Monday, January 16, 2017

This Time Volkswagen Really Did It Again

Volkswagen has a new high-tech Microbus concept car on display at the Detroit Auto Show, which is really cool (and I hope to see it at the New York auto show in April), and it's touting its new Atlas SUV, being introduced this spring (relax, I'll get to that later), but it still has to deal with the aftermath of the diesel emissions affair, the scandal that just won't go away.  The German automaker pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to hide cheating on emissions test - one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, one count on obstruction of justice, and one count of entry of goods by false statement.  This comes after it was discovered that top VW executives in Wolfsburg learned about the emissions-cheating software in TDI engines just before the scandal broke. Well, two months before the scandal broke . . . 
And what's more VW officials who did know about the scandal told engineers to destroy all documents related to the emissions-test-cheating software a short time ago.  Well, four or five years ago . . .   

Oh yeah, and a VW executive in charge of Volkswagen of America's environmental and engineering office was arrested in Florida for his involvement in the scandal.  He was one of six individuals who were indicted; the other five are in Germany and are as likely to set foot in this country as Roman Polanski is.
You know, VW could have saved itself a lot of trouble if Martin Winterkorn or whomever had gone to U.S. regulators as soon as this rogue operation was uncovered in-house before it became public knowledge.  Ironically, the $4.3 billion it must pay in fines - $1.5 billion for civil charges and $2.8 billion for criminal charges - could have been even higher had VW not agreed to the cough up $11 billion to fix the TDI vehicles it sold in the U.S.
This embarrassing news couldn't come for a worse time for VW.  Not only does it overshadow its new product in the United States (the Atlas and the Golf Alltrack wagon) , it also comes when most of its U.S. vehicles score shockingly low in quality and reliability ratings from Consumer Reports, and its 2016 sales were down 7.6 percent from 2015.  VW is trying to get its act together while also trying to sell cars without a price advantage over the competition and dealing with a lot of bad publicity over the diesel affair.  The best we VW enthusiasts can hope for is for the Volkswagen brand to at least survive in the United States.  Because the firm's "8 by 18" plan - selling 800,000 cars per annum (incliding Audis and Bentleys) by 2018 - was revealed to have been a pipe dream long before unimaginative journalists coined the term "Dieselgate."  

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Martin O'Malley: "The Opportunity of Climate Change"

Martin O'Malley may be down, but he's not out.  On January 9, the former governor of Maryland gave the following speech, "The Opportunity of Climate Change," at the 2017 Sustainability Symposium in Orlando, Florida, with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, among others, in attendance. This speech is not only indicative of O'Malley's possible plans for the 2020 presidential election, it's evidence that he hopes to make a difference before then.
While the speech got some attention, the national mainstream media likely won't mention it.  I got the text of the speech, with pictures, from an e-mail to O'Malley supporters.  I'm publishing the speech verbatim, along with the aforementioned pictures, to being more attention to O'Malley and the issue he's highlighting - an issue that affects all of us.  
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It is a great honor to be here with all of you. Thank you so very much for your kind invitation. Thank you to Mayor Dyer, and his terrific staff -outstanding leader like Chris Castro. And, Sara Gutterman, thank you for your generous introduction, your passion, and your vision.
HOME AND HEARTH 
The Irish poet, John O'Donohue, once wrote: “… the hearth, the fireplace, is the one area where nature in its elemental wildness is allowed to be present in the home,… the hearth was the place,… where the civilization, sensibility, and intuition of [a people] was handed down – never in an analytic or discursive way. It was always in the form of story. . ."
In 2011, students at the University of Maryland took first place in the Department of Energy’s National Solar Decathlon. Blending affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal clean energy production — they built “Watershed,” a new kind of home. A home that produces and gives to the grid more renewable energy than it consumes. These young Americans imagined a new reality, and – more important – they brought it into being. The difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline. 
THE PROBLEM 
We are living in a time of profound transition. Climate change is no more an ideological issue than is gravity. Our earth is hotter, our oceans more acidic, our lands and waters buckling under centuries of stress. The carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere is higher now than it has been at any time in 3 million years. 

This is a graph moving in the wrong direction. More than 3,500 national weather records were broken for heat, rain, and snow last year. Fortunately, we are beginning to understand. 
This is a graph moving in the right direction. The polling question is whether you believe climate change is caused by human activity. While only 35% of those over 65 believe that human activity is the cause of climate change, 72% of Americans 18 to 29 believe the science. If you want to know where a nation is headed, listen to her young people. Understanding precedes action.
TRANSFORMATION
Climate change is the transformation that transforms everything: Our relationship to the world around us; our relationship to the other living systems of nature; the way we live and work with each other. It requires a transformation of imagination. A letting go. New solutions, new designs, new thinking. A new story for humanity. 
THE SOLUTIONS  
You understand better than most, the colossal nature of this challenge. The enormity of this opportunity. Greenhouse gas emissions must not only be slowed; they must be reversed. This requires advances in how we generate and use energy. And new imagination to redesign our built environment – our homes and buildings. We must get to a point, quickly, where we start drawing down more carbon from the atmosphere than we are pumping into it. 
But as with all great human movements, artists must lead the way. And so – artists and creators of our built environment – I want to talk with you about the Opportunity of Climate Change. I want to talk with you about: 
Fire,... 
Imagination,... 
The Power of Story,... 
And the Importance of Place....
PLACE MATTERS
We are surface dwellers. This is our place. This is where we have learned to thrive. Unlike any other animal species on the planet, we have progressed – generationally – by cooperating with one another. And, by manipulating our environment: By extracting resources from the surface – the soil, the waters, and the ground. By learning to change matter to energy. The story of Genesis, itself, is a story – among other things – of the conversion of matter to energy; or was it energy to matter? 
The Divine spark by which Earth achieved cognition – in humanity.  Over the last millennia or so, we human beings learned to change matter to energy primarily by means of fire. The great discovery.
Fire – the burning of wood in caves. Fire – the burning of wood in stoves. In more recent times, fire – the burning of fossil fuels. 
For heat, for electricity, for mobility. In earlier generations, we thought the land, the waters, and the atmosphere of the Earth were limitless, boundless things. Only recently have we come to think about the finite limits of our planet. The natural capacity of Earth for meeting human needs – food, water, air, mobility, shelter.
Today – from the perspective of space – we can see that the air we need is actually held within a very thin membrane around the Earth. A very thin membrane, in fact, that not only holds the oxygen we breath, but also holds the carbon and the methane pollution we emit from our burning. 
OUR EVOLVING STORIES 
For most of recorded human history, our stories – of heroic people or individuals – revolved around our capacity to conquer. Our capacity to love. Our ability to overcome great suffering, sacrifice, and loss. The Earth itself was merely a backdrop. Or perhaps, a wild and sometimes sinister thing to be mastered and exploited. 
But now we find ourselves at the threshold of a new era. The emergence of what American Conservationist, Aldo Leopold, would call, "The Third Ethic" – after the Decalogue and the Golden Rule. The Ethic of the Land. The Earth. The dawn of a new consciousness. Greatly accelerated – I believe – by three important firsts: 
#1. For the first time in human history, we have seen ourselves from outer space as we truly are – a tiny blue capsule of life hurdling through a vast universe. 
#2. A majority of human beings now live in cities; this has never happened before.
#3. Our fires – the exponential growth of our traditional ways of converting matter to energy – have now super-heated the planet. 
We are now pumping so much carbon and methane into the atmosphere that we are melting the ice caps. And we are threatening the very ability of the Earth to support human life. 
These are the threads of a new story. Not a story of scarcity and planetary disaster. Not a story of ruinous growth and consumption run-amok. But rather, a story of greater health and well-being, greater security, greater opportunity. 
APOLLO 13 
Remember the story of Apollo 13. Another tiny capsule of life hurdling through space. 
In this case, the lives within the capsule were three American astronauts. A near catastrophic malfunction cripples the capsule was crippled between the Moon and the Earth. Unable to maintain a proper balance of oxygen inside the ship, levels of carbon dioxide climb to life-threatening levels. The astronauts are literally poisoning the atmosphere of their command module with every breath. The young engineers and scientists and mathematicians on the ground at mission control have to figure it out. They must find a way to drawdown the CO2 levels. They create a duplicate pile of the very few materials – tools, containers, duct tape – available to the astronauts in the capsule. 
Their leader at Mission Control, Gene Kranz, keeps urging the imagination and smarts of his young American team of engineers forward. When the NASA director muttered that this could be the worst disaster NASA's ever experienced. Kranz replied: "With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour." Many of you have seen the movie – "work the problem, people." And they do. They fashion a way to scrub the carbon dioxide from the air of the capsule. They save the lives that only they had the power to save. And so too, must we. 
GREATER OPPORTUNITY, PROSPERITY, LIFE 
"Any appeal that begins from a standpoint of despair is doomed to fail..." Our story must be a story of greater health and well-being. Greater security and balance. Life – lived more abundantly. We have become good – haven’t we – at imagining the end of the world, but not so good, yet, at imagining a new beginning. Consider these facts: There are – today – twice as many people employed in wind and solar jobs in the U.S. than there are in coal mining.
In fact, solar alone now employs more people than are employed in oil and gas extraction. More people than are employed in coal mining. And while job creation in those industries has been slumping, solar jobs continue to grow. The cost of rooftop solar has fallen 64% in eight years. The price of land-based wind has fallen 50% in just the last four years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – average wage for a wind technician is $24 an hour; solar $20 an hour; coal $22 – with more and more coal jobs falling every year to automation.
The U.S. Advanced Energy market is now valued at $200 billion. There are currently 2.7 million advanced energy jobs in the United States. And many of those are hands-on, blue collar jobs. Employing more people than all of those employed in agriculture and mining combined. The growth of green construction jobs has quadrupled over the last ten years. There are a lot more jobs to be created in addressing climate change than in ignoring or denying it. And there is one yearning the world over – the yearning for a decent job. 
OUR NATIONAL POLITICS 
"It is the law of all progress that it must pass through some periods of great instability..." – Teilhard de Chardin 
The White House can be a powerful tool for human progress. But it is not the only tool. In fact, history teaches us that democratic republics often make the greatest progress only after they have self-corrected – from electing a tool. All progress is born of adversity. Just a few days ago, The New York Times ran this story on January 2, 2017 by Justin Gillis. 
Warning: this article contains more than 140 characters. But it really is worth reading. So, in an act of American resistance, I am going to read it to you: 
"With Donald J. Trump about to take control of the White House, it would seem a dark time for the renewable energy industry. After all, Mr. Trump has mocked the science of global warming as a Chinese hoax, threatened to kill a global deal on climate change and promised to restore the coal industry to its former glory. So consider what happened in the middle of December, after investors had had a month to absorb the implications of Mr. Trump’s victory. The federal government opened bidding on a tract of the ocean floor off New York State as a potential site for a huge wind farm. Up, up and away soared the offers — interest from the bidders was so fevered that the auction went through 33 rounds and spilled over to a second day. In the end, the winning bidder offered the federal Treasury $42 million, more than twice what the government got in August for oil leases — all oil leases — in the Gulf of Mexico. Who won the bid? None other than Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, which is in the midst of a major campaign to turn itself into a big player in renewable energy." 
The article continues:
"We do not know for sure that the New York wind farm will get built, but we do know this: The energy transition is real, and Mr. Trump is not going to stop it. On a global scale, more than half the investment in new electricity generation is going into renewable energy."
That is more than $300 billion a year, a sign of how powerful the momentum has become. Wind power is booming in the United States, with the industry adding manufacturing jobs in the reddest states. When Mr. Trump’s appointees examine the facts, they will learn that wind-farm technician is projected to be the fastest-growing occupation in America over the next decade. If Mr. Trump pushes for an early end to the subsidies, he will find that renewable energy has friends in the Republican Party. Topping that list is Charles E. Grassley, the senior senator from Iowa. That state — all-important in presidential politics, let us remember — will soon be getting 40 percent of its electricity from wind power." 
Having spent a lot of time in Iowa lately, I can tell you that's true: Iowans are very proud of their new wind industry. They should be. It employs upwards of 5,000 people. 
STATES MUST LEAD THE WAY 
Let's talk about these United States for a second. To look at a geographic map of the counties and states of the United States, you would think the continent is awash in an electoral sea of climate-denying red. 
When the map is adjusted in this cartogram to reflect where the population of the United States resides, you see how and where Mr. Trump lost the popular vote – it was in all of these metropolitan bubbles of blue with the deep red spaces in between. Deep red spaces where so many of our neighbors feel they are slipping through the cracks. Urbanization and the drive for a more sustainable future have been joined in one urgent movement of human development. This is true the world over. As the prophet says: "whatever is the more true comes out into the open, and whatever is better is ultimately realized." 
MARYLAND'S STORY 
True story. When I was elected Governor of Maryland, our State had no sustainable energy policy. In fact, we had no energy policy whatsoever. In an ill-advised utility hustle, our State had just moved from a regulated to a deregulated framework. Residential customers in the Baltimore area got whacked in that deal with a 70% rate increase. Against this backdrop, I was elected. And we began to put together the consensus, the policies, and the actions necessary to address climate change. 
With our miles of coastline and natural subsidence, Maryland is one of the most vulnerable states in the nation to the impacts of climate change. Sea levels along our 3,200 miles of coastlines are rising three to four times faster than the global average.[iv] Thirteen islands in the Chesapeake have now been swallowed up entirely.[v] As Governor, we took action to make a new policy. We decoupled the misaligned profit relationship between utility revenues and electricity consumption. We passed Climate Change legislation – setting goals, deadlines, action plans – for achieving a 25% greenhouse gas reduction by 2025. We took our renewable portfolio from a voluntary 7%, to a mandatory 20% by 2022. 
We passed net-metering and put incentives in place to reduce energy consumption by 15% by 2015.
And along the way, we became one of the first states in 2007 to join RGGI – the regional greenhouse initiative of Northeast States. We became one of the first states to adopt the international green building code. It took us three tries, but eventually we also passed a bill setting up the bidding process for Atlantic off-shore wind. A State that was nowhere in terms of green jobs a few years ago, achieved over the course of just eight years, the fastest rate of green job creation of any state in the country.[vii] 
None of this was easy. All of it required persistence, persuasion, consensus, understanding, and work. I was re-elected in 2010 with twice the margin of 2006, and part of the reason was this: These actions – this new story of greater health, greater well-being, greater security, and greater job creation – cost only pennies to ratepayers to implement. Pennies that were often off-set by demand reduction efforts.
The practical, political point is this: With the exception of the deconfliction and lease work for off-shore wind, all of these actions in our State were accomplished without any help, from anyone, in the Executive Branch of our Federal Government, or even our Congressional delegation. And the State of Maryland was not alone in her leadership. 
PROGRESS ACROSS THE STATES 
Today, 23 states have now adopted decoupling policies.
Today, 41 states have now adopted net-metering. 
Nineteen states now have greenhouse gas reduction targets. 
Twenty-six states now have mandatory renewable energy portfolio standards. 
 Twenty-two states have now adopted Energy Efficiency Standards and Targets. 
Twenty-six states have now adopted Residential Building Energy Codes, and four have recently adopted higher standards. 
So let me state it plainly. This is not a matter of hoping or wishing. We need to act! If Federal efforts are sidelined for the next four years, then States like California, Maryland, and others must lead! Just like they have led for these last eight years! This election means the loss – for a time – of American political leadership; but it does not mean the loss of leadership by Americans! 
IMAGINATION 
And this is why your work is so very important. Remember. The Executive Branch and Congress had nothing to do with the green building revolution in the past; nothing has changed except their level of ignorance. You are transforming homes into technologies in which people dwell. And where it's heading is something quite phenomenal. 
Throughout the United States of America, our buildings account for 39% of our carbon emissions. The vast majority of our buildings are clustered in our cities and metropolitan areas. Those places where Mayors, regardless of Party, are pushing the envelope of the possible. Living buildings, micro-apartments, urban farming, building retrofitting. It's all happening alongside effective mayoral leadership.
It is not enough that we cap new carbon emissions; we must drawdown the poison that is already there. To do that, we must re-imagine and redesign our way of living. 
That is the life-giving work you and your colleagues are doing every day. Unless we act, unless we create a better story, unless we build – metaphorically and literally – a better, smarter home out of the surface of our planet, science is going to catastrophize the future. And with some reason – the data support it! 
The problem is this: catastrophizing the future – drawing straight-line projections to hell – makes deniers look optimistic and turns science into the problem. But you, here, understand an important truth – as our problems are man-and-woman-made, so too, are their solutions. "We need to work the problem people." 
Recently, Green Builder Media and Shelter Dynamics built the Arc House. A home that brings together science and economy. A home that is smart, self-sufficient, and compact. A new kind of home. A home that produces and gives to the grid more renewable energy than it consumes.
Yours, then, is the new story. The story of greater health, greater well-being, and greater prosperity. It is emerging from the dead wood of "growth for the sake of growth," but it will not happen by itself. We need leaders. We need artists. We need you. We need you to write it, to design it, and to build it. The story of justice, balance, and regeneration, emerging green – for the sake of our children and grandchildren – from the ashes of extraction and depletion. A true story, worthy of the love, and hearth, of a great people. 
CONCLUSION 
Fire, imagination, the power of story, the importance of place
We human beings are problem-solving animals. There would be no freedom of the Exodus story without the Pharaoh's slavery. No American Revolution without British oppression. No penicillin without disease. We are Americans, we make our own destiny. Never doubt it. For as a great man once said, "the day will come when after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in history, human beings will have discovered fire." - Teilhard de Chardin, again. 
Thank you.
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You know this sort of thinking used to be called?  Presidential leadership.
We need this guy to run for President in 2020!  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Tale of Two Presidents

President Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the nation this past Tuesday, and apart from the unorthodox and somewhat mushy setting - giving it before an audience of 18,000 in a convention  center in Chicago instead of from the Oval Office in the White House - it was an exemplary speech.
He reminded the American people that democracy is not something you just participate in every two or four years and urged people to get politically involved in between.  He very skillfully touted his biggest achievements while acknowledging what remains to be done, and he defended the rights of immigrants and the grievances of racial minorities while reminding everyone that many if not most white males are likely to be alienated not by racism but by the enormous amount of economic change they cannot comprehend, as well as incomprehensible cultural change (nice to see that he noticed all the rock radio stations that have gone off the air lately! ;-) ).  But most of all, he urged Americans on different sides of the political and cultural debates to get out of their respective bubbles, listen to news and opinions that don't conform to their own world views, and engage with their opponents live in and person as opposed to trading insults on the Internet.
The speech, which included gratitude for his wife, his daughters, and Vice President Joe Biden, was very classy indeed.
And then there's this guy.
Donald Trump spent his first press conference in nearly six months defending both himself against charges of bizarre sexual activities in a Moscow hotel room that President Obama and his wife had slept in and defending his plans to put his business in a trust upon assuming the Presidency on Friday.  (He also declared that the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee, though he only did so after almost everyone else did.)  As it turned out, defending himself against accusations of sexual perversity, which the Kremlin was thought to have evidence of for possible extortion purposes, was the easy part.  His plans to put his businesses in a trust held by his sons without actually selling them was universally panned by a bipartisan array of legal experts as being insufficient, and this move only raised more questions than it answered. Since Trump's real estate business earns foreign money, and since Trump would still own it, he would technically benefit from foreign revenue, which is unconstitutional.  Well, that's the layman's' explanation of it.  The bottom line is that Trump could violate the Constitution and open himself to possible impeachment.
But he likely won't be convicted, because then we'd get this guy!
Worry. Worry a lot.
Because the decline of rock radio is the least of our problems.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - January 13, 2017

"Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" by Billy Joel (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Supreme Hypocrisy

So let me see if I have this straight . . .
Mitch McConnell wouldn't allow any Senate hearings for any Supreme Court nominee President Obama offered up to replace Antonin Scalia, and now that Donald Trump gets to fill the Court vacancy that Obama should have filled, McConnell doesn't want the Democrats to block a Trump nominee because it is their constitutional duty to respect a presidential nominee to the High Court.
So why didn't McConnell extend the same courtesy to Obama when he nominated Merrick Garland?  Oh, that's right - the Kentucky Republican said it would be inappropriate for a Supreme Court nominee to be submitted in a presidential election year in which the sitting President was a lame duck, and that it would be better to let the people indicate through the election which presidential candidate they wanted to see choose justices for the Court. 
The people chose Hillary Clinton.
Which means she would probably have renewed the Garland appointment, so even though Trump won the electoral vote, why not just confirm Garland?
Because McConnell talks out of both sides of his tiny mouth. 
Besides, he's happy.  His wife got another Cabinet post.
Maybe that's why he doesn't want to slow Trump's Cabinet nominations for Senate confirmation . . ..

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Losing Yesterday's Fight

Is there any way the Democrats can be more pathetic?
First, they nominated Hillary Clinton for President.  Her campaign was a parade of smugness and overconfidence.  After she lost in the electoral college, Democratic election lawyers urged her to demand recounts in key states won by Donald Trump that, taken together, would make the difference in her favor by swinging enough electoral votes to her and away from Trump.  Recounts were instigated in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, with only the Wisconsin recount completed successfully - and that recount only re-affirmed Trump's victory there.  Only it was Jill Stein of the Green Party who instigated the recount - not to help Hillary, but to ensure that the process was fair.  And while it got the Green Party more votes in one county . . . 
. . . it got Trump 131 more votes statewide.
"This recount was never about changing the outcome; it was about validating the vote and restoring confidence in our voting system to Americans across the country who have doubts," Dr. Stein said.  And she did more to re-assure confidence in the electoral process than whining Hillary supporters who wanted recounts with the hope of . . . changing the outcome.
Then the Democrats pestered Trump electors to change their votes, and former 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig - the one 2016 Democratic presidential candidate less serious than Lincoln Chafee - said the electors were morally bound to vote for Hillary.  And then the electors voted.  Hillary actually lost five Democratic electors while Trump lost only two Republican ones.
And finally, when the electoral votes were counted in Congress, House Democrats protested the outcomes from one state or the other but couldn't get one Democratic senator to back them up.
And by the way, Democratic efforts to keep fighting after after losing the fight was not restricted to Hillary.  On January 3, after the old six-year-terms of the Senate's Class 3 seats expired at noon but before the new terms in that class began, Democrats technically held a majority in the Senate, so the Daily Kos had petitioned Senate Democrats to use that interlude to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  The same Senate Democrats who wouldn't challenge Trump's victory three days later?     
Democrats have been doing everything possible to put Hillary in the White House after losing the election, and then they wonder whey no one takes them seriously and why supposed allies like I keep laughing at them.  They keep fighting the last battle, which they've long since lost.  They're like the guy who just drew the short straw and insists that, now that everyone knows how the process works, the next time is the one for keeps.
Oh yeah, they want Hillary to run for mayor of New York City.
Steve to Democrats: You lost - give it up!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Clarification: January 10, 2017

In an earlier post about the election, I wrote that "even if everyone who voted for Dr. [Jill] Stein in swing states won by Trump except Michigan had voted for Hillary, the Democrats still would have lost."  I don't think that came out right . . . what I meant was that if everyone who voted for Dr. Stein in swing states that Trump won - apart from Michigan, which didn't even report its results until after the election was called - voted for Hillary Clinton, Hillary still would have lost these states to Trump, but if everyone in Michigan had voted for Hillary Clinton as well, she would have won Michigan . . .  but still would have lost the election, 288 electoral votes to 243 as opposed to 304 to 227, not counting the seven electoral votes that went to other candidates.
Complicated, no?
I now return to my blog at the point where I interrupted it . . ..   

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Ice Weekend?

We just got a few inches of snow where I live.  In the meantime, I've seen some weather reports indicating rain and freezing rain for the Martin Luther King holiday coming up next weekend . . . specifically, next Sunday night into Monday morning.  It's expected to be light - so far - and it should hopefully warm up to the point where it's only plain rain.  But this forecast is still a week out.  An ice storm isn't out ofthe question.  Remember, a week before Hurricane Sandy, that storm was excepted to miss us entirely.  
So now I wait to see if we in fact will experience our first electrical outage of 2017, or whether we get through it and still hold out hope for our first outage-free calendar year since 2008 (yeah, right).  Also, even if we do escape ice next weekend, there's another threat coming late next week.
Why do I still write about possible ice storms despite the fact that they never seem to materialize?  I figure that if I keep writing about it, then nothing will happen.  Hey, it's worked so far!
In the meantime, this week is supposed to be warm after a bitterly cold start.   

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Kelly Files

When I make a mistake, it's a beaut.  And here's the beaut.  Not a beauty, but a beaut.

It was announced this past week that Megyn Kelly, the Fox News Channel's biggest star, was leaving that right-wing network for NBC News, for which she will likely be doing coverage of political stories, hosting a Sunday night news program (opposite "60 Minutes?"), and hosting a new daytime program to replace the third hour of the "Today" show.  (Because of contractual issues with Fox News, she may have to wait awhile before she gets on NBC's airwaves; her last appearance on Fox was on January 6.)
Megyn Kelly on NBC News . . . sounds pretty good right?  Now Kelly can get on a real network news team that deals in facts and show what an accomplished newswoman she really is.
Not so fast.  A week and change ago,  I wrote that Kelly "has proven to be formidable newswoman, the one good thing to come out of [the Roger Ailes sex] scandal."  I based this on the fact that Kelly has grilled some Republican politicians about their positions and put them to shame by trying to get the truth of the matter.  But the truth of the matter is that, despite all that, Kelly is one of those straight white people whose takes on the issues are so reactionary and lunkheaded that she makes straight white people look even dumber.  It's not just her onetime insistence that Santa Claus, a fictional character, is white, which she made in response to the equally stupid suggestion from a black female journalist that Santa Claus be replaced with a race-neutral Christmas penguin.  It's little tidbits that Matthew Ingram of Fortune magazine recently cited, such as her fear-mongering accusation that the Obama administration was forcing racial diversity on white neighborhoods (it wasn't) and her dismissal of the Black Lives Matter movement by doubting that the recent rash of police shootings had anything to do with race.
And then there's this bombshell about the bombshell that Ingram pointed out: "Kelly has also made critical comments about gay and transgender issues on a number of occasions, according to the left-leaning media watchdog group Media Matters, and has repeatedly hosted anti-gay groups such as the Family Research Council, which believes that homosexuality is a sin and that gay men routinely recruit children to be homosexual."
Dear Matthew Ingram:  Thanks for setting me straight (no pun intended) about Megyn Kelly.  I appreciate it.
It's not that Megyn Kelly is changing or moderating her views.  It's that NBC News - which runs MSNBC also - is looking for a more conservative bent.  Because that's where the money is, and also because the Fairness Doctrine that guarantees diversity of thought in news reporting was done away with years ago. 
By the way, Kelly may even replace the likable Savannah Guthrie on "Today."
Bastards!    
And oh yes, I retract my earlier statement about Kelly's "formidable" journalistic chops.
Is she the only odious ex-Fox News personality to join the NBC family?  No - Greta Van Sustren is joining MSNBC.

Bearing all this in mind, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Joy Reid should be getting pinks slips with their pay checks very soon.  Personal note to Rachel, Chris and Joy:  You're f--ked. 
Although I suspect that Joy Reid may resign from MSNBC in protest of these two NBC News hires before MSNBC boss Phil Griffin even gets the chance to sack her . . . 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

RIP ACA

The Affordable Care Act is dead.
On Wednesday, incoming Vice President Mike Pence met with his onetime Republican U.S. House colleagues to prepare for repealing the law known as Obamacare, and they're trying to get a head start on defunding and scrapping it in an expeditious matter.  They're hoping to put it on a repeal-and-delay timetable, in which they officially repeal the Affordable Care Act and set up a period for the Republicans to come up with an alternative.
Which will likely be a return to the way things were in 2009.
And don't think the Democrats will be able to stop them, either; the Republicans plan to push the repeal through in a Senate-filibuster-proof budget resolution, which is, ironically, how the Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in the first place.
At least one Republican in Washington, as well as with some Republican governors, is fearful that this move could lead millions of  people in limbo and without health insurance.  U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has demanded that his party come up with a health care plan of its own before scrapping the current law.  "We need to think through how we do this, and it's a huge mistake for Republicans if they do not vote for replacement on the same day as we vote for repeal," he said.
He's unlikely to get any support from any fellow Republicans, except maybe Senator Susan Collins (R-ME).
Meanwhile, President Obama, with only a few days left to go in office, held a pity party to buck up Democrats in Congress to urge them fight the Republican onslaught on his signature legislation, even though they're outvoted.  The biggest Obamacare proponent in the Senate is Democratic leader Charles Schumer (NY), who famously attributed the Democratic loss of the Senate in 2014 to the party paying too much attention on - you guessed it - health care.
Ironically, Obamacare was based on Republican market reform ideas from the nineties.  The Democratic proposal of the time - Medicare for all - never got anywhere, and it certainly won't get anywhere in this Congress, as Paul Ryan is working on a new program - Medicare for no one.  
Yeah, Obamacare is as good as gone.  And don't start threatening to move to Great Britain, boys and girls, because the British National Health Service is slowly being done away with too.   
Funny how what took the Tories in the U.K. seventy years to do, the Republicans are going to be able to do in a few short months.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Music Video Of the Week - January 6, 2017

"Hello Little Girl" by the Fourmost (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ethic Cleansing

Not my pun - ThinkProgress.org came up with that one - but still a perfect title for this story.
It seems that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives tried to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), over the objections of their own leaders.  How did they defend it? As Representative Steve King (R-IA) allegedly explained it this way.  He said he was concerned with anonymous parties accusing House members of unethical behavior out of the blue (or out of the blue states), and he was afraid that the OCE could leak information to the media, preventing a fair process of justice.  King cited examples of the OCE having leaked information before.
Oops! Correction: He couldn't think of any examples.  He told reporters, "Just Google it."  
Perversely, Donald Trump was instrumental in the effort's ultimate failure - along with the calls from outraged constituents all over America.  Trump said that his incoming presidential administration has more important things to worry, about like health care and tax reform, and he's ticked off at the very idea of trying to gut an office that's supposed to be keeping Congress honest on behalf of the people.  You know a Republican idea is bad when ever Trump doesn't like it.
Representative King has since gone back to his ongoing obsession - pushing legislation that would ban the Supreme Court from referring to its own rulings on the Affordable Care Act as precedent in future health-care cases.
Just Google it. I mean it. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book Review: "Beatles '66: The Revolutionary Year" by Steve Turner

Of the nine calendar years in which the Beatles were a working band contracted to EMI, the year 1966 tends to get overlooked in favor of the numerous analyses of 1964 and the heat of American Beatlemania or of 1967 and the psychedelic musings of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.   But 1966 was more than just the end of the Beatles' moptop years and the beginning of their more ambitious phase.  It was the year in which their ambitions and their most daring work were in full bloom, and it was the year in which their work set the standard for pop for the next half century.
Steve Turner, best known for writing "A Hard Day's Write" (also known as "The Complete Beatles Songs"), which explained the genesis of every original song the Beatles recorded, thoroughly documents how the Beatles spent 1966.  He demonstrates how they spent their down time listening to various forms of music and exploring literature and art in London at at the height of the city's "swinging" period, which influenced their work, and how chance encounters with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Yoko Ono also expanded their artistic horizons.  We learn more about how John Lennon's statement about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus was slow to outrage American fundamentalists and how the difficulties of their final world tour were not limited to their time in Manila or the North American leg.  We learn about Paul McCartney's discovery of electronic music and how it portended today's EDM craze, John Lennon's gameness at trying new artistic pursuits (his role in How I Won the War, Dick Lester's sharp black-comedy war movie, is covered in great detail), and George Harrison's first meeting with Ravi Shankar after taking up the sitar . . . and how all of this led them to view rock and roll from a new perspective.  (Ringo Starr, the everyman in the group, remained thoroughly grounded and thoroughly Ringo; his unpretentiousness helped the Beatles keep one foot in the outside world.)  Several myths are also debunked, such as the reason the Beatles posed as butchers in what became an infamous U.S. album cover.              
But it's when Turner discusses Revolver, the groundbreaking album the Beatles released in 1966, that the book is at its most illuminating.  The making of songs like "Tomorrow Never Knows," with its tape loops and distorted Lennon vocal, and the writing of "Eleanor Rigby" and its vivid depictions of loneliness are discussed with the same excitement and freshness that Turner brought to explaining all the Beatles' songs in "A Hard Day's Write," and the contributions of session musicians like Alan Civil (who played the horn on "For No One") and Anil Bhagwat (who played the tabla on George's "Love You To") are better appreciated in exciting prose. 
Throughout "Beatles '66," Turner makes this pivotal year in the Beatles' career come to life; reading it makes you feel as if you are there.  By the end, you understand anew the importance of the Beatles' innovations on Revolver and the new influences they opened themselves up to at a time of rapid change (brought about not just by politics and social movements but by Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Who, and other contemporaries of the Fabs).  One might think that rap and Taylor Swift have no connection to the Beatles' influence, but Turner makes it clear that the group's technical breakthroughs and personal songwriting styles continue to reverberate in pop at at time when, ironically,  rock and roll - the very genre the Beatles brought back from the dead - seems more lifeless than ever.  
One minor flaw is that Turner romanticizes the time he writes about, though this period is as well remembered for the anarchy it spawned (the Vietnam War, racial and social unrest, the rise of the American conservative moment)  as for the music it spawned.  However, at the dawn of 2017, when the world seems to be on the cusp of similar discord, reading "Beatles '66" will remind you that, even when times seem to be at their darkest, anything positive is possible. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is one of those big natural events that a) can be forecast decades in advance and b) is something people look board to, because it's so cool.  Twenty seventeen will mark the first solar eclipse over the continental United States since 1979.  I remember the 1979 occurrence, but I didn't actually see the eclipse itself - it was visible the most in the Pacific Northwest, and whether or not I'd be able to see it from the Northeast wasn't going to matter, because I wasn't going to risk hurting my eyes. It was on February 26, 1979, a Monday; I was in eighth grade, so I was in a classroom when it happened, and it was a cold and rainy day in the part of the Northeast where I was living, anyway.  Ironically, that was about the time I got expelled from science class because I was flunking it and not getting along with the other kids.
I've never been very scientifically literate.  That's why I trust the climatologists who say global warming is real.
Anyway, I saw the images on TV instead, and the weatherman on the station I was watching said there'd be "a rerun in 38 years."  Now here we are, 38 years later, and the total eclipse coming our way on August 21 - another Monday - should be visible to everyone in America, not just some of us.   This time I hope to find a way to see it without hurting my eyes . . . unless it rains.
I can't help but note a little bad karma, though,  when I realize that the last solar eclipse over the continental United States was followed by a multitude of cosmic bummers in 1979 - the Three Mile Island disaster (I was living in Pennsylvania at the time), the second gas shortage, the gasoline riots, Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech, the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that ended the détente period of the Cold War.  Also, "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" hit number one.  With Donald Trump about to move into the White House and Britain about to move out of the European Union, I wonder if more bad karma - worse karma - is at hand for after August.
Well, I'm going to try to not to get superstitious about the eclipse, though I will have some trepidation in attempting to see it myself rather than on video.
Information on the 2017 eclipse is available here. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

More Hacking To Come?

The Russians apparently hacked an electrical utility in Vermont.
Maybe they were trying to send a message to Bernie Sanders?
According to U.S. officials, the Russians planted some malware on a laptop at Burlington Electric, a power company serving the state's largest city (Burlington, population 42,452).  The laptop, fortunately, was not connected to the grid, and the malware was isolated.  But if the Russians - or anyone else - could get a piece of malware onto an electric company's laptop in a small city in the second-least populated state in the Union, it means that they - or someone - are looking to go for bigger game thereafter.
I'm beginning to wonder if sites on the Internet are next.  This is scary . . ..  This could be the start of something big! :-O

Sunday, January 1, 2017

When The Beatles Were Turned Down

A new year has begun, rock and roll is out of style, and solo singers dominate the charts.  Groups that play guitar music don't stand a chance.
Is rock that bad off at the start of 2017?  Actually, I was talking about 1962.
At the beginning of 1962, rock and roll was dormant to the point of disappearing altogether, what with Jerry Lee Lewis banished for marrying his cousin, Chuck Berry in jail, Buddy Holly dead, and Elvis Presley having been turned into a mainstream pop singer.  And it was in this milieu that the Beatles - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best - went into a Decca Records studio in London for an audition.  It was fifty-five years ago today, and it's actually kind of scary to think that we're marking double-nickel anniversaries in Beatledom.
The Beatles did indeed spend New Year's Day, 1962 auditioning for Decca, one of the biggest record companies in the United Kingdom.  They spent an hour in the studio and recorded a set of American rock and roll songs and pop tunes, along with some of their own original numbers, that were selected by their manager, Brian Epstein. After a straightforward run-through of their set list, producer Mike Smith (not to be confused with the Dave Clark Five's lead singer) was so bowled over he wanted to sign them immediately, but his superior, a fellow by the name of Dick Rowe, overruled him and turned the Beatles down.  Not only did he think they sounded too much like Cliff Richard's backing group, the Shadows, but he decided that, because of the popularity of solo singers in Britain (and also America, by the way), electric-guitar groups were on the way out.  "These boys won't make it," he told Epstein.  "Go back to Liverpool, Mr. Epstein, you have a successful business there."
Well, that's the short version of the story. And even though Rowe's decision is considered one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of show business, it was probably the right decision at the time.  The pop charts in both the U.K. and the U.S. showed no signs of a change of trend back to rock and roll.  Decca was kind enough to at least have given the Beatles an audition; most labels in Britain wouldn't even grant them that opportunity.  And Brian Epstein, as a record store manager in a backwater British seaport city managing and promoting a rock band at a time when rock music was out and claiming that the Beatles would be bigger than Elvis, must have seemed as preposterous as, say, a home-electronics department manager at a big-box store outside Superior, Wisconsin managing and promoting a rock band today while claiming that they'll be bigger than the Beatles - at a time when rock music is out - would seem.  
Also, Epstein is believed to have deliberately sabotaged the Beatles by having them play choosing the fifteen songs they played - twelve covers and three Lennon-McCartney originals - knowing that most the familiar songs he chose, such as "September In the Rain" and "The Sheik of Araby," weren't the best examples of their awesome talent for doing definitive cover versions and knowing also that the originals he had them do weren't their best examples of their songwriting abilities.  (After hearing the Decca recording of their minor ditty "Like Dreamers Do," I concluded that I wouldn't have signed them either.)  Epstein later admitted that he was partial to EMI signing the Beatles, but no one at EMI would bother with them . . . until George Martin, the director of the EMI "junk" label Parlophone, auditioned them in June 1962 and didn't think much of the group.  He decided to sign them (although Best was replaced by Ringo Starr thereafter), figuring he'd have nothing to lose.
And everything to gain.
It's all good and fine to think that history can be repeated, that another band like the Beatles can literally come out of nowhere, which is what Liverpool was, and bring rock and roll back to life, but as I explained in great detail back in January 2014, things are far different today from what they were in the early sixties.  Not only is the infrastructure of the recording profession completely different, thanks to streaming and all that, but how can guys with guitars get any attention when people like Kanye West and Beyoncé keep sucking up all the oxygen and the critical acclaim?  Since I wrote about the slim chances for a rock and roll comeback in 2014, a few newer artists have caught my attention, such as guitarist/singer Gary Clark, Jr. and Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett.  If white guys with guitars are considered uncool, then maybe a black guy with a guitar and a woman with a guitar, as Clark and Barnett are, respectively, can make guitar music cool again?  Good luck with that.  Many listeners view Clark's music as recycled Clapton or recycled Hendrix, while Barnett is viewed as recycled Dylan.  But most pop critics don't go for recycled sounds; they want something new, and how can you provide a new sound in an old form?     
Bands?  One up-and-coming rock band is a group called the Struts, a band out of England that recalls the 1970s-era Rolling Stones.  But that's still recycling. :-O
So, while Dick Rowe did sign the Rolling Stones to Decca after seeing the Beatles' success (and learning about the Stones from none other than George Harrison), maybe Rowe wasn't wrong when he said in 1962 that electric-guitar music was on its way out.  Maybe he was just ahead of his time.  Sure, guitar rock had a good run through the 1960s and 1970s, but afterward, that started to change.  Rowe lived long enough to see synth-pop and the rise of rap in the mid-1980s - he died in 1986 - and he got a glimpse of what would, quite frankly, be the future of popular music.
The biggest rock story of 2016 was not the Struts or Courtney Barnett or even Bruce Springsteen's receipt of the Medal of Freedom but the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Nirvana's Nevermind, sometimes thought of as rock's last important album.  The biggest rock story of 2017 will likely be the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  But so what, when all that matters is to relive past glories in the absence of present ones?  With many rock bands going unsigned by record labels, and with rappers declaring their genre the new rock and roll, the act of living on past achievements and celebrating their anniversaries is nothing new for us rock fans, who continue hoping against hope that another eager producer will take a chance on another ambitious band and their equally ambitious manager . . . and get things going again.
But that hypothetical band from Superior sure do have their work cut out for them.  

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Slouching Toward 2017 . . .

Yeah, I'm ready to see the old year go.
This year started out badly, what with our kitchen taking forever to get done, and a new floor for our basement also took an eternity.  Both situations felt interminable, and the house was a wreck as a result of it all.  My mother an I are only beginning to recover from it.  But in the meantime, I've also had to deal with a lot of other problems that never seem to get resolved.  I keep saying out loud, even when no one's there, "This is never going to end," about . . . anything. :-(  
I'm not ending this year much better than how I started it.  This week I had a scare with my car when the radiator fluid got dangerously low and the engine developed cold-start problems, the latter problem I thought Volkswagen had purged from the Golf decades ago.  It turns out that the mechanic at the shop I went to for an oil change back in October forgot to add radiator fluid, as it tends to dissipate between oil changes, and he told me that my five-year old battery was just fine when in fact it needed replacement.  I had a local VW dealer - not my regular dealer, but I'll probably go back there for service next time - take care of all of that.
That's a relief.  Now, however, I have to figure out how to uninstall and re-install my pre-Windows-10 printer because the scanner function stopped working, and the new camera I got for Christmas doesn't have a USB cord and attempts to connect it to my PC via Wi-Fi have been unsuccessful.  It doesn't look like I'll be able to start the new year clean.
Ahh, I've had it.  As New Year's Day 2017 begins on a Sunday, I'd like to think I'll have a good year because the calendar gives me a total "fresh start" in the form of a new year, a new month, a new day and a new week as well, but  I can't remember a year beginning on a Sunday that turned out well.  The last one gave us Hurricane Sandy.
Happy new year.  Try not to let Trump spoil it. :-O               

Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Music Video Of the Week - December 30, 2016

"Winter Wonderland," Anne Murray (Go to the link in the upper-right-hand corner.)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: Winners and Losers

Well, the year is almost over, so that means I'm posting my thirteenth annual list of winners and losers for the year.  And even though making these lists (particularly the losers' list) may sound like fun, it really isn't.  So many choices . . ..  Who was a bigger winner?  Who was a bigger loser?  Who broke out in a big way for all the right reasons?  Who did so for all the wrong ones?  Yeah, I have my lists here, but I'm not entirely happy with them.  Maybe because I wasn't happy with 2016 overall.  Who was?
As always, this list tries to be comprehensive of all aspects of popular culture, especially this year, because if I primarily concentrated on politics - the biggest reason 2016 sucked big time - I'd never finish the damn lists. Also, when contemplating losers, I came up with one loser in the world of sports, an individual athlete  - not Ryan Lochte, because his foibles ultimately paled in comparison to those of others.  But the the sports loser I did choose was so reprehensible, it was unfair to the other losers to equate them with him, which would have been way out of context.  Hillary Clinton is inevitably on the losers' list this year for the obvious reason that she, well, lost the presidential election, and rock and roll, after being on the winners' list in 2015, is back in the goose-egg gallery (I should never have put rock and roll on the winners' list last year, because its victories were minor and momentary; I should have left it off and made room for American Pharoah, the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, but that slipped my mind).  Also among the losers are a couple of consumer-product companies and the insufferable Roger Ailes.  But none of these losers on this list - not even Ailes - is as reprehensible as this athlete, and so I've created a separate, one-shot category for him: a loser of all time from 2016.  This is so no one equates being in a flop movie with this all-time loser's sin.        
Right, so here are this year's winners first:
Michael Phelps.  23 Skidoo! The Phelpster finished his competitive swimming career at the 2016 Rio Olympics with 23 gold medals, and oh yes, he has five more of other colors.  He was to have gone on on top after the 2012 London Games, but now he goes out higher than that.
Katie Ledecky.  And Mademoiselle Ledecky is right behind her fellow swimming Marylander Phelps with some pinnacles of success of her own to brag about - setting a world record in the 800-meter freestyle race for the fifth time in Rio and becoming only the third woman to win the 800-meter Olympic women's freestyle twice in a row.  Maryland may not have produced a President this time (O'Malley in 2020!), but it has produced a king and queen of swimming.
the Chicago Cubs.  The longest championship drought in team-sports history is over.  Baseball's once-hapless Cubs finally won the World Series after 108 years of disappointment and  disgust.  St. Louis Cardinals fans had better not get too cocky and expect the Cubs not to repeat their success before 2124; the Cubs happen to have one of the best baseball teams in the majors now.
Leonardo DiCaprio.  I've always called DiCaprio the Paul Newman of the twenty-first century - not just because he's handsome, talented and philanthropic, but because he had a history of being nominated for Oscars but not winning any of them.  That changed this year, when DiCaprio won the 2016 Best Actor Oscar for his role as mountain man Hugh Glass in The Revenant.  And at 41, he was younger than Paul Newman had been when he finally won his first Oscar.
Alexander Hamilton.  Not only has the nation's first Treasury Secretary been rediscovered and re-appreciated thanks to Hamilton, the most successful and most honored Broadway musical of the year and perhaps the decade, his image on the ten-dollar bill was spared after the current Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, announced that a woman would replace him on the ten spot; a public outcry moved the woman to be honored (Harriet Tubman was eventually chosen) to the twenty-dollar bill instead.
Lin-Manuel Miranda.  And none that could have happened without the creator of Hamilton himself. :-)
Beyoncé.  From her provocative Super Bowl appearance in the early part of the year to the release of her wildly successful and critically acclaimed Lemonade album, Queen Bey demonstrated why calling her the former frontwoman of Destiny's Child and leaving it at that is like calling Disney World an amusement park.  And she won't just win Grammys in 2017 because Kanye West says she should.  
Jane Pauley.  Supposedly headed for oblivion after leaving NBC's "Today" show many years ago, the veteran newswoman began her latest assignment: hosting CBS's "Sunday Morning," and doing what everyone thought was impossible - filling the shoes of her predecessor, Charles Osgood.  She's far from done in her own career.
Isabelle Huppert.  It's one thing for an actress to dominate in one movie in any given year.  But two?  France's  Isabelle Huppert has done just that, in the psychological thriller Elle (which has earned her a lot of acting award nominations) and the drama Things To Come.   
LeBron James.  Despite the Cubs and Olympic swimming threatening to overshadow him, basketball's James still shone brightly.  He redeemed himself by, after having returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Miami Heat, guiding the Cavs to an historic NBA championship.  He went back to Ohio, but his city was far from gone.
And now, the losers of the year:
Hillary Clinton.  She wanted to make history.  And she sure did.
the Democratic Party.  Hillary's loss caps a dismal cycle for the Democrats - commonly referred to as the Obama Presidency - in which the party lost the House, a large majority of governorships and state legislative chambers, the Senate, several "rising stars," and now the White House.  The Democrats may have made history by nominating a woman for President, but now they're now less likely to make history and more likely to be history.   Whig out!
Rock and roll.  After showing signs of life in 2015, rock returned to a period of decline this year.  And as if all those deaths of high-profile veteran performers, the sight of Coldplay - the only rock act at the Super Bowl - getting upstaged at the game by the other three acts, the underwhelming reception Lake Street Dive obviously got for its first major-label LP, the shutout of rock from the major awards at the 2016 Grammys - including Courtney Barnett's Best New Artist loss to Meghan Trainor - the shutout of rock in the major 2017 Grammy nominations, and Journey's pending induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame weren't all bad enough, one of the Grammy nominations in the best rock performance category for 2017 went to . . . Beyoncé. When I heard about that, I knew that the rock era was definitely over.  Lay down your guitars and surrender, fellow rock fans.  Oh yeah, the New York radio market is now entering its fifth year without a commercial new-rock station.
Martin Scorsese.  The famed movie director co-produced the HBO period drama "Vinyl," about a record company in the seventies involved in rock and roll, which got renewed for a second season.  Then HBO reversed the renewal and canceled it when the cable channel suddenly realized that no one cares about seventies nostalgia or rock anymore.  The last waltz, indeed.
Kate McKinnon.  It should have been a good year for the "Saturday Night Live" comedienne.  After all, she starred in the all-female remake of Ghostbusters, which was expected to be huge hit, and she had a "Saturday Night Live" impersonation - Hillary Clinton - that she was expected to be able to do for the next four years.  But Ghostbusters underperformed at the box office, costing its studio $70 million, and Hillary Clinton got upset at the polls when she underperformed in three states.  One ray of hope for McKinnon is that she'll have Kellyanne Conway to imitate on "Saturday Night Live" in the foreseeable future, but Kellyanne Conway will be hard to parody because Kellyanne Conway parodies herself.       
Ford. One could argue that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles had a bad year, given its decision to thin its ranks in the U.S. and its poor-quality vehicles.  But the Ford Motor Company proved to be a shadow of its former self.  It's had to struggle to hold onto a 14 percent market share in North America against tough competition from domestic and foreign automakers, its share of the European market stands at a pathetic 7 percent, and its had to deal with safety recalls back home.  No wonder investors were disappointed.  This may be why I haven't driven a Ford . . . lately.
the Cleveland Browns.  While the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrated an NBA championship this year and the Indians camethisclose to winning the World Series, the city's football team was less than illustrious.  The Browns played sixteen games in the 2016-17 NFL season that, along with their last game in the 2015-16 season, amounted to a seventeen-game losing streak.  They broke it by beating the San Diego Chargers, as if that mattered.
Samsung.  Its Galaxy S7 cell phone was so hot it caught fire.  Literally.  On the plus side, the Korean company could get a nice contract from the CIA, since the S7 is guaranteed to self-destruct in five seconds.
Wells Fargo.  It's what the business-news media call a strong performance when a bank opens two  million accounts and credit cards in a four-year period, right? Except that Wells Fargo's accounts were opened without permission of the customers in order to improve the bank's bottom line under pressure from its corporate officers . . . now, the bank's reputation is at rock bottom.    
Roger Ailes.  As if his manipulation of the voters on behalf of Richard Nixon and the elder George Bush - coupled with his arrogant stewardship of the super-arrogant Fox News Channel - weren't enough to earn Jolly Roger a special place in purgatory, it turned out he was a prolific practitioner of sexual harassment, including a few indecent proposals toward Megyn Kelly.  Noncoincidentally, Kelly  has proven to be formidable newswoman, the one good thing to come out of this scandal. 
And now, in his own category, a loser of all time who made news in 2016 . . .
Brock Turner.  For everyone who thought Ryan Lochte's made-up story of a robbery in Rio during the Olympics to hide his own drunken vandalism spree was the worst possible behavior for an athlete, remember Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who raped an unconscious woman in 2015 and then deservedly got thrown in the slammer for it this year . . . only to be inexplicably released for jail after three months.  As far as I'm concerned, he's still doing life.  He will never be redeemed or pay his debt to society, and he deserves to have his life made such a living hell that he'll wish he were back in prison.  Ryan Lochte has a chance to work his way back into people's good graces. Turner never can.
Well, there you are.  I think - and hope - that I've made it clear that I do not equate the inhabitants of the main losers' list with Brock Turner, whose awfulness goes beyond just being a loser of the year, and the reason I even mentioned him here in the first place is because I couldn't let the old year pass without acknowledging and condemning his crime against humanity.  It's bad enough that Bill Cosby,  who occupies his own place in the realm of the irredeemable, is going to reappear in 2017 when his own rape trial begins.
Right, I'm done with 2016.  And although things don't look good now, I hope that 2017 is a damn sight better than the year gone by.  Have a happy new year, indeed - we deserve one.