by Philip Greenspan
(Swans - December 19, 2005) The events of 2005, or of any period, are markers along a journey in time that may have originated before the current year and whose consequences may extend well into the future. What follows are a few of this year's news items that I think were significant and/or important.
For quite some time the scientists had predicted it, but the world's leaders refused to heed their warnings. Well, old Mother Nature was tired of having her air, water, and land despoiled by the supposedly most intelligent species, Homo sapiens, so she delivered a powerful message to the world. POWERFUL it surely was. Weather-related natural disasters hit record levels in economic losses, number, and intensities -- categories 4 and 5. Certain areas were struck for the first time. Did it have an effect? No! Ever increasing carbon pollutants are spewed into the air and warming effects will accelerate. The point of return to the previous more moderate weather patterns may have been passed. Reducing pollutants will not reverse but only slow the continually increasing global warming. Glaciers are receding; the Gulf Stream is being disrupted; ocean levels are rising; and warmer ocean waters are fueling additional and more powerful tropical storms and hurricanes. 2005 is just a foretaste of more erratic weather and progressively greater devastation.
Democratic Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated retired Marine colonel, has been a strong supporter of the military and backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Recently he advocated a swift withdrawal of the troops. What changed? Murtha has the complete confidence of the military brass and his message that the military is "broken" is meaningful. The generals wish to pull up stakes in Iraq. Apparently nothing can be gained and much may be lost by holding on. Because they fear retaliation from a vengeful White House they have voiced their concerns to the trusted congressman. Other prominent and respected voices -- General William Odom (ret) and Colin Powell's assistant Lawrence Wilkerson -- have uttered similar warnings. The army will soon be leaving. The next phase may have the Air Force and Navy supporting the Iraqis. That strategy was tried in Vietnam and failed. It will fail in Iraq as well.
Since the 1930s when Social Security was enacted, the GOP dreamed of eradicating that abominable program. Early in the year, hoping to capitalize on the momentum of his electoral win, Bush pitched his reform plan for privatizing Social Security. Wall Street drooled as it contemplated the millions it would milk from that golden cow. But all the PR and all the hype were unable to con the public this time. The Republicans will dream and scheme for many more years before embarking on another attempt.
By tossing hurricane Katrina at the Gulf Coast, Mother Nature tested the effectiveness of a world leader and God's anointed agent. Neither Bush nor his team displayed competence or compassion in the ensuing days, weeks, and months. The funds to strengthen the levees and provide National Guard aid to desperate survivors had been appropriated for Bush's Iraqi adventure. Unpreparedness was only one fault. There was no timely response. The appointees in charge had no experience and were incompetent. Suffering victims were abused and treated as criminals by the hostile contract troops sent in. Lucrative contracts for rebuilding were awarded to favored corporations rather than the deserving local businesses. Cleansing New Orleans of poor blacks is a likely consequence. Many other abuses confirmed the heartless treatment that average citizens can expect from this administration. As these facts became known the decline in Bush's poll numbers accelerated.
Robert Novak's 2003 column disclosing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, like Watergate's "third rate burglary," has evolved into a worrisome predicament for the occupants of the White House. Patrick Fitzgerald, a new face on the national scene, is investigating, what promises to be the most damaging prosecution of the Bush administration -- Plamegate. He is a principled workaholic who will relentlessly follow up wherever the facts will lead. His indictment of "Scooter" Libby, a neocon and Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, is the first of what I expect will be a large array of White House officials. Other criminal prosecutions will augment the catch. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has stepped down because of his indictment. Larry Franklin, a Pentagon analyst on Iran who worked under neocon Douglas Feith, and two top officers at AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby have been indicted and an eight-term Republican congressman has pled guilty.
Republicans and the major media have been loyal allies of Dubya since he was selected as a candidate for president back in 1999. But with his poll numbers falling and unfavorable items arising regularly he has suddenly become a liability and signs are appearing of independence. Congressmen considering next year's election worry that the extremely negative opinion of this administration may tarnish them as well if they stick with it. Credibility in the major media has fallen. Top reporters at papers like the New York Times and Washington Post were close to the administration. Perhaps that's why they readily reported all its lies. More critical coverage is beginning to appear.
Some other names graced the headlines during the year for their tough stands against a powerful establishment and will be heard from again.
Hugo Chávez, the charismatic Venezuelan leader, has become a hero not only in Latin America but throughout the world. An elite opposition strongly supported by the U.S. has made a few attempts to oust him. Not only has he successfully defeated those attempts but his legislative support at home keeps increasing. He has stood up to the big bully in the north thumbing his nose at George Bush. His achievements are encouraging to Latin Americans who have suffered horribly from the US's neocon reforms and are moving their governments to the left.
A "noble cause" is Bush's defense for the Iraq invasion and its continual occupation. Cindy Sheehan, a Gold Star mother, asked him to explain what that frequently cited "noble cause" actually was. By callously ignoring her, anti-Bush sentiment soared among the usual unmoved silent majority and unfavorable poll results for this first time since he declared war on the terrorists soon appeared.
A dark horse and long-shot candidate for long-term success is Amir Peretz, the new head of the Labor Party in Israel. His surprise victory against the well known and long-time Labor leader Shimon Peres may foreshadow a major change in that country. Over the years, Labor, like the Democrats in this country, lost its bearings and took on the policies of its opposition. Peretz, a Moroccan, will appeal to North African Jews, a group that shunned Labor. He will bring new blood into the party. By returning Labor to its roots, the economic well being of its citizens and not the military will be its top priority. The breakup of Likud will pit three major parties into the upcoming election. It may be too early for a sizeable jump in Labor's share of the vote but I believe Peretz will build it up in time and with increasing influence will modify the future of the country.