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Year in Review 2005

Mistakes were made

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Blame the creator. Try as we might, it's hard to see 2005 as a good year for the planet or any of its nearby parts, such as America, North Carolina or the Triangle. But who's responsible, exactly? If "mistakes were made," and by golly a lot of them were, they must've been the fault of that Intelligent Design organization way back in the Day(s). Because we don't see a lot of owning up going on around here--let alone any resigning in disgrace.

A lot of people made fun of the Kansas school board when it declared that evolution was just a sketchy theory. But maybe it was onto something when it announced that, henceforth, "science" in Topeka would no longer be limited to reality-based explanations of how the world works. Faith-based explanations, after all, allow for the possibility that just because something seems incredibly stupid in reality, like invading Iraq, or not being able to rescue people in New Orleans, or raising money for the public schools by playing Powerball, it could turn out to be part of the Creator's Great Scheme for stirring the masses to action.

As in: "Attention, shoppers. Your president is incompetent. But don't worry. We let you elect a fool every so often just to remind you about why that's not a good idea. But we also gave you Abu Ghraib and Fallujah and Katrina, and we arranged for him to be caught tapping your phones and reading your e-mails without a warrant. Now do you get it?"

Or, closer to home: "Attention, drivers. You are trapped in gridlock hell. That's right, half an inch of snow has produced a traffic nightmare in Raleigh. But again, not to worry. It's just our little way of teaching you that you can't keep building sprawl forever. And here's a heads-up: We're going to screw around with your transit planning all year long. But it's for your own good. Come 2006, you'll finally have to decide, once and for all, whether you want a transit system or not. You do, don't you?"

Looked at that way, as a refresher course in everything that could go wrong, 2005 makes excellent sense--kind of like a term in prison that leads to your rehabilitation.

If that's not it, you explain it.

And it's not like there wasn't any good news. In April, it was announced that the ivory-billed woodpecker's been spotted in Arkansas. Folks thought the 'pecker was extinct, but turns out he was only avoiding us humans. Not such a birdbrain after all, eh?

January
George W. Bush, inaugurated to a second term as president, cavorts for the cameras. Iraq's elections are a "turning point" for democracy, he says. Just 26 House Democrats sign onto U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey's resolution calling for withdrawal from Iraq to begin. Bush's approval rating, according to the Washington Post-ABC News Poll: 52 percent.

Mike Easley, inaugurated to a second term as governor, comes out in favor of a state lottery--again. It's gonna fund the schools, he says. No progressive taxes are needed.

Easley's aides start a presidential boomlet: He's a popular Democratic governor in the South ... why shouldn't he be the next leader of the free world?

Why not indeed?

On Jan. 6, the Duke University Health System announces that there's been a bit of a mix-up. Surgical instruments at Duke's hospitals were "inadvertently" washed in hydraulic fluid instead of detergent. "Try as you might to prepare for all contingencies," Dr. Victor Dzau, Duke Health CEO, says later, "in any large organization, challenging issues can and do arise."

Ah, yes. Those darned contingencies.

Speaking of which, the Wake County school system and the City of Raleigh, try as they might've, are not prepared for the half-inch of snow that iced over on the roads Jan. 19. The schools let out early, parents panic, commuters panic, everybody panics, and then everybody gets caught in the worst traffic snarl of their lives--for the next eight hours.

Bad planning? The fruits of sprawl? No, Wake leaders point the finger of blame at ... Greg Fishel!

Sic transit, anyone?

February
Bush tours the country in favor of privatizing Social Security. Admission is Republicans-only, however. Anyone who might question him is, according to the Secret Service, a "(social?) security threat" and is turned away. One critic calls it the "Bamboozlepalooza Tour." Bush, in a moment of clarity, says his objective is "to kind of catapult the propaganda."

Easley's choice for state Democratic chair is rejected by the party faithful, who pick Jerry Meek instead. Easley presidential boomlet ends.

The General Assembly convenes, and hopes are high for progressive causes like: raising the minimum wage; increasing the cigarette tax to the national average; a death penalty moratorium; a $50 million affordable housing program; real mental health reform; lobbying reform; and preservation of the Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh.

Speaking of "reform," Governor-for-life Jim Hunt, erstwhile Democrat, brings Republican Newt Gingrich to Raleigh to explain how further privatizing health care will improve it--though maybe not for poor people, huh?

On the sprawl front, the Indy says "bye, bye" to northeast Chatham County as the massive Brier Chapel subdivision is approved by county commissioners.

March
Bush, GOP Congress "save" Terry Schiavo. (She's allowed to die on March 31.)

Anti-war protest in Fayetteville, on the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, draws 3,000. Included is a little-known Californian whose son was killed in Iraq ... Cindy Sheehan.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole visits Capitol Park, a federal HOPE VI housing program success in Raleigh. But Bush's budget would abolish HOPE VI, and Dole supports his budget ... so she never gets out of her car. (It counts as an official Dole visit, however. Remember that when we come to December.)

Raleigh City Councilor Mike Regan bows out as a candidate for mayor. It's a harbinger of the many indignities to come for Wake County's fundamentalist Christian conservatives.

At the Indy, we note that cities all over the United States are starting to get public wi-fi systems, and wonder why we can't do that, too. (Does the term "Bell South" ring a ... oh, never mind.)

April
Out of March Madness, an intelligent design emerges. Start with four NBA-caliber stars, add Roy Williams, and voila: The UNC Tar Heels win the national championship in men's basketball.

State lottery bill passes in the N.C. House with no votes to spare, 61-59. Key support comes from a trio of former opponents, including: Democratic House Speaker Jim Black; House Majority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Chapel Hill; and Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Raleigh.

Ross insists that no lottery advertising be allowed, however, as a condition of her support. The no-advertising provision is quickly forgotten by all concerned.

Bush's Social Security scheme wildly unpopular. So he nominates unpopular bully John Bolton to be U.N. Ambassador. Bush's approval rating: 47 percent.

May
It's Durham's finest hour. The Rev. Fred Phelps brings his gay-hating show to town (godhatesfags.com), and hundreds come out to show the love instead.

In the General Assembly, too, the no-gay marriage constitutional amendment stalls. Why? Maybe because our first "out" legislator, Sen. Julia Boseman (D-Wilmington) is so solid--and disarming.

Meanwhile, environmental activists put the issue of climate change on the state's agenda. Unless something's done very soon to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the Indy reports, serious scientists (like Dr. William Schlesinger, who's dean of Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment) predict that average North Carolina temperatures could go up 5 degrees Fahrenheit or more by 2050, which would put most of our coast under water (Indy headline: "Bye-Bye Outer Banks"). Shouldn't North Carolina and the other states adopt clean-energy, sustainable-growth policies before it's too late, even if the Bush Administration won't?

And in Washington, five House members from North Carolina (Democrats Miller, Price and Watt, and Republicans Coble and Jones) support the Woolsey amendment, which calls on Bush to say how he plans to leave Iraq. It gets 128 votes, up from 26 in January.

Yes, that's Republican Rep. Walter Jones, whose eastern N.C. district is pro-military to the max. Jones mocked the French for trying to block the invasion of Iraq (remember "freedom fries?"), but now he's mortified by the results.

June
The lottery hasn't passed the N.C. Senate--yet--but already Speaker Black and his political aide, Meredith Norris, are dining out frequently in Raleigh as guests of Scientific Games, which is maneuvering to run the thing once it does pass. Only trouble is, Norris is also working for Scientific Games. We don't know that, because she doesn't register as a lobbyist. But Black does.

Some good news: N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper is in the process of running payday lender Advance America out of the state (Indy headline: "Loan-Shark Attack"), a big blow to the predatory-credit industry.

Pay no attention to the carnage in Iraq, says Vice President Dick Cheney. Because as he sees it, from his vantage point in Washington, the insurgency over there "is in its last throes."

But just in case we don't always control the Middle East's oil, Pittsboro-based Piedmont Biofuels (www.biofuels.coop) is expanding, cutting the ribbon on its Bull City Biodiesel station in Durham. When Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson pass through after playing Mudcats Stadium in Zebulon, the Indy notes, they fill up their tour buses with 450 gallons of vegetable-oil product.

July
As the General Assembly session winds down, the lottery heads for passage and--what's this?--the progressive agenda heads for the scrap heap? Surely Black, Hackney, Ross & Co. didn't trade their lottery votes for nothing.

Well, Black didn't. He's still raking in the campaign contributions so critical to ... well, to his status, if not to actual democracy.

And lobbying reform passes, with advocates crediting Hackney and Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand for supplying the needed muscle. Now--or starting in 2007, anyway (why rush?)--lobbyists will have to report what they spend wining and dining and golfing with legislators, even if actual legislation isn't discussed until, like, later.

But the minimum wage increase is defeated; mental health reform remains unfunded; affordable housing gets a pittance ($5 million, not $50 million); the death-penalty moratorium fails; and the cigarette tax, far from being raised to the national average, is increased from 5 cents to 30 cents a pack (35 cents next year), which means it's still the lowest in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Dorothea Dix property in Raleigh is left in limbo. The state's planning consultants, a Charlotte firm (ouch!), present a pair of schemes that are part-park, part-development, and very unpopular with most folks in the Cap City--who want Dix to be all-park, and think the state should hand it over to the public, not developers.

August
Remember Cindy Sheehan? On the road to Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch, she sets up Camp Casey, named for her son who was killed in Iraq, and stays the month. Protesters flock to her; Bush runs from her. But the press notices, finally, that things in Iraq aren't so rosy after all. Bush's approval rating: 45 percent.

As for sprawl, the transit alternative is in serious trouble: The Triangle Transit Authority's commuter-rail project, more than a decade in the making, is caught in the crossfire between local Republicans who hate it and Washington Republicans who don't think much of it either. Will Republican Liddy Dole, our senior U.S. senator, come to the rescue?

Surprise, surprise. Democrats in the state Senate pass the lottery on a 24-24 vote, with Lt. Gov. Bev ("No Chicken") Perdue breaking the tie. Two Republicans who could have blocked the thing don't show up--boy, nobody saw that coming, huh?

There's a Category 4 hurricane called Katrina that hits the Gulf Coast the night of Aug. 28-29. Blasé Bush leaves Texas for ... California, where he attends a political fund-raiser the next night and, the following afternoon, strums a guitar with country singer Mark Willis while New Orleans sinks. FEMA's got it under control, he says.

September
Is FEMA Director Michael Brown doing "a heckuva job," as Bush says? Or is he so clueless that his e-mails to staff are about what he's wearing and where he can get a good meal? Slowly, painfully, it dawns on Bush that it's the latter. And that the failed response in New Orleans, and the destruction there and on the Mississippi coast, are a federal responsibility.

Bush fires Brownie. But he can't fire his mother, who says on Sept. 5 of the New Orleans evacuees who've finally been transported to the Houston Astrodome: "So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working out very well for them."

Bush's approval rating: 39 percent.

Also a bit confused: The News & Observer's editorial writers, who tell us, three days after Katrina hits, that the Bush response is "off to a good start." The N&O is also resolutely pro-war. And, for that matter, pro-sprawl, as it pees all over the TTA in a four-part series. In corporate hands, it sure ain't the liberal rag it used to be.

But if the N&O's pro-war, the country isn't. A stunning anti-war rally in Washington draws hundreds of thousands. En route to Washington, Cindy Sheehan makes two stops in Raleigh and draws 800 at the second one. The N&O covers the smaller, first stop, lowballs the turnout, and focuses its coverage on a few anti-Cindy folk.

And, talk about your bad month: The Indy calls Jesse Helms's new memoir a "whitewash." (He wasn't a racist? Oh, c'mon.) The N&O can't decide what to say, and runs two reviews--the one it commissioned from historian Timothy Tyson and a "balancing" screed reprinted straight from the right-wing American Spectator magazine.

A nationwide search--well, a search (or maybe it was a quick glance around)--yields a new leader for the UNC system: Erskine Bowles. Bowled over, anyone?

October
Easley signs the lottery bill. So you can't say '05 was a complete washout for him. Remember, it's for the children.

On Oct. 25, the American death toll in Iraq hits 2,000. What's the Iraqi death toll? It's upwards of 30,000, probably closer to 100,000. But our military doesn't try to count their dead.

What's the good news?

Two of our three Triangle congressmen, Reps. David Price, D-Chapel Hill, and Brad Miller, D-Raleigh, are now in full-throated opposition to the war; together, they introduce a bill calling on Bush to declare his plan and a timetable for withdrawal.

Our third House member, Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-Lillington, remains in Bush's "stay the course" corner.

Liddy Dole, our senior senator, takes the TTA's side--for the moment--in its fight for federal funding of the commuter-rail project.

In Wake elections, Republicans fail badly. Joe Ross, running for Raleigh mayor, says he's anti-TTA rail because "flying buses" are just around the corner. Democrat Charles Meeker is re-elected with 70 percent of the vote, and anti-sprawl Democrat Russ Stephenson upsets Republican John Odom in the at-large Raleigh Council race.

In Durham, loudmouth schools critic Jackie Wagstaff, running for mayor, gets less than 5 percent of the vote and doesn't make the runoff. She's not the only candidate with a criminal record, incidentally. The N&O reports that seven other candidates in Durham, embarrassingly enough, have been charged with various crimes at various times.

November
John Edwards now admits that '02 vote he cast for war in Iraq was a mistake. His new cause? Poverty. He and Elizabeth are moving from Raleigh to Orange County. Must mean he wants to be the progressive alternative to Hillary in '08.

It's a status-quo year in local politics. Durham Mayor Bill Bell is re-elected, as is Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy. As its new mayor, Carrboro picks a liberal, Mark Chilton, over the other liberal, Alex Zaffron. Anti-sprawl forces in Chatham install Randy Voller as Pittsboro's mayor. But the main event is next year, when Chatham County commissioners are elected.

In Wake County, the religious conservatives (Called2Action) and the neighborhood-schools conservatives (Assignment By Choice), fail to take over the school board. They win one seat out of four; but the two swing districts (East Wake and Cary) vote for the progressive candidates, Lori Millberg and Eleanor Goettee.

The lottery stuff, and other Jim Black shenanigans (jobs for cronies, video poker) tied to his fund-raising, is starting to hit the fan thanks to The New & Observer and the Charlotte Observer. An ex-campaign aide named Joe Sinsheimer captures the flavor of it on his website, www.JimBlackMustGo.com.

The good news: Scooter Libby's indicted. (OK, it's no so good for Scooter.)

The bad news: The state Board of Education blinks on gay rights, in the face of right-wing opposition. It decides that school counselors don't need any special training in GLBTQ issues. (But there's good news here, too: A Common Sense Foundation polls shows a large majority of North Carolinians in favor of equal rights for gays, and a narrow majority--51 percent--opposed to defining marriage so that gays are excluded.)

In sprawl news, the Raleigh City Council approves a 42-story hotel in the heart of sprawlville (Crabtree Valley), which the Chamber of Commerce says will henceforth be known as "midtown."

December
Ah, the holidays approach. So there's a spate of 2 a.m. executions at Central Prison in Raleigh, notoriously including the 1,000th execution in the United State since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

Whether it's George Bush's negligence or the Republican Congress, The New York Times sums up their response to Hurricane Katrina three months later: "We are about to lose New Orleans," the newspaper says. The only question is whether it's "honest paralysis over difficult questions" or "a conscious plan to let the city rot," but whatever--nothing's getting done.

The right-wing's in a snit because some people refuse to call everybody's holidays "Christmas." Called2Action gets Raleigh's permission to put up a Christian manger scene in Moore Square, which turns out to be a slapdash cartoon painted on plywood. But it's constitutional, because the baby Jesus cartoon is surrounded by adoring cartoon snowmen and plywood reindeer.

Liddy Dole's holidays are spoiled by a report that she made just one official visit to North Carolina over a six-month period. Not so, her office says. She visited the state she doesn't live in but does represent at least once a month--remember how she came to Raleigh?

Oh, and Dole turns on the TTA, predicting that it won't get federal funding and should reconsider its rail plans. Right, if she's opposed to it, it won't be funded.

Good news? Yes. Movements spring up against Wal-Mart ("the high cost of low prices") and in favor of patronizing instead the locally owned businesses that keep their profits in town. Mayors Foy and Chilton pledge their holiday gift-buying this year will be local. The Raleigh Independent Business Alliance launches www.RaleighUnchained.org.

And for foodies, the Indy has an excellent list of local farmers' markets, where you can buy from the members of Eastern Carolina Organics, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and others of your food-producing neighbors.

Think globally ... but if that's too depressing, at least do what you can to help out locally.

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