January 01, 2008

Best of 2008

As the presidential election moved into high gear and the light at the end of George Bush's tunnel vision came into focus, speculation shifted to how the president would fill his time after leaving the White House.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton refused to accept that she was not the Democratic Party's inevitable nominee.

In California, voters approved Proposition 8, writing discrimination into the state's constitution.

Prop. 8 supporters could wear their civic engagement like a badge of honor.

Though the exit poll numbers varied, it was clear that a majority of African American voters supported Prop. 8, failing to see the connection between their own struggle and this new branch of the civil rights movement. Though religious beliefs were often cited as the reason behind the vote, that attempt at justification overlooked the fact that those same religious convictions were used for centuries to deny rights to African Americans.

Heterosexual moralists often justified their opposition to gay marriage on the grounds that it was a threat to the institution. It was difficult to understand their logic. That is, until you looked at it from a certain perspective.

John McCain hitched his 2008 presidential ambitions to the man to whom he bitterly lost the Republican nomination eight years earlier. McCain's support for Bush's war and economic policies proved fatal for his campaign. After seeing the effect the Iraq disaster had on Bush's political fortunes, one would have thought McCain would have known better than to stand too close.

Indeed, after awhile, it was difficult to tell them apart.

Barack Obama reneged on a campaign pledge to accept public funding. The decision was understandable, considering his ability to raise record campaign contributions from a vast base of supporters, but the sacrifice of a core principle suggested that expedience played a larger role in his ambitions than he was willing to admit.

The electorate, stoked by the GOP and pliant media, raised the absurd issue of whether the lack of an American flag lapel pin on Barack Obama's chest demonstrated a lack of patriotism.

Trailing Barack Obama in the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton struggled mightily to regain the upper hand. "He'd make a great vice president," she told voters, hinting that if they supported her they might just get him on the ticket as well — just one of many transparent ploys by the Clinton campaign that failed to sway the electorate. Meanwhile, former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter, claimed that Obama was only doing so well because he's black.

After eight years, it seemed that Bush and his band of pirates had effectively raided every sector of the government, following up on Grover Norquist's goal of starving the government until it was weak enough to drown in a bathtub.

Even the most sanctimonious of lefties still seem to treat third-party candidates as clowns at best, traitors at worst.

Despite the fact that most Democrats, including Barack Obama, often stood opposed to some of their most cherished principles, these self-proclaimed "progressives" could be relied upon to fall in line come election day.

Regardless of one's political persuasion, there was reason to celebrate the election of Barack Obama, a victory that broke down longstanding barriers in American life.

In other news, Illinois' governor was caught on tape in an obscenity-laced tirade, vowing to get some personal gain from the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

The government granted the failing auto industry a bailout, though the industry's woes were primarily due to incompetent management and a refusal to plan for the future.

With foreclosures spreading across the country, and the nation's debt rising precipitously, it seemed that America was now in the hands of its creditors.

New York Governor Elliot Spitzer made his name as a crusader against corruption, only to fall prey himself to the temptations of power as his name turned up on a list of clients of a prostitution ring. It seemed only a masochist would put his career and marriage on the line with such arrogance and recklessness.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a trip to the Middle East, first making all the obligatory statements of complete support for Israel before ostensibly acting as an impartial mediator in the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

By September Wall Street had clearly become a one-way cul de sac.

A few public servants in the Interior Department were found to be carrying on sexual affairs with representatives of the very industry the department is charged with regulating. Interior officials under the Bush administration were long suspected of prostituting themselves, but who thought it would turn out to be literally true?

Drought reared its head in California once again, hitting agriculture first but eventually spreading to the rest of us. Rationing became a distinct possibility.

But as the annual budget impasse set in and the state's deficit steadily rose while leadership just as steadily eroded, it was clear that California was suffering from more than one drought.

Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who came to Sacramento vowing to blow up boxes, showed that he was really only capable of threatening to bludgeon them.

Long after Gov. Schwarzenegger's empty calls for a post-partisan California had receded, homeowners found themselves still struggling without aid, insight or leadership from the state capitol.

Of course, California, with its intractable Legislature, gerrymandered voting districts and several decades worth of constricting and often contradictory ballot propositions, is essentially ungovernable. Rather than buy into some publicity-seeking union boss' idle threat to recall the governor, it might be best to start from scratch.

As the clock continued to wind down on the Schwarzenegger administration, the next round of candidates began testing the waters. Former Gov. Jerry Brown left his post as mayor of Oakland two years ago to become California attorney general, clearly with the hope of once again running for governor.

President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act — like Occupation Iraqi Freedom, or Mission Accomplished — proved to be another poor choice of words, only highlighting its own failure. In California, there were many left behind, and the data split along predictable demographic faultlines.

In Berkeley, raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) left many people afraid to show up at school or the workplace for fear of deportation.

The "Art of Democracy" exhibit showed in galleries throughout the country, calling attention to the Bush administration's many infringements on the Constitution. Berkeley's Addison Street Windows Gallery was the only venue to take issue with the show, refusing to stage the exhibit on the grounds that the images were offensive — a difficult position to defend as a city-run gallery in the home of the free speech movement, and in a world where images of sex and violence are commonplace.

Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean launched a rematch against Tom Bates, who had unseated her a few years earlier, by supporting the tree-sitters who were determined to preserve a small oak grove adjacent to UC Berkeley's Memorial Stadium. Some detected a bit of political opportunism in Dean's decision to become a vocal supporter of the dubious protest.

West Marin residents, officials and business owners agreed that they had more than enough tourists visiting their rural haven, and didn't need or want any more. What they did want, however, was to find a way to get a little more cash out of the ones the already had.

It finally appeared that a plan to save sediment-choked Bolinas Lagoon was nearing approval, until the Army Corps of Engineers decided they needed just another year or two to study the proposal.

The iconic image of Bolinas is the "Bolinas 2 Miles" sign, which the town's residents, in an effort to maintain the purity of their little hidden oasis, ritually tear down within hours every time the state puts it up on Highway 1. But tragedy came calling nevertheless in the form of a gang assault on a young black man. An all-white group of local youth took to beating Ricky Green with skateboards, leaving him for dead in the darkness along Terrace Avenue. Green was airlifted to a Santa Rosa hospital in serious condition and fortunately made a full recovery.

Muir Beach residents looked upon the Golden Gate Recreational District and the Point Reyes National Seashore as an evil threat when word came that those entities would be following through on a decades-old agreement that called for much of the village to eventually be returned to wilderness.

Sometimes it seemed that West Marin residents would use the endangered red-legged frog to justify obstruction of just about any and every project proposed in the region.

The light brown apple moth was the scourge of California in 2008. Agricultural interests lobbied for a large-scale spraying program, while many other Californians saw the spraying program as the greater threat. West Marin folks could be relied upon to come up with a host of interesting alternatives.

Berkeley, on the other hand, could surely come up with its own solutions to the problem, modeled on Mayor Tom Bates' "Public Commons for Everyone" initiative, which essentially sought to make the city more comfortable for white homeowners by banning public displays of homelessness, and on the shrill and poorly-conceived protests against the U.S. Marines' downtown recruiting office. The City Council had supported the protest before backing down, issuing a clarification in which they uttered the obligatory words, "we support the troops," and establishing a parking space in front of the Marines office as a "free speech zone," where Code Pink and their supporters could scream obscenities at will.

West Marin activists were capable of astounding compassion when it came to exotic white deer, but less inspiring species held little sway over public opinion.

West Marin's Lagunitas School District became the first in the nation to withdraw from the No Child Left Behind program.

Marin County tourism officials unveiled the county's new tourism slogan to a chorus of criticism and satire.

1 comment:

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