News Column

2012: Top Stories of 2012

Dec 19, 2012
Olympics

U.S. politics, the London Olympics, economic developments in the United States and Europe and the unrest in the Arab world topped the news in 2012.

As the year draws to a close, the U.S. presidential election that saw Barack Obama triumph over Republican rival Mitt Romney was in the history books but the raucous partisan wrangling that marred the campaign promised to remain a staple in the year to come.

The campaign saw an unprecedented level of outside money funding largely negative commercials, many with outright misstatements that were repeated despite objections from fact-checkers.

Voters largely decided on the status quo, leaving the White House and Senate in the hands of Democrats and the House under the control of the GOP, setting up two more years of partisan bickering.

By year's end, Republicans were examining their approach to voters to try to determine how to expand their appeal to give them a shot at the White House in 2016.

Team Great Britain, on its home turf, made its best showing at an Olympics since 1908, taking home 29 gold medals, behind 46 for the United States and 38 for China.

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps boosted his Olympics medal take to 22 (18 gold) and teammate Ryan Lochte angled for spots on the television reality shows "Dancing with the Stars" and "The Bachelor."

The London Summer Games were marked by controversy as well as feats of athleticism. Olympics officials withdrew the women's shot put gold medal won by Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus because of a positive drug test for a banned substance.

The ghost of Olympics past reared its head with the disqualification of four 2004 gold medalists for doping. India, which won six gold medals, was suspended for failing to comply with the Olympic Charter. And Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas told talk show host Oprah Winfrey she felt bullied while training in Virginia Beach, Va., and demanded a switch to a coach in Iowa. As the year came to a close, the sports world eyed Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The economy weighed heavily on people's minds as the U.S. recovery seemed to stall and Greece threatened to pull down the euro as its debt crisis refused to resolve. International economists predicted Asian economies, led by China, were poised to overshadow the U.S. and European economies.

As the end of the year approached, U.S. politicians argued over whether tax cuts adopted during the administration of President George W. Bush should be allowed to expire and draconian spending cuts should be allowed to kick in and perhaps drag the economy back into recession.

In Europe workers, fed up with government austerity measures designed to shore up borrowing power, took to the streets, demanding cuts in benefits and government services be rescinded. Not just Greece sought help from the rest of the European Union. Ireland and Spain lined up for help and Italy's government toppled as it fought to avert disaster. At year's end, Britain and Japan teetered on the brink of recession.

The Arab Spring dawned in 2011 with hopes of more freedom throughout the Arab world but by the close of 2012 Syria was mired in civil war and the gains initially won in Egypt appeared threatened. Fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad raged throughout the year in Syria where the United Nations has pegged the death toll upward of 40,000. The fighting threatened border areas of Turkey and Lebanon as well, with Turkey seeking NATO Patriot missile batteries to protect itself and pro- and anti-Assad forces squaring off in Lebanon.

In Egypt, newly elected President Mohamed Morsi enraged Egyptians by issuing decrees reminiscent of the toppled regime of Hosni Mubarak and the junta that took over afterward. Demonstrators once more flocked to Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest the government and demand the president's resignation.

U.S. efforts to prop up the nascent regime in Libya led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stephens. By year's end Republicans in Congress were demanding a full investigation of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

In Asia, hopes the regime in North Korea led by Kim Jung Un would chart a new course and rejoin the community of nations faded with the successful launch of a ballistic missile, part of the North's effort to develop a nuclear warhead delivery system capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast. The North remained belligerent despite both threats and offers of help.

Elsewhere in Asia, Myanmar's decades of isolation came to an end with a successful round of elections that saw democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi not only free from years of house arrest but elected to Parliament.

Terror attacks continued in Iraq and Afghanistan as U.S. troops and allied forces prepared to exit the latter. By year's end the United States and the Karzai government were still wrangling over terms under which a token U.S. force would remain in the war-ravaged, corruption-plagued nation.

Another story that demanded the spotlight through the year was Iran's nuclear program. Diplomats hoped tightened sanctions would put enough economic pressure on the Islamic Republic to force its leaders to abandon their efforts. By year's end, however, Iranian leaders were as defiant as ever, insisting they had no intention of developing nuclear weapons despite the increasing number of centrifuges put into operation and the continuing enrichment of uranium. The United States and its European allies were insisting there was time for a diplomatic solution but Israel was chafing for action to put an end to Iran's ambitions.

The U.S. Supreme Court handed Obama a surprise victory on healthcare reform, declaring the individual mandate constitutional under Congress' taxing powers. The high court also stood behind its Citizens United ruling, which opened corporate coffers to fund political campaigns, striking down a Montana law that outlawed such funding for state elections. By year's end, the court was poised to hear arguments on whether laws against same-sex marriages were constitutional, whether provisions of the Voting Rights Act had outlived their usefulness and whether affirmative action can be part of a college admissions policy.

Two months after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, parts of the Northeast still were reeling from the superstorm's effects. New York alone was seeking $80 billion in reconstruction help from the federal government. The storm, which was not quite as powerful as Hurricane Katrina, hit a much more densely populated area than Katrina, affecting some 60 million people. Climate change advocates pointed to Sandy to bolster arguments something must be done about global warming.

In a horrific act in a horrific year for domestic terrorism, a mentally disturbed young man, Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, stole her guns Dec. 14 and slaughtered 20 children and six adults at an elementary school before killing himself in a scenic town in Connecticut, barely a hour from New York City. The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown defied description. It was the second worst shooting at a school in U.S. history, behind only the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech in which 32 people died.

And the incident wasn't isolated.

On July 20, a former University of Colorado doctoral student opened fire on an audience watching "The Dark Knight Rises," in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people. The suspect was identified as James E. Holmes. At year's end, he was awaiting trial but his actions had yet to be explained.

In August, Wade Michael Page opened fire on those inside a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six people. He was shot to death by police. In Brookfield, Wis., a man shot up a spa where his wife worked, killing her, two other women and then himself. In Portland, Ore., a masked gunman opened fire on a mall filled with Christmas shoppers, killing two people before killing himself.

The sheer number of incidents led President Obama to call for "take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." The remark was taken as a call for gun control.

George Zimmerman awaited trial in Florida for the shooting death of an unarmed 17-year-old Feb. 26. The case drew outrage across the nation because the youth was black and Zimmerman is not.

Police initially refused to charge Zimmerman under the state's stand-your-ground law. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, said he had acted in self-defense. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate and a grand jury subsequently indicted Zimmerman for second-degree murder.

And the year saw a number of notable deaths: former Sens. George McGovern of South Dakota and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, former presidential aides Nicholas Katzenbach (Kennedy/Johnson) and Charles Colson (Nixon), conservative journalists Tony Blankley and Andrew Breitbart, Rodney King, whose 1991 beating by police triggered rioting in Los Angeles, Indian activist Russell Means, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk and the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, former head of the company that owns United Press International.

In the entertainment world, impresario Dick Clark, actors Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, Chad Everett and Larry Hagman, and singers Whitney Houston, Etta James, Donna Summer and Davy Jones; in sports, former Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, Pro Bowler Alex Karras and baseball executive Lee McPhail; in science, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, organ transplant pioneer Joseph Murray and TV remote inventor Eugene Polley.



Source: Copyright United Press International 2012


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