Community Matters … A Year in Review (Part 1)

It’s that time of the year when people all over the Internet are writing their version of the ‘Year in Review’ … picking what they view as the most important news stories of 2011.

However, judging the most ‘important’ news stories is difficult because ‘important’ has many different meanings.  For some it might be the finale of Oprah Winfrey’s long-running talk show.  Others might choose Kim Kardashian’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it marriage as the most important news story of the year. Personally, I think to be considered important, the story must change the game – a story that redefines the world or shapes the future. In other words, an important news story needs to last longer than Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage.

In looking back over 2011, it has been a real year of changes. Below are my choices for the 10 most important news stories of the year, in no specific order:

  1. The end of the war in Iraq.  The nearly decade long war in Iraq finally ended and the last American troops marched out a few weeks ago. It’s the end of the war but what lessons were learned?  The most obvious one — war is deadly.  Over 4,500 Americans lost their lives and 32,000 wounded in this war.  Secondly, war is costly – the US spent $1 trillion on the war in Iraq. As with any war, were lessons really learned and will be remembered for the future.  One thing we do know – in terms of lives lost and dollars spent — the costs were enormous.
  1. The death of Steve Jobs.  The co-founder of Apple Computers, Steve Jobs was a visionary and his death leaves a permanent void in the technology industry.  Although Apple will no doubt continue to dominant the technology world into the near future, it is certain it will not be the same without their creative, thinking outside-of-the-box leader. The mastermind behind Apple’s iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac and iTunes – creativity and culture were changed forever by Job’s innovations.
  1. The assassination attempt of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Six people were killed in the shooting and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The violent assault by a mentally ill shooter represented an attack on the tradition of the great American town-hall meeting. But will the shooting of Gabriella Giffords have a lasting effect on civil discourse or change the tone of political debate – it may be too early to tell.
  1. The deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Muamar Ghadaffi. A lengthy effort by the US and NATO to overthrow dictators and eliminate terrorists was recognized in the deaths of Bin Laden and Ghadaffi.  Navy Seals shot and killed Bin Laden, the militant Islamist  and founder of al Qaeda who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. And with the death of Ghadaffi, there comes a new sense of hope and determination for democracy by the Libyan people. 2011 represents the end for two of the world’s most evil terrorists.
  1. The termination of the Space Shuttle program.  This year marked the bittersweet end to the Space Shuttle program that began in the 1970s. The end of the Shuttle program means the loss of 3,200 jobs but also marks the end of an era that many of us grew up with – 135 missions and the death of 14 astronauts killed in two separate accidents.  Although this chapter closing on the expensive ($200 billion) Space Shuttle program doesn’t mean the end for space exploration, it does represent a sadness in the harsh reality of budget cuts.
  1. The Arab Spring. The world was provided a front row seat to the sudden and explosive wave of pro-democracy protests and demonstrations in Tunisia,Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East through the use of social media technology.  Relying heavily on the Internet — Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, social protesting and its reporting was accelerated and seen around the world.  Empowered by the technology of the Internet, citizens took to the streets, demanding change for their vision of democracy.
  1. Occupy Wall Street.  Social media continued to deliver the news and gain in popularity as seen in the people-powered Occupy Wall Street protest movement that started in NYC but then spread to cities coast to coast.  Frustrated with high unemployment, financial collapse and the need for healthcare reform, the spontaneous Occupy movement protestors took to the streets to fight back against the 1%. Although the future of the Occupy movement, particularly during the winter months, is unknown, there is no denying that the movement has gotten the US and the rest of the world talking.
  1. Euro Meltdown.  The European debt crisis is in an unstable situation – smaller economies in the 17-member euro zone are hugely indebted to private banks in other parts of Europe, such as Germany. Bad debt originally got out of control in Portugal,Ireland,Greece and Spain. France and Germany have the biggest economies in the euro zone and they very much will dictate what happens in the future.  Ironically, the Germans are left to rescue their fellow euro zone members if Europe is to survive economically. If the European financial crisis continues, it will impact the US, further slowing our economic recovery.
  1. The continued downturn of US economy.  As the year comes to an end, one can draw the conclusion that it was another disappointing year for the US economy. A major drag on a speedy recovery in 2011 in the US was the housing market.  With many homes in foreclosure or bank-owned, real estate values are being driven downward.  But beyond the housing bubble burst, there are millions of Americans who want full-time jobs and cannot get a job. Manufacturing in the US is down as more jobs are out-sourced overseas, to low wage countries. And the euro meltdown could potentially drag the US down with it. There is a real fear that if the European financial market collapses,China may not be far behind – and were that to happen, will the US be next.

These nine news stories of 2011 are important and no doubt, there are many more stories that some would suggest are more important.  As I said, my news story choices of 2011 are not listed in any particular order of importance.

For personal reasons, the news story that has had the most impact on me in 2011 were the stories of sexual abuse of children.

  1. Child sex abuse cases The Philadelphia District Attorney handed down charges of sexual abuse and extensive cover-up of the abuse by Catholic Church priests. In early 2011, a second grand jury accused the Philadelphia archdiocese of failing to stop the sexual abuse of children more than 5 years after the first grand jury report had documented abuse by more than 50 priests. Once the story surfaced, we learned of several priests in our community on the ‘abuse’ list that were then relieved of their duties.

Sex abuse cover-up in religion versus sports – there is no difference as we witnessed this year. As with the Philadelphia archdiocese, the conspiracy of silence and cover-up to protect the abuser (not the victims) was witnessed again in the Penn State University scandal. Former coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually abusing a number of young boys over the years and Penn State officials (including head coach Joe Paterno) were forced out of their jobs because they were thought to have known about the abuse and did nothing to stop it.

I cannot imagine the courage it must take for the victims of sexual abuse to come forward.  These stories and other stories of sexual abuse anger me and I cannot understand how the young victims survive their tortured childhood — it is truly sad that there were no adults in their young lives who protected them. As adults, victims of childhood sexual abuse must live with their painful memories and these high-profile cases must have them reliving their childhood pain over and over.

These are my top 10 news stories of 2011 but there are so many other important stories, including the Japanese deadly earthquake and tsunami, Republican Party debates, the devastating Joplin, Missouri earthquake, Britain’s Royal Wedding, the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, and the East Coast earthquake, just to name a few more.

A Year in Review (Part 1) are my picks for the top 10 most important news stories of 2011.  My Year in Review (Part 2) choices will focus on local stories – picking important stories from Community Matters posts of 2011.

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