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Revised 10 Feb. 2010

As in K12, the first year is always toughest; several subjects must be graded, and report cards are due. Unlike K12, there are no standardized scores, nor is there just one pupil. There were only expectations born of hope and exuberance. America faced a herculean task on election day 2008. The list is as long as it is incomplete.

  • A new Great Depression imminent
  • Two unpopular foreign wars
  • Terrorism, seemingly endless without solution
  • A government highjacked by special interests
  • America distrusted abroad, no longer a paragon
  • Banks too large to fail, failing anyway
  • Industrial leadership slipping
  • Soaring unemployment
  • A polarized society
  • A bloated defense budget

Unprecedented times? For sure. Yet America has survived as much and came through for the better. So expectations that we might again are only in tune with our national heritage. On that gloomy November day in 2008, America elected a new leader symbolizing hope and, with a party switch, it elected a super majority in Congress to go with it. It was an auspicious start. Optimism rode high. Hubris seemed to know no bounds.

Come February, reality hit. Nothing much seemed to be happening. Time wore on; one expectation after another came under question. Americans, in their mostly bimodal views of things, began looking for a scapegoat, someone to blame. The Right Wing became especially shrill. Never mind that the unprecedented times were their creation.

This new president with his administration and Congress supposedly in his pocket, became targets. And in a way, rightfully so.

This is the backdrop: President Obama, a Congress, The Media and the American People all played roles. How did each do? Another aspect is the special interests that seem to have most if not all congress-people beholden to their largess. With these caveats where at least four spheres of influence affect where we have been, where we are and can go, we proceed.


One Year Ago Today
Good Marks
Avoid Deep Depression Avoided deep depression
Stop Economic Free-fall Economy growing "Statistically"
Resurrect dysfunctional agencies EPA. SEC, OSHA now funded, staffed
Not So Good Marks
Exit Iraq, Guantanamo Each delayed, rescheduled
Wind down in Afghanistan Troop surge Bush style
Unemployment decrease Unemployment increased
Make headway against terror Not yet apparent, if any
Bad Marks
Reduce special interest influence Internally, none. Externally, some
Fix the financial system Not yet tackled, proposals made

The question of who owns what part of the problem may never be known. What is sure is that while America did not slide down the tubes into depression, other things did not happen as well:

  • we are still waiting for promises kept on most issues.
  • we are still waiting for assertiveness and coherence among the Democrats.
  • we are still waiting for the long term to become apparent, where it all might end.

We are still waiting for Congress to realize Jane and Joe citizen deserve better than it dishes out.

  • The greatest nation on earth lags many developed nations in health care.
  • The Democratic controlled Congress missed a golden opportunity, so busy were they stuffing the turkey full of pork.

Obama and Congress have a lot to explain. Obama now mostly owns Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. To be sure, there is much more than a campaign promise involved, for we and many others think an abrupt departure was improper from most any perspective. A thumbs up on morality is still a thumbs down politically and, even more importantly, economically.

Obama earns a thumbs up on avoiding depression, but thumbs down on the flip side for how he went about it. It was never a question whether or not to bailout. That had to be. The buzz words were: If the big banks fail, depression follows. In bankruptcy, banks would still be doing business. And they would be facing reorganizations that would solve their management problems with appropriate downsizing below the critical mass and replacing an obviously-failed economic culture. That this did not happen implies that special interests have tentacles deep into the affairs of the Treasury and perhaps beyond. General Motors serves as a type example, only the names are changed. GM will survive for the same reason the banks will. It is a flagship of America, just as our financial system is.

  • Now what about the "our" report card?
  • As a people, have we become:
  • too impatient?
    • unrealistic in our impatience?
    • too caught up in the fast-paced American life style to give these questions their proper attention?
    • too susceptible to the booming voices dehumanizing opponents on both the Left and Right, not to mention enemies who are enemies only in the eyes of the boomer?
    • unable to separate truth from fiction?
    • unable or unwilling to think for ourselves?
      • Is it too easy to just go along for the ride doing what others tell us as individuals to believe and do?
      • Are we as a society overly obedient as Milgram found so dramatically?

See Milgram for how "overly obedient" we are. This is likely our most serious failing as a society. One perspective is that that feature alone leads us to divide into poles, each with its herd of sheep heading blindly for a cliff in the form of an economic abyss. Even if this is not so, we can no longer afford to be all things for all people as we exploit their natural resources for our own use. Is this not a most important source of personal and national humiliation that can only alienate the young oppressed? From there, terrorism deems not only logical but necessary.

To the extent Congress owns responsibility for the lack of progress, we rate that august institution lower than Obama, and not just the Republicans. The Democrats loaded their health legislation with so much pork and special exemptions that their bill is not only very confusing, but very unfair as well. Yes, it would extend coverage to those who need it most. But in doing so, it still reeks with the special privileges both parties have grown to expect--how they express them is their only real difference.

There is one other societal feature acting that affects our perspective. The media.

  • Virtually all of it is biased.
  • Most of it seems driven by Manifest Destiny, a policy now as outmoded as the British Empire.
  • Virtually all of the media searches only for the big story of the moment, the story that doesn't just enthrall the viewer, but diverts their attention from the larger and more critical issues of our times. Too much of the media pays too little attention to the currents of change that lead us into special-interest corruption that leads to economic bubbles, wars, and deep recessions for the benefit of plutocrats that own too much of the media.

And so we can summarize:

  • Tentative thumbs down on Obama for follow though on inspiration. This may relate to his personality that puts substance so far ahead of form, that he is in danger of losing touch with many of his supporters. And ironically, substance only infuriates special interests. Nevertheless, we need to know more about why he does what he does. And we need to see more action and follow through on promises made in his inspiring speeches. Obama needs to rally Joe and Jane citizen and enlist them to help with his many worthy causes, causes with potential for renewal and progress. We expect he will do better as time goes on. In his favor is the fact that his predecessors usually grew in the job. Most of us seem to have forgotten that Reagan in his first year began about where Obama did in ratings and dropped to about Obama's level is now. Yet he did not generate nearly the criticism Obama has for actually accomplishing a lot less in his first year on the job.
  • As for Congress, we have less hope. The Republicans are too busy dehumanizing Democrats, and the Democrats are too disunited as a party to make law effectively and well. The Democrats here reveal that they are nearly as individualistic and authoritarian as are the Republicans.
  • The media plays a huge disservice by filtering news, promoting dehumanization of "others" in seemingly knee-jerk fashion. Yes, the media is business for profit. But that is conflict of interest of the first order. Will the Internet fix it? Maybe, time will tell.
  • Special interests still own the store. The tail wagging the dog is the current reality. That might no be so bad except that most special interests do not represent the rest of us. That is the why of the "special." America is no longer a democracy, it is a plutocracy of rather pure form. Both thumbs down.
  • Finally, yes we the people own part of these dismal ratings. We expect too much too soon. In our hegemony of two centuries (back to Monroe), we have somehow come to the believe that we are better than anyone else, that we deserve the best by birthright. That too is at odds with the heritage of our pioneers, rebels, founding fathers, entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists who labored to make what American is today. We have bought into the black-and-white--us vs them--when in fact we all share the same gene pool full of variation. Our natural rights are one thing; our behavior is quite another. The real world really is gray, not black and white.

In historic overview, our failings are fast catching up with us as a nation. It is too much to expect miracles in one year. But the trend is clear, the problem is us, and our leaders are part of us. Pseudoscience, dogma, myths, and lazy thinking will doom us unless we mend our ways. With China coming on strong, it will happen sooner rather than later. China has corruption on the municipal scale; we are legally corrupt in our banking system, not to mention our special-interest groups and military-industrial complex of some seven decades standing. More than one great Republican warned against these very dangers. Why do we the people remain silent and passive?

Has our society become?
Couch potatoes, turnips, or what?

Or is it that in our society we are so automatically obedient in our fat/dumb/happiness that we do not bother to think?

Seems likely.

These are terrible times for idealism.


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