On the national political scene, 2013 opened up with President Obama ready to start his second term while Republicans gathered to debate their apparent demise during the November 2012 elections. But this GOP introspection didn’t last long as their long-term strategic objective – solid obstructionism – was back in play. Throughout the year, the nation was witness to both GOP obstructionism and Obama capitulation play out for all to see. There were several failed attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act, the federal government 16-day shutdown that cost upwards of $24 billion to the elimination of unemployment benefits and food stamp benefits for millions of people. Another casualty of GOP obstructionism was effective gun control legislation – after yet another school shooting, this time at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012 and episodes of gun violence occurring throughout the nation. The gun violence in Chicago became nationalized when young Hadiya Pendelton was shot dead less than two weeks after playing in a band at the presidential inauguration ceremonies. The president was subsequently criticized for failing to show similar emotion in reacting to Hadiya’s death compared to his shedding a tear on national television in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. African Americans across the nation began to sound the drumbeat in asking the president to do something – say something...First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett – all three are from Chicago.
The nation stood witness to the headlines and stories dominated by the Affordable Care Act all year long, particularly when the ACA rollout faced an avalanche of problems associated with the website, Healthcare.gov. The rollout was characterized by the chaos that followed revelations of number of major technical problems, insurance plans for millions of folks were dropped, and poor management decisions from the Obama administration, just to name a few. In short, the rollout was a disaster and a rather bitter pill for the president to swallow. The Affordable Care Act is his signature piece of legislation and has been under constant attack from Republicans since the president signed off on it. There were repeated efforts to undermine Obama’s key legislation through attempts at defunding and repealing ACA – every attempt unsuccessful.
As 2013 came to a close, the Obama administration reported that slightly more than two million people have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Although, they may be severely challenged in meeting the seven million target – it does appears that the worse is behind Obama’s team. However, that has not stopped opponents of ACA who are encouraged by declining poll numbers for both Obama and ACA. For example, results from a December 2013 Gallup poll disclosed that ACA is both President Obama’s greatest achievement (22%) as well as his biggest failure (36%). Republican opponents of ACA continue their efforts to undermine the nearly four year old law with online petitions to repeal and defund ACA.
But the reality is that ACA has clearly forced a paradigm shift in America where for the first time, there is a national effort to provide health insurance coverage to the nearly fifty million Americans without health insurance. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act is such a HUGE step forward not only in providing coverage for the uninsured but the protections as well as preventive care that will now be provided. For example, pre-existing conditions are now covered; preventive care is free; coverage is extended for young adults until they reach twenty-six years old; and lifetime and yearly limits are eliminated. See a complete listing here for all protections provided The free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, Type-2 diabetes, HIV – and particular for women – screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer, mammograms, Hepatitis for pregnant women are just a scant few examples. See a complete listing here for a listing of all available screening for women. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spoke with several mothers about ACA and the president said, “I think this conversation really drove home in a very personal way why this is important,” President Obama said. “Sometimes here in Washington, this is a very abstract conversation or an entirely political conversation. But when you boil it down to stories and people hear what it means to have the security of solid health insurance at an affordable price when you need it, it reminds me at least of why we've been fighting so hard to get this done.”
2013 ended with Hillary Clinton declared the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential race – although she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy. While end of the year Gallup polls underline her popularity – is this a legitimate consideration for the highest office in the country – before consideration of her politics and policy proposals? The voter must critically think for themselves and disregard Clinton popularity over policy; become more interested in policy proposals and ideas while ignoring celebrity and elitist endorsements. For example, while we know of Hillary’s advocacy for women issues - what do we know of her positions on the economy, unemployment, education, voting rights and affirmative action? What about her views on Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East? Where does she stand on the use of drones – both domestically and internationally, and the NSA surveillance on American citizens? Taking into consideration the fallout between Blacks and Clinton during the 2008 campaign – what will be Black America’s political reaction if Hillary disagrees and then criticizes President Obama policies? Hillary Clinton served as the First lady for two terms, went on to become a US Senator and then the Secretary of state – but voters, progressive voters must ask these and other necessary questions before a decision to support her candidacy is made.
NSA and government surveillance
There was also the jaw dropping revelations published by The Guardian about the National Security Agency commonly known as the NSA, who were actively collecting and storing phone record data on millions of Americans. While these revelations may not rise to the shrug your shoulder level – but should we really be surprised about this? After the September 11 attacks, there were several disclosures about the Bush presidency and government surveillance, not to mention the long sordid history of being watched or listened to by the government. We’ll get to this momentarily but getting back to the Bush presidency – there were similar revelations. For example, when he secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants required for domestic spying. Or in 2006 when we found out that the NSA was secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to analyze calling patterns to detect terrorism.
But what should be quite disturbing was the revelation of a Pew survey measuring the public's view around combating terrorism vs. privacy - the results are interesting. The survey showed 56 percent of people believe the NSA tracking of telephone calls is an acceptable way to fight terrorism. That includes 53 percent of whites, 62 percent of blacks and 63 percent of nonwhites in general. In fact, the survey noted the following, "...finds no indications that last week’s revelations of the government’s collection of phone records and internet data have altered fundamental public views about the tradeoff between investigating possible terrorism and protecting personal privacy."
The question here is why is there so much acceptance of government surveillance, considering the sad history of government spying on US citizens and related abuses? Is there any awareness of the dangers of surveillance? For example, didn’t COINTELPRO demonstrate for all to see the connection between surveillance and political imprisonment – do you think this is the next natural step after accusations are made and charges levied? COINTELPRO was a domestic covert operation used by the FBI under the notorious J. Edgar Hoover. The covert operation was designed to repress political expression outside the mainstream. For example, victims of COINTELPRO were activists in the American Indian Movement, the Black Liberation Movement, Civil Rights Movement, Puerto Rican Independence Movement, Socialist Workers Party, Students for Democratic Society, and the Communist Party USA, to name a few. The FBI infiltrated these groups, used the legal system and the local police department to levy false criminal charges and carry out sting operations and murderous raids. Maybe – just maybe is it possible the acceptance of government surveillance, as indicated from the results from the Pew survey cited earlier – is based on fear? Do you think this begins to explain why there hasn’t been a strong national movement in this country, such as the social movements outlined earlier, since the sixties