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Saturday, Dec 28 2013 11:59 PM

ROBERT PRICE: What we lost and what we gained in 2013

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    Robert Price is The Californian's editorial page editor. Email him at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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By ROBERT PRICE, Californian editorial page editor rprice@bakersfield.com

It almost seems like 2013 was the setup year for a now-the-other-shoe-drops year. So many scandals, so many squabbles, so many social and political dramas -- and so little of it resolved by year's end.

Twenty-thirteen was the year we lost all illusion that our lives were private. Our right to be secure in our homes has, for the past decade, really been just a figment of our fondest assumptions about being Americans. In 2013, Edward Snowden and others spilled the beans and spoiled that comfortable fantasy.

And, bad as it is, government agencies weren't the only ones with their eyes in our computers and their hands in our pockets: Some Ukrainian hacker got the goods on us, too. God knows what he has in mind once he de-encrypts the PINs on all of those Target cards. And he is undoubtedly just one of many involved in grand-scale identification theft. If someone hasn't already started working on a more foolproof credit-transfer system, they're encouraged to do so now.

Twenty-thirteen was the year, conversely, that the White House made its public business a little less public. The Washington press corps expressed its displeasure when the adminstration started excluding all but its own staff photographer, Pete Souza, at certain events. Who needs the mainstream media anyway, Obama seemed to be saying, when Facebook and social media give us unfiltered access to the masses? The next logical step might be for the White House, with the NSA's support, to start announcing Academy Award winners two days before the envelopes are opened on stage, just because it can.

Twenty-thirteen was the year Congress finally dropped all pretense and collectively admitted it has no intention, ever, of doing anything, ever. At the core of this disintegration of collegiality and compromise was the battle within the Republican Party. You really had to start feeling sorry for House Speaker John Boehner. He could sponsor a resolution declaring the sky grey and still be sweating out the final vote.

Twenty-thirteen was the year the tea party accomplished an opinion-poll turnaround for the ages. The conservative, populist movement's polling numbers plummeted after it led the country to the brink of fiscal default in September. The caucus' leaders demanded some sort of concession from Obama as their reward for taking the only sane course available. And almost any concession would do.

But the tea party surged back to life in November when the Obama administration botched the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. And the debate raged: Would the ACA make health care more affordable, as promised, or less so, as conservative pundits and others insisted. The stress of the epic political struggle seemed more likely to kill off uninsured Americans than get them any closer to affordable coverage.

Twenty-thirteen was the year high-tech and no-tech shared the world stage. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' wild fantasy about delivering customers' purchases to their front doors by way of mini-drone started looking slightly more plausible after UPS and FedEx, besieged by complaints over late Christmas deliveries, were forced to acknowledge that online commerce had reached a tipping point. Rubber-on-asphalt distribution seemed headed for extinction and delivery trucks for mothballs, perhaps sooner than later.

On the no-tech end of the scale was the rookie pontiff, Pope Francis, whose rejection of the gilded accoutrements of his predecessors seemed to impress even the unchurched. Francis, elected in March, managed to get under the skin of both Vladmir Putin and Rush Limbaugh, a combo that, symbolically speaking, must be unprecedented in the papacy's annals. What's next? Women in the priesthood? A proposed new tax code for the U.S.? Francis' revelation that he just couldn't put down "The Da Vinci Code"?

Twenty-thirteen set us up with a few cliffhangers. We look to 2014 with same anticipation one might feel as the meat of the novel is finally laid bare.

Contact Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com or Twitter: @stubblebuzz

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