A Different Kind of Year
In some ways, writing a column such as this is limiting, in that I have to stick to a particular topic: “politics.” But since this topic is so broad and all-encompassing, there’s no shortage of things to write about. This is even truer thanks to the current administrations we have in Annapolis and in Washington, so the answer to the question was simple enough: “I keep a file, plus I have a limitless well of outrage and a pretty long memory.”
The memory comes and goes, but I do keep a file titled “Outrages,” and shall we say that the year 2005 provided what they termed in the movie Top Gun a “target-rich environment.”
Friends tell me, “Well, you must be happy you have so much to write about,” and I answer them in all honesty, “I’d much rather have a better country.” Because deep inside any political columnist, Left or Right, lurks an idealist who only wants things to be better—“better” meaning, of course, the way they’d like them to be. When things don’t work out this way, the columnist is left with either cynicism or righteous anger.
Hence, my file. The first news story of this past year that stands out, from the Jan. 7 New York Times, is about the CIA inspector general’s conclusion in a report that the people who served at the highest levels of the agency should have been held accountable, but weren’t, for the intelligence lapses leading up to Sept. 11. This story came out the month after CIA chief George Tenet was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bush.
Come Jan. 11, The Washington Post wrote about the District of Columbia protesting the Bush inaugural committee’s refusal to reimburse the $11.9 million the event cost the city. Pretty much immediately, the administration told the city to just take the money out of the grants it gets for Homeland Security projects.
In February, tapes and transcripts from phone calls made by traders at Enron were released. The Los Angeles Times noted that “traders conspired to shut down a healthy power plant as blackouts rolled across California in early 2001.” Gloating traders chanted “Burn, baby, burn!” on the tapes, and bragged about inflating energy costs for “Grandma Millie,” as a way to run up power charges in the state.
Also in February, more signs emerged of one of the most disturbing trends under the Bush administration: officials coming to policy via predetermined conclusions. The New York Times pointed out that the Environment Protection Agency’s political leadership “instructed staff members to arrive at a predetermined conclusion favoring industry when they prepared a proposed rule last year to reduce the amount of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants.” At the state level, this is similar to the Dec. 18 story from The Sun that noted the Maryland Department of the Environment, when blocking stricter anti-pollution standards, used language that was cut-and-pasted straight out of an e-mail from a lobbyist for Constellation Energy, BGE’s parent company and the state’s largest producer of electricity.
Obfuscation and deceit were big themes in 2005. The New York Times reported in February that the administration blocked a report for five full months—which would have placed the real release date square in the middle of the 2004 election campaign—showing that the Federal Aviation Administration had warned in spring 2001, well into Bush’s watch, that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida might try airline hijackings and suicide operations.
Some of the first reports of torture of war detainees came to light in March. Dana Priest of the Washington Post wrote of CIA-paid guards in Afghanistan dragging “their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell.” That same month, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee opposed requests to open broader investigations into misconduct by the CIA and abuse of terrorism suspects.
The year continued with pharmacists refusing legitimate requests for birth control pills; Wal-Mart being accused of using illegal aliens to clean their stores; no right-wing groups on the list of domestic terrorism suspects (worth noting now that we know the feds are spying on Greenpeace, PETA, and Catholic Workers). And of course, in boom or bust, under high inflation or low, there are always tax cuts and rising executive salaries. These stories are in my file, too. They always are.
Since Sept. 11, the Bushies constantly remind us that we are fighting a “different kind of war,” when trying to explain why things cannot be as they were before. Well, we certainly are becoming a different kind of country. I’m hoping 2006 proves me wrong.
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