Best & Worst of 2011 - News & Politics

Again, am not pretending I generated this list on my own. What I have done is surveyed many of the top news organizations (The New York Times, BBC, Reuters, Time Magazine, etc.) and merged their picks into a single list.  Isn't it convenient to have all this in one place?
  1. The Race for the Republican Nomination.  I understand the tendency of memories to be short but, really, can anyone remember a slate of such "colorful" characters? Michelle Bachman, the loony Tea Party candidate.  Ron Paul, the libertarian.  Romney, the milquetoast Mormon from Vermont.  Herman Cain, the Pizza king.  Donald Trump, he of the gopher-fur hairpiece. Santorum and his internet search issues.  Huntsman, too qualified to be qualified.  Gingrich, the man who practically defines "vainglorious".   Even my Republican friends are shaking their heads in disbelief.
  2. Earthquake/Tsunami in Japan.  A record 9.0-magnitude quake hit Japan, wreaking unimaginable calamity (more than 10,000 dead, miles of coastline villages gone) and perhaps a bit of hubris - turns we humans were really rather stupid to think that if we strengthened our building codes, we could outwit Mother Nature.  And we don't know yet what long-term damage will result from the compromise of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
  3. "Arab Spring".    Citizens from Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, and Libya rose up. Of course, each country had its own set of unique, complex circumstances and craved its own particular kind of freedom. Yet the domino effect, amplified by social networking, made the Arab Spring appear to be a collective revolt. Some, like Egypt and Tunisia, quickly effected astonishing change, from riot to election. Others followed a more typical, protracted conflict -- some with the death of a leader (Mohamar Ghadafi), others with no end in sight (Syria).
  4. Death Comes to the Dictators.  All in all, 2011 was not a good year to be a dictator.  After 10 years of searching, the U.S. Marines finally located and assassinated Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in his (not so) hidden compound in Pakistan.  Meanwhile, in Libya, Mohamar Ghadafi's people took the business into their own hands.  And in North Korea, "natural causes" did what madness couldn't, finally removing Kim Jung-Il from power. "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't" - or so goes the old saying - but I for one am having a hard time imagining devils as bad as these guys.
  5. The U.S. Recession Continues.  The U.S. continued to struggle with unemployment rates that hovered around 10% - and that didn't include an extra 3%  economists suspect of having given up looking for new jobs entirely.  For the first time ever, Standard & Poors actually downgraded our nation's creditworthiness.  And then Congress really scared us by delaying until the last possible moment upping the U.S. debt limit, thus belaying the first ever default of the U.S. on its debt.  Meanwhile, house foreclosure rates accelerated, having hit a bottleneck at the beginning of the year due to legal issues related to a "robo-signing" scandal.  While cities like D.C. remained relatively unimpacted (lucky us!), cities such as Detroit, Vegas, Ft. Myer, Youngstown, and Phoenix continued to experience devastating job and quality of life losses.  
  6. Occupy Wall Street.  Possibly inspired by that old cult hit Network ("We're as mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore!"), people camped out in the financial districts of cities across the U.S., demanding financial equity for the "other 99%" of Americans.  Though some news outlets tried to paint the "occupiers" as the flip side of the Tea Party, thus far the movement has not managed to generate the cohesive philosophy and list of demands that has made the Tea Party such a formidable political force.  Maybe it's the whole "camping out" thing ... it's hard to be a taken seriously as a political force when you haven't shaved or bathed in a week.
  7. Continuing Financial Crisis in EU.  The EU continued to struggle with financial instability triggered by the impending bankrupcy of several of its members (Portungal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain - aka "the PIGS").  As Germany frantically negotiated rescue plans and covered failing loan after loan, folks in Greece did their part by rioting against the governments' attempt to implement austerity measures.  Though Germany has managed to solve some currency fluidity issues and to stabalize matters for the time being, no one believes the end of this crisis is in sight.
  8. Withdrawal of U.S. Troops from Iraq.  Obama ostensibly delivered on his promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, though the decision ultimately rested on practical rather than philosophical considerations.  The new Iraqi government wouldn't agree to exempt U.S. soldiers from prosecution for civil crimes, raising the spectre of U.S. soldiers thrown into Iraqi prisons for accidentally wounding or murdering Iraqi citizens in the course of military actions.
  9. The Joplin Tornado.  The most deadly tornado in almost 60yrs killed over 100 people, left another 500 injured, and essentially levelled Joplin, a town of 50,000 people.  In these days of Doppler radar and warning sirens, seems incredible that tornadoes are still capable of wreaking such destruction.  But then, weren't we just talking about hubris and the stupidity of anyone who thinks that humans are capable of out-engineering Mother Nature?
  10. 10th Anniversary of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks.  The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was observed with appropriate ceremony and gravity.
  11. Marriage of King William & Kate Middleton.  Thanks goodness, the sensible bride and groom forewent most (though not all) of the "fairy tale" trappings that made his father's wedding to Di such a spectacle.  But anytime you tie the knot in Westminster Cathedral, it's bound to cause a stir.
And just to be thorough, here are some of the "runners up" that appeared on various lists but that I didn't think warranted top billing. Turns out one of the benefits of creating your own list is that you get to pick what goes on it.
  1. States vs. Unions (Wisconsin and elsewhere)
  2. Shooting of U.S. Representative Gabriella Giffords
  3. Dominique Strauss-Khan scandal
  4. Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by U.S. military
  5. Anti-Putin protests in Russia
  6. Iran's continuing nuclear ambition
  7. Last launch of the space shuttle (covered in more detail under "Top Science News of 2011" entry)

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