A More Hopeful Thanksgiving

Laurie and Debbie say:

We’ve been doing Thanksgiving posts since we started this blog in 2005, and almost all of them have begun with some version of a lament for how hard it was in the previous year to find things to be thankful for. This year is very different.

Just this week, a very satisfying incidence of evildoers being punished shows up in the story of Steven J. Baum, PC, a law firm that has been one of the slimiest players in the foreclosure field. The firm was already under investigation for breaking laws, foreclosing in preference to finding solutions, and robosigning, when a whistleblowing employee let a New York Times reporter know about a Hallowe’en party where employees dressed as homeless people, actively mocking the folks they had put out on the street. In the wake of publicity about the party, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stopped doing business with anyone who does business with the firm, and in three weeks they were bankrupt. For once, justice.

We can’t say enough about the Arab Spring, which really began in December 2010, shortly after we wrote our last Thanksgiving column. This region-wide uprising and demand for populism, transparency, and fairness in government is increasingly powerful. People are putting their bodies on the line for the kind of world they want, and governments all over the Middle East are being forced to respond. Their courage is amazing.

The #Occupy movement can be seen as an outgrowth of the Arab Spring, and of the mass protests in Wisconsin this past spring. A primarily American movement, starting with Occupy Wall Street on September 17 of this year, #Occupy is in hundreds of cities and suburbs, in the U.S. and around the world. It has sparked a general strike day in Debbie’s home city of Oakland, attempts to block foreclosures on specific homes, a disturbing amount of police violence and repression (some of which is clearly backfiring against the police forces and the city and university governing bodies that direct them) and the astonishingly successful Move Your Money movement, which has resulted in at least 650,000 U.S. accounts being pulled out of Wall Street Banks and into local banks and credit unions (for an estimated $50 billion in relocated dollars). Both Occupy and Move Your Money are hopeful ongoing efforts to reclaim our economic system and our government.

In the changed atmosphere surrounding #Occupy, local elections resulted in several important victories: the extremist “personhood” bill in Mississippi went down with more than 55% of voters voting against it (should be 100%, but we’ll take what we can get), an anti-collective-bargaining measure failed in Ohio by about a 60/40 margin, and a voter ID proposal failed in Maine by the same kind of margin. In the same week, President Obama, who had been expected to approve the environmentally disastrous Keystone XL pipeline, sent the project back to the drawing board for a thorough review, which is quite likely to kill it forever.

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize went to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemenite human rights activist Tawakkul Karman (Yemen), for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

The next phase of the Obama administration’s health insurance bill guarantees that people with pre-existing conditions can buy health insurance. The plans are not expensive (rates change according to age, but not to other factors) and are available in all 50 states. As of now, they are very under-publicized and under-used. If you or anyone you know has some money for health insurance but have been barred by pre-existing conditions, take advantage of this now.

In June, New York State made same-sex marriage legal, the sixth U.S. state to do so (plus Washington, D.C. and the Native American tribes of Coquille in Oregon and Suquamish in Washington State).

Jerry Sandusky’s behavior as part of the Penn State football staff was horrific and inexcusable. Nonetheless, we are thrilled to see people (including Graham Spanier, university president, and the extraordinarily well-respected football coach Joe Paterno) actually losing their jobs, however belatedly, for letting a repulsive situation continue. As most Body Impolitic readers understand, Paterno’s and Spanier’s kind of silence is “business as usual” in our culture, and the only thing that will change that is events like this one, where silence = disgrace and preferably imprisonment.

Both AIDS and malaria death tolls are falling rapidly, over 20% in the last decade. In particular, despite the world economic situation, AIDS deaths are finally really decreasing in sub-Saharan Africa.

We have new ancestors! Fossils representing a previously unknown type of archaic human were found in 2010 in a cave in Siberia, and named the “Denisovans,” after the cave in which the fossils were found. Research since that time has established that the Denisovans mated with our ancestors and some of their genetic material survives.

Wow! That’s a lot. Let’s hope for an even better list in 2012.