It seems to me….
“For 18 years I have resisted talking about current events. I am not going to start now.” ~ George H. W. Bush.
2016 was comprised of many little things: while some events over the past year were calamitous to those directly affected, none were personally disastrous – some good, some just marginally undesirable. Any adequate attempt to summarize just the important events of 2016 would necessitate a fairly lengthy discourse. It was a busy year.
Unfortunately, terrorist attacks continued around the world. Three coordinated bombings in Brussels, Belgium, in March killed at least 32 and injured another 250 with ISIS claiming responsibility for the attacks. A further 75 people were killed and 340 injured in Lahore, Pakistan, in addition to other numerous other attacks throughout the world including the Ivory Coast, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida; Istanbul, Turkey; Nice, France; and elsewhere.
While not terrorist related, gun violence continued unabated in the U.S. with seemingly no way to end or even limit it. Almost 15 thousand deaths and 30 thousand injuries involving guns occurred just in 2016. 660 children and over 3 thousand teenagers were killed or injured. There were over 380 mass shootings. Even attacks on police officers escalated with 326 being shot or injured. This can only be considered a form of national insanity.
In June, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the European Union (EU). Long-term repercussions on European unity could be adverse with other nations considering possible similar action – the independent nations of Europe engaged in nearly constant warfare until following World War II and the formation of the EU. There also was hope a unified Europe would provide an economic counterpoise to the U.S.
The 2016 Summer Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August. More than 11,000 athletes from 205 nations participated in a remarkable display of athleticism. Constant improvements in personal development and training resulted in previous event records being set in numerous sporting competitions. It was a spectacular show even for those not into athletic events.
Global CO2 levels exceeded 400 ppm in September at a time of the year normally associated with minimum levels (a 400-ppm level is believed to be higher than ever previously experienced in human history). In possibly the event of most worldwide importance, 196 nations, including the U.S. and China who together are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, ratified the Paris global climate agreement (COP21) restricting greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully limiting increases in atmospheric temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.
In November Donald Trump was elected as the next U.S. President. The U.S. will exchange an exceptional President for the most unqualified candidate in U.S. history. While the most common excuse attempting to explain the election result was the slow economic recovery, wage stagnation, the erosion of manufacturing jobs, and rising inequality, it parallels the rise of populist movements in many other countries. (Excuses are not actually necessary as the Democratic Party managed to achieve defeat entirely by themselves.)
Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city, has been at the center of a civil war since 2011. Following intense fighting and heavy Russian airstrikes, Syrian President Bashar al‑Assad finally took back the city from rebels, marking a major turning point in the war. The international community watched – and did nothing – as Assad’s forces bombed the city into rubble and executed civilians in their final push to take the city. The Obama administration had focused on defeating ISIS rather than on deposing President Assad. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed since this war began while millions have fled for places like the EU leading to the worst refugee crisis on the continent since World War II.
We are living in an age of mass migration with nearly 1 in 100 persons worldwide now displaced from their homes. The number of displaced people in the world – now more than 65 million – roughly the population of France; or of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined; is the highest since World War II. Over half the refugees are children. While conflict, persecution, and human rights violations have driven people from their homes in search of safety, the conflict in Syria, as indicated above, has been the principal contributor to the recent growth in the world’s displaced population.
Economic inequality continued to escalate. The American middle-class shrank in most metropolitan areas with the share of adults living in middle-income households decreasing by 4 percentage points nationally. The share of adults in the upper-income tier, however, increased more than the share of adults in the lower-income tier in 119 of the 229 areas examined. In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household. These new living arrangements largely reflect a shift away from marriage and partnership as young adults increasingly focus on education and the inability to afford the cost of housing.
There also was the loss of too many notable people to even begin to mention: Muhammed Ali, David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, Nancy Reagan, Gwen Ifill, John Glenn, George Michael, Antonin Scalia, Morley Safer, Janet Reno, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and Fidel Castro – to name just a few. Many were entertainers we enjoyed our entire lives but also others from every aspect of life: politicians, scientists, athletes…. They will be missed.
Scientific progress continued unabated. In possibly the biggest news of the year, an international team of researchers confirmed detection of gravitational waves a century after Albert Einstein predicted their existence – a ripple in the fabric of space-time.
2016 was an active year in space. Ten countries have now independently successfully launched a satellite into orbit: Russia, U.S., France, Japan, China, U.K., India, Israel, Iran, and North Korea. Two Chinese astronauts spent a month working in their Tiangong-2 space lab. China also announce plans for a soft landing on the far side of the moon along with an in-situ and rover detection and relay communications mission from the Earth-moon L2 point. Additionally, China completed the world’s largest radio telescope in 2016.
NASA astronaut Scott Kelly returned safely to Earth following an entire year on board the International Space Station. Private U.S. companies continued development of non-government space capabilities. In addition to a successful launch of a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX landed the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket on an autonomous drone ship demonstrating a launch-vehicle reuse capability. Moon Express became the first private company to receive permission to land on the Moon.
There were the usual natural disasters: flooding in Louisiana, hurricane Mathew hit several Caribbean countries, and fires in Tennessee. There also were major earthquakes in Taiwan, Indonesia, New Zeeland, Japan, and Italy. While my wife Barb & I did not deploy to assist on any disasters outside of California, we did open and supervise several Red Cross fire evacuation shelters.
Barb, & I normally take at least one major trip every summer. This year it was to visit my youngest son and his wife in Virginia followed by an extended 4781-mile (not including air miles) drive on a fifteen-state cross-country road trip on the return home to California. We played tourist in several locations along the way including Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Atlantic City, New Jersey, New Orleans, Louisiana, and San Antonio, Texas. Late September was a great time to travel with a minimum of other tourists and perfect weather.
2017 will begin under the dark clouds of uncertainty and anxiety threatening from every direction. The U.S. remains the only nation with sufficient military power, economic wealth, and cultural influence to project leadership throughout the world but rather than attempting to impose stability and values on a chaotic world, it seemingly intends in the future to egocentrically view its relationship with the rest of the world transactionally demanding equivalent value in its diplomacy.
Internationally, national elections will be held in several countries in 2017 – France, Germany, Iran. China, and elsewhere – with the threat of Russia attempting to influence election results as it recently did in the U.S. The possible U.S. renunciation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement provides China with an open invitation to expand its regional influence. Increasing national populism in western nations will decentralize power away from the state and more to local areas. Technological change permits corporations, political-interest groups, hackers, and terrorists to affect governments’ ability to govern. Unrest across Northern Africa and the Middle East has initiated a migrant crisis threatening Europe’s open border policy.
The U.S. has selected a totally inexperience – and incompetent – candidate as its next president at a time when the world has rarely been in greater need of intelligent and capable leadership. While many people who opposed Trump’s election want him to fail, it would be far better for the country and the world if he does well in the White House.
We can only hope for the best but I fear it might be much worse. The barbarians have succeeded in scaling the walls, storming the gates, and now occupy many of the seats of power. We seemingly are about to enter a new era darkening the lamp of enlightenment – the world is becoming a much more frightening place. 2017 might be a very “interesting” year.
Still, everything considered, I’m grateful for all I have and am looking forward (with considerable skepticism) to the coming New Year and all it will bring.
That’s what I think, what about you?
 George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st U.S. President from 1989 to 1993 and the 43rd U.S. Vice President from 1981 to 1989. He is a member of the U.S. Republican Party and has been a congressman, ambassador, and Director of Central Intelligence.
 Geiger, Abigail. 16 Striking Findings From 2016, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/12/21/16-striking-findings-from-2016/, 21 December 2016.