It seems kind of dumb to make a blanket statement, "2013 was a terrible year." After all, for millions of people it was a great year -- they watched their kids grow up, or fell in love, and maybe found a great new band or documentary in between. But that's the private 2013. There was also the public 2013 -- which was quite simply unacceptable. It was a lousy year for conservatives, a lousy year for liberals, and a lousy year for those who tried to steer in between. It was a lousy year for privacy, for the middle class...and, for what it's worth, a lousy year for most journalists.
Was it a lousy year for Attytood? Maybe. Just now looking back at some of what I wrote about in 2013, I doubt my posts will win the Pulitzer in the new category of Extreme Liberal Ranting*, but there is a broader theme. As we enter the meaty years of the 21st Century, it's becoming clear that what's defining our new millennium is the unchecked wealth and power of the plutocracy on one side, and the massive success of big government in using new technology to spy on its citizens at home and to kill people abroad, with virtually no checks or balances on the other side. And here I am, stuck in the middle with you, the great middle-class -- under-employed, unpaid, and over-surveilled.
Here's how that story was covered at Attytood, in a yearly countdown of five posts that mattered:
5: "The Day the Obama Administration Went All Nixon On Us" -- May 13, 2013:
Since the day he took office, the Obama administration has undertaken an assault on government whistleblowers -- people informing citizens of what their government doesn't want them to know -- that surpasses anything that Nixon or any other president has done. Since 2009, the Obama administration has brought espionage charges against six whistleblowers. And most of these whistleblowers have been criticizing that way that America conducts its neverending war of the 21st Century. One, Thomas Drake, blew the whistle on the illegal warrantless wiretapping that began under George W. Bush. John Kiriakou dropped the dime on illegal U.S. torture -- and was sent away to prison, even as the perpetrators of torture from Dick Cheney to John Yoo continue to walk freely among us.
Nixon had Daniel Ellsberg, and Obama has Bradley Manning of Wikileaks. OK, so they didn't break into the office of Manning's psychiatrist, but they have detained Manning in a solitary confinement that a UN torture expert called "cruel, inhuman and degrading." Do you feel better about that? Because I don't. The war on whistleblowers, the treatment of Manning, and now this investigation of journalists are all hallmarks of a White House that promised transparency but has been one of the most secretive -- all to the detriment of the public's right to know.
Let's be clear -- this is about Obama...and it is about much, much more than Obama. It is yet another example of how the national security state that has dominated our political life since World War II has corrupted the American soul. It is exactly what Philadelphia's own Benjamin Franklin tried to warn us about -- trading liberty for security, and getting neither. To the conservatives reading this, who warn so much about big government running amok...here it is. To the liberals reading this, who thought that one man named Barack Obama could change the system, he couldn't. Only we, the citizens, can truly change things.
The more I pondered the news today, the more I realized that the drone story and the health care story -- on the surface completely unrelated -- are very much deeply intertwined. It's a tale of priorities -- and you have to wonder how those priorities got to be so bass-ackwards.
Those on the political right who are chortling heartlessly about the woes of Obamacare insist it proves their point that government can't do anything right. But we know that's not true when we look at one arm of government -- the military. Like any great global power, American forces have struggled with asymmetrical warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, but no one questions the unparalleled ability of the Pentagon to unleash "shock and awe" and win a conventional war -- because we've made it a priority to do so. In 2011, the United States spent more on its military than the next 13 ranked nations...combined.
And here's another area where no one complains about the ineptitude of government -- spying! Sure, the National Security Agency makes mistakes -- again, mostly human errors -- but we haven't heard about glitches when the NSA launched its PRISM program to monitor Internet activity or its data-mining programs to tracks the phone calls of millions of people. I'll bet there wasn't an interminable wait to log in when the NSA wanted to spy on top officials in Mexico or Brazil.
3. "The exceptionalism of our two Americas" -- December 22, 2013:
Diversity could be America's strong point and on our best days it actually is, but too many days our attitudes toward diversity remain our Achilles heel. Times have changed and the glove has grown softer, but from slavery to segregation to a political war against the "moochers" formerly known as poor people, the stench remains the same. The more one learns about American history, you realize that the stench of prejudice covers everything -- the suburbanization of America and how we fund our schools, highway funding versus transit funding, the ridiculously misguided "war on drugs" (with draconian penalties for inner city residents for crimes that suburbanites routinely get away with), and the highest rates of prison incarceration.
Because those policies are meant for "them," not "us." The Other.
2. "From Istanbul to Rio to Philly, this democracy thing is broken" -- June 18, 2013.
Increasingly, it is in the world's democracies where people are standing up, sometimes -- like in Istanbul -- literally, or taking to the streets. But why? While a free and open democracy should enshrine the right of protest and public assembly, the real place for making the ultimate political statement is supposed to be behind the curtain of a voting booth, not the middle of the town square. But it's becoming increasingly clear to millions of everyday people around the world that the current practice of democracy isn't working for them.
More than ever, the realities of modern capitalism and the cash-infused art of democratic elections have left citizens with a right to vote -- and yet oddly disenfranchised. From Wall Street to Malta, the world has bailed out giant banks that are "too big to fail," and cut social programs for regular folks to pay for it. The rights of citizenship that we do enjoy seem hollow without a job, and yet large profit-maximizing corporations have zero incentive to hire more workers -- not when they can replace humans with a robot or pay just-above-slavery wages somewhere else halfway around the world.
No, the next Nelson Mandela of the world is rotting in a jail cell tonight, just like Mandela nearly withered for 27 years on Robben Island. Or he is on someone's terrorist watch list, or she is segregated and searched every time she travels through an international airport. Somewhere, government spies are reading the emails of the next Nelson Mandela. They are tracking his cell phone and listening to his calls, or monitoring her meetings with their undercover cops.
Many of the other people who today are uttering bland platitudes about the dead Mandela will go back tomorrow to heaping scorns on the living ones. They are the shameless radio hosts and TV pundits and their army of dittoheads who see an advocate for justice and call him a "Communist," who look at someone who wants to liberate her people and brand her a "terrorist," who find someone willing to live in a tent city to call attention to inequality and call them a urine soaked rapist, who lash out at someone who dares to believe in peace as "naive," or a "dirty (bleep)ing hippie."
The next Martin Luther King or Aung San Suu Kyi could be anywhere right now -- advocating for gay rights in Putin's repressive Russia, playing the piano in front of a line of riot police in Kiev, getting arrested in Raleigh to fight for the voting rights of minorities and young people or growing up in a small village in Pakistan, dreaming of peace even after a flying robot has killed his neighbors.
Today's Václav Havel is fighting for the unspeakable today, so that the unspeakable will be normal by the time that he or she is old or dead. Gay rights are his segregated water fountains, economic inequality is her apartheid, fracking is his mercury poisoning.
What else can you say -- 2013 may be ending horribly, but 2014 will begin with hope -- see you Sunday to ride out the old and ring in the new.
* I just made that category up.