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News of the Nation, 2009

Major U.S. news stories from the recession to same-sex marriage


President Barack Obama Offical Portrait

President Barack Obama

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Same-Sex Marriage Legislation | Obama's First Year | First Hispanic Justice | Fort Hood Shooting | Supreme Court Rules on DNA Testing | Health-Care Reform Tops Agenda

President Obama's First Year

A Landmark Inauguration
In a ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Barack Obama was sworn into office on January 20, 2009, becoming the first African-American president. He immediately set out to resurrect the struggling economy and outline his plans for investing in energy, health care, and education, while at the same time warning that more government bailouts were imminent. He also revealed his budget for 2010, which included a $3 trillion deficit.

War in Iraq Nearing Its End; Efforts in Afghanistan Redoubled
In February, President Obama announced his intention to withdraw most American troops from Iraq by August 31, 2010. As many as 50,000 troops will remain there for smaller missions and to train Iraqi soldiers.

The war in Afghanistan, however, is far from over. In December, Obama revealed his plan for a troop surge to the troubled country. The U.S. military will send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan beginning in January to thwart a resurgent Taliban, help train Afghan troops, and bring security to population centers. This new surge will bring the total number of American soldiers in Afghanistan to 100,000. The president did provide a timeline for withdrawal, stating that a drawdown of troops will begin in July 2011. Obama's Afghanistan strategy was widely perceived as a defining moment in his presidency. Many Americans, though sympathetic to the commitment and the purpose of the war in Afghanistan, were opposed to the escalation. Others who supported the surge as a means to bring Afghanistan closer to stability and independence, saw the president's plan as a mixed message: you can have our support, but only for a limited time.

Education Overhaul on the Agenda
President Obama set aside tens of billions of dollars from the economic stimulus package for education. As part of his plan to improve the education system in the U.S., he asked states to lift limits on charter schools and boost the quality and availability of early childhood education. He also emphasized his desire to link teacher pay to student performance.

This issue, too, sparked controversy; some state leaders objected to the government's increasing role in education. The use of standardized testing to measure student achievement and teacher success were also contentious.

Environmental Changes Just Beginning
While Obama stressed the importance of environmental issues during the presidential campaign and in his first speech before Congress, policy action took a backseat to the economy and health-care reform. In May, he announced new, stricter regulations on auto emissions and mileage standards, which will go into effect in 2012. The regulations are similar to the ones currently in place in California.

In December, member countries of the United Nations met in Copenhagen to discuss a worldwide reduction of carbon emissions, limits on greenhouse gas pollution, and the preservation of forest across the globe. President Obama supported the measures, but any execution of these changes will have to be addressed in 2010—at the earliest. That same month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that pollution that changes the climate is detrimental to human health and the environment, a major step in the future of limiting greenhouse gasses.

Surprise Award Sparks Curiosity, Criticism
President Obama was unexpectedly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." Obama responded to the honor with surprise and humility, saying that the award was a "call to action" to engage other nations around the world to promote peace. Many Americans—Democrats and Republicans alike—voiced their reservations about the award, wondering why the president was given the award so early in his term and career, particularly when the country is engaged in two wars. The Nobel Peace Prize, often awarded with a not-so-subtle political message, was seen as a rebuke to former president George W. Bush's unilateral vision of the world and an embrace of Obama's attempt to reach out to the international community and restore the country's tarnished image abroad.

During his acceptance speech in December, Obama acknowledged the apparent irony that he was given a prize for peace while leading a country fighting in two wars, but claimed that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are both necessary and just. He agreed, however, that he had a lot of work ahead of him to improve the lives of Americans and the others around the world.

For more information about President Obama's first year:

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Did you know?
The worst epidemic in U.S. history was the outbreak of Spanish influenza in 1918.

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