A wild year comes to an end, and more adventures await

Opinion mongers are supposed to use this week to either look back at what they found important or intriguing in the expiring year or prognosticate about what they anticipate in the new one.

This comes in handy during holiday weeks, since the kind of news we're usually blathering about becomes sparse. I have to do more talking on the radio show than is usually the case. Hold the sympathy.

We did have the fierce winter storm that swept up the East Coast last weekend and caused havoc in Philly and even bigger problems in the Big Apple. But since it didn't affect me personally, it's almost like it didn't happen.

I'm just being honest. Face it, we may be sympathetic to the troubles of people elsewhere, but they pale in comparison to, say, a migraine that makes one's own skull throb.

Here's my take on the about-to-expire year: Personally (remember, this is the most important thing), it was fine. The family suffered no tragedies. I still have a job and so do my children.

Unfortunately, there are millions of Americans thrown into the slough of despond by not being able to find work. Despite all the king's horses and all the king's men, the economy remains shattered like Humpty-Dumpty. It hasn't been put back together yet, and the suspicion is it can't be.

By that I mean it can't be restored to what it once was — a bubbling mass of easy credit enabling people to live way beyond their actual means. "Enabling" is the right word. We've been addicted to debt, using credit cards and home equity loans (liens that used to be called by their actual name, "second mortgages"), to buy things we couldn't afford with money we didn't yet have.

We are bombarded by advertising everywhere we turn. Luxury goods in ads featuring impossibly good-looking people make one want to have that new car, like the ones wrapped in Christmas bows on holiday TV spots.

If we men drink a particular brand of "light" beer, tasteless as it might be, we will become sexually attractive to vivacious young women. What a fantasy. If only it were so, guys.

The Great Recession began, we are told, in December of 2007. The horrendously expensive bailout of Wall Street banks was a good thing, at least for the bankers, but the money pumped into the pockets of the folks who created the bust through greedy malinvestments hasn't trickled down to the suffering businesses and workers on Main Street.

The Democrats in Congress looked at their blowout of the GOP in 2008 and decided they could do the things they had always dreamed about. With Barack Obama as the new president/messiah, they saw clear sailing ahead. Oops.

The ramming through of Obamacare, heedless of public opposition to it, adding more public debt in a scant two years than all the 110 preceding Congresses combined, and an overriding arrogance epitomized by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, made for a miracle: a GOP comeback as the justly despised and dispossessed Republicans swept the midterm elections behind the grass-roots movement that called itself the tea party.

President Obama has been reduced from a God-like phenomenon to a desperate politician taking instruction from Bill Clinton on how to finesse the next two years and win reelection. What a moment it was when the current president left a presidential podium at a news conference, ceding the stage to the former president. Can you spell T-R-I-A-N-G-U-L-A-T-I-O-N?

Is this going to work? Nobody knows. Will the 112th Congress make the midterms count? Maybe, to an extent, but the problems we face are huge and so far defiant of solution. Will an actual economic recovery take place after the fits and starts of the last year? Take your own guess.

A wise man said "Predicting the future is easy. Being right about it is hard."

Heeding that admonition, all I can say without fear of contradiction is that 2011 will be quite the adventure. Here's to the New Year. Cheers.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is rsmith@wbal.com.

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