With January having arrived it’s fitting to pause for a moment and glance back upon the year just passed.
Lord knows 2012 went out kicking and screaming as the ominous “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations in Congress dragged on through the first day of 2013.
So much for Ho-Ho-Ho.
This less than dignified conclusion was indicative of 2012 as a whole.
It was a year filled with CHAOS.
People struggled as times remained hard. The American economy has been in the dumps since around 2003. So while President Obama tried urgently to stimulate our economic condition, entering his fourth year in office unemployment remained widespread, jobs were sparse, the housing market was soft, and consumer confidence was weak.
There was little to indicate what might emerge to improve the situation.
This uncertain backdrop set the stage for the 2012 presidential election.
The Republican primary lasted into the spring before Mitt Romney mercifully secured the nomination, and returned the likes of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain to the shadows.
The general election was the equivalent of a pro-wrestling steel cage match. Usually these races don’t heat up until August or September, but Obama and Romney were up in each others’ faces by late spring and the animosity never waned.
It took Obama through the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 to recognize he would have to get down in the trenches if he wanted to win re-election, but once he got dirty he took Romney to task and never gave the man a chance to breathe.
After Romney wrote off “47 percent of Americans,” told us about his “binders full of women,” and generally dismissed minority and middle class voters, Obama secured a crushing victory in the Electoral College.
But the outcome remained in doubt well into election night, because statistically it was a dead heat. This campaign tugged at the very fabric of America, with half the country pulling and tugging against the other half.
In terms of news coverage the election was the story of 2012.
Obama had stopped the blood loss caused by Bush and Cheney, and had the country moving in the right direction. You either believed in the “Affordable Care Act” and that the recovery should flow through the middle class, or there was Romney’s vision for America, that saw the wealthy being taken care of first, corporations second, and the belief that increased revenues would trickle down to the rest.
Considering how fragile the economic recovery has been up to this point, a Romney win could have crippled the United States for generations to come.
Again, THANK YOU Bill Clinton for your speech!
Interestingly, with the immediacy of social media, an ancillary benefit to the presidential campaign was that it functioned somewhat like a “feedback” feature on a Web site – both candidates raced to respond first to anything that happened domestically or internationally, as neither wanted to misjudge what might register with voters.
This gave people a voice and the chance to get direct feedback from the two guys at the top of the food chain. Unfortunately there was plenty of grief needing to be discussed
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So a chaotic economic situation, paralleled by an aggressive brand of partisan politics kept America on edge for most of 2012. That is one kind of chaos. Now let’s take a look at another – violence. For in 2012 violence grabbed headlines month after month right along with the presidential campaign.
Whether man-made or Mother Nature, both cut a wide path of pain and destruction through the year. I suppose there may still be a few holdouts that question whether climate change and global warming are real, but those holdouts have dwindled as extreme weather events and dramatic temperature shifts have become the new normal.
Locally, a cluster of tornadoes hit Morgan, Johnson and Lawrence counties in the eastern portion of Kentucky on March 2, packing winds of up to 140 mph and killing 23 people. The town of West Liberty was reduced to rubble.
This was an extreme weather occurrence, but a more subtle atmospheric condition began to take shape around the same time. The 2011-2012 winter was one of the mildest in recent memory. There was limited snowfall, so once spring arrived there was insufficient snowmelt to feed our water system.
This mild winter then turned into the warmest year on record. The 2012 North American Drought covered 80 percent of the contiguous United States with at least abnormally dry conditions. It’s not sexy, but the overall economic impact is on track to become one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Two huge hurricanes provided an ironic bookend to the drought.
First, on August 28, the eve of Hurricane Katrina’s seven-year anniversary, Hurricane Isaac blew into the Gulf Coast, packing sustained winds of 80 mph, a storm surge of 11 feet, and damages of $2.3 billion; nine people were killed.
Two months later, on October 29, right before Halloween and the Presidential Election, came Superstorm Sandy. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, spanning 1,100 miles, from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Wisconsin, impacting 24 states.
At its peak intensity Sandy was a Category 2 hurricane. It decreased to a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane force winds by the time it came ashore around Atlantic City, NJ. Sandy remained plenty potent as it brought sustained winds of 110 mph, with gusts of 140 mph, and a storm surge of 13 feet, that flooded streets, tunnels and subways.
At least 253 people were killed along its path in seven countries, and damages are estimated to cost over $65 billion. Areas in New York City, particularly Queens and Staten Island, along with the coastal regions of New Jersey were hit the hardest.
Sandy was the second most costly hurricane in U.S. history next to Katrina.
Then, on Christmas Eve a powerful winter storm dumped 15 inches of snow across Arkansas, leaving more than 200,000 residents without power into the new year. Up to 20 inches of snow fell in the Adirondacks of New York, and 7.5 inches in Indianapolis. Nationwide at least 17 people were killed as a result of this storm.
Interesting how many extreme weather records have been set over the last few years; coincidental, probably not.
We as people are ultimately responsible for much of this destruction.
We might not have pulled the trigger, Mother Nature provided the storms, but we continue to build in places that were never intended for development and are susceptible to natural disasters; we allow corporations to pollute our lands and waters, which erodes valuable eco-systems that were intended to protect our coastlines; and we pump millions of metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly, warming our land and seas.
Out of an insistence for convenience, to cut costs and maximize profits, we disrespect our environment and our fellow man. As a consequence, recently, nature has been striking back at humanity with a great vehemence.
An even more disturbing brand of violence on display in 2012 was the prevalence of human-on-human carnage.
Abroad, Syria’s civil war claimed the lives of approximately 39,520 people in 2012, with no let up in sight. This was a hotly discussed topic in the presidential election, as officials are estimating a possible 100,000 people could die in 2013.
In Afghanistan another 295 U.S. troops perished.
A continuing headline that also made for a hot potato topic in the presidential election was the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11. Four Americans died, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Two incidents from 2011 that remained headline news were adjudicated in 2012.
On June 11, Jerry Sandusky, the 68-year old disgraced former assistant football coach at Penn State was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts against him, and sentenced to 30-60 years in prison as a serial child molester.
Additionally on August 24 Anders Behring Breivik was found guilty for his murder spree in Norway. Breivik, 33, bombed government buildings in Oslo on July 22, 2011 killing eight, then carried out a mass shooting at a Workers’ Youth League camp, murdering 69 people, mostly teenagers, and injuring 242. Breivik was sentenced to a term of 21 years with the possibility of extension for as long as he is deemed a danger to society.
Disturbed Ph.D. student James Eagan Holmes entered public consciousness on July 20, when he opened fire at a midnight screening of the new Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises,” in Aurora, Colo. Dressed in tactical gear, Holmes, 25, deployed a smoke device to obscure the vision of those in the theater, then killed 12 people and injured 58 others. Interestingly Holmes allowed himself to be taken into custody, so perhaps we will gain a glimpse into why this mass shooting transpired.
On August 5, Wade Michael Page, 40, a white supremacist, shot congregation members at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six people and wounding four. Page was shot by police and then took his own life.
This was followed by Jeffrey T. Johnson, 58, who killed a former co-worker outside the Empire State Building in New York City on August 24. Stray bullets wounded nine bystanders as police fatally shot Johnson.
There were others that grabbed smaller headlines: Four were killed in an Atlanta day spa in February; seven killed at a Oakland religious college in April; five killed at a Seattle coffee shop in May; and six killed at a Minneapolis sign company in September.
This all set the table for the horrific massacre on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., when Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother at their home, then entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 children and six adults before killing himself. This was the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
Fear not, there was still time to squeeze in one more barbaric shooting episode before year-end.
In Webster, NY, on Lake Ontario Beach, four fire fighters were ambushed on Christmas Eve, leaving two dead while responding to a call. Gunman William Spengler, 62, intentionally set fire to his home and car in order to lure the first responders. Seven homes were destroyed before Spengler killed himself.
Add to this that Chicago witnessed 506 murders in 2012; the first time since 2008 it had exceeded the 500 mark. This was a 16-percent increase over 2011, much of it the result of gang violence.
I still think the presidential race took top honors for story of the year nationally due to its long-term implications, but the blatant disregard for human life was a close second.
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In the discouraging yet not terribly surprising category comes the flaming downfall of celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong. Accused of doping after recovering from testicular cancer and winning an improbable seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999-2005, Armstrong denied using banned substances, but in June the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency issued a lifetime ban against Armstrong for his use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs. In October the Union Cycliste Internationale agreed by disqualify all of Armstrong’s results after August 1998.
Again, not shocking, but what a fall from grace.
There were positives in 2012:
Here in the Bluegrass State, home to one of the greatest traditions in college basketball, we were treated to the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville both making the Final Four and playing each other in a historic clash. Kentucky won that game 69-61, and went on to win its eighth national title in April, and first for head coach John Calipari, with a 67-59 win over the Kansas Jayhawks in New Orleans.
Celebrated UK center Anthony Davis broke the record for blocked shots by a freshman, and led the NCAA in blocks. As a result Davis received every major honor possible in college basketball, including: First Team All-American; Freshman, Defensive and National Player of the Year honors; and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
On June 28 Davis was selected first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets, followed by UK teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the No. 2 spot. No single college team had previously delivered the overall No. 1 and No. 2 picks. Then in July Davis was selected as a member of the USA’s soon to be gold medal Olympic basketball team.
That was a pretty sweet freshman year, and enjoyable to watch, as were the London Olympics in July and August. England was visually stunning and NBC did a great job of providing coverage. Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin ruled the pool; U.S. women’s gymnastics won gold; Usain Bolt defended his gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4×100; and Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh took gold for the third time in a row in beach volleyball, along with an epic closing ceremony made the London Olympics a must watch.
This was good stuff – positive. Obama winning, that was a positive step, a sign, that there was a will to take action and make our collective tomorrow better than today.
In the midst of all the ugliness came encouragement, and that was something I was looking to find, because my personal number one event of 2012 was my daughter, Isabella Naomi Langley-Wilson being born in April.
She is a sweet soul, with a smile that warms my heart. I can’t imagine life without her. Her mom, Maia, has been a blessing to me and the baby – and her two boys, Gabriel, 9, and Jacy, 8, have been so great with their new little sister.
Fatherhood is its own special brand of chaos, but one I welcome. Instantly I’m less cynical and more optimistic about the state of the world, and am actively seeking out leaders who are willing to take bold, innovative, and positive steps forward.
We need change. It might be scary for some. The unknown tends to be that way, but I want to do whatever I can to ensure the world is better off tomorrow for my daughter.
This was a contentious year for many reasons, ugly and violent, so I’m happy to pull the covers over 2012, tuck it into bed and say goodnight, for I am ready for a new beginning and hopefully a more peaceful 2013.