Usually, at this time of year, we take personal stock of where we have been and what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. Most likely, this year we will also be taking inventory of where our nation has been and where it is headed, with our focus being less about the "me" and more about the collective "we." 2011 has been a very tough year, coming on the heels of a very tough decade, but we Americans are a rugged people and we seem to have a knack for getting through rough times, so optimism -- even if it's a bit shaky these days -- should not be left totally out of our thoughts for the coming year.
We saw history-making events unfold almost on a weekly basis in 2011, with totalitarian regimes toppling across the Middle East and long-awaited final judgments being passed on two truly evil men, Osama bin Ladin and Moammar Gaddafi. Our President showed tremendous leadership and resolve when he dispatched those Navy Seals to terminate Osama, and the world applauded his act of courage, making us once again proud as a nation. In recent days, we also saw our troops finally come home from Iraq -- although, unfortunately, that does not mean the end of our large and expensive presence there, along with our 80,000 troops that remain in Afghanistan.
On the home front, last week the House agreed to join the Senate in extending temporarily the payroll tax cut for those 160 million workers, providing a boost of $40 more per paycheck, which hopefully will be used to pump up the economy. Speaker Boehner rallied his membership in the House to pass the bill to avoid a political backlash. The obvious Scrooge connection would have given the Dems plenty of political ammunition to use against the wildly unpopular House Republicans at this time of year.
How could the GOP refuse a payroll tax cut? Make no mistake, however, as this was purely a political decision on Boehner's part, and not based on doing the right thing. Also receiving much-needed help will be another 3 million Americans whose unemployment insurance will be extended. Both extensions will last for two months in the hopes that Congress will address these critical issues when it returns from the holiday break. The goal will be for both the tax cut and unemployment benefits to be extended through 2012, which is what the president is pressing for.
More good news is that doctors will be spared from a 27 percent reduction in their Medicare fees. This threatened cut is an annual cliffhanger, as the formula for payment still hasn't been properly addressed, resulting in a major scare for the medical community being thrown out there every December. The GOP would like nothing better than to slash fees once and for all to such an extent that the program collapses, forcing doctors to refuse to serve Medicare patients. However, it was once again brought back from the brink as the proposed slashing of fees is shelved for another year. Another important health care development to watch for will be the Supreme Court's review of the Affordable Care Act and the legality of the mandate that forces the public to buy health insurance. A decision will be forthcoming, possibly in January.
And let us not overlook the monumental achievements of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the passage of same-sex marriage in more states, including here in New York.
On the flip side, we also witnessed the debacle of the Deficit Reduction "debate," as our precious safety nets were used as bargaining chips in the fight to extend our debt limit, with only a national outcry stopping that potential disaster in its tracks. Will the fools in D.C. ever realize that the real issue is and has always been jobs and building the economy -- which would really address the deficit and build revenue -- as opposed to the red herring of "entitlement" programs sapping the budget?
The GOP has been effective in their efforts to divert the debate from the real issues that need addressing to "conservative" myths like Social Security and Medicare insolvency. Confusion and fear are the hallmarks with the GOP attack machine, aided and abetted by unprecedented amounts of unidentified money thrown into campaigns as a result of the Citizens United decision, now approaching its second year on January 21, 2012. Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have effectively placed our government in gridlock by corrupting and buying out Congress, ensuring that it serves the 1% and the special interests in this country, instead of the 99%, with guilt being shared nearly equally by both parties.
And so the Occupy movement was born in protest in September, on the heels of the Arab Spring and the resurgence of union power in Madison, Wisconsin over the summer in response to Republican attacks on public workers and their bargaining rights. This unprecedented demonstration of People power led to recalls of Wisconsin State legislators and Governor Scott Walker himself. Russ Feingold also returned to the public eye in February to launch Progressives United to take on Citizens United, joining Public Citizen and Move To Amend at the forefront of the campaign finance reform battle. Currently, over 150 progressive organizations have joined in this fight and found a unified voice to cast a harsh light on our bought-off government.
The People are on the move across the country, fighting inequality and corruption in all of its forms. Wall Street malfeasance, skyrocketing CEO pay versus stagnant worker's wages, the besieged middle class and working class struggling to get by while the filthy rich skip out on paying their fair share, all of these issues have been burned into the public's mind through the work of these courageous new leaders. Now, the Occupiers must sustain themselves and keep the movement building over the winter as they further develop strategy and refine their agenda. They must keep these issues alive and keep delivering one simple message to the White House, Congress and the world: Inequality, in all forms, must go! Another key element of their work -- along with that of all progressives -- must be identifying, supporting and funding true progressives to run for Congress.
And so the New Year rapidly approaches. We will watch the campaign for president heat up and the theater of the absurd play out in the reckless GOP/Tea Party camps as they decide who will be their nominee for president. It is doubtful that "the Newt" will prevail, as he reverts to his undisciplined and self-destructive ways, and the other mixed nuts -- Perry, Bachmann, Paul and Santorum -- can't seem to find or sustain any momentum against the presumptive GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, who will most likely be chosen as the "least of all evils" by the Republicans to take on President Obama. It is exciting to consider the growing role of The People in leading the charge to take back our government and democracy, the #1 priority for 2012. We must press the president to become the populist we thought we were voting for a lifetime ago in '08. He is supposed to represent The People's party, after all, isn't he?
People are becoming more engaged and involved across the board, and that bodes well for all of us. We must continue to forge a new direction for America in 2012, and hold our representatives in government accountable for their (in)actions. And if they continue to fail us, we must vote them out and replace them with real leaders who will represent We The People. Our nation deserves nothing less.
Happy New Year everyone.
Co-written by Jon Stone