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Friday, December 28, 2012

Under Reported Stories in 2012 Or Censorship by Corporate Media

10. Florida’s Voting Fiasco

Anyone out of diapers at the turn of the millennium remembers the month-long saga that closed the 2000 Presidential election. A major recount dispute in Florida delayed the outcome of the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, ultimately forcing the Supreme Court to step in and effectively decide the winner. During the 2012 campaign, with the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney neck and neck for much of the fall, there was fear that a close tally might precipitate “another Florida” and throw the electoral process into chaos.
In the end, President Obama won enough electoral votes elsewhere for Florida’s tally not to affect the result. And a good thing, too, because the final numbers didn’t come out in the Sunshine Sate for four days. On Saturday, Nov. 10, the Associated Press finally declared Obama the winner of Florida’s 29 electoral votes. But by that point, the rest of the nation had moved on. It was a bad year for Florida’s electoral procedures in general, as Gov. Rick Scott sough to purge non-citizens from the state’s voting rolls, leading to lawsuits and counter-suits by citizens who were erroneously disenfranchised. Early voting was also a mess, with people waiting in line foras long as nine hours and then there were long lines on election day as well. But since Florida did not prove decisive in 2012, the rest of the country, thankfully, could turn their focus elsewhere.

9. Asian Saber Rattling

This was a busy year in Asia, especially China, which witnessed a once-in-a-decade transition of power as the leadership of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee changed hands. Meanwhile, China’s military took big strides (symbolically, at least) by unveiling the country’s first aircraft carrier, a refurbished vessel bought from Ukraine in 1998. The Chinese Navy’s new flagship may be a bit creaky and outdated, but its unveiling has shifted the strategic calculus in a part of Asia where three of the continent’s strongest economies — China (which continues its ongoing territorial spat over Taiwan), Japan and South Korea continue to bear deep and long-lasting grudges against each other.

hose issues blew up this year in the East China Sea, where China and Japan went toe to toe over ownership of a string of tiny islands known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands and in China as the Diaoyus, and rights to the potential oil deposits in the surrounding waters. Japan engaged in a similar spat with South Korea over the Takeshima Islands, known in Korea as the Dokdo Islands. Although neither quarrel devolved into a full scale conflict, the tensions came as President Obama sought to shift U.S. foreign policy focus to Asia, which included training deployments of Marines in Darwin, Australia. Disputes over the islands have been going on for decades, but with the rapid rise in China’s military and the Obama Administration’s intended shift of strategic focus on the Pacific region, this could be a story to watch in 2013.

8. Puerto Rico: The 51st State?

In addition to voting for their government representatives on Nov. 6, Americans around the country also got to vote on a series of referendums and ballot initiatives, from legalizing gay marriage to reforming California’s “three strikes” penal code to decriminalizing marijuana in Colorado. But in Puerto Rico, residents voting for governor also got to express their opinion on the island’s status as a U.S. territory. Fifty four percent of voters said they were unhappy with the status quo, and of the 1.3 million voters who answered the question about what options they’d prefer — statehood, sovereign free association or independence — 61 percent said they’d like to become America’s 51st state.

While Puerto Ricans have before expressed support for changing their governing status, the November referendum was the first where a majority voted for U.S. statehood. At the moment, Puerto Rico is a self-governing U.S. territory whose residents are U.S. citizens. They can serve in the military and elect a non-voting Congressional representative. Statehood would seem to make sense, as there are now nearly a million more Puerto Ricans in the U.S. than on the island. The poll is not binding, however, and it’s unlikely that Puerto Rico will become a state anytime soon. In order to become a state, Congress would have to pass a statute admitting it; the last time that happened with Hawaii in 1959, more than 90 percent of Hawaiians supported the move. Still, that hasn’t stopped some enterprising folks from designing options for a U.S. flag with 51 stars.

7. The First War to Start on Twitter
Back in the old days, wars began with formal declarations, usually after the first shots had been fired. For the past few decades, however our modern wars have started not with official documents, but with CNN footage and after-the-fact press conferences.
But in November of this year, the Israel Defense Forces kicked off an operation in Gaza by announcing on Twitter, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”
An hour later, the IDF tweeted a video of an airstrike that killed Ahmad Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, under the message, “In case you missed it.”
Social media gave people around the world a ringside seat, but it also allowed the IDF and Hamas to talk to each other in real time, taunting and goading each other as the two sides exchanged rocket fire and airstrikes. “It’s very primal and primitive,” TIME editor at large Bobby Ghosh told CNN. “This is how man fought battles hundreds of years ago. You looked your enemy in the eye and you yelled curses and insults at each other while you tried to killed each other. This post-modern technology of social media is bringing us back to that place.”

6. Justice for the Gulf

For weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, cable news channels kept a small window open in the corner of viewers’ TV screens, carrying a live feed of oil billowing from the damaged drilling site. For nearly three months, viewers watched as 53,000 barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf each day. But eventually, the well was capped; much of the coastline in the Gulf States was cleaned (although the region is still far from a full recovery); and the country moved on to other issues.
In November, British oil giant BP pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts of “seaman’s manslaughter” related to the deaths of 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement — the largest corporate criminal punishment in U.S. history. Despite the historic sum, one could argue it’s a light sentence for a company that reported $5.8 billion in profits in the third quarter of 2012 alone. And in at least one way, BP got off lucky: their case received scant litigation in the national media, as attention was focused on the recent election, the fallout from Gen. David Petraeus’s admission of an affair and an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

5. Water Crisis in Yemen

Chances are if you read a story about Yemen in 2012, it was about a drone strike that took out an al Qaeda leader. By some estimates, drones have killed nearly 200 people in Yemen this year, 28 alone during one week in early fall. But Yemen’s 25 million inhabitants have a more pressing issue: their country is running out of water. Across the Middle East, the average person has access to roughly 1,000 cubic meters of water each year. In Yemen, that average is 140 cubic meters. Streams and aquifers in the arid country are starting to run dry, and residents of the capital, Sana’a, often resort to carting water from public fountains, as they can’t afford to pay for it to be pumped into their houses. Although water conservation campaigns are underway, without concerted effort on the part of Yemen’s government, it’s a problem that only looks to get worse in the near future. For a country that has suffered so many man-made disasters–terrorism, fights against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and political turmoil–a looming natural disaster could incite more instability and suffering in a country that can least afford it.

4. The Ruling Elite

In 2011, much of the national conversation focused on inequality, as the Occupy movement brought attention to the 99 percent and the 1 percent. But in 2012 the Occupy movement atrophied, and while the gulf between rich and poor remained as wide as ever, the class divide was just one of several narratives that drove the national election cycle. It’s probably appropriate, then, that among the most underreported stories of the year was the growing disparity between the average Americans and the people they elected to run the country. According to an analysis by Roll Call of Congressional financial disclosure forms, the net worth of the 535 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives rose to $2.04 billion in 2012, up from $1.65 billion in 2008 — an increase that averages out to nearly three quarters of a million dollars per congress member. All this while the net worth of the average American household declined by more than 20 percent, according to data released in March by the Federal Reserve.
But in an election year, the focus was, of course, on the races themselves. And despite a dismal 10 percent approval rating, Americans sent 91 percent of incumbents back to Washington.

3. The Drug War in Mexico Continues

When Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney squared off to debate foreign policy on Oct. 22, the only mention of Latin America was when Romney called the region a “huge opportunity” for the United States. There was no mention of the estimated 60,000 people who have died in drug-related violence in Mexico in the past six years, double the number believed to have been killed in Syria’s civil war. But just as the presidential candidates didn’t want to discuss Mexico’s drug war, is seems Americans don’t want to read about it either. In July, Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto hinted at shifts in the country’s strategy away from large drug busts to focus more on protecting ordinary citizens from violence and kidnapping by cartels. As Nieto begins his first full year of a six-year term, it will be important to see whether this new approach works — and whether Americans will start paying attention.

2. Hurricane Sandy Strikes the Caribbean

Hurricane Sandy slammed into the east coast of the United States in late October, killing more than 100 people, cutting off power for millions more and causing damage estimated in the tens of billions of dollars. But with its effects in the U.S. widely documented, the storm’s destruction in the Caribbean went largely overshadowed.
In Haiti, a country still struggling to recover from a catastrophic earthquake in 2010, the storm dropped more than 20 inches of rain in 24 hours, killed 54 people and left more than 200,000 homeless. In the south of the country, 70 percent of crops were destroyed; the ensuing malnutrition and a cholera epidemic only added to Haiti’s miseries. All together, Sandy killed 70 people across the Caribbean — fewer victims than the storm claimed in the U.S., it’s true, but there was much less coverage of the agony in our neighbors to the south.

1. Iraq After the War

Early on the morning of Dec. 18, 2011, after nine years, 4,487 troops killed, more than 32,000 wounded and some $800 billion spent, the last 400 American troops in Iraq rolled into Kuwait, and literally shut the gate behind them. 2012 was the first year since 2003 without any American troops in Iraq, and the country, which for most of the decade dominated the headlines, was largely forgotten. Aside from the occasional car bomb, dutifully reported by the wire services, there was little Western media coverage given to the serious political maneuverings in the country. In late 2012, rivals to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki began campaigning for term limits to try and block him from seeking a third term. Iraq’s parliament wallowed in a power-sharing stalemate between the country’s Shi’ite, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish parties, stalling much-needed economic development. And then there was the ongoing saga of the country’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, who fled Iraq in Dec. 2011 after the government accused him of playing a role in terrorist attacks. He was tried in absentia, convicted and sentenced to death — a punishment not likely to be carried out, as by year’s end al-Hashemi was living in exile in Turkey.

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