Friday, December 30, 2011

The 10 News Stories of 2011 You Shouldn’t Have Missed

10 global events we were all intrinsically part of.

What makes an event memorable? How does a “happening” sear into our collective mindset and take up permanent residence in our hearts and in our souls? Most often, of course, we are not personally there to witness or directly experience occurrences of global importance.

How many of us were in Cairo’s Tahrir square as protests raged earlier this year?

Who among us lost a loved one or ate radioactive food in Japan, or suffered pangs of hunger in East Africa?

In our media-saturated world, memorable events – indeed memories themselves – are delivered to us via an increasingly wide range of words and pictures, bits and bytes, accounts that stream to our attention, some touching us for a moment, some for a lifetime. Here’s a look at our Top 10 (in no particular order), with links to the stories and accounts that made them indelible to us.

1. March of Horrors: Japan’s Suffering

A tsunami generated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of northeast Japan killed nearly 20,000, caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and triggered a nuclear power plant disaster that unleashed radiation into the environment. Within hours, videos of the unimaginable waves crushing the Japanese shoreline flooded world consciousness via YouTube and other Internet outlets.

2. The Harder They Fall: Arab Spring

Beginning with a small demonstration in Tunisia that grew to topple a regime, flames of unrest spread to Egypt, ousting dictator Hosni Mubarak, and then to Bahrain and Yemen. Eventually Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi would be dead, and even today, Syrian protesters remain caught in a bloody battle with dictator Bashar al-Assad. Did social media enable and perhaps even spark these events?

3. European Disunion: Economic Crisis in the E.U.

The global economic downturn wreaked havoc in the European Union where austerity measures in Greece resulted in riots and protest, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi was driven from office, and measures taken by Germany and France exacerbated an ongoing fissure between the E.U. and Britain. Meanwhile, disagreement about how to avoid a catastrophic meltdown flared across the Atlantic, as opinions about what to do remained as numerous as there are pundits and stakeholders.

4. Wanted Dead: American Operation Kills Osama Bin Laden

In May, American helicopters bearing a special operations team raided a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, whose followers carried out the 9/11 attacks. Within hours his body was buried at sea, and images of the corpse suppressed. Instead, a powerful and now-famous image of White House personnel – including president Barack Obama and Secretary of state Hillary Clinton – remotely watching the mission was made public.

5. The Fruit of Invention: The World Mourns Loss of Apple Founder Steve Jobs

The world lost some great minds to cancer and health issues as 2011 wore on, including writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens and Czech playwright, dissident and politician Vaclav Havel. But, despite the sense that “it was coming,” the loss that seemed to most deeply move our high-tech world was that of innovator, inventor and Apple Founder Steve Jobs. As news of his death spread across the internet in October – in part via millions of his own inventions – biographer Walter Isaccson’s iBio hit the presses, eventually to set new sales records.

6. From Wall Street to Main Street: Occupiers Take a Stand

Beginning with a September protest in a New York City park near Wall Street, what became known as the “Occupy” movement quickly spread to many major American cities and beyond. The “leaderless” protests are said to represent “the 99 percent” against the richest 1 percent of Americans, who benefit from corporate and political corruption and greed at the majority’s expense. In November, images of a campus police officer at the University of California Davis pepper-spraying students went viral over the internet, instantly becoming a rallying point for the movement.

7. Us vs. Them: Obstructionism Paralyzes Washington

Despite being fractured between party traditionalists and Tea Partiers, a Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives shackled the hands of Democratic President Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Senate. On issues ranging from the economy to the environment, American leaders reached a seemingly endless stream of stalemates. Most notably, the President unveiled a massive jobs bill that was labeled dead-on-arrival by members of both parties. The New York Times commented on the political gamesmanship, and EcoSalon presented the many rifts dividing America.

8. Weather, Weather Everywhere: Climate Change Marches On

With drought in Texas, killer cyclones in the Philippines, and monster floods in South America and Thailand, 2011 was another year in what seems like an annual escalation of climate change and severe weather. Perhaps the most wrenching weather-related disaster was the return of drought to the Horn of Africa. Data continues to show the impact humans have on the world’s climate, yet deniers continue their war on science. In October, EcoSalon named names.

9. We are the World: All 7 Billion of Us

As the human population reached the 7 billion mark (with 3 billion more projected by the end of the century), debates about resources and birth control reheated. Can our planet sustain such exponential growth? In its inimitable way, National Geographic gave us the story in pictures.

10. Ask and Tell: End of Anti- Gay Military Policy in the American Armed Forces

After 18 years of controversy, the Pentagon repealed its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in September. After encouraging those who have been expelled under the policy to reenlist, President Barack Obama declared: “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” An MSNBC story covered a historic kiss.

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