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This is the Year that was

David Frost, the famous English commentator and newsman used to host a show in Britain, back in the 1960’s, called “This is the week that was.”  It was popular, and with Frost’s urbane delivery, and insightful wit, it had a large following.  Frost, alas, never did that well on American television, but with apologies to this now retired newsman, I would like to offer a slightly modified version of his program, and call this column, “the year that was.”

2011 didn’t begin well, and it wasn’t an easy year, but the good news, is that’s

closing with just a hint of optimism for the year to come. The year began in a deep recession. Unemployment was high, it still is, long term unemployment, was grimmer than the official statistics indicated, and millions of Americans, arguably innocent victims of the housing crisis, were in homes, applying a term that’s now become, that are “underwater.”  Even honest, hardworking Americans, stuck with large mortgages and houses worth far less, have entertained the notion of just walking away from it all.

Overseas, the economy was not only bad it was also hard to explain.  I still can’t quite fathom how a financial crisis in Greece, a relatively small country, was able to not only bring the economies of the European Union to their knees, but even manage to threaten our own. Something, somewhere, is terribly wrong here. Perhaps, economically at least, we’re just a little too interconnected.

However, lest this be all doom and gloom. It’s not. Americans and our economy are resilient. We’re still nervous, but unemployment has begun a slow decline. People are finding jobs.  What’s more, in an almost imperceptible, but still noteworthy increase, jobs in manufacturing, making things in other words, have been steadily increasing. They aren’t the same manufacturing jobs we’re used to. But they’re real. It seems that industry is finding out that having plants at home reduces shipping and processing costs, and makes it easier to quickly adapt to changing markets. I hope this is a trend that continues into 2012.

2011 was also a year of disaster for some. Japan faced one of the worst disasters since the war. Not only did they have a massive earthquake, but also a Tsunami. Even their vaunted civil preparedness system wasn’t up to that. But worse, several of their major nuclear plants weren’t able to handle the double whammy of two major disasters at once. One plant, maybe two, could be hot zones for decades.
Here at home we had an earthquake, too. The last time we had an earthquake this powerful was 1897.  This time it caused its share of damage, particularly to old brick structures, of which we have many, and in Washington, so badly damaged the Washington monument that it might take $20 million to fix it.

Politics in 2011 wasn’t impressive.  In D.C. the gridlock couldn’t have been worse, and it all depends on your persuasion as to who is at fault. It was so bad that in 2011 the U.S. government didn’t even have a budget. Instead, we passed the whole year on a continuing resolution. At this writing, half the government is still operating without an official budget for the next year. And worst of all, the vaunted super committee, designed to find ways to reduce over overall deficit, couldn’t agree on a common approach. Partisan politics, and some radical differences in philosophy, made compromise impossible. 

When the year began I wouldn’t have given Barack Obama much chance at reelection. But, watching the Republican field, as the year ends, I don’t think he has much to worry about. Why a party, that could so easily win, would consider so many half baked and comical candidates is a mystery. Mitt Romney, a man for any season or point of view is the only serious candidate. Even his current, most likely opponent for the GOP nod, Newt Gingrich, couldn’t gather enough signatures to get on the ballot for the Virginia primary. However, Romney still only manages to win the support, on his best day, of about 20% of the GOP voters.

In Virginia our Governor and legislature, and this is coming from a Democrat, deserve a nod. For the second year in a row we ended the year with a surplus and no tax increase.  That’s one of the reasons, alas, that the Democrats did so poorly in this year’s elections. However, Virginia politics is soon going to get interesting again.  Barack Obama plans to make a play at winning Virginia for a second election in a row. Who knows, given how poorly the GOP is handling election 2012, he might. And for the Senate, two candidates, George Allen and Tim Kaine, both of whom could be called “has beens” are going to duke it out in a battle royale. But wait, there’s more. In 2013, the governorship is up and this election has already begun.  No one has much of a feel for who the Democratic candidate will be. The party is so beaten back, but the GOP nomination will be a nasty, long, and fitful fight between Attorney General Ken Cucinelli and Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling.

The year closes with some solace as well. Our official military presence in Iraq is just about over. Our involvement, however, in this troubled Middle East nation, isn’t. We’re still spending billions trying to help them build a country.  And of course, in spite of our hope to be out of Afghanistan by 2014, that war keeps plodding on. But remarkably, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, all those nice kids who, if they wanted to, could be home partying and drinking beer on Friday nights, are still at it. And they’re giving it their all they’ve got. Time Magazine proclaimed the protestor as the person of the year for 2011. That’s their prerogative. Me, however, I’ll take one of those kids, out there guarding some town in Afghanistan with a name I can’t pronounce, any day of the week.

You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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