A Few Important Things That Occurred In The Year 2016

by Ralph Scharnau

Many people and most news gathering organizations put the presidential election as the top issue for 2016. Yet a number of other noteworthy things happened as well. Here are five of the year’s other significant happenings.

Not that long ago the $15 minimum wage was considered a laughable objective. By 2016, the Fight for Fifteen and union rights came into its own. A grass roots workers’ movement, started by fast food workers in 2012 and bolstered by service unions such as SEIU, spurred actions of support from states, counties and municipalities. Today the movement includes home health aides, airport baggage handlers, adjunct professors, retail employees, and underpaid workers everywhere

The low wage labor force struggles to pay for food, transportation, and housing. A clear majority of Americans, including 84 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents support a $15 minimum wage. But just 32 percent of Republicans do.

Renewable energy made incredible strides in 2016. While wind and solar accounted for just 6.6 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2016, this was up from less than 0.6 percent a decade ago. Clean renewable energy protects communities from harmful pollution, creates new jobs, and brings health benefits.

Wind and solar prices continue to plunge. In some regions, wind and solar power generated electricity are now less expensive than dirty fossil fuels. More and more states, cities and business aim to transition to renewable energy.

The Republican platform adopted in mid-July, 2016 is the most extreme in memory. Its goals include cutting taxes and regulations for the rich and titans of industry, deregulating banks, making Christianity a national religion, loosening gun controls nationwide, ignoring global climate change agreements, restoring the death penalty and imposing a belligerent foreign policy and military build-up.

Other measures are equally oppressive. They call for barring female soldiers from combat, requiring the Bible to be taught in public schools, returning public lands to the states, repealing environmental laws, privatizing Medicare, denying basic civil rights to GLBTQ people, and no change in the federal minimum wage.

According to a study released by the ACLU/Human Rights Watch in October 2016, black and white adults use illegal drugs at roughly the same rates. Nationally blacks are 2.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested for drug possession. In Iowa the racial disparity rises to 7 times, putting Iowa as the second worst in the nation, and narrowing the scope to marijuana possession, Iowa ranks as the worst in the country.

The devastating results of arrests for illegal drug possession impact more than a million Americans each year. People cycle through jail, suffer job loss, incur large fines, and bear the stigma of criminal records. A felony conviction in Iowa means automatically losing voting rights. Various criminal justice reform ideas include banning racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, reducing sentences for non-violent crimes, eliminating mandatory minimums and investing in alternatives to jail and prison.

Despite the divisions in the country and in Congress, President Barack Obama signed, with bipartisan support, the 21st Century Cures Act on December 13, 2016. The law aims to stimulate medical research, promote innovation and speed the development of new treatments, especially for cancer. Ken Burns’ documentary film, “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” released in 2015, reveals the toll this scourge takes, particularly on those of us who lost family members.

The year 2016 had its share of highs and lows. One can hope that 2017 will bring greater peace, justice, health, and equality.

Ralph Scharnau
December 26, 2016

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