It seems to me…
“History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.” ~ Ambrose Bierce.
While there was much in 2013 that was memorable, it was a year like most years and nothing occurred I would consider exceptional (though only through the perspective of time can we be sure). For me, it was a busy year and I personally was able to complete only a relatively small percentage of the tasks on my list from a year ago. One book was published; the draft of another completed. Deployed to more disasters than would like (even one is too many). Still, for me it was a very good year.
Everyone has their list of what they consider to be the most important news items of the previous year. Granted it reflects my biases; everyone’s list is different and there isn’t any expectation anyone will totally agree with what I consider as highlights of the past year. Therefore the following list is offered only for your consideration.
- U.S. Government Shutdown
The U.S. federal government entered a shutdown and curtailed most routine operations on 1 October 2013 after Congress failed to enact legislation appropriating funds for fiscal year 2014. Regular government operations resumed October 17 after an interim appropriations bill was signed into law. During the shutdown, approximately 800,000 federal employees were indefinitely furloughed and another 1.3 million were required to report to work without known payment dates.
A “funding gap” was created when the two chambers of Congress failed to agree to a continuing appropriations resolution. The Republican-led House of Representatives, offered several continuing resolutions with language delaying or defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly known as “Obamacare”) considered unacceptable by both the Senate and President.
It is estimated by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget that the 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government cost taxpayers about $2 billion in lost productivity and slowed fourth-quarter economic growth by from 0.2 to 0.6 percentage points. While it would nice to think our elected representatives have learned the importance of cooperation as a result of their actions, it is doubtful this will prove to be true.
- U.S. NSA Prism Program
A cache of top secret documents were leaked by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden beginning on 6 June 2013 revealing operational details about the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and its international partners in their efforts to implement global surveillance of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. PRISM, only one of several programs, is a classified electronic data mining program, operational since 2007, that collects stored Internet communications accounting for 91 percent of the NSA’s Internet traffic acquisitions and is the primary source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.
The NSA reportedly could unilaterally access data and perform “extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information[i]” with examples including email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats (such as Skype), file transfers, and social networking details. U.S. government officials have defended the program by asserting it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant, that it has helped to prevent acts of terrorism, and that it receives independent oversight from the federal government’s executive, judicial, and legislative branches – something the program’s critics strongly question.
While the program possibly violates the U.S. Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, it also raises the broader question of limitations to further erosion of personal privacy rights. It is likely there will be considerable discussion throughout the coming year as to appropriate limitations on surveillance and under what circumstances those activities can be conducted.
- Iran Nuclear Deal
The Iranian government has very sufficient justification for suspecting the credibility of the U.S., Great Britain, and other western powers. The Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown on 19 August 1953 by the United States and Great Britain effectively reinstating the Shah as the nation’s absolute monarch, who heavily relied on United States support to hold on to power until he was overthrow in a coup on February 1979. The U.S. never acknowledged its role in the conflict until August of 2013. Now, hopefully, a thaw in the relationship of distrust might be possible.
The United States and other western powers believe Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon through uranium enrichment but Tehran says its intentions are peaceful and that its work is aimed instead at power generation and medical research. Western countries led by the United States have imposed years of crippled sanctions on the Iranian economy in an effort to force Tehran to curb its nuclear program.
The deal struck in November between the world powers and Iran calls for Tehran to limit its nuclear activities in return for a relaxation of those sanctions. The deal; strongly opposed by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the area; has been widely hailed as a successful interim measure to stave off an unwanted conflict over Tehran’s illicit nuclear program.
The deal, which only is intended as a first step toward a more comprehensive nuclear pact, to be completed within six months, freezes or reverses progress at all of Iran’s major nuclear facilities. It halts the installation of new centrifuges used to enrich uranium and caps the amount and type of enriched uranium that Iran is allowed to produce.
Iran also agreed to halt work on key components of a heavy-water reactor that could someday provide Iran with a source of plutonium. In addition, Iran supposedly accepted a dramatic increase in oversight including daily monitoring by international nuclear inspectors.
There remains some disagreement over the terms of the agreement as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said, “Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before”.
Any change in the relationship between Iran and the U.S. and its allies could significantly change the political dynamics in the Middle East as Iran has been a primary supporter of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups in the region.
- Nelson Mandela Dies at 95
Very occasionally someone appears with the charisma to lead a nation and show to the world that peaceful demonstration is an effective alternative to force and violence. Nelson Mandela shared that ability with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and a very select group of other leaders.
Mandela was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the state, sentenced to life imprisonment, and served over 27 years in prison but freed in 1990 following an international campaign seeking his release.
He was many things during his life including an anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, philanthropist, and South Africa’s first black chief executive elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism, poverty, and inequality and fostering racial reconciliation. He was awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize along with F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s previous president, for work in peacefully ending the apartheid regime of their country.
- New Pope Selected
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church. The latest (and 266th) Pope, Pope Francis has been known throughout his life both as an individual and as a religious leader, for his humility, his concern for the poor, and his commitment to dialogue as a way to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths.
While there has been insufficient time to fully ascertain what if any changes to the Catholic Church will result, many people hope for reform of the Roman Curia and changes to the Catholic Church’s doctrine on various controversial issues. He symbolically has chosen simpler vestments more in tune with a modern simplistic design.
He has written about his commitment to open and respectful interfaith dialogue as a way for all parties engaged in that dialogue to learn from one another. He has on numerous occasions visited the churches, shrines, and temples of other religions; many of whom consider him a friend and attended his installation mass as Pope.
While Pope Francis is conservative in his views on sex and women’s roles within the Church, he is more open and accepting than with many past policies issued by his predecessors. Though he has restated his support of those policies, he also has refused condemnation of those with different opinions. Where he will lead and what changes will result should become increasingly clear this year.
- Super Typhoon Haiyan
Typhoon Haiyan was an extremely powerful tropical cyclone that devastated the Philippines and other portions of Southeast Asia in early November 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record killing at least 6,166 people just in the Philippines. It unofficially also is the strongest typhoon with the highest wind speed ever recorded at landfall.
Many political leaders and climatologists have connected the typhoon to climate change. Climatologists have published analyses correlating the increasing intensity of storms such as Haiyan with the progression of global warming.
Without substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, average global temperatures are expected to increase by from 2°F to 11.5°F by 2100 – at least twice as much as it has during the last 100 years – with some parts of the world projected to experience larger temperature increases than the global average. The intensity of Atlantic hurricanes (as well as other similar meteorological events) is likely to increase as the ocean warms. Climate models project that for each 1.8°F increase in tropical sea surface temperatures, the rainfall rates of hurricanes could increase by 6-18 percent and the wind speeds of the strongest hurricanes could increase by about 1-8 percent.
- Boston Marathon Bombing
Two bombs exploded at 2:49pm EDT during the Boston Marathon on 15 April 2013 killing 3 people and injuring an estimated 264 others. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over the investigation and three days later released photographs and surveillance video of two suspects who were identified as Chechen brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev whose family had immigrated to the United States as refugees around 2002.
During the ensuing manhunt involving thousands of law enforcement officers, an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) police officer was shot and killed and another MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) police officer was severely injured but survived. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother, died and Dzhokhar was subsequently captured though severely wounded.
The brothers supposedly were motivated by extremist Islamic beliefs and that the bombings were “retribution for U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq” though Islam may actually have played only a secondary role in the attacks with sympathy towards the political aspirations in the Caucasus region and Tamerlan’s inability to become fully integrated into American society being the primary impetus for their actions.
The bombing resulted in death and injury to the largest number of people attributed to a terrorist attack within the U.S. since 11 September 2001. It should serve as a reminder that regardless of security precautions, additional events of this type will occur again in the future.
- Egypt Army Ousts President Mursi
Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president was removed from office by members of the Egyptian military on 3 July 2013 who also suspended their Constitution and installed an interim government presided over by a senior jurist.
This was the second time in less than three years, following their ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, that the military has intervened in the overthrow of their government. Though the military stated they had no desire to rule, their return threatened to cast a long shadow over future efforts to fulfill that previous revolution’s promise of a credible civilian democracy.
The U.S. has long supported Egypt’s military, supposedly about $1.3 billion in U.S. aid this year, but congressional legislation requires the U.S. to suspend assistance to allied militaries certified to having overthrown democratically elected governments. The nature of the U.S./Egyptian relationship along with Egypt’s cooperation with Israel have yet to be fully determined but definitely could have significant consequential affects throughout the region.
- China Moon Rover Lands on Moon
On 14 December, China became only the third nation to complete a successful soft landing of a space probe on the moon in nearly four decades. The solar-powered rover is intended to study the structure of the lunar crust, soil, and rocks for at least three months. China plans to open a permanent space station in the Earth’s orbit around 2020 and send an astronaut to the moon soon after.
Shortly after the last manned U.S. expedition to the moon on 14 December 1972, someone asked when I thought the U.S. would again send someone to the moon. Being very discouraged by what I considered extremely wrong decisions and total lack of appreciation for the opportunity we had at the time, I somewhat sarcastically replied that while I did not know when, I did know what I thought we would find when we did go back: Chinese. It is very likely I was correct.
- Affordable Care Act
Over three years after it was signed into law, major provisions of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly called the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or “Obamacare”, went into effect. The ACA was enacted with the goals of increasing the quality and affordability of health insurance, lowering the uninsured rate by expanding public and private insurance coverage, and reducing the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government. Together with the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, it represents the most significant regulatory overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Even with the expansion of healthcare coverage, the measure leaves major gaps in coverage to the uninsured and falls short of the advantages of single-payer plans available in most other nations. Still, it does represent a step in the right direction.
This list could be much more inclusive but these items represent my selection for the year’s highlights. While I will not be able to respond to everyone, please let me know what you believe deserves to be on the list or why you disagree with my selections.
May 2014 be all you could you could hope for the New Year to be…
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Greenwald, Glenn; MacAskill, Ewen. The Guardian, 6 June 2013.