© Josh Sager – January 2015
At the end of every year, I have a custom of reviewing the political and social events that had an impact on our society. The purpose of this review is very simply to cement the events of the year in my mind and to ensure that I don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again. I think that this is an important practice for everybody and would suggest that everybody who reads this do something similar in their areas of interest.
Put simply, 2014 was not a good year to be a progressive or supporter of social justice in the United States. A series of brutal, demoralizing, and heinous events dominated the news and there were few truly positive stories to balance them out.
In the following article, I will give a short accounting of some of the most important events that occurred last year, along with their ramifications.
The 2014 Midterm Election Results
Depressingly enough, arguably the least negative event on my list is the 2014 midterm tsunami for the GOP. During the 2014 election, the GOP captured the Senate, widened their lead in the House of Representative, and won a series of state legislative posts. In addition to these gains, GOP extremists like Governors Rick Scott (whose company pled guilty to largest Medicaid fraud in US history) and Scott Walker (who accidentally kissed the ass of a reporter pretending to be a Koch brother) were re-elected.
Of the new GOP politicians who were elected, there were a few highlights. A self-proclaimed exorcist was elected to the CO state legislature; Iowa is sending a woman to Washington who ran a campaign based upon anti-UN conspiracy theories and the idea that she knows how to cut pork because she castrated hogs on her family farm; North Carolina elected a man who proposed “blitzing” Mexico with our military to punish them for illegal immigration. These are just a few of the science-denying, frothing-nuts conspiracy theorists and corporate tools who will be populating our government for the next few years—at best, we can hope that gridlock and extremism will prevent them from getting much passed, but I am not optimistic.
Obama and the Democrats have been disgustingly willing to capitulate and throw progressive policies overboard in pursuit of an impossible, center-right “compromise” and I don’t see this changing with them in the minority.
The Torture Report
Last month, the Senate released its final report summarizing the findings of its investigation into torture by the US government. In this report, it was not only confirmed that the US tortured detainees, many of whom were found to be totally innocent, but that the methods of torture were even more hideous than previously thought.
The Bush Administration committed the war crime of torture with malice of forethought and hired two psychologists to design the regime of techniques. In addition to the water-boardings and beatings that we already knew about, detainees were forcibly rectally infused (essentially anal rape via rubber tube and pressurized liquid), forced to stand on broken feet in stress positions, subjected to isolation and hypothermia (which killed at least one detainee) and sustained periods of loud music (including hours-long repetitions of the meow mix song). Additionally, they suffered threats to their families and mock burials, where they were forced into coffins and made to think that they would be buried alive.
Torture is a war crime under international laws that the US has ratified—in fact, it was our efforts that led these laws to be passed in the first place. As such, Obama has no legal excuse for not packing up the Bush cronies and shipping them to The Hague to face a war crimes tribunal. Unfortunately, Obama has been a coward and has refused to face domestic political backlash to do the right thing and follow the law. The only result of this will be a repeat of the torture crimes in the future, as the precedent set here is that torture is a policy disagreement, not a war crime.
During 2014, a terrorist group called the Islamic State cemented its hold over a region in both Iraq and Syria. These terrorists are so extreme that Al Qaida not only renounced them for their brutality against civilians, but has also acted as in intermediary between ISIS leaders and US military officials during hostage negotiations. When Al Qaida becomes a hostage negotiator for the USA, you know that the other side is absolutely off the batshit scale.
ISIS has attempted to commit genocide against the Kurds, specifically a minority group called the Yazidi sect, to ethnically cleanse their region of all “apostates” (essentially, anybody who isn’t as extreme as they are) and to repel the secular militaries of Syria and Iraq. While pursuing these goals, ISIS has murdered thousands of POWs, enslaved hundreds of women, buried or burned people alive, crucified Muslim moderates, and decapitated several American aid workers and journalists.
In short, ISIS is truly evil, and represents a threat that must be dealt with. They have acted as a magnet for Islamist extremists across the west and numerous European, American, and Australian citizens have either joined their ranks or been caught trying to do so. Because of this western appeal, destroying ISIS is particularly risky, as it threatens to fragment these extremists and redirect their attention from securing the Middle East to attacking the people in the west who they blame for their defeat.
When Hollywood imagines an apocalypse virus, they often borrow on the reality of the hemorrhagic fevers—highly infectious diseases that cause bleeding and death. Ebola is one such virus, albeit one that is actually not much of a threat to a developed nation.
In 2014, Ebola ravaged portions of eastern Africa, killing thousands and infecting thousands more (we really don’t have accurate estimates at this time). One such infected individual traveled to the United States before he knew that he was infected, where his case set off a nation-wide media panic.
Unfortunately, the first Ebola fatality in the United States was a case of massive mismanagement by the Dallas hospital that not only failed to diagnose the infection, but also failed to follow rudimentary hygienic procedures (they had stacks of soiled material piled up in the patient’s room at some points) which are designed to stop infections from spreading. These oversights caused a nurse working at the hospital to be infected, but, fortunately, she survived.
Put simply, Dallas’s response to Ebola was pathetic and indicative of the truly poor medial infrastructure in some areas of the country. First responders were not briefed on safety protocols, nurses were not following proper procedure in asking new patients about their travel history, and public officials failed to rapidly track potential infections. In comparison, New York had numerous rapid response teams, fully briefed in security protocols and stocked with hazmat supplies—additionally, they ran dozens of dry-runs, where individuals would go to emergency rooms and give a plausible set of symptoms and travel histories for an Ebola patient, just to determine whether the hospital was properly handling all potential infections.
During 2014, the terms “hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” gained gruesome and significant meaning in the American psyche. The Michael Brown shooting and Eric Garner chokehold murder are just two of the most highly-publicized examples of lethal police violence this year.
In response to police violence, massive protests broke out across the nation and thousands marched for change. These marches were repressed in some areas (ex. Ferguson) by police officers wielding military equipment and tear gas, creating the perception that the police are an occupying force who can kill minorities or abuse with impunity.
While police violence is in no way a new or unusual phenomenon, I think that 2014 was the year where things broke. Not only did we see police officers choke a man for selling cigarettes on camera and shoot an unarmed teenager, but there was no justice in either case—the prosecutor’s offices threw both cases, essentially presenting defense cases to the grand juries in order to ensure that the police officers never even saw the inside of the court room. The rage stemming from these incidents doesn’t appear to have dissipated in the past few months and I see a period of extreme unrest coming up in the future.
The Garner and Brown murders may have been the most publicized cases of police violence, but they were no alone. Two other examples of police murder that stand out include the murder ot Tamir Rice, where a black child was executed in a drive-by by a mentally unstable police officer for holding a toy gun and the murder of John Crawford, a black man who was killed by police in a Walmart for the crime of holding a toy gun that the store was selling.
Net Neutrality Under Fire
While no decision has been reached on this issue, 2014 could very well be the year that killed net neutrality in our nation. We are currently awaiting decision from the FCC on whether they will continue to regulate the internet as though it is a public utility (where no company can increase or decrease information transfer speeds based upon how much a company pays) or whether they will follow the demands of the internet providers and deregulate the industry.
Unfortunately, Obama appointed Michael Wheeler, the ex-top lobbyist for the cable industry as the head of the FCC, putting him in the position to tip the scales in favor of the industry and away from a free internet. Given his past comments, it is likely that he has already made up his mind on this issue and that we will soon get notice that our internet is no longer protected from corporate abuses.
Net neutrality is vital for a free flow of ideas, as allowing those with money to buy preferential access to the net allows them to suppress any idea that competes with them. For example, if Comcast wanted to eradicate competitors for a video streaming site that they create (ex. Netflix, YouTube, etc.), they could throttle access to the competitors, thus slowing them down and making their product better by comparison.