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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Recap: 2012

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Now is the time of year that any self-respecting news organization publishes its "best news of the year" in high style with flashy graphics and an upbeat soundtrack. Unfortunately I neither have the time nor budget to produce a video for you, however, I will do my best to replicate the other aspects.
 I have compiled this list from my own musings, as well as with input from other reputable sources. I have tried my best to pick news events that happened on an international scale and that had exterior ramifications for not just the nation involved, but for the world on a larger scale.  This list is by no means extensive--many of you may feel that I arbitrarily picked my subjects--but know that I gave it my best shot. Also, the numbers are not a ranking scheme, but merely a way for me to stay organized; all these events were equally important.
            Thus, without further ado: the top 10 news stories of 2012 (if you want a soundtrack for this recap, have at it:  Soundtrack for 2012)

1. Egyptian Presidential Election & Constitution
            Of all the nations that rode the rollercoaster of emotions produced by last year's "Arab Spring," Egypt has been one of the most driven to define its own democracy. Enter Mohammed Morsi, a relatively unknown politician into the elections held in June of 2012. Despite the political shenanigans of the ruling Mubarak-era military junta, Morsi defeated the state-supported candidate and became Egypt's newest democratically elected president.
            For Morsi, the win was merely a jump out of the frying pan into the proverbial fire; the time had come for Egypt to write its constitution and the military-dominated Supreme Court was threatening to disband all legislative committees involved in the creation. Morsi feared that the courts could have gone further, writes Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University who’s an expert on Islam. The courts may have “declared the presidential election invalid as well, creating a constitutional coup d’état against the president.” Morsi passed a referendum placing himself above and beyond the current laws and jurisdiction of the courts, promising to rescind his powers once a constitution was passed. Extremely wary of such a dictatorial grasp at power, the constitutional committees quickly drafted and approved a constitution on December 26th.  The document is a rather shoddy protector  of civil liberties in Egypt, but is a solid step in the direction of full democracy.

2. Successful North Korean "Rocket" Launch

            As a government, North Korea has always been partial to dangerous pyrotechnic displays, and the new ruler Kim Jong Un is no exception. Ever since the nation completed its first nuclear warhead, the challenge for the Korea scientists has been to find a vehicle that will deliver that warhead around the world.
            On December 12, North Korea launched a rudimentary weather satellite into partial orbit above the earth atop a Unha-3 rocket. The nation insists that the launch had nothing to do with military objectives and was merely a scientific exposition. However, weapons experts in South Korea, upon analyzing the debris left by the rocket, stated that the launch was a test of North Korea's ballistic missile vehicle. “They efficiently developed a three-stage long-range missile by using their existing Rodong and Scud missile technology,” a senior military intelligence official said Sunday, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.
            If armed, this ballistic missile could at maximum reach any target within 6,000 kilometers of North Korea. However, before you worry, experts are unsure as to Korea's ability to weaponize the missile. Analysts doubt that North Korea has mastered the technology needed to make a nuclear bomb small enough to mount on a missile. If they do manage to miniaturize their warhead, the furthest target Korea could possibly hit would be Sarah Palin's home.

3. Russian Presidential Election
            Vladimir Putin has long been famed for his physique and feats of strength and valor. This year, it appears that the Russian he-man has strong-armed his way back into power as the president of Russia. After serving as the premier for his protégé Dmitry Medvedev, Putin switched places in the last election, taking the presidential title and choosing Medvedev as his premier. This is not the first time Putin has been president either: he previously held the position from 2000 to 2008.
            If you think something smells fishy, you are not alone. In the latest Russian election, not only did Putin win, but all candidates from his party either reclaimed seats or defeated opponents as well. This apparent election-rigging caused numerous protests from citizens and complaints from international watchdog groups. In response, the government has severely cracked down on dissension and contact with foreigners.  Russia has been down this road before; lets hope they remember the outcome in 1991.

4. Aung San Suu Kyi Elected
            In the CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) rankings for 2012, the nation of Myanmar (previously known as Burma) ranked as the third most corrupt government in the world. One woman however is attempting to change that statistic.
            Aung San Suu Kyi is the leader of the Burmese National League of Democracy (NLD), the opposition party in Myanmar's parliament. The NLD has a 59% majority in parliament for this session, for the first time in decades. Suu Kyi's election was a landmark because of all of the NLD candidates elected, she has been the most verbal, the most outspoken, and the most aggressive in pursuing sweeping reforms to Myanmar's faulty government. In the last election that she participated in, in 1990, she was placed under house arrest for twenty years, becoming one of the world's most noted political prisoners. This political prisoner however has now set out to change the system that imprisoned her.
            For all of her work, Suu Kyi was this year's recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor. Not only has she called for reforms within her own country, but also reforms around the world, making her a strong advocate on the international stage. For her courage and fortitude, world leaders have lauded her, including US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

5. Syrian Civil War
            It seems that there has been a news story from this conflict on the front page every day. The Syrian civil war is a bitter battle that shows no signs of coming to an end. What began as a mostly peaceful protest against dictator-president Bashar al-Assad in hope of reform has become a fight to the death between the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian government with innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. It is estimated that between 50,000 and 57,000 people have died in the fighting, with over 23,000 of those casualties being non-combatants.
            The war has spilled over into the nearby nation of Turkey on occasion as well, causing Turkish casualties and international ire. However, Assad was already in the proverbial international doghouse due to his regime's human rights violations. From mass executions to rigged juries, Assad is accused of numerous crimes against humanity. In a recent attempt to prevent further innocents being killed en-masse, the United States has deployed Patriot missile batteries to the Turkey-Syria border to deter Assad from firing his biological and chemical weapons on the Syrian rebels. Policy officials at the Heritage Institute note that Assad realizes that he is losing his grasp on his power. Assad recognizes the fact that it is only a matter of time before his end--and he will make sure to cause as much damage possible in his death-throes. As one man once put it, "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
           
6. Chinese Presidential Selection
            Of all of the transfers of power staged this year, the Chinese presidential selection promises to hold the most implications for the rest of the world. This year the elite political body that forms the core of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was reshuffled. The Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), as this body is known was announced to the world with new faces and a new organization. The number of seats on the PSC shrank from nine members to seven and included the names at the top of many speculative lists: Xi Jinping (President), Li Keqiang (Premier), Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.
            Cheng Li of the Brookings Institute says that these choices do not bode well for those who were hoping to see some political reform in China. "This Party congress has sent a very clear signal that this leadership is politically conservative." While in America, conservatives are considered the best choice for achieving political reform, in China, the selection of conservatives signals a maintenance of the dictatorial power exercised by the state so far, Li believes. However, Noah Feldman, a constitutional law professor at Harvard, thinks that the streamlining of the PSC and the overall willingness to change leadership shows promise for reform: "China isn’t on the royal road to democracy or to capitalism without major state direction. But in 2012 it reaped the benefits of its historic move away from dictatorship -- and in historical and comparative terms, that’s impressive enough."
            Like any election, we will just have to wait to see how things pan out for the governing body of China.

7. Israel-Gaza Conflict
            You might ask, what else is new? After all, it seems that the Israeli-Gazan fighting is always on the front page and is always considered a momentous event. Well, I'll admit that you are correct. However, I think that this issue deserves some attention, especially because of some of the new developments in that arena.        
            In August, a rash of rocket attacks by Hamas fighters spurred retaliatory attacks by the Israeli SDF; Israeli airstrikes, missiles, and artillery quickly struck back at the rocket launch sites. These airstrikes spurred only more rocket attacks by Hamas, and both sides found themselves in a tit-for-tat fight with the innocent populace caught and killed in between.
            The military tensions were only worsened when the UN granted Palestine observership status within the council, lending legitimacy to Palestine's cause. To make matters worse, new evidence surfaced that Yasser Arafat, beloved leader of the PLO, may have been assassinated by Israeli agents. Only causing more anger by Gazans was Israel's decision to continue the expansion of its Jerusalem settlements, encroaching on the border that Palestine claims.
            A ceasefire was finally reached in late November, but not before hundreds had died. This is one conflict where both sides seem to repeat their mistakes, and with great vigor. The old adage says that nothing new happens in the world--it is merely history repeating itself. The Israel-Gaza conflict proves that point perfectly.

8. EU Financial Crisis & Bailouts
            In the 2008 foreign film Slumdog Millionaire, one of the characters makes a rather astute judgment: "There are two reasons to make mistakes in this life: money and women." While promiscuity may not be a problem, money has certainly caused its share of troubles for the European Union and its Euro this year. The European financial problems of last year became the European financial crisis of this year, with several nations almost declaring complete bankruptcy. Greece, on the verge of financial collapse, even attempted to leave the failing organization in the hope that as a nation it could define its own economic freedom.
            Realizing the imminent threat of complete EU collapse brought about by not only Greece's wage woes, but also the troubles of Spain and Italy as well, German chancellor Angela Merkel quickly put together a bailout package. The Eurozone countries approved a 237-billion-euro rescue package for Greece, as well as for Spain and Italy. Economic officials at Bloomberg believe that while the bailouts did afford some slight benefit, the danger of defaulting on the debt still looms.
            On a interestingly related note, when the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) was published for 2012, the nations who received bailouts were found to have ranked 5 or 6 places lower than previously (indicating more corruption). Apparently money, as well as power, corrupts.

9. Attack on US Embassy in Benghazi
            The attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya that left 5 Americans dead, including ambassador J. Christopher Stevens has been called many things: a terrorist attack, a freak explosion of violence, a retaliation for the infamous anti-Muslim video published in the US. Finally however, we have answers: an independent inquiry as well as a congressional committee have both come to the conclusion that the attack was premeditated and carried out as a terrorist strike.
            As the New York Times reports, the independent report slams the “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” in the State Department’s bureaus of diplomatic security and Near East affairs that resulted in a “security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.” Problems with security, intelligence, and grasp of the situation plagued the Obama administration both during and after the attack. However, it seems that the administration is responding appropriately now. The Times goes on to note that "Mrs. Clinton accepted all of the panel’s 29 recommendations and has already begun to make changes."
            As to the mastermind behind the attack, FBI and CIA agents have questioned a suspect who was detained in Turkey, then extradited to Tunisia. Authorities have stated that Ali Harzi, a Tunisian, is "strongly suspected in the attack." It seems that finally answers are forthcoming in this deadly situation.

10. 2012 London Olympics
            The excitement and expectation began to build long before the first athletes moved into the Olympic village in July. On 18 May the Olympic Flame set down on British soil, beginning the torch relay that swept around the country and allowed everyone the opportunity to share in the occasion. Eight thousand inspiring individuals took part, from sporting legends such as Dame Kelly Holmes and fellow Olympian Sir Steve Redgrave to those nominated for their work in the local community.
            Athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees rose to walls and waves of sound as unprecedented levels of support inspired outstanding performances and records tumbled. On the track, Usain Bolt’s double triple (100m, 200m and 4x100 relay gold for the second time) brought cheers not only in the stadium, but also from his home nation of Jamaica.
            In the pool, Michael Phelps graciously rose from Olympic waters for the last time, taking an incredible 22 medal haul with him – 18 of them gold. And in the velodrome Sir Chris Hoy won his sixth gold medal to become the most decorated British Olympian of all time.
            The positive repercussions from hosting the Games will be felt across the UK’s capital for decades to come, thanks to the regeneration of the area and the legacy created by the state of the art stadiums and facilities such as the Velodrome and the Aquatics Centre. London 2012 was an Olympic Games that pervaded the boundaries of sport the world over, and is one that will not be quickly forgotten.
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           2012 has been an eventful year. We have lived, cried, laughed, mourned, celebrated, and remembered. Like any year, we won't get to live it again, but don't regret it in any way. There is no sense in saying "what if...;" just accept and live with what was.