Our Writers' 12 Stories to Watch in 2013

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-womens-rights-india
Anindito Mukherjee/EPA

1. Women’s Rights In india
by Tunku Varadarajan

“Spring” is a metaphor that lost its luster last year in the Arab world. But in India—that vast, complex, democratic country to the east of Syria’s badlands and Egypt’s seething streets—the word is starting to be uttered with increasing fervor. A gang rape of indescribable vileness has stirred a movement for social and political change that could, in 2013, prove unstoppable.

India’s democracy has long been an impressive and, in many ways, improbable phenomenon: it functions in a land of a billion people who speak 20-odd languages, worship an array of increasingly incompatible gods, and divide themselves incurably by caste and region. And yet it votes, and elects governments, year after year—almost always peacefully.

Notwithstanding the current stagnation, democracy has delivered breakneck economic growth in recent years, enriching and empowering citizens in equal measure. Yet socially, India is a country with monstrous problems, none more so than its treatment of women. The rape in December, which took place in a moving bus on the streets of New Delhi, was one of thousands that occurred in India last year, and those would merely be the ones that were accounted for officially. But its brazenness, its bestiality, and the fact that the victim died—to national shame—in a hospital in Singapore, to which she’d been flown for life-saving attention, has pushed a nation over the edge. India’s urban youth, traditionally indifferent to politics (largely out of a cynicism spawned by a perfectly comprehensible contempt for India’s political class), has been transformed in weeks into a juggernaut of political passion. As a respected Indian commentator wrote, “The people are changing and the political class isn’t. This mismatch will not be unending. Sooner, rather than later, the yearnings of an assertive India will find political expression.” Expect an “Indian Spring” this year.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-fracking Mark Ovaska/Redux

2. Fracking
by Daniel Gross

Those wondering where the next jolt of stimulus for the slow-growing U.S. economy will come from shouldn’t look to Washington and public dollars. Instead, they should look to the heartland and America’s growing energy surplus.

Fracking has boosted the production of natural gas (up nearly a quarter in the past five years) and oil. The U.S. produced more petroleum in 2012 than in any year since 1998. But that’s just the beginning. The Department of Energy projects that U.S. production will rise another 10 percent to 10.6 million barrels per day by the end of 2013—with a great deal of the fuel to be produced in North Dakota, Montana, and Texas. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments are in the, um, pipeline, from all over the world, to harness, transport, and use these hydrocarbons. Among the beneficiaries are small startups that refit pickup trucks to run on natural gas in Kentucky, a multibillion-dollar terminal that will allow for the export of natural gas in Louisiana, and a huge new fertilizer plant in Iowa that runs on natural gas. ­AECOM Technology Corp. believes companies will spend $45 billion on energy transportation infrastructure in 2013 alone—from oil-toting railcars to pipelines.

Meanwhile, coal, loathed by environmentalists and increasingly displaced by natural gas at home, is growing in popularity around the world. That should create more jobs for shippers and dockworkers on both coasts. Throw in lower electricity, heating-oil, and gasoline costs, and now energy—whose high price was previously a drag on the U.S. economy—is poised to act as an extra burner.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-war-on-terror Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty

3. Drones
by Daniel Klaidman

Liberals and civil libertarians hoping that 2013 would be the year Barack Obama finally shuts down Guantánamo shouldn’t hold their breath. That’s because Congress once again placed measures designed to block the president from closing Gitmo in a sweeping defense authorization bill for the coming year. Obama had threatened to veto the legislation, but ended up signing it this week.

Yet there is one front in the war on terror that Obama may begin to reform this year: drones. Critics say the secret program has killed too many civilians in places where the U.S. is not officially at war, like Yemen. Now the White House is working on a “playbook” to codify and institutionalize the standards and procedures for targeted killings. Some see that effort as a way to ensure that the controversial program goes on. But in reality it is intended to place the CIA program under tighter supervision. Among the proposals: harmonizing the agency’s decision-making process for kills with the military’s, which is more transparent and subject to more vigorous interagency vetting. This could be the first step in a more ambitious overhaul. Eventually, according to senior administration officials, Obama wants to shift the program to the military and get the CIA out of the killing business.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-gun-control Xinhua/Redux

4. Gun Violence & The Media
by Howard Kurtz

The media in 2013 face a far greater test than swarming over the next D.C. sex scandal or divining who will run in 2016. The challenge is whether the millions of words devoted to the Newtown school massacre will prove to be so much hot air.

The press barely mentioned gun control during the last campaign—and let the matter drop after Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora. Perhaps that’s because politicians have largely ignored the issue, and news organizations are most comfortable merely chronicling what politicians say. But while it’s not the media’s job to push a particular policy, it is our collective responsibility to keep important topics on the agenda. And, in the wake of Newtown, many journalists were so deeply affected by the senseless shooting of young children that they vowed this time would be different—that they would not simply abandon the issue of guns in America after decamping from that wounded Connecticut community.

Already there are sideshows: the D.C. police investigating NBC’s David Gregory for brandishing an empty gun magazine on the air; a petition to deport CNN’s Piers Morgan for loudly pushing gun control. But routine gun violence, not just horrifying mass shootings, remains an undercovered story for a media establishment that is promising to do better.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-fashion Richard Drew/AP

5. Fashion’s Rising Star
by Isabel Wilkinson

Though it’s almost a century old, the venerable label Balenciaga has become almost synonymous with cool—thanks, in large part, to the work of its creative director, Nicolas Ghesquière, who ushered in avant-garde yet wearable designs that received critical praise. When it was announced in November that Ghesquière would immediately depart the house, people were shocked: where was he going, why did he leave—and, most important, who would replace him? Later that month, the job was given to Alexander Wang, the 28-year-old Chinese-American designer who has established a multimillion-dollar business and opened stores from New York to Beijing. Now, perhaps the biggest question in the fashion world headed into 2013 is, how Wang will fare in his new post?

Wang’s signature is a “model off-duty” style—a slouchy and casual brand of sportswear with a strong presence in the accessories market. He is seen as being in touch with youth culture and what’s happening on the street—a sensibility many think will bode well for Balenciaga’s future. His first collection for the house will be the autumn-winter 2013 collection, which will debut during Paris Fashion Week at the end of February.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-entertainment Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures

6. Sci-Fi Films
by Marlow Stern

From the bizarre box-office calamity John Carter to Ridley Scott’s specious-origin tale Prometheus, the science-fiction genre didn’t leave much of a mark at the cinema in 2012. But sci-fi is poised for a big resurgence this year.

Two of the film industry’s biggest names, Will Smith (After Earth) and Tom Cruise (Oblivion), will star as men marooned on a post-apocalyptic Earth, while George Clooney and Sandra Bullock will portray two astronauts adrift in outer space, tethered to nothing but each other, in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity. Meanwhile, in Elysium, Matt Damon and Jodie Foster find themselves on opposite sides of interplanetary class warfare. On a more militaristic note, the crew of the starship Enterprise will square off against a new villain in filmmaker J.J. Abrams’s highly anticipated sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness—and in Pacific Rim, humans erect an army of towering, fighting robots to combat giant monsters that have risen from beneath the ocean. Last but not least, the most celebrated alien of them all, Superman, will return to save the world from an interstellar tyrant in Man of Steel.

What accounts for this outpouring of sci-fi? Whether it’s nostalgia over the U.S. government formally ending NASA’s space-shuttle program, residual effects from Newt Gingrich’s moon-colony idée fixe, despair over the state of the American economy, or a good old-fashioned immigration allegory is anyone’s guess. But, whatever the explanation, in 2013, brace yourselves for a plethora of cinematic voyages to infinity ... and beyond.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-chavez Christopher Anderson/Magnum

7. The End of Chávismo
by Mac Margolis

Just a few years ago, the smart money in Latin America was that the region was turning left. Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez was the headline, and his potpourri of populist, socialist authoritarianism was gaining cachet and acolytes from the Caribbean to the Andes. Today, however, Chávez is fighting an uphill battle against cancer and his country seems headed toward disarray: inflation is surging, crime is spiking, and roads and power grids are falling apart. Meanwhile, none of his heirs apparent comes even close to filling El Comandante’s outsize boots.

And yet all this may be less momentous than it seems. Chávismo was never the juggernaut his followers and the Cassandras in Washington had imagined. Even at its prime, the experiment in so-called 21st-century socialism represented no more than about 12 percent of Latin America’s combined $5.6 trillion GDP. The rest of the region, with emerging-market powerhouse Brazil in the lead, had long ago swapped Che Guevara for Dow Jones and subscribed to a politics that worked: functional (if flawed) versions of constitutional democracy, juiced by free-market economics leavened by judicious social spending. Chávez’s gamble was always a dream—and never much of a business plan.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-iran-nuclear Mario Tama/Getty

8. Iran’s Nuclear Program
by Dan Ephron

For almost a decade now, pundits have been declaring each new year the decisive one in the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. This year it might actually be true. For the first time, intelligence officials in Israel and the United States are in sync (more or less) over the timeline, believing Iran’s uranium enrichment will reach a critical point during 2013. They also believe that sanctions have pushed Iran to the wall. Its oil production has dropped by almost 40 percent since 2009, according to American and Israeli figures. With oil accounting for a staggering 85 percent of its revenue, Iran could finally be ready to compromise.

But what’s the endgame? Insiders say Obama will make one last stab at negotiations with Iran this year, offering to help the country advance its civilian nuclear program if it gives up its military one. “I actually think there’s some potential ... that diplomacy could work,” Dennis Ross, a top adviser in the first Obama administration, said recently at a conference in Jerusalem. “But if it doesn’t, then we have to be prepared to use force, and I think we will be.” A decision to bomb could well depend on who runs the Pentagon—one of the reasons Israel supporters are opposing Chuck Hagel, who has argued against going to war with Iran.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-gay-marriage Marcio Jose Sanchez/Getty

9. The Supreme Court
by Michael Tomasky

Debt ceiling, tax reform, the economy, ongoing Republican insanity: these are givens. Slightly off that well-worn path: keep your eye on the Supreme Court and its continuing struggle to decide what kind of role it wants to play in our polity. Last year Chief Justice John Roberts concluded that he didn’t want his court to go down in history as overtly political, so he joined the four liberals in upholding health-care reform.

This year the court will be taking up some enormously controversial matters, including affirmative action, voting rights, and same-sex marriage. Will matters revert to the usual 5-4 split, with the conservatives opposing all of the above and the liberal minority supporting? Or might we be surprised? The best chance for that, and maybe the only chance, would be on same-sex marriage, where it seems possible that Anthony Kennedy will join the liberals. Especially now that majorities clearly support gay marriage, and the voters of three states gave it the thumbs-up last November, would the Supremes really want to look that out of it (well, yes, at least four of them would)?

Finally, the inevitable, slightly macabre speculation about retirements. Ruth Bader Ginsburg will turn 80 this year. Antonin Scalia and Kennedy will turn 77. An Obama nomination to flip the balance of the court? We’ve had almost every other kind of ideological fight since he became president, so why not that one?

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-europe Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty

10. The Future of Europe
by Christopher Dickey

Europe is adrift, and the extent to which its leaders are able to adapt to new, dangerous realities—or not—is the big question for 2013. The old systemic defenses, prosperity and democracy, are looking shaky. The common currency’s sinking ship has been plugged up again and again, but just barely. Some states may yet jump overboard. Others, with Greece the prime example, may try to stay in the hold but drown in the bilge.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has emerged as the most important leader in the most important country and, however reluctantly, has helped the others to stay afloat. But voters nostalgic for the world before 2008 continue to flirt with disaster. In France, the Socialists elected last May have proved, in a matter of months, to be very nearly incompetent. In Italy, that great snake-oil salesman Silvio Berlusconi may yet return to power.

Meanwhile, tensions mount on Europe’s frontiers: wars, revolutions, and the widening power of jihadists in northern Africa threaten to intensify the pressure of immigration. The reaction in many countries has been the rise of crypto-fascist parties that offer the panacea of hatred to hard-pressed populations. Who will set Europe’s course? Who can? That is the story.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-arab-spring Jerome Chatin/Redux

11. Lebanon
by Louise Roug Bokkenheuser

The arab Spring never really sprung in Lebanon. But while the revolutions of two years ago did not prove contagious, the fighting in Syria may soon be.

Twenty years ago, a generation of young men were radicalized by the belief (expounded by religious demagogues) that the long European and American inaction in Bosnia wasn’t regular political foot-dragging but rather tacit acceptance of the slaughter of Muslims. Similarly, Western nonintervention in Syria is hardening religious beliefs among the young Syrian rebels. The danger for Lebanon is that, as the civil war next door grows ever more religious, sectarian tensions in the neighborhood will increase. Already, trouble has crossed the border: in the fall, a car bomb killed a high-ranking Lebanese intelligence official, an assassination Sunni groups blamed on Hezbollah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s longtime Shiite ally.

Lebanon is a wonderful, extremely pleasant country to live in—but a seriously dysfunctional nation. It is home to at least 17 recognized sects—which mostly, but not always, get along. If the Syrian war drags on, or even worsens, the Lebanese may find themselves unable to withstand the bloody, widening gyre.

12-writers-on-stories-fe0201-immigration Joerg Modrow/laif via Redux

12. Immigration
by Richard Just

In the immediate wake of the election, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that if Republicans were going to cooperate with Barack Obama on any issue during the next four years, it would be immigration reform. The reason was simple: electoral math. In 2004, Kerry had won Latinos by 9 points. In 2008, Obama’s margin ballooned to 36 points. And in 2012, it increased again, to a mammoth 44 points.

Convinced that their own party’s harsh rhetoric toward illegal immigrants had played a role in this embarrassing trend, some conservatives called for a change in the GOP’s approach to immigration. Sean Hannity declared that he had “evolved” on the issue, while Republican politicians from John McCain to Jeb Bush urged a softer stance. In other words, after many years of political stagnation, immigration reform—that is, some kind of plan granting the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States legal status—seemed like a real possibility.

But will it actually happen? Will the right’s conciliatory mood toward illegal immigrants hold? And—given the myriad other issues on his plate—will Obama use his political capital on immigration? Recently, on Meet the Press, Obama seemed to indicate that he would. He called immigration reform “a top priority” and said, “I think we have talked about it long enough.” Of course, whether the president and the GOP can somehow reach an understanding on immigration is anyone’s guess—but if they do, it would undoubtedly rank as one of the central political stories of the year.

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