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Original author: 
Phil Bicker

From riots in Brazil and the Miami Heat’s NBA triumph to 213 bear paws smuggled across the Chinese border and a cat that’s running for mayor, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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Original author: 
Phil Bicker

From deadly tornadoes in the Midwest and the final week of the Cannes Film Festival to a wheelchair beauty contest in Moscow and the U.S. Naval Academy’s storied freshman initiation, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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Original author: 
Phil Bicker

From tornadoes in Texas and the demolition of Hurricane Sandy’s iconic roller coaster to President Obama’s rain check and a dancing lion, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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Original author: 
Phil Bicker

From clashes in the West Bank and election preparations in Pakistan to the legalization of gay marriage in Colorado and battles against wildfires in California, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

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From wildfires in Australia and riots in Belfast to the one year anniversary of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia and snow storms in the Middle East, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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From the Sandy Hook Elementary students’ return to school and the death of a gang-rape victim in India to New Year’s celebrations and a giant rubber duck in Darling Harbor, Australia, TIME presents the best images of the week.

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Over the past year, people around the globe endured epic, historic storms — literally and metaphorically — and were often left wondering, like countless generations before, whether the clouds would ever break. Peering through the dark lens of armed conflict, natural disasters and unfathomable barbarity in places as far-flung as Connecticut and Kandahar, we’ve all — at one time or another — wondered if the tide of catastrophe was, finally, simply going to overwhelm us.

As we approach 2013, it’s only natural that we look for glimmers of promise. Next August, for example, the United States will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech — an event and an eloquence so central to a nation’s ideas of what it can be and should be that, in celebrating the memory of that day, we embrace the notion that united, we can overcome any new adversity.

Here, LightBox presents a series of images from 2012 that are joined in theme and in import by a slim yet powerfully symbolic thread: a rainbow connection. As we envision what the coming year might bring, and how we might do better as individuals and as a culture in 2013, we pause to celebrate the fleeting emblem of peace that was seen and photographed in unexpected, incongruous places — scenes that many of us no doubt missed in the welter of the past year’s violence and sorrow.

It is not what’s at the end of the rainbow that counts; we know, in our hearts, that there’s nothing there at all. But taking a moment, now and in the future, to acknowledge the rainbow’s fleeting beauty costs nothing, and there’s never any harm in hope.

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Clint Eastwood’s appearance and speech to an empty chair at the GOP convention stupefied us, Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 24 miles above the Earth astounded us and Gabby Douglas’ Olympic performance thrilled us. But now that it’s on the wane, we can step back and report that, all in all, 2012 held relatively few major surprises. Perhaps one reason for the year’s ho-hum factor is that several long-anticipated events — the Mars Curiosity rover landing; the London Olympics; the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; the U.S. elections — set a tone of predictability for a year that, in large part, failed to ignite.

Granted, there were some genuine scandals, which always raise eyebrows (if not the level of national discourse): the Petraeus affair, Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace and pictures of a naked royal prince gallivanting with friends — in Vegas, of all places.

In front of the ubiquitous TV cameras, Angelina Jolie courted publicity at the Oscars, while Rihanna and Chris Brown shamelessly courted controversy everywhere. That it was all so baldly contrived hardly stopped the media from buying right into it.

A calculated, cautious and utterly uninspiring American presidential campaign contrasted  with the hope and optimism of four years ago. The promise of the Arab Spring gave way to protests against the new government in Egypt, a deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and a bloody civil war in Syria that shows no signs of a resolution.

The surprises, when they did come, were brutal shocks rather than thrilling or uplifting wonders. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., left us three parts numb and one part seething with a kind of violent despair.

We marked solemn anniversaries, like the 100th year since the sinking of the Titanic and the 50th since the death of Marilyn. Mick, Keith and the rest of the Stones kept rolling to mark their own 50th anniversary, but they did so with an utterly foreseeable bombast.

It was left to a Korean YouTube sensation riding an invisible horse to truly surprise and entertain us this year. But even then the novelty and fun rapidly wore thin, as Psy tributes from the likes of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Eaton school boys and countless others lay siege to the Internet.

And yet … in the face of what can really only be called a rather disappointing year, TIME presents a gallery of images from the past twelve months that did, despite everything, manage to surprise us: pictures that, we hope and trust, will in some small way redress the flaws of a year that, despite spectacles as wondrous as a man falling to earth from space and a Hollywood icon chatting with a chair, ultimately fell a little flat.

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The tech unit's sign, autographed by its members.

The reelection of Barack Obama was won by people, not by software. But in a contest as close as last week's election, software may have given the Obama for America organization's people a tiny edge—making them by some measures more efficient, better connected, and more engaged than the competition.

That edge was provided by the work of a group of people unique in the history of presidential politics: Team Tech, a dedicated internal team of technology professionals who operated like an Internet startup, leveraging a combination of open source software, Web services, and cloud computing power. The result was the sort of numbers any startup would consider a success. As Scott VanDenPlas, the head of the Obama technology team's DevOps group, put it in a tweet:

4Gb/s, 10k requests per second, 2,000 nodes, 3 datacenters, 180TB and 8.5 billion requests. Design, deploy, dismantle in 583 days to elect the President. #madops

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After months of nearly non-stop campaigning, President Obama and his team have spent the last two weeks crisscrossing the country to make their final appeals to voters. Veteran political photographer Brooks Kraft has been there to document the campaign’s final days.

This was the eighth presidential campaign that Kraft has photographed, and his sixth for TIME. Over the years, he has honed his approach to shooting some of the most photographed men and women in the United States. Kraft rarely takes his pictures from the press platforms, preferring to move around, searching out unique angles and small details.

“I attempt to work around all the messaging and clutter surrounding the candidate, to take photographs that reflect the character of the campaign,” he told TIME.

These photographs, many shot in so-called ‘battleground’ states, capture the energy and exhaustion of a campaign winding down. Kraft captures both the quiet details—from Secret Service agents on a distant roof to a close-up of a pink breast cancer awareness bracelet on the President’s wrist — and the dramatic moments — ecstatic crowds pressing toward the stage and the President silhouetted against spotlights as he speaks.

Shooting politics for so many years has allowed Kraft to make iconic pictures that transcend the obvious. “Shooting campaigns requires patience and persistence,” he said. “It can take many days of long travel to find images that can last beyond the daily news cycle.”

Brooks Kraft is a Washington D.C.-based photographer.

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