Monday, December 31, 2012

Fiscal Cliff Averted: Details, Blame And Tax Implications

Obama, Republicans Reach Deal On Fiscal Cliff; Senate Vote Expected Tonight
(By Lori Montgomery,Paul Kane,Jerry Markon,The Washington Post, 31 December 2012)

President Obama and Senate Republicans reached a sweeping deal late Monday that would let income taxes rise significantly for the first time in more than two decades, fulfilling Obama’s promise to raise taxes on the rich and averting the worst effects of the “fiscal cliff.”   Vice President Biden arrived at the Capitol just after 9 p.m. to explain the details of the pact he negotiated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). A Senate vote on the package could be held by 10:30 p.m., beating a midnight deadline, Democratic aides said. The Republican-controlled House will begin considering the bill on Tuesday, with a final vote expected in the next day or two.

The agreement came together after negotiators cleared two final hurdles involving the estate tax and automatic spending cuts set to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies later this week. Republicans gave ground on the spending cuts, known as the sequester, by agreeing to a two-month delay paid for in part with fresh tax revenue, a condition they had resisted. White House officials yielded to GOP wishes on how to handle estate taxes, aides said.

The revelations about the pending deal came after Obama had said a pact was “within sight,” and House Republican leaders announced they would hold no votes Monday night, making it appear that that the nation would go over the fiscal cliff for at least a day. The two sides have been negotiating frantically to avert the automatic spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in on Tuesday, which many economists believe would push the nation back into a recession.

Around 9:15 p.m., Biden emerged from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and walked with the Senate leader into a corridor, past a bank of television cameras broadcating the images live.  "Happy New Year!" the vice president said to awaiting reporters. "Don't you love spending New Year's Eve here?"  Biden then proceeded into a conference room for a meeting with his former Senate colleagues expected to last at least an hour.

Regardless of the emerging agreement, many Americans are all but certain to face a broad hike in taxes starting Tuesday because of the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which was enacted in 2011 as a temporary measure to boost economic growth. The increased payroll taxes, combined with hikes affecting the very wealthy, would effectively mark the end of a prolonged period of declining taxation that has become a defining characteristic of the American economy.
The pact came after a day of intensive negotiations and political battles between the two sides, with Obama urging lawmakers to “stop taxes going up for middle-class families, starting tomorrow,” and calling on them to remain focused on the needs of the American people rather than politics.  In what the White House billed as an event with middle-class Americans, Obama said the potential agreement would prevent federal income taxes from rising on middle-class families, extend tax credits for children and college tuition, provide tax breaks to clean-energy companies and extend unemployment insurance for 2 million Americans.  He would have preferred to “solve all these problems in the context of a larger agreement,” the so-called grand bargain, that would have dealt with spending in a “balanced way,” he said.  “But with this Congress, that was obviously a little too much to hope for at this time,” Obama said, adding that perhaps “we can do it in stages.”

Congressional Republicans immediately pushed back, objecting to comments that one GOP senator described as “heckling Congress.”  The president made the remarks as negotiators were moving closer to a deal but were still hung up on spending, with Democrats esisting Republican proposals for spending cuts that would come in exchange for delaying automatic spending cuts at federal agencies for just three months.  As Obama prepared to deliver remarks about the fiscal cliff at the White House, negotiators for the administration and McConnell appeared to have nailed down many of the most critical tax issues, including a plan to let taxes rise on income over $450,000 a year for couples and $400,000 a year for individuals, according to people in both parties familiar with the talks.

McConnell said after Obama’s speech that he and Biden spoke multiple times Monday morning since their first 6:30 a.m. call and managed to resolve their differences on taxes. But he echoed Obama’s contention that the two sides had not yet resolved a dispute about whether to delay automatic spending cuts. McConnell urged Congress to pass the tax agreement — and debate replacing the so-called “sequester,” as the automatic spending cuts are known, in coming months.  “We’ll continue to work on finding smarter ways to cut spending, but let’s not let that hold up protecting Americans from the tax hike that will take place” on New Year’s Day, he said. “We can do this. We must do this.”

Under the proposed accord, households earning less than $450,000 would largely escape higher income tax bills, though couples earning more than $300,000 a year and individuals earning more than $250,000 would lose part of the value of their exemptions and itemized deductions, under the terms of the emerging agreement.  Low-income households would also benefit from a five-year extension of credits for college tuition and the working poor first enacted as part of Obama’s stimulus package in 2009. And businesses would see a variety of popular tax breaks extended, including a credit for research and development.   The tax on inherited estates would rise from 35 percent to 40 percent, though Democrats agreed to keep in place the current exemption for estates worth up to $5 million. And nearly 30 million households would be protected from paying the costly alternative minimum tax for the first time — either on their 2012 tax returns or at any time in the future. The developing agreement calls for a permanent fix.

The two sides also appeared to have reached consensus on unemployment benefits, with Republicans acceding to Democratic demands to keep benefits flowing to the long-term unemployed for another year. Medicare payments would not be cut for doctors next year, and the cost of preserving those programs would not be offset with other spending cuts.

However, negotiators were still at odds over how to handle the automatic “sequester” spending cuts, which are set to decimate budgets at the Pentagon and other federal agencies in the New Year. Democrats initially demanded that the cuts be delayed until 2015, but Republicans balked, arguing that the cost of any delay should be covered through additional spending cuts.  Instead of delaying the cuts for two years, at a cost of more than $200 billion, Republicans suggested delaying the sequester for three months — at a cost of $33 billion, according to people close to the talks. It was unclear Monday whether the hang-up was the brevity of the extension or the need to identify offsetting spending cuts.  All told, the proposal would raise roughly $600 billion in new revenue over the next decade from the wealthiest 2 percent of households — less than Obama had been seeking, and less than House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had offered in negotiations earlier this month. But the new tax revenue was a first step, Democrats said, toward asking the wealthy to do their part in reducing record budget deficits.

In the House, Republicans once again met Monday evening with little information and no idea what to expect in the coming hours. Boehner convened his party conference together, but little was discussed regarding fiscal matters.  Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), a key Boehner ally, derided the emerging agreement as “small-ball’’ and said “everybody involved should be embarrassed.’’  But he left open the possibility that a bill passed by the Senate with no additional spending cuts could still pass the House. If such a bill is presented to the House, “the math becomes different, because then you would think that the president would bring a number of Democrats along. And then it’s just a question of how many Republicans.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she and her colleagues would quickly return if a Senate deal suddenly materializes.   “The House is here. We are here, we passed a same-day rule so that if something happens, we’re here, we’ll come up until 11:59 and 59 seconds,” she said. “We’re here in the city, no one’s going anywhere, we’re here and we’re ready. We’ve done our work in August. Now Harry Reid and the president need to do their work as well.”

In his remarks in the South Court Auditorium of the White House with a contingent of middle-class Americans standing behind him, Obama highlighted progress in the fiscal cliff talks by noting that “just last month Republicans in Congress said they would never agree to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans.” He continued: “Obviously, the agreement that’s currently discussed would raise those rates, and raise them permanently.”  But he warned that “we still have deficits that have to be dealt with,” and he stressed that tax hikes represent only one part of the fiscal cliff.  “I want to make clear that any agreement we have to deal with these automatic spending cuts that are being threatened for next month, those also have to be balanced,” Obama said. “And that means the revenues have to be part of the equation in turning off the sequester and eliminating these automatic spending cuts.”

He added: “Now, if Republicans think that I will finish the job of deficit reduction through spending cuts alone ... that will hurt seniors, or hurt students, or hurt middle- class families without asking also equivalent sacrifice from millionaires or companies with a lot of lobbyists, et cetera, if they think that’s going to be the formula for how we solve this thing, then they’ve another think coming. That’s not how it’s going to work. We’ve got to do this in a balanced and responsible way. And if we’re serious about deficit reduction and debt reduction, then it’s going to have to be a matter of shared sacrifice.”

Americans “need us to all stay focused on them,” Obama said. “Not on politics. Not on, you know, special interests.”  Minutes after Obama spoke, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) took to the Senate floor to denounce Obama’s suggestion that Congress consider new tax dollars as an acceptable offset to delaying the sequester spending cuts.  “I know the president has fun heckling Congress,” he said of Obama’s speech. “It’s unfortunate that he doesn’t spend as much time working on solving problems as he does with campaigns and pep rallies.”

A top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) tweeted that Obama was making a deal harder with his speech, in which he observed that he would be president for the next four years and that Republicans have already caved on higher taxes for the wealthy. Both comments drew hearty campaign-style applause from his audience.  “If Obama’s goal was to harm the process and make going over the cliff more likely, he’s succeeding,” tweeted Doug Heye.

A top aide to McConnell charged that Obama had changed the terms of negotiations in his speech.  “Potus just moved the goalpost again. Significantly. This is new,” wrote Josh Holmes, McConnell’s chief of staff.  Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered a blistering critique, accusing Obama of seeking short-term political gain at the expense of the nation’s economy. He denounced the speech as “a cheerleading, ridiculing of Republicans exercise.”

“So, what did the president of the United States just do?” McCain asked in a floor speech. “Well, he made a couple of jokes, laughed about how people are going to be here for New Year’s, sent a message of confrontation to the Republicans.... I guess I have to wonder — and I think the American people have to wonder — whether the president really wants this issue resolved, or is it to his short-term political benefit for us to go over the cliff?”  Earlier, with the New Year’s Eve deadline hours away, Democrats abandoned their demand to raise tax rates on household income over $250,000 a year. Obama had vowed repeatedly during his reelection campaign to allow tax cuts to expire for incomes over that level.

“There are a number of issues on which the two sides are still apart, but negotiations are continuing as I speak,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a floor speech shortly after the body convened at 11 a.m. Monday. “But we really are running out of time,” he added.   Reid said there were “still some issues that need to be resolved before we can bring legislation to the floor.”  Speaking after Reid on the Senate floor Monday morning, Sen. Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat from Iowa, said he was “disturbed” to read in The Post that Democratic negotiators had agreed to raise the threshold for the income tax rate increases to $450,000, from $250,000, and to maintain estate taxes at the same level.

“This is one Democrat that doesn’t agree with that — at all,” Harkin said. “I just think that’s grossly unfair.” He added: “If you make $250,000 a year, you’re not middle class. You’re in the top 2 percent of income earners in America.... If we’re going to have some kind of deal, the deal must be one that really does favor the middle class — the real middle class, those that are making 30, 50, 60, 70,000 dollars a year. That’s the real middle class in America. And as I see this thing developing, quite frankly, as I’ve said before, no deal is better than a bad deal, and this looks like a very bad deal the way this is shaping up.” 

Biden, a veteran dealmaker who served in the Senate for 36 years, entered the talks Sunday at McConnell’s request after the Republican leader said he had grown “frustrated” by the pace of negotiations with Reid.  Personal relations between the two Senate leaders have deteriorated after two years of draining battles over the budget. On Sunday, their antagonism produced a confusing day when talks seemed to be collapsing even as the two sides were moving closer to agreement on several fundamental issues.  As McConnell and Biden tried to bridge the divide, time had become as much of an enemy as the gritty details of tax and spending policy. Even if the leaders forge an agreement, the midnight deadline would be daunting to meet. Reid and McConnell would require the consent of all 100 senators to dispatch with the normal parliamentary procedures and complete debate and vote in hours rather than days.  And Senate passage would not guarantee an easy ride in the House, where Boehner’s conservative flank has shown deep resistance to any tax hikes. The speaker has indicated he does not want to approve a bill with mostly Democratic votes and a sliver of his 241-member Republican conference.


‘Fiscal Cliff’ Resolution Falls To Biden And Mcconnell, Longtime Senate Colleagues
(By David A. Fahrenthold and Ed O’Keefe, Washington Post, 31 December 2012)

In the end, it came down to two 70-year-old men, talking on the phone.  They are not the most powerful men in Washington: Each, in his own way, is a second fiddle. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is vice president. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the Senate minority leader, in charge only of the senators who are not in charge. But these two men — rivals, colleagues and wary friends for almost 28 years — were the ones who finally struck a deal to end the “fiscal cliff” crisis.  The New Year’s Eve agreement between Biden and McConnell provided a glimpse at the ways that personality quirks and one-to-one relationships can still change the course of Washington politics. On the Hill’s most dramatic night in 16 months, these things seemed to matter far more than raw power.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t have enough political muscle to strike a bargain with the president. The president was so intent on showing his muscle that he alienated the Republicans he was supposed to bargain with. Those two, the most powerful Democrat and the most powerful Republican in Washington, tried to strike a historic, sweeping deal, and failed.  Instead, they got what Biden and McConnell could wrangle on the phone at the last minute: a small deal that solved few of the big problems outside the immediate crisis.

Starting Sunday, Biden and McConnell talked repeatedly, hammering out agreements on a complicated array of topics: income tax rates, inheritance taxes, huge budget cuts set to take effect in January. While they talked, the rest of Congress waited. And waited. And complained.  “There are two people in a room deciding incredibly consequential issues for this country, while 99 other United States senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives — elected by their constituencies to come to Washington — are on the sidelines,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said on the Senate floor in the afternoon.   Thune was wrong about one thing: In a day of phone conversations, Biden and McConnell were never actually in the same room.

But Thune was right that legislators had, essentially, been cut out of the legislative process. By the time a deal was announced, about 8:45 p.m. Monday night, there was little time for anything but a vote.“At least we would have had an opportunity to debate this, instead of waiting now until the eleventh hour,” Thune said.   By now, however, nobody on Capitol Hill should have been surprised at how this would end.  Monday marked the third time in two years that a congressional cliffhanger had ended with a bargain struck by McConnell and Biden. The first time came in late 2010, during a year-end showdown over the expiring Bush-era tax cuts. The second was in August 2011, during the fight over the debt ceiling. In both cases, Washington’s new power players — Obama and the tea-party-infused House GOP — couldn’t reach an agreement. They were saved by a bargain struck in Washington’s oldest tradition, not much changed from the days of Henry Clay except the size of the dollar figures and the presence of a phone.

Two men, both with 20-plus years in the capital, working out the final touches alone.  “Happy New Year!” Biden said to awaiting reporters, as he swept in to brief Democratic senators on the deal, around 9 p.m. “Don’t you enjoy being here New Year’s Eve?”   Washington’s two unofficial “closers” are remarkably different. The smiling, garrulous Biden has a reputation for empathy: You could spot him as a politician from 40 yards away. McConnell is reserved, deliberate and calculating. He looks like a politician only within the arcane, closed world of the Senate.   But their relationship was built over 24 years spent together in the Senate, where Biden served as a Democrat from Delaware.  “It’s not so much a buddy thing,” one senior Republican aide said. “The two of them can do business, they can find solutions together.”

McConnell, aides say, came to see Biden as somebody who could make decisions fast, and who could cut deals without lecturing his opponents or spiking the ball afterward. Biden, in turn, came to see McConnell as somebody who didn’t over-promise. He always knew what his supporters would accept.  “Mitch knows how to count better than anyone I have ever known,” Biden told an audience in 2011, during a visit to the center named after McConnell at the University of Louisville. The audience laughed. “This is not a joke. When Mitch says, ‘Joe, I have 41 votes,’ or ‘I have 59 votes,’ it is the end of the discussion . . . He has never once been wrong in what he’s told me.”   In this crisis, the two men were called upon when other politicians, far more central to the drama, had faltered.

First, Boehner failed the counting test. Before Christmas, the speaker sought to rally his fractious House behind a “Plan B” to raise taxes only for people making more than $1 million per year. They didn’t. Boehner pulled the bill and backed out of negotiations.  Then, Washington’s top two Democrats — Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) — proved unwieldy negotiators. Reid seemed to have trouble coming up with a fast counter-offer to a proposal from McConnell. Obama, fresh off reelection, was defiant in public and in private. Even on Monday, as a deal seemed to be drawing closer, Obama gave a televised speech in which he noted that Republicans had already caved on their key demand never to raise tax rates.

To some Republicans, that seemed like a premature and unseemly celebration.  “This is so disappointing. Why wouldn’t the president be sitting down with people working out this agreement instead of having a Republican-bashing event?” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.  For Biden and McConnell, the catch is that — like the two men’s previous deals — this agreement doesn’t solve Washington’s biggest problems related to taxes and spending. The second fiddles had neither the time, nor the power, to do that.

Instead, they scheduled a new crisis in place of the old one, just a few weeks away. It appeared that the fight over budget cuts would be put off for only a few weeks, to coincide with a new showdown over the debt ceiling.  “This is disgusting, and everybody involved should be embarrassed,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), as the deal was coming together. The embarrassment, LaTourette said, would stem from the fact “that we’re talking about this small-ball — it’s not even small ball, it’s a Ping-Pong ball — of a proposal. I think it’s awful.”  As he emerged from a Democratic caucus meeting shortly after 11 p.m., Biden spoke briefly with reporters and photographers who awaited him.  “I feel really very, very good about how things are going to go,” Biden said. “Having been in the Senate as long as I have, there’s two things you shouldn’t do: You shouldn’t predict how the Senate’s going to vote before they vote. You’re not going to make a lot of money. And number two, you surely shouldn’t predict how the House is going to vote. So I feel very, very good. I think we’ll get a very good vote tonight. But happy new year, and I’ll see you all maybe tomorrow.”  Asked what he said to wavering members of the Democratic caucus, Biden smiled and said: “I said this is Joe Biden and I’m your buddy.”


Winners And Losers In The Fiscal Cliff Deal
(By Chris Cillizza , Washington Post, 31 December 2012)

The deal is, finally, done.   After the usual hemming and hawing, horse-trading and partisan hysterics, Congress and the White House have seemingly agreed to a deal to get the country passed the so-called “fiscal cliff.”  (Worth noting: The deal has yet to pass the Senate or House — meaning that it is not totally done just yet. But, it does appear to be as close to a done deal as possible.)  With the conclusion of this latest round of wait-until-the-last-possible-minute negotiations, we thought it made sense to cut through all the spin and give you what you really want — a list of who won and who lost in the cliff fight.   Our picks are below.  Agree? Disagree? The comments section awaits.


* Joe Biden:  Biden’s entrance into the cliff negotiations over the weekend-  after a personal plea from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell - seemed to serve as a sort of oiling of locked Congressional gears. The press in the wake of the deal (and even in the runup to the final agreement) will focus on the idea of Biden as the closer, the guy who got the debt ceiling and fiscal cliff deals done for the White House.  Couple that image with the lead role Biden will play in whatever legislative package the Obama Administration comes up with on guns and gun control earlier this year and the “Biden as major White House asset” storyline writes itself.  That narrative helps Biden in the still-way-behind-the-scenes 2016 game too, although if the fiscal cliff deal is ultimately judged as having given away too much to Republicans, it has the potential to bite him down the line.
* Mitch McConnell: The working relationship — built over many years — between Biden and the Kentucky Republican is the story of these fiscal cliff negotiations; without it, there’s a very real possibility no deal gets done. McConnell stayed behind the scenes (as is his preference) for almost the entirety of the fiscal cliff debate but after House Republicans proved unable to move the needle, he stepped in to save the party. (Make no mistake: No deal on the fiscal cliff was a political loser for Republicans; this is an issue they needed to get off the table in order to find better political ground — debt ceiling — to make their stand.)  McConnell proved himself (again) as the “Red” of the Senate — he’s a man who knows how to get things.

* President Obama: It appears as though Obama learned the messaging lessons of his past political defeats on things like the economic stimulus.  From the start, the President sought to sell the need to raise taxes on the wealthy to the public in a campaign-style pitch that was heavy on the stick and light on the carrot when it came to Republican Members of Congress. Obama’s statement on the eve of the deal might have crossed the line to a bit of spiking the football — more on that later — but it was quite clear he believed he had finally won a message battle with Republicans. That’s because he had.

* Joe Manchin: Manchin’s proposal — known as the CALM Act — to help gently avert the fiscal cliff got him some positive press amid the broadly negative coverage of Congress. Manchin also emerged as the common sense centrist of record — the role long played by retiring Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman — during the fiscal cliff back and forth, not a bad place to be for a Democrat representing Republican-friendly West Virginia.

* Debt ceiling: President Obama’s initial proposal to take the power to raise the debt ceiling from Congress disappeared amid the negotiations over a cliff deal. That means that sometime in late February or early March, there will be (another) fight over whether to raise Congress’ borrowing limit. And, it’s likely to make the fiscal cliff fight look like child’s play when you consider the stakes.

* Legislative jargon: AMT. Chained CPI. UI benefits.  This cliff debate was an embarrassment of riches for lovers of Congressional-ese.  C-SPAN was in its glory.


* John Boehner: The fiscal cliff talks were cast as a moment for Boehner to cement his legacy as Speaker — to use his years of legislative know-how to find a way to get a “grand bargain” that would set the country on the right financial course through the Republican-controlled House. The exact opposite happened when Boehner’s “Plan B” failed to even make it to the House floor for a vote, a development that effectively sidelined him in the talks and raised questions about how much — if any — control he had over his fellow House Republicans. It’s near-certainty that Boehner will be re-elected Speaker on Thursday but his image clearly took a hit in the cliff negotiations.

* Congress: Members of Congress proved that all the bad things people say about them were, basically, true.  They do wait until the last minute to do anything. They are incapable (or close to it) of getting anything “big” done. Their idea of compromise is agreeing on a date sometime in the future when they will — seriously this time — make the hard decisions. The funny thing? Members of Congress, individually, know that what they have done with the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff is bad politics. But they don’t seem to have the political will or ability to do anything else. Depressing.

* President Obama: Obama’s handling of the fiscal cliff talks felt pitch perfect up until his Monday event with “middle class” citizens. The rally felt too much like a campaign rally — Obama was repeatedly cheered — and the president himself was in a joking mood that didn’t seem to fit the moment.  Will it be overshadow the fact that he got a deal? No. But it was an off-key note from the country’s top communicator.

* New Year’s Eve plans: The Fix is not a big New Year’s Eve guy. (It ranks right up there with St. Patrick’s Day in our least favorite holiday list. And, yes, we have a list.) That said, lots of people in and around D.C. had plans to send out 2012 in style and, instead, had to sit around waiting for a deal to be done. What’s that? Only political reporters and Hill types did that?  Well, fine then.


Most Will Face A Rare Tax Increase With Or Without ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Resolution
(By Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post, 31 December 2012)

Americans will face a broad increase in taxes Tuesday for the first time in at least two decades, ending a prolonged period of declining taxation that has become a defining characteristic of the U.S. economy.  Despite the tentative agreement reached late Monday to avoid much of the fiscal cliff, many Americans will see a higher tax bill because of the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which was enacted in 2011 as a temporary measure to boost economic growth. The tax holiday was preceded by a similar temporary cut in 2009 and 2010.  The deal negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses a separate tax — the income tax — and would prevent tax rates from increasing for all but the wealthiest Americans. But both sides have decided to leave the payroll tax out of the agreement.  

Unlike income taxes, which rise along with a worker’s income, the payroll tax is a fixed percentage of an employee’s salary. Allowing the tax cut to expire increases taxes on salaries by 2 percent for every American worker. Up to $110,100 a year in salary is subject to the tax.  This jump in payroll taxes, combined with other tax increases affecting the very wealthy as a result of the deal, would make for the largest increase in taxes in about half a century.  With the country going over the fiscal cliff for at least a day because Congress did not approve the deal before the year-end deadline, a wide range of taxes go up Tuesday, although perhaps only for a matter of hours. If lawmakers ultimately fail to approve the tentative agreement, it would mean thousands of dollars would come out of the pockets of average workers, the largest tax increase on Americans since World War II.

But support was mounting late Monday for the deal, which would extend lower tax rates for families earning less than $450,000. At the same time, higher-income earners would face steeper income taxes and potentially fewer tax breaks, as well as an already enacted new tax to pay for the Affordable Care Act health-care legislation.  For most American workers, the expiration of the payroll tax cut would be the only increase they experience.  With the end of the payroll tax holiday, a worker earning $50,000, for instance, will pay $1,000 more in taxes this year; a worker earning less than $20,000 a year will pay about $100 more. Someone in the upper fifth of households, making $150,000 a year, will pay about $2,200 more.   The increase in taxes on workers means that “the era of asymmetrical tax policy — where taxes can only go down — is over,” said Jared Bernstein, a former White House economic adviser. “What’s been weird is in this history of taxation in America, there’s been this long period when it’s been forbidden to increase taxes at all.”

While the Obama administration fought for the payroll tax cut in previous years to goose a weak economic recovery, the White House has been more ambivalent this year. Before the election, even as prominent Democratic economists and lawmakers argued in favor of extending the tax cut, the White House declined to call for its renewal.  Then, during its post-election talks with congressional Republicans, the Obama administration requested an extension. But Republican lawmakers were skeptical, viewing the payroll tax holiday as contributing to federal deficits because the Treasury had borrow money to replace payroll tax revenue, which ordinarily would go to fund Social Security. The administration quickly dropped the payroll tax cut from negotiations.  “I know for a fact that the White House economists think about it much the same way I do — as a very important part of stimulus in 2013 — but I think they just judged they couldn’t get it,” said Bernstein, who served as a top adviser to Vice President Biden.

The tax increases come after a period of tax cutting that began in 1997. That year, President Bill Clinton trimmed rates on investment income. President George W. Bush cut a wide range of taxes in six of his eight years in office, first as a response to projected budget surpluses and later in an effort to stimulate the economy.  President Obama continued the trend, cutting taxes in 2009 and then even more deeply in 2011, largely in response to the deep recession.  As a result, nearly half of American workers probably have never experienced a tax increase.  “We haven’t seen broad-based individual tax increases at the federal level in the last 30 years,” said Owen Zidar, an economist at the University of California. “In the 1960s through the 1980s, payroll tax increases affected most taxpayers, but the vast majority of broad-based tax changes have been cuts rather than increases.”

When considered as a percentage of the size of the nation’s overall economy, the increase in taxes set to occur Tuesday is likely to be largest in about 50 years, according to a study of previous tax policy changes by Jerry Tempalski, a tax analyst in the Treasury Department.  Payroll taxes last went up in 1988, when they increased by 0.72 percentage points.  Some very small tax increases have taken effect in recent years, including an increase in levies on cigarettes to pay for expanded health care for children and a tax on tanning salons to pay for Obama’s health-care plan. Clinton raised taxes in 1993, but that mainly affected the wealthy. (By contrast, state and local taxes have been increasing over the years, in part to make up for budget shortfalls caused by the recession.)

Middle-class Americans will not only be wrestling with higher taxes this year; they will also be earning less than they did just five years ago.  “Many more households are living paycheck to paycheck than just a few years ago given the very tough economy and the decline in real incomes. This amplifies the negative fallout from the expiration of the payroll tax holiday,” said Mark Zandi, an economist with Moody’s Analytics. “The still very weak consumer confidence, due in part to lower real incomes, also reinforces the negative impact of the end of the holiday.”  Economists say the expiry of the tax cut will be a major drag on the economy this year. Estimates suggest it could cost between 500,000 and 1 million jobs, leaving the unemployment about 0.4 percentage points higher than it otherwise would be.  Tax increases on the wealthy, by contrast, are expected to have much less of an effect on the economy.

Dave Barry’s Year(s) In Review: 2009 Thru 2013

Dave Barry’s Review Of 2013, The Year Of The Zombies
(By Dave Barry, Washington Post, 20 December 2013)
It was the Year of the Zombies. Not in the sense of most of humanity dying from a horrible plague and then reanimating as mindless flesh-eating ghouls. No, it was much worse than that. Because as bad as a zombie apocalypse would be, at least it wouldn’t involve the resurrection of Anthony Weiner’s most private part.
We thought that thing was out of our lives forever, but suddenly there it was again, all over the Internet, as Weiner came back from the political grave like the phoenix, the mythical bird that arose from the ashes to run for mayor of New York and use the name “Carlos Danger” to text obscene photos of its privates to somebody named “Sydney Leathers.”
Speaking of pathologically narcissistic sex weasels: Also coming back from the dead in 2013 to seek elective office in New York (What IS it with New York?) was Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer, who ran for city comptroller under the slogan: “If you can’t trust a proven sleazebag with your municipal finances, who CAN you trust?”
And then — not to leave out the ladies — there was Miley Cyrus. We thought her career was over; we remembered her fondly as a cute and perky child star who played Hannah Montana, wholesome idol of millions of preteens. And then one night we turned on MTV’s Video Music Awards and YIKES there was this horrifying, mutant, vaguely reptilian creature in Slut Barbie underwear twerking all over the stage while committing unhygienic acts with both Robin Thicke and a foam finger, both of which we hope were confiscated by a hazmat team.  This year was so bad that twerking wasn’t even the stupidest dance craze. That would be the “Harlem Shake,” which is not so much a dance as a mass nervous-system disorder, and which makes the “Gangnam Style” dance we mocked in 2012 look like “Swan Lake.”  We miss 2012.
But getting back to the zombies: It wasn’t just people who came back alarmingly in 2013. The Cold War with Russia came back. Al-Qaeda came back. Turmoil in the Middle East came back. The debt ceiling came back. The major league baseball drug scandal came back. Dennis Rodman came back and went on humanitarian missions to North Korea (or maybe we just hallucinated that). The Endlessly Looming Government Shutdown came back. People lining up to buy iPhones to replace iPhones that they bought only minutes earlier came back. And for approximately the 250th time, the Obama administration pivoted back to the economy, which has somehow been recovering for years now without actually getting any better. Unfortunately, before they could get the darned thing fixed, the administration had to pivot back to yet another zombie issue, health care, because it turned out that Obamacare, despite all the massive brainpower behind it, had some “glitches,” in the same sense that the universe has some “atoms.”
Were there any new trends in 2013? Yes, but they were not good. Kale, for example. Suddenly this year restaurants started putting kale into everything, despite the fact that it is an unappetizing form of plant life that until recently was used primarily for insulation. Even goats will not eat it. Goats, when presented with kale, are like, “No, thanks, we’ll just chew on used seat cushions.”  Another annoying 2013 trend was people who think it is clever to say “hashtag” in front of everything. Listen carefully, people who think this is clever: Hashtag shut up.
Did anything good happen in 2013? Yes! There was one shining ray of hope in the person of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford , who admitted that, while in office, he smoked crack cocaine, but noted, by way of explanation, that this happened “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” This was probably the most honest statement emitted by any elected official this year, and we can only hope that more of our leaders follow Mayor Ford’s lead in 2014. (We mean being honest, not smoking crack in a drunken stupor.) (Although really, how much worse would that be?)  But before we look ahead to next year, let’s take one last look back at the fiasco that was 2013, starting with …
… which begins with a crisis in Washington, a city that — despite having no industries and a workforce consisting almost entirely of former student council presidents — manages to produce 93 percent of the nation’s crises. This particular crisis is a “fiscal cliff” caused by the fact that for years the government has been spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have, which has resulted in a mess that nobody could possibly have foreseen unless that person had a higher level of financial awareness than a cucumber. At the last minute, congressional leaders and the White House reach an agreement under which the government will be able to continue spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have, thus temporarily averting the very real looming danger that somebody might have to make a decision.
In other Washington news, President Obama is sworn in for a second term at a quiet White House ceremony that, because of an e-mail glitch, Vice President Biden does not find out about until several days later.
Abroad (this actually happened) Iran announces that the Iranian Space Agency has sent a monkey into space aboard the Pishgam rocket and returned it safely to Earth. Intelligence experts fear the Iranians are developing a much larger, more powerful monkey that could be used to rampage around Tel Aviv knocking down buildings. The New York Times reports that Chinese hackers broke into its computer system, a security breach resulting in what observers describe as “the hardest crossword puzzle ever.”
On the business front, Boeing suffers a setback when the Federal Aviation Administration issues an order grounding all of the new 787 “Dreamliners” after inspections reveal that many of the planes have just the one wing.  NASA announces that the latest data sent back by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appear to confirm data previously transmitted by the Mars Pathfinder, Mars Surveyor, Mars Wanderer, Mars Trailbreaker, Mars Roamer, Mars Walker, Mars Strider, Mars Meanderer, Mars Stroller, Mars Lunger and Mars Traipser, suggesting that Mars is pretty much covered with rocks.
In a shocking interview, Lance Armstrong, after years of denial, admits to Oprah Winfrey that he took illegal drugs in all seven of his Tour de France victories, as well as using a motorcycle for certain stages of the race and “occasionally” shooting opponents with poison-tipped darts. Also he played “a small role” in the JFK assassination.  Elsewhere in sports, Alabama wins the college football national championship by trouncing Notre Dame, which had been ranked No. 1 by a computer program coincidentally created by the same company that is developing the much-anticipated Obamacare Web site. Major league baseball is once again rocked by scandal following published reports that a number of players — including such stars as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera — have on more than one occasion participated in the Tour de France.  Speaking of shocking developments that nobody could have seen coming, in …
… Washington faces another crisis in the form of a “sequester” that will happen automatically unless Congress can agree on a budget, which seems unlikely inasmuch as Congress cannot agree on what planet this is. If the sequester goes into effect, federal spending will continue to rise, but not quite as fast as it would have risen without the sequester. To a normal human, this means government spending is still increasing, but to Washington, the sequester means “draconian cuts” and is a looming disaster of epic proportions. Panic grips the city, as grim-faced former student council presidents write talking points far into the night.
In the month’s biggest surprise, Pope Benedict XVI announces his resignation after giving an interview to Oprah Winfrey in which he reveals that he is not Catholic. Also stepping down is Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, after decades of public service, resigns as secretary of state so she will finally have a chance to spend some personal quality time with her team of campaign advisers. 
The beleaguered cruise-ship industry suffers another blow when the Carnival Triumph loses power in a fire and drifts helplessly for days in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately, the passengers are able to survive the ordeal by eating each other. In other transportation news, American Airlines and US Airways announce plans to merge into one huge company that will be, according to the official announcement, “the most bankrupt airline in the world.”  Abroad, an increasingly belligerent North Korea gets drunk and detonates a small nuclear device. In the worsening European economic crisis, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, facing massive debts, are forced to move in with Germany.  Speaking of crises, in …
… as the federal budget deadline passes without Congress reaching agreement, the devastating, draconian, historically catastrophic sequester goes into effect, causing a mild reduction in the rate of increase in government spending that for some inexplicable reason goes unnoticed by pretty much everybody outside the federal government. Undaunted, Washington turns its massive collective brainpower toward the task of deciding what to do about the next major national crisis, whatever it may be.  In other government-finance news, the Securities and Exchange Commission accuses Illinois of fraud after determining that the assets of the state employee pension fund — which has liabilities totaling more than $100 billion — consist entirely of expired Groupons.
President Obama departs on a planned four-day trip to the Middle East, although because of what administration officials describe as a technical scheduling “glitch,” he winds up spending two of the days in Albania. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council, meeting in emergency session, votes to unfollow North Korea after the increasingly belligerent rogue nation posts an unmistakably threatening tweet about South Korea.
In Rome, the College of Cardinals, apparently seeking to move the church in a new direction, chooses, as the first non-European pope in over a thousand years, a retired New Jersey tax accountant named Harvey Schwartz. Appearing before a massive crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the new pontiff vows to, quote, “give it a shot.”  In what could be seen as a troubling omen, on March 10, millions of Americans are forced to turn their clocks ahead one hour, despite repeated assurances from the Obama administration that “if you like the current time, you can keep the current time.”  Speaking of troubling, in…
… tensions on the Korean peninsula mount still further as South Korea is awakened at 3 a.m. to discover that its northern border is blocked by a burning bag of dog excrement the size of a soccer stadium. North Korea denies any involvement, but the U.N. Security Council goes into emergency session, after which Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announces that he wants to have his name legally changed.  In other alarming foreign developments, Iran announces that it is constructing a new uranium enrichment plant, which according to a government spokesman will be used for “youth sports.”
At home, the horrific Boston Marathon bombing demonstrates yet again the vital service provided by the powerful information-gathering resource that is the journalism/Twitter complex, which- faced with a wildly chaotic, confusing situation- is somehow able, within mere minutes, to get pretty much everything wrong. Leading the way is CNN, which is forced to retract a widely repeated report, attributed to “high-level police sources,” that the attack was carried out by a Belgian submarine. Eventually the facts surrounding the tragedy are sorted out, enabling both the media and the political establishment to get on with the crucial work of using it to score political points.
Weather scientists at both the Weather Channel and Colorado State University, using sophisticated computer models, predict that the 2013 hurricane season will be unusually active. These scientists are immediately recruited to work on the much-anticipated rollout of Obamacare.  In sports, basketball player Jason Collins becomes the first athlete in a major U.S. professional sport to openly declare that he has participated in the Tour de France. Meanwhile, in Masters golf action, Tiger Woods, after hitting a ball into the water, drops a replacement ball two yards from where he should have; this turns out to be just about the most exciting thing that has ever happened in the history of golf.  Speaking of excitement, in …
… Washington, exhausted from dealing with crises, turns its attention to the other thing it is really good at: scandals. The two main ones involve the Internal Revenue Service, which admits that it has been targeting conservative political groups for special scrutiny, and the Justice Department, which admits that it secretly seized phone records from the Associated Press. A shocked and outraged and, of course, surprised President Obama states that he knew nothing about these activities until he read about them in the newspapers; he vows to make every effort, as chief executive of the executive branch, to find out who is responsible. For their part, Republican leaders vow to harp on these scandals until everybody hates them even more.
In New York City, Anthony Weiner announces his intention to enter … No, let’s rephrase that. Weiner announces his intention to plunge into … No, wait, sorry. He announces that he plans to run for mayor, using the campaign slogan “Weiner: You Know Where He Stands.” His announcement sets off a joyous celebration among headline writers for the New York Post.  In other urban news, the city of Detroit admits that for the past 15 years it has been stealing all of its electricity from Cleveland.
In technology news, Microsoft, acknowledging widespread consumer dissatisfaction with Windows 8, announces that it has been chosen as the operating system for the much-anticipated Obamacare Web site.
In sports, the Kentucky Derby is won by a Harley-Davidson ridden by Lance Armstrong.  Meanwhile, in Europe, the worsening unemployment crisis leaves millions of jobless workers with nothing to do except sit around in cafes all day drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. This is also what they do when they are employed, but still. Elsewhere abroad, tensions on the Korean peninsula continue to mount when 17 million South Korean mailboxes are destroyed by what are believed to be North Korean firecrackers.  Speaking of worsening, in …
… Washington is rocked by leaked documents showing that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting massive amounts of data on the phone calls, e-mails and other electronic activities of millions of American citizens. An NSA spokesperson insists that this program is vital to the fight against terrorism, and that Americans “have absolutely no reason to fear that their privacy is being invaded, or that there are tiny government video cameras concealed in every low-flow toilet in America.” The spokesperson adds that “as a totally unrelated side note, you people need to increase your dietary fiber.”  The person responsible for leaking the NSA documents is identified as former CIA computer specialist Edward Snowden, who has all classified U.S. documents for the past 50 years on a single thumb drive, which apparently was handed out as a favor at the CIA Christmas party.
In legal affairs, the Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act, eliciting high praise from many politicians who enacted the Defense of Marriage Act. The California legislature, as always staying ahead of the curve, passes a law making it mandatory for state residents to possess marijuana.  In an annual rite of passage, millions of young people graduate from college, and, following in the footsteps of the millions who have gone before them, move back in with their parents. 
In sports, organizers of the Tour de France announce that this year they’re going to skip the bicycle-riding part and instead just gather all the competitors into a room and see who can do the most drugs.  In Rome, Pope Schwartz introduces the Vatican’s first-ever Mah-Jongg Night. Elsewhere abroad, U.N. observers express concern when Syria receives a large shipment of crates from North Korea marked “AQUARIUM SUPPLIES. OR FRUIT. DEFINITELY NOT CHEMICAL WEAPONS.”  Speaking of trouble in the Middle East, in …
… the Egyptian military ousts President Mohamed Morsi and, in a move that worries international observers, installs, as his replacement, Richie Incognito.  Elsewhere abroad, the already tense relationship between the United States and Pakistan worsens when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returns home to find his wife in bed with a Predator drone. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department insists that they are “just friends.”  In Obamacare action, the White House announces a one-year delay on the mandate requiring businesses to provide health insurance but insists that “we are right on schedule for rolling out the Web thing on the Intertubes.” With that concern out of the way, the Obama administration decides to once again pivot back to the economy, which continues to falter because — economists agree unanimously on this — not enough presidential speeches have been given about it.
George Zimmerman is acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and accepts a high-level post as a security adviser to North Korea.  The beleaguered city of Detroit, having run out of all other financial options, formally applies to become a province of Canada.  In baseball, Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers is suspended for the season without pay after testing positive for trans-fats.  In the month’s happiest story, Great Britain rejoices at the much-anticipated birth of a royal baby who one day will, in accordance with hallowed tradition, become an old person waiting around for an even older person to kick the bucket.  And the good times continue to roll in …
… when Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos buys The Washington Post with his own personal money, thereby ensuring that one of the nation’s most important newspapers will be able to continue producing in-depth, hard-hitting journalism, including an estimated 400 stories and columns in August alone about what a genuinely brilliant yet humanitarian genius Jeff Bezos is. Bezos says he does not plan to make any major changes, other than to deliver the paper in cardboard boxes and replace the stories with reader reviews of news events, using a five-star ranking system.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, signaling a major change in the federal government’s policy regarding the War on Drugs, tells a meeting of the American Bar Association that he has a family of tiny, invisible harmonica-playing giraffes living inside his nose.  In sports, New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is indicted for murder; if convicted, under the strict new NFL rules aimed at reducing violence, he will have to sit out at least two games.  In politics, San Diego Mayor Bob “Bob” Filner resigns as a result of allegations that he is a compulsive serial horn dog who groped pretty much the entire female population of Southern California. He immediately becomes a leading contender in the New York City mayoral race.
But the big story brewing in August concerns the crisis in Syria, which becomes a huge issue when the White House accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons, thereby crossing the “red line” that President Obama announced in 2012 while distracted by an important putt. Secretary of State John Kerry, making the case for a military strike, calls Assad “a thug and a murderer” who killed nearly 1,500 people, including children, in a chemical attack. Citing the urgency of the situation, the administration prepares to launch an attack without congressional approval. But then, in a surprise move, the president announces that he has decided to take the matter to Congress after all, raising the distinct possibility that nothing will actually happen during anybody’s lifetime.  The situation becomes even murkier in …
… when Kerry, continuing to stress the dire urgency of the situation, compares Assad to Hitler, only to declare a few days later — moments before his aides are able to fell him with a tranquilizer dart — that any strike against Assad will be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” President Obama clarifies this by stating that “the United States military doesn’t do pinpricks.”  Just when it seems as if there is no good way out of the Syria mess, help miraculously arrives in the form of our generous old friends the Russians, who, despite being longtime allies of Syria, are willing to lend us a helping hand without any thought of benefiting themselves. Under their plan, Assad gets to remain in power but must give up his chemical weapons and go back to killing people in a more humane, less Hitlerish way. With the crisis averted, everybody in Washington heaves a sigh of relief, and that is the last we hear about the crisis in Syria.  In other foreign-affairs news, Dennis Rodman travels to North Korea for a loon-to-loon meeting with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, who presents the former NBA star with a commemorative set of 50 political prisoners.
In technology news, Apple introduces the iPhone 5, which features an improved camera, time travel and the ability to text with the dead.  On the entertainment front, “Breaking Bad” airs its final episode, leaving us with basically no reason to go on living.  Diana Nyad completes an unprecedented swim from Cuba to Florida, a feat made all the more difficult by the fact that she had a family of five clinging to her back.  With Obamacare about to go into effect, Sen. Ted Cruz, a staunch opponent of the program, stages a 21-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in an effort to drive home to the American people the inarguable fact that the letters in “Senator Ted Cruz” can be rearranged to spell “A Zero-Scent Turd.”  As the month draws to a close, Washington again lurches into crisis mode as Congress is unable to agree on a budget, which means that at midnight on the first day of …
… the federal government, in an unthinkable development that we cannot even think about, partially shuts down. The result is a catastrophe of near-sequester proportions. Within hours wolves are roaming the streets of major U.S. cities, and bacteria the size of mature salmon are openly cavorting in the nation’s water supply. In the Midwest, thousands of cows, no longer supervised by the Department of Agriculture, spontaneously explode. Yellowstone National Park — ALL of it — is stolen. In some areas gravity stops working altogether, forcing people to tie themselves to trees so they won’t float away. With the nation virtually defenseless, the Bermudan army invades the East Coast, within hours capturing Delaware and most of New Jersey.  By day 17, the situation has become so dire that Congress, resorting to desperate measures, decides to actually do something. It passes, and the president signs, a law raising the debt ceiling, thereby ensuring that the federal government can continue spending spectacular quantities of money that it does not have until the next major totally unforeseeable government financial crisis, scheduled for February 2014.
Things do not go nearly as smoothly with the rollout of Obamacare , which turns out to have a lot of problems despite being conceived of by super-smart people with extensive experience in the field of being former student council presidents. The federal Web site,, is riddled with glitches, resulting in people being unable to log in, people getting cut off, people being electrocuted by their keyboards, people having their sensitive financial information suddenly appear on millions of TV screens during episodes of “Duck Dynasty,” etc.  Fortunately, as the initial rush of applicants tapers off, the system starts to work a little better, and by the end of the second week U.S. Secretary of Blame Kathleen Sebelius is able to announce that the program has amassed a total enrollment, nationwide, of nearly two people, one of whom later turns out to be imaginary. But this is not good enough for a visibly angry and frustrated and, of course, surprised President Obama, who promises to get the Web site fixed just as soon as somebody answers the Technical Support hotline, which has had the White House on hold for 73 hours.
In an aviation landmark, a Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles becomes the first plane to fly under new FAA rules allowing expanded passenger use of electronic gadgets, landing safely and uneventfully in Moscow.  In sports, another major league baseball season draws to a satisfying close with a World Series victory by some team other than the Yankees.  In foreign affairs, the German government angrily accuses the United States of spying after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone conversations are repeatedly interrupted by somebody with an American accent asking her to “please speak English.” An NSA spokesperson denies involvement, saying, “We don’t even have international roaming.”  Speaking of angry, in …
… public dissatisfaction with Obamacare continues to grow as many Americans discover that their current insurance plans are being canceled. A frustrated and — it goes without saying — surprised President Obama reveals to the nation that “insurance is complicated to buy” and clarifies that when he said “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” he was using “you” in the sense of “not necessarily you personally.” Observers note that the White House has stopped referring to the program as “Obamacare” and is now calling it by the more formal legal name “George W. Bush.”  As the president’s popularity slides in the polls, House Speaker John Boehner, sensing a tactical opening for the Republicans, calls a press conference to point out that he is exactly the same color as a Creamsicle.
In non-Obamacare news, George Zimmerman, continuing a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior, invades Taiwan. But the big international story takes place in Geneva, where Iran, pressured by the United States and five other powers, accepts an arms-limitation agreement under which it may continue making enriched uranium but must promise that it will be used only for science fairs.  In other international news, U.N. Secretary-General Trevor Ki-moon asks the security council to send U.N. peacekeeping troops to Manhattan in an effort to quell Alec Baldwin.  In politics, Chris Christie establishes himself as a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination when he handily wins reelection as governor of New Jersey after defeating the occupying Bermudan army by threatening to sit on it.  As the month draws to a close, Americans pause to observe the Thanksgiving holiday by assaulting each other over discounted electronics. In what has become a Washington tradition, President Obama attempts to pardon two turkeys but fails to get enough votes in the House.  Speaking of failure, in …
… retailers report that the Black Friday shopping weekend was weaker than expected, with a nationwide total of just six shoppers killed, 148 seriously injured and only 357 arrested — all numbers well below last year’s totals.  In other retail news, Jeff Bezos reveals that Amazon is experimenting with a system that would deliver parcels weighing up to five pounds via drones; heavier packages would be delivered via surplus World War II howitzers. Some observers express concerns about this concept, but it gets a rare five-star rating from The Washington Post.  Detroit is kicked out of Canada for shoplifting.
On the Obamacare front, the administration declares that the federal Web site has been significantly improved, although there are still occasional glitches, such as one that enables a Milwaukee woman seeking to compare dental plans to accidentally launch a tactical nuclear strike against Guatemala. But as Secretary of Blame Sebelius notes, “This kind of thing happens all the time with Orbitz.”  In other government news, the Federal Communications Commission meets to consider allowing airline passengers to talk on their mobile phones in flight, as it has been shown that this does not interfere with navigational equipment. Other activities that do not interfere with navigational equipment include blowing air horns, throwing knives and beekeeping, so WHAT THE HELL LET’S ALLOW THOSE ACTIVITIES ON PLANES, TOO.  Sorry.
In foreign news, Bermuda offers to return Delaware to the United States; the United States rejects the offer. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, in a move that raises eyebrows, officiates at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a meth lab.  On a happier holiday note, the traditional Christmas Eve service at the Vatican ends with Pope Schwartz going into St. Peter’s Square and personally leading thousands of the faithful to dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
As the year draws to a close, hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula soar when North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, in what is seen as a conciliatory gesture, sends a gift to South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye. Unfortunately, the gift — a set of professional-quality barbells weighing nearly a ton — is delivered via Amazon’s new “Nowitzer!” system and levels the presidential residence.  And with that, this hideous brain-dead zombie of a year finally staggers off into oblivion, making way for 2014, which surely will be better, because how could it possibly be worse?  Do NOT answer that.  Happy New Year.
Dave Barry’s Year In Review 2012
(By Dave Barry, Washington Post, 30 December 2012)

It was a cruel, cruel year — a year that kept raising our hopes, only to squash them flatter than a dead possum on the interstate.  Example: This year the “reality” show “Jersey Shore,” which for six hideous seasons has been a compelling argument in favor of a major Earth-asteroid collision, finally got canceled, and we dared to wonder if maybe, just maybe, we, as a society, were becoming slightly less stupid.

But then, WHAP, we were slapped in our national face by the cold hard frozen mackerel of reality in the form of the hugely popular new “reality” show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which, in terms of intellectual content, makes “Jersey Shore” look like “Hamlet.”  Another example: As the year began, the hottest recording artist was the brilliant singer-songwriter Adele, whose popularity made us think that maybe, just maybe, after years of rewarding overhyped auto-tuned dreck, we were finally developing more sophisticated musical tastes, and then ...
WHAP, we were assaulted from all sides by the monster megahit videoGangnam Style,” in which a Korean man prances around a variety of bizarre Korean settings riding an imaginary Korean horse and shouting a song that, except for the words “Eh, sexy lady,” is entirely in Korean.

It was that kind of year. Remember back in 2011, when the big sex scandal involved Anthony Weiner, the ferret-like congressperson who committed political suicide by tweet? We all thought, “Oh, well, another Washington politician who wants to regulate everything except his own personal ding-dong. At least there are SOME institutions, such as the Secret Service, the CIA and the Army, where males in positions of responsibility can control their ...”

Did anything good come out of 2012? Maybe. Just maybe. Consider: For years now, Washington has been paralyzed by bitterly partisan gridlock, unable and unwilling to act in the face of a looming, potentially disastrous economic crisis. But this year, we, the people, finally did something about it. We went to the polls, and we made our decision. Which is why now, as the year ends, we can look forward to a future in which Washington is ...

So, okay, basically we need to forget about 2012 as soon as possible. But just so we can remember exactly what it is we need to forget, let’s pour ourselves a stiff drink and take a look back at the train wreck we’re staggering away from, starting with ...

... in which President Obama, in the State of the Union address, boldly rebuts critics who charge that his economic policies have been a failure by displaying the scalp of Osama bin Laden, which a White House aide carries in a special briefcase.  Meanwhile the race for the Republican presidential nomination, which began in approximately 2003, continues to be a spicy political gumbo of excitement. The emerging front runner is Mitt Romney, who combines a strong résumé of executive experience with the easygoing natural human warmth of a parking meter. Still in contention, however, is Newt Gingrich, whose popularity surges briefly, only to wane when voters begin to grasp the fact that he is Newt Gingrich. This opens the door for Rick Santorum, whose strong suit is that he has a normal first name, and who apparently at one point was a senator or governor of Pennsylvania or possibly Vermont.
Abroad, an Iranian nuclear scientist is killed in a suspicious bomb blast. Responding to accusations that the United States was behind the killing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declares “we had nothing to do with it,” adding that if any more Iranian nuclear scientists are killed, “we will have had nothing to do with that, either.”

In the new year’s first major disaster, the Mediterranean cruise ship Costa Concordia goes way off course, hits a rock and sinks. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is immediately relieved of command and placed in charge of the Italian economy.
The economic news remains bad in ...

... as American motorists struggle to afford ever-higher gasoline prices, prompting a pledge from President Obama to do “whatever it takes” to bring relief at the pump, “including killing Osama bin Laden again.” Mitt Romney responds that he, more than any other candidate, understands the consumers’ pain over this issue, since he owns “at least 45 cars.”

In Spain and Greece, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in protest against government-imposed austerity measures necessitated by the fact that for the past five years pretty much nobody in Spain or Greece has done anything except take to the streets in protest.
Tensions between the United States and Pakistan mount after eyewitnesses in Waziristan claim that an unmanned U.S. Predator drone robbed a convenience store. Meanwhile, in what international observers see as a red flag, Iran places an ad on Craigslist stating, “WE PAY CASH FOR NUCLEAR BOMB MATERIALS.”

In sports, a little-known athlete named Jeremy Lin scores numerous points in a professional basketball game despite having graduated from Harvard. Instantly, he becomes a bigger international star than all of the Kardashians combined. His image appears everywhere - on TV, magazine covers, T-shirts, etc. - and for a brief period, he is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Then, suddenly - Poof!- he vanishes without a trace. Looking back on it, we’re not 100 percent sure that “Jeremy Lin” ever really existed.
In other sports news, Indianapolis, shedding its “hick town” image, shows that it is truly a world-class city as it hosts Super Bowl XLVI, in which the Giants seal a dramatic 21-17 victory when Ahmad Bradshaw, with 57 seconds left, reaches the end zone by vaulting over a cow that wandered onto the field.

Speaking of dramatic, in ...

... the endless slog for the Republican presidential nomination reaches “Super Tuesday,” with voters going to the polls in 12 states, including New Hampshire and South Carolina, which have already held primaries but can no longer remember whom they voted for. It is now clear that Romney has won the nomination, but Gingrich vows to continue his campaign, lurching gamely onward despite the tranquilizer darts fired into his neck by his own advisers.
In Florida, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin sets off a passionate, weeks-long national debate among politicians, journalists, pundits, talk-show hosts, activists, celebrities, bloggers, anti-gun groups, pro-gun groups, Al Sharpton and millions of ordinary citizens, not a single one of whom knows what actually happened.

In Europe, the economic crisis continues to worsen as the government of Greece, desperate for revenue, is forced to lease the Parthenon to Hooters. Meanwhile Moody’s Investors Service officially downgrades the credit rating of Spain to “putrid” after an audit reveals that the national treasury consists entirely of Groupons.
In the Middle East, tensions rise between the United States and Pakistan after an unmanned Predator drone destroys the only working toilet in Waziristan.

In sports, the National Football League imposes stiff penalties on the New Orleans Saints following the shocking revelation that some Saints players might have deliberately committed acts of violence against opposing players for monetary gain, which is of course totally contrary to the spirit of professional football. Commissioner Roger Goodell states that the NFL is also investigating disturbing allegations that players sometimes deliberately knock their opponents to the ground via a violent tactic known as “tackling.”
The scandals continue in ...

... when the U.S. Secret Service acknowledges that agents sent to Colombia to provide security for President Obama at the Summit of the Americas allegedly engaged in some unauthorized summiting, if you catch our drift. The agents are immediately recalled to the United States and reassigned to former President Clinton.

Abroad, a closely watched attempt by North Korea to test a long-range rocket capable of carrying a nuclear warhead ends in an embarrassing failure when, moments before the scheduled launch, the rocket is eaten by North Korean citizens.  Meanwhile in Waziristan, tensions continue to mount when an al-Qaeda safe house is destroyed by an unmanned Predator drone missile that apparently gained access by pretending to deliver a pizza.
In finance, Moody’s downgrades Spain’s credit rating from “putrid” to “rancid” when the Spanish government, attempting to write a check, is unable to produce a valid photo ID. Meanwhile the Greek parliament, meeting in an emergency session on the worsening economic crisis, votes to give heroin a try.

In domestic business news, Facebook, a company with a business model that nobody really understands, spends $1 billion to buy Instagram, another company with a business model that nobody really understands. Since everybody involved is about 19 years old, Wall Street concludes this must be a good idea.
In golf, Bubba Watsonwins a dramatic Masters tournament in a sudden-death playoff when Louis Oosthuizen, attempting a putt on the par-4 10th hole, suddenly dies, thereby incurring a three-stroke penalty. Elsewhere in sports, NFL Commissioner Goodell vows to investigate reports that some members of the New Orleans Saints have, during games, deliberately called opposing players bad names, which Goodell notes “could cause low self-esteem.”

On a sad note, beloved entertainer Dick Clark passes away, although he will continue to host his popular New Year’s Eve special.
Speaking of sad, in ...

... Newt Gingrich finally suspends his presidential campaign, despite an emotional plea to keep fighting
from his base of supporters, namely Mrs. and Mrs. Elrod Pomfurter of Oklahoma City, who, after months of deliberation, had just invested in a bumper sticker. 

In other political news, President Obama, who supported same-sex marriage when he ran for the Illinois Senate in 1996 but opposed it when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, clarifies his evolving position, which is that he once again fully supports same-sex marriage, for now. Mitt Romney reaffirms his long-standing position on the issue, which is that he is in favor of sex during marriage, but only at night.
Voters in the French presidential election, rejecting the austerity program of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, choose, as their new leader, Charlie Sheen. In other European economic crisis news, Greece, seeing a way out of its financial woes, invests all of its remaining money in the initial public offering of Facebook stock, which immediately drops faster than Snooki’s underpants.

In sports, Usain Bolt, running in his final tuneup race before the Olympics, wins the Kentucky Derby.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, having dealt with all of the city’s other concerns — disaster preparation, for example — turns his attention to the lone remaining problem facing New Yorkers: soft drinks. For far too long, these uncontrolled beverages have roamed the city in vicious large-container packs, forcing innocent people to drink them and become obese. Mayor Bloomberg’s plan would prohibit the sale of soft drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces, thereby making it impossible to consume larger quantities, unless of course somebody bought two containers, but the mayor is confident that nobody except him would ever be smart enough to think of that.

Another major health-related story breaks in ...

... when the U.S. Supreme Court, handing down its much-anticipated ruling on Obamacare, decides by a 5 to 4 vote that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. Moments after the decision is announced, the justices discover that, because of a clerical error, the document they have spent the past three months reviewing is actually the transmission-repair manual for a 1997 Hyundai Sonata. By a 9 to 0 vote, they decide to say nothing more about this.
In other domestic news, San Francisco, not wishing to be outdone by New York in the field of caring about the public welfare, bans beverage containers altogether, requiring restaurants to serve soft drinks by pouring them directly into their customers’ mouths.

Abroad, England celebrates the 60-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II with a massive Diamond Jubilee blowout bash lasting several days, at the end of which members of the royal family are found wandering around naked as far away as Croatia. Also many of the Crown Jewels are covered with what appears to be Vaseline.
In the worsening European economic crisis, Greece announces a new bailout plan that hinges on persuading Germany to buy what Prime Minister Lucas Papademos describes as “a buttload of Tupperware.”

Tensions in Waziristan mount still higher amid reports that an unmanned Predator drone missile has been roaming the province engaging in unprotected sex.
In sports, major league baseball fans are treated to an unusual spate of no-hitters, all thrown by Usain Bolt. Roger Goodell announces that the NFL is investigating disturbing allegations that some members of the New Orleans Saints do not sing during the national anthem.
Speaking of disturbing, in ...

... the Mexican presidential election — won by Enrique Peña Nieto of the wonderfully named Institutional Revolutionary Party — is tainted by allegations of voting fraud after independent observers note that the “optical scanners” used to count ballots are in fact Sunbeam toasters. Mexican election officials conduct a recount and conclude that Peña Nieto has indeed won the election fair and square, as well as the election that will take place in 2018.

In Moscow, three members of the Russian all-woman punk-rock group Pussy Riot go on trial for engaging in an anti-government protest. Their cause is adopted by a variety of concerned organizations, including Amnesty International and the U.S. Secret Service.
A tragic fatal drama plays out on the streets of New York City, where police officers fire 183 bullets into a man who, according to witnesses, was about to take a sip from a Big Gulp, which he apparently obtained in New Jersey. The shooting is defended by Mayor Bloomberg, who notes that if the officers had not acted quickly, the man “could have placed himself in very real danger of becoming obese.”

In science news, a group of physicists announces that, after decades of research costing billions of dollars, they believe they have confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, which according to them is an extremely exciting tiny invisible thing next to which all the other bosons pale by comparison. This is breathlessly reported as major news by journalists who majored in English and whose knowledge of science is derived exclusively from making baking-soda volcanoes in third grade. Back in the lab, the physicists enjoy a hearty scientific laugh, then resume the important work of thinking up names for exciting new invisible things they can announce the discovery of.
In London, the Olympics get under way with a spectacular opening ceremony, climaxing in the dramatic lighting of the Olympic torch by an unmanned Predator drone, which also takes out the entire Pakistani team. The only glitch in the ceremony occurs when a streaker runs onto the track and passes out. He is identified by police as Prince Philip, still in Diamond Jubilee mode.

The partying continues in ...

... when Hurricane Isaac fails to dampen the mood in Tampa at the wild and crazy spontaneous wacky funfest that is the Republican National Convention. The Republicans — eager to disprove the stereotype that they are the party of old, out-of-touch rich white men — give their highest-visibility prime-time TV spot to: Clint Eastwood. Clint wows the delegates by delivering a series of fascinating sentence fragments to a chair that he either does or does not realize has nobody sitting on it.  In other convention highlights, the Republicans declare their support for the Middle Class and pass a platform calling on the nation to get the hell off their lawn.

Tensions continue to rise in the Middle East when Iran unveils a new surface-to-surface ballistic missile named “Conqueror,” which, according to an Iranian spokesman, will be used for “agriculture.” Elsewhere in the troubled region, an unmanned Predator drone hacks Waziristan’s Twitter account and posts pictures of itself naked.
In the European economic crisis, an increasingly desperate Greece offers to have sex with Germany.

Closer to home, suspicions that the Mexican military may be involved with drug trafficking are heightened when a U.S. surveillance satellite photographs a Mexican army convoy transporting what appears to be a 200-foot doobie.
In space news, NASA scientists cheer as the Curiosity Mars rover, which was launched from Cape Canaveral in November 2011, finally makes a safe landing. The cheers quickly fade, however, when an analysis of images transmitted back by Curiosity indicate that because of a glitch in the navigational software — which coincidentally is the same type used in the soon-to-be-released iPhone 5 — the Rover has actually landed in Waco, Tex.

In sports, Usain Boltdominates the London Olympics, picking up gold medals in three sprint events and winning a world record eight seats in the House of Lords. Great Britain’s team ignites a national celebration of patriotism, winning medals in many events, including rowing, paddling, pedaling, croquet, darts, skiffles, whist, the pudding toss, the 50-meter lawn rake and the men’s umbrella furl.
Speaking of celebrating, in ...

... the Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., for their convention, during which they declare their near-carnal passion for the Middle Class and celebrate the many major achievements of the Obama administration, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, solar energy, the winning of the War on Terror by killing Osama bin Laden, the Chevy Volt, bold presidential leadership in the form of making the difficult decision to order the killing of Osama bin Laden, wind power, and many, many other major things that the administration has achieved, such as killing Osama bin Laden. The Democrats acknowledge that the economy is not totally 100 percent “there” yet, but promise to continue moving steadfastly forward with their relentless attacks on the root cause of economic stagnation and continued high unemployment, namely, George W. Bush.

Abroad, the big story is a deadly 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It soon becomes apparent that the attack either was or was not a spontaneous protest to a movie that either does or does not actually exist, or possibly it was an organized terrorist attack that either did or did not involve al-Qaeda and either could or could not have been prevented if there had been better intelligence, which maybe there was, or maybe there was not, although if there was, it was not acted on, possibly for political reasons. Or not. But beyond these basic facts, little is clear. The White House issues a strong statement assuring the nation that President Obama was not in any way involved in this, “or anything else that may or may not become known.”
In European economic news, Greece abandons the euro in favor of a new currency, the gyro, which is backed by some kind of grayish meat.

In labor news, Chicago teachers go on strike over controversial proposed contract changes that would allow the school board to terminate teachers who have passed away. Meanwhile, the NFL comes under increasing pressure to settle the referee strike following a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans in which the replacement refs call four balks and three traveling violations, and ultimately declare that the winner is the Green Bay Packers. At the end of the month the strike is settled, and the replacement refs move on to their new role as Florida elections officials.
In other sports labor action, the National Hockey League locks out its players, lending credence to rumors that there is still a National Hockey League.

In space news, NASA scientists remotely analyze a soil sample collected by the Curiosity Waco rover and report that it contains “an alarmingly high level of spit.”
Apple releases the much-anticipated iPhone 5, which receives some criticism for its glitchy map software and the fact that it uses a different connector from all the other iPhones and iPhone accessories. Also, it can neither make nor receive telephone calls. Nevertheless it is a big hit with Apple fans, who line up to buy it even as they eagerly anticipate the forthcoming iPhone 5S, which, rumor has it, will require 3-D glasses.

Speaking of criticism, in ...

... President Obama is widely faulted for his performance in the first presidential debate, during which he appears moody and detached, several times stopping in mid-answer to go outside to smoke a cigarette. The debate moderator, veteran PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, at first seems a bit overwhelmed by the task, but after a few minutes he falls asleep. This leaves the field wide open for a confident and assertive Mitt Romney, who, in a span of 90 minutes, manages to explain his five-point economic-recovery plan a total of 37 times, running up an indoor record presidential-debate score of 185 points. Romney also demonstrates his understanding of the issues facing ordinary Americans by promising to cut federal funding for Big Bird.
Stung by the defeat, Obama closets himself with his advisers, who coach him on debating techniques such as smiling, pretending to listen and forming complete sentences without a teleprompter. Obama is much more aggressive in the next two debates, at one point pulling out his BlackBerry on-camera and ordering a missile strike against Syria.

In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden gives Paul Ryan a noogie.
With polls showing a very tight race, the final weeks of the campaign are a textbook example of what this great experiment called “American democracy” is all about: two opposing political parties, each with valid positions, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on comically simplistic radio and TV ads designed by consultants to terrify ill-informed half-wits.

But the month’s big story is “superstorm” Sandy, which devastates a large swath of the Northeast despite the courageous efforts of hundreds of TV news reporters standing on the beaches telling people to stay off the beaches. New York City is hit hard, but Mayor Bloomberg responds swiftly, ordering police to arrest anybody suspected of taking advantage of the disaster by consuming soft drinks from containers larger than 16 ounces, which could potentially cause them to become obese.
Fidel Castro, for what is believed to be the 17th time in the past eight years, dies.

In the month’s most inspiring story, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner jumps from the Red Bull Stratos helium balloon 24 miles high and breaks the sound barrier in free fall, reaching a speed of 834 mph and thrilling a worldwide broadcast audience before being shot down by a Predator drone sponsored by Monster, a competing energy drink.
In entertainment news, Walt Disney purchases Lucasfilm and releases a trailer for the forthcoming “Star Wars Episode VII,” in which Darth Vader is a talking penguin.

Speaking of surprises, in ...

... after an election cycle in which an estimated $6 billion was spent on races for the presidency and Congress, the American voters — who by every account are disgusted with Washington and desperately want change — vote to keep everything pretty much the same. President Obama wins all the key battleground states except Florida, where, after a week of ballot-counting delays caused by denture adhesive in the scanners, election officials finally announce that the state’s 29 electoral votes will be awarded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
With the election finally over and the federal government headed toward a “fiscal cliff” that could plunge the nation back into a recession, Congress, realizing the urgency of the situation, rolls up its sleeves and gets on with the crucial job of remaining gridlocked, while President Obama heads for Burma, a vital U.S. strategic partner located somewhere abroad.

In other election developments, voters in Colorado and Washington approve the legalization of recreational marijuana use, and also order $257 million worth of delivery pizzas.
Speaking of nutrition: A bankruptcy court grants Hostess Brands permission to close its business, posing a serious threat to the nation’s strategic Twinkie supply. Fortunately, an agreement is worked out under which Twinkies will be produced by a new entity. Unfortunately, that entity is: Iran.

In other disturbing national security news, David Petraeus, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and retired four-star general, is embroiled in scandal for engaging in unauthorized covert action with his official biographer, Paula Broadwell, who, according to the FBI, sent threatening e-mails to Tampa social event planner Jill Kelley concerning both Petraeus and four-star general John Allen, who, while serving as U.S. commander in Afghanistan, found the time to exchange more than 20,000 pages worth of communications with Kelley, which means that either they were e-mailing a Stephen King novel to each other, or they were planning some kind of social event, if you catch our drift. Petraeus resigns and is immediately placed in charge of the U.S. Secret Service. The White House issues a statement assuring the nation that President Obama knew nothing about any of this and was “unaware of the existence of any so-called Central Intelligence Agency.”
In the World Series, a team with a payroll $65 million lower than that of the Yankees is defeated by a team with a payroll $80 million lower than that of the Yankees, leading to the inescapable conclusion that the Yankees need a bigger payroll.

Toward the end of the month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is dispatched on an urgent mission to try to bring peace to one of the world’s most troubled spots: the Moultrie, Ga., Walmart, where mobs of crazed Black Friday shoppers are viciously assaulting each other over discounted cellphones. Clinton soon realizes the futility of her mission and heads for the Middle East, where people are more reasonable.
Speaking of troubled, in ...

... there is much fiscal-cliff drama in Washington as Congress and the White House — after months of engaging in cynical posturing and political gamesmanship while putting off hard decisions about a dangerous crisis that everyone knew was coming — finally get serious about working together to come up with a way to appear to take decisive action without actually solving anything.

On a brighter note: Two months after superstorm Sandy ravaged New York, electrical power is finally restored to all areas of the city. It is immediately turned back off by order of Mayor Bloomberg, on the grounds that electricity can be used to watch television, which the mayor notes is a leading cause of obesity. In retaliation, the San Francisco City Council bans molecules, noting that they are “a key ingredient in sugar.”
Speaking of consumer danger: In the largest product recall ever, the Food and Drug Administration orders supermarkets to pull 148 million of the new Iranian-made Twinkies off the shelves after one of them explodes, obliterating most of Cleveland.

In science news, physicists announce that they think they might have discovered a totally new tiny invisible particle, named the “Weems foomple,” which the scientists say could be even more important than the Higgs boson, although to be absolutely certain that it truly exists they say they are going to need, quote, “billions more research dollars,” as well as “a large boat.”
On a more troubling note, NASA scientists announce that their analysis of data transmitted back to Houston by the Curiosity Waco rover shows conclusively that Earth is uninhabitable.

As the year finally draws to close, a festive crowd gathers in Times Square for the traditional New Year’s Eve illuminated ball drop, counting down the seconds and cheering the magical moment when, at the stroke of midnight, the ball is destroyed by an unmanned Predator drone. This seems to be a bad omen. Yet, as 2013 dawns, there is hope that maybe, just maybe, the new year will be better; that this will be the year when we finally break the cycle of perpetual idiocy, the year when, at long last, we find a way to ...

Dave Barry’s Year in Review: The 2011 Festival of Sleaze
(By Dave Barry, Washington Post, January 1, 2012)

It was the kind of year that made a person look back fondly on the gulf oil spill.  Granted, the oil spill was bad. But it did not result in a high-decibel, weeks-long national conversation about a bulge in a congressman’s underpants. Which is exactly what we had in the Festival of Sleaze that was 2011. Remember? There were days when you could not escape The Bulge. At dinnertime, parents of young children had to be constantly ready to hurl themselves in front of their TV screens, for fear that it would suddenly appear on the news in high definition. For a brief (Har!) period, The Bulge was more famous than Justin Bieber.

And when, at last, we were done with The Bulge, and we were able to turn our attention to the presidential election, and the important issues facing us, as a nation, in these troubled times, it turned out that the main issue, to judge by quantity of press coverage, was: groping.  So finally, repelled by the drainage ditch that our political system has become, we turned for escape to an institution that represents all that is pure and wholesome and decent in America today: college football.  That was when we started to have fond memories of the oil spill.

I’m not saying that the entire year was ruined by sleaze. It was also ruined by other bad things. This was a year in which journalism was pretty much completely replaced by tweeting. It was a year in which a significant earthquake struck Washington, yet failed to destroy a single federal agency. It was a year in which the nation was subjected to a seemingly endless barrage of highly publicized pronouncements from Charlie Sheen, a man who, where you have a central nervous system, has a Magic 8-Ball. This was a year in which the cast members of “Jersey Shore” went to Italy and then — in an inexcusable lapse of border security — were allowed to return.

But all of these developments, unfortunate as they were, would not by themselves have made 2011 truly awful. What made it truly awful was the economy, which, for what felt like the 17th straight year, continued to stagger around like a zombie on crack. Nothing seemed to help. President Obama, whose instinctive reaction to pretty much everything that happens, including sunrise, is to deliver a nationally televised address, delivered numerous nationally televised addresses on the economy, but somehow these did not do the trick. Neither did the approximately 37 million words emitted by the approximately 249 Republican-presidential-contender televised debates, out of which the single most memorable statement made was, quote: “Oops.”

As the year wore on, frustration finally boiled over in the form of the Occupy Various Random Spaces movement, wherein people who were sick and tired of a lot of stuff finally got off their butts and started working for meaningful change via direct action in the form of sitting around and forming multiple committees and drumming and not directly issuing any specific demands but definitely having a lot of strongly held views for and against a wide variety of things. Incredibly, even this did not bring about meaningful change. The economy remained wretched, especially unemployment, which got so bad that many Americans gave up even trying to work. Congress, for example.  Were there any positive developments in 2011? Yes:

Osama bin Laden, Moammar Gaddafi and the New York Yankees all suffered major setbacks. 

Kim Kardashian finally found her lifetime soul mate for nearly 21 / 2 months.

• Despite a prophecy by revered Christian radio lunatic Harold Camping, the world did not end on May 21.

Come to think of it, that last development wasn’t totally positive, not when we consider all the other things that happened in 2011. In case you’ve blotted it out, let’s take one last look back, through squinted eyelids, at this train wreck of a year, starting with ...


... which sees a change of power in the House of Representatives, as outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi hands the gavel over to Republican John Boehner, who, in the new spirit of Washington bipartisanship, has it checked for explosives.  In the State of the Union address, President Obama calls on Congress to improve the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. He is interrupted 79 times by applause, and four times by falling chunks of the Capitol ceiling. In other Washington action, Chinese President Hu Jintao is honored at a White House dinner for 225 luminaries, who dine on prime rib accompanied by 17,000 little plastic packets of soy sauce. As the official state gift from the United States, President Obama presents Hu with a six-pack of Bud Light, this being the only American product the White House staff can find that is not manufactured in China.

The month’s biggest story is a tragedy in Tucson, where a man opens fire on a meet-and-greet being held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The accused shooter turns out to be a mentally unstable loner with a history of drug use; there is no evidence that his actions had anything to do with uncivil political rhetoric. So naturally the blame for the tragedy is immediately placed on: uncivil political rhetoric. This results in a nationwide spasm of civil political rhetoric lasting about two hours, after which everybody returns to uncivil political rhetoric, which has been the norm in the United States for two centuries.  In Egypt, demonstrators take to the streets to protest the three-decade regime of President Hosni Mubarak following revelations that “Hosni Mubarak” can be rearranged to spell “A Bum Honks Air.” The movement continues to grow in ...


... when “Arab Spring” anti-government demonstrations spread from Egypt to Yemen, then to Iraq, then to Libya, and finally — in a development long feared by the U.S. government — to the volatile streets of Madison, Wis., where thousands of protesters occupy the state capitol to dramatize the fact that it’s warmer in there than outside. As the protests escalate, 14 Democratic Wisconsin state legislators flee to Illinois, where they barricade themselves in a hotel and, after a heated four-hour debate, decide, by a 7 to 4 vote with three abstentions, to order room service.

In other national news, a massive snowstorm paralyzes the Midwest, forcing a shutdown of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport after more than a dozen planes are attacked by yetis. President Obama responds with a nationally televised speech pointing out that the storm was caused by a weather system inherited from a previous administration.  In Europe, the economic crisis continues to worsen, especially in Greece, which has been operating under a financial model in which the government spends approximately $150 billion a year while taking in revenue totaling $336.50 from the lone Greek taxpayer, an Athens businessman who plans to retire in April. Greece has been making up the shortfall by charging everything to a MasterCard account that the Greek government applied for — in what some critics consider a questionable financial practice — using the name “Germany.”

In a historic episode of the TV quiz show “Jeopardy!,” two human champions are swiftly dispatched by an IBM supercomputer named Watson, which combines an encyclopedic knowledge of a wide range of subjects with the ability to launch a 60,000-volt surge of electricity 25 feet.

On Broadway, the troubled musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” suffers a setback when three actors and 11 audience members are injured in what the producers describe as a “catastrophic spandex failure.”  In sports, two storied NFL franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, meet in Super Bowl XLV, a tense, back-and-forth battle won at the last minute, in a true shocker, by Watson the IBM supercomputer.  Speaking of shocking, in ...


... the European economic crisis worsens still further as Moody’s downgrades its credit rating for Spain following the discovery that the Spanish government, having run completely out of money, secretly sold the Pyrenees to China and is now separated from France only by traffic cones.  In domestic news, the renegade Wisconsin Democratic state legislators are finally captured in a late-night raid by the elite Wisconsin State Parliamentarian SWAT team, which knocks down the legislators’ hotel room door using a 200-pound, steel-reinforced edition of Robert’s Rules of Order. The SWAT team then subdues the legislators using what one source describes as “a series of extremely aggressive cloture votes.”

On the national political front, Newt Gingrich, responding to a groundswell of encouragement from the voices in his head, reveals that he is considering seeking the Republican presidential nomination. He quickly gains the support of the voter who had been leaning toward Ross Perot.  In tech news, Apple, with much fanfare, unveils the latest model of its hugely popular iPad tablet computer. The new model, called the iPad 2, is similar to the original iPad but — in yet another example of the brilliant customer-pleasing innovation that Apple has become famous for — has a “2” after it. Apple enthusiasts line up by the thousands to buy the new model, even as excitement builds for the next iPad, which, according to rumors swirling around an excited Apple fan community, will feature a “3.”

The troubled musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” suffers yet another setback when four orchestra musicians are killed by what producers describe as a “freak clarinet accident.” Responding to the tragedy, President Obama delivers a nationally televised address, expressing his personal sympathy and noting that Republicans in Congress have repeatedly blocked the administration’s proposed $37 billion Federal Department of Woodwind Safety, which would create literally dozens of jobs.

In sports, National Football League team owners lock out the players after negotiations break down over the issue of — in the words of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — “locker rooms being littered with reeking jockstraps the size of hammocks.”  Speaking of negotiations, in ...


... a major crisis is barely avoided when Congress, after frantic negotiations, reaches a last-minute agreement on the federal budget, thereby averting a government shutdown that would have had a devastating effect on the ability of Congress to continue spending insanely more money than it actually has.  Meanwhile the economic outlook remains troubling, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in a rare news conference, consumes an entire bottle of gin. Things are even worse in Europe, where Moody’s announces that it has officially downgraded Greece’s credit rating from “poor” to “rat mucus” following the discovery that the Acropolis has been repossessed.

On the political front, the field of Republican contenders considering running for presidential nomination continues to expand with the addition of Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Gary Johnson, all of whom pose a serious threat to gain traction with the Gingrich voter. Donald Trump reveals that he, too, is considering running for president, spurred by a sincere and passionate desire for attention. Trump makes headlines when he appears to side with the “birther” movement, questioning whether Barack Obama is in fact a natural-born U.S. citizen. Under growing pressure to respond, the White House finally releases a certified copy of a long-form birth certificate that appears to prove conclusively that Donald Trump is Belgian. Also, biologically female.

Meanwhile the troubled musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” suffers yet another setback when the actor playing Peter Parker, the young man who develops superpowers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, is bitten by an actual radioactive spider. Unfortunately, instead of superpowers, he develops a world-class case of diarrhea, which makes for what the show’s producers describe as “some audience unpleasantness during the flying scenes.”  But the month ends on a joyous note as millions of TV viewers around the world watch Prince William and Catherine Middleton, two young people widely hailed for their down-to-earth likability and common touch, get married in a wedding costing the equivalent of the gross domestic product of Somalia.  Speaking of joyous, in ...


... the big story takes place in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden, enjoying a quiet evening chilling in his compound with his various wives and children and porn stash, receives an unexpected drop-in visit from a team of Navy SEALs. After due consideration of bin Laden’s legal rights, the SEALs convert him into Purina brand Shark Chow; he is then laid to rest in a solemn ceremony concluding upon impact with the Indian Ocean at a terminal velocity of 125 miles per hour.  While Americans celebrate, the prime minister of Pakistan declares that his nation (a) is very upset about the raid and (b) had no earthly idea that the world’s most wanted terrorist had been living in a major Pakistani city in a large high-walled compound with a mailbox that said BIN LADEN.  “As God is my witness,” states the prime minister, “we thought that place was a Wal-Mart.”

In domestic affairs, Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals that he fathered the child of a member of his household staff; incredibly, he does not follow this up by announcing that he will seek the Republican presidential nomination. Herman Cain, however, does enter the GOP race, promising to reach out to as many ... No, wait, let’s rephrase that: Promising to take firm positions on ... No, sorry, how about: Promising to appeal to a broad ... Okay, never mind. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty also announces his candidacy, but winds up withdrawing from the race about midway through his announcement speech when he realizes that his staff has fallen asleep.

Meanwhile, followers of Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping prepare for the Rapture, which Camping has prophesized will occur at 6 p.m. May 21. But the fateful hour comes and goes without incident, except in New York City, where, in yet another setback for the troubled production of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” the entire cast is sucked through the theater ceiling, never to be seen again.

As the month draws to a close, a Twitter account belonging to Anthony Weiner — a feisty, ambitious Democratic up-and-comer who managed to get elected to Congress despite looking like a nocturnal rodent that somehow got a full-body wax and acquired a gym membership — tweets a link to a photograph of a pair of briefs containing what appears to be a congressional member rarin’ to filibuster, if you catch my drift. This member immediately captivates the nation, although, surprisingly, President Obama fails to deliver a nationally televised address about it. The drama continues to build in ...


... when Weiner denies that he sent the photo, although he admits he cannot say “with certitude” whether the member is or is not his. He finally confesses to sending the photo, and, as the pressure on him to resign becomes overwhelming, he is left with no choice but to declare his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination.  No, I’m kidding. Weiner resigns and takes a full-time position in the private sector admiring himself in the mirror.

Meanwhile the Republican field does in fact continue to grow as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum,Mitt Romney, the late Sonny Bono and somebody calling himself “Jon Huntsman” all enter the race, bringing the Republican contender total to roughly 125.  In Washington, Congress is under mounting pressure to do something about the pesky federal debt, which continues to mount as a result of the fact that the government continues to spend insanely more money than it actually has. Congress, after carefully weighing its three options — stop spending so much money; get some more money somehow; or implement some combination of options one and two — decides to go with option four: continue to do nothing while engaging in relentlessly hyperpartisan gasbaggery. Incredibly, this does not solve the debt problem.

The economic crisis is even worse in Europe, where the Greek government sends out an e-mail to everybody in its address book claiming it was mugged in London and needs its friends to wire it some emergency cash so it can get home. This prompts Moody’s to change Greece’s credit rating to, quote, “a word we can’t say, but trust us, it’s worse than rat mucus.”  But perhaps the month’s most disturbing development takes place in the Middle East when Iran, which is believed to be close to developing nuclear weapons, test-fires 14 missiles, including some capable of threatening U.S. interests, as becomes clear when one of them plunges through the theater roof during a matinee performance of the troubled musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”  Speaking of disturbing, in. ..


... the eyeballs of the nation are riveted on Orlando, where Casey Anthony is on trial on charges of being an attractive young woman who is definitely guilty of murder, according to millions of deeply concerned individuals watching on TV. The trial becomes an obsession for hundreds of people who are not in any way connected to the victim, Caylee Anthony, but are so distraught over her death that they feel compelled to travel to Orlando and lurk around the courthouse expressing anguish, as opposed to doing something that might actually help one of the many living children who are at risk but who, unfortunately for them, are not featured on TV. In a shocking verdict, Anthony is acquitted of murder and set free, only to be attacked outside the courtroom and have large clumps of her hair yanked out by outraged prominent TV legal harpy Nancy Grace.

Speaking of drama: In Washington, as the deadline for raising the federal debt limit nears, Congress and the Obama administration work themselves into a frenzy trying to figure out what to do about the fact that the government is spending insanely more money than it actually has. After hours of intense negotiations, several walkouts, countless press releases and of course a nationally televised address by the president, the Democrats and the Republicans are finally able to announce, at the last possible minute, that they have hammered out a historic agreement under which the government will continue to spend insanely more money than it actually has while a very special congressional committee — A SUPER committee! — comes up with a plan, by a later date, that will solve this pesky problem once and for all. Everybody involved heaves a sigh of relief and basks in the feeling of satisfaction that comes from handling yet another crisis, Washington-style.

But things are not so rosy in Europe, where the debt crisis continues to worsen with the revelation that Greece has sold the naming rights to itself and will henceforth be officially known as the Republic of Burger King. In response, Moody’s lowers Greece’s bond rating to the point where it is no longer represented by words or letters, just a brownish stain on the rating document.

In England, the News Corp. media empire comes under scrutiny for alleged phone hacking when an investigation reveals that calls to Queen Elizabeth’s private mobile number are being answered by Rupert Murdoch speaking in a high-pitched voice.  On a positive note, NFL owners and players are finally able to settle their dispute, thereby averting the very real danger that millions of fantasy football enthusiasts would be forced to develop lives. Speaking of threats, in ...


... Standard & Poor’s makes good on its threat to downgrade the U.S. credit rating, noting that the federal government, in making fiscal decisions, is exhibiting “the IQ of a turnip.” Meanwhile Wall Street becomes increasingly jittery as investors react to Federal Reserve Board Chairman Bernanke’s surprise announcement that his personal retirement portfolio consists entirely of assault rifles.

With the stock market in a steep nosedive, economic growth stagnant and unemployment relentlessly high, the White House, moving swiftly to prevent panic, reassures a worried nation that President Obama will once again be vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, where he will recharge his batteries in preparation for what White House press secretary Jay Carney promises will be “a real humdinger of a nationally televised address.”

In political news, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announces that he will seek the Republican nomination with a goal of “restoring the fundamental American right to life, liberty and a third thing.” But the early GOP leader is Michele Bachmann, who scores a decisive victory in the crucial Ames, Iowa, Straw Poll, garnering a total of 11 votes, narrowly edging out Ron Paul and a heifer named Widget. In what will become a pattern for GOP front-runners, Bachmann’s candidacy immediately sinks like an anvil in a duck pond.  Abroad, a wave of riots sweeps across England as thousands of protesters take to the streets of London and other major cities to strike a blow against racism and social injustice by stealing consumer electronics and designer sneakers.

As the end of the month nears, a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake, with its epicenter in Virginia, rattles the East Coast, shaking buildings from South Carolina to Maine but causing little damage, except in New York, where a theatrical set depicting a building topples over onto the cast of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” The producers, determined to escape the bad luck that has haunted the current theater, move the entire production to New Jersey, which unfortunately turns out to be directly in the path of Hurricane Irene.  Speaking of disasters, in ...


... the worsening European debt crisis worsens still further when Italy, desperate for revenue, establishes a National Tip Jar. As markets plunge, the International Monetary Fund, seeking to prevent worldwide investor panic, announces that it will henceforth be supplementing its income by selling Herbalife.  In domestic news, President Obama returns from his Martha’s Vineyard getaway refreshed and ready to tackle the job he was elected by the American people to do: seek reelection. Focusing on unemployment, the president delivers a nationally televised address laying out his plan for creating jobs, which consists of traveling around the nation tirelessly delivering job-creation addresses until it’s time for another presidential getaway.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, Herman Cain surges to the top of the pile with his “9-9-9” plan, which combines the quality of being easy to remember with the quality of being something that nobody thinks will ever actually happen. Seeking to regain momentum, Rick Perry also comes out with a tax plan, but he can remember only the first two nines. Adding spice to the mix, Mitt Romney unexpectedly exhibits a lifelike facial expression but is quickly subdued by his advisers.  In what is seen as a sign of public disenchantment with the political process, voters in New York’s Ninth Congressional District, choosing a replacement for disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner, elect Anthony Soprano, despite the fact that he is a fictional character and not even Jewish.

Disenchantment is also apparent in New York’s Zuccotti Park with the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a gathering of individuals who seek to focus the nation’s attention, laser-like, on the problems of income inequality, greed, corporations, student loans, hunger, mortgages, health care, deforestation, unemployment, political corruption, racism, gender discrimination, lack of tents, consumerism, global climate change, banks, poverty, people wanting to tell other people where and when they can and cannot drum, fossil fuels, showers, immigration, animal rights, Internet access, capitalism and many other issues that will not be resolved until people finally wake up, get off their butts and start seriously engaging in long-term urban camping.

As the month draws to a close, an anxious world looks to the skies, as a NASA satellite weighing more than six tons goes into an uncontrolled reentry, breaking into fiery pieces that hurtle toward Earth but fortunately come down at sea, where they do no damage other than sinking a passenger ship that had been chartered for a recuperation cruise for the surviving cast members of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”  The downward trend continues in ...


... which sees yet another troubling development in the world economic crisis when an International Monetary Fund audit of the 27-nation European Union reveals that 11 of the nations are missing. “Also,” states the audit report, “the nation claiming to be Slovakia is in fact Belize using a fake ID.” Meanwhile in Greece, thousands of rioters take to the streets of Athens to protest a tough new government austerity program that would sharply reduce the per diem rioter allowance.  In Arab Spring developments, Libyan strongperson and lunatic Moammar Gaddafi steps down and receives an enthusiastic sendoff from his countrymen, who then carry him, amid much festivity, to his retirement freezer.

On the domestic protest front, Occupy Wall Street spreads to many more cities, its initially vague goals now replaced by a clear sense of purpose as occupiers focus on the single issue that is most important to the 99 percent: bathrooms. Some cities seek to shut down the protests, but the occupiers vow to remain until there is a reawakening of the national consciousness. Or, winter.  Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the FBI has uncovered a plot by Iran to commit acts of terror in the United States, including assassinating the Saudi ambassador, bombing the Israeli Embassy, and — most chillingly — providing funding for traveling productions of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”  On the political front, Sarah Palin announces that she will not seek the Republican presidential nomination, noting that the GOP field is “already funny enough.”

In technology news, Apple releases the iPhone that comes after the iPhone 4, which was rumored to be named the “5,” but which instead is named — talk about innovation — the “4S.” It is of course a huge hit with Apple fans, who, upon purchasing it, immediately form new lines outside Apple stores to await the next breakthrough iPhone, preliminarily rumored to be named the “4.7.”  In sports, one of the most exciting World Series in history is won by some team other than the New York Yankees.

Humanity reaches a major milestone as the United Nations estimates that the population of the Earth has reached 7 billion people, every single one of whom sends you irritating e-mails inviting you to join something called LinkedIn.  The month ends on a tragic note when Kim Kardashian, who only 72 days earlier had a fairy-tale $10 million wedding to the love of her life, professional basketball player whatshisname, files for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences in height. “Also,” she states in the filing documents, “I am a total slut.”  Speaking of fairy tales, in ...


... the congressional Supercommittee, after months of pondering what to do about the fact that the federal government is spending insanely more money than it actually has, announces that, in the true “can-do” bipartisan Washington spirit, it is giving up. This means the government will continue spending insanely more money than it actually has until 2013, at which time there are supposed to be automatic spending cuts, except Congress would never let that happen, and even if it did happen, the federal government would still be spending insanely more money than it actually has.  Undaunted, Democratic and Republican leaders move forward with the vital work of blaming each other. As it becomes clear that Congress will do nothing, a visibly frowning President Obama delivers a nationally televised address in which he vows to, quote, “continue reading whatever it says here on the teleprompter.”

Speaking of the many benefits provided by the federal government: As Thanksgiving approaches, the Department of Homeland Security, having apparently handled all the other terrorist threats, issues a warning, including a scary video, on the dangers of: turkey fryers. I am not making this item up.

Abroad, the worsening Greek economic crisis forces Prime Minister George Papandreou to resign, leading to the formation of a new coalition government headed — in what some economists view as a troubling sign — by Bernie Madoff.  In domestic politics, the Republican Party is rocked by polls showing that 43 percent of all likely voters — nearly 55 million people — claim to have been sexually harassed by Herman Cain. With Rick Perry stumbling and Mitt Romney continuing to generate the excitement level of a dump fire, the GOP front-runner becomes none other than that fresh-faced, no-baggage, anti-establishment Washington outsider ... Newt Gingrich!

Speaking of extraterrestrial phenomena: Astronomers watch closely as an asteroid 1,300 feet across hurtles extremely close to Earth. Incredibly — NASA calls it “a one in a billion chance” — the asteroid fails to hit anyone or anything connected with “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

In business news, GM, responding to fears that the Chevy Volt might be prone to catch fire, issues a message to the six American consumers who have actually purchased Volts, assuring them that the car is “completely safe” and “should never be parked near buildings.” American Airlines files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but assures its passengers that “normal flight operations will remain just as screwed up as before.”  The month ends on a reflective note as Americans pause to observe Thanksgiving very much as the Pilgrims did in 1621, by pepper-spraying each other at malls.  Speaking of pausing, in ...


... Herman Cain announces that he is suspending his presidential campaign so he can go home and spend more time sleeping in his basement. This leaves the Republicans with essentially a two-man race between Gingrich and Romney, which means it’s only a matter of time before we start hearing the name “Bob Dole.”  The U.S. Postal Service, facing huge losses, announces a cost-cutting plan under which it will start delivering first-class mail “to totally random addresses.” The resulting savings will enable the USPS “to continue providing every American household with a minimum of 145 pounds of junk mail per week.”

Meanwhile, in a vindication for the Department of Homeland Security, alert passengers aboard a United Airlines flight foil an apparent terrorist attack when they subdue a man attempting to deep-fry a turkey in economy class. After the plane makes an emergency landing, the man is removed by federal agents, who confirm that he was carrying not only cranberry sauce, but “enough stuffing to choke a buffalo.”  Abroad, the member nations of the European Union, in a last-ditch effort to avoid an economic meltdown, announce that they are replacing the euro with a new unit of currency, the “pean,” the exchange rate for which will be linked to the phases of the moon. The goal, according to the EU announcement, is “to cause American tourists to become even more confused than they already are.” The plan starts paying dividends immediately as a pair of elderly ladies from Indianapolis purchase two croissants at a Paris cafe for six peans and wind up leaving the equivalent of a $3,780 tip.

The economic outlook is also brighter in Washington, where congressional leaders, still working night and day to find a solution to the problem of the federal government spending insanely more money than it actually has, announce that they have a bold new plan: They will form another committee. But this one will be even better than the Supercommittee, because it will be a SuperDUPERcommittee, and it will possess what House and Senate leaders describe, in a joint statement, as “magical powers.”

So the nation is clearly in good hands, and as the troubled year finally comes to an end, throngs of New Year’s revelers, hoping for better times to come, gather in Times Square to watch the descent of the famous illuminated ball, followed by the rise of what appears to be a mushroom cloud from the direction of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”  But there’s no need to worry: The president is planning a nationally televised address. So everything will be fine. Happy new year.


Dave Barry's Year in Review: Why 2010 Made Us Sick
(By Dave Barry, Washington Post, Jan 2, 2011)

Let's put things into perspective: 2010 was not the worst year ever. There have been MUCH worse years. For example, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, Earth was struck by an asteroid that wiped out about 75 percent of all of the species on the planet. Can we honestly say that we had a worse year than those species did? Yes, we can, because they were not exposed to "Jersey Shore."

So on second thought we see that this was, in fact, the worst year ever. The perfect symbol for the awfulness of 2010 was the BP oil spill, which oozed up from the depths and spread, totally out of control, like some kind of hideous uncontrollable metaphor. (Or "Jersey Shore.") The scariest thing about the spill was, nobody in charge seemed to know what to do about it. Time and again, top political leaders personally flew down to the Gulf of Mexico to look at the situation firsthand and hold press availabilities. And yet somehow, despite these efforts, the oil continued to leak. This forced us to face the disturbing truth that even top policy thinkers with postgraduate degrees from Harvard University -- Harvard University! -- could not stop it.

The leak was eventually plugged by non-policy people using machinery of some kind. But by then our faith in our leaders had been shaken, especially because they also seemed to have no idea of what to do about this pesky recession. Congress tried every remedy it knows, ranging all the way from borrowing money from China and spending it on government programs, to borrowing MORE money from China and spending it on government programs. But in the end, all of this stimulus created few actual jobs, and most of those were in the field of tar-ball collecting. Things were even worse abroad. North Korea continued to show why it is known as "the international equivalent of Charlie Sheen." The entire nation of Greece went into foreclosure and had to move out; it is now living with relatives in Bulgaria. Iran continued to develop nuclear weapons, all the while insisting that they would be used only for peaceful scientific research, such as -- to quote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- "seeing what happens when you drop one on Israel." Closer to home, the already strained relationship between the United States and Mexico reached a new low after the theft, by a Juarez-based drug cartel, of the Grand Canyon.

This is not to say that 2010 was all bad. There were bright spots. Three, to be exact:

1. The Yankees did not even get into the World Series.

2. There were several days during which Lindsay Lohan was neither going into, nor getting out of, rehab.

3. Apple released the hugely anticipated iPad, giving iPhone people, at long last, something to fondle with their other hand.

Other than that, 2010 was a disaster. To make absolutely sure that we do not repeat it, let's remind ourselves just how bad it was. Let's put this year into a full-body scanner and check out its junk, starting with ...


... which begins grimly, with the pesky unemployment rate remaining high. Every poll shows that the major concerns of the American people are federal spending, the exploding deficit, and -- above all -- jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs: This is what the public is worried about. In a word, the big issue is: jobs. So the Obama administration, displaying the keen awareness that has become its trademark, decides to focus like a laser on: health-care reform. The centerpiece of this effort is a historic bill that will either a) guarantee everybody excellent free health care, or b) permit federal bureaucrats to club old people to death. Nobody knows which, because nobody has read the bill, which in printed form has the same mass as a UPS truck.

The first indication that the health-care bill is not wildly popular comes when Republican Scott Brown, who opposes the bill, is elected to the U.S. Senate by Massachusetts voters, who in normal times would elect a crustacean before they would vote Republican. The vote shocks the Obama administration, which -- recognizing that it is perceived as having its priorities wrong -- decides that the president will make a series of high-profile speeches on the urgent need for: health-care reform.

In other economic news, Toyota announces a huge recall following reports that its popular Camry model is behaving unpredictably -- accelerating, decelerating, downloading Internet porn and traveling backward in time to unstable historical periods. This is expected to benefit Toyota's competitors, especially troubled GM, which is hoping to score big with the new Volt, a revolutionary vehicle capable of traveling nearly six miles before its 19,500 triple-A batteries must be replaced.

But January's biggest story, watched with growing alarm by observers around the world and threatening to force the United Nations to intervene, is the tense confrontation between Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno over who gets to be on NBC at 11:35 p.m. and tell jokes until the viewing audience falls asleep at 11:43. After a brutal struggle, Leno triumphs. O'Brien, vowing revenge, flees into the hills above Los Angeles with a small but loyal band of agents.  In other entertainment news, the runaway movie hit is "Avatar," a futuristic epic about humans who travel to an alien planet to mine a precious mineral that they believe will give them the power to emit believable dialogue. This being a James Cameron movie, they fail. Speaking of alien planets, in ...


... Iran triumphantly announces (we are not making this item up) that it has launched into sub-orbital space a rocket carrying a rodent, two turtles and several worms. Iranian state television reports that the nation's space program is "peaceful," and that the rodent (we are still not making this up) is named "Helmz 1."  In U.S. politics, President Obama, responding to the mounting public concern about jobs, invites Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to the White House for a historic day-long summit on: health-care reform. Despite their deep philosophical differences, the two sides are able, after hours of sometimes-heated debate, to hammer out an agreement on when to break for lunch. They fail to make any progress on health care, although in his closing remarks, Obama notes that the historic summit produced "only minor furniture damage."

In business news, Toyota suffers yet another blow when a U.S. Department of Transportation study links the Camry to both diabetes and the JFK assassination. The chief executive of Toyota appears before a congressional committee and offers a sincere and heartfelt apology for his company's problems. At least, that's what his translator claims; it is later determined that what the chief executive actually told the committee was, quote, "You have an eggplant in your bottom."  Speaking of apologies: Tiger Woods delivers a nationally televised speech in which he says he is very, very sorry and has sworn off having sex with as many as eight different hot women per day. His golf game immediately goes into the toilet.  In other sports news, the Vancouver Winter Olympics begin on an uncertain note when it is discovered that Vancouver -- apparently nobody realized this ahead of time -- is a seaside city with a mild climate, so there is no snow. This hampers some of the competition, such as when the Latvian cross-country ski team gets bogged down in mud and is eaten by alligators. Despite these setbacks, the games are deemed a big success, at least by the Canadians, because they won in hockey.  In Super Bowl XMLLMMXVIIX, the underdog New Orleans Saints defeat the Indianapolis Colts, setting off a celebration so joyous that people on Bourbon Street are still throwing up.  Speaking of celebrations, in ...


... Democratic congressional leaders, responding to polls showing that the health-care bill is increasingly unpopular with the public, manage, with a frantic, last-minute effort, to pass the health-care bill, or, at least, a giant mass of paper that is assumed to be the health-care bill. This leads to a triumphant White House signing ceremony, the highlight of which is Vice President Joe "Joe" Biden dropping the f-bomb moments before being hustled off by aides to have an important meeting with somebody important.  Everyone at the ceremony agrees that the new law is historic and will become hugely popular with the American people once they have the opportunity to hear a few dozen more high-profile speeches about it from Obama. But opposition is "brewing" in the form of the Tea Party movement, consisting of regular Americans who are fed up with costly big-government programs except for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These activists are determined to elect a new breed of representatives who are not career politicians or even necessarily sane. 

In international news:

* Greece asks the International Monetary Fund whether it can borrow 17 billion euro for "cigarettes."

* Somali pirates, becoming increasingly brazen, seize the Staten Island Ferry.

* Iranian hero space rodent Helmz 1 is captured attempting to scurry across the Lebanese border into Israel. Iran claims this is a peaceful mission, but the Israelis note that Helmz 1 is wearing a tiny backpack filled with enough explosives to -- in the words of one military analyst -- "put somebody's eye out."

On a more hopeful note, on March 27 people in more than 4,000 cities around the world turn off their lights in observance of Earth Hour, saving an estimated 45 million megawatts of electricity -- enough to power one of Al Gore's houses for nearly three days.  But the environment suffers a big setback in ...


... when the Deepwater Horizon rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico after being struck by a runaway Toyota Camry. BP initially downplays the magnitude of the problem, claiming that the resulting oil leak is smallish and might go away on its own or even prove to be, quote, "nutritious for oysters." Soon, however, large patches of crude oil are drifting toward land, and it becomes clear that this is a major disaster -- a challenge that we, as a nation, will have to meet, as we have met other challenges, with a combination of photo opportunities, lawsuits and tweeting.  Elsewhere on the disaster scene, Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull (literally, "many syllables") volcano erupts, sending huge clouds of ash into the atmosphere and forcing airlines throughout northern Europe to ground flights. Greece, although not directly affected, announces it will take six months off, just in case; France, as an added precaution, surrenders.

In domestic news, Arizona passes a controversial new law designed to crack down on illegal immigrants; this draws a sharp rebuke from the Mexican government, currently headquartered in Tucson.  Obama outlines his bold vision for the U.S. space program, calling for a manned mission to establish comprehensive health-care reform on Mars by the mid-2030s. The president also signs a historic arms-reduction treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev under which both countries will destroy one-third of their older nuclear missiles by upgrading them to Windows Vista. In a related development, Iran purchases $78 million worth of used nuclear-missile parts on Craigslist.

Speaking of growing menaces, in ...


... the pesky Deepwater Horizon oil spill dominates the news as BP tries a series of increasingly desperate measures to plug the leak, including, at one point, a 167,000-pound wad of pre-chewed Juicy Fruit. Obama, eager to show that he is on top of the situation, develops severe forehead cramps from standing on the shore and frowning with concern at the water. Meanwhile, Congress holds televised hearings that establish, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Congress is very upset about, and totally opposed to, large oil spills. Despite these heroic efforts, the leak continues to grow and by the end of the month is threatening suburban Des Moines.  On the terrorism front, New York police, alerted by Times Square street vendors, discover a smoking SUV packed with explosives -- a violation of many city ordinances, including the ban on smoking. Fortunately, the car bomb is disarmed, and a suspect is later captured at Kennedy Airport by sharp-eyed Transportation Security Administration workers trained to spot suspicious behavior. Ha, ha! Just kidding, of course. The suspect is captured by U.S. Customs agents at the last minute after boarding a Dubai-bound plane filled with passengers who, like the suspect, all had been carefully screened by the TSA to make sure they were not carrying more than three ounces of shampoo. In other air-travel news, the boards of directors of United and Continental approve a merger that will create one of the world's largest airlines, with a combined total of 700 planes, 88,000 employees, and nearly two dozen packets of peanuts.

But the big financial news is the May 6 stock market "Flash Crash." The Dow at one point is down nearly 1,000 points, including a drop of 600 points in five minutes, resulting in what financial analysts say is the largest mass purchase of emergency replacement underwear in Wall Street history. The Securities and Exchange Commission investigates the crash and later issues a 350-page report concluding: "You know that E-Trade baby? In the commercials? With the grown man's voice? That baby is REAL."  Abroad, thousands of people riot in the streets of Athens to protest a report by the International Monetary Fund concluding that Greece should "think about maybe getting a part-time job."  In sports, yet another major-league pitcher pitches yet another perfect game, and the baseball world wets its collective pants, because there is nothing more exciting to a true baseball fan than a game in which one of the teams can't even manage to get on base.  The excitement mounts in ...


... as the Deepwater Horizon oil leak continues to gush, with each day bringing alarming new media reports claiming that it is an even worse environmental disaster than had been reported the previous day. The furor culminates in a New York Times story stating that eventually all the oil in the world will leak out through the hole in the Gulf floor and cover the entire planet with a layer of oil 27 feet deep, which according to the Times would be "potentially devastating for polar bears." BP attempts to stop the leak using a high-tech robot submarine, only to see the effort fail when the sub is seized by Somali pirates. In Washington, the chief executive of BP appears before an angry House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which votes unanimously, after seven-and-a-half hours of testimony, to give him a noogie. Still, somehow, the oil keeps leaking.

Rolling Stone magazine publishes a controversial article in which Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is quoted as saying that the Beatles's version of "Twist and Shout" is better than the one by the Isley Brothers. Obama has no choice but to relieve the general of his command.  Abroad, U.S. intelligence intercepts a top-secret cable from Iran to North Korea, apparently written in code, stating: "Thanks for selling us the buclear beapons." In response, the United States threatens to impose harsh new sanctions that, in the words of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, "will make the previous harsh sanctions that we threatened to impose seem like only moderate threatened sanctions, and this time we are not kidding around."

On the world economic front, thousands of rock-throwing rioters take to the streets of Athens and Rome to protest punishing new austerity measures under which they would no longer be provided free rocks by the government.  In consumer news, Apple finally releases the long-awaited iPhone 4, which incorporates many subtle improvements, the cumulative result of which is that it can neither make nor receive telephone calls. It is, of course, a huge hit.  In sports, the World Cup gets underway in South Africa; despite fears of violence, the massive event is totally peaceful, except for the estimated 13,000 people who leap to their deaths from the tops of stadiums to escape the sound of the vuvuzelas. The early tournament highlight (which we are not making up) is provided by the French team, which, after getting off to a bad start, goes on strike.  Speaking of bad, in ...


... the Deepwater Horizon oil spill officially becomes, according to the news media, the worst thing that has ever happened, with environmental experts reporting that tar balls have been sighted on the surface of the moon. Just when all appears to be lost, BP announces that it has stopped the leak, using a 75-ton cap and what a company spokesperson describes as "a truly heroic manatee named Wendell." Although oil is no longer leaking, much damage has been done, so this important story remains the focus of the nation's attention for nearly 45 minutes, after which the nation's attention shifts to Lindsay Lohan.

In other national news, Congress passes and Obama signs into law a financial-reform act designed to curb Wall Street excesses by mandating the death penalty for anybody caught wearing a watch costing more than a house. Having guaranteed that the financial community will behave in a responsible manner, Washington returns to the important work of running up the deficit.  On the foreign economic front, anger builds over plans by the governments of both Greece and France to raise the retirement age, which means workers would have to continue striking for several years longer before they could start collecting pensions. In protest, everybody in both nations goes on strike.

In the World Cup final, Spain defeats Holland, only to have the trophy snatched away by the North Korean team, which, despite a U.S. threat of "really, really harsh sanctions," turns it over to the Iranian team, which was not even in the tournament. Eerily, all of this was predicted by a psychic octopus named Paul, who is immediately hired by Goldman Sachs.  But the big sports story is the decision by LeBron James, announced in a one-hour television special watched by a worldwide audience estimated at 127 billion, to take his talents to South Beach and play for the Miami Heat, where he will join Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Michael Jordan, the late Wilt Chamberlain and Jesus to form a dream basketball team so supremely excellent that it cannot possibly lose, not even one single game, ever, in theory. Miami erupts in a joyous weeks-long victory celebration. During the excitement, Fidel Castro dies, an event that goes unreported in the Miami Herald, which has devoted all its staff resources to a nine-part series speculating on whom LeBron will select as his dentist.  The month ends on a troubling note as the U.N. Security Council votes unanimously to send a peacekeeping force to quell Mel Gibson.  Speaking of troubling, in ...


... concern over the direction of the U.S. economy deepens when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, in what some economists see as a sign of pessimism, applies for Canadian citizenship.

In other economic news, the first family, seeking to boost Gulf tourism, vacations in Panama City, where Obama, demonstrating that the water is perfectly safe despite the oil spill, plunges in for swim. Quick action by the Secret Service rescues him from the jaws of a mutant 500-pound shrimp sprouting what appear to be primitive wings. The first family hastily departs for Martha's Vineyard to demonstrate that the water is also perfectly safe there.

Speaking of getaways: JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater becomes a national sensation when he curses out a passenger, deploys the evacuation chute, grabs two beers and slides out of the plane. He is immediately hired as director of customer relations by the TSA.  In the month's most dramatic story, 33 copper miners in Chile are trapped 2,300 feet underground following a cave-in caused by a runaway Toyota Camry. The good news is that the men are still alive; the bad news is that the only drilling equipment capable of reaching them quickly belongs to BP. Informed of this, the men elect to stay down there for the time being. In legal news, Elena Kagan is sworn in as the newest Supreme Court justice, having established, in three days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that she went to either Harvard or Yale. Elsewhere, a federal jury deadlocks on 22 of 24 charges against former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, convicting him only of, quote, "being some kind of enormous rodent." Outside the courtroom, Blagojevich tearfully thanks his supporters, then robs a convenience store.  In New York, the big issue is a proposal to build, two blocks from Ground Zero, a Muslim community center, which proponents claim will promote dialogue. Even in the purely conceptual phase, it promotes a huge amount of dialogue, to the point where National Guard troops may need to be called in. Another heartwarming interfaith story erupts in ...


... when Terry Jones, pastor of a tiny church in Florida, declares that he will proceed with plans to burn a Koran on Sept. 11. The media, recognizing that this is not really news, ignore him, and the matter is quickly forgotten.  But seriously: Jones becomes a major international story, comparable in magnitude to all of the Kardashians combined. Obama speaks out against Jones's plan, as do members of Congress, the military and virtually every American religious leader; abroad, there are fatal riots. Finally, after a great deal of soul-searching television exposure, Jones decides not to burn the Koran, explaining, "I finally figured out that I'm just an attention-seeking jerkwater idiot." The news media vow never again to encourage this kind of mindless hysteria. Abroad, the rioters agree to stop taking everything so darned seriously.

Getting back to reality: The 2010 election season enters its final days with polls showing that Congress enjoys the same overall level of voter popularity as hemorrhoids. Incumbents swarm out of Washington and head for their home districts to campaign on the theme of how much they hate Washington, in the desperate hope that the voters will return them to Washington. Obama, basking in the glow of the health-care reform act, offers to campaign for Democratic candidates, only to find that many of them have important dental appointments and are unable to join him on whatever day he is planning to visit. Adding zest to the Republican stew is the presence of many Tea Party candidates, including Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell, who at one point in her campaign releases a TV commercial that begins with her stating, in a calm and reassuring tone, that she is not a witch.

Meanwhile in Chile, an attempt to deliver food to the 33 trapped copper miners ends in a tragic accident involving what mining officials describe as "an incredibly courageous Domino's driver."  Speaking of tragic, in ...


... the U.S. economy suffers another blow as the Federal Bureau of Never Expecting Unemployment to Be As High As It Actually Is reports that, for the 37th consecutive month, unemployment is unexpectedly high. "Darned if we didn't get fooled again!" exclaims a bureau spokesperson, adding, "We expect it to be lower next month." Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, speaking from his new office in Toronto, announces a plan to drastically increase the U.S. money supply by "quantitative easing," a controversial process involving what Bernanke describes as "a major job for Kinko's."

The economy remains the big theme as the congressional elections enter the home stretch, with incumbents from both parties declaring their eagerness to go back to Washington and knock some sense into whatever incompetent morons are in charge. Polls show that the voters are in a very cranky mood, which tends to favor outsiders such as the Tea Party candidates, although O'Donnell definitely hurts her chances in Delaware when, during a televised debate, she turns her opponent into a toad.

Obama, continuing his quest to find candidates willing to accept his help, winds up campaigning in what White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs describes as "some very key student council races." Meanwhile, Sarah Palin, raising her stature as a potential 2012 GOP presidential contender, weighs in on the issues with a number of important tweets.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court, as it does every October, begins a new term, which is hastily adjourned when the justices discover that their robes have bedbugs.  In the month's most dramatic story, the 33 trapped Chilean miners are all brought safely to the surface, only to be sent right back down because they failed to bring up any copper -- which, as the mining company points out, "was the whole point of sending them down there in the first place." Meanwhile, in France, millions of workers again take to the streets to demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, that they are French.

Elsewhere abroad, terrorists in Yemen attempt to send mail bombs to the United States, confirming the long-held suspicions of U.S. intelligence that there really is a country named "Yemen." The plot, which involves explosives concealed inside printer cartridges, is foiled, but as a precaution the TSA decides to prohibit air travelers in the States from carrying anything capable of printing, including pens, pencils and children in grades two through five.  In sports, the National Football League, seeking to reduce violence, imposes stiff fines for defensive beheading.  Speaking of gory, in ...


... the elections turn out to be a bloodbath for the Democrats, who lose the House of Representatives, a bunch of Senate seats, some governorships, some state legislatures and all of the key student council races. Also, a number of long-term Democratic incumbents are urinated on by their own dogs. Obama immediately departs for a nine-day trip to Asia to see if anybody over there wants to hear about the benefits of health-care reform.

Speaking of health: Some air travelers express concern about radiation from the TSA's new high-resolution scanners, especially after screeners at O'Hare are seen using one to make popcorn. TSA chief John Pistole insists that the scanners are completely safe "as long as you move through quickly." He also assures passengers that their body images "are not saved for any purpose whatsoever, such as entertainment at the TSA Christmas party." Nevertheless, some passengers refuse to be scanned; they are required to undergo a manual procedure that is known, within the agency, as "the full gerbil."

World tension mounts as North Korea, in what is widely seen as a deliberate act of provocation, fires artillery shells at Denver. Meanwhile, in another indication of the worsening global debt crisis, the directors of the International Monetary Fund vote to have Ireland's legs broken.

The U.S. economy also continues to struggle, as the unemployment rate, catching everybody by surprise, turns out to be higher than expected for yet another month. The lone bright spot is provided by the president's deficit-reduction commission, which, after months of work, releases a draft of a tough plan that, if Congress can muster the backbone to enact it, would reduce the deficit by trillions of dollars and put the nation on the path back to fiscal sanity. This is a welcome bit of comic relief in the stressed-out capital; everybody enjoys a hearty bipartisan laugh, then gets back to maneuvering for the 2012 elections.

In other entertainment news, Bristol Palin's bid to win "Dancing With the Stars" falls short when the judges throw out 147 million votes from Palm Beach County, Fla. She winds up finishing third, behind actress Jennifer Grey and Vice President Biden.  In sports, Obama's upper lip is injured in a basketball game when he is hit in the mouth by an elbow believed to have been thrown by North Korea.

International tension continues to mount in ...


... with the continued release by Wikileaks of classified cables leaked from the State Department, which apparently has the same level of data security as an Etch A Sketch. The cables reveal a number of embarrassing diplomatic secrets, such as:

* The last three rounds of Middle East peace talks have consisted entirely of delegates playing Twister.

* The Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan frequently, as a prank, exchange places in the United Nations, and nobody has ever noticed.

* High-ranking officials of Scotland, speaking in private, admit that they don't understand what the hell they're saying, either.

* In 2007, Hungary paid $170 million to Russia for pictures of Sweden naked.

In domestic politics, a partisan debate rages over what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts. The Democrats, suddenly alarmed about the deficit, want to raise taxes on people making $250,000 a year -- or, as the Democrats routinely refer to them, "billionaires." The Republicans want to extend tax cuts for everybody, but compensate by cutting federal spending at a later date using an amazing new spending-cutting device they have seen advertised on TV.  Finally, Obama and the Republican leaders reach a compromise under which income-tax rates will stay the same for everybody, but the death tax will be expanded to include people who are merely hung over. Also, in a concession to the Iowa congressional delegation, the federal government will continue to fund a "green energy" program under which corn is converted into ethanol, which is then converted back to corn, which is then planted to grow more corn. This will cost $5 billion a year, but it is expected to save or create literally dozens of Iowa jobs.

Obama, trying to sell the compromise, appears ambivalent, saying that "it is less than ideal," but also pointing out that "it totally sucks," adding, "I hate it." Despite this smooth sales pitch, many Democrats are unhappy. There is even talk of a primary challenge to Obama in 2012, a notion dismissed as "nonsense" by Hillary Clinton, who speaks to reporters while traveling on what aides describe as routine State Department business in New Hampshire.  In another potential setback for the president, a federal judge in Virginia rules that the health-care reform act violates the Constitution's tonnage clause.

On the environmental front, delegates from 193 countries at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, pass a resolution stating that they should not have had those last four rounds of margaritas.

In television news, Fidel Castro makes a surprise guest appearance on "The Walking Dead."

Speaking of entertainment: As the year finally draws to a close, all eyes are on Seaside Heights, NJ, where MTV plans to ring in the new year by dropping a ball containing Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, one of the leading bimbos of "Jersey Shore." Millions eagerly tune in, only to find that the ball has been attached to something that makes it drop slowly. A bitterly disappointing end to a bitterly disappointing year.  But at least it's over, right? And we can take comfort in the fact that 2011 cannot possibly be worse. Unless, of course, this newly discovered asteroid -- maybe you read about it -- continues on a trajectory that ... Try not to think about it. Have another margarita. Happy New Year.

Dave Barry is making most of this up. Unfortunately, some of the most bizarre items are real. He can be reached at


Lowlights of a Downer Year:

Dave Barry on the money, madness and misery of 2009
By Dave Barry, Washington Post, December 27, 2009)

It was a year of Hope -- at first in the sense of "I feel hopeful!" and later in the sense of "I hope this year ends soon!"  It was also a year of Change, especially in Washington, where the tired old hacks of yesteryear finally yielded the reins of power to a group of fresh, young, idealistic, new-idea outsiders such as Nancy Pelosi. As a result, Washington, rejecting "business as usual," finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it, and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it.  To be sure, it was a year that saw plenty of bad news. But in almost every instance, there was offsetting good news:

Bad news: The economy remained critically weak, with rising unemployment, a severely depressed real-estate market, the near-collapse of the domestic automobile industry and the steep decline of the dollar.

Good news: Windows 7 sucked less than Vista.

Bad news: The downward spiral of the newspaper industry continued, resulting in the firings of thousands of experienced reporters and an apparently permanent deterioration in the quality of American journalism.

Good news: A lot more people were tweeting.

Bad news: Ominous problems loomed abroad as -- among other difficulties -- the Afghanistan war went sour, and Iran threatened to plunge the Middle East and beyond into nuclear war.

Good news: They finally got Roman Polanski.

In short, it was a year that we will be happy to put behind us. But before we do, let's swallow our anti-nausea medication and take one last look back, starting with ...


... during which history is made in Washington, where a crowd estimated by the Congressional Estimating Office at 217 billion people gathers to watch Barack Obama be inaugurated as the first American president ever to come after George W. Bush. There is a minor glitch in the ceremony when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., attempting to administer the oath of office, becomes confused and instead reads the side-effect warnings for his decongestant pills, causing the new president to swear that he will consult his physician if he experiences a sudden loss of sensation in his feet. President Obama then delivers an upbeat inaugural address, ushering in a new era of cooperation, civility and bipartisanship in a galaxy far, far away. Here on Earth, everything stays pretty much the same.

The No. 1 item on the agenda is fixing the economy, so the new administration immediately sets about the daunting task of trying to nominate somebody -- anybody -- to a high-level government post who actually remembered to pay his or her taxes. Among those who forgot this pesky chore is Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, who sheepishly admits that he failed to pay $35,000 in federal self-employment taxes. He says that the error was a result of his using TurboTax, which he also blames for his involvement in an eight-state spree of bank robberies. He is confirmed after the Obama administration explains that it inherited the U.S. Tax Code from the Bush administration.

Elsewhere in politics, a team of specially trained wildlife agents equipped with nets and tranquilizer darts manages, after a six-hour struggle, to remove Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office. He is transported to an undisclosed swamp, where he is released into the wild and quickly bonds with the native ferret population.

On a more upbeat note, the nation finds a new hero in US Airways Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who in an astonishing feat of aviation manages to land a passenger jet safely in the Hudson River after it loses power shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia airport. Incredibly, all 155 people on board survive, although they are immediately taken hostage by Somali pirates.

In entertainment news, an unemployed California mother of six uses in-vitro fertilization to give birth to eight more children, an achievement that immediately catapults her to a celebrity status equivalent to that of a minor Kardashian sister. But even this joyous event is not enough to cheer up a nation worried about the worsening economy, which becomes so bad in ...


... that Congress passes, without reading it and without actually finishing writing it, a stimulus package totaling $787 billion. The money is immediately turned over to American taxpayers so they can use it to stimulate the economy.  No! What a crazy idea THAT would be! The money is to be doled out over the next decade or so by members of Congress on projects deemed vital by members of Congress, such as constructing buildings that will be named after members of Congress. This will stimulate the economy by creating millions of jobs, according to estimates provided by the Congressional Estimating Office's Magical Estimating 8-Ball.

Despite this heroic effort, the economy continues to stumble. General Motors, which has sold only one car in the past year -- a Buick LaCrosse mistakenly purchased by an 87-year-old man who thought he was buying a power scooter -- announces a new four-part business plan, consisting of (1) dealership closings; (2) factory shutdowns; (3) worker layoffs; and (4) traveling backward through time to 1955. The stock market hits its lowest level since 1997; this is hailed as a great investment opportunity by all the financial wizards who failed to let us know last year that the market was going to tank. California goes bankrupt and is forced to raise $800 million by pawning Angelina Jolie.

The Obama administration's confirmation woes continue as Thomas A. Daschle is forced to withdraw as nominee for secretary of Health and Human Services following the disclosure that he, too, failed to pay all of his federal taxes. He blames this oversight on the fact that his tax returns were prepared by Treasury Secretary Geithner.

The Academy Awards are a triumph for "Slumdog Millionaire," which wins eight Oscars, only to have them stolen by Somali pirates.

In sports, the Pittsburgh Steelers win the Super Bowl, defeating some team in a game that we have all completely forgotten. Michael Phelps is suspended from competitive swimming following publication of a photograph clearly showing that he has gills. Baseball star Alex Rodriguez admits that from 2001 through 2003 he used steroids, which he claims he got from Treasury Secretary Geithner.  And speaking of shocking disclosures, in ...


... an angry nation learns that the giant insurance company AIG, which received $170 billion in taxpayer bailouts and posted a $61 billion loss, is paying executive bonuses totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. This news shocks and outrages Obama and members of Congress, who happen to be the very people who passed the legislation that authorized both the bailouts and the bonuses, but of course they did that during a crisis and thus had no time to find out what the hell they were voting for. To correct this situation, some congresspersons propose a 90 percent tax on the bonuses, followed by beheadings, followed by the passage of tough new financial legislation that nobody in Congress will read or understand.

In other economic news, the chief executive of GM resigns under pressure from the White House, which notes that it inherited the automobile crisis from the Bush administration. GM is now essentially a subsidiary of the federal government, which promises to use its legendary business and marketing savvy to get the crippled auto giant back on its feet, starting with an exciting new lineup of cars such as the Chevrolet Consensus, a "green" car featuring a compressed-soybean chassis, the world's first engine powered entirely by dew, and a 14,500-page owner's manual, accompanied by nearly 6,000 pages of amendments.

Businessman Bernard Madoff pleads guilty to bilking investors out of $65 billion in a Ponzi scheme, forcing the Obama administration to withdraw his nomination for secretary of commerce.

The annual observance of Earth Hour is observed with one hour of symbolic energy conservation as hundreds of millions of nonessential lights and appliances are turned off. And that's just in Al Gore's house.

In sports and entertainment news, former NFL great Lawrence Taylor, appearing on "Dancing with the Stars," accidentally rips off his partner's arms during the cha-cha competition. The judges award Taylor 453 points out of a possible 30, citing his "energy" and "proximity."

Abroad, North Korea, in what many observers view as a deliberate act of provocation, calls Domino's and, posing as the United States, orders 23 million pizzas delivered to Japan.  International problems continue to dominate in ...


... as leaders of the world's powers, looking for a way out of the worsening world economic crisis, gather in London for the G-20 summit, which ends abruptly in a violent argument over the bill for the welcoming dinner. A short while later, in what many economists see as a troubling development, the International Monetary Fund moves into a refrigerator carton.

In other international bad news, North Korea launches a test missile that experts say is capable of hitting Hawaii, based on the fact that it actually hits Hawaii. The United States swiftly pledges to issue a strongly worded condemnation containing "even stronger words than last time."

On the domestic front, the struggling Chrysler Corp. declares bankruptcy, but its chief executive confidently predicts that the company will come back "bigger, better and stronger than ever," thanks to its 2010 product line, spearheaded by the all-new Dodge Despair.

The big health story in April is the rapid spread of swine flu, a dangerous new virus strain developed by the makers of Purell. Public anxiety over the flu increases when Vice President Biden, demonstrating his gift for emitting statements, declares on the "Today" show that he would not recommend traveling by commercial airplane or subway. A short while later, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs assures reporters that he is "not aware of any 'Vice President Biden.' " In another embarrassment for the White House, New York is temporarily thrown into a panic when Air Force One flies low over Manhattan for a publicity photo shoot. Responding to widespread criticism, Gibbs notes that Obama inherited Air Force One from the Bush administration.

On a more positive note, an American ship captain is dramatically rescued from Somali pirates by a team of Navy SEAL sharpshooters, who are immediately hired by "Dancing with the Stars" to assist with the judging of Lawrence Taylor.  Speaking of drama, in ...


... the finale of "American Idol" produces a shocking outcome that sends shock waves of shock reverberating around the planet when the winner turns out to be -- incredibly -- that guy singer, what'shisname, despite the fact that the overwhelming favorite was that OTHER guy singer. Congress vows to hold hearings after reports surface that, of the nearly 100 million votes, 73 million were phoned in by ACORN.

But the big political drama takes place in Washington, where Justice David Souter announces that he is retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court because he is tired of getting noogies from Chief Justice Roberts. To replace Souter, Obama nominates Sonia Sotomayor, setting off the traditional Washington performance of Konfirmation Kabuki, in which the Democrats portray the nominee as basically a cross between Abraham Lincoln and the Virgin Mary, and the Republicans portray her more as Ursula the Sea Witch with a law degree. Sotomayor will eventually be confirmed but only after undergoing the traditional Senate Judiciary Committee hazing ritual, during which she must talk for four straight days without expressing an opinion.

In crippled U.S. auto giant news, General Motors announces a new business plan under which it will fire everybody but Howie Long, who will continue to make what GM calls "some of the most popular commercials on the market." Meanwhile, Chrysler, looking to the future, invests $114 million in an Amway distributorship.

On the international-tension front, a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss possible sanctions against North Korea is forced to adjourn hastily when the council chamber is penetrated by a missile.

In sports, Helio Castroneves wins the Indianapolis 500, although his victory is somewhat tainted by the fact that all 32 of the other cars were hijacked by Somali pirates. Major League Baseball suspends Dodger slugger Manny Ramirez for 50 games after his urine sample explodes.  But all of these stories suddenly seem unimportant in ...


... when pop superstar Michael Jackson dies, setting off an orgy of frowny-face, TV-newsperson fake somberness the likes of which has not been seen since the Princess Diana Grief-a-Palooza. At one point, experts estimate that the major networks are using the word "icon" a combined total of 850 times an hour. Larry King devotes several weeks to in-depth coverage of this story, during which he conducts what is believed to be the first-ever in-casket interview; this triumph is marred only slightly by the fact that the venerable TV personality apparently believes he is talking to Bette Midler.

On the economic front, California is caught on videotape attempting to shoplift 17,000 taxpayers from Nevada. General Motors files for bankruptcy and announces a new sales strategy under which it will go around at night leaving cars in people's driveways, then sprint away.

In political news, the Minnesota Supreme Court, clearly exhausted by months of legal wrangling, declares Al Franken the winner of "American Idol." Meanwhile, the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, goes missing for six days; his spokesperson tells the media that the governor is "hiking the Appalachian Trail," which turns out to be a slang term meaning "engaging in acts of an explicitly non-gubernatorial nature with a woman in Argentina." The state legislature ultimately considers impeaching Sanford but changes its mind upon discovering that the lieutenant governor, who got into office through some slick legal maneuvering when nobody was paying attention, is Eliot Spitzer.  Political news continues to dominate in ...


... when Sarah Palin unexpectedly announces that she will not complete her term as elected governor of Alaska, explaining, in a prepared statement, that she has a hair appointment. Asked by reporters if she plans to seek the Republican presidential nomination, she replies, "You leave my personal life out of this." Elsewhere in state politics, the FBI arrests pretty much every elected official in New Jersey on suspicion of being New Jersey elected officials.

On Independence Day, the nation takes a welcome break from its worries to celebrate in traditional fashion with barbecues, parades and -- as night falls -- spectacular aerial North Korean missile detonations.

In government news, top Washington thinkers, looking for a way to goose the economy along, come up with the "Cash for Clunkers" program, under which the federal government provides a financial inducement for people to take functional cars, which are mostly American-made, to car dealers, who deliberately destroy these cars and sell the people new replacement cars, which are mostly foreign-made. This program, which was budgeted for $1 billion, ends up costing $3 billion and is halted after a month. The administration declares that it has been a huge success, which everybody understands to mean that it will never, ever be repeated. With this mission accomplished, the top Washington thinkers are free to train all of their brainpower on the nation's health-care system.

Obama becomes embroiled in controversy when, commenting on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley, he states that the police "acted stupidly." This comment angers many in the law-enforcement community, as the president discovers the next day when his motorcade is cited for more than 3,000 moving violations. To resolve the situation, the president invites both Gates and Crowley to the White House for a "beer summit," which is described later by White House spokesperson Gibbs as "very amicable" except for some "minor tasering."

Speaking of conflict, in ...


... Obama, in the first serious test of his presidency, announces that he will send U.S. troops to rescue Democratic members of Congress pinned down in town hall meetings by constituents firing hostile questions concerning the administration's health-care plan, which turns out not to be wildly popular outside of the immediate Capitol Hill area. The president dismisses concerns that his health-care agenda is in trouble, observing, "There's something about August going into September where everybody in Washington gets all wee-weed up." White House spokesperson Gibbs explains that the "vast majority" of the wee-wee was inherited from the Bush administration.

In foreign affairs, former president Bill Clinton goes to North Korea to secure the release of two detained American journalists who purely by coincidence happen to be women. Fidel Castro, after nearly a year out of the public eye, appears on the popular Cuban television show "Bailando con Cadáveres" ("Dancing With Corpses").  California, in a move apparently intended to evade creditors, has its name legally changed to South Oregon.

In an alarming technological development, hackers shut down Twitter, leaving a desperate and suddenly vulnerable America with no way to find out what the Kardashian sisters are having for lunch. The Federal Emergency Management Agency urges the nation to "remain calm" and "use Facebook if you can." Twitter service is eventually restored, but most of the estimated 875 million thoughts that went untweeted during the outage will never be recovered, making it the nation's worst social-networking disaster ever.  Speaking of disruptions, in ...


... Obama, speaking on health care before a joint session of Congress, is rudely interrupted by Kanye West, who grabs the microphone and declares that Beyoncé has a better health-care plan. No, wait, sorry: The president is rudely interrupted by Republican congressman Joe Wilson, who shouts, "You lie!" Wilson later apologizes for his breach of congressional etiquette, saying, "I should have just mooned him."  With public support for the administration's health-care plan continuing to slip, the president orders U.S. troops into Fox News, then goes on a media blitz, appearing, in a three-day span, on "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation," "Meet the Nation," "Face the Press," "Press Your Face Against the Nation," Letterman, Leno, Judge Judy, Iron Chef and "Dog the Bounty Hunter." The president also delivers a back-to-school speech to the nation's students, telling them to work hard and get a good education. Fortunately, thanks to the vigilance of the talk-radio community, many parents realize that this is some kind of secret socialist code message and are able to prevent their children from being exposed to it.

In international news, Iran shocks the world by revealing the existence of a previously secret uranium enrichment facility. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists that the uranium will be used only for "parties." U.N. nuclear inspectors note, however, that "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad" can be rearranged to spell "Had Jammed a Humanoid" and "Hounded a Jihad Mamma."

On the international-finance front, leaders of the world's economic powers gather for the G-20 summit meeting in Pittsburgh, where, in a rare display of unity, they vote unanimously to fire whomever is responsible for selecting their meeting sites.  Speaking of questionable site selection, in ...


... the International Olympic Committee meets in Copenhagen to decide whether Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo or Madrid will host the 2016 summer games. Chicago is considered a strong candidate, but despite personal appeals for the city from Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Mayor Richard M. Daley, Oprah Winfrey and the late Al Capone, the committee, in an unexpected decision, votes to hold the games in Pyongyang, North Korea. The head of the IOC insists that the decision was "made freely and without coercion," adding, "for the love of God, please abort the launch."  On a happier note for the White House, President Obama wins the Nobel Peace Prize, narrowly edging out Beyoncé.

In the Middle East, hopes for peace soar when Iran announces that it will allow U.N. inspectors to visit its nuclear-enrichment facility. Hopes plunge soon after when the inspectors report that they were taken to what appears to be a hastily abandoned kebab stand with a hand-painted sign that says "NUCLEAR ENRICHMENT," as well as what the inspectors describe as "numerous health-code violations."

In Afghanistan, U.N. investigators raise questions about the recent national election, noting that a third of the votes cast for President Hamid Karzai came from Palm Beach County.  On the celebrity front, a remorseful David Letterman confessed to his stunned audience that he has been hiking the Appalachian Trail with female staff members.

But the big story in October, the story that grips the nation the way a dog grips a rancid squirrel, is the mesmerizing drama of a silver balloon racing through the blue skies above central Colorado, desperately pursued by police, aviation and rescue personnel who have been led to believe that the balloon contains O.J. Simpson.  No, that would have been great, but the authorities in fact have been led to believe that the balloon contains 6-year-old Falcon Heene, the son of exactly the kind of parents you would expect to name a child Falcon. It quickly becomes clear that the boy is not in the balloon, and the whole thing is a hoax perpetrated by attention-seeking reality-show-wannabe idiots. In other words, nothing really happened, so naturally the media go into a week-long Category 5 frenzy so intensive that Larry King is forced to temporarily interrupt his ongoing postmortem coverage of the Michael Jackson funeral.  Speaking of attention-seeking reality-show-wannabe idiots, in ...


... a Washington couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, penetrate heavy security and enter the White House, a feat that Joe Biden has yet to manage. As details of the incident emerge, an embarrassed Secret Service is forced to admit that not only did the couple crash a state dinner, but they also met and shook hands with the president, and they "may have served briefly in the Cabinet."

In other White House news, the president, in a much-debated post-Thanksgiving decision, announces that he is sending U.S. troops into the electronics departments of 1,400 Best Buy stores to prevent Black Friday shoppers from killing one another over flat-screen TVs. Hours later, the president withdraws the troops, calling the situation "hopeless." Press Secretary Gibbs notes that the president inherited Black Friday from the Bush administration.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announces that, to maintain the principle of due legal process, alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried in federal court in New York City, but as a precaution, "he will be executed first."

In sports, the New York Yankees, after an eight-year drought, purchase the World Series. But the month's big sports story involves Tiger Woods, who, plagued by tabloid reports that he has been hiking the Appalachian Trail with a nightclub hostess, is injured in a bizarre late-night incident near his Florida home when his SUV is attacked by golf-club-wielding Somali pirates.

In science news:

· The Large Hadron Collider is restarted after a 14-month delay caused by squirrels stealing the particles.

· Elated NASA scientists announce that they have discovered ice on the moon, although their excitement fades when they calculate that getting it back to Earth will cost $185 million per cube.

· Researchers from MIT and Harvard announce that they have sequenced the genome of a horse. They are arrested when police discover that "sequencing the genome" is the scientific slang equivalent of "hiking the Appalachian Trail." In a troubling economic development, the U.S. dollar, for the first time in history, falls below the lentil. Speaking of troubling, in ...


... Obama, after weeks of pondering what to do about the pesky war situation he inherited, announces a decision -- widely viewed as a compromise -- in which he will send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan but will name their mission "Operation Gentle Butterfly."

On the economic front, the nation's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high as it becomes clear that the $787 billion stimulus package has created a total of only eight jobs, all in the field of highway-construction flagperson. Looking for solutions, the president hosts a White House "jobs summit" attended by political, business and labor leaders, as well as 23 Portuguese tourists who got lost while trying to visit the Washington Monument and somehow penetrated White House security. Meanwhile, in what is believed to be the largest Craigslist transaction ever, California sells San Diego to Mexico.

On the environmental front, Copenhagen hosts a massive international conference aimed at halting manmade global warming, attended by thousands of delegates who flew to Denmark on magical carbon-free unicorns. In the Middle East, U.N. nuclear inspectors become suspicious when Iran attempts to ship to Israel, via UPS, a large crate labeled "HARMLESS ITEMS -- DELIVER BEFORE TIMER REACHES 00:00."  There are other troubling year-end developments:

· In a setback for U.S. interests in Central America, voters in Honduras elect, as their new president, Rod Blagojevich.

· The international space station is taken over by Somali pirates.

· In sports, roughly 40 percent of the U.S. bimbo population announces that it has at one time or another hiked the Appalachian Trail with Tiger Woods.

Also, as the year draws to a close, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases an urgent bulletin warning of a new, fast-spreading epidemic consisting of severe, and in some cases life-threatening, arm infections caused by "people constantly sneezing into their elbow pits." But despite all the gloomy news, the holiday season brings at least temporary relief to a troubled nation -- especially the children, millions of whom go to sleep on Christmas Eve with visions of Santa in his reindeer-powered sleigh flying high overhead, spreading joy around the world.  With a North Korean missile flying right behind.  Try not to think about it. And Happy New Year.

Dave Barry is making most of this up. But not all. He can be reached at