This waning year started out with many still marveling over the Senate doing something historic at the end of last year. The repeal of the banon gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. The sophomoric video antics of Navy Capt. Owen Honors that had folks chattering at the beginning of the month. But more serious conversation would take hold in the second week of January.

(The Associated Press)

The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)

The popular congresswoman was doing a meet-and-greet with constituents when a madman named Jared Lee Loughner shot Giffords in the head. She would survive, but six other souls would die and 12 others were wounded. And almost immediately the finger-pointing started with Sarah Palin bearing the brunt of the blame. She didn’t help matters with a seriously tone-deaf and ill-advised defense of herself. Nevertheless, a conversation was started about our national discourse.

During a consoling address in Tucson, President Obama urged Americans to “use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” The red-hot rhetoric that engulfed the nation cooled — if only for a little while.

The coming ‘insanity’ over the debt ceiling

In a column for U.S. News and World Report, Karen Finney posited a theory: Republican leaders in the lame-duck session were more than eager to cut a deal with President Obama on extending the Bush tax cuts to get it off the table before the Tea Party-infused 112th Congress had to deal with raising the nation’s borrowing limit.Why that breathing space was needed was on full display on the Sunday shows on Jan. 2.

While Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.) expressed conditional support for raising the nation's borrowing limit, Rep.-elect Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said it would be “absolutely irresponsible.” Austan Goolsbee, then the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, warned, “The debt ceiling is not something to toy with.” It was a warning that would fall on deaf ears.

The spark of the Arab Spring

That’s what we now call the push for democracy across the Middle East started by a man who set himself ablaze in Tunisia. But it was the protests in Egypt, the cultural center of the Arab world, against leader Hosni Mubarak that had us glued to our televisions. It was a reminder of how precious freedom is and the lengths to which people will go to slip the yoke of oppression.

And the noteworthy

The new year brought new roles to familiar faces. Because of the new Republican majority, Rep. John Boehner (Ohio) took the gavel as Speaker of the House. Jay Carney, a former Time magazine reporter and spokesperson for Vice President Joe Biden, became the White House press secretary. And Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) would botch this nation’s history with slavery with an “absolutely amazing”  interpretation.