Nuggets of Wisdom

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top 10 Good Things About 2016

Let’s not mince words here: saying that 2016 was the worst year ever would be an understatement. The year 2016 was a dumpster fire that became increasingly worse as the year progressed: celebrity deaths, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, creepy clowns, and all finishing off with the worst election ever, one between a warmongering corporate shill whose gross incompetence and corruption threatened to drive the country into WWIII—and Donald Trump!

Of course, as previous years have proven, even the darkest storm clouds have a silver lining. Despite the overall crapness of 2016, this steaming dung heap of a year managed to contain a few gold nuggets for anyone willing to wade through the crap. From promises of high speed transportation and manned missions to Mars, to small victories in property rights and civil liberties, this year managed to have enough good moments worth celebrating, and we’re here to count them down:

#1: Medical And Recreational Marijuana Legalized In Eight States

Regardless of whether or not you feel the outcome of this year’s election was a “victory” for the country, one major victory that undoubtedly came out of this election was that of marijuana legalization.

Out of the nine states with marijuana initiatives on their ballots, eight states approved their ballot initiatives, with four states approving medical marijuana use (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota), and the other four states approving recreational use (California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada). Only Arizona failed to pass its initiative.

These states follow the ever-growing trend of marijuana legalization across the county, as there are now 28 states (plus the District of Columbia) where medical marijuana has been legalized. These victories also reflect growing public support, with more than 60 percent of Americans supporting marijuana legalization—the highest number within the past 47 years!

As for the few Americans who don’t support legalization, they need only consider its success in Colorado. Four years after legalizing recreational pot, far from devolving into a drugged-up wasteland, the state has actually seen a decrease in violent crime, traffic fatalities, and drug-related arrests, and an increase in job growth and tax revenue.

Despite these small victories, many challenges still lie ahead. While President Elect Donald Trump claims legalization “should be a state issue”, his pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been critical of states legalizing marijuana, and thus could potentially serve as a roadblock for further legalization efforts.

Nevertheless, as long as public support for “the green stuff” continues to grow, so too will the number of states legalizing it; and hopefully, as with gay marriage, pot will become legal on the federal level. Only time will tell.

#2: Civil Forfeiture Reformed And Abolished

Civil forfeiture is a legal precedent by with law enforcement can seize property they suspect of being involved with a crime. Unfortunately, as folks like John Oliver have shown, law enforcement have abused it in order to line their own pockets—so much so that, statistically, cops have taken more property from Americans than have burglars!

Fortunately, many states across this country have taken initiative this year to combat such abuse by passing laws to restrain and even abolish civil forfeiture.

States such as California, New Hampshire, and Maryland all passed civil forfeiture reforms requiring criminal convictions—and in many cases, raising the standard of proof to "clear and convincing evidence"—before law enforcement can seize property.

Perhaps the strictest civil forfeiture reform this year came from Nebraska, which outright abolished the practice, and now requires a criminal conviction as a prerequisite for its forfeiture cases. Along with North Carolina and New Mexico, that makes three states that have abolished civil forfeiture.

Of course, such abuse and corruption still remains rampant within the criminal justice system nationwide. However, if three states can abolish a practice that violates private property rights and due process, there's still hope that many more will follow their lead.

#3: Dakota Access Pipeline Construction Halted

After spending countless months battling cold weather and militarized law enforcement, #NoDAPL protesters claimed victory when their civil disobedience successfully halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The proposed 1,172-mile-long oil pipeline, stretching from North Dakota to Illinois, would have passed though sacred land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, potentially destroying their sacred burial grounds and placing their water supply at risk.

Thousands of protesters from across the country descended near Standing Rock to oppose the pipeline’s construction, and in doing so, suffered many indignities, from being assaulted with pepper spray, rubber bullets, and attack dogs, to having police arrest several protesters and even journalists covering the protests.

In the end, their protests paid off when the pipeline’s construction was at last suspended, first through a formal request from the Obama administration, and later through its construction permit being denied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

While many conservatives and libertarians may not object to the pipeline’s construction (especially since oil pipelines are a much safer alternative to other oil transportation methods), what they ought to oppose is the pipeline’s use of eminent domain, a legal precedent by which the government can seize private property, and a precedent whose abuse has since been exacerbated by a Supreme Court decision allowing land to be seized for corporate interests.

In the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, eminent domain had been used to seize land for its proposed route through Iowa, thus prompting more than 15 Iowan landowners to sue in response. As such, the pipeline’s construction was a clear affront to property rights, and its suspension was a victory for private landowners.

Whether you consider the protest to be a victory for the environment, Native Americans, or private property rights, there’s no denying that it’s a victory worth celebrating.

#4: The Islamic State Loses Ground

With the countless Islamic terrorist attacks that occurred this year alone, from California to France, it’s easy to fear that radical Islam is gaining a stronghold and winning the clash of civilizations, when, in actuality, the exact opposite is true.

The Islamic State (ISIS) has been quickly losing ground this year alone, having lost nearly half of the territory it had seized two years ago. Of the 126 key places it captured in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has been driven out of 56 of those locations, including five major cities.

One of those cities, Mosul, currently serves as its last major stronghold in Iraq, and its military power there has been slowly “weakening”, according to U.S. military officials, which means that the “fighters operating there will have little choice but to die in the city's defense or fall back into neighboring Syria.”

As the Washington Post reports, even “[ISIS]’s leaders are acknowledging the terrorist organization’s declining fortunes on the battlefield while bracing for the possibility that its remaining strongholds could fall.”

Perhaps the greatest pushback against Islamic terrorism has come, not from the U.S. military, but from actual Muslims. Earlier this year, nearly 70,000 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa against ISIS, denouncing its violent and hateful actions, and claiming that it and other Islamic terrorist groups were "not Islamic organizations.”

Granted, even if ISIS were to finally fall within the foreseeable future, the fight against Islamic terrorism would be far from over. Even then, one could only hope that this year will see the beginning of the death throes of a defeated great evil.

#5: Fidel Castro Dies (And Cuba's Communism Slowly With Him)

If there's been one great development within the past decade, it has been with many despotic tyrants such as Muammar Gaddafi, Kim Jon Ill, and Hugo Chavez dropping like flies. The latest tyrant to make the world a better place with his passing has been Fidel Castro.

While many world leaders spoke mealy-mouthed words about Cuba's former leader, there's no denying that the man was a brutal dictator responsible for inflicting suffering and death upon his people in the name of Communism.

Though his people suffered many decades under his despotic regime, to the point where many fled the island nation when given the chance, they have since experienced a better life with a short but steady transition away from Communism.

Ever since Castro resigned in 2006, Cuba has rolled back some of its more socialist policies in favor of market liberalization. In 2010, the government approved several small free market reforms permitting citizens to own and run their own businesses.

Six years later, the country has slowly been reaping the benefits of capitalism. As the WSJ reports: "Economists say that in the last five years, about 25% of Cuban workers have left government jobs for employment in the new private economy. Many Cubans who run restaurants and boardinghouses for tourists and drive taxis in the expanding tourism industry are doing well. Not so the remaining 75% who work in a government sector for salaries of about $25 a month and have been hit hard by higher prices, economists say."

As of last year, Obama lifted the decades-old Cold War trade embargo on the island, which will allow trade relations to re-open between it and the United States, and thus allow Cuban citizens to potentially receive the economic benefits of additional tourism and trade.

While Cuba is still far from being a free market, the passing of Castro indicates that the old Communist regime is slowly passing, thus providing hope that Communism will potentially lose its gripe upon the island nation, and its citizens will come to embrace capitalism.

#6: Gawker Media Falls

While the internet allows for the convenient sharing of news and information, it's also capable of spreading misinformation and propaganda pretending to be "news", which has prompted concern this year about "fake news". Fortunately, one such purveyor of fake news has since bitten the dust.

For fourteen years, Gawker Media, like countless other on-line "news" sites, has propagated clickbait pretending to be "news". Some of their more embarrassing and face-palmingly stupid examples range from "poor people should be allowed to steal from other people", to "violent riots actually help the economy", to "we need to bring back bullying".

Aside from generating cringeworthy clickbait, the "news" site has also engaged in a long history of unethical practices, from invading the privacy of celebrities, to outing gay and trans people, to refusing to pay their interns.

Perhaps their most egregious violation of journalistic ethics occurred in 2015, when they leaked a sex tape of Hulk Hogan—something that seems especially hypocritical, as they have criticized other sites for sharing leaked nude photos of female celebrities. Gawker was ordered by a judge to take the tape down, but they laughed and refused to do so.

This led to Gawker receiving a legal smack down from the double team of Hulk and billionaire Peter Thiel, who had also been wronged by the "news" site when they outed him as "gay." The two won their lawsuit, and Gawker was so financially crippled by it that they were forced to shut down.

Unfortunately, while Gawker is long gone, many of its sister sites such as Jezebel and Gizmodo have been taken under new management. And while one fake news clickbait generator has disappeared, countless other fake news sites exist and continue to propagate clickbait.

Fortunately, as the victory against Gawker has shown, fake news sites may remain prevalent, but they aren't invulnerable, and one slip up from them can cost them their very existence. Let's hope many more will eventually go the way of Gawker.

#7: Space X Takes Flight And Sets Sights To Mars

For decades, NASA has held a government monopoly on space flight. As of recently, one private company not only dares to challenge that monopoly, but to soar above and beyond it with their eyes set on Mars.

Space X, the private aerospace manufacturer founded by Elon Musk, made great strides this year proving that the private sector was equally as capable of launching rockets into space as was the public sector. This year saw further testing of its reusable Falcon 9 rockets, which not only managed to launch and land on solid ground—twice!—but also on a floating ship at sea.

Musk has high expectations for his company and its new technology to not only send human beings into space, but as far as the distant red planet of Mars. Yes, Musk announced this year his ambitions of hosting manned missions to Mars for exploration and potential colonization, and as soon as 2022—six years from now, and three years sooner than his previous estimates!

Of course, Musk and Space X are not without their critics, many of whom doubt his company's capacity for such manned Mars missions. And it certainly doesn't help that Space X experienced disaster earlier this year when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded.

Nevertheless, it will take more than one accident and a dozen naysayers to prevent Musk from setting his sights to Mars and beyond. After all, skeptics once doubted that man would ever travel to the moon, and they were proven wrong—several times over! So too will those who doubt a similar excursion to Mars, and with the aid of a private company, no less!

#8: Hyperloop Moves Forward At Top Speed

Imagine being able to travel the distance of a six-hour trip in only half an hour. Soon you won't need to imagine, as the proposed Hyperloop plans on making such a vision a reality.

The Hyperloop is a proposed high-speed transportation system which, in the most layman of terms, puts a bullet train in a large pneumatic tube. Not only is this “super train” expected to span greater distances in shorter amounts of time, but also to be faster, cheaper, and even greener than the average plane or train.

So far, this revolutionary new mode of transportation remains purely hypothetical, but testing is currently underway, and the results thus far have been great. The first full-scale demonstration of its propulsion technology was conducted in the Nevada desert earlier this summer, which saw a test aluminum sled successfully launched along a 200-foot track at 120 mph in one second.

Granted, much more testing still needs to be conducted before the Hyperloop is considered fully operational, but the very concept has intrigued many potential startups. So far, a proposed system has been planned in California, spanning 400 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other systems have been proposed in Scandinavia, Russia, Switzerland, Australia, and India.

As for whether or not the Hyperloop would be feasible, one feasibility study for a proposed Nordic system proved that it is. Not only would the Hyperloop turn a 300-mile trip between Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland into a three-hour trip, and not only would it be rather inexpensive to build, but its economic benefits would also generate a surplus after only a decade.

Of course, the Hyperloop has not been without its most vocal critics (whom have been debunked). Then again, every new mode of transportation from the steam engine to the airplane received their fair share of skepticism, only to prove their skeptics wrong. With the success and popularity the Hyperloop has gained this year alone, it very well could end up leaving its own critics in the dust.

#9: Endangered Animals Rise in Population

What do humpback whales, giant pandas, and manatees all have in common? (Aside from the fact that they’re all mammals, of course!) They’re all animals that were once on the endangered species list but have since been removed as of this year.

Thanks to conservation measures worldwide, many endangered species have since seen their populations boom, some to the point where they have been removed from the endangered species list. The three most prominent of these once endangered animals are the giant panda, the humpback whale, and the Florida manatee.

Other animals worldwide have seen their populations grow and thrive in areas where they were once considered at risk or even non-existent, including the wild wolves of Germany, the wild salmon of the Connecticut River, the green sea turtles of the Gulf of Mexico, and the grizzly bears of Yellowstone Park.

Perhaps the most impressive comeback has been that of the tiger, which has seen its numbers in the wild grow for the first time in a century. Once considered an animal close to the brink of extinction, tigers have since grown in population, with approximately 3,890 wild tigers as of this year, an increase from an estimated 3,200 in 2010.

Regardless, there are still many animals that are still considered endangered and even at risk of extinction. And while many animals this year have been removed from the endangered species list, others have recently been placed on it, including giraffes, cheetahs, and, most worryingly enough, bees.

Of course, if the panda bear and tiger can make epic comebacks, there’s plenty of hope that other animals can do the same, and perhaps one day the only thing that will become extinct is the endangered species list itself.

#10: Renewable Energy Outpaces Fossil Fuels

Regardless of your beliefs (or lack thereof) about "global warming", there's no denying that fossil fuels are being depleted, and as such, they'll eventually need to be replaced with newer, more renewable energy sources. Fortunately, this year has proven that such a transition towards cleaner energy is extremely viable, if not inevitable.

Renewable energy sources have grown more within the past year than any other time in recent history. As of this year, more than half of all added power capacity consisted of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, according to a 2016 International Energy Agency (IRENA) report.

One reason that renewable energy has gained so much ground has been due to their decreasing costs. Since 2009, solar panel costs have fallen by 80 percent while wind turbine costs have fallen by 40 percent, Reuters reports. And these costs are only expected to continue dropping even further into the future—up to 59 percent by 2025!

Leading this energy transition, much to the surprise of snarky environmentalists, is the good old U.S.A itself, as America is currently the second largest producer of renewable energy overall (with China being number one) and the number one producer of wind energy.

More and more states continue to move forward with cleaner energy. Iowa plans on installing more than 1,000 wind turbines, while California managed to beat its own state's record by powering six million homes with solar energy. By 2050, more than 80 percent of the country's electricity is expected to be generated from renewable energy, according to the Department of Energy.

As the old aging dinosaur of fossil fuels continues to die off, new life with be breathed into renewable energy sources. While many environmentalists claim that this energy revolution should be led by the government, it’s more likely that the free market, not the state, will lead the way towards a more sustainable future.

Other Honorable Mentions
  • Chicago Cubs win the World Series after 108 years without experiencing such a victory.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins an Oscar for best actor.
  • Amazon Go announced as the first store without lines and checkouts, with plans for more than 2,000 stores nationwide as of next year.
  • The Ice Bucket Challenge from 2014 helped raise enough money to fund research that led to the discovery of a gene linked to ALS.
  • The Antartic ozone layer shows early signs of healing.
  • A universal cancer vaccine that prompts the body's immune system to safely attack tumors without side effects has come close to development.
  • A solar-power plane successfully completed a historic flight circumnavigating the globe.
  • Australia offers firearms amnesty after admitting the failure of their strict gun control laws, including their gun buyback scheme.
  • Finland announces plans to test universal basic income program with 2,000 welfare recipients.
  • Spain not only survived more than 300 days without a functioning government, but experienced a booming economy during that time.
  • Disney dominates the domestic box office, releasing six out of the ten top grossing movies of the year (Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War, The Jungle Book, Zootopia, Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, and Doctor Strange).
  • Moana made $15.7 million at the box office Thanksgiving weekend, breaking Frozen's record at $15.1 million.
  • Zootopia ranks as the second-biggest original movie ever (second only to The Lion King), crossing the 1 billion mark worldwide.
  • Finding Dory becomes the highest-grossing animated movie ever in the U.S. by making $445.5 million, surpassing the $441.2 million made by Shrek 2.