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2016: The headlines beyond the election

Water crisis, Bridgegate also made news

  • Michigan National Guardsmen distribute bottled water to Flint residents at a fire station in Flint, MichiganImage Credit: Reuters
  • Kelly (centre) exits the court in the Bridgegate trial at the Federal Courthouse in Newark, New Jersey, on NImage Credit: Reuters
Gulf News

Los Angeles: The presidential election grabbed many of the headlines, but 2016 managed to be memorable in lots of other ways, from the horror in Orlando to images of protest on the Northern Plains.

Water crisis in Flint, Michigan

Lead contamination in the city’s drinking water from corroded pipes led to a state of emergency being declared by the state and federal government in January.

Gov. Rick Snyder mobilised the Michigan National Guard, which distributed water and water filters and testing kits to residents fearful of the tap water — for good reason. At one point, 5 per cent of the children under 5 had elevated exposure to lead, according to the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

President Barack Obama visited the city in May, demonstrating the reliability of water filters newly installed in many homes by taking a drink himself.

High court deadlocks on immigration case

President Obama’s plan to shield up to 5 million immigrants here illegally from deportation was supposed to be one of the signature legacies of his administration _ an attempt at immigration reform using executive power after Congress had failed to pass a comprehensive new law. But the plan suffered a spectacular setback when the US Supreme Court announced in June it was deadlocked in a case challenging the plan. Because a lower court in Texas had ruled against the president’s plan. The 4-4 tie meant Obama could not go forward with it. With Trump’s election, immigration policy will now move in a radically different direction.

Zika reaches the United States

The United States became the latest frontier for the Zika virus when mosquitoes were found to be spreading the virus in a bustling neighbourhood north of downtown Miami. Four infections diagnosed there in July were the first US cases transmitted not from travel to an affected country or by intimate contact with an infected person, but by a local mosquito bite. Another affected neighbourhood in Miami, north of the area known as Little Haiti, was identified in October. In all, four zones of local transmission were identified in Miami. Then late in November, Brownsville, Texas, identified a locally transmitted case. By year’s end, there were at least 185 US cases of Zika contracted through mosquito bites, out of a total of nearly 4,600 cases across the continental US.

And then Gawker was no more

Gawker, the internet’s loudest and most adversarial news outlet, shut down in August after 14 years in operation. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy after being hit with $140 million in legal damages after the site published a sex tape of pro wrestler Terry Bollea, known to the world as Hulk Hogan, and Bollea won a lawsuit in Florida.

The suit, ultimately settled for $31 million, was bankrolled by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, in retaliation against the site for outing him as gay back in the 2000s.

New Jersey officials on trial in ‘Bridgegate’ case

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was not on trial himself, but his political career was jolted by the conviction in November of two close associates who orchestrated a four-day traffic jam from hell in 2013 at the George Washington Bridge, supposedly to punish a mayor who wouldn’t endorse the governor’s reelection bid.

Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Baroni, a former official of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the world’s busiest bridge, were convicted on conspiracy and wire fraud charges. The scandal, which became known as “Bridgegate,” scuttled Christie’s presidential ambitions and was probably a factor in Donald Trump’s decision not to select him as his running mate or offer him a cabinet post.

In North Dakota, a battle over fossil fuels

A broad river valley in North Dakota became the scene of the highest-profile environmental fight of the year: the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s effort to block construction of a $3.8 billion oil pipeline under a reservoir on the Missouri River — the source of the tribe’s drinking water supply.

Environmental activists and nearly 2,000 military veterans joined a fight that would become not only about clean water and Native American rights, but about fossil fuel expansion and climate change.

Opponents won at least a temporary victory when the US Army Corps of Engineers on December 4 denied permission for the pipeline to cross under the disputed area of the river.

Marijuana legal in more than half the states

The campaign to legalise marijuana rolled along this fall, with voters approving recreational pot laws in several states, including California, and sanctioning medical use in others. Arizona defeated legalisation, but pot is now legal in some fashion in more than half the states. But how legal is legal? Federal law still regards marijuana as a banned substance, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general nominee, has said the country needs “grown-ups in charge” to just say no.

The end of an era in Arpaio’s Arizona

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has long branded himself as “America’s toughest sheriff,” but this year proved to be his undoing — Arpaio was voted out of office in November after six terms, and faced contempt of court charges to boot.

Arpaio was famous for talking tough about illegal immigration and housing jail inmates, in scorching Arizona temperatures, in canvas tents. US District Judge Murray Snow found in May that the 84-year-old sheriff had ignored a court order to stop singling out Latino drivers for special scrutiny.

“I’m not stopping anything,” Arpaio famously told Fox News. But for the first time since 1993, he’ll have to stop being sheriff.

A standoff at a wildlife refuge in Oregon

Across the West, there were calls among conservatives for handing over more control of federal lands to state and local authorities. The burgeoning movement came to a head in Oregon, when two sons of renegade Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy led the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

The takeover began January 2 and lasted more than a month. Supporters from around the country joined Ammon and Ryan Bundy in what had been a peaceful occupation until January 26, when authorities moved in to arrest several people and one of the occupiers, Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, was shot and killed.

Eventually, all the occupiers were arrested. But in a stunning blow to federal authorities, the Bundy brothers and five co-defendants were acquitted on October 27 of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.

Rise of white nationalism

Richard Spencer coined the term alt-right in 2010 to describe a white nationalist movement that few people had ever heard of. Then Donald Trump began to rise with a message that invited white people to join the fray of identity politics and emboldened groups known to espouse racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic views. After Trump’s victory, Spencer, whose National Policy Institute has been described by the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, said he planned to move his office from Montana to Washington, D.C.