2004 is coming to an end and here are the stories which will remain with me for years to come.
Besides the upcoming birth of my first child (due any day now).
So while there were many winners and losers in 2004 — most notably in the USA, President Bush and John Kerry, respectively — but many more found themselves in muddy middle ground. Coalition forces had success and failure in Iraq, and terrorists struck in Spain and Russia. Debate raged over same-sex marriage, media standards and other “moral values” issues. The 9/11 Commission hearings and reports; Yasser Arafat, Ronald Reagan and others’ deaths; and court cases involving Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson left uneasiness as a new year dawned. 2004’s final days were dominated by an earthquake and tsunamis that left more than 150,000 dead from Thailand to Somalia.
1. The US Presidential election – An intense race for the American presidency led to the unfortunate re-election of President George W. Bush over Democratic challenger John Kerry. As in 2000, the election came down to one state. This time, it was Ohio’s 20 electoral votes that put Bush over the top. Unlike 2000, Bush also won the popular vote with 51 percent to Kerry’s 48 percent. The election further tipped the balance of power decisively into the Republican corner in Washington as the party won larger advantages in the Senate and House. Nationwide, voters turned out in droves, with a turnout rate approaching 60 percent, the highest since 1968.
2. Iraqi war – Insurgents in Iraq used car, suicide and roadside bombings to chip away at U.S. and coalition efforts to reconstruct the country and institute the nation’s first democratic government since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Terrorist and insurgent groups took up the grisly practice of kidnapping and beheading foreign hostages (which always found their way onto the Internet… UGH, bidding to compel countries to leave the U.S.-led coalition. Public sentiment towards this war changed forever, when in April, 2004, a series of graphic photographs of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners was revealed. At least five detainees died in U.S. custody in Iraq or in Afghanistan.
3. Terrorism – Terror attacks killed hundreds in 2004. Nearly 200 people died in explosions that struck train stations in Madrid in March, attacks later blamed on al Qaeda. In Russia, Chechen rebels seized control of an elementary school and took hostages. After two days, the siege ended bloodily with more than 300 adults and children dead. In the United States, there were no attacks but the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the Bush administration a setback by ruling that U.S. and non-U.S. citizens alike seized as potential terrorists can challenge their treatment in U.S. courts.
4. Natural Disasters – The year ended with one of the most horrific natural disasters in recorded history: a 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean that spawned devastating tsunamis that killed at least 150,000 people from Thailand to Somalia. Tsunamis left hundreds of thousands more without homes, food, fresh water or power and struck both impoverished villages and rich tourist sites, sparing few areas in the waves’ path. The United Nations urged donor countries to contribute materials and money, saying this could be the costliest disaster ever. The tsunamis came several weeks after the close of one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons in recent years. By late summer, several major storms had hit Florida, the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean.
5. The 9/11 Commission – The independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks cited a “failure of imagination” that kept U.S. officials from understanding the al Qaeda threat before the attacks that killed nearly 3,000. The 570-page report recommended changes to the U.S. intelligence community, including establishing a Cabinet-level intelligence director. An intelligence overhaul bill based on the commission’s findings was passed late in the year, but not before many House Republicans insisted on changes they said would prevent gaps in the military’s use of intelligence, and address immigration and border security issues.
6. Yasser Arafat (finally) dies – For decades, he was the symbol of the Palestinian cause. At times, the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner (no laughing please… He really did win it) was viewed as a figure intent on promoting peace with Israel; at other times, he was seen as leader of the violent struggle that used suicide bombings against Israelis in hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Arafat died in a Paris hospital on November 11, after months of health problems. While many mourned his passing, others saw his death as an opportunity for Palestinians and Israelis to start anew their attempts to forge a lasting peace.
7. Crossing a line – Exit polls from the 2004 election suggested voters who cited “moral values” as most important to them may have assured President Bush a second term. If so, they did so in a year rife with debate on ethical issues — starting with an outcry over media decency after Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl halftime show (where Justin Timberlake ripped her shirt open exposing her left breast by “accident”) “The Passion of the Christ,” a el Gibson anti-semitic film portraying Jews in a bad light as having killed Jesus, grossed almost $90 million in it’s first three days in theaters, while Michael Moore’s anti-Bush diatribe “Fahrenheit 911” became the most profitable documentary ever. Months after Massachusetts’ first legal same-sex marriages, voters in 11 states stupidly backed referendums making it illegal. In June, the Supreme Court reversed a lower-court decision that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional, ruling that the California father who filed the case did not have the legal standing to do so.
8. Former US President Ronald Reagan dies – Former President Ronald Reagan died at his California home on June 5, nearly 10 years after announcing that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The nation spent a week saying farewell to the former president, who led a conservative revolution and helped bring about the end of the Cold War during his two terms in office. He was laid to rest at his presidential library in California after a state funeral in Washington, D.C.
9. Crisis in the Sudan finally gets the world’s attention – Civil war continued to ravage Sudan in 2004, with some international leaders — including U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell — accusing the Sudanese government of committing genocide against black villagers. Critics singled out the government-backed Janjaweed Arab militia, which is accused of widespread murder, rape and arson. Human rights groups estimate up to 30,000 civilians have been killed in clashes between black rebels and government forces, with more than 1.2 million people left homeless.
10. The Boston Red Sox win the World Series – For 86 years, and especially since the club traded then-pitcher and future slugger Babe Ruth, Boston Red Sox fans have watched their team fall short of a championship only to watch their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, rack up 26 titles. Finally, this fall, generations of Red Sox Nation had very good reason to celebrate. The club became the first in baseball history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to win the American League pennant, the comeback made that much sweeter given they steamrolled the Yankees to do it. Boston rolled into the World Series and swept the St. Louis Cardinals, who had ended the regular season with the best record in Major League Baseball.
These stories, no doubt, will be remembered by the world for years come come.
From a Canadian point of view, 2004 brought the following newsstories to the forefront…
2004 brought the avian flu – and panic – to Canada and confirmed that one case of BSE originated here, forcing the slaughter of millions of birds in B.C. and closing the country’s borders to beef sales.
Paul Martin’s Liberals were (sadly) given a minority government.
A fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi on its first voyage as a Canadian ship brought the entire submarine fleet into question, not surprising, considering the fleet would lose a war against a bunch of 4 year olds, with it being old and run down.
The continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq saw the deaths of more than 1,000 American troops and thousands of Iraqis. Images of prisoner abuse prompted apologies from American leaders.
A bitter election year in the U.S. ended with the re-election of George W. Bush as president.
Hundreds died after Chechen rebels took children hostage in a school in Beslan, Russia.
The death of Yasser Arafat marked a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The election in Ukraine give us two Viktors, but no winner, and a revote on Boxing Day, bringing the Ukraine into the world spot light and introducing the Orange Revolution to the world.
On Mars, NASA’s rovers took stunning pictures of the alien landscape and made startling discoveries about the planet’s past, including the possibility that liquid water once flowed there.
Best wishes for a wonderful 2005.