I’m disappointed by the failure of the world to end itself. Oh, there was a lot of build up and a large number of people sold everything they owned in an anticipation of the final days which turned out not to be any more final then you’re average glum Friday morning with a wintry weather mix. No grand explosions, no meteorites laying waste to major cities, no epics of disease nor war. Just another weekday with humanity ticking along (okay, a small hang out in the Pyrenees reputed to be the last safe place on Earth became a wee bit overcrowded), but that was it. Our doomsday clock’s minute hand still rests stoically at about five minutes ’til.
But, given our propensity for fouling things up, there’s still time to get it right next year. Here are a few things to watch out for:
Economic collapse. One thing the Mayans did predict accurately (kind of) was a world cast into economic turmoil about a year or so prior to 12/2012. The TARP bailout may have avoided the worst of that doomsday scenario, but by refusing to provide meaningful economic stimulus; that is, by not advancing projects and funding jobs to offset unemployment so that the people who actually need and spend the money that drives the economy—(as opposed to unregulated banks and quasi bank entities –like AIG — that simply sit on the cash or dole it out to upper management in the form of million dollar bonuses) we’ve guaranteed a long and painfully slow recovery. Still, despite all the media hoopla, in a moderately sane game of political calculation, one could navigate the upcoming fiscal cliff crisis without too much angst. If we could imagine basic sanity in the Republican House, we might assume that they would want to be re-elected and that, consequently, they’d be inclined to passing a bill which raises taxes on those making over half a million while maintaining the current low tax rates for the middle class—which is hugely popular and for which, among other things, Obama won reelection. Or, conversely, they would be willing to pass a tax cut for those who make less than say quarter of a million dollars a year—after the fiscal cliff was crossed. This last scenario is the one I had expected up to a few days ago. But there was something deeply unsettling about House Speaker Boehner’s failure to gain enough votes for even his own ‘Plan B’. Keep in mind, this was the option that allowed tax cuts to remain intact at the remarkably high income level of one million dollars. Of course, with a reasonably rational House, this should have passed no problem. It certainly was more generous than Obama’s top compromising position (which was up to about 400,000 or just under half a million). But Boehner couldn’t even get that through. This is disconcerting. In the game of chicken it’s important to keep in mind that crazy people behind the wheels of moving vehicles may, in fact, be crazy. If Boehner can’t get his caucus to pass something this simple and this favorable, is it possible that when we go over the fiscal cliff (a likely prospect) he won’t be able to muster the votes to pass a middle class tax cut –because it will be perceived as caving in to Obama? That would surely be a drag on our economy—this, in turn, could drag Europe’s economy down and that would make the 2008 banking crisis look like a walk in the park. Just a thought.
But onto cheerier prospects.
Our increasing security state: Within the space of a year (this one) we have seen some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration not only repeated, but effectively embraced and encoded in a way they hadn’t been before. Our guy did this, Obama. He wasn’t forced to — there was no overriding demand for an aggressive enforcement of whistle-blower laws, or the development of a drone kill list, not to mention the ugly assistance of the FBI in breaking up Occupy Wall Street encampments. This was all done in addition to the very ho-hum suspension of Habeas Corpus that we seem to take currently as standard operating procedure. Now the Democratic party has validated the Bush administration’s take on our ‘security’ state and managed to make it worse. Only a handful of progressive voices are raising a cry about it. Journalist Chris Hedges has sued the Obama administration over provisions passed in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)—particularly those that suspend a U.S. citizen’s right to due process and a trial by jury of their peers. Little or no press has been given to his efforts and Bradley Manning is still being held (over a year now) for the crime of dumping documents that revealed war crime activities in Iraq and elsewhere. I suppose now would be a good time to mention that Daniel Ellsberg was later lionized in the national press for the equivalent with his release of the Pentagon Papers four decades earlier. Times have changed, and not for better.
What else can we look forward to?
Environmental collapse: The sky isn’t falling, but our world is overheating – which may be worse. At the same time that the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ has garnered countless media cycles, the latest climate conference was being held in Doha, Qatar with ne’er a peep from our major media outlets. It was a dismal affair to be sure, with no commitment made toward carbon limits or carbon sequestration, and, in fact, original signers to the Kyoto protocol have pulled back with only a cursory promise made for future talks. The hard decisions were kicked down the road again, promising increasing carbon levels and—consequently– increasingly catastrophic weather incidents like Super Storm Sandy. The poor countries will likely bear the brunt of this neglect, while the rich countries hunker down in their SUVs.
So, given this, is there anything hopeful in 2013?
Two incidents from 2012 offer promise. The first, I’ve already mentioned—Super Storm Sandy. Paradoxically, Sandy’s wrath announced the arrival and reality of climate change in a way that climate deniers could no longer deny. Despite millions of dollars from the likes of Exxon seeded throughout conservative think tanks and front groups, something about having the Jersey shore wiped off the map makes pseudo-intellectual talking points much less convincing. Never mind that the majority of climate skeptics or deniers never saw the inside of a peer-reviewed journal, now they have to deal with folks whose million dollar homes have been wiped out by an inexplicable –once in a century—Atlantic ball buster. Only, it’s not once in a century—these storms are becoming more and more frequent, once a month, if not weekly phenomena and people are catching on. Climate change is real. And it’s deadly. And Michael Bloomberg said so. And yeah, we really ought to do something about it.
The other promising incident, perversely, was the national reaction to the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut which has reintroduced gun control into the national debate, despite millions being spent by the NRA to prevent such a discussion. Again, people are seeing the fruits of bad policy. Guns do kill people—and quite effectively. Especially assault weapons with huge magazine clips. Notwithstanding the millions of dollars gun manufacturers have paid the National Rifle Association to deny this fact. There was a bit of luck in this too—Wayne La Pierre’s paranoid response to the incident has made the NRA’s position ridiculous to almost anyone with half a brain who doesn’t own an AR15. The important point that ties these two incidents together? Despite all the money spent by Exxon or the gun manufacturers, or the NRA, despite all the effort by very powerful entities to disguise and distort the debate, people still recognize the underlying problem, the fundamental reality, and are willing to act on it. Money can’t obviate everything. The banks colluded with the FBI and homeland security to break up the Occupy Wall Street encampments, but they could not dismantle the disparate organization itself—nor the spirit it represented. The same holds true for our electoral process where, thanks to the Citizens United decision, we saw corporate sponsors and outside ‘Super PAC’ groups flood the campaign coffers of tea party candidates and conservatives. Despite billions of dollars poured into campaigns across the nation by Cross Roads GPS and the Koch brothers, Democrats retained the Senate handily, increased their numbers in the House (and would have likely won a majority had it not been for extensive Republican gerrymandering) and, of course, re-elected Barack Obama.
But maybe the most hopeful sign in 2012 –almost entirely unreported –and relatively small on the national scale — was the reemergence of Occupy Wall Street in their Rolling Jubilee. Despite, official harassment from the Department of Homeland Security to the local beat cop, Occupy emerged a few months ago with a plan to buy back bad debt from lenders (like Bank of America, etc…) who would normally sell it to collection agencies that in turn would ruthlessly pursue the unlucky debt holder to his or her grave for pennies on the dollar. The average ‘purchase’ of such debt is about a 20 to 1 ratio. As an example, ten dollars would buy you about two hundred dollars worth of debt. Typically, the debt was incurred through no fault of the debtor, came about through a medical problem or some other crisis that our broken system did not work to alleviate. Occupy set up a telethon structure to ‘buy up’ the bad debt, and simply forgive it. They called it the Rolling Jubilee—a sly reference to the biblical Jubilee of Leviticus, where, every seventh, seven-year cycle all debt was forgiven. Coined ‘a bailout of the people, by the people’, their efforts have netted over 522,000 dollars (as of this writing) ‘liberating’ over 10 million dollars of bad debt. Occupy was active on another front too—though again there has been very little press. They were among the first responders offering on the ground assistance in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. They galvanized volunteers from across the state (and nation) and worked hand in hand with local firemen and police to help those most in need. Responding, I might add, more quickly than the Red Cross or other more ‘official’ aid organizations.
Slowly, perhaps, we are learning to trust and count on ourselves; and maybe that’s the beginning of a true, local democracy movement, where we learn by doing for ourselves. In the process we exercise civic skills and experience what democracy means at the local day-to-day level of human interaction. If we do it right, we could begin in vulnerability and end in empowerment–a great promise for any year.