The Haiti earthquake
In January, the worst earthquake in Haiti in 200 years devastated what already was the poorest, most politically unstable, most architecturally unsound country in the Western Hemisphere. The 7.0-magnitude disaster, which turned into rubble structures ranging from shantytown shacks to the presidential palace, killed more than 230,000 people, injured 300,000 more and left more than 1 million homeless, living on the streets and crammed into fetid, squalid camps. American and international aid organizations helped, or tried, pledging billions of dollars to the recovery effort. The last thing the country needed was the cholera outbreak that hit in the fall.
The gulf oil spill
The April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers, beginning what felt like an endless Summer of Oil. Day after agonizing day, oil spewed from a bent pipe a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. BP created a $20 billion compensation fund, but didn't escape condemnation. We learned new terms — top kill, containment dome, junk shot, spill cam — but nobody could stop the leak until July 15. As of Nov. 30, more than 400 miles of the coast remained coated with gunk. Thousands of animals died. Thousands of people lost their livelihoods. Lawsuits loom.
The remarkable year in politics
Florida's wild political year took off in April when Gov. Charlie Crist fled the GOP to run for U.S. Senate as an independent, spawning an unprecedented three-way race. Buoyed by the tea party uprising that fueled a Republican resurgence, Marco Rubio won easily, becoming a national star. Rick Scott, a Republican outsider and millionaire businessman, overcame a huge Medicaid fraud case to beat Alex Sink for governor. The state GOP saw the indictment of its former chairman and a federal investigation into rampant use of credit cards. But voters still gave Republicans veto-proof majorities in the Legislature.
The passing of health care reform
After trying for decades, and after a final raucous fight that lasted months, Democrats overhauled the nation's health care system in 2010. "This is a big (expletive) deal," Vice President Joe Biden whispered into President Barack Obama's ear during the bill signing in March. Under the plan, most Americans would be required to carry health care insurance. More than 2.7 million uninsured Floridians would receive coverage. But sunny projections are yet to be realized. Republicans blasted it as big government, socialism. Lawsuits were filed, campaign slogans made. Many Democrats who voted for the bill were voted out of office in November.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
After more than seven years of war, we marked the end of combat in Iraq without banners and only an ambiguous sense of accomplishment. "We've met our goal," said Gen. Ray Odierno. To bring peace, stability, or just get out on time? What relief we might have felt at home was tempered by our mounting engagement in Afghanistan. The surge is now a year old and the gains confoundingly hard to measure, in part because the enemy remains so hard to define. Is it the Taliban, or the Pakistani government that secretly supports it? Troops will begin to leave next year, after a decade of fighting. The end of combat, however we define it, is at least four years away.
Killings of Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab
On June 29, Tampa awoke to the largest police manhunt in its history. Police officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab had been shot dead by a gunman who then escaped, beginning a four-day pursuit that tested a new police chief and sent tactical teams storming into some of Tampa's poorest neighborhoods. When police arrested Dontae Morris for the shootings, an enraged crowd gathered to see him walked out in chains. And as the officers' funerals were broadcast live, the Tampa Bay area watched two wives grieve — one left with four boys, the other soon to deliver a stillborn baby.
The prescription drug crisis
The ready availability of painkillers like oxycodone — at so-called pill mills, from well-meaning doctors, and on street corners — has created a drug crisis not seen since the crack epidemic of the 1980s. The toll: 2,488 dead in Florida in 2009 — almost seven deaths a day. This year's final number is expected to be higher. Thousands are addicted, their families heartbroken, their crimes clogging the system. Affordable treatment options are scarce. The state's attempts to rein in pill mills are tangled in red tape. Drugs that ease pain for so many Floridians are inflicting it on the Florida at large.
The growing reach of Facebook
At year's open, word police urged banning the verb "to friend." Yet the world blissfully, perhaps recklessly, friended away, and Facebook swelled by nearly half to more than 500 million users. In an election year, you could "like" the tea party, then the coffee party. Facebook was used for evil — by debt collectors, by stalkers, by fakers channeling Satan — and for good. It was the subject of a major film, The Social Network. Elizabeth Edwards used it to say goodbye. We traded privacy for electronic intimacy, and founder Mark Zuckerberg was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year."
No armies clashed and no governments toppled because of WikiLeaks, but its unprecedented disclosures of tens of thousands of state secrets in 2010 was nothing less than globally revolutionary. Or maybe it was an acknowledgement that the revolution is already over — and the Internet has won. Founder Julian Assange eventually may end up in prison, but WikiLeaks and its emerging copycats have shown themselves stateless and unstoppable, their digital medium beyond the reach of even the United States. How will our superpowers operate in the brave new unfiltered world? Will secret-spoilers like WikiLeaks eventually lead to armies clashing and governments toppling? How much transparency can we take? Whatever comes will arrive at the speed of light.
This is like a rash that won't go away, and Florida needs the biggest dose of medicine. The weak economy made top story lists in 2008, 2009 and clearly belongs there in 2010, sad to say. The state's unemployment rate broke a modern-era record in March when it hit 12.3 percent and has only barely receded since then. Houses, once the ticket to the good life, remain financial anvils for too many owners. Foreclosures are rampant. Wages are stagnant. The worst of it: Florida's nascent recovery remains rubber-legged. The troubled economy is a good bet to make the list again next year.