I'm glad that the last two holdouts in the Democratic caucus, Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR), have decided to vote with the rest of their caucus and allow the debate on the combined health care bill Harry Reid (D-NV) debuted earlier this week to proceed. Recalcitrants like these two, as well as Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have repeatedly dispelled the illusion of party cohesion that the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senate Campaign Committee love to sell; while the Senate Democrats have helped to pass some important, mostly small-bore legislation since taking power in 2006, they continue to slog along as if the GOP were still in control, failing again and again to show real leadership on any of the major issues that face the country. Instead, what the public sees is a glacially moving body, full of right-wing ranters and moderate milquetoasts, taking a scattered and often seemingly ineffective approach to everything. Above all, the needs of Congress's corporate masters come first.
Perhaps it has often, if not always, been this way, but the close-but-unfinished health care reform effort, the ongoing wars and related national security issues, and the economic crisis all throw into high relief how ineffective the United States' upper house continues to be. That said, it increasingly looks like the Democrats will pass a health care reform bill that, while not perfect, will be better than earlier indications suggested. Though the single-payer option is going, the final bill probably will have a public insurance plan; it probably will allow people to opt out of terrible current plans instead of being locked into them; it probably will provide adequate subsidies for a sizable portion of working- and lower-middle families; and it will stop insurance companies from some of their worst practices, such as dropping people because of "pre-existing" conditions, jacking up rates when people get sick, and turning the entire process of dealing with the health care system into a free-for-all lottery. The Senate bill, like the House bills, also includes horrendous anti-immigrant and anti-reproductive rights provisions, and it does not adequately address the for-profit nature of the system, which means that US consumers spend anywhere from twice to three times as much per capita per year as our industrialized peers, and it doesn't have enough in it to drive down insurance costs or drug prices, another baleful aspect of the current American healthcare landscape.
As the bill undergoes continual weakening and diminishment, it makes me wonder whether the Democrats, despite getting so far, will be able to pass it, either by majority with or without a single Republican vote, or by reconciliation, thereby taking a page from the GOP, and if they do so and President Obama in the end signs it, whether it will anything more than a mostly hollow victory. Continual public pressure on the Congress seems to be the only way ensure even minimal fidelity to the people's business, so you know what we all must do:
Call/write/fax your Representative
Call/write/fax your Senators
Urge everyone you know to do so to. Now is a very perilous period for the health care reform bill, and anything progressive.
Things are really grim economically across the US and much of the world; this isn't news. I see and feel it in varying ways, and often have to force myself not to dwell on how it's affecting so many people I know well, as well as those I don't. Then I read an article like the ones below and I start to feel more than a little worried; things are much, much worse than they seem, and yet the people running the government, corporate heads, the mainstream media all seem so blasé, indifferent, or incapable to getting their acts together.
Alternet.org: 15 Signs the Country Is Coming Apart at the Seams
Longer piece: Amped Status: The Critical Unraveling of US Society
Despite all the grim indicators--including the 123 banks that have failed so far this year--believe the country will turn around, but given the approach of those leading the government and many corporate leaders, it's going to be a painful process, and there's no guarantee that we won't be even worse off if the main perpetrators--their enablers remain in power--behind the mess we're in somehow inveigle their way back to full power using false-populism, lies, propaganda, and anything else that works.
One issue I've thought about a lot is the Congress's inability to reform the financial industries or sector. One key issue is the "too-big-too-fail" problem. As I've mentioned before on this blog, my first post-undergrad job was in banking, when commercial and investment banks were forbidden by law from merging or sharing certain key functions, when banks could not operate across state lines, and when certain other regulatory controls dating from the period of the New Deal were still strongly in place. Even with those safeguards, in October 1987, one month after I began my very brief banking career, stock markets across the world witnessed their biggest crashes in decades. This was also during a period when the US dollar was comparatively weak, and the country was struggling with the deficits that had built up during the previous 8 years of massive tax cuts, defense spending binges, rising deregulation, and gross underinvestment in public and private infrastructure. The US had seen two recessions under Reagan, I believe, and would see an even worse one in a few years under HW Bush. And yet a little over a decade later, in the late 1990s, after the economic upswing, financial policymakers led by Robert Rubin and Larry Summers would do everything they could to gut what remained of the New Deal safeguards, working hand-in-glove with people like Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) to repeal the Glass-Steagall Acts of 1932 and 1933, which had maintained one of the last walls prevent a return to 1920s-style laissez-faire capitalism. Many of these policymakers and their adepts are in place today; we have a libertarian Republican as Fed Chair. We have a neoliberal centrist from the Rubin school, who made disastrous bets at his previous job, coordinating economic policy for the administration. We have a lackey for longtime financial megagambler Goldman Sachs as Treasury Secretary. The already big banks are considerably bigger, and several will be handing out more in bonuses--record bonuses--this year than some states' budget deficits. How it all will shake out, I don't know. But as the Alternet piece suggests, things are pretty grave and could get ugly. Very, very ugly. I hope and pray they won't.
I recently participated in some heavy backchannel lamenting about the collapse of the Washington Blade, one of the nation's premier LGBTQ newspapers which had just celebrated its 40th birthday; its sibling newspaper, The Southern Voice in Atlanta, and of its parent company, Window Media, the owner of several other LGBTQ-focused newspapers and periodicials in the country.
The culprit, from what I can tell, is the current dismal economic environment. Several publications in New York and other cities have also fallen by the wayside over the last year. I agree with the argument that with the ongoing development of the Internet and new online media have come a range of new means for disseminating news, conducting investigations, and fostering advocacy and knowledge production around LGBTQ issues, but I also think we shouldn't underestimate the value and necessity of traditional news organizations, including the much smaller but once vital issues and identity-oriented ones, like the Blade. It and newspapers like it have played and continue to play an important role especially during a period when some certainties about how far the society has shifted on LGBTQ and other issues are being called into question. At her David R. Kessler lecture several weeks ago, Sarah Schulman noted, among her many wise points, that "we are dismantling" many of our longstanding institutions--or we are allowing them to be dismantled--at the very moment that we may need them more than ever. Perhaps these vivid manifestations of ongoing struggles remind us that we aren't yet in the post-everything (post-gay, post-race, etc.) worlds that have been proclaimed for quite some time.
Some articles suggest that the Blade may resume publication under different auspices, perhaps as an employee-owned paper or as a not-for-profit, the latter being a model I'm surprised isn't discussed even more as journalism in general takes hit after hit.
A friend, translator, scholar and librarian Herbert R., recently sent word of the passing of one of the Dominican Republic's important poets, Blas Jiménez (at left), on November 13. One of the most stalwart expositors and champions of the DR's African heritage--90% of Dominicans have African ancestry, a higher percentage than almost every other country in the Americas except Haiti, Jamaica, and the predominantly Black Caribbean islands--Jiménez had a rich and varied career, as an award-winning journalist; essayist; professor at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra; TV producer and host of Página Abierta, radio producer and host of La Mañana en Antena; as Secretary General of the DR's national commission for the United Nations Organization for Education, Culture and Communication (UNESCO). For over a decade he worked at the International Education Resource Center, where he developed courses on Afro-Dominican and Caribbean culture and literature.
Amidst all of this great work, he was also and perhaps best known as a poet, and especially as a "poeta de negritud." His works include the volumes Aqui... Otro Español (Here...Another Spanish), Caribe Africano en Despertar (African Caribbean Waking Up), Exigencias de un Cimarrón (Exigiences of a Maroon), and El Nativo (The Native). With highly regarded scholars Silvio Torres-Saillant and Ramona Hernández, he co-edited the book Desde la Orilla: hacia una nacionalidad sin desalojos (From the Edge: Towards a Nationality Without Evictions). His death, as this very brief note makes clear, is a major loss for Dominican, Caribbean, and African Diasporic literature and culture.