The calendar has come around again to Thanksgiving, and families all over the country will be gathering around dinner tables to celebrate. Or try to, anyway. With unemployment above ten percent, and with actual unemployment closer to twenty percent, with foreclosures all over the place, with wages dropping and food prices rising, with the economy improving only for those who have lots of money, there will be millions of people without a whole hell of a lot to feel thankful for.
Ten months after the inauguration of Barack Obama, those “Yes We Can” and “Hope” slogans have begun to ring more than a little hollow. Of course, the man inherited a vast array of ongoing catastrophes from his predecessor, and it is a dead-bang certainty that ten months under a McCain administration would have left us in far worse shape than we find ourselves in today, but the realization that matters are only slightly better than they would have been under the worst-case scenario doesn’t go very far anymore. Some things are better, but the fact of the matter is that some things are worse, and most things are exactly the same.
The news on Tuesday was filled with reports that Obama intends to announce his decision regarding America’s ongoing war in Afghanistan on December 1, and the early word is “expansion.” McClatchy News reported, “President Barack Obama met Monday evening with his national security team to finalize a plan to dispatch some 34,000 additional US troops over the next year to what he’s called ‘a war of necessity’ in Afghanistan. Obama is expected to announce his long-awaited decision on December 1, followed by meetings on Capitol Hill aimed at winning congressional support amid opposition by some Democrats who are worried about the strain on the US Treasury and whether Afghanistan has become a quagmire, the officials said.”
So, there it is. The US military is in terrible shape after two wars, and sending more troops into the Afghan conflict will only add to the damage. The cost of sending additional troops will further undermine our economy and make Obama’s domestic agenda all the more difficult to achieve. The Afghan people, already deeply resentful after eight years of American occupation and warfare, will not greet a new investment of troops gladly. We can all hold hands around the Thanksgiving table and pray to whatever God may be listening that Obama will provide some sort of coherent exit policy, but the fact remains that no occupying force in more than a century has employed any effective exit strategy from Afghanistan beyond utter defeat.
Speaking of domestic policy, the much-ballyhooed push to reform America’s health care system has gone completely sideways in the hands of Congress people bought off by insurance and pharmaceutical industries, and in the hands of a president who demanded change but has taken three steps back for every one step forward. The result looks to be a watered down farce of a bill that could very well make matters even worse than they already are. Economist Robert Reich recently wrote about the current state of affairs in the health care debate:
So the compromise that ended up in the House bill is to have a mere public option, open only to the 6 million Americans not otherwise covered. The Congressional Budget Office warns this shrunken public option will have no real bargaining leverage and would attract mainly people who need lots of medical care to begin with. So, it will actually cost more than it saves.
But even the House’s shrunken and costly little public option is too much for private insurers, Big Pharma, Republicans and “centrists” in the Senate. So, Harry Reid has proposed an even tinier public option, which states can decide not to offer their citizens. According to the CBO, it would attract no more than four million Americans.
It’s a token public option, an ersatz public option, a fleeting gesture toward the idea of a public option, so small and desiccated as to be barely worth mentioning except for the fact that it still (gasp) contains the word “public.”
Our private, for-profit health insurance system, designed to fatten the profits of private health insurers and Big Pharma, is about to be turned over to … our private, for-profit health care system. Except that now private health insurers and Big Pharma will be getting some 30 million additional customers, paid for by the rest of us.
Upbeat policy wonks and political spinners who tend to see only portions of cups that are full will point out some good things: no pre-existing conditions, insurance exchanges, 30 million more Americans covered. But in reality, the cup is 90 percent empty. Most of us will remain stuck with little or no choice – dependent on private insurers who care only about the bottom line, who deny our claims, who charge us more and more for co-payments and deductibles, who bury us in forms, who don’t take our calls.
Pretty much says it all right there.
With public attention focused on the economy, Afghanistan and health care, the White House is moving in stealth to renew some of the worst Patriot Act provisions enacted by the Bush administration. Specifically, the administration seeks to renew three parts of the Act that are set to expire on December 31, according to the Inter-Press Service:
National Security Letters (NSLs)
The FBI uses NSLs to compel Internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons. Using this data, the government can compile vast dossiers about innocent people.
The ‘Material Support’ Statute
This provision criminalizes providing “material support” to terrorists, defined as providing any tangible or intangible good, service or advice to a terrorist or designated group. As amended by the Patriot Act and other laws since Sep. 11, this section criminalizes a wide array of activities, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations.
FISA Amendments Act of 2008
This past summer, Congress passed a law that permits the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of US residents’ international telephone calls and e-mails.
All we as Americans can do is work to push these elected officials away from the abyss they have us teetering over, and hope that there will be something to be thankful for next year. For now, however, just about everything before us is either worse or exactly as bad as it was before. Not much to be thankful about here.