Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 - The Year in Review

The one word that keeps coming up in most people's descriptions of this year is this: weird.

Yes, it was a very weird year. Unusual. Strange. Unorthodox.

Frankly, most of us have never seen a year quite like it. It seemed that we kept receiving bad news, almost from the beginning, and going straight through the year. There were the strange and unfortunate election results that promised to bring radical changes to the countries that voted for them. There was the war in Syria, which seemed to get worse and worse, as the Syrian refugee crisis has now become the most serious humanitarian crisis since World War II. There was a developing situation in South Sudan which some are suggesting might be the biggest episode of ethnic cleansing since Rwanda back in 1994. There is a continued push for Israeli settlements in Palestinian lands, and now, there seems to be an attempt in the United States to punish any criticism of Israel, in keeping with other attacks on traditional American freedoms. There were terrorist attacks in several European countries. And, of course, there were the deaths of noted artists, from musicians to authors to actors and actresses.

So yes, 2016 was strange and, for the most part, unfortunate. That seems to be the general consensus, anyway. I even saw a cartoon that insinuated as much, with a man representing 2016 dousing everything with gas and setting it all on fire, then turning to another figure representing 2017 just standing there, with either no obvious reaction, or perhaps just too stunned to show any outward reaction.

That was the kind of year it was in the news. And many of us seemed to feel it, too. Indeed, this year felt like a bit too much for many, if not even most, of us.

We lost some tremendously talented and inspiring people, from David Bowie to Prince to Leonard Cohen to Muhammad Ali to Gordie Howe to Carrie Fischer to Debbie Reynolds to George Michael to Harper Lee to Alan Thicke and so many others. I will try to post something about the deaths later.  

And of course, the news around the world otherwise was not good, either. There was the terrorist attack at an airport in Brussels, another terrorist attack in Nice on France's national holiday, and the attack on an outdoor Christmas shopping market in Berlin. The war in Syria intensified, creating horrific scenes in Aleppo, a mass wave of immigration out of the country towards safe havens in other Middle Eastern countries and in Europe (as well as, to a much smaller degree, North America). The Russians have grown more involved in the war, and their air strikes coupled with the Assad regime's military power seems to have taken back much of Syrian territory from ISIS. 

The situation in South Sudan kept deteriorating, until the world was warned of yet another episode of genocide that seemed to be developing there. Many now feel that the situation has gotten so bad, that this country - the youngest country in the world right now, being only a few years old - is on the verge of a Rwanda style genocide. This in a country that was part of the whole Sudan crisis some years ago, when similar ethnic cleansing in Darfur sent shock waves around the world. Now, the situation in South Sudan itself is apparently much worse still. Much like with what happened in Rwanda back in 1994, the world still seems reluctant to act.

There were elections that sent shock waves throughout the world, too. The United Kingdom voted in favor of their Brexit, as the next few years shall see Britain now formally making an exit out of the European Union, and the reverberations from that were felt immediately, and will surely continue to be felt for years to come. Many businesses are looking to relocate out of London and into some other market that is still officially in a European Union member state. There seemed to be a sense of lingering, but mostly quiet, resentment towards the British from other European nations, as well as a sense of regret felt by millions of British people, who feel that their country leapt into this mistake too quickly and easily. 

Then, of course, there was the 2016 American election. Largely outside, supposed "fringe" candidates wound up doing better - much better - than expected. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz did very well on the Republican side, ousting more traditional, conventional candidates like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker and Marco Rubio and John Kasich. Bernie Sanders did extremely well on the Democratic side, taking well over 20 states against heavily favored Hillary Clinton, who showed her first signs of weaknesses during the primary. She asked for help, and received it (illegally) from the Democratic Party establishment. Perhaps the coup de grace on this election year was the irony that the stand pat party, the Republicans, allowed this shake up to go on, and saw Donald Trump's rise to prominence culminate with his being nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in the general election, while the Democrats, the party that is supposed to represent meaningful change, was too scared to allow this outside "threat" of a grassroots candidate like Bernie Sanders from possibly winning the nomination. And so, despite the official requirement that they were to stay neutral, the Democratic Party leadership, particularly Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, instead actively campaigned for Hillary Clinton, trying to discredit and undermine Bernie Sanders at every opportunity. Still, he almost won, although in the end, the unfair primary system that is publicly funded, but with very tight rules making it for official Democratic insiders, went in favor of Hillary Clinton. Then, she and her supporters boasted of a Democratic Party mandate that many, if not most, felt was illegitimate. 

All of this led to the general election, where at points, it seemed like Donald Trump was actively trying to sabotage his own campaign. He made headlines daily with some ridiculous things that he said and did, and it seemed that all this guy was about was generating headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yet, despite the incessant lies and abominable behavior, he was not the most disliked among the two. Fully two-thirds of Americans expressed both a dislike and distrust towards Hillary Clinton, although you would never know this if you listened to the Democrats, who uniformly pretended that the primary that she "won" was not somehow tainted. Few outside of staunch Democrats supported or voted for her with enthusiasm, as most of her votes seemed to be from people who, at best, viewed her with a lukewarm reception at best. More often, we heard the same kind of complains that we always do, about this being an election where we are forced to pick "the lesser of two evils." Many on the conservative side felt the same way, and there was, at some point, a considerable "Never Trump" movement. Some were even suggesting that another Republican should run in his place, and Kasich and Ryan kept being mentioned as possible suitors - even Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for the White House. 

Most likely, that was to be expected. At different points, Trump had insulted most Americans during his campaign. He claimed that Mexicans were rapists and criminals. He made a sweeping judgement of blacks, assuming that they all seemed to live in the ghetto, and asking them what they had to lose by voting for him. Of course, his being backed by white supremacists, as well as his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again!" made them nervous, as well. And he seemed to make a habit of offending women, portraying them as sexual objects time and time again. He wanted to hall all immigration by Muslims, and seemed to be favorable towards the idea of creating a mandatory national registry of Muslims. Plus, his tweets were often infantile and reflected an impulse to lash out at critics and foes, revealing that he never seemed able to rise above petty political and personal squabbling. All of this, coupled with the sense that he lacked the kind of self-control, dignity, and restraint that most other serious Presidential candidates tend to have, gave many millions of Americans the sense that he was a loose cannon on many levels. He became the butt of jokes both inside of the United States, as well as around the world.

Yet, despite all of the nonsense from the Donald Trump side, and his seemingly rapidly diminishing base of support, Hillary Clinton never was able to capitalize and take a huge, insurmountable lead. Of course, she was plagued by her own scandals, with everything from her poor handling of emails, to the rigging of the primaries, the meeting by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch while his wife was still actively under investigation, the whole controversy regarding Hillary's claims of coming under sniper fire in Bosnia (and then lying about lying about it, if that makes any sense), and her taking a question from Donna Brazile in preparation for a presidential debate against Trump, all of this cast Clinton under more clouds of suspicion by the American public, who viewed all of this with clear skepticism. Ultimately, FBI Director James Comey said that investigations into Hillary Clinton's email scandal were still active, even though months before, they had been closed, as it was determined that she had acted in a very irresponsible manner, but not in a criminal manner. Plus, she seemed to many to be too elitist in her own right, wrapped up as she was in Washington politics. For many, she was the ultimate Washington insider, and the help that she received during the primaries, as well as during the FBI investigation, seemed to cement this notion. Then, dismissing tens of millions of her fellow Americans for being a "basket of deplorables" allowed her to make controversial headlines of her own, and forced her and her campaign to squirm uncomfortably. It seemed to me to be the Democratic version of Mitt Romney's "47 percent" statement from the 2012 Presidential election. 

Then came the shock waves of the election itself, as Clinton, who still entered as a solid favorite to win, wound up losing the electoral college race. This, despite the fact that she won the popular vote convincingly - by some 2.7 million votes, according to the latest numbers. Many Americans were horrified and devastated - at least as much as many British were following the Brexit vote. And President-elect Trump wasted little time in assembling a cabinet that horrified many Americans, and those outside of America's borders. His closest adviser sympathized with white supremacists, and the team that he chose was filled with elite billionaires and climate change skeptics. Trump himself remained as reckless as ever, showing more concern with his Tweets when it came to Saturday Night Live's alleged unfair portrayal of him, while he himself undermined the importance of national security briefings.

More recently, in Italy, there was a vote on a referendum for constitutional changes that would bring Italy closer to the democracies of Western Europe. But the vote quickly became seen as a de facto referendum on not only conditions in Italy presently, but on the European Union itself, coming quickly on the heels of the Brexit vote. Some even called this the Italexit vote. And, naturally, the vote against these constitutional reforms was victorious, and some now believe that Italy could perhaps be the next nation to vote to leave the European Union.

Yet, nationalist movements seem to be on the rise throughout Europe. Austria had an election, as well, and it would have possibly put in place the most extreme right wing government and leader since World War II, although in the end, the Green Party candidate won. Still in the Netherlands, the Party for Freedom, led by nationalist Geert Wilders, is on the rise, largely on the popularity of their anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric. The Front National, led by Marine Lepen, also seems to be thriving, following the terrorist attacks, and President Francois Hollande's blathering and inept response to them. Nationalist movements seem to be on the rise in Germany and in Britain, as well, with other figures, such as Nigele Farage gaining popularity in Britain. 

Even in the world of sports, logic did not seem to prevail. We witnessed one of the most shocking upsets in all of sports when tiny Iceland, the World Cup's version of David, knocked off one of the Goliaths in this World Cup, beating England. That came on the heels of the Brexit vote. In the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers, who had dominated the entire season up to that point with a very elite 15-1 regular season record, got dominated themselves by the Denver Broncos, who's defense shook up NFL MVP Cam Newton throughout the game. In the NHL the Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup. In the NBA, the defending champion Golden State Warriors dominated all season long, racing off to a North American professional sports record 24-0 start, and finished the regular season with a historical 73-9 record. But they fell behind three games to one in the Western Conference Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder, before coming back to win it in seven. In the NBA Finals, the Warriors themselves went up three games to one, only to watch helplessly as the Cleveland Cavaliers came back to take the title, giving the city of Cleveland (often referred to as "Believeland") their first sports championship in 54 years! And Cleveland almost followed up on that when their baseball team, the Cleveland Indians, had a three games to one lead in the World Series, but wound up losing the next three to the Chicago Cubs, the team with the longest drought in professional North American sports history, as they had not won a championship in 108 years! But the Chicago Cubs won the World Series this year, and the city celebrated with the largest public gathering in American history to honor the team. It also was the seventh biggest public gathering in recorded world history. 

So, as you can see, 2016 was a memorable year, although not always for the right reasons. 

I just wanted to remember 2016, as well as to raise a glass in hopes of a better one to come in 2017!

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