The deaths of over 220,000 in an island nation already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere make Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake the biggest news story of the year. The quake left over 300,000 injured and about 1 million homeless. Cleanup in the dysfunctional state has been slow and chaotic. By year's end, workers had removed only 2 percent of the rubble in Port-au-Prince, and a cholera outbreak had killed more than 2,000.
2. Resurgent GOP
Republican gains throughout the year started early with Massachusetts state legislator Scott Brown's dramatic come-from-behind victory in a January special election for the Senate seat held for 47 years by Ted Kennedy. They gained steam with boosts from the grassroots Tea Party movement, which culminated in an Election Day rout, when the GOP gained 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives-giving Republicans the most seats (242) they've held in over 60 years. Republicans picked up six U.S. Senate seats for a total of 47. Less noted but also of significance: GOP gains in state legislatures. With 680 seats gained nationwide, Republicans now control 25 of 50 state legislatures-and on the eve of overseeing congressional redistricting following the 2010 census.
Pro-life Democrats in Congress became the decisive votes in passage of a healthcare reform bill many fear will lead to an expansion of taxpayer-funded abortions. The bill to more or less nationalize healthcare, described as President Obama's top priority during his first year in office, took more than a year to craft and pass-yet few lawmakers were fully aware of its far-ranging implications. "We have to pass the [healthcare] bill so you can find out what is in it," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., memorably told officials during a National Association of Counties event on March 9. What was in it, among many other things, was a mandate to purchase health insurance, something a federal district judge in Virginia ruled unconstitutional in December.
4. The end of combat operations in Iraq
Over seven years after the invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, and over 4,400 combat casualties later, the last U.S. combat unit pulled out of Iraq in mid-August. What remain are a handful of noncombat brigades and 4,500 U.S Special Forces. But the day after the 2nd Infantry Division left, bombers and gunmen killed at least 55 Iraqis and wounded hundreds in nearly two dozen coordinated attacks across Iraq. Targeted attacks of Christians, too, increased after the pullout, with about 58 killed in an al-Qaeda-linked siege of a church in Baghdad in October.
5. Recession over
In September the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) issued an official finding that the recession for the U.S. economy officially ended in June 2009. That was news to Americans still stuck in the bowels of unemployment or with houses worth less than their mortgage. The NBER also noted that it was the longest U.S. recession since World War II. With household discretionary spending at a 50-year low and credit card debt down as well, retailers were rewarded with a more robust holiday shopping season that echoed the end-of-recession news.
6. Gulf oil spill
A nighttime explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20. Eleven men died in the blast. Rescuers evacuated the remaining 115 workers from the rig-nearly 50 miles off the coast of southern Louisiana. But the Gulf itself was harder to rescue: Workers for BP-the company leasing the rig at the time of the explosion-spent 87 days trying to stop the oil gushing 5,000 feet below the surface at a peak rate of 62,000 barrels a day. The worst offshore oil spill in history produced a swirling oil slick the size of Delaware.
7. Iceland's volcano
In April, an Icelandic volcano with a near-unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajökull) erupted for the second time in less than a month, forcing hundreds to flee rising floodwaters but more noticeably sending a cloud of ash across the Atlantic that forced the cancellation of flights to and from Europe, stranding thousands of passengers and crippling transatlantic trade. It was the worst disruption of transportation since World War II.
A fresh wave of smartphones and the April debut of Apple's iPad ushered in a new way of relating to the internet-for what would by year's end became 7 million users of iPads alone. It, together with the growth of social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, led analysts to conclude that the web is dead. "One of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open web to semiclosed platforms that use the internet for transport but not the browser for display," wrote Wired's Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff.
9. Death and persecution in Afghanistan
Ten humanitarian aid workers were killed in Afghanistan in August, which was also one of the three deadliest months of the year for U.S. combat casualties there. Militants murdered the civilians-six Americans, a German, a Brit, and two Afghans-in a remote northern area. The Taliban later took responsibility for the attack. The deaths highlighted two trends: a growing shortage of civilian-led development in the country due to the prolonged insecurity, which threatens any postwar transition, and the rise of persecution of Christians. In December Pope Benedict XVI, in a 17-page message, called the lack of freedom to worship an "intolerable" threat to world security, and he lamented that Christians suffer more religious persecution than any other group. "It represents an insult to God and to human dignity," he wrote.
10. Chilean miners
Why end a top 10 list with news of 33 miners rescued from a remote mine shaft in the high Atacama desert of Chile? First, because it was a dramatic story of hope in a year of unprecedented disasters. Second, because the ingenuity and fortitude of the South Americans-those who survived 69 days underground as well as the above-ground crew that managed a never-been-done-before rescue 2,300 feet below the earth's surface-is part of a larger tableau. In it the global south is rising on multiple fronts above its northern neighbors. Consider that Chile in February suffered one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history (estimated damage at $30 billion), and by the second quarter of the year its economy was growing at an annual rate of 5 percent-a 2010 rate well above economic growth rates in the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Russia.
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