Friday, December 31, 2010

Toast to America 2011

The year 2010 went like a flash. I began the year with high hopes for the beginnings of a robust economic recovery and a tangible decrease in the nation's unemployment. But I also began the year thinking the Chicago Cubs would go to the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years!

The weak economic recovery was the most significant story this year. Unemployment hovers around 10%, and millions more Americans are so discouraged they have stopped looking for a job. While there are some positive signs, foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and poverty are growing. There is so much debt in the American economy that a full recovery will be a slow and painful process. Further, the U.S. government is funding its booming deficits with bonds purchased by China and other countries. The national debt is now at about $45,000 per citizen, and it is growing at about $4 billion daily.

The most important political story this past year was the rise of the Tea Party movement. The movement grew out of citizen discontent with America's government exacerbated by a struggling economy. Although primarily a conservative, "smaller government-less taxes" movement, Tea Party attacks were directed at both sides of the aisle. As a result, the Republican Party has been pulled to the right, and President Barack Obama has been pulled more to the middle.

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the most significant story from the perspective of a social issue, perhaps in decades. No longer will heroic Gay and Lesbian Americans have to hide their sexual orientation while risking their lives for the country they love.

The most important environmental story this past year was the BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. At first, the nation seemed paralyzed with uncertainty about the outcome of this unprecedented environmental disaster. The country came face to face with the consequences of not reducing its dependency on fossil fuels, and Gulf Coast residents suffered severe financial consequences. Yet, in the end, BP CEO Tony Hayward got his life back (and more), while Americans seem to have moved on with their lives. The importance of this story may be that it will take a more significant disaster in order for America to change its ways.

On the international front, America's engagement in two controversial wars is the top story. While U.S. combat troops have now departed Iraq, thousands of soldiers have remained behind as that country struggles with its uncertain future. Neo-conservative dreams of creating in Iraq a "Democratic Arab State" appear unachievable.

Meanwhile, Americans are growing increasingly weary of the war in Afghanistan. The late Richard Holbrooke, perhaps one of America's most brilliant diplomats, who served as America's special envoy to this region, reportedly made the following deathbed plea: "You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan." He knew that a weak and corrupt Kabul government would never be able to rule the whole country. Nearly 500 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan this past year, as well as hundreds of hundreds of coalition soldiers and thousands of civilians. To date, the U.S government has spent a total of about $1 trillion dollars on these two wars.

As we ring in a new year, there are many dark clouds hanging over this country. Citizens are concerned about the uncertain future. Yet, America has overcome adversity many times before in its history. It has always done so because the nation is strong and its people are resilient. That is true as well today. America is the world's leading nation, and a beacon of hope for the entire globe. So, let us drink a New Year's toast to America.

As for the Cubs in 2011, "Wait till next year!"

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