Nel's New Day

December 31, 2011

2011–Not All Bad

Although the year 2011 began on a dark note—and got blacker—as the conservatives fought to wipe out a century of progressive movements that gave people in the United States a safety net, I find many things to be grateful on the last day of the year.

First, I am most thankful for my wonderful family (who is visiting me as I write), my fantastic partner of 42+ years, and my fabulous friends, many of whom send me topics and information for Nel’s New Day. And a thumbs-up to my pets, especially the new kitten who is turning everything upside down in our household.

After almost nine years, the Iraq War, that killed at least 120,000 people and left far more wounded, has come to an end. At a conservative estimate of $806 billion, the war left over 1.6 million refugees and another 1.24 million internally displaced with the country’s infrastructure almost disseminated.  The war that conservatives started planning almost two decades ago has taught some people in our nation a lesson about being wary of government “intelligence” and avoiding pre-emptive wars.

The political scene may be looking up for progressives. The Occupy people  are willing to suffer extremely discomfort not only in the wet, snowy cold or while being indiscriminately pepper-sprayed or tasered but also jailed for following their First Amendment rights. Their slogan, “We are the 99 percent,” has made the country acutely aware of economic inequities despite the naysayers who live in their comfortable homes and ignore hungry and homeless people.

The Occupy Movement wasn’t the first big protest of the year, however. Wisconsin fought their new governor Scott Walker, Ohio won against union-busting politicians, Maine voted down unfair election changes, and Time made “the protester” its person of the year. Conservatives have gone so far to the right in denying people their rights that the rest of the United States—like the “Arab spring”—may have reached the tipping point to fight back. and the Internet have helped to right some wrongs perpetrated by large corporations. The most recent win is Verizon’s reversal in its attempt to charge customers a fee for paying bills online. Bank of America decided not to charge a monthly fee just for using a debit card. These are the companies that net billions of dollars while paying no taxes and having the right—as “persons”—to pay unlimited funds to elect more conservatives who will take more money from the poor to give to the wealthy.

Yet not all corporations are greedy blood-suckers. In Alternet, Lauren Kelley highlighted five companies that support the environment and economy: Ben & Jerry, Patagonia, H&M, Hewlett Packard, and Method Products. May more companies join them in the coming year!

Through their humor, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert continue to enlighten millions of Americans, particularly young ones who might have been lost to Fox lies. Republican presidential candidates have provided these two comedians much fodder although these politicians look ridiculous on their own.

After the disappointing show of progressives in last August’s debacle of raising the debt ceiling, Democrats seem to have found a spine. Led by President Obama, Congressional Democrats refused to roll over (mostly!) this month to the Republicans’ demands regarding the payroll tax reduction. Democrats wanted to keep the tax, aka Social Security taxes, the same; Republicans wanted to increase it. The 99 percenters discovered that Republicans want to lower taxes only for the wealthy, a good lesson for them.

A new political figure in town, Elizabeth Warren, may turn things around. After Republicans refused to consider her nomination as director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency that she created, she decided to run for Massachusetts senator. Despite the huge funding that corporations are pouring into incumbent Republican Sen. Scott Brown’s re-election and his recent turn toward a more moderate position,Warren is leading! And she knows where all the bodies are buried!

Courts are also taking a constitutional (what conservatives call “activist” if it opposes their far right positions) approach to new laws for immigration, elections, etc. For example, after Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer fired the chair of the state’s nonpartisan commission to determine redistricting for the House of Representatives because it didn’t favor Republicans 100 percent, the state supreme court overturned her decision. Courts in Texas overturned the legislature’s partisan redistricting decision, and the Department of Justice overruled the highly restrictive South Carolina photo ID mandates.

American minorities made advances when the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell ban on gays and lesbians openly serving in the military was finalized. New York legalized same-sex marriage, and California’s Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, stayed unconstitutional for the time-being. Representatives and senators are working to advance the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal the “Defense of Marriage Act,” that keeps marriage to one man with one woman even if it only lasts for 72 hours.

More people in theUnited States are getting health care, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and the economy is supposedly improving. Approval rating for the Tea Party has shrunk, and  “Progressive” is the most positively viewed political label inAmerica, ahead of “Conservative.” And all these positive facts are just the tip of the iceberg.

In the words of former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

“Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern: Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble; sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action.

“Look at the progressive reforms between 1900 and 1916; the New Deal of the 1930s; the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s; the widening opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities and gays; and the environmental reforms of the 1970s. In each of these eras, regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on whichAmericais built. The result was fundamental reform.

“Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.”

We’ll all hope so! Happy New Year!


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