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Jan. 20, 2017: A day that will live in infamy

When a family member or another loved one dies of natural causes, we understand that death is the price we pay for life. We must accept it and count on memories to console us.

But how do you grieve for your nation? How do you move beyond the death of everything you held sacred about the land of your birth? Whose uniform you wore proudly? Whose virtues you have tried to teach to your children and to anyone else who would listen? When you know that the tragedy owes not to an act of God but to the malice of a man and so many of his supporters? How can you accept this? How can you rationalize it?

For me, Jan. 20 will be the saddest day ever. I don’t think I’m alone in that regard.

Donald Trump is the most undeserving, unqualified, and untrustworthy person ever to seek the presidency, let alone obtain it. He is a clear and present danger to our principles, our economy, our self-respect and our national security.

No one has put that better than J. M. “Mac” Stipanovich, a trusted adviser to two Florida Republican governors, expressed it in a Facebook post earlier this month.

“Ignorant, unprincipled and amoral,” he wrote. That was in reply to a friend who had wearied of “my constant carping” against Trump and had challenged him to state his three “foremost objections” to Trump’s presidency.

There’s no need to try to summarize here the vast evidence of Trump’s unprincipled amorality. Everyone is aware of it, although only some care. In a world bristling with economic rivalries and nuclear-armed powers, Trump’s ignorance is the greater danger than what he might steal.

“I am concerned,” Stipanovich explained, “about what Donald Trump does not know, the fact that he does not know what he does not know and will not listen to those who do know.”

Some Republicans, perhaps most, may relish what Trump will let the Congress do to the Affordable Care Act and to Medicare and Social Security despite his transparently worthless promises to protect them. Some will rejoice in the destruction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency, and in the neutering of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But my hope is that there are still members of both parties who understand that character — defined as integrity, trustworthiness, fidelity to principle and fundamental decency — is what America has assumed in its presidents since the Constitution was written with George Washington in mind. It was to prevent the ascension of someone like Trump that the founders opted against direct election. Ever since, Americans and the world have looked to the presidency of the United States as an avatar of America itself. But what do we see now? What does the world see? A braggart, a bully, a libertine, a cocky ignoramus, an infantile personality in the body of a 70-year-old man who has never cared, even once, about anyone or anything other than himself, who breathes contempt for the four freedoms of the First Amendment, who craved the presidency for self-aggrandizement and whose election was sought and applauded by the most vicious people among us as a license to make America hate again. For the first time, Nazis and Ku Kluxers have helped elect an American president. Think about that.

And if that weren’t enough, he is an apologist and sycophant for a murderous foreign tyrant who means to eliminate the United States as an obstacle to reviving the Soviet empire and dominating Europe. John LeCarré, whose novels envisioned a mole secretly subverting British intelligence, never imagined a scenario as wild as that of the cousins, as he called us, being taken over so openly at the very top. The most unenviable job in the United States today becomes that of an intelligence officer who remains faithful to duty and principles.

I don’t know which is more discouraging — that such a person is actually president or that so many people voted for him knowing what he is. That he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes is some consolation but the awful truth is that he is in the White House and the radical Republicans in Congress no longer have anyone there to check their worst ambitions.

The awful truth is that even with Russia’s assistance Trump would not have won but for the racists who haven’t forgiven the rest of us for twice electing a black man, the misogynists who couldn’t abide the thought of a woman president, the cynical opportunists who saw in Trump a reactionary Supreme Court, and the idiots who swallowed Trump’s absurd lies along with the false equivalency the media assigned to Clinton’s mostly decent record and Trump’s utterly deplorable one. These people are not going away, although more of a few may come to regret their votes when their Medicare is sacrificed to the insurance industry, Social Security is sold out to Wall Street, and they’re forced to wait until they’re 70 to begin collecting what’s left.

Is American democracy dead? Can it be resurrected? The answers depend on those of us who do not celebrate Inauguration Day. What we must do, for love of country and self-respect, is to make ourselves heard every day in Congress, and especially in the Senate, where there are still some grown-ups on the majority side, and which can’t be gerrymandered like the House.

We must never, never give up. The United States of America is too precious to waste.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

If Republicans have a better idea to replace Obamacare, let’s hear it

I have a friend who has owned a small restaurant in Tampa for decades. He voted for Donald Trump for two important reasons: Trump isn’t Hillary Clinton, and he hates Obamacare.

Let me rephrase that: He doesn’t like Hillary, but he loathes Obamacare with unyielding venom. Keeping up with its requirements, he said, has been an expensive nightmare. He wants it gone.

Today.

This is a kind and decent man who is all-in on goodness. He is charitable, law-abiding and is happy to lend a hand. So, over several plates of bacon and eggs at his joint, I have deduced that his position can best be summed up like this: He wants his employees and anyone in need to have access to health care, but he despises the bureaucracy and costs imposed by Obamacare.

It looks like he is going to get his way as the Republican-controlled Congress is tripping over itself to defund, defeat and dethrone the signature accomplishment of President Barack Obama’s administration. But then what?

Well, to borrow the infamous quote from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was coming to life, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.”

That quote was taken out of context and fed to Pelosi for breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with Obama’s vow that people could keep the doctors they liked. That became the rallying cry for opponents, but Trump now basically is saying the same thing – promising Americans that law will be replaced with something great.

While we wait for greatness, consider these Florida statistics from a recent federal Health and Human Services report.

— An estimated 132,000 young Floridians have been able to keep insurance by the provision allowing them to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26.

— It claims premiums grew 1.3 percent annually from 2010-2015, far less than the 8.2 percent of the previous decade.

Hold on just a minute there.

The HHS apparently forgot to include the estimated 25 percent premium hike for Floridians this year. There are many factors for that, especially the fact that far fewer people enrolled in Obamacare than the government projected and fewer insurers are offering coverage now that federal backstops against financial losses have been phased out.

All this sets up as a trap for Republicans in their zeal to end the program, though.

With lower enrollments than expected and the end to the safety net for insurance companies, any plan Republicans pass to replace the ACA probably will come up short of what Obamacare offered.

I can see the attack ads now when congressional seats are up for grabs in two years.

Incoming HHS head Tom Price of Georgia, a ferocious critic of Obamacare, has proposed a plan that would include a series of tax credits, health savings accounts, state grants and so on. Analysists have said Price’s proposal, if adopted, could mean reduced coverage and much higher premiums, especially for older Americans.

Republicans have the votes, for now, to move ahead with something. What that is, though, is anyone’s guess – especially Republicans. After barking their hatred for Obamacare for six years, they have, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, become “the dog that caught the car.”

Now what?

I know my friend would say to get rid of Obamacare and we’ll out the consequences later.

My take is a little different. I know this makes some people cringe, but I think health care is a right in a civilized society. It’s not something only those who can afford it should have. If Republicans have a better idea, let’s hear it.

After all, as Schumer said, they caught the car. They need to do more than just pee on the tires.

 

In Tampa, Pam Bondi deflects questions about an impending move to work for Donald Trump

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi attempted to deflect questions about the possibility she may soon leave her job to join the administration of incoming U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday in Tampa.

Speaking at a news conference highlighting a new human trafficking awareness with Tampa International Airport, the Tampa native said, “I’m very happy being Attorney General of the state of Florida right now. I get to work with these great people behind me every day.”

“And,” she added, “I’m also committed to the President of the United States — elect — to make our country a better country, and get back on track.”

On Thursday, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that Bondi would take a job with the Trump White House, though no particular position was mentioned in the story. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if that were the case, as Bondi was seen visiting the President-elect in Trump Tower last month. She endorsed him at the Tampa Convention Center on the day before Florida’s presidential Republican primary election, an election that Trump won decisively, taking 66 of the state’s 67 counties. With Bondi frequently at his side at campaign events, Trump ultimately won Florida in November over Hillary Clinton by just 1.2 percentage points.

The issue of working under President-elect Trump first surfaced at the news conference at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s board room at Tampa International Airport when Bondi was asked if she would be able to continue her efforts in the White House.

“That’s a good trick question. I can tell you that I talked to the President-elect for half-an-hour. We talk frequently, as well as members of his family and his transition team on many issues that don’t involve me. But he is committed to fighting human trafficking in our country. He is committed to backing up the great men and women standing behind me, and we talk about that very frequently. So whether I’m there or here as Attorney General, where I’m very happy being, by the way, I plan on staying involved in that.”

When asked if she had been invited directly by Trump to join his team, Bondi said: “I’m not going to say anything confidential, nor should anyone, including in the Obama administration.”

When a reporter asked if she had a replacement in mind if she were to leave Tallahassee for Washington, Bondi joked, ” You already have me replaced?”

“I try to be grounded,” she added. “We’re doing a lot of great things.”

If and when Bondi is selected for a position in the White House, both she and Trump will undoubtedly be asked again about the $25,000 campaign contribution that her political committee received in 2013 from Trump’s charitable foundation. Shortly afterward, Bondi’s office opted not to pursue an investigation into charges by some Florida citizens that they had been defrauded by Trump University.

After an ethics group had filed a complaint with the IRS regarding the contribution, Trump’s foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

Bondi’s office has been vehement that they never were pursuing a case in Florida against Trump U. Although her office said she had only received one complaint, the AP reported that complaints against Trump University actually numbered in the dozens and that Bondi had personally solicited the donation from Trump weeks before she learned of the charges.

Her office decided not to pursue a case after the donation was received.

A traditional end to an unconventional presidential election

The end of the 2016 presidential election is at hand.

A joint session of Congress is set to count the Electoral College votes on Friday, a traditional ending to a most unconventional presidential election.

Friday’s vote count marks the last chance for Democrats and other anti-Trump forces to disrupt Donald Trump‘s election. But even if they are successful, the most Democrats could do is slow the process because they don’t have the votes to overturn the outcome.

Barring something bizarre happening, Trump will be declared the winner and will be sworn in at his inauguration on Jan. 20. Vice President Joe Biden will preside over the vote count in his role as president of the Senate.

All 538 electors met in their respective state capitals in December to cast their votes. Trump finished with 304 votes and Democrat Hillary Clinton with 227, according to a tally by The Associated Press. It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency.

Trump won even though Clinton received nearly 2.9 million more votes. His election has generated much angst among Democrats and others who oppose the billionaire businessman. But they have been powerless to change the outcome.

Despite rumblings of a revolt, only two Republican electors — both from Texas — cast protest votes for someone other than Trump. Clinton lost four Democratic electors in Washington state and one in Hawaii.

The secretary of state’s office in Washington said the four “faithless” electors would be fined $1,000 apiece.

During Friday’s session, Democrats will have an opportunity to file objections, questioning the validity of the vote count.

Under federal law, if at least one senator and one House member object to the vote from any state, the House and Senate would meet separately to debate the merits of the objection.

Several House Democrats have talked about filing an objection, but no senator has publicly backed the idea. Regardless, with Republicans controlling both chambers, any objection would have little chance of affecting the outcome.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., considered objecting but said, “This is not about trying to stop Donald Trump from becoming president.”

Perlmutter said he wants to register his objection to Russia after U.S. intelligence community findings that Moscow engaged in computer hacking to sway the election in favor of Trump. America’s top intelligence official told Congress on Thursday that Russia undoubtedly interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“We cannot allow a foreign nation to ever influence our elections because it harms our liberty, freedom and independence,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “This is bigger than just one election, and for the sake of our democracy, we must remain vigilant.”

Trump has not fully embraced the findings of the intelligence community. In fact, he has repeatedly mocked America’s intelligence officials.

This week, Trump went on Twitter to question why an intelligence briefing he is to receive was delayed. However, intelligence officials said there had been no delay. Still, Trump wrote: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Bill and Hillary Clinton to attend Donald Trump inauguration

Falling in line with tradition, Bill and Hillary Clinton plan to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration. It’s a decision that will put Hillary Clinton on the inaugural platform as her bitter rival from the 2016 campaign assumes the office she long sought.

The Clintons announced their decision to attend the Jan. 20 inauguration shortly after former President George W. Bush’s office said Tuesday he would attend along with former first lady Laura Bush.

The Bushes are “pleased to be able to witness the peaceful transfer of power — a hallmark of American democracy — and swearing-in of President Trump and Vice President Pence,” Bush’s office said in a statement.

It is traditional for former presidents and their spouses to attend the inauguration.

But the decision to attend was fraught for the Clintons, given Hillary Clinton’s bitter campaign against Trump. The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee has largely avoided public appearances since Trump defeated her in November.

Bush, too, has had a difficult relationship with Trump. His brother Jeb ran against Trump in the GOP primaries. George and Laura Bush let it be known they voted for “none of the above” for president rather than cast a ballot for Trump, but the ex-president did call to congratulate Trump after his victory.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, earlier said they plan to attend Trump’s inaugural.

Former President George H.W. Bush, 92, and his wife, Barbara, do not plan to attend the inauguration due to the former president’s age and health, his office said.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Christian Ziegler contends the race for Florida GOP chair will be a close contest

Christian Ziegler says the idea of challenging Blaise Ingoglia for leadership of the Republican Party of Florida first came to his mind last May. He was presiding over a gathering of the state’s Republican committeemen and committeewomen at the party’s quarterly meeting in Tampa.

That’s when he said a slight case of pandemonium erupted when he began distributing approximately 150 “Make America Great Again” Donald Trump caps to the 134-member caucus. With a number of those officials previously rooted in camps backing Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz (among others), he admits he wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. But he said that the level of excitement that ensued was absent from the rest of the two-day meeting.

“I had so many members after come up to me, and say, ‘Look, the energy that you had, that’s the kind of energy we should have had throughout the quarterly meeting,'” he says, recollecting the moment. He said he heard from Republicans that “we need leaders who are going to accept who our nominee is going to be, and accept who are candidates are and are going to waive the flag as high as you can, and we really need to lead with the energy you generated in that room.”

From there he says that “a ton of members” then began lobbying him directly to challenge Ingoglia, claiming that leadership was lacking at the top of the RPOF (As RPOF Chair, Ingoglia was dedicated to staying neutral until the party had a nominee. After the March 15 primary, Ingoglia met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach County).

But nobody is questioning the success that Ingoglia has had since defeating Leslie Dougher, Rick Scott’s hand-picked choice for chair of the RPOF in 2015. Florida Republicans had a huge night at the polls last November, with the most significant factor being the election of Trump over Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points.

Because Scott and the Republicans in the Florida Senate have chosen not to raise money directly for the party’s coffers, however, Ziegler says fundraising remains a major problem going into the 2018 midterm election.

“In 2016 we were fortunate to have the help of the Republican National Committee,” he says. “We had Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, we had the local Donald Trump efforts,  and we had our local campaign parties, and early in that dynamic I think that they all came together to help us win.”

Ziegler contends that staff has been cut significantly with the Republican Party of Florida and fundraising is lower than it’s been in a decade, events that he says are realities that REC members have to consider when choosing who they want to lead the party.

“You can’t argue with success,” counters Ingoglia. “We were able to accomplish historic wins and a level of success that quite frankly has been unprecedented.”

Ingoglia says the state party currently has $3.6 million cash on hand, and $1.1 million of that has already been committed to the 2016-2018 election year. That’s money will go towards field staff, infrastructure, overhead and political operations, historically more money than is traditionally been banked immediately after an election. “I came through on my promises and did what I said I was going to do about running the RPOF like a business, and making sure resources were used in the most efficient way possible to win elections,” he says.

In addition to chairing the state party, Ingoglia has served in the House of Representatives since 2014, representing parts of Hernando County. And he runs two different businesses, prompting Ziegler to say that he’s spread too thin.

“Blaise is a friend,” Ziegler says, ” But I think the party deserves a full-time chairman that’s focused on the party full-time, because we are the most important political state in the entire country.”

The 46-year-old Ingoglia says the “proof is in the pudding” when it comes to how successful he’s been as party chair. “Anybody who knows me and follows me on social media knows that I travel all over the state and I devote almost every day and every night to my district, my state and to make this party better,” he says, adding that it would be a “mischaracterization” to say he doesn’t work full-time as RPOF chair.

When it comes to high-end endorsements, Ingoglia has it all over his challenger. Last week, the Spring Hill Republican announced the support of 10 state senators, including Majority Leader Bill Galvano and former House Majority Leader and newly elected Sen. Dana Young.

But Ziegler says that Ingoglia’s list of endorsers is somewhat suspect. He claims some of those backing the incumbent did so before there were any challengers in the race. He also says that some people have publicly said they will endorse Ingoglia but secretly have told Ziegler that they will vote for him.

“When you look at those endorsement lists, I’ve met with the majority of people on that endorsement list over the past month and a half, and I’m making my case privately,” he says.

But two different Republican officials involved in statewide politics who asked not to be quoted have told Florida Politics that they question the numbers that Ziegler is talking about. One Central Florida REC official says he believes the votes for Ziegler “simply aren’t there.”

Ingoglia defeated Dougher 132-90 in January of 2015. This Central Florida official believes the vote won’t be as close next time. Naturally, Ziegler disagrees.

“I think this race is going to be very close and it’s going to come down to a couple of votes either way,” he maintains.

Another North Florida Republican local party official says that Ingoglia has delivered as promised on his campaign pledges from two years ago, and there isn’t any grassroots energy to try to reverse that.

Ziegler is considered to be Scott’s choice for the position, but it’s questionable how influential his word is with Republican state executive committee members, since he has assiduously eschewed helping the party financially for the past two years, instead directing his fundraising efforts into his own Let’s Get to Work political action committee.

Ziegler also announced on Monday that he will be holding a statewide conference call on Thursday evening for state committee executive members to ask him questions about his candidacy.

The election for RPOF chair takes place on January 14 in Orlando.

Americans say Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton most admired in 2016

President Barack Obama is the man most admired by Americans 2016.

In a new Gallup Poll, 22 percent of respondents mentioned Obama in response to the open-ended question. Coming in second was President-elect Donald Trump at 15 percent. This marks Obama’s ninth consecutive time at the top of the most-admired list, but with a margin of only seven percentage points, it was his narrowest victory yet.

Often, incumbent presidents are ranked highest — in the 70 times Gallup asked the question, the president has won 58 times. Twelve exceptions came mostly when the sitting president was unpopular, such as 2008, when President-elect Obama was named over sitting President George W. Bush. The only other president-elect was Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, later finishing first 12 times, more than any other man in history. Gallup notes that Obama is now second all-time with nine first-place finishes.

Rounding out the year’s top 10 most admired man list: Pope Francis, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Rev. Billy Graham, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Dalai Lama, former President Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

Americans also named Hillary Clinton as Most Admired Woman, her 15th consecutive year and 21st time overall. Her first one was in 1993 as the first lady, after which Clinton has topped the list every year but 1995 and 1996 (finishing behind Mother Teresa) and 2001 (Laura Bush). Eleanor Roosevelt holds the second-most No. 1’s among women, with 13.

First lady Michelle Obama finished second this year on the Most Admired Woman list. The remainder of the top 10 includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former and current talk-show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres, Queen Elizabeth of England, human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

The poll — taken since 1946 — was conducted Dec. 7-11 with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The sample includes 60 percent cellphone users and 40 percent landline users. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Year’s top news filled with division — and no middle ground

Fed up with Europe’s union across borders? Reject it. Disgusted with the U.S. political establishment? Can it.

The news in 2016 was filled with battles over culture and territory that exposed divisions far deeper than many realized. But people confronting those divides repeatedly rejected the prospect of middle-ground solutions and the institutions put in place to deliver them.

While the headlines told many different stories, the thread connecting much of the news was a decisive torching of moderation, no matter how uncertain the consequences.

“You’re not laughing now, are you?” Nigel Farage, a leader of the Brexit campaign, told the European Parliament after voters in Great Britain spurned membership in the continental union. “What the little people did … was they rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said, ‘Actually, we want our country back.'”

Farage was speaking only about the United Kingdom. But his observation that many people well beyond Britain shared that disdain for working within the system was borne out repeatedly in the year’s biggest headlines.

In a U.S. presidential campaign fueled by anger and insults, in Syria’s brutal war and Venezuela’s massive protests, in fights over gay rights and migration, opposing sides rejected not just compromise but also the politics of trying to forge it.

That was clear from the year’s first days, when armed activists took over a national wildlife refuge in Oregon’s high desert, opposing the federal government’s control of public lands.

“It needs to be very clear that these buildings will never, ever return to the federal government,” LaVoy Finicum, an Arizona rancher among the activists, told reporters. Weeks later, federal agents stopped vehicles outside the refuge, arresting eight of the activists and fatally shooting Finicum when he reached into a jacket that held a loaded gun.

Even in the rare cases when compromise prevailed, it was viewed with suspicion.

When a deal took effect in January limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief on sanctions, it marked the culmination of prolonged negotiation by President Barack Obama‘s administration. But the pact was repeatedly attacked by critics in both countries, including Donald Trump, saying it gave the other side too much.

“The wisest plan of crazy Trump is tearing up the nuclear deal,” a leading Iranian hard-liner, Hossein Shariatmadari, told his country’s news agency.

In mid-February, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in his sleep, leaving a vacuum on a court where he had long been the leading conservative voice. Barely an hour after Scalia’s death was confirmed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell staked out an uncompromising position on what lay ahead.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice,” McConnell said, disregarding the fact that U.S. voters had twice elected Obama. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

North Carolina lawmakers prompted protests and counterprotests when they rushed through House Bill 2, voiding local gay-rights ordinances and limiting bathroom access for transgender people. Companies, the NBA and others followed through on threats to move jobs, games and performances out of the state, amplifying the division.

Tensions over U.S. policing bled into a third year. In July, a sniper killed five Dallas police officers during a protest over shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. A South Carolina jury failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a white officer caught on video fatally shooting a black man fleeing a traffic stop.

Division, though, was hardly limited to the U.S.

In Venezuela, triple-digit inflation and shortages of food and medicine fueled 6,000 protests throughout the year that brought millions into the streets. But the government of President Nicolas Maduro, blamed by many voters for the chaos, blocked a recall campaign.

“If you’re going to shoot me because I’m hungry, shoot me!” a young man shouted at a soldier during one protest in Caracas.

In Colombia, voters narrowly rejected a deal between the government and a guerrilla group to end a 52-year civil war. Even when lawmakers approved a renegotiated deal, the peace remained fragile.

In Brazil, senators impeached President Dilma Rousseff for manipulating budget figures, though many of the lawmakers were, themselves, tarred by accusations of corruption. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was stripped of power in December amid allegations she let a close friend use the government for financial gain.

Meanwhile, Syria’s war entered its sixth year. But despite pressure by the U.S. and its allies, Russia and the government of President Bashar Assad unleashed an assault on Aleppo to wipe out rebels, driving up the toll in a conflict that has already claimed as many as 500,000 lives.

“This is a targeted strategy to terrorize civilians and to kill anybody and everybody who is in the way of their military objectives,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, accusing Syria and Russia of war crimes.

“As long as war crimes are at question,” a Russian government spokeswoman said, “the Americans should start with Iraq.”

In Yemen, cease-fires broke down, extending a nearly two-year civil war. But with Syria capturing most international attention, a famine resulting from the turmoil was mostly overlooked.

As the fighting continued, terrorist strikes spread fear well beyond the Middle East.

A bombing at a Brussels airport in March and another attack in June at Istanbul’s airport by gunmen with explosives killed a total of nearly 80 people. More than 70 died when a bomb went off in a park in Pakistan, with a faction of the Pakistani Taliban claiming responsibility. In July, a terrorist drove a truck into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, France, killing 86 and injuring more than 400 others. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

In June, security guard Omar Mateen opened fire inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in the deadliest mass shooting ever in the U.S. In a call to police during the attack, which killed 49, Mateen — a U.S. citizen born to parents who emigrated from Afghanistan three decades earlier — said he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State group.

A day later, Trump pointed to the attack in a renewed call to ban Muslim immigrants to the U.S. while suggesting that American Muslims were turning a blind eye to terrorists in their midst.

“We cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer,” Trump said.

Still, there were moments when the obstinacy that characterized so much of the news was set aside.

When boxing great Muhammad Ali died in June, a figure whose outspokenness on race, religion and other issues once made him deeply polarizing was eulogized as an inspiration.

In March, Obama became the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since 1928, affirming a contentious move to resume ties after more than a half-century of hostility. But the death of Cuba’s Fidel Castro in November renewed criticism of the U.S. opening, with Trump threatening to “terminate the deal.”

The hard line typified the outspokenness that attracted many voters. Critics lambasted the U.S. presidential campaign for feeding prejudice against minorities and denigrating women, warning that Trump could not win.

But each time Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to open a gap between herself and the billionaire developer, a scandal over her use of a personal email server while serving as secretary of state returned to the headlines.

When FBI Director James Comey reignited the issue in late October by announcing his agency had found new emails, Clinton’s popularity fell even as early voting began. Trump clinched victory by winning states representing an Electoral College majority, though Clinton captured more than 2.8 million more votes nationwide.

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump told supporters in his first speech as president-elect.

The election’s shocking outcome was arguably the year’s biggest news story. But Trump’s speech made headlines in no small part for sounding a note of moderation that was jarringly out of place in a year of discord.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Can we just get 2016 over with, please?

When the news came on Christmas Day that singer George Michael had died, well … can we get this year completed, please?

Just this month alone, we have lost actor Alan Thicke, astronaut/hero John Glenn, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, former Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jim Williams, broadcaster Craig Sager and musician Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. This was after Keith Emerson of the same band died in March.

We had to say goodbye this year to former first lady Nancy Reagan, a classy dame if there ever was one. We lost Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Abe Vigoda, Leon Russell, Pete Fountain, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey … so many others.

Make it stop!

I mention all this because it’s customary at this point on the calendar to look back upon the nearly finished year, hoping to gain some perspective about what we went through and what might be about to come.

If it’s OK with you, though, I think 2016 has been filled with so many things we would like to forget (and I’m not even talking about Donald Trump … yet) that we should cut this year short. It has been an unwelcome guest for 51 weeks, and it needs to go away.

That has been particularly true in Florida.

We learned that terrorism can happen close to home when 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

We had the Zika virus. There was green ooze from the Lake Okeechobee algae bloom, fouling nostrils along the East Coast. We had a massive sinkhole in Polk County that polluted the aquifer.

We had two reminders from Mother Nature that she is still in charge. Hurricane Hermine helped flood St. Petersburg’s streets with untreated sewage, followed by Hurricane Matthew that scraped its way up the East Coast.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, trying for a 13th term in Congress, got a double whammy – a federal indictment alleging she had misused money earmarked for charity, and then she was beaten in the November election in her redrawn district.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was humiliated when he lost the Florida Primary by a wide margin to Trump. But Rubio, who had vowed not to seek re-election because he was frustrated in the Senate, ran anyway and won.

We couldn’t even turn to sports for escape.

After winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio, U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself as his country by making up a story about being robbed. The former University of Florida star lost millions in endorsement contracts after his fib was exposed.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins were terrible, and the season ended in tragedy when Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were teasingly good until they figured out what they were doing right and corrected it.

The federal government basically ground to a halt, and the election was the nastiest anyone can remember as Trump and Hillary Clinton drove Americans to drink. When it was done, the nation had elected a man who has never held public office and believes in government by tweet, wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has hinted that we should expand our nuclear arsenal.

What possibly could go wrong?

With that in mind, you know that thing I said about needing 2016 to hurry and finish? Maybe we can coax this year into sticking around a little longer. As they say, things could always be worse.

Donald Trump repeating some behaviors he criticized in Clinton

Donald Trump spent the past two years attacking rival Hillary Clinton as crooked, corrupt, and weak.

But some of those attacks seem to have already slipped into the history books.

From installing Wall Street executives in his Cabinet to avoiding news conferences, the president-elect is adopting some of the same behavior for which he criticized Clinton during their fiery presidential campaign.

Here’s a look at what Trump said then — and what he’s doing now:

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GOLDMAN SACHS

Then: “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs,” Trump said at a South Carolina rally in February, when he was locked in a fierce primary battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “They have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.”

Now: A number of former employees of the Wall Street bank will pay a key role in crafting Trump’s economic policy. He’s tapped Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to lead the White House National Economic Council. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary nominee, spent 17 years working at Goldman Sachs and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, started his career as an investment banker at the firm.

Trump is following in a long political tradition, though one he derided on the campaign trail: If Cohn accepts the nomination, he’ll be the third Goldman executive to run the NEC.

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BIG DONORS

Then: “Crooked Hillary. Look, can you imagine another four years of the Clintons? Seriously. It’s time to move on. And she’s totally controlled by Wall Street and all these people that gave her millions,” Trump said at a May rally in Lynden, Washington.

Now: Trump has stocked his Cabinet with six top donors — far more than any recent White House. “I want people that made a fortune. Because now they’re negotiating with you, OK?” Trump said, in a December 9 speech in Des Moines.

The biggest giver? Linda McMahon, incoming small business administrator, gave $7.5 million to a super PAC backing Trump, more than a third of the money collected by the political action committee.

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NEWS CONFERENCES

Then: “She doesn’t do news conferences, because she can’t,” Trump said at an August rally in Ashburn, Virginia. “She’s so dishonest she doesn’t want people peppering her with questions.”

Now: Trump opened his last news conference on July 27, saying: “You know, I put myself through your news conferences often, not that it’s fun.”

He hasn’t held one since.

Trump skipped the news conference a president-elect typically gives after winning the White House. Instead, he released a YouTube video of under three minutes. He also recently abruptly canceled plans to hold his first post-election news conference, opting instead to describe his plans for managing his businesses in tweets. “I will hold a press conference in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!” he tweeted in mid-December.

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FAMILY TIES:

Then: “It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money,” Trump said at an August rally in Austin.

Now: While Trump has promised to separate himself from his businesses, there is plenty of overlap between his enterprises and his immediate family. His companies will be run by his sons, Donald Jr and Eric. And his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have joined Trump at a number of meetings with world leaders of countries where the family has financial interests.

In a financial disclosure he was required to file during the campaign, Trump listed stakes in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries.

Ivanka, in particular, has been caught making early efforts to leverage her father’s new position into profits. After an interview with the family appeared on “60 Minutes,” her jewelry company, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, blasted out an email promoting the $10,800 gold bangle bracelet that she had worn during the appearance. The company later said they were “proactively discussing new policies and procedures.”

Ivanka is also auctioning off a private coffee meeting with her to benefit her brother’s foundation. The meeting is valued at $50,000, with the current top bid coming in at $25,000.

“United States Secret Service will be Present for the Duration of the Experience,” warns the auction site.

Trump on Saturday said he would dissolve his charitable foundation amid efforts to eliminate any conflicts of interest before he takes office next month.

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CLINTON INVESTIGATIONS

Then: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor,” Trump said in the October presidential debate, referring to Clinton.

Now: Since winning office, Trump has said he has no intention of pushing for an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state or the workings of her family foundation. “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about,” he told the New York Times.

“She went through a lot. And suffered greatly in many different ways,” he said. “I’m not looking to hurt them.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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