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10 biggest national stories of 2008

by Keith Barber

10 biggest national stories of 2008

Hindsight is always 20/20 when it comes to judging the historical significance of a single year, but there is little doubt that 2008 will be viewed as groundbreaking and earth-shattering a year in our nation’s history as any in recent memory. Here are the top 10 national and statewide stories of the year:

1. Barack Obama becomes the first African- American to win the White House

It is undeniable that Nov. 4, 2008 will be remembered as a turning point in our nation’s history. On that night, Barack Hussein Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, took the stage before nearly a quartermillion people jammed into Grant Park in Chicago after being elected the 44 th president of the United States. “If there is anyone out there who doubts that America is a place where anything is possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama declared to thousands of cheering supporters. He reiterated his message of national unity that night — the same message he communicated so eloquently during his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Four years after bursting on the national political landscape, Obama defeated Republican rival John McCain, 72, with relative ease by winning crucial swing states Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. “Change has come to America,” Obama said in his victory speech. Obama’s stunning victory could be attributed in large part to his outstanding grassroots organization. In North Carolina, Obama defeated McCain by 14,177 votes, or about three-tenths of a percent.

2. Nation falls into deep recession

The economic news got worse and worse throughout 2008. In March, there was the overnight collapse of Wall Street titan Bear Stearns, in what proved to be the first domino to fall in what would become a meltdown of the global financial markets. Then, the Federal Reserve began emergency lending to investment banks that it didn’t regulate, later expanding to a wider range of Wall Street players. In a failed bid to arrest declining home prices, the Fed also began buying the complex mortgage bonds that investors didn’t want. That seismic event was followed by July’s record oil prices of $147 a barrel, which meant consumers paying more than $4 a gallon. Recordhigh gas prices helped spark inflation and send food and commodities prices spiraling upward worldwide. In September, the government seized the assets of mortgage charged with felonies.

Presidential attention

Presidentialcandidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton visited the Triad numeroustimes during their pitched battle for the Democratic nomination, andthe former President Bill Clinton worked the B-level circuit in supportof his wife. Obama pulled out a convincing win in Guilford and Forsythcounties and across the Triad that proved to be the decisive blow fromwhich Clinton never recovered. Obama’s primary victory in North Carolinaon the strength of enthusiastic support from a coalition of collegestudents, African Americans and wealthy white liberals foreshadowed hisgeneral election triumph over Republican nominee John McCain, whichrelied on precisely the same dynamics. Although Obama’s landslide victory made North Carolina’s electoral votes unnecessary, the candidate demonstrated just how important he considered the state when he appeared in Greensboro the day after his first presidential debate.

Greensboro police controversies

James Coman, special prosecutor for the state of North Carolina,testified as a witness in Guilford County Superior Court on June 11that writer Jerry Bledsoe told him that the motivation behind his “CopsIn Black and White” series in The Rhinoceros Times was to restoreformer Greensboro police Chief David Wray’s good name, get City ManagerMitchell Johnson fired and establish that political correctness was the order of the day in city government. Meanwhilethe performance of the Greensboro Police Department became increasinglypoliticized, as critics of Johnson’s handling of Wray’s exit suggestedthat the department was bungling major cases and allowing crime to getout of hand. Carroll Buracker & Associates, a consultant, delivereda report on the department in early July that contradicted thoseassumptions. The report concluded that the department holds an enviablerecord of solving crimes, and the city’s per-capita crime rate hasdeclined in the past decade-plus. The report also said the departmentneeded to improve its process for promoting in the command ranks, whichthey found to be “seriously flawed by being far too ambiguous andsubjective.” The Buracker report also questioned some of thedepartment’s law enforcement priorities, suggesting that the gang unitbe cut in half and officers be reallocated to a new domestic violenceunit. The consultants could find no objective basis for the formationof the gang unit beyond a finding by the department that “commercialrobberies are unusually high” — contradicted by an actual decline incommercial robberies from 2006 to 2007 — and “there are more reportedincidents of youth violence than ever before, and our schools have beennegatively impacted by the activities related to youth gangs.”

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Kay Hagan, a state lawmaker from Greensboro, celebrates her election to the US Senate on Nov. 4. (photo by Jordan Green)

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