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Archive for December, 2009

Entering 2010: New Year’s Wishes and Resolutions

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

A very merry Christmas / And a happy new year / Let’s hope it’s a good one / Without any fear —John Lennon, Yoko Ono, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

new-pagePositive Wishes, Sincere Resolutions

We’ll see if we still feel so new and happy and resolved when the champagne wears off, but while the new year buzz is on we want to wish all our readers (past, present, and future) good health and a little more security and prosperity, and a little less stress. But, because security, prosperity, and freedom from stress are not the hallmarks of our time, we wish you at least the strength to endure the hard parts and greater enjoyment and appreciation of the good times. We knew 2009 was not going to be easy (see our prognostications here) but did not anticipate quite how nasty it could get. It may get worse yet. In that case, we’ll need good cheer, confidence, and plenty of activism to keep us warm and in the frame of mind that can handle adversity.

As for our resolutions: We resolve to work harder and smarter to keep our readers informed about matters of infrastructure and environment—especially concerning New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast—and about war and peace. We’ll keep the pressure on elected officials in Louisiana and in Washington to take better care of the people and the land, to spend less on war and private contractors and more on flood protection, infrastructure, health care, education, jobs programs, and environmental protection.

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Best Wishes for a Green and Peaceful Christmas Present

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

And Hoping for a More Prosperous New Year for All

christmas-present“The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there. . . . Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreathes of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. . . . there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn. . . . Its dark brown curls were long and free: free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.” —Charles Dickens, “The Second of the Three Spirits,” A Christmas Carol (1843)

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Dickens is a hard act to follow, so we’ll be brief. For the holiday season and in the new year to come we wish you and your families and friends good cheer, good health, and prosperity. We wish for the “living green” that animates the spirit of Christmas Present, and for the peace symbolized by his rusted, empty scabbard. Not war, not greed, but abundance, fertility, and kindness to all, including the earth that gives us life.

We also send a special prayer for the security and safe return of U.S. military personnel stationed far from home, and for the many homeless and jobless here and abroad: May the new year treat you better, and may you have strength and good (better) fortune in equal measure.

Previous years’ Christmas and New Year’s wishes can be found here and here—these wishes we still pray for, and continue to work for.

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A word about our previous post, “Winter of Our Discontent.” We certainly didn’t want to bring anyone down—especially at a time of year when everyone seeks (and deserves) “comfort and joy,” solace and good cheer—but it’s our view that happiness is best attained by identifying what is making us sad. Then the remedy begins. And so, comfort, good cheer, and joy to all.

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“Winter of Our Discontent”

Monday, December 21st, 2009

A_Christmas_Carol_08In the already-dark of the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter, rather than denying the obvious it feels appropriate to acknowledge a certain lowness of spirits, a mood that the holidays will warm temporarily but not dispel altogether. “Winter of our discontent” (besides opening Shakespeare’s Richard III) was the title of a fund-raising e-mail The Nation sent out last week, and the phrase pretty well describes the mood. This time last year, even though it felt like the U.S. and global economy was spinning down into an abyss, there was much hope in the air because of the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. (It felt almost too good to be true.) Now, the mood is not what one would call elation, or hopeful. “Yes we can” feels like a long time ago.

The Senate Democrats are moving along with their health reform bill, but it is hard to know what to think about it. A few conservative, corporate Democrats and a certain self-styled independent have been posing a greater danger to the ultimate passage than the whole united bloc of intransigent Republicans. So far, since Saturday, the Democrats have held together with the filibuster-proof 60 votes, and many of the outspoken progressive, liberal voices who were critical this time last week are holding their fire, realizing that if this fails, much more we hold dear could crash and burn besides. (Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo lays out the steps toward passage.)

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Obama, Lieberman, Emanuel—
All Skewered as Not “Tough Enough to Govern”

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Joe Conason in a hard-hitting Truthout op-ed rips Joe Lieberman for demanding, and President Obama and his chief of staff and “self-styled tough guy from Chicago” Rahm Emanuel for bowing to the gutting of the elements of real reform in the Senate health care legislation:

By bowing to Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his obstructive pals in both parties on health care reform, President Obama has confirmed what Republicans always say about Democrats: They simply aren’t strong enough to govern. Or at least the Democrats elected last year—and their colleagues in the Senate leadership—don’t seem to be.

Their moment of truth came when Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff and self-styled tough guy from Chicago, urged the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, to strip out the most progressive aspects of the proposed health care reform bill in order to appease Lieberman. Unless the Connecticut senator got his way, he threatened to join a Republican filibuster—conniving with a political minority to kill reforms that a majority of Americans has wanted and needed for decades.

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Copenhagen Climate Accord Better Than Nothing
(Sound Familiar?)

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

First they put the planet in square brackets, now they have deleted it from the text. At the end it was no longer about saving the biosphere: it was just a matter of saving face. As the talks melted down, everything that might have made a new treaty worthwhile was scratched out. Any deal would do, as long as the negotiators could pretend they have achieved something.George Monbiot, “Copenhagen Negotiators Bicker and Filibuster While the Biosphere Burns,” The Guardian (UK)

Countdown-CopenhagenThe grudging and minimalist agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen between the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa to take steps “to reduce global emissions so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius” over the next century was something—but, as with other collective bargaining agreements we could mention—disappointed most participants. A deal was worked out among major emitters of greenhouse gases to curb those emissions, to provide financial assistance (a Copenhagen Green Climate Fund) for developing nations to build clean-energy economies, and to try to ameliorate the effects of climate change on states that are particularly at risk.

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Senate Dems, Stop: Go to Reconciliation (51 Votes)

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

“Not Health, Not Care, Not Reform”

Ed. Note: The writer of this post volunteered for about a half-dozen Organizing for America phone banks to ask voters to call their senators to press for a public option.

The Senate Democrats’ over-compromised health reform legislation should be killed, and efforts should turn now to a reconciliation process by which only 51 votes would be needed. Take the best elements still remaining—the health insurance exchange idea, and funding for prevention and wellness and for community health care centers—and add in universal access to Medicare, and put it up for a vote through reconciliation. You can keep your present policy if you like it, but you’d have the option of going with Medicare whether you’re 22 or 64. (We concede that 51 votes may not be attainable, but chances are good, especially if, for a change, the president will seriously push for it.)

Dr DeanThe reconciliation route is a strategy that the good doctor and health reform leader Gov. Howard Dean has been recommending for months and is pressing for now with renewed vigor—and freaking out the Obama White House and Senate Democratic leadership. (Dean is not saying give up: see his op-ed in the Washington Post here.) The reconciliation process may sound arcane, but as a rule-abiding way of bypassing Senate filibusters it has been used almost 30 times since 1980, including for budget- and health-care related legislation such as COBRA for health-care insurance portability, expanded eligibility for Medicaid, and the state Children’s Health Insurance Program (better known as S-CHIP). It was also used by congressional Republicans to pass the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts that mainly benefited the upper-income tax brackets. It is time to use it again . . . for the public good.

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Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

we must rebuild our strength here at home . . . . the nation that I’m most interested in building is our own.” —President Obama, Dec. 1, 2009

NYTWe wanted to take time to try to make sense of President Obama’s speech at West Point last week in which he announced his decision to increase U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by 30,000 over the next six months. We pray he knows what he’s doing. We can only imagine the risks and variables he has been weighing. Because he is a peaceful man by nature (the Nobel may have been awarded at the wrong time but it was not given to the wrong man), we are inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. And yet, even though he knows more than we’re privy to, we are still skeptical. Our favorite lines in the address were those quoted above. Perhaps the most painful part of the speech is its overall contrast with and cancellation of those fine-sounding sentiments.

There are truly no good options—all are fraught with unacceptable consequences: 360 degrees of damnation—and yet we feel the president has made a tragically wrong decision. Even though we were impressed by his methodical and deliberative approach to a maddeningly complex issue, and even though it is theoretically possible that with unlimited time, money, and the blessings of fortune this new “Way Forward” can work, we do not believe it will. There is too much reliance on military force, too many moving parts that have to come together just so. (There is a saying that whenever you have two Afghans you have at least three factions.) Of course the generals say they can do it—give ’em enough troops  and they’ll promise you anything. Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker that Obama would have faced “a probable Pentagon revolt” had he chosen to withdraw starting now, and if such a decision had been followed by a large-scale terrorist attack he would face “savage, politically lethal scapegoating.” Very likely. This is the situation we’re in. Nicholas Kristof observes in his New York Times column that amid all the president’s consultations of experts, one important set of players not consulted were the tribal elders of Afghanistan. Without their cooperation, nothing will work.

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“We Need Strong Leadership” on Health Care Reform

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

Talking Points Memo reports that Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus, released a statement Tuesday that calls “troubling” the White House and Senate Democrats’ compromises on the public option—by this point a mere shadow of the original idea (itself a compromise short of universal coverage). Senate leaders and the White House, said Grijalva,

have already compromised far too much. At some point in this process, the question became not what was the best policy for the American people, but what could be done to appease a recalcitrant handful who have negotiated in bad faith. We need strong leadership so close to the finish line, not efforts to water down a bill to the breaking point in a misguided attempt to win votes that were never there.

The House of Representatives voted on its bill on November . Since that vote, the action has been in the Senate. The action has consisted mainly of compromises and wrangling with stubborn “conserva-Dems” such as Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln, and “independent” Joe Lieberman, and continued courting of the Republicans from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. As of this week, the Senate seems to be moving toward creating a nonprofit board rather than a truly public option (which Lieberman has said he will not vote for, no matter how watered down it may be). Grijalva says of the nonprofit board idea:

A non-public option without government support will not bring down prices, expand coverage or provide competition for private companies. . . . Voters will instantly recognize it as a whitewash of the problem we have spent the better part of this year trying to fix. They would be right to criticize any plan that fails to address their concerns, and they will be doubly right to reject this one.

We need a public option, period. . . . I cannot support a system that forces Americans to buy private insurance and then allows those companies to collect government subsidies without competition. Our final health care bill should be based on policy outcomes and the needs of consumers, and the direction the Senate is taking does not give me confidence.