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January 1, 2006

The Year in Review

When I was younger, I thought the best way of understanding the world was by going from the macro to the micro level. I am still most fascinated by macro-level theories; but now I recognize the importance of beginning on the micro-level to fully appreciate the interconnectedness of the world.

As I look back on 2005, it was a time of chaos and turmoil, hope and rebirth. My micro viewpoint starts with my own life. I learned how to love and share life, how to be whole in tandem, how to accept heart break and move forward in my own individual life. I leave behind every single shared dream I started 2005 with; although I hold out a faint glimmer of hope to eventually find the person who will truly support me and share my life in a mutually beneficial way.

Because of the abrupt changes in my social circle this year, I don't have a firm grasp on what's happened to my community this year. I can say that my family and friends (the true friends; who were there before 2004 and will remain long after 2006) have grown and prospered and deeply lived in ways I never imagined. I'm proud of all of them, especially those whom I lost touch with and am just reaching again.

I've now lived in Chicago 1.5 years. One of the best aspects of this town is Chicago Tonight, the PBS weekday news broadcast. It is by far the best local news broadcast I have ever seen. While I'm never really interested in the long sports roundtables, what other program would give time to two music critics chatting about U2's concerts and the politics / economics of music venues? I chat with my coworkers about the monarchy of Mayor Daley; none of them seem to care that there is no democracy in city politics (as long as the trash is picked up, the streets are relatively safe, and the trains/buses continue to run). Outside of political writers, it seems that no one in Chicago cares that Daley's administration was plagued by scandals; seems to them like Republicans trying to make politics illegal. I'm struck by the complete lack of imagination when it comes to politics in this town. Sure, we got to help elect Barack Obama in 2004; but in reality, Chicago is cut up into ethnic enclaves that few people cross and even fewer try to bridge. Radical democracy is an utterly foreign concept in this town. Geographic divisions remain even stronger than ethnic ones: many die-hard Cubs fans refused to rejoice for the White Sox's epic World Series win. It is difficult to express how divided Chicago is between the North and South sides. Most of the media - print, tv, radio - either also owns the Cubs or is produced for the North side audience. Of course, mainstream media is usually produced for the more affluent members of a community; but the confluence of ownership by the Tribune corporation of the Cubs, the Trib newspaper, WGN tv and radio, along with their many companies in other major markets (from tv to radio to newspapers, including the LA Times) is simply astounding. To me, it says more about class culture that the equally numerous Sox fans rarely sold out their stadium during the regular season, than it does about the Trib company. Then again, South-siders are quick to point out that Cellular Field holds about twice as many ppl as Wrigley Stadium, and that their attendance was roughly on par with the Cubs all season. But seriously, the Cubs are everyone's favorite losers; shouldn't winners be able to sell out a stadium?

National news was depressing and more depressing. Bush's second term continued the failed policies of his first term: destructive hegemonic foreign policy, imperial occupation of foreign countries, complete disregard for the environment, civil liberties, and human life, all coming into stark relief when he praised his incompetent lackey FEMA Administrator Brown during the initial aftermath of the man-made disaster following Hurricane Katrina. Anderson Cooper and CNN provided the absolute best media coverage of that terrible catastrophe which we still haven't recovered from; nor have we begun to change the problems that created it. Territorial in-fighting caused a lack of serious upkeep of the dams surrounding New Orleans; passing the buck attitude kept the majority of New Orleans mired in poverty; failure to recognize the lack of resources available to most of the population left hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf Region stranded; failure to create real communication links between local, state, federal emergency authorities since the great warning of 2001 greatly expanded the level of destruction; and the national public and national leaders have left the Gulf Region behind because our worst problems as a society seem insurmountable, or at least unable to be solved within the span of a news or election cycle and therefore untouchable.

The greatest hope in 2005 came from social movements outside of the US. Protests in Lebanon forced the removal of many of Syria's overt forms of occupation, unfortunately also leading to the assassination of two leaders of the reform movement. Women continue to be left out of the state-formation process in Iraq, but at least they were guaranteed a small percentage of seats in the Afghani parliament. Egypt had another sham election, praised by the USG; but recognized as a farce by most people. Israel withdrew from Gaza while increasing settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and continuing to build a "security" wall, that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice.

Darfur, Sudan continues to suffer from a state-sponsored genocide, while world leaders stand around wringing their hands. Rape as an act of war continued unabated in many African conflicts; and rape survivors and their children continued to be shunned by societies so ensconced in backward morality that their religious leaders often refuse to accept condoms as a necessary weapon in the fight against AIDS. I have to admit, I do not follow African news as closely as I do other parts of the world, so it is difficult for me to name specific countries and what's happening. Interesting to note that Zimbabwe continues to be ruled by the wretched Mugabe, who threw out Western journalists and kicked poor people out of their homes, continuing his reign of terror which began with an interesting desire to re-distribute land to the black majority population and is currently a dictatorship of disastrous proportions.

In Asia, North Korea and China continue to top the world headlines. First, there's the Bush administration's muddled actions towards stopping North Korea's nuclear program. Kim Jong Il recently kicked out international aid agencies, saying I guess that the famine that is killing many of his constituents is bad for his country's image, so better to cut off aid than remind ppl that it exists. China continues to be the "sleeping dragon," or perhaps really has already resumed its position as a super-power, but Westerners are too myopic to see that. It mediates six-nation anti-nuke talks with North Korea; it holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and has strong links to Iran; and it produces tons of manufactured goods. It undercuts the US around the world, buying up oil and other resources from regimes disliked by the US.

Speaking of resource-rich countries currently standing tall against US hegemony, Latin America is by far the best success story of 2005. Bolivia elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led a grassroots protest against US economic abuse at the Fourth Summit of the Americas in November in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The second female to be democratically elected head of state in Latin America, Michelle Bachelet, is on her way to power, leading the polls during the first round of elections in Chile and fighting for her position against a billionaire in a run-off later this month. Alas, not all news from Latin America was positive this year. The people of Guatemala protested loudly against ratification of CAFTA, but after the military tear-gassed them out of the capitol, the Guatemalan parliament accepted CAFTA. Nevertheless, the power of Mercosur, and the power of the people of Latin America provides a powerful check on the expansion of corporate globalization in this hemisphere.

In other global news, South Asia continues to rebuild itself after being hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami. It is yet another example of human inability to create sustainable development in a short period of time after a natural catastrophe. In some places, civil strife was tempered by a shared desire to rebuild, while elsewhere civil war has re-kindled. North Americans thought they understood The March of the Penguins of Antarctica, but really only saw a Disney-fied glimpse of a species threatened by global warming. There was a terrorist attack in London on the heels of the 2012 Summer Olympics host announcement, and on the first day of the G8 summit. Speaking of G8, it produced a global free concert series, Live 8, an attempt to help Make Poverty History through music. Much more happened in Europe and Russia, but I don't follow those areas very closely. In Southeast Asia, a horrific earthquake rocked Kashmir. The subsequent aid from Westerners did more to boost Pakistani opinion of us than any other interaction in recent years.

Despite catastrophic natural and man-made disasters, I continue to believe 2005 will lead to an even brighter 2006. Time recognized philanthropists and a crusader as Persons of the Year; Latin Americans pushed back against neo-liberal economics; young Westerners were enlightened that their governments' foreign policy exacerbates Africa's problems; and women continue to take a stand for their equal participation in government and economics around the world. On the whole, I think it's been a very good year; although the details are not all so rose-colored.

Posted by cj at January 1, 2006 1:11 PM


thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on 2005 with us, c.j. i agree that this past year has been extraordinarily challenging. however, i also very much appreciate your willingness to find hope for the future within the apparent despair of the recent past. you offer such a service to us all. thank you so very much for all you do.
most sincerely yours, jp

Posted by: Jennifer Pitino at January 14, 2006 5:59 PM

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