The highlights of this decade have been too few and too far between. The lowlights, on the other hand...
The singular, headline event of the decade can be traced back to the fabulous fifties and our cold-war efforts to keep the Commies away from the Persian gulf. Overthrowing the first democratic government in the Muslim world seemed so easy (and more importantly, so cheap) that the temptation to do it again would be too great. There followed a pattern of supporting short term economic and global political goals at the expense of the human and civil rights of Muslims. Sadly, America became a force for evil in that part of the world. Even after the Soviet threat to the region was on the wane and then gone, we continued to support the most repressive governments in the world in a short-sighted effort to keep the magic stuff flowing.
These policies came back to haunt us when a small group of committed men, with resources gotten from the local BP station, turned the a few airplanes and the twenty-four-hour news cycle into a nightmare from which we still have not awoken.
This nation was founded upon so much promise. All of life is a struggle between the private and the public. All public policy must seek to balance the two. The Constitution represents an attempt to "more perfectly" do so. Sadly, like most Utopian dreams, full enfranchisement has remained just that: a dream. The election of the first President of African descent has not completed the job. It is evidence of our support of the ideals of equality. It helps to advance the goal of equal rights regardless of who were are, where we come from, who we choose as our partners, and how we worship. It is a very strong piece of evidence to point to.
America does have the power to make the lives of people everywhere better. Being an American is a blessing. It also carries with it an obligation to continue to fight for that ideal. The 2008 election shows that things can change and they actually do. It is an important brick in a house that has been under construction for a long time.
The 2000 election debacle
How different things might have been if we had had a competent, experienced leader, with a demonstrated record of commitment to public service in the White House over the last 10 years. Al Gore ran with one of the longest resumes in history. George Bush... not so much. As crisis after crisis challenged the institutions of our land, the responses from the White House were ineffective at best, disastrous at worst.
The 9/11 attacks gave Bush an opportunity to re-examine our role in the world. Unfortunately, re-examining requires some prior examining, something Bush never seemed too big on. In failing to push an agenda of energy-independence and real efforts to promote democracy abroad, he squander an enormous opportunity. His laziness spread downward and may have doomed the city of New Orleans. He showed contempt for civil rights and made torture and extra-judicial detention a part of his (and our) heritage. He turned the Justice department into a tool of party politics and seemed to never miss an opportunity to engage in cronyism. His budgets and his horrible response to the housing crisis (see below) reversed the prior efforts to avoid the worst for our progeny. Even if you agreed that invading Iraq was necessary, the half-assed effort to do it on the cheap and the willingness to put personal, political agendas before reality cannot possibly be defended by anyone. Osama Bin Laden escaped--perhaps by design, Etc., etc...
We can only speculate what would have been if Sandra Day O'Connor, Ralph Nader, Bill Clinton, Jeb Bush, and the candidates themselves had made different choices 10 years ago. What is certain is that we will be living with the legacy of those choices for a long time to come.
Home ownership has been more than a symbol of American freedom and self-reliance. It is a significant engine of our economy. Apart from the psychological effect, or the inability to borrow on one's equity, the current situation is made more worrisome by the baby boomers. Retirement and death are known as "trigger events" in personal finance. The boomers have been marching through time, accumulating property, bigger houses, investment and rental property, second homes, vacation condos, etc. As they retire (and die) those properties will start to be sold.
More properties on the market mean more supply and therefore lower prices. Fortunately, immigration will ameliorate this trend to some degree. In the second-largest economy in the world, however, they have serious problems. Mix this trend with rampant fraud, ARM's and a completely wrong-headed governmental response and we will all be holding our collective breath (and wallets) for the time being at least. The "toxic assets" that were securitized batches of mortgages threatened our entire financial system. In stead of helping people keep their homes, the assets were simply taken off their hands by us, the tax payers through what can only be described as the coup de grace of an administration that could not shoot straight.
Katrina and the Tsunami
Natural catastrophes have a way of being aggravated by human actions. Never was this more on display than in New Orleans, as the long-feared hurricane struck in 2005. The inadequate response of our leaders took a horrible situation and made it apocalyptic.
On the other side of the Earth, a cataclysm that took the lives of a quarter-million people could have been greatly less destructive if more efforts had been made to create an advanced warning system in anticipation of a hazard (rare though it is) to coast dwellers known since ancient times.
Here's to a new start of a new decade. Inshalah, when we look back on the Teens, there will be a more good and less bad.
Happy New Year
Comments to Joe Hubris.