The unemployment game (5×8 – 9/13/11)

Can you make ends meet, Owatonna Ted revealed, preserving a history of shame, Alzheimer’s and the baby boomer, and balloon popping 101.



You’re one of 14 million unemployed Americans, you’ve lost the house, you’ve got $1,000 left. Can you make it through the month?

Urban Ministries of Durham, a faith-based organization “that provides food, shelter, and clothing to those in need in Durham, North Carolina,” created an online game months ago to help people identify with the problems faced by the unemployed.

It says something, perhaps, that we need games to get us to think about these issues, but that’s the way we are. The game presents a series of challenges that require tough choices about work, where you live and what you can provide your family. Each decision leads to consequences.

Do you smash the kids’ piggybank for $15? Donate plasma?

Play it here. (h/t: Erica Mauter, Julia Schrenkler)


Ted has been found. Yesterday, we told you about “Ted from Owatonna,” who was driving by a Faribault house, noticed it was on fire, stopped to put it out, and then left without revealing his true identity.

He’s Ted Leon, the Faribault Daily News/Owatonna People’s Press has revealed.

“I looked in the window and I could see a little girl with her back to the door,” Leon said. “So, I broke the screen and pounded on the window. It was very hot by then. I was concerned because I didn’t know what was on fire. If there was a grill with a propane tank, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it.”

Once Leon was satisfied Kristin Klocek and her daughter — the girl Leon saw — were aware of the fire and leaving the home, he jumped off the deck and ran to the side of the house. He saw a water spigot so he turned it on, grabbed the hose and ran.

Why didn’t he stay around for the accolades? He was late for church, the paper reported.

“It’s nice to be able to put your faith into practice and help someone,” he told Minnesota Prairie Roots.

More fire: “This fire is a monster,” an MPR listener from Ely wrote overnight. The wildfire in the BWCA. “The reports I hear say it is up to 70,000 acres! We will pass the Ham Lake fire in a day if that’s the case. It has gone 16 miles east in just 8 hours today! ” Roger Nyquist said.

How did it start? This way. Jeff Niemasz of Minneapolis was camping on nearby Malberg Lake the night the fire started.

Storm on Malberg Lake from Jeff Niemasz on Vimeo.

The fire exploded yesterday and is now burning outside the wilderness, too. Fire officials last night said they didn’t have the proper resources to fight it, the Duluth News Tribune reports. Find images here.

Meanwhile, in Logan Utah yesterday, a motorcyclist was rescued from beneath a burning car by people passing by.

There are heroes all around us, of course. Stephen Colbert reports…3) WHEN HISTORY IS SHAMEFUL, SHOULD IT BE PRESERVED?


France has a dilemma. Should Adolph Hitler’s Atlantic Wall be preserved as part of the country’s heritage? Many sections have already slipped into the sea and its history lost forever, the BBC reports. But when the last World War I veteran died a few years ago, interest in preserving disappearing World War II history intensified.

But, the BBC says, doing so is reminder of France’s dark involvement…

The fortifications were after all German fortifications – emblems to the French of their own national humiliation. But there is more to it than that – the Wall was not just a symbol of defeat – but of collaboration.

“A lot of French construction companies got very rich out of building the Wall,” said Jerome Prieur, author of a 2010 book, Le Mur Atlantique.

“After the war, France needed those same companies for the task of reconstruction. So no-one said anything. There was a wilful blindness, in which everyone was complicit.”


From time to time on NewsCut, we hear from a younger generation that considers Baby Boomers the generation that ruined the country and their own futures.

Maybe our contribution to them may come from the way we die. Thanks to our abundance, and the abundance of us with dementia, we have “a unique opportunity, maybe an opportunity of a lifetime in a sense, to really have an impact on this disease,” says Dr. Ronald Petersen of the Mayo Clinic, who chairs a committee that later this month begins advising the government on what that plan should include. The Associated Press has the story today.

While we were paying attention to political debates with silly talking points, thousands — tens of thousands — of people who provide care to Alzheimer’s victims have been turning out at town meetings to urge a national strategy be developed.

They demand to know why the National Institutes of Health spends about six times more on AIDS research than on Alzheimer’s, when there are good drugs to battle back the HIV virus but nothing comparable for dementia.

Overwhelmingly, they ask for resources to help Alzheimer’s patients live their last years at home without ruining their caregivers’ own health and finances.

“Either you’re rich and can afford $25 an hour for care at home, or you send him to a facility. We’re in the middle of the road,” says Shirley Rexrode of suburban San Francisco, whose 85-year-old father, Hsien-Wen Li, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nearly three years ago.

Related: Researchers are reporting encouraging results of a nasal spray containing insulin.

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.


This is the time of the year when last year’s high school seniors head off to college and start posting pictures on Facebook of their team-building activities just prior to the start of classes.

At the University of Minnesota yesterday, they tried to set the world record for popping balloons.

There is a lesson in this — a metaphor, you might say — though offhand we don’t know exactly what it is.

Bonus: This video from last night’s debate is making the rounds on the InterTubes:

But the question was flawed and, as such, so is the interpretation. It would have been better if “a healthy 30-year-old,” had been substituted by “a 70-year old with Parkinson’s” or “a four-year-old daughter of a woman who is in a shelter because she was beaten by her husband.”

Historically, taking care of “the most vulnerable” has been something many people agree on as a legitimate role for the government, at least more so than “taking care of the healthy.” Over the last few years, the definition of who constitutes “the most vulnerable” among us has been shifting, yet few questioners are asking for a particular candidate’s definition of what that means.

The question Wolf Blitzer asked last night could’ve been modified to answer it and provide something more substantive.


Social Security is a hot topic in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. One candidate has called the program a “monstrous lie” and a “Ponzi scheme.” Today’s Question: Are you counting on Social Security to be there when you need it?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – – First hour: As the President focused on a jobs bill, one of the underlying causes of the recession is getting less attention. How will homeowners, banks and the government dig out of America’s housing crisis?

Second hour: Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez have hit the road to promote their new film “The Way,” which depicts a father’s attempt to complete a pilgrimage started by his son. The real-life father and son join Midmorning to discuss the film and the family business.

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution explains the past, present and future of Social Security.

Second hour: Broadcast of the GOP presidential debate sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express in Tampa

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) First hour: Israel under siege.

Second hour: Playwright Tony Kushner

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – At the close of the 20th Century, Roger Ebert was was among the most influential voices in the film business. His review could result in long lines at the box office or shorten some movie’s runs. Now cancer has robbed Ebert of his voice but he continues to churn out reviews and enjoy movies. NPR visits with Ebert.

  • That question could have used an edit to be a little more substantive and less of a “gotcha”

  • Bob Collins

    I think a lot of these national types who moderate the debates have been framing questions like this since the great “if your wife is raped” question to Mike Dukakis.

    To me, however, it reaffirms my belief that the media can’t relate to anyone who isn’t mainstream. “A healthy 30-year-old,” you know, the people in the target demo for CNN.

  • Josh

    Like you said yesterday Bob, I doubt Ken Lewis will be living like those depicted by the Urban Ministries, but I am sure some people are living that way because of BOA.

  • Erica

    While I agree that the question could and should have been asked differently, I can’t believe people would CHEER at just letting a person die.

    What if said person HAD insurance, but his accident was so bad that it caused him to reach his insurance cap quickly, when his cap is reached the doctor walks in and says “Oops, sorry, your insurance ran out, we gotta pull the plug”, pulls the plug and the guy dies? Seriously? THAT’S the type of world these people want to live in?

  • matt

    It seems we are still stuck on seeing the govt as the only way to care for the most vulnerable. We seem to forget Shriners, Sertoma, the countless spaghetti feeds held at Legion and Lions clubs across the state, etc. It seems that by leaving it to society there are so many ways that the problems can be faced an conquered.

    “Get the govt out of it” is not the same as “Don’t do it”

  • Bob Collins

    Yeah, maybe. But as with most valuable coverage of politicians, it’s more a case of not asking them to explain their own words.

    Anyone can make a speech — as these people will once we’re past the conventions — about taking care of the most vulnerable. But the missing link is a definition of what is “most vulnerable.”

    That doesn’t preclude a discussion about the old fraternal groups (most of which are dying, by the way) involvement. It merely asks politicians to reconcile their words with their actions in a more intellectual way.

    Now, to your point, sure if you have clarity of thought you can — as a former Human Services commissioner once suggested — “be more ingenius” when it comes to solving your problems. If you’re a 14 year old throwaway with an IQ of 67, I’m not exactly sure of a logical process for that to happen.

  • matt

    @ Bob – We are fortunate to live in a time when most politicians can expand on the soundbite via books, blogs and podcasts. Trouble is that a good number of people either choose not to look to deeply or contain their consumption to only what will reinforce their opinions.

  • wow. that SPENT game is eye-opening. thanks Bob.

  • matt

    “If you’re a 14 year old throwaway with an IQ of 67, I’m not exactly sure of a logical process for that to happen.” – they don’t have the logical process now either. You seem to assume that society (people and resources without violence) cannot be as comprehensive as govt (people and resources with violence)…where is the pixie dust that allows govt to be better than society?

  • Heather

    Spaghetti feeds? Really?

    The assumption that churches and civic groups can take care of us relies on another assumption — that we are all tapped into them. I know that if my husband or I got really sick, we’d be hosed in that regard; we’re transplants, and the likelihood of enough people in our new location getting involved to help us seems very slim to me. I would MUCH rather be able to rely on more systemic support than hope that enough strangers randomly step in to help pay major medical expenses. Do I trust you to help me afford treatment for whatever might befall me? Absolutely not.

    I love the video of the people helping each other to rescue that motorcyclist, but I can’t help but wonder what happened to him next…

  • “where is the pixie dust that allows govt to be better than society?”

    I don’t believe they are different. Government is the vehicle that society has set up to provide for these things. The choices that we have made throughout our history established medicare, medicaid, social security, etc. and have set us on the path that we will provide for those who need assistance.

    You can argue if government handles its approach the most efficiently, but the same argument can be made about any of the other groups that provide resources to those in need.

  • Heather

    Also, not everyplace in the US is Minnesota, and the candidates are talking about NATIONAL solutions to NATIONAL problems. We lived on the east coast for ten years, and when we moved here, the signs up for spaghetti feeds, pancake suppers, etc. were just as foreign as the ones for meat raffles. As in, what the heck is a meat raffle? And I grew up in the midwest, so I can say with confidence that those things aren’t even common to all midwestern states.

    What I gathered from seeing them was not that people really help each other out here, but that many people here don’t have jobs that provide adequate insurance coverage.

  • matt

    @Matt B, I don’t know that society set govt up as the vehicle as much as govt overtook society, a very important distinction.


    Yes really. Getting govt out of health care doesn’t mean don’t carry insurance. When your mortgage is paid off and the bank does not require you to carry insurance any more do you just stop paying? Up until ACA there was no requirement to carry health insurance but millions did of their own free will in order to cover medical costs what do you see different? So now we are left with those who are uninsured, either through choice or circumstance. We pay for them now either through higher fees to providers who share those costs with patients who can afford it, or through taxes – how do jump to the notion that everyone would just stop contributing to the welfare of others? Given the choice between a doctor that costs 10% more but give pro bono care to those in need and another doctor with lower prices that turns people away who would you choose?

    Ever notice that govt doesn’t compel us to give blood but that system still works? We rely on those random people everyday don’t we?

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t know if helping each other is necessarily a Midwestern value.

    I moved out here from the Berkshires — pretty much the playground of New York — and the little radio station I ran tapped into all of those sorts of things cited.

    There was Jared’s Jamboree, that raised money for the kid with leukemia. There was the radiothon when we sold hot dogs for $1 to raise money for kids with cancer and netted $20,000 on one day because people didn’t want to give just a dollar and they didn’t want to eat more than one hot dog.

    There was the time our station was turned into a department store the day after the fire that wiped out the corn Crib vegetable stand, and the people in the apartments over it. People donated to get them back on their feet.

    There were the fundraisers for HospiceCare of the South Berkshires.

    And on…and on… and on.

    It’s less a regional thing that it is a “community” thing and I don’t think there’s any argument to be made that we are less communal than at any time in our history.

    I blame central air conditioning.

  • Bob Collins

    // .where is the pixie dust that allows govt to be better than society?

    the same place is was on 9/11 when “the government” ran up into a burning building while society was running out.

  • matt

    So you are saying that those firefighters and first responders only would have done that if their paycheck came from tax dollars? It was not their hearts and their devotion but rather their employer?

    But we can meander down that road…why did AQ attack those buildings? Hatred of the building? Mad at Joe in accounting? Dislike of investment bankers? No, we all know it was hatred of our foreign policy. If we get govt out of healthcare, retirement funds and economic tinkering and we leave them just to defense we would be a lot more scrupulous and critical of their constant offense. They buy a lot of votes with other peoples money that allows them to bomb Libya, Iraq and others.

  • Bob Collins

    //So you are saying that those firefighters and first responders only would have done that if their paycheck came from tax dollars?

    If I were saying that, I would have said that.

    I’m saying there’s a legitimate question to be raised about whether there is a moral role for government (the non religious morality) in the absence of — not in place of — society as a whole?

    To steer this back to the original point and away from the campaigning, those who now appear to be saying there isn’t, in the past have said there is.

    My point — and what I’m saying — is that that should be revealed in declarative terms and specific terms.

    If it’s not the case, than a further definition is called for.

  • matt

    So we go back to to my 9:39 post…the failure lies in basing desicions on a single debate or worse yet a clip of a single debate. Paul has dealt with insurance and medical, declaratively (Liberty Defined, 2011 being the most recent example) including defining insurance and the difference between that and transfer payments, as well as corporatism – the two ways that govt has distorted health care. Add that to his speeches in Congress and his other writings and there should be no confusion on his position – at least attributable to him. The biggest stumbling point for Paul is his pragmatism – we cannot move from a statist country to a libertarian country in 1 step. So you don’t end SS today, you phase it out over time. Spaghetti dinners do not work tomorrow as health care for the masses but it can work in 20 years (at least as a part of the solution) but the reclaiming of that responsibility must be as gradual as govt’s encroachment was.

    I can see your argument against Rick Perry who published a book this year and is already walking it back. Paul may just be another crazy libertarian but at least he is consistently crazy.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Here’s a possible future scenario: The merciful government steps in to take care of severely ailing, at one time financially able 30 yr old John Q. Public, who didn’t quite understand the concept of insurance.

    In order to pay for John’s care, the government harvests one of his remaining functioning organs and sells it on the Chinese black market. Thus, saving once silly but now wiser John’s life, recouping costs, and placating our severe but practical overlords.

    A win-win-win if ever there was one.

  • lucy

    A Miracle Jim!

    I think you just solved the meeting-the-mortgage-payments and other cost-crises like it for millions of struggling Americans.

    Do you have a link for that Chinese black market so that i can look up the Big-Ticket-Organs?

    I know for a fact most Americans have already sold their soul.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Lucy – unfortunately, I seem to have lost the contact info for Previously Owned OrgansR’Us, but if anybody has a soul that they’re interested in marketing, military recruiters and affiliated industries are buying, and many law schools are still promising lucrative future earnings. 🙂

  • Jennifer

    I just wanted to address the whole gov’t vs. charity argument.

    The fact that people step in to help others (in whatever form it takes), is indeed respectable and noble. However, if we relied on spaghetti feeds to provide all of the medical care people couldn’t afford, we’d all be eating spaghetti for every single meal.

    Apart from that, it is much easier to get people to turn out for a benefit to help pay for a cancer patient’s treatment than I imagine it would be to a fundraiser to pay for someone’s yearly physical, dental check-up, colonoscopy, MRI, x-rays, ambulance bill, blood pressure medication, etc.

    The argument of government vs. charity is a false dichotemy. The needs of our citizens our great and if we want to provide for them, it’s going to take the work of both.

  • Heather

    Standing ovation for Jennifer.

    Bob, I didn’t mean to say that there’s no generousity on the East Coast. However, the benefit-type activities were run by organizations — schools, a TV station, etc. — and were held on behalf of causes, not individuals. I’ve lived in Iowa, Washington state, Colorado, and Maryland, but my first encounter with the spaghetti dinner to help with an individual’s medical bills was in Wisconsin.

    I have a friend whose adolescent son is commercially uninsurable because he was diagnosed with a brain tumor a couple of years ago. This summer, he needed surgery, and the cost of his care was roughly $1.2 million (one heck of a pancake feed!). His mother freely states that he owes his life to government insurance programs, and fears what will happen to him as an uninsurable adult.

  • matt

    @Jennifer and Heather,

    Spaghetti feeds were an example of ways that we currently help those whose lives are touched by monumental circumstances. It is useful because it shows that as society we are willing to do small things to achieve big things.

    The full answer is bigger – insurance, removing encumbrances from the market (deregulation, doing away with patent law, malpractice reform…these three alone probably would have cut the cost from $1.2MM by 75%), charity, and other things that we have not even thought of yet.

    One answer might be that for a group of people you come up with a comprehensive system that is equal to what the govt offers now, you are no worse off. The problem is right now you demand that everyone else be a part of it, nobody can walk away and say “not me”.

    I say no to a medical system that allows drug companies to make millions for combining a few chemicals and nobody else can combine them. I say no to a medical system that will pay for transplants but not anti-rejection drugs, resulting in more transplants when there are not enough organs to begin with. I say no to a system that allows companies to make riches selling diabetes supplies at above market rates because the customer has no incentive to watch costs because medicare will pick the cost up. I say no to a system that allows frivilous lawsuits that change practice from “common sense” to “cover your ass”.

    When you support a system that has the power to sieze property and imprison people for not playing by your rules the burden of proof is a whole lot higher than dismissing the alternatives.