsay to a supervisor in the workplace was the appropriate response. Paterno was a respected man who fostered and sponsored classical studies. He devoted his life to developing young men. His life was stained by a misjudgment.

Reports that many hospitals now provide butler service, gourmet meals, suites that border on luxury hotel status for wealthy patients raises the ethical question as to the role of cash in the health care industry. Beyonce and Jay_ Z rented an entire floor of Lenox Hill Hospital for $1 million dollars when the singer gave birth to Blue Ivy. Our mayor said that the hospital could benefit the uninsured by charging the wealthy for exclusive services. It is understandable that the wealthy and the celebrity may need extra security measures and should pay for that service; this does not explain the expenditure the hospital incurs to provide services that do not involve medical care. Is lobster necessary for recovery? Do butlers help therapy? Does an entire floor eliminate birth pain? It demonstrates how we accept inequality without debating the effects on the less fortunate? Can these hospitals demonstrate any beneficial aspect to allocating resources to the 1% that the 99% receive?

Americans are seeking a populist approach in politics because of the type of questions raised in human interest stories regarding the direction in which our society is heading. Questions regarding the worker who must compete with inhumane working conditions overseas, where economic hardship is met with charity – not a campaign for justice, where the reporting of tragedy depends on social class, and misjudgment by a decent person is highlighted, and where we accept hazing and harassment as commonplace and an individual’s problem needing little resolution by a larger community; these are demonstrative of a society that needs examination.

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