An Uneasy Feeling
By BOB HERBERT
NY Times Op-Ed: January 4, 2010
I'm starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important
opportunities are slipping from the nation's grasp. Our collective
consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues - the
would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga - while
enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.
Staggering numbers of Americans are still unemployed and nearly a quarter of
all homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
Forget the false hope of modestly improving monthly job numbers. The real
story right now is the entrenched suffering (with no end in sight) that has
been inflicted on scores of millions of working Americans by the Great
Recession and the misguided economic policies that preceded it.
As The Washington Post reported over the weekend, the entire past decade
"was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times." There was no net job
creation - none - between December 1999 and now. None!
The Post article read like a lament, a longing for the U.S. as we'd once
known it: "No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less
than 20 percent."
Middle-class families in 2008 actually earned less, adjusted for inflation,
than they did in 1999. The data for 2009 are not yet in, but you can just
imagine what happened to those families in that nightmarish downturn. Small
children over the holidays were asking Santa Claus to bring mommy or daddy a
One in eight Americans, and one in four children, are on food stamps. Some
six million Americans, according to an article in The Times on Sunday, have
said that food stamps were their only income.
This is a society in deep, deep trouble and the fixes currently in the works
are in no way adequate to the enormous challenges we're facing. For example,
an end to the mantra of monthly job losses would undoubtedly be welcomed.
But even if the economy manages to create a few hundred thousand new jobs a
month, it would do little to haul us from the unemployment pit dug for us by
the Great Recession. We need to create more than 10 million new jobs just to
get us back to where we were when the recession began in December 2007.
What's needed are big new innovative efforts to fashion an economy that
creates jobs for all who want and need to work. Just getting us back in fits
and starts over the next few years to where we were when the recession began
should not be acceptable to anyone. We should be moving now to invest
aggressively in a new, greener economy, leading the world in the development
of alternative fuels, advanced transportation networks and the effort to
restrain the poisoning of the planet. We should be developing an industrial
policy that emphasizes the need for America to regain its manufacturing
mojo, as tough as that might seem, and we need to rebuild our
We're not smart as a nation. We don't learn from the past, and we don't plan
for the future. We've spent a year turning ourselves inside out with
arguments of every sort over health care reform only to come up with a
bloated, Rube Goldberg legislative mess that protects the insurance and drug
industries and does not rein in runaway health care costs.
The politicians will be back soon, trust me, screaming about the need to
rein in health costs.
We keep talking about how essential it is to radically improve public
education while, at the same time, we're closing libraries and firing
teachers by the tens of thousands for economic reasons.
The fault lies everywhere. The president, the Congress, the news media and
the public are all to blame. Shared sacrifice is not part of anyone's
program. Politicians can't seem to tell the difference between wasteful
spending and investments in a more sustainable future. Any talk of raising
taxes is considered blasphemous, but there is a constant din of empty
yapping about controlling budget deficits.
Oh, yes, and we're fighting two wars.
If America can't change, then the current state of decline is bound to
continue. You can't have a healthy economy with so many millions of people
out of work, and there is no plan now that would result in the creation of
millions of new jobs any time soon.
Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for
fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life
for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the
nation's moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well.
Now we're escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an
attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a
Sent: Thursday, December 31, 2009 10:29 AM
Subject: New Year's Resolution - feel free to share
New Year's Resolution: Don't Apologize for Democrats
by Jeff Cohen
For the new year, let's resolve: Don't defend Democrats when they don't
deserve defending. And that certainly includes President Obama.
Let's further resolve: Put principles above party and never lose our voice
on human rights and social justice.
When we mute ourselves as a Democratic president pursues corporatist or
militarist policies, we only encourage such policies.
If it was wrong for Bush to bail out Wall Street with virtually no controls,
then it's wrong for Obama. If indefinite "preventative detention" was wrong
under Bush, then it's wrong under Obama. If military occupation and
deepening troop deployments were wrong under Bush, then they're wrong under
Imagine if McCain had defeated Obama in 2008 and soon tripled the number of
U.S. troops in Afghanistan. I have little doubt that activists would have
mobilized major opposition, denouncing the reality of more U.S. soldiers in
Afghanistan and Iraq combined than even Bush had deployed.
But as Obama goes about tripling the troops in Afghanistan, with more U.S.
soldiers in war zones that Bush ever had -- and proposes the biggest
military budget in world history -- many activists have lost their voices.
When Obama's West Point speech on Afghanistan paid lip service to benchmarks
and a timeline (as even Bush learned to do on Iraq), how did the once
independent MoveOn react? Its leaders sent out a muted petition urging --
benchmarks and a timeline. The email might as well have been written by Rahm
Emanuel in the West Wing.
Taking cues from the Obama White House, liberal groups went quiet on Wall
Street bailouts and bonuses -- thus helping rightwing teabaggers and
corporate-fronts to pose as populist saviors of the middle class.
By going soft on the White House or Democratic Congressional leaders, most
netroots groups have undermined genuine progressives in Congress -- on
issues from Iraq and Afghanistan to Wall Street and health care.
Instead of launching their health care reform efforts behind an
easily-explained, cost-effective "Enhanced Medicare for All" bill
co-sponsored by dozens of progressive Congress members, netroots leaders
meekly made a "public option" their starting demand and pretended not to
notice when Rahm Emanuel began signaling last spring that the White House
had no intention of pushing for it.
Predictably, we've ended up with corporate-enrichment legislation that
forcibly delivers tens of millions of customers to big insurers and big
pharma -- with almost no cost controls because of private deals cut in the
White House . In the New York Times before Christmas, beneath an accurate
header "Corporate Glee," a news article asserted: "The insurance companies
were probably among the merriest of industries last week . . . But the drug
companies were certainly joyful, too." Insurance stocks are soaring on Wall
It's tragically ironic that netroots forces joined Democratic leaders in
killing Medicare for All as an unrealistic starting demand and now are
belatedly urging "kill the bill."
I'm old enough to remember that when Democrats are in majority power --
controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue -- they are capable of horrific
policies. With Lyndon Johnson in the White House, most Democrats in Congress
went along with Vietnam escalation. And with President Clinton, some leading
Congressional Democrats joined mostly Republicans in backing the
anti-worker, anti-environmental NAFTA.
The good news -- during the eras of Vietnam and NAFTA -- is that large
numbers of progressive activists stood fast to their principles and vocally
opposed those wrong-headed Democratic policies. They didn't follow
Democratic leaders over the cliff or pretend that Democratic presidents are
automatically "on our side" or well-intentioned.
And back then we lacked the most awesome tool ever invented for independent
grassroots mobilization: the Internet.
The Net has helped unleash a golden age for independent media -- and for
journalists unafraid to challenge leaders of both parties: folks like Glenn
Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Arianna Huffington, Matt Taibbi and Amy Goodman,
to name a few.
Thanks to the Internet and independent media, progressive activists are more
fully and more quickly informed about national and global issues than ever.
Yet many activists are poorly represented by national netroots groups that
often function as appendages of the Democratic leadership.
While independent progressive media are booming on the Internet, the largest
netroots political-action groups are sorely lacking in independence.
Be it resolved: In 2010, we will not apologize for indefensible Democratic
policies, and we will no longer support netroots groups that fail to resist
Jeff Cohen is director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca
College and a former board member of Progressive Democrats of America .