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The new America
by Ann McFeatters
Block News Alliance


January 29, 2005

Washington - Life in America under George W. Bush has changed. And the changes will keep on coming, as Vice President Cheney says, "big time."

Taking off our shoes and coats in airports, being frisked by Transportation Security Administration agents, letting the feds find out what books we check out of the library and finding it more difficult to get student loans - small potatoes.

The government is determined to make us change our eating habits because 65 percent of us are overweight. The Agriculture Department is spending $1.6 million on a contract with a public-relations firm to "motivate and educate consumers to make healthy food choices." New guidelines say we have to eat nine or even 13 servings a day of fruits and vegetables, less than a teaspoon of salt and no more than eight teaspoons of sugar a day (thus drastically limiting all sweets). Don't even think of eating a doughnut.

And while you're at it, spend more time brushing your teeth, admonishes one federal Web site, and washing your hands.

The government also says we have to start reading those small-print labels on food packages. It's now up to us to know what's in processed food. We have to know what trans-fats are and what foods have too much cholesterol. We have to be able to tell a whole-grain product from one with refined grain. We have to be able to figure out when a low-fat food is good for us. Then we have to go home and cook it properly.

The government (think Big - but physically fit - Brother) also now says we must exercise from 60 to 90 minutes a day. The good news is that we can do it in 10-minute intervals, when we aren't working or sleeping or washing and cutting up fruits and vegetables.

If Bush prevails on his plans for overhauling Social Security, we'll have to start reading up on investment strategies so we won't squander the "personal investment accounts" that we'll have to set up instead of receiving all of our Social Security benefits. Then we'll have to monitor those investments, trying to second-guess the experts, to make certain we don't end up homeless and destitute in our old age. We'll probably all be subscribing to The Wall Street Journal and watching "Wall Street Week" and worrying that the guy in the next cubicle is investing with more savvy than we are.

But our job won't stop there. Bush wants us to "own" our own health-care plans as a way of cutting costs. He wants us to set aside money for health-savings accounts and learn how to take care of ourselves so we don't get sick. We can then use our savings accounts for something else, such as fruits and vegetables.

The Federal Communications Commission says we must not hear or see indecency or raunchiness over the airwaves, and has taken steps to make certain we don't. Mammoth fines and other punishments have been thrown against potty-mouthed radio shock jocks, the singer Bono (who uttered a one-word expletive when he won a Golden Globe award) and perpetrators of wardrobe malfunctions. While this has made many parents happy, some civil libertarians are getting nervous, wondering where it might lead.

In our 40 hours of weekly discretionary time, Bush wants us to volunteer to help our less fortunate neighbors. There's a federal bureaucracy to encourage us to do this. And the president hopes to persuade Congress to shell out federal money for faith-based initiatives or church-related do-good projects. This way, the government can spend less on social programs, and there will be more opportunities for us to volunteer.

If you're in the National Guard or the military, you already know that more is expected of you. You might well do time, a lot of time, in Iraq or Afghanistan. And your family members will be on their own.

As for the rest of us, the government tells us we have a responsibility to be observant, to report anything out of the ordinary, to be wary, to have emergency supplies on hand, to conduct family drills and have escape routes and rallying points in the event of a disaster. We used to be regarded as a friendly, outgoing, trusting people. But after 9/11, the government wants us to be more suspicious of others.

There are many more examples of how we're changing - sometimes for the good, sometimes not. Let's hope that in a few years we are still able to recognize something of our old selves.



Ann McFeatters is Washington bureau chief of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Toledo Blade. E-mail amcfeatters(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service

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