The State of Hope – September, 2009

[The following article is featured in the September issue of the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Voice.]

August is supposed to be a “slow” news month, but the one that  just ended was a busy one indeed, and the news not particularly encouraging.

Perhaps my favorite item was the Federal Reserve’s prediction that we might be headed toward a “jobless recovery.” Excuse me, but what exactly is a “jobless recovery?”

Probably a lot like what we saw over the summer: the newly recovered big  banks raking in record, multi-billion dollar profits and paying out huge bonuses to themselves, while at the same time home foreclosures continued at a record pace, and the economy shed hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But September is a fresh start, in many ways just as important as New Year’s, maybe even more so. We come home from vacations, we re-engage in our work,  start new projects and our kids begin a new school year.  It is a time of hope and change, like all new beginnings should be.  And as we enter this crucially important season it’s important to consider: where are the hope and change we voted for last fall?

Bank bailouts and the crippled economy persist as major bummers, to be sure. And these realities are not unconnected to the economic advisers President Obama has surrounded himself with, high rollers who come from the banks themselves and who helped create the financial crisis in the first place. Not surprisingly, the prospects of re-regulating the banks, to prevent another such calamity from occurring, seem to be dwindling with each passing month.

Ending the war in Iraq was supposed to be another point of hope for us, but what’s going on there? A slow motion withdrawal from that country has been coupled with a massive expansion of forces in Afghanistan, which is quickly becoming Obama’s Vietnam.

Military spending is up. Unmanned Predator drone attacks are way up. Civilian and military deaths are up.  The Obama Administration announced last month it will continue the Bush era practice of renditions, or sending terror suspects to other countries for “interrogation.” They even continue to employ Blackwater, the infamous private fundamentalist paramilitary operation populated by former Bush friends and officials.

Okay – how about the all-important battle against climate change? After years of delay and denial in the Bush Administration, this is another issue on which many of us had high hopes.

And yet  the Democratic-controlled House – one in which two Maryland Representatives, Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen, are top leaders –  produced a climate and energy bill so compromised and corrupted by big oil and coal interests that NASA climatologist James Hansen, one of the world leaders in calling for dramatic action to confront global warming, denounced it as a “disaster ” and “less than worthless.” Many are expecting it could get even worse in the Senate – if anything even passes this year at all.

On related environmental fronts, the mindless process of blowing off mountain tops to remove the coal underneath will continue relatively unabated under the Obama Administration, which also recently okayed the deal to build a tar sands pipeline from Canada – tar sands being the most environmentally destructive way yet discovered to produce oil. (And the possible final nail in our climate change coffin.)

And what, finally, of the health care debate?

On this issue, August was truly a month of bizarre and surreal spectacles –  town hall meetings that turned into shouting matches, with Medicare-recipients demanding that government stay out of their health care (??), while  gun-toting patriots kept vigil outside. (At events with the President, no less; remember how they used to arrest you at Bush events just for wearing an anti-war T-shirt?)

The contribution by members of Congress hasn’t been that much better. Republicans for the most part have been fear-mongering cheerleaders, escalating hysteria with the most inflammatory accusations in an attempt to destroy any reform, while Democrats, with a few bright exceptions (such as our own Donna Edwards), are playing their usual role in big policy debates – confused, spineless, and all over the map.

So much so, it turns out, that there are key Democrats in the Senate who probably want to see real health care reform defeated almost as much as Republicans. (Hint: they take millions of dollars from the insurance industry too.)

How it will all turn out this fall is anyone’s guess, but as August closed and September starts, Obama and much of the Democratic party leadership seems perfecly willing to give up on a strong public health insurance option – already a major compromise from a single payer system, and the only policy component that would prevent the whole reform effort from being yet another massive giveaway to corporations (hello – drug companies making $300 billion a year are being asked to contribute a mere $8 billion a year in “savings” to the effort?). And this is happening largely because President Obama started to back away from it in his own public speeches, referring to it as only a “sliver” of the reform agenda.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the utter lack of fight evidenced by the President and many Democrats. You fight for what you truly believe in, but on the issues above, can you name anything – anything – they have been willing to go to the mat for? And they control Congress, for goodness sake!

The activist right-wingers are often accused of being out of touch with basic facts, and we’ve seen plenty of them. But right now it takes an equal disregard for the facts to argue that the Obama Administration and this Congress are pursuing anything remotely resembling a progressive agenda.

So where does that leave our hope? Where it has always been, probably – in our own hands. We cannot depend on this Administration to fight for what we want – on many issues it appears we have to fight against them. We cannot depend on this Democrat-controlled Congress to do it either.

Nope, if we want those things we truly hope for and believe in during these extraordinarily challenging times, we’re the ones who are going to have to fight for them. With the Obama White House, with our members of Congress, and, most importantly, in our own communities.

This is probably not the work most of us were thinking about as we start our fall. But look at it this way – it will keep us busy while we’re looking for jobs.

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