As 2012 comes to an end, we're all scrambling to nationally recollect the top ten events of 2012. Yes, there were the London Olympics, the Giants winning the World Series and a myriad of other sporting events, plus a long-awaited royal wedding. But both international and domestic politics reigned the airwaves, dominated conversations, and were tweeted millions of times over. Ready or not, here are the top ten events of 2012, in no particular order:
10. Unsurprisingly, more money was spent in the Presidential election of 2012 than ever before. It is the shot heard around the world every four years. But this year, we at least had new phrases, legal rulings and new names to toss around. This was the first presidential election following the 2010 Citizens United SCOTUS ruling, and it shows. We had plenty of dark money nonprofits, and unsatisfied with PACs, we added SuperPACs to the fundraising mix. In most races, at least those we pay attention to on the national level, it seemed as if candidate mistakes, unfounded absurdities, and more unfounded absurdities, overrode the power of money when it really mattered. Not to mention ignoring huge blocks of voters, like women and Hispanics.
9. One might argue that this is a science story, but one would be wrong: The story of SpaceX’s Dragon, the first private spacecraft to reach the International Space Station and berth there, is a business story rather than a science feat. It's also a government contract story, and therefore a political story. Dragon proved it could make the trip in May of this year, and then this fall began making commercial flights. California’s SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) is under contract with NASA to provide supply services to the Space Station - 12 flights for a minimum of $1.6 billion. These flights are robotic - no humans needed - but SpaceX is hoping to bring astronauts on board as well.
8. Here’s another “are you sure this is not a science story?” story: the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been out of service since January of this year and many residents of Southern California, where the plan is located, are hoping it stays out of service. Residents in the area fear more leakage, possible explosions, or worse. Yet others feel the opposite, and that the plant provides necessary “clean” energy and jobs in the area. SoCal Edison, the plant’s owners, want its operation maintained, even though it shut down one of the three original reactors in 1992.
7. The November 6 elections grabbed more than one spot in our Top Ten: same-sex marriage amendments succeeded in three states (Maryland, Maine and Washington) and a same-sex marriage ban was defeated in Minnesota. The elections were part of a watershed change in American attitudes towards same-sex marriage. Until now, voters had turned down every attempt at marriage equality at the state level (Arizona rejected a same-sex marriage ban in 2006, only to reverse itself in 2008 and approve one). Where gay and lesbian couples have previously won marriage rights, they did so because of actions taken by judges or legislators, not voters.
6. The Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act on June 28. Chief Justice Roberts, surprisingly, was the swing vote in the 5-4 decision that sustained “Obamacare.” As Adam Winkler, professor of law at UCLA writes, “Had Obamacare been voided, it would have inevitably led to charges of aggressive judicial activism. Roberts peered over the abyss and decided he didn't want to go there.” Neither liberals nor conservatives are entirely pleased with this law, but now that the uncertainty of its legal status is gone, we all await 2014 for full implementation. (One of the best detailed explanations of the ACA, free of political spin, can be found on the Lexington (KY) Business site).
5. Many Republican controlled states, those states with Republican governors and statehouses elected primarily in 2010, added new barriers to voting for their citizens, mostly by writing new voting ID laws. Describing these new measures as a way to prevent voter fraud - even though proponents of such voter suppression legislation have failed to show that voter fraud is a significant problem anywhere in the country - they tend to affect voters who usually vote Democratic. Older citizens, students and people of color appeared to be most vulnerable to these new requirements. Studies suggest that up to 11% of Americans lack the kind of identification these new laws require. Fortunately for voters in these states, many of these laws were reversed, postponed or ruled unconstitutional or in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
4. The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman on Feb 26, 2012 was more than just another shooting of a young African-American man. The circumstances of the event, the initial decision of local police to not charge Zimmerman, and the role of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, drew international attention and nation-wide demonstrations. Once arrested, Zimmerman was freed on bail but was later ordered back by the judge in the case, after the court deemed Zimmerman a flight risk and that he and his wife had misrepresented their finances at an earlier court hearing. Zimmerman's bail was upped to $1 million.
3. Ok, certainly a story about weather is a science story? Well, bring global climate change into the article and boom! It’s politics! July 2012 was the hottest month on record. Summer 2012 was the third hottest ever. And this year is likely to be the hottest year of all time. However, it was the bizarre super storm Sandy that clobbered the East Coast this October - a storm whose likes have never occurred before - that should be ringing your bell, opening your eyes, and maybe get you thinking that “there just might be something to this global climate change stuff.” If you don’t already, of course. The discussion seemed to die pretty quickly, though.
2. The November elections were obviously one of the Top Ten events of 2012: President Barack Obama was reelected to a second term, Democrats strengthened their majority in the Senate and Republicans maintained control of the House, although they lost seats. While Obama won 2 fewer states than in 2008, his reelection seemed certain as the election drew closer for those who looked at the nonpartisan polling with rose-colored glasses. Those who thought that data somehow failed to be predictive spent part of Election night arguing with their friends on Fox News.
1. Gun violence is unfortunately a never-ending American story. This year, besides the day-in and day-out single shootings, we had mass death in Aurora, 12 dead there, and now at the end of the year, 26 dead in Newtown, including 20 children. It's too soon to even hope, but maybe this horrific morning on a grade school campus will be the impetus for major changes in laws dealing with gun sales, registration, background checks, magazine limits and banning automatic weapons. And whatever else can fix this sociopathic American addiction.
0. This is the tough one - and our bonus to you. The year is not over. The elephant in the room is, of course, the Fiscal Cliff. Or the Fiscal Curb. Or however else you might comprehend the deal that may or may not be cut before 2012 bites the dust - which is the result of the deal that was cut earlier to pass a budget. Hey, if you want to cut deals, make them real deals - quit kicking the can down the street. It’s a can, maybe a bucket...no, wait, kicking the bucket is different. And we’re not making a bucket list, either, although if we did...we’d put “fix government” on that list.
Probably have to wait for 2013 for that.