Monday, January 7, 2013

Random Thoughts for a New Year

In reviewing the year just passed, as I am wont to do annually when the New Year arrives I see a jumble of events, wins and losses on the political scene and peaks and valleys with environmental issues and many other issues that left an impact.

What was the impact overall of 2012? The economy saw the stock market continue to climb. The big banks and big oil continued to sock away billions while the American worker made only modest gains as salaries flattened, benefits decreased and the jobless rates declined only modestly. So as we look across the abyss of fiscal cliffs, tax rates, deficits and ineffective solutions where should we go?

We saw a turbulent political campaign awash in money and negativity end in a resounding second term victory for President Obama over unsuspecting loser Mitt Romney. Red states appeared to grow redder and blue states maintained their status as well. The country continued to be divided. We saw class divides increase as the tax rate battles overtook the Congress and paralyzed effective legislative functions. The 212th Congress passed into history as one of the least accomplished legislative bodies in the last century.

The Senate has made what was supposed to have been an extraordinary parliamentary maneuver -- the filibuster -- into a daily mechanism for stalling bills and prohibiting the President from processing his people into expected governmental appointments. Even with the efforts of the Justice Department under the Civil Rights Act, untold numbers of voters were impacted by voter suppression efforts as registrations were stifled and polling place access was diminished mostly across the South. Yet still democracy prevailed and an election has passed into history with a mostly democratic process.

Partisanship has reached into the depths as Republican governors and legislative bodies, who claimed they were voicing the will of the people, passed laws limiting rights of women and others and where bargaining rights for union members were trampled. Even as teachers were laying down their lives to save our children, some were denying them their rights as civil servants and portraying them as hogs at the public trough. Shameful!! Due process was disregarded and minorities were made suspect. Undocumented immigrants were told to self deport and 47% of us were told we did not matter. Many of the 98% who disagreed with the wealthiest amongst us, took to the streets and parks of our larger urban areas in an attempt to say look at us -- we are here and we do indeed matter and Occupiers became a new group which demanded an audience. In Maryland, we saw the Dream Act and Civil Marriage rights pass, both were positive and forceful moments in a year with little to cheer the progressives in our midst.

Tragedy from powerful automatic weapons stuck several times this year: a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, a Sikh Temple in the Midwest, and most unnervingly, in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Yet, we as a country cannot seem to say no to a powerful gun lobby which wants to promote more violence by not restricting any firepower -- not even that from weapons whose only clear use is for the military. When will we as a country learn how to have this conversation and reiterate that a civilized nation does not require automatic weapons in order to promote freedom and democracy? It is time for VP Biden to really make this point to the Congress and to our country as he leads this task force on gun violence. If not, I fear we will never turn this tide and our children and neighbors will continue to die. Aren’t 30,000 deaths a year by guns enough? (Two-thirds of these deaths are suicides by use of a gun. The remainder are guns used against others. Isn't that a very sad statistic?)

Next, we will have to address the issues of ineffective mental health efforts across the country and find a way for the mentally unstable to receive care before they commit a violent act, even as we acknowledge that most people who suffer from mental health issues are not violent. Mental health services are often cut at the local level, which is one reason I do not support block granting state Medicaid funds. Once the country moved away from institutional care, local services were supposed to fill the gaps. This has never happened in an adequate manner across the country. Perhaps, once the ACA is fully implemented, we will see some improvements.

Global climate change continues to impact us as we saw a storm of unprecedented force hit New Jersey and New York only a year after a similar storm had caused great damage. As we see these high impact storms with increasing frequency and ferocity how can one deny that change is happening? As coastal communities continue to erode, how can we continue to rebuild and restore and not prepare for the future by moving further inland? It seems imperative that we need to utilize the best and brightest here on this planet to solve this issue of climate change before we spend monies to invest in flights to other planets. What good will those efforts do if our own planet is being ravaged due to our inability to change our habits?

So, now as we move into 2013 and get ready for a new inauguration what do you think should be emphasized at the Presidential level? What issues would you like to see pursued at the local and state levels? Let me know your thoughts. Tell me some future topics you would like to see discussed in this blog.