© Josh Sager – January 2014
In the first few days of 2014, we must look back on the events of 2013 and reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and what took us by surprise. If we can do this, we will avoid making the same mistakes twice and will be more able to rationally assess future events.
The following article—which will be released in 3 segments, over the first 3 days of the year—will list and summarize some of the most important stories of 2013, focusing primarily on American and international events. It is important to keep in mind that space constraints keep me from listing every important story, and that just because something is not mentioned does not mean that I don’t see it as relevant.
To ensure that people don’t have to wake up, hung-over from first-night celebrations, only to be reminded of a bunch of depressing events, I will start this 2013 review on a positive note.
The Iran Anti-Proliferation Deal — In November 2013, diplomatic representatives from Iran and the United States announced a preliminary anti-proliferation deal which would trade an easing of economic sanctions on Iran for concessions in the Iranian nuclear program. While this deal is short-term (lasting only six months) it is a promising precursor for a more comprehensive and permanent agreement between Iran and rest of the international community.
The threat of a nuclear Iran has enflamed a great deal of conflict in the Middle East—with countries as far apart as Saudi Arabia and Israel both agreeing that a nuclear Iran is a danger—and this step towards a peaceful resolution is a very positive sign. Hopefully, this preliminary deal will diffuse any excuse for another war in the region and will create a beneficial outcome for all parties.
To make this agreement even better, it is not a unilateral action by the USA, thus it has the backing of France, China, Russia, the UK and Germany. Such a coalition eliminates the danger of another runaway conflict that the USA takes on alone, at great personal expense (ex. Iraq).
The Repeal of DOMA — In June 2013, the case United States v. Windsor was decided by the Supreme Court, resulting in the anti-gay “Defense of Marriage Act” being struck down as discriminatory and unconstitutional. This invalidation of DOMA is a major step towards ensuring full equality for gay Americans and it is now possible for states to implement fully equal same-sex marriages in accordance with federal law.
In addition to letting gay people get married, this decision ensures that same-sex marriages have equal status with heterosexual marriages in the eyes of the federal government in regard to tax benefits.
Edward Snowden Exposes Domestic Spying — It may sound bizarre to classify the revelation that the NSA is spying on everything that we do in the digital world as good news; that said, it is good news in that the first step towards fixing a problem is realizing that it exists. Before Edward Snowden started to pull back the NSA’s curtain on its activities, the American public had no idea how their rights were being violated—even those who had suspicions weren’t allowed to bring court cases challenging the program, as they couldn’t prove standing in legal proceedings (proof that they were spied upon as a prerequisite for suing the government for privacy violations).
The revelations of Snowden are immensely positive, as they allow the American people to have an informed discussion, in the light of day, about extremely important programs that were previously kept secret. Several lawsuits have sprung from Snowden’s actions and it is inevitable that the coming months will see the beginning of the legal fight that could roll back the abuses and privacy violations of the US government.
Colorado Legalizes Pot — In May 2013, the state of Colorado became the first, but undoubtedly not the last, state to legalize Marijuana for recreational and medical sale. This legalization in Colorado will have national implications on the war on drugs, as other states will follow and eventually the federal government will be pulled along towards national legalization.
It is certainly true that Colorado’s actions are merely a first step and that national legalization of pot is still far off, but this doesn’t detract from the importance of this event. Colorado is currently the test case for legalization and as people see that society doesn’t collapse, they will become more comfortable for the idea of legalization happening where they live.
If pot is legalized, instances of incarceration for drug crimes will dramatically decrease and millions of Americans will avoid jail time/tarnish on their records.
Pope Francis — In February of 2013, Jorge Bergoglio succeeded Pope Ratzinger and took the name Francis for his papal term. Compared to many previous Popes, Francis is remarkably liberal and has put a great deal more focus on helping the poor. Through his podium, Francis has decried unfettered capitalism as tyrannical, pushed for more compassion and assistance for the poor, and generally advocated for a more even distribution of wealth in society so that the poorest among us can live in relative security. Additionally, Pope Francis has invited many homeless people into the Vatican for functions and has snuck out of the Vatican at night in order to feed and talk with the homeless population of Rome.
While he is still conservative on social issues, Pope Francis has advocated shifting focus away from social issues and towards the more egalitarian messages of Jesus (or what has been attributed to Jesus). During speaking engagements, Pope Francis has indicated that he thinks that good gay people and atheists can get into heaven, breaking a very long-held assertion by the Catholic church that heaven is only for Christians.
All in, the election of Pope Francis is a very positive first step towards a modernized church that stops persecuting gays and women in favor of actually focusing its efforts on helping the poor and downtrodden.
Malala Yusafzai — In 2012, a teenage Pakistani activist for women’s rights named Malala Yusafzai became famous when she survived an assassination attempt by Muslim extremists. Fortunately, she was released from the hospital with no lasting injury in January 2013 and she has been speaking on an international stage ever since—during 2013, Malala spoke in front of the UN, at Buckingham Palace, and in the White House on a variety of issues, but focusing primarily on women’s rights and education in Muslim countries.
It takes spectacular bravery to stand up and fight for a cause mere months after being shot in the head by the opposition and the continued activism of Malala is a very positive force. In addition to raising awareness about women’s rights issues, Malala has spoken out about American drone strikes in Pakistan and even criticized the drone campaign, to Obama’s face, while meeting with him in the White House.