Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: A Political Year in Review

Greetings from R. M. Eller and your diabolical friend DevilsAdvocate. On this New Years Eve, we look back on the significant political events from this year. It has been a year of ups and downs for the Obama administration and for the American people as a whole. We have managed to survive a most turbulent time though. In fact we have had some victories along the way. This is a look back on those events.

Let’s start off with a bittersweet victory for President Obama, the passage of reform for the health care industry. Progressives view this however as a sort of half-assed victory with the bill being watered down in a futile attempt to gain Republican support. Universal coverage was replaced with the public option, which gave way to lowering the Medicare age, which ultimately led to the individual mandate. A universal mandate that isn’t even that effectual at that. It has already been deemed unconstitutional by Virginia and in the end people not wanting insurance won’t see much of a penalty for it. One aspect of this health care overhaul that is somewhat significant is the lowering of the maximum age that a citizen may remain on their parent’s health insurance. This too though is still far from a perfect victory. It is interesting that while this watered down bill has only partly gone into effect, the standard story from those that subscribe to the GOP way of thinking and drink heavily from the Kool-Aid (TM) is that this was ‘forced down their throats, even though they had a hand in the negotiations most of the time, including ’a summit with the President. In the end, only one Republican voted for the bill, Representative Cao of Louisiana. The GOP’s #1 goal in the 112th Congress is to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act, which started with stalling the allocation of funds for it until March of next year.

Next up is the biggest environmental disaster the country has seen since the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, the explosion and sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil platform and subsequent oil spill. Unfortunately this event happens to be the best example that humanity has had in some time of the word quagmire. See folks, not just a character on the Family Guy. This monumental disaster was the product of neglect. While BP was sealing this well a large amount of air pockets formed in the well, causing methane gas to explode and ignite when the gas along with a mud mixture was pushed up to the platform. To make matters far worse, BP had been aware that their blow out prevention system was not viable for days before this disaster. This resulting explosion slew 11 individuals and injured 17 others. This unfortunately would not be the end of the harm however. The worst was yet to come.

The Obama Administration decided that BP would be responsible for the clean up efforts. This resulted in the usage of toxic chemicals in the clean-up effort that seem to have made matters worse. These toxic dispersants, in additon to the dangers that the EPA stated they posed, had another risk. They didn’t get rid of the oil so much as it made it disappear from the surface as it sank to the ocean floor. As opposed to coagulants which various environmental groups implored BP to use. There was even a proposal to use peat moss, which would absorb and break down the oil. The oil spill lasted for months while the well continued to gush oil into the Gulf until it finally came to an end when the well was plugged in mid September. Unfortunately for aquatic life in the gulf this event was truly destructive. It remains to be seen if this event shall ever be recovered from.

For other shameful behavior during the clean up effort, BP refused to permit their workers (that were hired from out of work fishermen) to use basic protections such as respirators, goggles or overalls. BP also had threatened to fire any workers that were caught using a respirator. One issue that did come up as well was a scandal involving the payment for workers and reparations for the oil’s destruction of fisherman’s lively hood

Being an even numbered year meant Congressional elections, this time being the first midterm elections for President Obama. Political analysts were mixed on the outlook of the elections. Most analysts predicted, and rightly so, that the Democrats would maintain the Senate but lose the House of Representatives to the Republicans. On the other hand, Fox News and GOP analysts were predicting a landslide where they would reclaim both houses of Congress with large numbers. Of course this did not happen, as many of the Republican candidates were of the Tea Party variety like Christine O’Donnell. Minority Leader Boehner and Speaker of the House Pelosi now switch places and all the House committees will be lead by Republicans. This will mean that President Obama will have a more difficult time furthering his agenda but at the same time it also means that Republicans will have to be more willing to compromise as they only control one house of Congress and anything passed by them that is not Obama-friendly will be killed in the Senate or vetoed by the President. As was mentioned after the election by us, good luck to the GOP.

And with every midterm election there comes a lame duck session of Congress, and this year was no different, except this year we saw the most productive lame duck session in recent history. The biggest issue was the coming expiration of the Bush era tax cuts. President Obama promised in his campaign that he would make the tax cuts on the middle class permanent while letting the cuts for the richest 2% expire. Well, after lots of debate, the president blinked and decided to “compromise” with Republicans and temporarily extend all the Bush tax cuts. This infuriated progressives like Bernie Sanders and Howard Dean, to the point where Bernie Sanders went on the Senate floor for eight and half hours giving his reasons that the bill should not pass. It ultimately did pass with overwhelmingly bipartisan support and was signed by the president. During the lame duck session we also saw the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a major victory for the Gay and Lesbian community, the ratification of the New START, a major step to securing loose nuclear material around the world and keeping peace with Russia, and the passing of the 9-11 first responders bill, which gives those who were at Ground Zero the much deserved health care they need. What we didn’t see was the passing of the omnibus spending bill for next year. Instead this year’s spending was extended until March, which gives the Republicans time to try to work their own brand of “magic” on the budget. Good luck with that. What that means for us in the meantime is that healthcare and Wall Street reform won’t get their funding until March, if the Republicans even bother to include them, but we wouldn’t count on the that.

The end of this political year does fill us with hope. We all remember President Obama when he is in campaign mode. Election season is coming up in the very near future. With the difficulties that the incoming Republican control of the house will present, our president is going to have to change his approach. It is quite likely that he will begin to present a far more progressive front than at any point of his administration. Who knows, maybe the return of Obama the campaigner will mark a dynamic change in this presidency. Who knows, maybe this should be the year that we can look forward to with hope.

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