President Obama believes that if we do not act quickly, this recession could linger for years - and America could lose the competitive edge that has served as the foundation for our strength and standing in the world.
Every parent has a story about buying a child an expensive gift - and then, upon opening it, the child had more fun playing with the packaging. When not distracted by TV and videogames, children show a remarkable imagination and ability to entertain themselves with the simplest and least expensive things in life - a stick, a cardboard box, a mud puddle.
And then, there is plastic bubble wrap. This miracle of 1950s plastics engineering appears in every post office and shipping counter nationwide. When you want to ship something odd-shaped and fragile, there's no better way to do it than by wrapping it in plastic bubble-wrap.
The glories of bubble wrap do not end when the box is opened, at least not if you have children. Many happy hours can be occupied popping the individual bubbles on the bubble-wrap sheets. Sometimes an inch across, with a healthy "Pow!"; sometimes a few millimeters, with a little "Ping!"; and all sizes and noises in between, the bubbles on a sheet of used bubble wrap brings entertaining and harmless joy for the young and for the obsessively young at heart.
And yet, in America today, there is no pleasure so simple and so low cost that it cannot be tarted up as a new electronic gadget and successfully flogged to the masses. Step forward the "Mugen Pop Pop Endless Bubble Popping Keychain" by Japanese toymaker Bandai, suggested retail price $9.99 - a little electronic device with tiny plastic bubble-buttons that simulates bubble wrap.
After you've "popped" these buttons, they reset, allowing you to pop them again and again ad infinitum - or until the batteries need replacement, for an additional charge. As a reviewer on Chiff.com put it,
Every kid, no matter how old, I emphasize old, loves bubble wrap. Once you start popping those tiny air filled plastic bubbles you are basically hooked. So much so that you can now go on line and virtually pop. Now, the quandary is... how can you pop on the go? Problem solved.
Well... yes, it's hard to argue with that. This gadget does, indeed, offer a way of solving that notoriously vexing problem, in much the same way as Rube Goldberg's machines did. Which is to say, in an outlandishly overengineered way, costing far more than simply leaving the issue alone. If you truly must pop bubbles whilst waiting for the bus, in between classes, on hold on the phone, et cetera, how hard is it just to grab a sheet of them on the way out the door?
Only a society wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice would even concoct such a device, much less propel it to the status of the "craze" claimed in the toy review. Only a country with no real problems - or at least, convinced that it had no real problems - would be concerned with the burning question of on-the-go bubble-popping.
Only a land in which the war on true poverty was long since won would waste even a nickel on a pointless frivolity so easily obtained free of charge behind any grocery store or Best Buy. If we were in a true depression, everyone would need that nickel to buy their next meal - but no.
Unfortunately, as those of us not in an electronically-induced catatonia are well aware, we do actually face vast problems: an overweening government, an exponentially increasing national debt, an ever-growing bureaucracy, enemies both foreign and domestic who wish our demise as a superpower. A country so blind to true value and so prone to preposterous whining over irrelevant desires is in grave danger of a sudden and abrupt visit by cold, harsh reality.
President Obama claims that our economic situation is dire. It manifestly is not when we can afford mobile bubble-popping simulators, but he's working overtime to make it so.
The more the American people are distracted by such trivia - proof in and of itself that things are not so bad - the closer comes the time when things will be that bad, and they'll not be able to afford the essentials.