As 2013 comes to a close, we spend the last two days of the year looking back at the major news stories of the year. The single event with the greatest worldwide impact was of course the shocking revelations about mass surveillance by the US through the National Security Agency on practically all aspects of electronic communications between citizens. In June, a computer specialist working for the NSA, named Edward Snowden, released classified documents that revealed to two journalists, the magnitude of the NSA’s spying program at home and abroad. The international community responded with outrage, and U.S. foreign relations were badly damaged. Snowden fled the country fearing harsh repercussions from a government which sentenced Chelsea Manning to 35 years in prison this past August for leaking classified US Government documents to Wikileaks.
While the US Government defended it’s spying operations as a way to keep its citizens safe, in April two bombs were detonated during the Boston marathon killing three and injuring hundreds. One of the two alleged suspects, 20 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, still awaits trial for the bombing.
Meanwhile, in a case that attracted national and international attention, George Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, was found not guilty sparking outrage and nation-wide debates on race and the so-called Stand your Ground laws.
This year also marked another bloody year in mass shootings in America. More than 9,000 people died in incidents involving gun violence. And, a year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut, Congress continued to debate gun control restrictions with very little progress.
While Wall Street profits reached all time highs in 2013, fast food and retail workers staged historic strikes across the United States demanding an increase in the federal minimum wage and the right to unionize. The movements were echoed by President Obama’s decision to make a higher minimum wage a centerpiece of his newest domestic policy platform. Meanwhile, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in July, making it the largest city by population to file for bankruptcy in U.S. history.
At the federal level, politicians were unable to negotiate over a budget and sequestration cuts took effect shutting the U.S. government down for 2 weeks. Congress eventually passed a deal that allowed for a series of budget cuts to last through mid-January. This year also saw the scaling back of the U.S. food-stamp program, which previously aided 47 million Americans. And, as of now, 1.3 million unemployed Americans are set to lose jobless benefits.
Congress also failed to pass an immigration reform bill which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But during this year, activists ramped up their actions, with groups like the National Immigrant Youth Alliance challenging the legality of the border, and SEIU sponsoring a Fast for Families in DC.
One of the most important domestic political stories of the year, was also the roll out of the highly anticipated online insurance marketplaces mandated by the Affordable Care Act also known as ‘Obamacare.’
While the federal government’s website was open for enrollment on October 1st, technical problems plagued the rollout and sparked harsh criticism of the President. A number of groups filed legal challenges to the law.
The US Supreme Court handed down some historic rulings this year. In June the Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act allowing married same-sex couples to become eligible for federal benefits and decided not to rule on a same-sex marriage challenge in California which effectively paved the way for legal same-sex marriages in the State. But, in a blow to civil rights, the court ruled Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.
This also saw a number of attacks on women’s reproductive rights. Legislators enacted 43 provisions aimed at restricting access to abortion – the second-highest total on record.
GUESTS: Rahul Mahajan, sociologist and news analyst and author of Full Spectrum Dominance: US Power in Iraq and Beyond, Adele Stan, longtime chronicler of the right wing, and senior Washington correspondent for RHRealityCheck.org.