Friday, July 19, 2013

Making Connections

Some people who are appalled at the NSA routinely reviewing phone records will sit glued to the TV as an undercover reporter tries to pin down a crooked businessman using a hidden camera.  Some people who start their day with a cup or two of coffee to wake up and end the day with a drink to calm down or have a beer on the weekends to relax are outraged at proposals to legalize marijuana or other recreational drugs.  These people are not being hypocritical.  They just don’t stop to make connections between one behavior and another.  Recognizing the similarities between seemingly unrelated behaviors, opinions or choices uncovers contradictions that often go unnoticed.

This brings us to examples of gasoline prices and student loans.

Early in June, the Midwest was surprised at having the highest gas prices in the country.  Prices jumped to $4.25 per gallon.  Local news stories featured the usual pain-at-the-pump stories.  The temporary price increase was attributed to problems at regional refineries, but not many people paid attention to this detail.  Naturally, the conspiracy theorists came out of the woodwork accusing the oil companies of price gouging.  A short time later the price had gradually dropped by more than a dollar a gallon with no mention in the media of our sudden good fortune.

During the same time period, this news appeared.  “An environmental group that helped push BP PLC to a multimillion-dollar settlement last year over air emissions at its northwestern Indiana oil refinery says the sprawling complex's revised wastewater permit falls short of what's needed to protect Lake Michigan's waters."  Do we recognize the connection between high gas prices attributed to refinery issues and the legal challenges of this environmental group making operation more difficult, risky and expensive for one of those regional refineries?  Clean air and clean water are important, but it’s so easy to forget that it’s not BP or any other corporation that ultimately pays the bill.  It’s you and me as we complain about our pain at the pump.  It’s simple economics.

Another news story getting attention is the failure of Washington to deal with student loans, allowing the interest rate to double.  Many students are struggling to get by and the additional interest will increase their burden.  To make matters worse, news broke that the federal government is making a profit on student loans.  As the story unfolded I noticed this article that tried to personalize the crisis with a real-life example.  It told of Kristy Currier, 26, of Detroit who owes $75,000 in loans.  When I expanded the photo, the caption said that she lives with her fiancĂ© and two dogs and two cats.  One pet would be considered a luxury for someone owing $75,000, but it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who voluntarily takes on the extra costs of feeding, medical treatment and daily care of four!

When we miss the underlying connections and the contradictions they imply, it’s hard to come to a workable solution.  We bumble along and feel like victims of the system, but sometimes it’s not the system’s fault.

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