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Monica Lewinsky's sudden return to the spotlight and Hillary Clinton's possible return to the White House evoke memories of a decade obscured by the transformative '80s and the tumultuous '00s, and squeezed between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11.

How to characterize the 1990s, which saw the fall of Soviet communism and the rise of the Macarena, the end of the superpower nuclear arms race and the beginning of reality TV, the promise of the World Wide Web and the tragedy of Black Hawk Down?

In some ways, the '90s were the best of times, including prosperity at home, relative peace abroad, a falling crime rate, an explosion in digital technology, even a federal budget surplus.

It was certainly preferable to what came next: the worst terror attack on U.S. soil; two long, inconclusive wars; two stock market crashes; and a financial crisis that precipitated a deep recession. After the '90s, says Kevin Howley, a DePauw University communication professor, "It's as if history jumped a track.''

Yet the '90s also were years when much of what bedevils us today — global warming, terrorism, health care costs, gun violence — had causes or antecedents. Opportunities were missed, perils overlooked.

Take the economy. The stock market boomed, productivity increased, unemployment fell and GDP rose 40%. But real wages lagged, many workers lacked skills for Digital Revolution jobs, and the gap between the rich and everyone else widened. Sound familiar?

When the decade began, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the wife of a Southern governor known for his endless speech at the Democratic convention in 1988. Vladimir Putin was an undercover KGB officer in East Germany filing reports no one read. Xi Jinping was head of the Communist Party School in a provincial capital. Steve Jobs was still in exile from Apple.

There was no peace in Northern Ireland and no justice in South Africa, where a rebel named Nelson Mandela had been in prison for 27 years.

When the decade began, no one had texted, used a ThinkPad, PowerBook or PalmPilot, or taken Viagra. Politicians talked about reforming welfare. After years of losses, Starbucks was about to report a measly profit of $812,000. "Squeegee men" annoyed and sometimes frightened motorists at intersections in New York City.

On Jan. 1, 1990, no one dreamed that one of the world's best basketball players, Magic Johnson, would be infected with HIV or that one of the world's most powerful men, Bill Clinton, would have sex with a White House intern.

Michael Jordan had played in the NBA for five years without winning a championship. No one was asking if O.J. did it, or what Mark McGwire took so he could do it. No one had ever heard of Rodney King or Tickle Me Elmo. No one was shouting, "Show me the money!''

In 10 years, this and much else would change.

Here's how 2014 was shaped by the events of the '90s:

GLOBAL TERRORISM: THE RISE OF AL-QAEDA

Nov. 8, 1990: An FBI raid of the New Jersey home of El Sayyid Nosair discovers evidence of a terrorist plot to blow up New York City skyscrapers.

Dec. 29, 1992: In al-Qaeda's first terror attack, two bombs detonate in or near hotels in Aden, Yemen. Bombings are directed at U.S. soldiers en route to Somalia. Al-Qaeda leaders claim it frightened Americans away, but in the USA, the attack is virtually ignored.

Feb. 26, 1993: Islamist extremists detonate a truck bomb under the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand.

May. 18, 1996: Osama bin Laden flies from Sudan, where he's no longer welcome, to Afghanistan, where Mullah Mohammed Omar and the Taliban regime promise support for jihadist missions.

Aug. 28, 1996: Bin Laden declares war on the USA, saying its forces in Saudi Arabia make that nation, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, "an American colony.''

Aug. 7, 1998: Simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya kill more than 220 people. Bin Laden is indicted on charges of plotting to kill U.S. citizens.

Aug. 20, 1998: In retaliation for the embassy bombings, U.S. ships fire cruise missiles at al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan (bin Laden flees unharmed) and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan that the United States says made chemical weapons — a claim investigations refute.

June 7, 1999: Bin Laden is placed on the FBI's Most Wanted list.

ECONOMIC EQUALITY: THE 1% GET RICHER

Jan. 1, 1994: The North American Free Trade Agreement creates a free-trade zone for Canada, Mexico and the USA. Business groups claim the deal will raise living standards; organized labor says it will send U.S. jobs to Mexico. Both prove correct.

Dec. 5, 1996: Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan uses the phrase "irrational exuberance" to warn of possible overvaluation of stocks. After the dot-com bust, it becomes the era's epitaph.

Jan. 30, 1997: Greenspan tells Congress that worker insecurity is a significant factor in keeping inflation low, thus promoting long-term investment.

Dec. 16, 1997: A study by the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows the average income for the richest fifth of U.S. families jumped 30% from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s and fell 21% for the poorest fifth.

Aug. 16, 1999: The season's top-rated TV show debuts: Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Nov. 25, 1999: Pets.com, which sells pet supplies online, sponsors a float featuring its dog sock puppet mascot in Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. In a year, the company will be out of business.

Nov. 30, 1999: Tens of thousands of anti-globalization demonstrators disrupt a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle to protest economic globalization. They close streets, destroy property and battle police.

Dec. 21, 1999: Based on employee feedback, Fortune magazine names Enron one of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America." After accounting abuses come to light, thousands of employees will lose jobs and savings.

Dec. 31, 1999: The NASDAQ composite index, heavy with tech stocks, closes at 4,069, up from 455 on the same date in 1989.

PUBLIC SHOOTING SPREES: A BLOODY DECADE

Oct. 16, 1991: A man crashes his truck through a window of a Luby's restaurant in Killeen, Texas, and fatally shoots 43 people before killing himself after a shootout with police. It's the deadliest such rampage in U.S. history.

April 22, 1992: Adam Lanza is born. After he starts elementary school in Newtown, Conn., he'll be diagnosed with sensory-integration disorder. He will become fascinated with mass shootings.

Feb. 28, 1994: The Brady Law institutes federal background checks on firearm purchasers with a five-day waiting period.

Sept. 13, 1994: The Federal Assault Weapons Ban restricts sales of some newly manufactured semiautomatic firearms. Possession and transfer of existing weapons are not restricted, and the law expires in 2004.

Jan. 1, 1996: Texas law requires authorities — previously able to exercise their discretion — to issue a permit to carry a concealed handgun to any and all qualified applicants who pass a criminal background check. A woman who was at the Killeen Luby's during the massacre backed the law, saying she left her gun in car that day for fear of breaking concealed weapon law.

June 27, 1997: The Supreme Court rules the Brady Law requirement that state and local law enforcers perform gun sale background checks is unconstitutional.

July 15, 1997: Designer Gianni Versace is shot dead outside his Miami Beach mansion by Andrew Cunanan, who's killed four other men over the previous 10 weeks. Eight days later, Cunanan commits suicide.

Jan. 18, 1999: Seung-Hui Cho turns 15. He is under treatment for depression and an anxiety disorder, selective mutism. A good math student, he'll get into the college of his choice: Virginia Tech.

April 20, 1999: Two teens kill 12 fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado.

GLOBAL WARMING: GROWING EVIDENCE, PERSISTENT DENIALS

Aug. 30, 1990: A 75-nation United Nations panel of scientists and government officials says humankind is warming the Earth's atmosphere and calls for an international effort to combat pollutants that accelerate the "greenhouse effect."

June 28, 1991: Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger gets the keys to the first road-legal Hummer, a new civilian version of the military Humvee. The hulking vehicle gets about 13 miles per gallon.

June 1, 1992: In his book Earth in the Balance, Sen. Al Gore warns of ecological catastrophe and proposes a "Global Marshall Plan" for the environment.

June 14, 1992: At the Earth Summit in Brazil, 24 nations promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000.

Oct. 20, 1992: President George H. W. Bush calls Democratic vice presidential nominee Gore "ozone man" in an attempt to paint him as an extremist on climate change.

March 23, 1994: Eric Holdsworth, associate director of Global Climate Coalition, a group that represents manufacturers, says the fluctuation in Earth's temperature is natural and more study is needed to prove greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere will lead to global warming.

Feb. 3, 1995: A report by the Accu-Weather forecasting service finds no convincing evidence to support claims that hurricanes, tornadoes and other examples of extreme weather are increasing. Accu-Weather's Joe Sobel says that, despite warnings about the impact of global warming, "the data show that hurricane frequency is not increasing, the number of violent tornadoes is not increasing, and temperature and precipitation extremes are no more common now than they were 50 to 100 years ago."

April 7, 1995: Three years after Brazil's Earth Summit, few nations that promised to reduce greenhouse emissions are on target. "A shift in the world economy is required … a shift in consumption and lifestyle patterns," says Norway's environment minister, Torbjoern Berntsen.

HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL: POLITICAL DISASTER

Jan. 25, 1993: Five days after taking office, President Clinton appoints his wife, Hillary, to head the Task Force on National Health Care Reform — unprecedented authority for a first lady. The panel is to design a plan for a dramatically different health care system for submission to Congress by May.

Feb: 24, 1993: Three groups sue to force Hillary Clinton to open meetings of the Health Care Task Force to the public and news media. As the case drags on, it feeds the sense that the panel is elitist and secretive.

Sept. 8, 1993: A TV ad features "Harry and Louise," a fictitious middle-aged, middle-class suburban couple befuddled and dismayed by Clinton's health plan. The pair urge viewers to contact their congressional reps to express concerns.

Sept. 22, 1993: The president presents a health care plan to a joint session of Congress. "Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance," he says, "and one serious illness away from losing all their savings. … And over 37 million Americans — most of them working people and their little children — have no health insurance at all.'' The plan runs more than 1,000 pages and includes a controversial requirement that employers provide coverage to all employees.

Jan. 9, 1994: Senate Finance Chairman Daniel Moynihan, a Democrat and nominal ally of Clinton, says, "We don't have a health crisis in this country." He later admits to a "health insurance crisis" but says, "Anyone who thinks [the Clinton health care plan] can work in the real world as presently written isn't living in it."

Sept 26, 1994: Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell acknowledges the obvious: The health care overhaul is dead. Unacknowledged: The attempt to pass it has been politically damaging to the president and his party. Unforeseen: Democrats will lose control of both houses of Congress in November.

A DIGITAL REVOLUTION: CELLPHONES, LAPTOPS AND THE WEB

Dec. 20, 1990: British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who's proposed what will become the World Wide Web — using hypertext "to link and access information of various kinds as a web … in which the user can browse at will" — tests the world's first website.

Dec. 9, 1991: President Bush signs the High Performance Computing Act, sponsored by Sen. Gore, which funds and encourages development of the "information superhighway.''

Jan. 23, 1993: Mosaic is released. The browser vastly expands popular use of the Web. Funding for Mosaic development came from a 1991 federal computing bill.

May 26, 1995: Microsoft CEO Bill Gates issues the "Internet Tidal Wave" memo, calling Netscape, with its Navigator browser, a "new competitor 'born' on the Internet." The memo says Microsoft failed to grasp the Internet's importance and must adapt.

July 9, 1997: Apple CEO Gil Amelio is ousted after years of financial woes. Steve Jobs – Apple's co-founder who left after losing a power struggle and was brought back by Amelio as an adviser – becomes acting CEO and begins changing the product line.

Aug. 15, 1998: Apple introduces the iMac personal desktop computer designed by a team led by Jonathan Ive, who will work on the iPod and iPhone. The company, once nearly bankrupt, is profitable by year's end.

March 9, 1999: Gore says he "took the initiative in creating the Internet'' – a reference to his 1991 computing bill. He's ridiculed for the comment, commonly repeated as "I invented the Internet.''

Dec. 7, 1999: The Recording Industry Association sues Napster, a pioneering file-sharing Internet service that allows people to share music files. RIA alleges copyright infringement, part of a long-running argument: Who owns what in the Information Age.

Dec. 31, 1999: In 10 years, U.S. households with a personal computer have gone from 15% to 50%, and from 30% to 75% if the household had kids. Four years after the decade began, world information storage capacity has increased six times over what it was four years before the decade began.

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