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Thanksgiving 2012

Since 2005, we’ve been writing posts about news to be thankful for. This year, we have a lot to celebrate.

The bulk of our good news this year (but not all of it!) comes from the U.S. elections, but before we get to that, here’s breaking good news.

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a ceasefire, brokered by Egyptian president (and Muslim Brotherhood member) Mohammed Mursi, bolstered by Barack Obama’s and Hilary Clinton’s efforts to get Israel to give the plan a try. It’s brand-new, it may not last, and it isn’t a harbinger of solutions to this horrible conflict. But it does mean at least a break in the warfare, and Israeli troops standing down from marching into Palestine.

We know the next section is very American-centric. Obama is not a progressive and there’s a lot to worry about in his next four years. But still, here’s the inimitable Rachel Maddow’s list of things to be thankful for after the November elections (and we could add more).

“We are not going to have a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade.”

There are not going to be any Antonin Scalias and Samuel Alitos added to this court.

We are not going to repeal health reform.

Nobody is going to kill Medicare and make old people in this generation or any other generation fight it out on the open market to get themselves health insurance. We are not going to do that.

We are not going to give a 20% tax cut to millionaires and billionaires and expect programs like food stamps and expect programs like food stamps and kids’ health insurance to cover the cost of that tax cut.

We’re not going to make you clear it with your boss if you want to get birth control under the insurance plan that you’re on.

We are not going to redefine rape. We are not going to amend the United States Constitution to stop gay people from getting married.

We are not going to double Guantanamo.

We are not eliminating the Department of Energy or the Department of Education or Housing at the federal level.

We are not going to spend $2 trillion on the military that the military does not want.

We are not scaling back on student loans because the country’s new plan is that you should borrow money from your parents.

We are not vetoing the DREAM Act. We are not self-deporting.

We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt.

We are not starting a trade war with China on Inauguration Day in January.

We are not going to have as a president a man who once led a mob of friends to run down a scared gay kid to hold him down and forcibly cut his hair off with a pair of scissors while that kid cried and screamed for help, and there was no apology, not ever.

We are not going to have a Secretary of State John Bolton.

We are not bringing Dick Cheney back. We are not going to have a foreign policy shop stocked with the architects of the Iraq War. We are not going to do it.

We had the choice to do that, if we wanted to do that as a country. And we said no, loudly.

Good news from around the world:

January 13, 2012 marked India’s first year with no new polio cases. In 2009, India had among the largest number of new polio cases in the world.

Later in the year, a new treatment started showing great promise in reducing malaria.

Young people in Africa are showing up as tech wizards. First, there were the Ethiopian kids who got proficient with their “One Laptop Per Child” laptops, which were dropped off with no instructions.

“I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,”  [Nicholas] Negroponte [founder of One Laptop Per Child] said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

But that news was dwarfed by the Nigerian girls who invented a urine-powered generator, which can turn one liter of pee into six hours of electricity.

While African teens are fixing the world, other things are also getting better on that continent, specifically a sharp decrease in female genital mutilation.

Back in the United States, before the Republican rape apologists started opening their mouths and losing elections, the FBI redefined “forcible rape” to include all nonconsensual penetration, instead of the old definition which only applied to women and was far less stringent. This took far longer than it should have, but it does open up possibilities for a lot of horrible abuses to be appropriately charged and tried.

Eleven countries and parts of two others (Mexico and the U.S.) have legalized gay marriage. In the U.S., gay marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. Three of those U.S. states were just added to the list in November, and one more (Minnesota) voted down a Constitutional amendment that would have made gay marriage illegal in the state.

Since it’s always a good time to remember our foremothers and the folks whose thought, work, and activism have helped us get here, let’s include Anna’s American feminist literary canon. Who wants to help make a more global one?

On the more radical front in the U.S., thousands of Americans march in the streets on May Day, a holiday which America usually ignores. Union activity is ramping up for the end of the year. The folks from Occupy Wall Street have covered themselves with glory in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: “We’ve been building neighborhood assemblies and community support networks,” [organizer Justin Wede] said. “So this relief is a natural response for us, where communities band together to reach out and support each other.”

Debbie has been involved with Occupy Oakland Foreclosure Defense Group’s DefendJodie action, which has currently helped keep Jodie Randolph in her home for more than two weeks after the moving truck and evicters were due to show up on Election Day.

And perhaps the most exciting Occupy-related news of all: Rolling Jubilee launched on November 15, just five days ago. Taking advantage of (and showcasing) the absurd ways in which banks will sell your debt for pennies on the dollar (just not to you!), Rolling Jubilee has already raised enough money to buy up and then forgive over $7.5 million in medical (and other) debt owed by Americans. The system is so rigged that they can do this with $375,000 in contributions. Debt forgiveness is random, and comes with a letter from Rolling Jubilee explaining that you no longer owe the money. The organizers of Rolling Jubilee and their related organization Strike Debt (“a coalition of Occupy groups looking to build popular resistance to all forms of debt imposed on us by the banks”) have positioned themselves to change the relationship of Americans to the powers that keep us in debt.

As we said at the beginning, much of the good news this year is U.S.-centric. But lots of that news has the potential to be felt around the world.

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.