It is not often that a daily newspaper is able, in just one edition, to capture so many previously-unlikely domestic developments. Yet Sunday's Washington Post, which luckily I picked up for the U.S. Airways flight I was about to board -- comes very close. And it does so with a front page that simultaneously speaks to business, economic, institutional, political and social issues.
Consider the following five headlines that all appeared on the front page of the September 29 edition.
"House pushes U.S. closer to shutdown": This refers to the saga playing out on Capitol Hill among highly-polarized parties that struggle to come together in the national interest. The immediate focus is on the inability of lawmakers to agree to a continuing resolution ("CR") that would keep the government fully functioning on Tuesday (after the end of the current fiscal year).
The underlying differences, even if resolved at the last-minute, will unfortunately not dissipate. Instead, they are likely to spill over onto the debt ceiling fight that will rage in October.
All this is occurring when you would have thought that Congress would have learned an important lesson from the debt ceiling of debacle of 2011: It is irresponsible to expose a still-fragile economy to unnecessary disruptions and additional self-inflicted wounds.
... which transitions quite nicely to the second notable headline: "Achieving American dream fades as a certainty form many." This leads a data-backed article that importantly demonstrates the difficulties faced by so many Americans -- not only in meeting legitimate (individual and family) aspirations, but also in the more immediate challenge of making ends meet.
Five years after the global financial crisis, the U.S. economy is yet to achieve escape velocity. As a result the majority of those surveyed report that: they find it harder to pay for college (77 percent), find good jobs (74 percent), save for retirement (71 percent), get ahead financially (66 percent), afford healthcare (64 percent), provide for children (58 percent) and find decent, affordable housing (54 percent).
That is quite a list given that the economy has been healing steadily. Indeed, success in avoiding an economic depression after the onset of the global financial crisis, and in containing a great recession thereafter, has not translated into a robust broad-based recovery for most Americans.
Simply put, recent economic gains have been insufficient in scale and scope; and they have been overly concentrated in benefiting the already-rich and the comfortably-secure, thereby worsening already-concerning income and wealth inequalities.
All this speaks to another ongoing reality: the gulf between a public sector that is both unwilling and unable to adapt, and a private sector that ultimately has no choice but to do so due to the forces of innovation and competition -- whether it likes it or not, and whether it can be done well or involve too much human suffering.
This issue is partially illustrated by the third headline: "Don Graham and the shifting fortune of an industry":
The decision by the Graham family to sell the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos (Amazon's brilliant founder and CEO) underscores the extent to which ongoing technological change is turning whole industries upside down, and will continue to do so.
Visionary business leaders -- and, seemingly, unlike today's Congress -- know that active inertia (namely, responding to a paradigm change by just attempting to do the same things, just more actively) is not a viable response in the long-run. Instead, leaders have to broaden their mindsets and expand the set of possible business reactions, including by considering previous-unthinkables.
The mention of unthinkables takes us to the next headline: "Empty stomach? Try filling up at a gas station."
A confluence of competitive, social and cost-reducing practices has enabled gas stations to serve an expanding menu of food items, including some healthy alternatives. In an increasing number of cases, we are no longer restricted to candy bars, chips, pretzels and a limited selection of rapidly-aging sandwiches.
Finally, the least consequential yet notable front page headline from Sunday's Post: "Redskins are desperate for a win as they head to Oakland." (Apologies to Redskins' fan, including some wonderful friends and acquaintances.)
Washington's favorite team has started the season 0-3 ... despite having one of the most gifted, versatile, and exciting athletes to ever play the key quarterback position (Robert Griffin III).
This unanticipated poor start is a cause for concern in the nation's capital even though the team plays in what has become the weakest NFL division (collectively, the four once-competitive teams have only 3 wins as compared to 9 losses, and this includes some games they have played against each other!). And anxiety is high even though the Redskins face this week a perennial under-achiever in the Oakland Raiders. Since the start of the 2003 season, Oakland has lost a total of 113 games. Indeed, it is one of the few teams that makes my challenged-Jets look good (unfortunately only in relative terms).
Each of these headlines was deemed rather unlikely just a few months ago. Yet they appear simultaneously and, some, rather ominously. But they need not all end badly. Indeed, I am reminded by another "headline" on this plane as it starts its landing procedures.
The illuminated overhead signals above each row -- you know, the one containing the seat belt notification -- no longer remind us not to smoke. Instead, they inform us when we can (and cannot) use electronics.
This speaks to two positive realities for the vast majority of people on this and other planes: second-hand smoke is no longer an intense health menace in such enclosed spaces; and fun- and productivity-enhancing electronics are now broadly-available.
Now, electronics off and -- hopefully -- wheels down for a smooth landing!