Bob Franken

The Very First Year-in-Review for 2009

By the time 2009 arrived on January 20th, historians were already borrowing from the Chinese by calling 2008 “The Year of the Chickens Coming Home to Roost”.

So Barack Obama had the advantage of a following a really bad act, particularly after Vice President Cheney barricaded himself in the White House that morning and had to be forcibly removed. He screamed he didn’t have to leave, that the Constitution didn’t apply to him.

What an inauguration it was!! Who can forget the words of the new President as he borrowed from the oratory of his campaign to look out at the sea of faces and say “HELLOOOO WASHINGTON”?

This was history, after all, marking an end to bigotry in the United States. It was so moving that the ceremonies were closed by the invocation from Pastor Rick Warren.

Now was the time for a new beginning. Obviously, the economy was front and center, and naturally, 2009 has produced its winners and losers. What it hasn’t produced is much change. How could it, since the new guys in charge, Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers were part of the same old group responsible for this mess in the first place?

Still our leaders were ready for action. Congress quickly passed a new stimulus bill with one teeny revision. Through a clever parliamentary maneuver by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republicans snuck in an amendment that designated almost the entire trillion dollars for use as executive bonuses. Nobody quibbled because It entirely escaped the attention of everyone. The legislation was signed by President Obama in a lavish ceremony on the floor of the new White House basketball court.

Part of the problem was the confusion over who was actually in the Senate. New York, Illinois and Minnesota were all one seat short of a load. Each state had its own issues. In New York, the question was, could Caroline Kennedy choose herself. The issue in Illinois was whether anyone could appoint an acceptable Senator. As for Minnesota, the concern was that if the Democrat finally won his recount, the name “Franken” would just be too weird.

The economic package was only the second major accomplishment of the new administration, which had already gained worldwide acclaim for its decision to immediately shut down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. What remained of the stimulus money was quickly designated for a company that would construct a massive condominium development there, along with a new hotel, the X-Ray Hilton. The developer, of course, was Halliburton.

That was about the only good news for real estate. Prices continued to nosedive. No matter what the experts tried, nothing seemed to work, even when they prepared complicated financial instruments that combined the mortgage debt into creative securities. As good an idea as that was, the downward slide continued.

It was only at year’s end that a new strategy emerged: Homeowners would simply ignore the foreclosure notices. That seemed to be fine with everybody. People got to keep their houses, and the banks didn’t get stuck with all that worthless property and messy publicity.

Nobody had a job anymore but manufacturers weren’t making anything, so there was nothing to buy even as the post-Christmas sales that lasted all year. The problem just seemed to go away. The media stopped paying attention, because most of their staff had been laid off, along with everybody else.

Meanwhile, US military commitments kept expanding. The promises to pull out of Iraq were not being kept and the demands in Afghanistan meant huge troop increases were needed, particularly when President Obama followed through on his threat to invade Pakistan. The armed forces required more and more people, which was a good thing, since they were now the only place that offered employment.

They also offered health care. The only other individuals who got that were members of Congress and others in the government, who, understandably, felt no urgency about dealing with the fact no one else could get decent, affordable, medical treatment.

The year may seem to some like a never-ending dark cloud, but, as always, there were the silver linings. Actually make that gold that was lining the pockets of all the lobbyists.

So here we are at the end of 2009, a time to reflect and look not backwards, with despair, but forward, with hope. After all, 2010 is an election year.

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