If you asked me at any point during 2013 what kind of year I thought it was, I would have said lousy. From a personal perspective it was trying to say the least. Perhaps the brightest spot for me was fulfilling my 2012 New Year’s resolution of launching the new, improved iBrattleboro site on schedule in February 2013 thus marking the site’s 10th anniversary with a decided upgrade. That felt good. But personal issues aside, 2013 was an unusually mixed year with surprising news both good and bad. First the bad.
The Boston Marathon bombing was a depressing incident through and through and while we may never know what really happened there, we can be sure that things like that will happen again. This year saw a continuation of random shootings, in malls, workplaces, and other typically safe places that seemed to pick up steam last year with the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Perhaps in time we’ll become desensitized to such events but not yet.
Some strange and troubling protests were carried out last year, both ending in death. A man immolated himself on the Washington Mall this year fall, dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. This is not the kind of thing we expect here in America, the world’s oldest democracy. Around the same time, a DC woman tried to pay the White House a visit by ramming into the barrier with her car. Police caught her blocks away and shot her to death, despite the fact that she was unarmed and had her child in the car with her.
So-called healthcare reform was rolled out this year with a seriously malfunctioning web site that left a lot of potential insurees frustrated and annoyed. Then a bunch more people found that the insurance policy they thought they could keep had been cancelled because it did not meet the standards of Obamacare. I predict that next year’s health care reform woes will relate to our sudden realization that subsidizing millions of people into market rate private health insurance plans is expensive.
Fukushima contines to be an environmental tragedy and there is starting to be evidence that radiation from the stricken nuclear plant is affecting wildlife in the Pacific and on the West Coast. The latest of these reports declared that over twenty bald eagles suddenly died in Utah. Not a big deal, I suppose — it’s only our national bird and the emblem of our democracy.
Yet here in Vermont, Entergy pulled the plug on our own local nuke, rather without warning, having fought off a law suit just last year aimed at closing the plant. Apparently, they wanted to shut down on their own terms. To some, this is a positive thing for the area, getting rid of the spectre of an aging and leaky nuclear plant just down the road. But for others, it’s all but the beginning of the end and predictions range from serious loss of home values to the death of local mom and pop businesses.
In another surprising turn of events, the United States did not go to war against Syria, despite its best efforts to do so. Outfoxed by Russian premier Vladimir Putin, a chemical disarmament agreement was hammered out that prevented the U.S. from commencing hostilities. So far, there have been no further chemical attacks in Syria and dismantlement of their chemical weapon stocks seems to be moving along quickly.
Marijuana legalization efforts made gains this year, culminating with the decision by the voters of Colorado to simply legalize the stuff and be done with it. Their tax rate on recreational cannabis is steep at 25% but judging from the lines on opening day, people were not deterred. The state of Colorado stands to make a bundle on this which leads one to believe that legalization in other states cannot be far off.
The big story this year, however, topping them all in its life-changing, mind-altering scope, was the NSA domestic spying program revealed in June by whistleblower Edward Snowden. The jaded among us may continue to claim that “we already knew”, but I don’t think we knew all that. And while it’s somewhat depressing that no one seems to care (the most common reason being “I have nothing to hide”), I’m still not convinced that most people would like a permanent file containing every medical, education, finance, spending, telephone, search engine, social media, and email record we’ve ever generated retained by the federal government in perpetuity just in case we step out of line at some point in the future and become the target of government scrutiny. Or maybe we do.
2013 was not our brightest year by a long shot, but it contained more than a few positive surprises, from the success of diplomacy in Syria to the shocking revelations of the Snowden affair. Such surprise events embody change — hopefully, a change for the better.
Happy 2014, everyone!