2011 has been THE year of partisan politics and class conflict. Whether you stand to the left or right, Congress’s 84% disapproval rating can attest to the general frustration with politicians. While a lot of good and bad things have gone down this year, I’m going to narrow it down to the ten that I think were the biggest and are mostly likely to haunt us in the asking-for-an-apocalypse new year.
10. NASA Space Shuttle Program Ends. This was the last year that NASA would ever conduct manned space missions to the moon. After 30 years of travelling to orbit in sweet rocket planes, we’re left wondering exactly what the future will hold for NASA. Originally, NASA was to produce the next generation of space shuttles, but economic turmoil caused the Obama administration to scrap that idea. In its place NASA now seeks private partners to help fund and operate future missions into space. Or maybe not. Looks like time will tell.
9. Republican Caucus Shuffle. The Republican primary, which officially begins next week, began early this year. While I’m not an expert on Republican primaries, it feels like the conservative electorate tried on every politician. Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Hermain Cain, and Newt Gingrich lead the race while Romney stayed the default number two. Now, Iowa is looking more an more like it could go either way as Gingrich fades, Ron Paul does his wild card act, and Rick Santorum starts to grow in the polls. Whatever the case, now that real votes are on the line the game of musical chairs is over.
8. Nuclear Disaster: Japan. In march of this year Japan experienced a massive 9.0 earthquake causing tons of damage and creating a tsunami so strong we noticed it in California. That same tsunami turned into an unstoppable wall of water that carried away carts, boats, houses, and people. While it’s difficult to say that any one aspect of the disaster is the worst part, the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis may be the longest lasting. Even today, entire towns are displaced by the 20-mile parameter the Japanese government now maintains outside of the defunct power plant. Like Chernobyl, the area may become a no-man’s land for decades.
7. Occupy Everything. On September 17th some crazy folks decided to get together an protest our financial industry. The protestors, who were initially ignored by the media, stood the test of time. While the movement hasn’t always been on message or clearly defined, it did make us take a look at the way we deal with protests and how much we love pepper spray. Though their news share seems in decline, Occupy has managed to survive the first few months of winter. Whether or not the movement remains relevant and translates that message into actionable goals(a liberal Tea Party?), it can’t be denied that it was important.
6. The Arab Spring. Last December Mohamed Bouazizi, a man without a job in northern Africa’s Tunisia, tried to sell vegetables without a license. When police seized his cart he decided to protest by setting himself on fire. Mr. Bouazizi later died of his wounds. Amazingly, this simple act sparked an entire country to protest and, in January, oust its president. And the news spread like wildfire, awakening an entire generation to the possibilities of non-violent protest. While questions remain about elections in Egypt and how Syria handles its own protestors, it’s clear we’ll be feeling the effects of this for years.
5. Death of Kim Jong Il. The undisputed dictator of the world’s #1 rogue state passed away this month. North Korea has a lot of unique qualities that make speculation provocative. It’s the last Cold War era nation on earth, one of the only total police states, and a nuclear power. And some signs indicate that Kim Jong Il’s successor, Kim Jong Un, may take the same road as his father. North Korea has already promised to avoid negotiations with South Korea, a country it is still officially at war with. And given that Kim Jong Un is in his late 20s, we could be looking at another 50 years of bad relations.
4. SOPA & Protect IP. In a surprise move, Congress decided to try to outlaw the internet late this year. The Stop Online Piracy Act and it’s congressional doppelgänger aim to give the Department of Justice the power to block/disable internet sites suspected of having copyrighted material. In response to the prospect, tech giants like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have risen to the challenge of protecting a free internet… or at least their own livelihoods. Which may have been a good call given the problems GoDaddy has had with its wavering stance on SOPA. Originally slated for early December, critical votes on this issue have been pushed back until early 2012.
3. Debt Ceiling Crisis. In one of the worst displays of partisan politics congressional Democrats and Republicans couldn’t come to an agreement about how much money we can barrow. It’s important to note that the argument wasn’t actually about increasing our debt limit, which has been raised more than a hundred times before, but about how much spending the government can do in the longterm. Congressional Republicans argued for a guarantee that the government would cut programs in exchange for passage of a new limit. This culminated into legislation calling for a twelve-person “Super” Committee and a downgrade of U.S. credit. Good thing that Super Committee thing worked out so it wasn’t a huge waste of time.
2. European Banking/Debt Crisis. Europe decided to get in a peeing contest with our own financial problems by hosting its own sovereign-debt-crisis-chain reaction this year. The government-killing banking crisis’ in Greece and Italy forced out both countries prime ministers and created protests. Both countries, which also have ridiculous unemployment and large blocks of public employees, have been forced to accept the demands of the European Union (especially Germany) to earn the big euro bailouts to stay afloat.
1. Carbon Emission Deathcloud. As we pointed out in November, we’re running out of environment to break. Carbon emission jumped a record 6% between 2009-2010 and some environmental watch groups are now throwing out old worst-case projections because they aren’t extreme enough. So now some projects say we have until 2015 to decrease our emissions before all of the methane in the arctic evaporates and sends us into an environmental tailspin.
Oh, Anthony Weiner and Osama Bin Laden happened this year too. See you in 2012.