8 Huge Stories Nobody Paid Attention To In 2016
A lot of stuff can happen in a year. And because one major story dominated the news landscape this year (it rhymes with "bothersome erection"), a lot of smaller stories got pushed aside, including some that were pretty damned important. Here, then, for your election-ignoring pleasure, are some of the huge stories of 2016 that you might have missed.
2016 Was The New Hottest Year On Record
Look, if you don't believe that climate change is real, there's probably not a whole lot we're going to say in the next couple of paragraphs that will change your mind (although you'll no doubt read it anyway to try to refute us in the comments, so thanks for that). If you don't want to take responsibility for the state of the planet, that's on you. The rest of us are going to talk about our options.
Which means this probably isn't going to be a safe record for long.
The fallout from this is anywhere you care to look. Yes, California's epic drought has improved, and is now "terrible" instead of "calamitous," but did you know New England is also currently in a drought? Dry wells, thirsty residents, and massive amounts of dead fish -- so all the fun parts of the Bible, then. Another fun factoid: In 2010, New Orleans had 13 nights when the temperature didn't drop below 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This year, it was 43. Combined with the fact that about one-third of New Orleans' population doesn't have air conditioning, that alone could have been one of the biggest missed stories of the year, considering the misery it caused.
Oh. And the ground in Siberia is now wobbling.
The good news is that we can still take action. It'd be helpful if we took that action now, mind you, and also took it 20 years ago, if possible. But we can still do something now. Each and every one of us should be pestering our politicians to take action on climate change, planting several trees a day, and trying to do all our grocery shopping in one, maybe four trips a week. That'll ensure that ... well 2017 is already almost certainly fucked.
It'll help 2117 not look like The Road Warrior, maybe.
Related: The New Pixar Movie Looks Creepy AF
Obama's Really, Really, Really Good Year
For a long time, Obama's 2008 campaign promise of "Hope" looked like it was going to be a little bit off the mark. Bipartisanship is worse than ever. Obamacare has faced challenges its whole existence -- at this very moment, it's looking at the prospect of skyrocketing costs. America's drone strikes kill unintended targets 90 percent of the time. And clowns now roam the streets without fear.
Oh, and Prince died.
But that's maybe being a little too negative. A 2015 poll of political science scholars ranked Obama as 18th-best out of 42 presidents. That's not too shabby, even if it is a little premature, since he still has a couple months left to take all our guns. And he's currently on track to keep 77 percent of his campaign promises. This is all solid B-student stuff. Essentially competent.
Not, like, doctor material, but you'd let him fix your car.
And despite the endless congressional gridlock he's faced, Obama has had a number of legislative successes this year. He ended No Child Left Behind with a bill which seems to have involved actual, mythical bipartisan compromise. He signed a two-year budget bill which allowed the country to avoid defaulting on its debt. And he signed a bipartisan bill addressing the ongoing opioid crisis (more on this later).
It's a doozy. Buckle up.
On top of that, he's been commuting the shit out of sentences for prisoners convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. And improving medical access for transgender people. And his administration revealed a law which would give millions of workers overtime pay. (That law's facing lawsuits, because exploiters gotta exploit, but that's to be expected these days.) And, just as a cherry on top, because of comparisons to the historically unpopular candidates currently running for office, Obama's approval rating is at a second-term high.
Probably feeling like he's on some of those opioids right now, in fact.
So maybe he isn't so ineffective after all. Which is good news for salaried workers, we suppose, although still quite bad for anyone unfortunate enough to be standing underneath an American drone.
The Media Totally Ignored Two Giant Protests
In North Dakota, thousands of people have been protesting the construction of an oil pipeline which cuts through land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux, and the destruction of burial and cultural sites that construction is causing.
Look for it on page 12 of most newspapers.
Along with the threats to cultural sites, the protestors are also concerned about the typical environmental risks massive pipelines are known to have. And rightly so, seeing as how the project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers only after they brushed aside concerns from the EPA. If you're wondering why the Army Corps of Engineers is involved, it's because the federal government owns part of the land, although we'd like to think no one could talk about "owning land" with Native Americans while looking them in the eye.
Anyway, the protests have been going on for months, guard dogs have attacked protesters, journalists have been charged with inciting a riot, and it's still barely made a blip in the news. It'll take a celebrity getting ... oh no, Shailene Woodley got arrested there too. Huh. Still no one cares.
We're going to need someone, maybe a Baldwin, to die there.
But if those protests have been underreported, there's an even bigger one which has been ignored completely. In the largest prison strike on record, inmates in state prisons across the country have been protesting the horrible conditions they have to endure. Their biggest complaint relates to what is essentially the forced labor they have to perform for minimal wages. Prisons pay them something for work so that they aren't technically slaves, but in practice, their wages amount to anywhere from about 70 cents to three dollars an hour.
Which is really more in "child's allowance" territory.
Even fewer people are paying attention to this protest, because it's always a little hard getting information out of prisons, and also because no one really cares that much when bad things happen to prisoners. It's one of those things which is bad, sure, but because there are like 20 worse things happening to nicer people at this very moment, it's a little hard to get worked up about and-- oh, what has Trump done now, Jesus.
The Slow March Of Progress On Government Diversity
The world has been controlled by white men for a long time. "Too long," the world whispers, plotting in the shadows. And slowly, things are starting to change.
One big step occurred at the tail end of 2015, when recently elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the decision to have a gender-balanced cabinet. Women and men, working side by side? Not as mad as we always thought, it would seem.
Never before has public policy been so perfectly set up for a series of Friends-esque misunderstandings.
That's not all. In 2016, the Philippines elected a transgender woman to their House of Representatives -- with 62 percent of the vote! And in Kentucky, a state not normally the first one thinks of when it comes to diversity, the Democrats' candidate for the Senate, Jim Gray, is gay. At the time of writing, he's losing by 12 points, because Kentucky also isn't that Democratic of a state, but he doesn't think the gay thing is an issue. So that's something.
Way to beat the gay guy by only 12 points, Kentucky.
There's more! In September, Obama nominated Abid Riaz Qureshi to the federal judiciary -- the first Muslim ever so nominated. Of course, he won't be appointed until the Senate Judiciary Committee confirms him, and whether that happens or not will quite likely depend on the outcome of the election we're so tired of talking about.
Hint: One party is much less keen on Muslims than the other.
And if an unconfirmed federal judge isn't a high enough profile appointment for you, well, check this out: We got a new motherfucking Librarian of Congress this year. YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT.
Dr. Carla Hayden is both the first woman and first African-American to serve in that role, and if a new, more diverse Library of Congress doesn't get you more pumped for the future, then maybe nothing will.
Related: Well, It's March Again
Fucking Bears, Bears Everywhere
In 2016, Russian scientists were trapped in a weather station by polar bears. This is a not unheard-of problem for Russian scientists -- it happened last year, for example -- but it does seem to be increasing in regularity. The culprit is climate change and the rapid drop in sea ice. The bears used to hang out on other islands during the summer, but they couldn't make it this year. Lacking their normal hunting grounds, the bears often evidently decide that a weather station full of Russian scientists looks appetizing.
The food chain is an unforgiving thing for meteorologists.
But lest you think this is a late-developing Cold War ploy launched by the CIA, know that bear sightings in the U.S. have climbed dramatically as well. Some bears apparently aren't even hibernating anymore because the climate is so different. Japanese bears have been affected as well. At least four people were killed in Japan in 2016 -- half of the total deaths from bear attacks between 1979 and 2015.
Still only a fraction of Japan's giant-lizard-related deaths, but a troubling trend nevertheless.
And wait until you see the next step in bear warfare: a terrifying mixture of grizzly and polar bear. Grizzlies and polar bears don't generally move in the same areas, but the changing climate has caused their hunting grounds and dating scenes to overlap. The result, known as Grolar Bears, are an adorable and terrifying look at our future, and also quite possibly the subject of a Syfy movie.
Another Banner Year For Drug-Related Price Gouging
Opioids are a powerful family of drugs which includes both illegal forms like heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin. They are a huge and growing problem; 2014 saw quadruple the number of opioid overdoses that occurred in 2000.
Here we are. We hope you're ready.
This, sadly, isn't news. It's an ongoing, well-known problem. What is news is the fact that the standard treatment for an opioid overdose, the drug naloxone, has gone massively up in price. Every form of the drug, generic or otherwise, has gone up, but one noteworthy example is an auto-inject version of the drug (like an EpiPen) called Evzio. Made by Kaleo Pharma, it used to cost $575 a dose. Now it costs an absurd $3,750. This for a drug which in its generic form only costs pennies in other countries. Well, probably not pennies. Whatever other countries use.
If this sounds familiar, it's because it's exactly the same thing which happened with EpiPens earlier this year and the cancer-fighting drug Daraprim last year. It's almost like there might be problems with leaving life-saving drugs entirely in the hands of the private market, and-- oh, what's this, another Harambe meme, yeah, let's all talk about that instead.
Shooting The Caretaker
There have been so many high-profile police shootings in 2016 that it's difficult to keep track of them all. But here's one you may have missed: the shooting of Charles Kinsey. Kinsey was the caretaker of a severely autistic man. He was shot by police during a confrontation with that man. At the time of the shooting, Kinsey was pleading with the man to cooperate with the police -- lie down, put his hands up, that kind of thing. At the same time, he was also shouting at the police not to shoot anyone.
So they shot him.
We're being purposefully glib to hide the growing fear that we -- all of us -- are looking into a bottomless chasm which we're about to fall into.
The cop was aiming at the autistic man, if that helps, which no not really. The officer claims he thought the suspect had a gun (it was a toy truck), but even that doesn't really make a ton of sense, because after shooting, missing, and hitting another guy, that "gun" should still be an issue, right? But the officer stopped shooting. According to the cop's attorney, it's because "he thought the threat was gone," which, at minimum, calls into question the officer's threat-identification skills. Incidentally, this is an officer who had once been arrested for petty theft, and also once had a psychological review which described his "lack of tolerance." Not exactly Supercop material, then.
Still, everyone survived, making this a good news story by 2016 standards. Hooray?
Oklahoma Discovered It Didn't Know What Rape Is
Oklahoma discovered this year that it was legal to rape someone orally if they were blackout-drunk and incapable of giving consent.
There it is again.
Here's the terrible story: A 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl were drinking in a park with some friends. The girl blacked out, and the boy took her home. When she woke up, she was in the hospital, nurses performing a sexual assault examination on her. They found the boy's DNA on her leg and around her mouth, and charges were soon filed.
But a judge threw out the case! And an appeal court ruling upheld the decision! And they were probably legally in the clear to do so!
The road to the bottomless chasm is paved with good intentions.
The problem was with Oklahoma's rape laws. Although sex with an unconscious person is definitely recognized as rape there, those laws didn't apply in this case, as it only involved oral sex. Forced oral sex is covered under a different statute, which has language which somehow doesn't consider the possibility of being drunk or incapacitated. Even legal experts who disagree with the ruling in theory agree that it was technically correct, given the antiquated wording of the state's laws.
There is some good news in this awful story: Lawmakers quickly amended the legislation to close this loophole. Obviously, this comes too late to matter in this case, ex post facto laws being what they are. But if any of you had any ideas about doing something especially heinous in Oklahoma, well, don't.
Don't do that anywhere.
Incidentally, Oklahoma isn't the only state with this kind of surprise lurking in its legal books. For example, spousal rape, although illegal in all 50 states, is handled differently in a few of them, which can make it almost impossible to prosecute sometimes. And Mississippi has no laws limiting rapists' parental rights, meaning rape victims can be forced to share custody with their rapists.
Which brings us to the larger point: Most of these laws never get fixed until another horrible crime happens. Which means some more heart-breaking stories like this are all but inevitable.
So bring on 2017.
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