As a new year begins, I am left with several unresolved and troubling questions from 2010. Since I hate being indecisive some of these questions revolve around issues I found hard to put to rest in my own mind.
For example, I couldn't quite determine where I stood on the tax bill that passed Congress at the eleventh hour. I'd listen to Bernie Sanders et al. and be absolutely convinced that there was no way to justify giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in the country while adding billions more dollars to the deficit. Then I'd listen to people who argued in favor of an unsavory but necessary compromise as the clock ticked toward the end of unemployment benefits and I'd be convinced by their argument. In principle I had a foot in one camp, while in practice I had a foot in the other, making for a very uncomfortable position.
Then there was the WikiLeaks thing. It seemed clear to me that Julian Assange was not an investigative journalist; I saw him as more of a narcissist with a touch of social conscience. But the case spoke to larger issues than Assange's personality and motives. It raised critical questions about government secrecy and citizens' right to information about our foreign policy and actions. It brought into focus, once again, our first amendment rights.
In the end, I sided with the progressive point of view: So long as no one could be hurt by the leaks (despite the hysteria surrounding this point, no one has been put at risk), and so long as leaks are selectively aimed at stopping wrongdoing by our government (think Watergate, the Mai Lai Massacre, the Tuskeegee experiments, et cetera), I will defend WikiLeaks.
I recognize that not all diplomatic exchanges or foreign policy cables should go public; nothing would ever get done if they did. But the idea of an ultra-secret, highly controlling government which increasingly invokes the mantra of "national defense" sends shivers up my spine. As an editorial in The Nation put it, "What's really at stake here is not individual privacy, the safety of sources or America's diplomatic leverage -" it's the secret state." I do not want a Secret America that works "unchecked and unchastened." I don't want a power elite doing things covertly and then lying about it. (Remember Nixon?) And I don't want a government that can arbitrarily shut down electronic business operations just because it doesn't agree with what is being traded.
Which brings me to another question: Was the FCC's ruling on "net neutrality" a sell-out or a necessary compromise? Net neutrality is the principle that Internet users, not Internet service providers, should be in control. It aims to ensure that ISPs don't fiddle with what you can see on the Web based on the source or other variables.
According to the watchdog group CREDO Action, the FCC ruling "enshrined in federal regulations for the first time the ability of [companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon] to discriminate between sources and types of [Internet] content." Senator Al Frankin was one liberal lawmaker troubled by the decision. "The FCC action was simply inadequate to protect consumers or preserve the free and open Internet," he said. "I am particularly upset that the order will not specifically ban paid prioritization, allowing big companies to pay for a fast lane on the Internet." It's a complex issue, but I'm with him -- I think the White House sold out on this one.
Here are just a few other questions I'm left with as we start a new year:
Why do we need yet another secretly funded, jargon-laden, white male dominated political organization like the newly organized "No Labels"? As the inimitable Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote recently, "The notion that civility and nominal bipartisanship would accomplish any of the heavy lifting required to rebuild America is childish magical thinking, and worse, a mindless distraction from the real work before the nation." I'm with him too on this one.
How about this -- Given recent recalls of everything from chicken to cars and the inherent dangers looming from beef to bridges, is America really a safe place to live? It's enough that we have to worry about terrorist attacks, nuclear waste, and climate change; must we also worry about the water we drink, the planes we fly, the food we eat, and the crumbling roads we drive?
Even more irksome, why didn't any Wall Street bankers ever go to jail? Why couldn't we pass the Dream Act? Why was it so hard to get DADT repealed or the 9-11 health bill through? Perhaps the fundamental question here is this: Why are so many Republicans so mean?
It's a lot of stuff to carry over from one year to the next, but then, when do we ever get to begin with a "tabula rasa' just because the ball has dropped in Times Square?
At least that question is comfortably rhetorical.