by Adam Wollner
September 23, 2013 5:38 PM
An empty Senate meeting room, just outside the chamber, is seen Monday in Washington. Only a week remains for Congress to pass a funding bill in order to avoid a government shutdown.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
In seven days, the federal government runs out of money.
While the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a resolution Friday that keeps the government funded through Dec. 15, the measure also defunded President Obama’s signature health care law — which means it has virtually no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.
If a budget resolution doesn’t hit President Obama’s desk before Oct. 1, that’s a big problem: the government will be forced to close its doors.
With that prospect looming, here are eight things you should know about the possible shutdown:
It won’t be the first time
Since a new budgeting process was put into place in 1976, the U.S. government has shut down 17 times. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan each dealt with six shutdowns during their terms in office, lasting anywhere from one day to two and a half weeks.
The last actual shutdown came in 1996 — though the government came close during budget negotiations in 2011.
The last shutdown lasted three weeks
The three-week shutdown that lasted from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996, ranks as the longest in U.S. history. As a result, about 284,000 federal workers were furloughed, and around 475,000 essential employees went without a paycheck, although they were eventually reimbursed.
They weren’t the only ones inconvenienced. Some benefits for military veterans were delayed and cleanup at more than 600 toxic waste sites was stopped. The government also shut down for six days in mid-November 1995, initially resulting in the furlough of 800,000 federal employees. The Congressional Research Service reported the shutdowns cost taxpayers a combined $1.4 billion.
Only the “essentials”
Only federal employees deemed “essential” would continue to come to work during a shutdown. Employees who qualify as essential include those involved in national security, protecting life and property and providing benefit payments.
That means members of the military, border control agents, air traffic controllers, the FBI and the TSA are among those who would remain on duty. The president and members of Congress are also exempt from furlough and must decide which of their respective staff members to keep around during a shutdown.
The checks are in the mail
Even in the event of a shutdown, Social Security beneficiaries will still find their checks in their mailboxes and doctors and hospitals will receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. However, if the government does not resolve the budget situation by Nov. 1, those entitlement program payments could be delayed by up to two weeks.
Even in a shutdown, the Postal Service delivers
One reason Americans will get their entitlement checks: a government shutdown would not hit the operations of the U.S. Postal Service. Government agencies that the Treasury Department does not directly fund, like USPS, would be relatively unaffected in the short term by a shutdown. Some postal employees would likely face furlough, but it wouldn’t be enough to completely close down the agency.
National parks and museums? Forget it
Have plans to visit a national park or go sightseeing in the nation’s capital? You might want to cancel them. During the Clinton-era shutdowns, 368 national parks closed, resulting in the loss of 7 million visitors. In Washington, D.C., the public would be unable to visit the monuments and museums that millions of tourists flock to every year. The Capitol building would remain open, though.
Visa and passport delays
Those hoping to enter or leave the country during a shutdown would likely experience some difficulty. The government was unable to process around 200,000 pending passport applications and a daily average of 30,000 visa and passport applications by foreigners during the 1995-96 shutdowns. This would not only result in a headaches for would-be travelers, but a loss in millions for the airline and tourism industries.
Who would be blamed for a shutdown?
Generally speaking, no one comes out looking good if the government shuts down. A Pew Research poll conducted Sept. 19-22 shows 39 percent of Americans would blame Republicans if a shutdown were to occur, compared to 36 percent who would fault the Obama administration and 17 percent who would hold both sides responsible. According to a Pew poll from a comparable period during the 2011 budget battle, the public spread the blame around nearly identically.
What Triples Your Risk of Being Depressed?
By Jim Clifton and Deepak Chopra
If economics aspires to be a science — “the dismal science” as it was traditionally called — it must recognize that the most relevant economic data are human. The rise and fall of GDP, mean household spending, and consumer confidence are useful statistics, but ultimately the “units” of the American economy are bodies and souls. What’s going on with them?
Even as the stock market soars, the unequal distribution of wealth, which reached an all-time U.S. high in 2012 (with the top 1% grabbing 20% of all incomes), also implies inequality in physical and mental well-being. We are breaking recent records there, too. It is well documented that the greatest burden on the economy is skyrocketing healthcare costs.
At $2.5 trillion annually, America’s healthcare bill is three times the size of the defense budget and nearly twice the size of the whole Russian economy. It is also roughly twice the size of the entire Indian economy, and India has a billion-plus population.
When you compare America’s per person health care spending to comparable societies, things look even worse. The U.S. spends more than $8,000 annually per person on healthcare, where Canada and Germany each spends roughly $4,500 per person, while the United Kingdom spends about $3,500, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. Yet even as we lavishly outspend those countries, Americans have shorter life spans and generally worse health outcomes. In other words, citizens in comparable societies live longer but spend half the money we do on healthcare or less.
What’s afflicting our bodies to such an extent that the medical system may not be able to manage a turnaround? One big answer: epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes. Obesity is the primary cause of Type 2 diabetes and a major contributor to chronic disease in general, including hypertension and coronary artery disease. If the United States solved the obesity problem, its economy would arguably roar back, unburdened by unsustainable healthcare costs. The news that our obesity epidemic has stopped rising and in the case of school children may even be declining, is a start, although long overdue.
But the country can’t reliably tackle obesity, which is correlated with low income levels, or turn the economy around, if many of its citizens are depressed. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index just uncovered that being unemployed, dropping out of the workforce, or working part time while wanting full-time work are the strongest predictors of having depression. Unemployed adults and those not working as much as they would like to are about twice as likely to be depressed as Americans who are employed full time.
Clearly our society has a crisis of body and soul – and often both together, since depression significantly raises a person’s risk for disease almost across the board. Economists don’t realistically figure these human factors into their predictions, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Well-being also declines from a host of things specific to America: chronic stress, uncertainty over keeping a job, anxiety over lost pensions, pressure to increase productivity (already the highest in the world but constantly pushed to rise even higher), and the longest work week in the developed world, along with the lowest vacation time.
The cure for the worst things is a full-time job. Gallup workplace data show that the ultimate job is one in which you get to do what you do best every day, your manager encourages your development, and your opinion counts. When and if every American can have this “therapy” of full-time meaningful employment, then depression, stress, and anxiety will subside, and the average person will become much more motivated to tackle chronic health problems like obesity. The human factor can never be over-emphasized if we intend to get the economy roaring again, but more importantly, if we intend to take well-being seriously and not simply raw economic data.
The “Dream Job”| Sages and Scientists: Mallika Chopra – Part 1
The Problem with Coca Cola Enterprises’ ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ Campaign
By Raz Godelnik | September 6th, 2013
Hearing about Coca Cola Enterprises’ (CCE) new sustainability initiative in the UK designed to boost the reuse and recycling of plastic bottles, my expectations were pretty high. After all, CCE, the largest Coca-Cola bottler in Western Europe, is known to be taking sustainability seriously and is even considered one of the leaders in exploring consumer behavior change.
Therefore I hoped the ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign would be strong, maybe even as progressive and exciting as CCE’s ‘Recycle for the Future’ study, wherein the company teamed up with university researchers to closely observe the dynamics that drive waste disposal and recycling in the homes of 20 French and English families.
Unfortunately I was dead wrong. If ‘Recycle for the Future’ was all about the future of using brand marketing to encourage recycling, ‘Don’t Waste, Create’ campaign is all about the past and not necessarily in a good way.
In fairness, maybe my expectations of CCE were too high in the first place because of its impressive track record, but please read the following description of the campaign and tell me if it doesn’t have a ‘90s feel to it:
“The ‘Don’t Waste. Create’ campaign will encourage consumers to use their waste packaging at home in a fun and useful way, while also pledging to recycle… By asking parents to submit their recycling ‘pledges’, the initiative aims to educate and inform families about the importance of recycling, while also suggesting activities that allow them to reconnect with nature and keep their families entertained during the summer holidays. ‘Don’t Waste. Create’ idea sheets will be available for parents to download at home …Suggested ideas include a bottle bird feeder or self-watering bottle plant pot. After the activities have been completed, households are encouraged to recycle their creations once they are no longer needed.”
The online campaign, which began last month and runs through September is also accompanied with in-store activities at Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chain, although the website doesn’t give much detail about the partnership. And there are also rewards – in return for pledging to recycle, customers receive a voucher for 80 cents off their next purchase of a 2-liter bottle of a Coke product, and also have the chance to win “a family ‘glamping’ holiday in France.”
Trying to figure out what CCE had in mind when thinking about this campaign, I read the explanation from Nick Brown, Associate Director for Recycling at Coca-Cola Enterprises: “CCE is committed to reducing plastic waste and helping our customers to re-think how they dispose of their packaging. By asking them to re-use and then recycle plastic bottles, ‘Don’t Waste. Create’ encourages families to think more sustainably while having fun, giving them a tangible way to help reduce their household waste.“
This is where I got even more confused. CCE is a company involved in a number of innovative and challenging initiatives, from participating in the UK soft drinks industry’s effort to reduce its carbon emissions to Continuum Recycling, a recycled-PET joint venture with ECO Plastics that processed 500 million bottles in its first year of operation. In addition, CCE has committed to recycling more packaging than it uses by 2020 and generally demonstrates a clear understanding of where it can really make a difference (energy and climate change and sustainability packaging and recycling).
So I couldn’t help but wonder how such a company believes that providing customers with instructions on how to make a bottle bird feeder or a bottle plant pot from empty Coke bottles will encourage them “to think more sustainably while having fun, giving them a tangible way to help reduce their household waste?”
While some might argue the answer is that this campaign isn’t really about encouraging customers to recycle more Coke bottles but rather about encouraging them to buy more Coke, I believe this is just an example of a poorly designed campaign. Why? First, because it’s not clear if the ‘remedy’ the campaign offers (make recycling fun) actually relates to the reasons behind the low at-home recycling rates in the UK, and second, the ‘fun’ component in the campaign doesn’t seem to be utilizing game thinking and elements very well.
Looking at the issues explored in CCE’s observational study it’s not clear if the ‘fun’ factor has anything to do with the low recycling rates in British households (half of plastic bottles in the UK are not collected for recycling and most of them are thrown away at home). Some of the issues mentioned include consumers’ need for more information about recycling and the recycling infrastructure. Over 30 percent of people in the UK believe collected materials are not recycled.
Nevertheless, as Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter write in their book “For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business,” fun is an extraordinarily valuable tool to address serious business pursuits. That also includes customer engagement and sustainability. Yet, in this case, the game thinking, which according to Werbach and Hunter is the mind-set required to deploy fun in a considered and directed way, is lacking.
Werbach makes the case that a well-gamified system includes all three basic elements of intrinsic motivation: competence (overcoming challenges), autonomy (being in control and having options), and relatedness (sense of purpose or goals). In other words, he says, if you use this elements properly it results in participants having fun. Is this the case here? I doubt it.
While the campaign is loosely connected to these three elements, it is really far from mastering them. Just compare it to Heineken’s six pack design challenge or think what would this campaign look like if it was based on a competition on the best idea for reusing a Coke bottle with the backup of a smart platform like Club Psych – that could really be fun, right?
[Image credit: Coca-Cola Enterprises Limited (CCE)]