- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2010

The year 2010 began with the earthquake heard round the world and ended with a political shake-up in Washington.

Millions responded to a shattering Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 230,000 people, devastating an already beleaguered nation but touching hearts around the globe.

Celebrities rose to the occasion leading a Hurricane Katrina-inspired telethon with some, such as actor-activist Sean Penn, parachuting directly into the Caribbean nation to shine a light on the dire medical and fractious political circumstances, which remained there at year’s end.

At home, the U.S. economy continued in lingering recession as states such as California and Ohio, among many others, struggled with massive deficits and economic crises, with flat housing markets a perpetual weight around the nation’s fiscal neck. Still, with a post-bailout General Motors successfully putting up its stock for sale and some vigorous holiday spending, economic experts saw a small glimmer of hope as the tough year drew to a close.

“The economy has not seen fabulous growth, but compared to the two previous years, it’s been great,” said Michigan economist Charles Ballard of the year. “You look at the data on consumer confidence, consumer spending and some other economic indicators, and it’s a mosaic — not all the pieces are good. But I do get a sense of finally getting a little momentum forward.”

President Obama picks up a "tar ball" from the beach in Port Fourchon, La., in May after the largest oil spill in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico. (Associated Press)
President Obama picks up a “tar ball” from the beach in Port ... more >

In Iraq, the U.S. military’s combat role ended as the war-torn nation made plans for its future amid a divided political landscape. In Afghanistan, the war against the Taliban continued with some U.S. gains and a troop surge supported by President Obama, but political corruption continued after nearly 10 years of fighting.

The unending war efforts left more Americans than ever questioning whether the U.S. toll in blood and treasure, which began in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was worth the mounting costs as domestic financial woes, including a staggering deficit, continued at home.

With the new and growing “tea party” gaining newfound credibility, Congress remained divided over a $1 trillion heath care overhaul bill, lauded by the current administration, but one that fueled massive Republican gains in the November midterm elections.

Democrats began taking hits, political and symbolic, in January when Republican Scott Brown shocked Democrat Martha Coakley to win a special Senate election in deeply blue Massachusetts.

Mr. Brown’s victory not only smashed the Democrats filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, the party suffered further embarrassment by ceding the seat occupied for almost 47 years by now-deceased Democratic legend Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. The contest also served as prelude to the Republican Party’s landslide victories in the November congressional elections.

As 2010 wore on, a disgruntled electorate continued to sour on the Obama administration, as the president’s approval ratings dropped steadily.

Capitol Hill, meanwhile, grappled with what to do with the slumping economy and a near double-digit unemployment rate.

In July, Congress passed the most expansive regulatory overhaul of Wall Street since the Great Depression. The Democrat-crafted legislation, designed to rein in unregulated financial markets while covering the U.S. financial landscape with new regulations, was assailed by Republicans who worried it would be a bureaucratic burden on small businesses.

Amid growing Republican pressure, the president in December backed down from his long-standing promise to let Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy expire, reluctantly agreeing on a two-year extension on tax cuts for all income levels.

The president ended 2010 with victories less tainted, from a liberal point of view. He persuaded Congress to repeal the military’s ban on open homosexuality and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” enforcement policy. The Senate also ratified an arms-control treaty with Russia that Mr. Obama had made the centerpiece of his disarmament agenda with Russia.

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