After a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ravaged Haiti on Jan. 12, the smell of death hung in the air and clung to the rocks. With the capital of Port-au-Prince just 16 miles east of the epicenter, mountains of rubble filled the streets and surrounding areas after the quake, which killed more than 220,000. The 300,000 injured faced another disaster: Hospitals collapsed and besieged doctors amputated scores of arms and legs, sometimes without anesthesia.
Aid groups battled a quake-torn runway to deliver relief supplies, while some Haitians sought higher help: At one makeshift tent city, Christians huddled to sing hymns and pray while aftershocks rumbled.
Could things get worse? In October they did. More than 2,000 Haitians died from a cholera outbreak, and riots erupted over rumors that UN peacekeepers brought the disease from Nepal. Presidential elections on Nov. 28 turned chaotic, and nearly a third of the leading candidates called for new contests.
By year's end, workers had removed only an estimated 2 percent of the rubble in Port-au-Prince. And more than 1 million Haitians remained homeless.
Go away, Guantanamo
One year after President Obama signed an executive order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, the deadline to do so came-and went. The prison still holds 174 detainees from the war on terror, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. The president has acknowledged that at least 75 of the prisoners must be detained indefinitely, and Congress blocked funding for transferring those detainees to the United States. The latest blow to Obama's plans for civilian trials came with the Nov. 17 verdict for Ahmed Ghailani, whom a federal jury acquitted of all but one of 285 charges related to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in 1998-a relatively light ruling that may undermine public support for further civilian trials of terrorists, confessed or otherwise. The Bush administration transferred 550 detainees out of Guantanamo; the Obama administration by the end of 2010 had transferred 66.
Ted Kennedy was the Democratic Senator from Massachusetts for 47 years, and when he died in 2009, Democrats nominated state attorney general Martha Coakley to run for his seat. It was to be a perfunctory special election. Coakley polled well ahead of her challenger, Republican state legislator Scott Brown, until just over a week before the election. Then Coakley paved the way for Brown's stunning victory with gaffe after gaffe-going so far as to call former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling a Yankees fan. President Obama, stumping for Coakley, joined in, mocking Brown's pickup-a GM truck Brown drove all over the state. "Anyone can buy a truck," said the president. When Brown won, his truck became an emblem of Democrats' disconnect, and Brown became the 41st Republican in the Senate, ending the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority.
Brown's win shook Democrats' plans for passing healthcare reform. With Republicans warning that it was a repudiation of the bill already passed in the Senate, Democrats instead of revisiting healthcare forced House Democrats to take up the already-passed Senate version of the bill.
By tradition at year's beginning, all three branches of the federal government convene in the House chamber to hear the president discuss the State of the Union. The evening usually rivals the Oscars for the amount of clapping and acting by the lawmakers, but Supreme Court justices traditionally form a stolid line on the front row. That changed Jan. 27 when President Obama called out the justices, disagreed openly with their recent verdict on a campaign finance case, and urged Congress to pass a bill "that helps to right this wrong." Democratic lawmakers rose to their feet in applause, while Justice Samuel Alito, no longer unmoved, shook his head and mouthed the words "not true." But don't expect a sequel: Alito in October said of a 2011 rematch, "I doubt I will be there. We have to sit there like the proverbial potted plant . . . and that's sometimes very hard."