Perspectives: A Review of 2012
by Glenn Reed
(Swans - December 17, 2012) Here we are. It's the end of another year. Break out the champagne. Prepare to flip that cute puppy calendar that you got for Christmas to January 2013.
It's just over a month after the presidential election here in the United States and the corporate media and career pols are already salivating over who is running in 2016. Fox "News" has pulled their "War on Christmas" out of mothballs, while Republican leaders, in holiday spirit, advocate budget cuts that would ruin the lives of millions, while not wanting to touch a bloated defense budget or raise any taxes on the wealthy. Civil war rages in Syria, protesters battle police in Cairo, Israeli settlements multiply in the West Bank, a record-setting storm bashes the Philippines less than a month after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, and billionaires talk about pouring more money into coming elections because they didn't buy the last one. Meanwhile, as the seas rise, record drought kills crops, and more people are displaced by violent weather, there's much ado about nothing regarding climate change. Has anything really changed in the past year?
Oh sure. Here in the U.S., President Obama prevailed over the ultimate candidate of the entitled -- Mitt Romney. Obama came out in support of gay marriage and four states approved of it in the last election. Colorado and Washington said yes to legalizing marijuana. The massive money assault on democracy unleashed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC decision failed to capture the presidency and Republicans actually lost seats in the Senate when they'd seemed certain to make gains. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts shocked all by casting the deciding vote to save the bulk of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Hell, even Rush Limbaugh got kicked in the ass when dozens of advertisers abandoned his show after his hateful statements about Sandra Fluke.
We'll take any victories we can get these days. But as for the big picture?
Sorry, but gay marriage, pot, and Obama are not going to save us from looming worldwide environmental and climate-change disasters or alter the dysfunctional political and economic systems that are causing them. How are we faring on those fronts?
In 2012, the military-industrial complex remained firmly in control in the United States. Neoliberal economic policies and transnational corporations kept virtually all of the world's other governments under their thumbs as well. Countries couldn't agree on the simplest measures to address climate change, even as many scientists said we've passed the tipping point and will soon face catastrophe. "Austerity" measures that penalized the 99% were how most of Europe responded to the recession, while alarming numbers of those 99% turned to extremist views in response to the resulting hardships, such as the "Golden Dawn" group in Greece.
In 2012 history, as always, just repeated itself.
Here in the trenches, where most reside, 2012 felt like a year of regular abuse.
In the United States, the endless circus spectacle of the presidential race dominated everything. Rather than do their jobs as elected officials, pols geared each and every action towards image, daily polls, power brokers, and getting re-elected. Little matters like fixing the economy or the endless war in Afghanistan or doing anything at all about climate change? They couldn't be bothered.
Television was constantly saturated with vapid, lowest-common-denominator ads for candidates. Sandwiched between, like another cancerous growth from United v. FEC, were corporate- and special-interest ads. They lauded the benefits of pumping toxic chemicals into the bedrock (hydraulic fracturing), drilling "safely" for oil in places like the fragile and melting Arctic and a Gulf of Mexico devastated by the 2010 oil spill, and burning more fossil fuels as a means to "energy independence" even as that will accelerate catastrophic climate change.
The 1% and corporate "citizens" of the world broke promises to pensioners in Greece, students in Spain, government workers in Portugal, and seniors in Italy, as they further larded their bank accounts in off-shore tax havens and blathered on about "shared pain" and stimulating economies. Massive demonstrations occurred throughout Europe and still the "global" institutions prevailed. The joys of the Arab Spring in 2011 faded into more signs of quickly corrupted power in Egypt and possible civil war. Meanwhile, old-school dictators like Bashar al-Assad kept murdering thousands of Syrians while the world powers played old-school games with their lives. Few saw the irony of people like US Senator John McCain calling for direct support of rebels who are also, to a degree, supported by Al-Qaeda and Iran.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend...some days.
Same old, same old.
Meanwhile, President Obama continued to negotiate "free" trade deals, both he and Romney presented such efforts as good for the economy, and other trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were negotiated behind closed doors. As usual, the "global economy" shut out democracy and the interests of the 99%.
The year was also another of hiding the victims of neoliberal economics and the 1%'s power obsession. Drones continued to cut through Pakistani skies and rain death on both those deemed "guilty" and those labeled in some back room as "collateral damage." Political prisoners like Bradley Manning remained hidden away and tortured, while Guantánamo remained open. Polar bears continued to drown in melting Arctic seas, while more shrimp, dolphins, and other sea life were found being born with deformities in a polluted Gulf of Mexico. The long-term unemployed disappeared from the "official" statistics and the United States still harbored the largest prison population in the world, fed by a racist/classist criminal justice system and the insanity of increased privatization of institutions that should not be about monetary profit. Criminal banksters continued to walk free, corporate CEO's received golden parachutes, while thousands of formerly middle-class citizens were booted from their homes and corporate criminals like Shell got slaps on the wrist.
Overseas, nearly 200 Palestinians, including dozens of children, died in Gaza in the world's biggest prison camp, while Third-World factory workers continued to labor under appalling conditions leading to tragedies like the deadly garment factory fire in Bangladesh. Native people in Canada were being shoved aside and environmentalists branded terrorists in the quest to extract the dirtiest of fossil fuels from the tar sands.
Divide and conquer remained a potent tool for the power elite of the world in 2012 as well. Big corporations and their artificial front groups pushed for the Keystone tar-sands pipeline in Nebraska, happily pitting farmers against unions through the promise of jobs in a desperate economy. Similar interests worked the West Coast in places like Whatcom County, Washington, in the quest to route mile-long coal trains to West Coast ports so that more fossil fuels can be shipped to China. Farmers desperate for cash were pitted against farmers whose water is now unusable due to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Pennsylvania, while livestock died or were born with deformities near fracking sites in North Dakota and elsewhere.
Public meetings turned neighbor against neighbor and created odd bedfellows in such instances, while the 1% just sat back, yanked the strings, and contemplated their short-term profits. The horrendous damage from previous disasters such as the Fukushima nuke plant explosions and the Gulf oil spill slowly became apparent in 2012, but the big banks, big oil, and other corporations and elected officials continued full-steam ahead with other "job-creating" projects that will further hurt the environment and contribute to global warming.
Labor rights, women rights, minority rights, and any programs benefiting the disadvantaged came under steady assault by the far-right in the United States throughout 2012, with the attackers regularly insulting and blaming the victims. Republican-dominated state legislators who ran on "less government" pursued laws to control women's bodies, undermined democratically-elected officials in Michigan, and castigated teachers, firemen, and others who work for the common good in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, their presidential candidate insulted 47% of the population as takers and parasites.
While a handful awaited on 2012 as the time of the world's end, there remained precious little awareness that the end is already well in progress. Too many continued to wait for some savior, whether a Jesus or Mohammed, a Martin Luther King or Gandhi, or some Kardashian, not recognizing that in waiting we're already sealing our fate. The 1% continue to blindly drive the machine towards disaster and too many of the 99% think all we have to do is tell them to slow down. Few are willing to grab the wheel and if they are, they can't agree on a new direction.
But in 2012 we may be past the point of speeding towards the cliff. We may already be in free fall to the rocks below and just too distracted, intoxicated and numbed, or overwhelmed to realize it.
Part of me remains desperate that this is not the case. And a part hopes that the coming solstice will, once again, replenish any spark left inside.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. He currently resides in Fair Haven, Vermont. (back)