2009-12-31 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Recapping Final Year Of 21st Century’s First Decade
By Neil S. Friedman
What a year! What a decade! In case you didn’t realize it, at the stroke of midnight tonight, the first decade of the 21st century comes to an end. Seems like only yesterday when some of us partied like it was 1999.

This is the time of year that induces year-end reviews of news, the arts and the lives of notable people who died in the previous twelve months. My editor and colleague Chuck Rogers has been doing his “year-ender” for decades, in which he recaps events covered in this newspaper over the last year. The following are my observations about a few events of the past year that I’m likely to remember most.

As 2009 comes to a close, the President of the United States seems to be more popular overseas than inside the nation he governs. In the last few months, Barack Obama’s popularity has slipped below 50 percent in polls and becomes only the second president since such surveys were taken to fall that far in his first year in office. On the positive side, Ronald Reagan is the other and today, some Americans, including those who constantly criticize Obama, consider Reagan one of the nation’s top five commanders-in-chief. So, in the next three years not only does the president have the opportunity to revive his diminished reputation, but also to ultimately change the way politics has operated in Washington for way too long, as some expected he would.

Sadly, regardless of political party or ideology, no matter who is elected, our representatives keep kowtowing to big business lobbies and special interests. Consequently, the shafting of we the people goes on and on.

The year’s first hero emerged on January 15 when the pilot of a commercial jet landed in the Hudson River shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport. Capt. Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III avoided a crash and safely set the aircraft on the water to save 155 lives and, deservedly, become an instant celebrity and hero.

Sadly, the rest of the year gave us few heroes and many villains.

On January 20, Barack Obama was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts as the 44th president and the first African-American in the nation’s history to hold the highest office.

A week after the inauguration, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was the focus of an alleged pay-for-play scheme, was removed from office by the state’s legislature for his attempt to sell Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat to the highest bidder. His trial is set for next June.

Less than a month later, in an effort to energize the nation’s decimated economy, Obama signed a nearly $8 billion stimulus package, designed to create or save millions of jobs and end the worst U.S. economic crisis since the Great Depression. To date, it has barely trickled down to the average American, but signs of a slow recovery are beginning to take shape.

March came in like a lion when Ponzi scheme ringleader Bernard Madoff pleaded guilty to securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and perjury. The 71-year old was sentenced to the maximum 150 years in prison three months later.

After years of ignoring the success of Japanese automakers’ better performing vehicles, General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection in June, but emerged from it a month later after selling off its Hummer, Saturn, and Saab brands. If GM is to regain anything close to its former status, it must restructure itself if it hopes to regain the confidence of American car buyers.

Many were shocked last June when a man killed a security guard, in of all places, the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC — a memorial commemorating the slaughter of millions in World War II. The 88-year-old gunman, later identified as a white supremacist, was shot but survived.

Before June was over, the self-proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, who I briefly worked for 25 years earlier, was pronounced dead after collapsing at home. It was later determined the cause was likely due to an excess of prescription drugs administered by a doctor.

In late July, the government initiated the popular “Cash for Clunkers” program to get aging, polluting vehicles off the road and boost the sluggish economy by offering consumers a $4,500 incentive toward new, more-efficient vehicles. Despite some criticisms, it turned out to be mildly successful.

A clunker of another variety — former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin — took herself out of the political picture when she resigned as Alaska’s governor that same week. Palin later wrote a book, with — many believe — a lot of help from a co-author, that remains a New York Times best seller. While on tour to promote the book, she couldn’t help but offer her inimitable political insights.

In late summer, the man known as the Lion of the Senate and the longest serving member of the Kennedy clan, Senator Edward Kennedy died after a yearlong battle with brain cancer. Wonder what Teddy would have said about the watered-down health care reform package passed by the body in which he served for so long. And, how he would have reacted to the disruptive, sometimes violent, town hall meetings on the health care reform debate that reached a climax the same week he died in August?

On October 15, breaking news about a six-yearold Colorado boy, who was thought to be adrift in a runaway balloon, captivated a nation and the news media. Hours later he was discovered hiding in the attic of his home. His parents later admitted it was a hoax and part of a scheme to get a deal for a reality show. Last week, the boy’s father was sentenced to 90 days in county jail, faces fines of up to $500,000 and is prohibited from profiting from the stunt. You could say the man’s dreams literally vanished into hot air.

The season didn’t end for the Boys of Summer until early November, but Yankee fans couldn’t care less as the team dethroned the Philadelphia Phillies to win its 27th World Series, thereby bookending the decade, ending a nine-year drought since their last championship in 2000. Yankee die-hards were thrilled to watch their team parade down the Canyon of Heroes a few days later!

An apparent act of home-grown terrorism surfaced in early November when an Army psychiatric specialist in combat stress allegedly massacred 13 people at the Army base in Fort Hood, Texas, before he was shot to death.

Another potential terrorist incident was thwarted on Christmas Day when a Nigerian extremist and suspected Al Qaeda terrorist was moments from detonating a bomb from his seat on a transatlantic flight bound for Detroit with 289 people on board. The device was sewn into his underpants but a few brave daring passengers and crew members restrained him when they realized what he was about to do.

Just before Thanksgiving, in an alarming incident at the White House, two wannabe socialites crashed a state dinner. The Secret Service said Tareq and Michaele Salahi — the latter another reality show hopeful — were not on the guest list, but their stunt was a dreadful breach of security. And, it could have been worse because they got to shake hands with President Obama and had a photo taken with Vice President Joe Biden. An appropriate punishment for the party-crashers would be to send them aloft in a hot-air balloon and NOBODY pay sattention!

As if President Obama’s first year in office wasn’t bad enough! Some opponents have ceaselessly second-guessed and criticized him since the inauguration. (Aren’t they the same people who condemned as unpatriotic those who passed similar judgments on George Bush for eight years?) About the only things the president wasn’t blamed for were Tiger Woods’ indiscretions.

Woods had little to be thankful for this Thanksgiving as he was hospitalized that holiday weekend after crashing his SUV outside his home. When details of the incident were disclosed, it was revealed the crash ensued soon after he fought with his wife. Early this month, Woods, whom admirers thought was above such indiscretions, admitted to having affairs with several women.

For those unfamiliar with the Chinese calendar or don’t read placemats in some Chinese restaurants, it is comprised of a seven-year cycle named for an animal. This was the Year of the Ox and 2010 is — tada — the Year of the Tiger! It does, of course, refer to the species of striped big cat, but for those who have faith in in premonitions and such, it might forecast a good year for Tiger Woods, so the world’s top golfer can return to the links and add to his legend as one of the sport’s all-time players. That would truly make 2010 the Year of the Tiger after his popularity plunged faster than the president’s!

To friends, co-workers and everyone who consciously reads this space on a regular basis, whether we agree or not, may the New Year bring all that you hope for and all that you deserve.

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