Perspectives: A Review of 2009
by Jan Baughman
(Swans - December 14, 2009) It is what it is was the phrase of the year that says everything and nothing; reflecting a lack of control and sense of resignation over one's circumstances -- a far cry from the optimism of Hope and Change We Can Believe In. You lost your job? Your home was foreclosed? Your senators and representatives betrayed you on health care reform? Your antiwar president became your war president? Here are a few choice highlights, lowlights, and spotlights on a year that was, well, what it was...
The year began with the swearing in of Barack Obama as president of the United States and much hope among many for a new paradigm of tolerance, yet this historical event has inspired racist and reactionary rhetoric against all others. Hate crimes were up, along with a spike in threats against the president. Gay marriage was defeated in Maine and New York -- though gay divorce appears to be gaining acceptance. A proposed reverse-psychology strategy to achieve the legalization of gay marriage was to lobby to protect the "sanctity of marriage" by outlawing divorce all together. Then at least fifty percent of heterosexuals might have to give the matter a second thought.
2009 marked a lowlight for Governors. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois was removed from office in January for his attempt to sell Barack Obama's Senate seat, though he launched a successful book tour selling his autobiography. Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska to peddle her own autobiography, and perhaps setting the stage for a 2012 run for president, god forbid. Another prospective presidential candidate, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, disappeared in June. Turns out it was not for personal reflection in the Appalachians, as told, but for an ongoing affair in Argentina with his "soul mate." He gave up his position as the chair of the Republican Governors Association and has been charged by the Ethics Committee with 37 violations but still refuses to resign. Arnold Schwarzenegger of Caahleefornia presided over the state's tanking economy, was found to owe over $79,000 in back taxes ("mistakes were made"), and wrote an unpresidential, acrostic FUCK-YOU memo vetoing out of spite a bill that State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano had authored. Rumor has it that the Governator will retire from politics after his term is up.
As for the Senate, who could forget would-be presidential candidate and born-again Promise Keeper, Senator John Ensign (R-NV), who had an affair with a campaign worker whose husband worked as an administrative aide in his office? Ensign's parents then gave the couple $96,000 as a "gift," and Ensign illegally gave his lover's husband a lobbying position. Ensign stepped down as the chair of the Republican Policy Committee, but refused to resign his Senate seat.
In the spotlight, birther Tom Delay appeared on Dancing With the Stars, demonstrating that his dancing credibility was as strapping as his political credibility. Lou Dobbs resigned from CNN, and is rumored to be considering a presidential run in 2012, god willing. Glenn Beck rejected the suggestion of running second-fiddle to Sarah Palin in 2012, as a woman's place is in the home -- but not a grand White one in the corridors of power.
Health care reform was a major agenda item for President Obama along with the majority of the public, yet the House and Senate bills devolved from ensuring access to health care for all Americans, to guaranteeing more obscene profits for the insurance industry by requiring that all citizens purchase insurance or face a fine. And of course, no bill would be complete without a bribe to the conservatives by widening the barrier between women and access to abortion. The public option rapidly became a quaint notion as heated, staged protests against health care reform took place, with threats of rationed care (which we already have), demonstrating that the right to life begins at conception -- and ends at birth. It is difficult to fathom the mindset that considers the prospect of government-provided health care as an evil menace. But as Dave Young, an Ohio member of the Warren County Board of Commissioners, said in response to what he perceived as an abuse of the government-subsidized food stamp program, "As soon as people figure out they can vote representatives in to give them benefits, that's the end of democracy. More and more people will be taking, and fewer will be producing." (Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades, The New York Times, November 11, 2009.) Call it rugged individualism, or survival of the fittest, it is what it is.
Where oh where is Ted Kennedy when we need him?
In a move reminiscent of the undisclosed executives flowing through the previous administration's White House to help craft energy policy, a secret deal was cut in June with pharmaceutical industry executives who agreed to "help" with said reform by spending $80 billion over the next 10 years to defray Medicare prescription costs. Yet 5 months later, the industry raised wholesale drug prices by 9 percent, with the usual "we need more money to invest in research and development" rationale.
One story epitomized the for-profit, not-for-people, approach of our "health care" system. Recall that Pfizer (who slashed over 20,000 jobs in 2009) won a 2005 Supreme Court case regarding eminent domain in which dozens of houses in New London, Connecticut, were razed so that the company could build a research division. Pfizer was offered a 10-year property tax break in exchange for bringing jobs and revenues to bolster the local economy. Yet this November they announced that for cost-cutting purposes they would eliminate 1,400 jobs in New London and walk away from the office complex, leaving behind the barren land they created. What could Pfizer officials say -- sorry about your house, or It is what it is?
In December, President Obama gave a war speech worthy of George W. Bush with diction, invoking the homeland, 9/11, fear mongering, nuclear ambitions, and a coalition of the willing in line to join in his Afghanistan war surge. Just as we were assured in the build-up to Iraq, it will take little time, few troops (30,000), and little money ($30 billion) to succeed -- $1 million per troop! (Imagine if we found the will -- and the money -- to spend a million dollars on each of the neediest 30,000 Americans; or $500,000 on 60,000; or $100,000 on 300,000, and so on! Speaking to those of us against the war in Afghanistan (and all wars, for that matter), the president delivered a history lesson to explain why the Afghanistan War is not comparable to the Vietnam War. Yet his history lesson failed to make the appropriate comparison -- to the previous failed wars in Afghanistan. History repeats itself, because it is what it is.
Thus a highlight of the year was our nephew Christopher resisting the hefty financial incentive to re-enlist in the Marines and concluding his service in December as his battalion was deploying to Afghanistan. Chris is returning to college, physically and hopefully psychologically intact after his tour in Iraq.
Out of the spotlight, right-wing mercenary defense contractor Blackwater, in a PR strategy to whitewash its reputation, changed its name to the unpronounceable and unrecognizable "Xe." George W. Bush stayed out of the spotlight and mostly in the safety of his new gated community, though the sneering Dick Cheney did not shy away from the media, taking every television opportunity to criticize the Obama administration and continue the fear mongering, privately praying for another terrorist attack on US soil for vindication.
Finally, speaking of prayer, no year would be complete without an appearance by Jesus, this time in the brownish residue on the bottom of an iron owned by a struggling Massachusetts woman who was separated from her husband and whose work hours had been cut. She said the image reassured her that "life is going to be good." What can you say, but It is what it is...
Let us hope that life in the New Year is indeed going to be good, more rational, less reactionary, and something more enriching than just what it is.
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