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The Top Ten News Stories of 2012

Gosh, has it been twelve months already? Seems like only yesterday that we were sending off gaudy Christmas cards, saddling up for extended family lock-in sessions and celebrating the dying Presidential candidacy of Herman Cain. But 2012 has been a sedate year, right? The Spectator has even claimed that it was the best year in history. And that's taking into account the introduction of the carbon tax. Phwoar!

So, what were the biggest stories from this most magical of years? Besides the introduction of a cat named Tard? Well, don't bother your pretty little head with pesky remembering! Simply read on and let me do the thinking for you! The top news stories of 2012 (in no particular order) are:

The London Olympics 

There was just something about these Olympics. Perhaps it was the escape from the moral quagmire surrounding China's own Olympic preparation. Perhaps it was the return to Australian motherland. Perhaps it was the endless stream of memes. 

What ever it was, it felt like the revivification of a brand which seemed in danger of slipping away into irrelevancy. This might seem a strange thing to say coming from a country whose 2012 Olympic tilt could best be understood as a well overdue collapse to Earth, but it was that more than anything which really seemed to galvanise our sense of involvement – suddenly here was an Olympic effort we couldn't take for granted, one which actually seemed to have real implications for our sense of national pride. Our final showing of tenth was better than it looked like we were headed toward for much of the tournament, but also could just be a waystation on our trip down the rankings. There are a lot of once poor countries out there that aren't so poor anymore, and they're realising that sporting prowess is something that people really get behind. And us? Well, we might need to have a very frank discussion about the importance of sporting achievement in our national identity.

Four More Years

Even with a bare six weeks between us and the election of November 6, the thought that Mitt Romney came close to becoming President of the United States already feels like a fading fever dream. Even the thwarted candidacy of John McCain, four years gone by now, feels more real. Yet for a few weeks there the world actually began to contemplate the reality of a card-carrying member of the modern aristocracy – a man who writes off $77000 a year on horse-related expenses, is worth over $300 million, pays almost no tax and considers the poor to be akin to dirt – stumbling into the Presidency. But election day wasn't like that. Instead the white men only Republican party was soundly and consistently defeated by a coalition of white, black, Asian, Latino, female, male, gay and straight voters. In short, Obama was re-elected by the America that the Republicans had spent so long trying to wish away, but which is only becoming stronger, broader and more ineradicable by the day. In that way, it was almost a more significant victory than that won by him in 2008, for this was a true symbol of the rise of a pluralist America. Whether this in any way makes it easier to work with a GOP seemingly so blind to the demographics of their own demise that their response to the loss was to argue that the real problem was that they didn't go conservative enough remains to be seen. Either way, Obama has four more years to enshrine his legacy, starting with–

Guns, Guns, Everywhere

All countries are insane in their own specific way, but even so the scale and destructive force of America's delusions is hard to ignore. And nowhere is this more blindingly, tragically and infuriatingly true than in their attitudes toward gun control. A symbol of the country's cracked democracy as much as it is the strange strain of brute primitivism that runs through the US conservative movement, the fact that the NRA, only 4 million strong, could have so perverted all three branches of Government as to make the idea of effective gun control an almost impossible dream is one of the most searing indictments of all on the nation that capitalism built. This in a country where 12000 people a year shoot and kill another human, and another 18000 shoot and kill themselves. A country where a man can easily procure a gun designed solely for warzones and then walk into a neighbourhood primary school and use it to kill 20 first graders in a matter of minutes. And still it seems unlikely that anything of true substance will be achieved. It is a vast stain upon the conscience of a nation that has stood as the arbiter of international morality for so long, and yet another symptom of its perhaps irreparable decline. 

The Grand Dysfunction of the European Union

By now the Byzantine calculations underpinning the EU's desperate attempts to save itself have become so numbingly complex that only the most dedicated of economic observers could claim to have a full grasp of it. The result being that popular understanding and discussion of the crisis has begun reducing down to more fundamental questions about sovereignty and immigration. Which, if the past century is anything to go by, always showcases Europe at its best. Although, if we were looking for positives in 2012, there was this: the EU didn't collapse. Everything else beyond that though – all of the summits, the interventions, the elections, the riots – could be considered at best a case of treading water, at worst an acknowledgement that the economic union is broken beyond repair. And yet at the end of the day the most remarkable thing about it is the fact that for all of the bailouts, proclamations of doom and declarations of intent, for all the untold man hours spent and lives ruined in pursuit of a solution, for all of this over these past 12 months the problem has moved precisely nowhere. Here's to more of the same in 2013.

Syria and the Slow Death of the Arab Spring

Week upon week the disaster that is Syria seemed only to strengthen and hyperbolise. Every time you thought that it had gotten as bad as it could get, another mass grave would be exhumed, another battle front would open, another wave of refugees would pour across the border. But the difficulties of Syria in breaking with its authoritarian past only served as a particularly potent symbol of the difficulties afflicting the so-called Arab Spring a year after its exultant birth. Egypt elected a President and parliament only to see Mubarak-era justices deny its legitimacy, before then witnessing the democratically chosen President assign himself dictator-grade powers in an effort to jam through an unfair and narrowly framed constitution. Meanwhile, Libya is a basket case that has just declared martial law and closed its borders in an effort to quell a restive south, Yemen is next best thing to a failed state, Bahrain was ruthlessly suppressed by Saudi Arabia and has made no further move toward revolution and Tunisia... well, Tunisia is actually going OK, all things considered. Time will, one hopes, dull the birthing traumas of all these nations, but they serve as a stark reminder of the mismatch between our popular expectations of revolution and the reality of reforming the base fundaments of human society.

Gillard's Long, Painful Survival

Has any sitting leader of Australia endured as awful and unremittingly cruel a six months as Julia Gillard went through at the beginning of this year? The endless talk of party insurrection, the actual showdown with Kevin Rudd, the removal of her Speaker as a result of a Coalition-directed character assassination, a seemingly endless stream of policy flops, an intensely hostile media, and throughout it all the pinata-grade whipping boy of the carbon tax: it was a cavalcade of horrors with few comparisons in the annals of modern politics. Yet, she endured. More than that, she emerged through it all in a significantly stronger electoral position than she started with. Think what you will about her politics, and I'm far from a true believer, but that is something to be recognized. Especially when placed up against the dismal, vacuous, spiteful, small, disgusting, base and empty politicking of Tony Abbott, the least qualified and most embarrassing potential Prime Minister of Australia in living memory. I mean, did you see that Leigh Sales interview? My God, what a catastrophe. Which leads us into...

The Press Gallery's Final Abdication

This was a story never really reported in any paper, but at the same time reported every day in every paper in every hyperbolic, shallow and counterproductive recounting of the useless thrust and parry of Parliamentary question time. In every blind parroting of a party line and every hopeless, embarrassingly obvious partisan headline. This isn't a story about the decline of the mainstream media, although it is part of it, but rather the culture of intense isolationism underpinning the actions and accounts of the modern press gallery. Remember when they wrote Gillard's misogyny speech off as a cheap, counter-productive gesture, barely befitting note? That mis-step, unfathomably colossal, felt like a final erasure of authority, a moment when the complicity of the Canberra reporting teams in the bitter sickness of our Parliamentary system was laid bare for all to see. They can't even effectively cover Tony Abbott, a guy who answers basic questions as if he's on the stand for a murder everyone saw him commit. The press gallery isn't going anywhere right away, but it's broken now and it's hard to see where they might ever regain their stature from.

The Downfall of Julian Assange

It was like the plotline from a particularly ham-fisted John le Carré story: in the face of a mass international conspiracy, a hacker dedicated to exposing the truth about the world makes a daring midnight escape through the streets of London so that he can seek asylum in an Ecuadorian embassy. And yet, the reality was far more dispiriting. Julian Assange, briefly the most important man on Earth, continued his crashing journey toward rock bottom with a feeble request that the Ecuadorian government save him from having to answer some questions about suspected sexual assault in Sweden. Of course the argument went that Sweden would promptly give him over to the US who would then kill him by firing him from a catapult, but the odds of such a prisoner transfer actually occurring were infinitesimally small, and Assange's own claims to the contrary came to sound increasingly paranoid, the ravings of a rank delusional. Of course, Ecuador let him stay, although that can probably be better read through the prism of Latin political ascendancy rather than as a genuine belief in freedom of speech. And Wikileaks? Well, that's pretty much dead in the water, an increasingly moribund, skeleton-staffed institution with no new leaks coming through and no capacity to effectively publish them even if they did. Two years is a long time in anything and even the mightiest fall from grace.

Kony 2012

Who?

China's Crumbling Facade

If there is one geopolitical event even more impenetrable than the EU's bureaucratic wrangling, it is the internal political system of the world's most populous country. While premonitions of doom have been thick upon the ground this year vis-a-vis China's continuing capacity for growth – and really, if nothing else, a simple tour of the nation's ghost towns should give one pause for thought – it's been the giddy succession of scandals rocking the upper layer of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) that have really gotten the international media salivating. Given that 2012 was also the once in a decade moment when China appoints a new President and, as such, was seen as a bang up opportunity to reaffirm the authority and unquestionable wisdom of the party machinery, having to explain away and suppress murders, kidnappings, extortion and corruption at the hands of some of the regime's most powerful members has certainly spiced the broth. The machinations of it all are so wilfully opaque as to make a full understanding of what actually happens amongst the Chinese elite almost incomprehensible to an outside observer, but nonetheless the powerbrokers of the CCP are starting to understand that the price of the economic and social openness that has allowed them to retain power for so long is an increasing inability to control what people know. There's no movement toward revolution in China yet, but the Communist Party's facade of irreproachability is beginning to disintegrate before their people's watching eyes.

Honorable Mentions

Hurricane Sandy: AKA Global warming's debutante ball

David Petraeus: As always, Jon Stewart had you covered.

The US Healthcare Decision: Oh, thank God. Something to be genuinely happy about.

...

And that's it from me for the year! Have a great Christmas, toast the memory of Herman Cain and I'll see you back here in 2013. It's an election year. Let that thought keep you warm at night.

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