Top 15 News Stories of 2014

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I apologize for this list being several days late, it took me a lot longer to write than I expected, 2014 was filled with huge news stories that required a lot of research and will have long-lasting implications into 2015 and beyond.  I give every year a title by what defined that year, and unfortunately 2014 has to be the Year of Airline Crashes, given the shocking frequency of deadly commercial airline crashes.  As always, there are several big stories that didn’t make the list and are honorable mentions: Sony Hacking, Celebrity Hackings, and Immigration.  Now for the 15 that did make the list:

15. Comet Landing

The Rosetta space probe was built and launched by the European Space Agency way back in 2004, and spent the next decade traveling to Comet 67P. After several years, the probe was put into a hibernation mode, before being “woken up” in January as it began to near the comet. On August 6th, it finally reached the comet, and became the first spacecraft to successfully orbit a comet. Its Philae Lander made a historic soft landing on the comet on November 12th, the first in history. The lander took two hours to land, bouncing off the comet twice before finally landing. Harpoons had been designed to fire to hold the lander onto the comet, but the landing was softer than expected, and the harpoons didn’t actually fire.

The Philae lander found that the composition of water vapor found on the comet was extremely different from water found on Earth. Its deuterium to hydrogen ratio was three times that of water found on Earth. This makes it unlikely that the water on Earth came from a comet similar to Comet 67P. The lander also picked up the magnetic field of the comet, which was sped up 10,000 times by scientists to allow humans to hear it, and was described as a type of “song.”

14. Chris Christie Bridgegate

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was seen as the very early frontrunner for the Republican primaries in the 2016 election. A media darling, he attracted followers from both parties and seemed a legitimate candidate for president as well. But then the scandal that came to be known as “Bridgegate” erupted, and all but ended his chances of becoming president. Christie’s aids closed a land on the George Washington Bridge to create a traffic jam. Although Christie denied any involvement, the traffic jam was widely seen as punishment for Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who was traveling across the bridge at the time and was stuck in the jam. Sokolich had failed to endorse Christie in the 2013 Gubernatorial Race.

Christie was eventually cleared, but it was by a law firm he himself had hired, and the report was slammed as a “whitewash” by critics. A majority of New Jerseyans, according to polls agreed that the report was a scam and seemed more like a legal brief for Christie’s defense. The scandal resulted in the firing and resignation of several of Christie’s aids, and despite an emotional speech in which Christie said he was “heartbroken and humiliated” by what he maintained was the actions of his aids, his political stock had been damaged severely, and possibly fatally, in terms of his 2016 chances.

13. Winter Olympics

Russia finally hosted its first Winter Olympics in February as the resort city of Sochi welcomed the world’s finest winter athletes. Despite all the controversy over Russia’s anti-gay policies and whether Sochi was too hot to host the Games, once the actual sports kicked off, there were few hitches and everything ran smoothly. The opening and closing ceremonies were also well received, as they were elaborate and beautiful to watch, even if the image of one of the snowflakes failing to open into an Olympic ring did become a defining image of the Games. A record 88 countries qualified athletes for the Winter Olympics, with seven nations making their debut.

One of the biggest stars of the Games was Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen, whose two gold medals saw him become the most medaled Winter Olympian of all time. In ice hockey, Canada beat fierce rivals US in both men’s and women’s and won gold medals in both events. In another of the most popular events, ice skating, American favorites Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the coveted ice dancing gold medal, while 19 year-old Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s singles and home favorite Adelina Sotnikova won the women’s.

12. Snowpocalypse

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From December 2013 to April 2014, an unprecedented cold wave struck the US, sending temperatures plunging and forcing numerous areas to experience record lows. The temperatures were truly staggering. On January 7th, Detroit’s high was -1° F. On the same day, Chicago reached -16° F, leading local media to call it “Chiberia” and forcing the Lincoln Park Zoo to keep their polar bears warm, while Minnesota was the coldest state, reaching -37° F. The next day was the coldest of the year, as Comertown, Montana reached -62° F. A majority of the US was colder than Antarctica at the time, and Georgia was colder than Alaska. Canada was even colder, as Saskatoon had a daily high of -51° F with the wind chill.

Accompanying the freezing temperatures in many states was also snowfall, leading the media to coin the winter the “Snowpocalypse”. At one point, all 48 contiguous states had snow on the ground. Detroit saw 11 inches of snow fall, New Jersey had 10 inches, and Boxford, Massachusetts had over 2 feet of snow. The south saw less snow, but states like Georgia, Alabama and Florida were so unprepared for any snow that road conditions quickly became dangerous. Five people died in weather-related crashes in Alabama. “Snowpocalypse” was the worst winter many states had seen in decades, and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

11. World Cup

Soccer-mad Brazil hosted the most anticipated World Cup in recent history in June, and the world’s biggest sporting event didn’t fail to deliver. From the dramatic opener between Brazil and Croatia to the final in the famous Maracana, the World Cup never stopped with the excitement and drama. Viewers were gripped by Cinderella story Costa Rica topping their “Group of Death” and coming within penalties of reaching the semifinals, defending champions Spain sent packing in the group stages in humiliating fashion, and the amazing number of goals in the group stages. While the goals dried up in the knockout rounds, the drama only increased, with Brazil narrowly escaping Chile, Germany being fortunate to defeat Algeria, and the brave US falling to Belgium in an extra time thriller.

Players like James Rodriguez, Keylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Marcos Rojo, and Stefan de Vrij became overnight superstars, with many players earning moves to the biggest clubs on the planet as a result of their World Cup performances. The statistics surrounding the World Cup are staggering. It was responsible for over 3 billion interactions of Facebook and 672 million messages on Twitter. 26.5 million people watched the final in the US alone, and 42.9 million Brazilians watched their country defeat Croatia in the opening match. There’s no doubt what the biggest sporting event on the planet is, and the 2014 edition was bigger and better than ever.

10. AirAsia Flight QZ8501

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was traveling from Indonesia to Singapore from December 28th when it disappeared off radar, a far too familiar story in 2014. Several days later, the wreckage from the plane was discovered as well as the bodies of seven victims. All 162 people onboard at the time are presumed dead. Less than an hour into its flight, the pilot requested a deviation of the original flight path, to climb from 32,000 to 38,000 feet. This request was denied due to heavy traffic, since seven other planes were at that altitudes. The plane lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control at 6:17 local time, only 42 minutes into the flight. In the final few minutes before the plane disappeared, it was going through a storm cluster.

The most widely accepted theory as to the cause of the plane’s crash, as proposed by aviation experts, is that it was going too slowly when it entered the storm cluster, and it had an ‘”aerodynamic stall” which caused it to plunge into the Java Sea. The pilot, Captain Iriyanto was vastly experienced, having graduated from pilot school in 1983 and had over 21,500 flying hours, of which 6,100 were in the plane that crashed. The crash was the third of the year involving a Malaysian air carrier or affiliate.

9.Bowe Bergdahl

On June 30th, 2009, Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl (Bergdahl has since been promoted in absentia to sergeant) went missing near the town of Yahya Kheyl in Paktika Province, Afghanistan and was later abducted by the Taliban. The exact details of Bergdahl’s capture remain unknown. He claims he was taken capture when he fell behind his patrol, while the Taliban claims Bergdahl became intoxicated and wandered off, where he was captured. US military sources denied this claim, saying “the Taliban are known for lying.” However, numerous soldiers who served with Bergdahl say he deserted his post and had often talked about his desire to simply walk off, and he planned to go to India.

On May 31st, Bergdahl was released by the Taliban and recovered by Delta Force. This was in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees to be transferred to Qatari custody for at least a year. US President Barack Obama was heavily criticized after the deal. This was largely because it was completely illegal. Any such action requires a notification to Congress at least 30 days in advance. However, the White House acknowledged that it was illegal, but said the “unique and exigent circumstances” justified it. An investigation into whether or not Bergdahl deserted his post is ongoing, and in December, the Army referred the case to a four-star general for a possible court martial.

8. Israel-Hamas Conflict

For 50 days in July and August, intense fighting between Israel and Hamas killed more than 2,000 people. The conflict broke out after Hamas captured three Israeli teens near the West Bank on June 12th. The bodies of the three were found on June 30th. Anti-Arab riots broke out, and in turn anti-Israeli riots broke out too. While this were going on, both sides had begun firing rockets. From the beginning of June to early July, 115 rockets were fired by Hamas from the Gaza Strip at Israel, and there were 80 Israeli airstrikes on Hamas.

Israel attempted to negotiate a ceasefire, but Hamas refused unless Palestinians arrested in a crackdown on violence in the West Bank were released. Israel declared it would only launch any additional airstrikes in response to Hamas firing rockets. Over 100 rockets were fired by Hamas over the next three days, and on July 8th, Israel bombed 50 sites in the Gaza Strip. On August 3rd, Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza and two days later arrested the man behind the murder of the three teens. An Egyptian sanctioned ceasefire was violated by Hamas, with Israel striking back, before a ceasefire was finally agreed upon on August 26th.

7. Midterms

The Republicans were dominant in the 2014 Midterm Elections, crushing the Democracts. All 435 seats in the House and 36 of the 100 Senate seats were up for elections. The Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time since early 2007, and increased their majority in the House. The elections resulted in the Republicans gaining their largest majority in the country in nearly a century. They gained their largest House majority, Congress majority, and state legislature majority since 1928. The elections were the most expensive in history, with total spending topping $3.7 billion, as well as the lowest voter turnout since 1942.

Several notable milestones were reached in the 2014 elections. Mia Love became the first African-American Republican woman elected to Congress when she was elected to the House from Utah. Republican Saira Blair, who largely ran her campaign from her dorm room, became the youngest elected state official in US history when she was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates at age 18. As far as Republican gains, 9 seats were gained in the Senate and 13 seats were gained in the House of Representatives.

6. Race Riots

Racial tensions between African-Americans and white police officers became the central issue in the US in the last few months of the year. The incident that sparked the riots was the fatal shooting of 18 year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9th. Brown had stolen a box of cigars from a local gas station with a friend. Wilson responded to a call of a “stealing in progress.” He drove up to Brown and his friend and ordered them onto the sidewalk. A struggle then took place between Brown and Wilson and the window of his police SUV. Two shots were fired, with Brown being hit in the right hand. He fled with his friend and the two hid behind a car. A struggle broke out between Brown and Wilson and, while the details remain unclear, Brown was shot dead. After a grand jury decided on November 24th not to indict Wilson, unrest broke out in Ferguson, Missouri.

Protests also broke out in NYC after a grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a NYPD officer. Pantaleo had held Eric Garner in a chokehold until Garner passed out, and was announced dead on arrival at hospital an hour later. Unlike the death of Michael Brown, the details weren’t unclear, a video captured Pantaleo holding Garner in a chokehold, with Garner desperately crying “I can’t breathe!” 11 times. The saying began a slogan for protests, which grew in violence, until two NYPD officers were shot to death “in revenge for Eric Garner” by gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who then committed suicide.

5. MH370

The great question of 2014 – where is MH370? It has become one of the great mysteries of recent times. How can a Boeing 777 simply vanish, given with today’s technology? On March 8th, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 Kuala Lumpur National Airport. About an hour after taking off, at 1:19 AM local time, the plane last made contact with air traffic control. Only two minutes later, the flight completely vanished from radar, and was never seen or heard from again. The crew gave no indication of distress, bad weather, or technical difficulties before disappearing. 227 passengers from 15 nations were on board, as well as 12 Malaysian crew members.

A multinational search immediately began for the plane, but despite numerous false hopes and the search being the most expensive and largest aviation search in history, nothing was ever found. On March 24th, the Malaysian government officially told family members of passengers that the plane had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, based on the fact that the final location the plane was tracked was far from any possible landing places. The failure to ever find the plane led to numerous conspiracy theories like an alien abduction or a black hole but it is more widely accepted that the plane did indeed crash into the southern Indian Ocean and unfortunately all 242 people on board were killed.

4. MH17

The crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was the 7th deadliest in history, killing all 298 people (283 passengers and 15 crew members) on board. The plane, a Boeing 777, left Amsterdam on July 17th, headed for Kuala Lumpur. When it was flying over Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists, the plane was shot down and crashed to the ground as a result. The crash took place during the War in Donbass, part of the larger Russian-Ukrainian conflict. It is the deadliest shootdown of an airplane in history. Over two-thirds of the passengers were Dutch, while the crew was entirely Malaysian.

An intense investigation began after the crash, with the finding of “non-aircraft metal” confirming the plane had been shot down. Igor Girkin, the leader of pro-Russian Donbass separatists, claimed responsibility for the missile that had been fired, posting on popular Russian social media site VKontakte. But Girkin had claimed responsibility for an AN-26, a Ukrainian military plane, and once it became clear that it had been a civilian plane, Girkin deleted his admission. This led to the most widely believed theory that Donbass separatists had shot at the plane thinking it was a military plane.

3. Ebola

In December of 2013, a 2 year-old boy Emile Ouamouno died in a small village in Guinea after suffering from a disease. His mother, sister, and grandmother all suffered from similar symptoms and eventually died. The disease wasn’t diagnosed as Ebola for several months, due to it never having been reported in Western Africa. This allowed it to spread, unchecked. By the time Guinea’s Ministry of Health reported it as an Ebola outbreak, there had been 86 cases and 59 deaths. The disease rapidly spread throughout Liberia, ravaging the small nation, and Sierra Leone as well as reaching Nigeria and Mali. The United Nations said the outbreak could only be stop in 6 to 9 months, and with a “massive global response.” Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization said the outbreak was “racing ahead of control efforts” and was “the largest, most complex, and most severe we’ve ever seen. “ Nearly 3,500 people died in Liberia alone, as well as about 3,000 in Sierra Leone and 1,700 in Guinea.

On October 6th, Ebola was transmitted outside of Africa for the first time. Teresa Romero, a nursing assistant who had treated two Spanish volunteers who had fallen ill in Liberia and later died, tested positive for Ebola. 13 days later, Romero had recovered and was officially announced to be Ebola-free. Thomas Eric Duncan traveled to Liberia and caught the Ebola disease before returning to Texas in late September. He died on October 8th, and days later, two nurses, Nina Pham and Amber Vinson tested positive for Ebola. They both recovered, as well as Dr. Craig Spencer, a physician who had treated patients from West Africa, and the US was declared Ebola-free on November 7th.

2. Russia-Ukraine Conflict

In February, massive unrest began to develop in Ukraine. This unrest led to the ousting of the President Viktor Yanukovych and his government. Yanukovych fled to Kharkiv, where he had more support, and declared his ousting was unconstitutional. Politicians throughout Ukraine declared they would remain loyal to the president. Only days after Yanukovych fled, Russian forces moved into the Ukrainian region of Crimea and seized control. On March 16th, a heavily disputed referendum riddled with corruption declared Crimea was a Russian territory. Ukraine, along with most of the world, refused to recognize the referendum. On April 15th, Ukraine declared Crimea was a Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by Russia.

Not long after the February revolution, unrest began to bubble up in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass. A war quickly broke out between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in Donbass. The war is still ongoing, and nearly 5,000 people have died, including over 300 foreign civilians.   Half a million separatists fled Ukraine for Russia, and half a million Ukrainians were displaced within their own country.   The Donbass region declared itself an independent nation in a referendum similar to Crimea’s. Not a single country recognized this referendum, including Ukraine and Russia. This “nation” named itself Novorossiya, “New Russia”.

1. Rise of ISIS

The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was brutal and horrific to watch in 2014. ISIS rapidly marched through both Iraq and Syria early in the year, killing thousands and quickly gaining territory. Their march through Syria was aided by the Syrian Civil War, which is still ongoing and has resulted in nearly 80,000 deaths. As ISIS began to overtake the two countries, other nations stepped in with military interventions. In the summer, the US began to attack ISIS through airstrikes. President Obama pointed to the horrific conditions in Iraq and ISIS’s brutal attacks on the mountainous Yazidi people as motivating him to attack. The US fired over 1,000 air strikes on ISIS by the end of the year.

In retaliation for the US strikes, ISIS began beheading journalists and aid workers and posting the videos online. American journalist James Foley, who had been captured by ISIS in 2012, was killed on August 19th. Another two Americans and two British aid workers would be killed in a similar fashion. A terrorist with a British accent who went by “Jihadi John” was the executioner in all of the videos. This led to a global effort to find and kill him, but he narrowly evaded an American strike and remains with ISIS.

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