President Obama announces normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba

In a surprising announcement on 17 December 2014, President Obama ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and the opening of an embassy for the first time in almost fifty-five years in Cuba's capitol, Havana. He further vowed to "cut loose the shackles of the past" and sweep aside one of the remaining vestiges of the Cold War. The announcement came at the end of eighteen months of secret talks and a rapprochement facilitated by Pope Francis and the Vatican.

Iowa restaurateur survives IRS asset-foreiture seizure of her cash deposits

Iowa restaurateur Carole Hinders, 67, learned more than most American citizens would hope to ever need to know about arcane IRS actions when the agency seized her entire $33,000 bank balance, without ever accusing her of a crime. This was a result of a controversial body of law that allows law enforcement agencies to seize cash, cars and other valuables they believe are tied to criminal activity. The burden of proof falls to those seeking return of their property, such as Ms. Hinders who has operated a restaurant that doesn't accept credit cars for forty years.

Prince and Princess of Monaco welcome twins

The Sovereign Prince and Princess of Monaco welcomed twins on Wednesday, 10 December 2014. By palace decree a forty-two gun salute - combining two twenty-one gun salutes - heralded the arrival of the twins. First born was Gabriella Therese Marie, followed minutes later by Jacques Honore Rainier, heirs to the 700+ year-old Grimaldi dynasty that rules the principality. Prince Albert II, 56, is the son of Prince Rainier III and legendary film star Grace Kelly, who quit Hollywood to become Princess of Monaco.

Apple's Tim Cook cites "being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me"

Apple chief executive Timothy D. Cook has publicly acknowledged that he is, "Proud to be gay," and considers, "... being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." For a CEO at a public company such as Apple, which ranks #5 among the Fortune 500, it is unprecedented, and indeed Mr. Cook is the first. The essay set off a ripple effect of news stories creating a level of visibility certain to reach every remote town across America as well as a huge overseas audience. Coming from the CEO of Apple that was, of course, by design. Cook wrote of his realization that, "If hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or brings comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist upon their equality, then it's worth the trade-off with my privacy." He chose a golden moment when Apple shares are at near record prices. Goldman Sachs CEO was quoted in The New York Times as commenting, "He's chief executive of the Fortune One ... This will resonate powerfully."

Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, last of the Mitford sisters, dead at 94

Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and the last of the six eccentric Mitford sisters, died at 94. Born Deborah Vivien Freeman-Mitford on March 31, 1920, at the Oxfordshire estate of her parents, David Freeman-Mitford, the 2nd Baron Redesdale, and the former Sydney Bowles, she married Andrew Cavendish, second son of the 10th Duke of Devonshire at the age of 21.

Comedian and actor Robin Williams a suicide at age 63

The Hollywood Reporter was reportedly told by Mara Buxbaum, Williams' publicist that: "Robin Williams passed away this morning. He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time." Williams' third wife, Susan Schneider, told the paper: "This morning, I lost my husband and my best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken.

New Yorker writer Roger Angell honored by Baseball Hall of Fame

Roger Angell, a writer for The New York magazine, was recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York as the recipient of their writing honor, the J. G. Taylor Spink Award. Primarily a fiction editor at the magazine, Angell has been writing about baseball for over 50 years.

"Up the Down Staircase" author Bel Kaufman dead at 103

A former New York City high school teacher whose classic first novel, published in 1965, spent more than a year on the New York Times best-seller list, Bel Kaufman died at home in Manhattan at the age of 103. Story-telling was in her blood: her maternal grandfather was the celebrated Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem.

NY governor's team savaged for ethics investigation meddling

After promising an independent commission to investigate corruption in New York State government, and then abruptly ending the commission's work, The New York Times publishes full details of the work of the committee. Ranging from inappropriate influence and allegations of meddling from supporters and members of Governor Andrew Cuomo's administrative team, the detailed dissection of the goings on are likely not be the type of influential media coverage a politician hopes for just months before a re-election campaign.

Popular actor James Garner dead in Los Angeles at 86

Down-to-earth actor James Garner, born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman, Oklahoma on 7 April 1928, won acclaim in successful television series as a popular weekly guest in viewers homes. Grandson of a native-American, he gave his production company the Cherokee name.