Friday, January 10, 2014

2013: Year of improv; 2014: Wishful thinking

Posted by on Fri, Jan 10, 2014 at 9:00 AM

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Happy New Year!

It's that time again, when we chuck our old calendars and pay lip service to turning over new leaves.

2013, a year with two digits on its back end known for bad luck, couldn't end soon enough for President Obama.

First, the Prez was stung by Edward Snowden, the nerdish whistle-blower who revealed the extent to which our government's harvesting information we once thought was private.

In another time, this might have been a very big deal. But it has turned out that, in a Facebook age - one where the cashier at your grocery store seems to know more about what you buy than you do yourself - the idea that our privacy might be compromised by large, intrusive forces beyond our control seemed to strike most people with about the same impact as news of a Hootie and the Blowfish comeback tour.

Snowden took cover in, of all places, Russia, a country where they know something about large, intrusive forces. Heck, they practically invented Big Brother. Give Russia's Vladimir Putin credit: the guy can improvise. This is what comes with being all-powerful: you can do what you want, when you want. So Vlad issued New Year's pardons to an old political rival, some Greenpeace activists and members of the jailed rock band Pussy Riot as his way of celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Russian "constitution."

Never mind his crack down on gay people. Vlad giveth, and he taketh away. And hey, everybody, have a great Olympics!

Improvisation accounted for our president's only bit of good news in 2013.

After trying to figure out what, if anything, to do about the bloody civil war in Syria, President Obama was pushed over what he called a "red" line when it became clear that country had used chemical weapons against rebels trying to topple its dictatorial regime.

Obama threatened to fire missiles into that war-torn country, showing that, like so many presidents before him, war is the easiest way to wage peace.

But a funny thing happened on the way to our next quagmire. Secretary of State John Kerry, exasperated at having, for the umpteenth time, to defend his Administration's saber-rattling, suggested an attack could be avoided if Syria gave up its chemical weapons - something he said would never happen.

Amazingly, this worked.

With Russia's help, of course. You could practically hear the voices in the White House exclaiming, "What the... Not again!"

If only the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act had worked as well. 2013's biggest debacle also has proved to be our greatest example of winging it. After failing to launch in November, a crack team of nerds (many doubtless bearing a weird resemblance to Edward Snowden) were employed to do in weeks what Canadian contractors had failed to achieve in years: the creation of a website capable of making it seem our unsustainable health care system could be reformed by creating ever-greater profits for private health insurers.

Talk about wishful thinking - we'll need even more of it in 2014. Like I said, Happy New Year!

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