Ticking down to 2010
Keeping in mind the old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all,” how would you describe a decade that launched with a possible Y2K apocalypse and the resounding pop of the dot.com bubble, marched right into the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the collapse of Enron and slogged on into the Iraq war? And that was before bankers backed 18-wheelers up to gypsy camps and started offloading mortgage loan applications, all of which they approved.
OK, thank you, Captain Sully, for harmlessly gliding your US Airways Airbus into the Hudson River earlier this year, saving the lives of all 155 aboard instead of smashing into the side of Manhattan.
There, we’ve said something nice. Now, here are 10 reasons I'm glad this decade is almost over:
Just Hand Over the Election and Nobody Gets Hurt: (2000)
Remember way, way back in your ninth-grade civics class any mention of the U.S. Constitution? Separation of powers, anyone? If so, during the 2000 presidential election, you’d have been one up on the U.S. Supreme Court, which promptly misremembered that venerable document when, as the judicial branch, it halted the recount of thousands of contested ballots in Florida and handed the 2000 presidential (executive branch) election over to George W. Bush.
The Absolute Most Awful Day, 9/11: (2001)
Terrorists drove two hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centers, leveling the iconic twin towers. The dead: 2,976. In our ensuing desperation for a noble leader in the wreckage and ruins just after the attacks, some of us thought G.W. was one. Turns out he wasn't.
“Enron stock is a real bargain”: (2001)
Two weeks before Enron declared bankruptcy, its executives admitted a teensy boo-boo on their earnings statement by exaggerating the company’s earnings by $586 million since, oh, 1997. Enron stock was hurtling down the toilet when CEO Ken Lay called a meeting of employees to bolster their confidence, claiming the company’s stock at its new low price was an absolute steal (although Lay was dumping his own). More than half of Lay’s employees’ 401(k) savings—$1.2 billion—was invested in Enron stock, which became worthless overnight when the energy company flat-lined.
Space shuttle disaster (2003)
The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members. A piece of foam insulation had broken off the shuttle’s exterior propellant tank and struck the edge of the left wing during liftoff, disrupting the thermal protection system that keeps the spaceship from overheating when returning to Earth. Some engineers believed the shuttle had been damaged, but NASA abbreviated investigations because it had few options for repair.
Let them eat yellowcake: (2003)
The prospect of an Iraq war conjured rosy scenarios when G.W. floated the idea to his circle of advisers. “We’ll be greeted as heroes!” “It’ll be a slam-dunk!” As this decade closes, the longest slam-dunk in history is still in mid-parabola, with 4,435 U.S. soldiers dead and who-knows-how-many Iraqi casualties. The WMDs, supposedly the impetus for G.W.’s war, were rather a bit of rumor, but Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein still got the noose in 2006 for his many other crimes. Military bases still resemble revolving doors as soldiers are sent and re-sent to sunny Iraq and Afghanistan to complete that mother off all slam-dunks.
Hurricane hell (2005) (2008):
This decade delivered a double-whammy of deadly hurricanes. Katrina, the costliest and one of the five deadliest in U.S. history, smashed into the southeast Louisiana coast Aug. 29, 2005, and wreaked its Category 5 wrath from Florida to Texas. New Orleans became the biggest loser when the city’s long-neglected levee system couldn’t contain the storm surge. In all, 1,836 died, and many survivors were bused to Houston. Even fresher on our minds is 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which became the costliest natural disaster in Texas history with 110-mph winds that killed 112 people and wreaked $29 billion in damage during its Sept. 14 debut. Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula got clobbered and still bear open wounds.
Lewd leaders (2006-2009):
U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), whose bills primarily targeted sexual predators of children, kicked off the parade of perversity in 2006 by sending sexually explicit emails to teenage congressional interns. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) in 2007 got busted for his visits to the “D.C. Madam." He survived the scandal to co-sponsor the “Marriage Protection Amendment” with Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican senator whose claims of having a “wide stance” in matters of the bathroom conjured a hideous mental picture that only erstwhile house speaker Tom DeLay’s butt-wiggling on Dancing with the Stars could top. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, resigned in 2008 after his dalliances with female employees of a fancy D.C. call service became public. Then South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s 2009 hike along the Appalachian Trail on Father’s Day weekend somehow took him to Argentina on a booty call. Wife Jenny Sanford filed for divorce.
Just sign right here on the dotted line (2007-2008):
Bankers began approving subprime mortgage loans to dead people, dogs and assorted frozen food items, then packaged the liability and sold the toxic assets by the tonnage. When subprime borrowers couldn’t make payments, well, guess what? Home prices actually can come down! The trouble spread to Wall Street investment banks and, next thing you know, those “too-big-to-fail” bankers were panhandling in the Oval Office, which bailed them with $250 billion in taxpayer money. Banks promptly awarded millions in employee bonuses.
Not playing with a full decade:
The biggest surprise of the 2008 presidential campaign had to be the emergence of that perky little hockey mom/Alaskan governor/Republican VP candidate Sarah “the Barracuda” Palin whose shopping spree for chic campaign threads for her and her family redefined “shock and awe” for the Republican party. Her frequent winking into news cameras during the VP debate assured one and all that she was capable of handing little ol’ details like an economy in freefall, Mideast peace and Iran’s nuke buildup.
Bernie made off with the money and Allen wasn’t far behind: (2008)
Bernie Madoff, former NASDAQ head and author of a massive Ponzi scheme called the largest investment fraud in Wall Street history, targeted clients with promises of returns on investments between 13.5 and 20 percent, too good to pass up if, in retrospect, too good to be true. He bilked investors for $65 billion, confessed in December of 2008 and is now serving a 150-year prison sentence. Houston’s own Allen Stanford seemed to be following in Madoff’s footsteps when he was arrested in June 2009 for conducting a “massive, ongoing fraud” involving $8 billion in CDs from his offshore empire in Antigua. Awaiting trial in a Huntsville prison, Stanford claims he is on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
After this decade, so are the rest of us.