- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Person of the year - Henry Paulson. The Treasury Secretary recommended nationalizing parts of the U.S. economy in order to avoid a severe recession. At his behest, Congress approved a $700 billion bailout of the mortgage industry - a plan that signals a reversal of America’s long cherished free-market ideals and will launch an era of unprecedented government intervention in private enterprise.

Political performance - Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat. The Illinois governor was shameless in his alleged efforts to auction President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder; his subsequent refusal to resign in light of the circumstances and mounting pressure is an equally appalling act of egocentrism and an egregious violation of the people’s trust.

Foreign leader - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. The African leader unleashed a murderous rampage against his political opponents during an election campaign that saw growing support for his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai. Mr. Mugabe continues to violate human rights and impoverish his country - so much so that in a December statement, President Bush called upon leaders in the region to ”step up and join the growing chorus of voices calling for an end to Mugabe’s tyranny.”

Movie - “Religulous”. Bill Maher’s documentary critique of religious believers (such as Christians, Jews and Muslims) is distasteful, puerile and superficial - just like the man himself.

Actor - Tim McGraw in “Four Christmases”. His role as a redneck extreme cage fighter in “Four Christmases” confirms that the singer should not wander far from country music.

Actress - Jessica Simpson in “Major Movie Star”. The movie about a spoiled little rich girl who joins the army went straight to DVD. Miss Simpson’s “Blonde Ambition” suffered the same fate last year. Has this spoiled little rich girl learned yet that she cannot act?

Athlete - Roger Clemens. How does one go from being known as a great pitcher to having a reputation as a cheat, a liar and adulterer all in one year? Ask the seven-time Cy Young Award Winner who was embroiled in a steroid-use scandal. His 354 career wins are now under a cloud of suspicion. And to make matters worse, it appears the former Yankee, Red Sox and Blue Jays pitcher had a ten-year affair with country singer Mindy McCready - which began when she was underage. Say it isn’t so, Roger.

Team - The Detroit Lions. The team has an incomparable record in the NFL: a historic 0-16 season. It was no surprise when coach Rod Marinelli was fired on Monday. Here’s hoping the Lions come roaring back in 2009 with a string of victories. In the meantime, we bemoan the team’s dismal performance - and ponder whether it is nonetheless symptomatic of a year when Detroit also endured the humiliating spectacle of the implosion of the Big Three automakers, their groveling before Congress for handouts and massive job losses. For “Motor City,” 2009 has got to be a better year.

Sports play - U.S. men’s 4x100 relay team. Dropping the baton is a metaphor for failure. Yet, in this year’s Olympic games, it literally happened right before the eyes of billions of spectators. In the Olympic semifinal, Darvis Patton and Tyson Gay botched a handoff during the 4x100-meter relay - and dashed American hopes for the gold.

Entrepreneur - Bernard Madoff. The businessman and former Nasdaq chairman confessed to defrauding clients in a giant Ponzi scheme, resulting in up to $50 billion in losses. Mr. Madoff’s fraud proved costly to a wide variety of investors, including universities and philanthropic foundations. The air of “mystery” Mr. Madoff cultivated to lure clients to his exclusive investment club turned out to be a fog of deceit - not the sweet aura of privilege and success investors thought they were buying into.

Economic news - The mortgage meltdown. After years of soaring home prices, the bubble suddenly burst and triggered a severe economic downturn. Who was to blame? Congress failed to properly oversee housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, predatory lenders made millions in bad loans and many homeowners proved they were too big for their own britches - all contributed to one of the worst episodes in the history of the American real estate market. By year’s end, concepts like “saving” and “thrift” were in vogue after years of being lampooned as boring and out-of-date.

Least improved - The GOP. Having been soundly trounced in the 2006 midterm elections, the GOP failed to learn that its electoral fortunes depend upon a return to fiscal responsibility, slashing government spending and protecting taxpayers. It is little wonder that in the presidential election, Democrats swept all three branches of government. Is the GOP listening now?

Newcomer - Shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi. During a press conference in Iraq, President Bush was pelted by two shoes thrown at him by the Iraqi journalist. “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq,” Mr. Zaidi said. In the Arab world, showing the soles of one’s shoes is a sign of contempt. Ironically, President Bush helped to create the very climate of free speech in which Mr. Zaidi now operates. For treating our President with such disrespect, Mr. Zaidi deserves the soles of American shoes.

Visit by a foreign leader - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The speech by Mr. Ahmadinejad before the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23 was another anti-Semitic diatribe. The Holocaust-denying, America-bashing president was given a platform to spout his ideology of hate. It is a marvel representatives of nations around the world did not simply walk out - and stranger still, some even applauded.

Humor - The July 21 cover of the New Yorker. The July 21 cover of the New Yorker depicted then-candidate Barack Obama in a turban, fist-bumping his gun-slinging wife, while an American flag burned in the fireplace. This was supposed to be a “satire” of the right-wing caricature of Mr. Obama. Yet the portrait was denounced by the Obama and McCain campaigns as “tasteless and offensive” - which it was. And by the way, why was the elegant Michelle Obama drawn as sporting an Afro?

Act of injustice - Failure to pardon Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. We are still waiting for President Bush to commute the 11-year and 12-year sentence issued, respectively, against the border patrol agents for shooting a drug smuggler who abandoned 743 pounds of marijuana and then fled the scene, wounded. Mr. Ramos and Mr. Compean were convicted in 2006 when a jury accepted the testimony of the drug smuggler instead of the word of the federal agents. The border patrol agents deserve a full pardon as they were merely upholding the law in the line of duty.

Medical discovery - Pregnant man. Thomas Beatie, who used to be a lovely woman named Tracy, kept his reproductive organs when he became a man. In 2008, to the horror of many Americans, he became pregnant - and was featured in full bloom all over the mass media. America’s most famous transgendered male embodies the ultimate form of self-mutilation and the rejection of a natural design for each individual; it is the height of hubris. Mr. Beatie is now expecting a second child (collective groan). This makes us long for the days of a pregnant Demi Moore on the Aug. 1991 cover of Vanity Fair; it seemed distasteful then but appears quite normal by contrast to this year’s grotesque spectacle.

Campaign slogan - “Solutions for America.” During the Democratic primaries and caucuses, Hillary Clinton struggled to find a slogan that could compete with Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can.” Mrs. Clinton’s “Solutions for America” sounded more like a medical prescription than an inspiring catch-phrase. In the end, Democrats concluded that when it came to Mrs. Clinton, the most fitting phrase was: “No, we won’t.”

Interview - Alaska Governor Sarah Palin interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric. To the shock of many of her admirers, Mrs. Palin seemed to prove her critics correct: She might not be ready to be America’s commander-in-chief in case she would be called upon to replace John McCain as president. In an exclusive Sept. 24-25 interview with Katie Couric, the vice-presidential candidate showed she had little grasp of foreign affairs. All the explanations by the McCain campaign could not put Humpty Dumpty together again. Clearly, Mrs. Palin needs more seasoning in international affairs in order to be a credible force on the national stage.

Least dignified during a breakup - Madonna and Guy Ritchie. Where was English decorum? As Madonna and her husband of eight years announced they would divorce, both forgot the value of keeping a stiff upper lip - at least for the sake of the children. Madonna referred to him on stage in Boston as “emotionally retarded;” he said lying next to her was like “cuddling up to a gristle.” And that was the tip of the iceberg as recriminations and insults abounded.

Worst Dressed - Madonna. For a while, we thought living in England, practicing the mystical Jewish discipline of Kabbalah and embracing motherhood had resulted in improving Madonna’s attire. Yet, this year, the Material Girl seemed to be in a full-blown midlife crisis: The mother of three paraded in fishnet stockings and skimpy outfits - showing us only that she is as immature in her fashion choices in 2008 as she was during her sex-obsessed heyday.

The best of 2008 will appear tomorrow.

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