Most years go by in a blur of important events, and typically, few of those events are remembered by the end of December. That is not the case with 2011, especially for Egyptians, Americans, and many in the Middle East.
On May 1st, President Obama announced to the world that an Navy SEAL team had killed Osama bin Laden. While it’s somewhat morbid to rejoice in someone’s death, there’s no denying that the death of bin Laden gave many in the world a bit of closure. And just a few months prior, the world witnessed the people of Egypt take to the streets and demand the resignation of their leader, Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak resigned days later. In fact, the protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square inspired similar protests throughout the Middle East, including a civil war in Libya which resulted in the fall of its government. The spirit of the Arab Spring spread to the US, too as the Occupy Movement took to the streets by the thousands in cities across America, occupying streets and city parks, demanding attention to the income inequality in this country.
However, months before there was an Occupy Movement, tens of thousands of protesters surrounded the Wisconsin Capitol, and later occupied it, in protest of Governor Scott Walker and his attempts to strip unionized workers of their rights. By February 16th, the number of protesters in front of the Wisconsin State Capitol was estimated at 30,000. On February 23rd, Buffalo Beast editor Ian Murphy placed a prank telephone call to Gov. Walker claiming to be Walker’s billionaire supporter, David Koch. Over the course of the 20-minute call, Walker repeatedly admitted to strategies that many considered to be ethics violations. The Society of Professional Journalists condemned the Buffalo Beast, calling its actions “underhanded and unethical”.
2011 also brought us the repeal of US military’s 18-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Now, gay and lesbian service members are allowed to serve openly. Then, on December 15th, the flag used by US forces in Iraq was lowered, marking the end of a war that left 4,500 Americans and 110,000 Iraqis dead at a financial cost of more than $800 billion. On December 18th, the last convoy of heavily armored US troops left Iraq, crossing quietly into Kuwait in the final moments of a nine-year war.
The year did start off on a tragic note, with the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8th. Six other people were killed that day. Though the story of Congresswoman Giffords turned an otherwise tragic event into one of the best stories of perseverance and determination. By April, her doctors reported that she was making great progress. She was even cleared to travel to Florida to watch her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, take to space in his final Space Shuttle mission. Then, on August 1st, she made her first public appearance on the House floor to vote in favor of raising the debt limit ceiling.
The spring of 2011 was a difficult one. On March 11th, Japan was hit with a powerful earthquake and a devastating tsunami followed, claiming the lives of nearly 20,000 people. In the US, tornadoes ravaged the southeast. During a four-day period from April 25th to the 28th, more than 200 tornadoes touched down in five states. The deadliest day was April 27th, when 316 people died, mostly in Alabama and Mississippi, from 122 tornadoes. On May 22, Joplin, Missouri was hit by an EF-5 tornado that swept through the heart of the city, destroying over 75% of the town and killing 160 people. The death toll from this year’s tornadoes were so high that they tied for the second highest number on record. By summer, wildfires dominated the weather headlines. The worst was in Arizona, which also saw a number of huge dust storms in the fall.
The economy was still a big part of the news in 2011. Congress debated a new budget, and we almost witnessed a government shutdown in the process. Along with all this bickering came the nation’s first credit downgrade by Standard & Poor’s. The outlook for the American economy is still a bit bleak, as joblessness remains at record highs. But it wasn’t all bad news. The American auto industry made a big comeback in 2011, just two years after being all but left for dead. Record hirings and profits lead the way and officials announced plans to spend $380 million to expand facilities, adding more than 1,200 more jobs by 2013. In fact, all three major US automakers are increasing investment US manufacturing and hiring more workers.
A key point of contention in Washington this year was the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, an issue that I’m sure will continue to dominate the news in 2012. But it wasn’t just the US economy that struggled in 2011. Toward the end of the year, problems across Europe began pilling up and spinning out of control. In Athens and Rome, a looming recession created panic on world markets. Reports emerging from Brussels said that Germany and France had begun preliminary talks on a break-up of the eurozone, amid fears that Italy would be too big to rescue. Markets around the world wondered what the fate of the Euro was, and currency prices plummeted.
On a lighter note, on April 27th, President Obama released his long form birth certificate, proving once and for all that he was in fact born in the US…well, to most people. Still, some hard right-wingers and conspiracy theorists claim it’s a fake. One thing we can all agree on (I hope) is that on April 29th, Prince William married Kate Middleton in the biggest Royal Wedding since Charles and Diana.
However, on another sad note, Apple founder Steve Jobs died of cancer on October 5th. Not before he brought the world a new iPhone, iPad, and Mac OS X though. His legacy stands and his ideas and creativity have forever changed the way everyone uses technology.
Other key events of 2011 included Casey Anthony being found not guilty of murder, manslaughter, and child abuse in the 2008 disappearance and death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee. Rupert Murdoch’s media empire crumbled a bit as public backlash over claims of phone hacking and other illegal tactics mounted. On October 20th, Moammar Gadhafi, Libya’s dictator of 42 years, was killed as revolutionary fighters overwhelm his hometown of Sirte. On December 18th, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s leader, died of what was described as a massive heart attack.
2011 also saw the death of the bookstore chain Borders. A casualty of bad management, slow adaptability, and the emergence of the eBook revolution. With it’s closing also went another 11,000 jobs. We also witnessed the end of the 30-year-old space shuttle program when the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed for the last time at Cape Canaveral, FL on July 21at. And in an event that is sad to some, Oprah aired her last episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” on May 25th.
As we close the books on another year, I wish all of you a Happy New Year! May 2012 bring you everything you desire, and may the Mayan calendar thing turn out to simply be a case of not having enough space to keep writing….