Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"The Month That Was - September 2014"

                    Sydney M. Williams
                                                                                                                                October 1, 2014
                                                                                                             
The Month That Was
September 2014

“We awoke one morning in September
and the world lurched on its axis.”
                                                                                                                                Jeb Bush

The world may not have “lurched on its axis” this month, but President Obama did. This was the man who scored a Nobel Peace Prize, not for what he had done, but for what it was hoped he would do. He said he would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unilaterally, he pulled all troops from Iraq two years ago, leaving a vacuum rapidly filled by al Qaeda and its affiliates. He plans to do the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2016. This month he added airstrikes against ISIS in Syria to those he began flying in Iraq last month. The “Peace” President has gone to war.

Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry gathered an impressive list of Arab allies – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain – to aid in the destruction of ISIS through air strikes. Additionally, the plan is to arm about 5,000 Syrian insurgents who are fighting Bashar al-Assad to take up arms against more than 30,000 ISIS troops in Syria. And, Mr. Obama did this without having crossed any red lines. In contradiction to previous promises, in August he did put a few thousand “boots on the ground” in Iraq (military advisors, as President Kennedy quaintly called them, when he sent 400 of them to Vietnam in May 1961). Whether he does the same in Syria is yet to be known, but it is likely that some special forces are already there.

However, keeping true to form, when asked last Sunday by Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes” if he had been surprised by the rapid rise of ISIS, he said he was, but deflected the blame. Mr. Obama said “they underestimated them,” naming James Clapper and the intelligence community. He did not say “we;” he said “they.” However, three weeks after Fallujah fell to ISIS early last January it was Mr. Obama who referred to ISIS as the jayvee, not Mr. Clapper. The most salient characteristic of Mr. Obama: never take blame!

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott’s lines apply to the Middle East. Mr. Obama has quoted the proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”, or maybe the first enemy is still my enemy? Donald Rumsfeld once said, “You go to war with allies you have, not the ones you wish for.” Maybe, but are they real allies? Any deal we make with Arab allies risks being Faustian. It was the lesson learned by Jabez Stone in Stephen Vincent Benét’s novel, The Devil and Daniel Webster.  Our most visible Islamic terrorist enemies are Sunni, but so are the Saudis, an ally. The greatest longer term threat we face is a nuclear Iran who are Shias. Iran’s centrifuges continue to spin. The Country is also Syria’s patron. In attacking ISIS in Syria, we are doing Bashar al-Assad’s work, but Assad has now killed an estimated 190,000 of his own people. What sort of deal will we strike with Iran?

Mr. Obama has taken a more forceful position against Islamic terrorism because polls suggested Americans were highly offended by the public beheadings of hostages held by ISIS. However, as late as early September, Mr. Obama made the odd observation, which was reported in the New York Times, that if he had been an advisor to ISIS, he would not have recommended the hostages be killed, but would have urged they be released with notes pinned to their chest – “Stay out of here!” Questions come to mind: Does Mr. Obama really understand the hideous nature of Islamic terrorism? Is Mr. Obama truly a “reluctant warrior,” or is he just playing the role?

It is not that this Administration or previous ones have found beheadings to be offensive. After all, according to the Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia, an ally in the fight against ISIS, beheaded at least eight convicted criminals in the first three weeks of August. When Colleen Huffard lost her head last week to recent Islamic convert Alton Nolen that was simply “workplace violence,” at least according to the initial FBI report. Neither Mr. Nolen’s recent conversion, nor his Facebook page with its links to ISIS and al Qaeda immediately registered with the Administration or the FBI.

In other matters during the month, Eric Holder resigned. Understandably, he did so while the Senate is still controlled by Democrats, to make it easier for the “Lame Duck” session to confirm his replacement, should Democrats lose control of that august body in November. Attorney General Holder had been the first Attorney General censured since 1886 when Augustus Hill Garland, Attorney General for Grover Cleveland was censured for failing to provide documents regarding the firing of a United States Attorney. Mr. Holder was censured in 2011 in connection with a failure to release documents associated with the botched gun-trafficking investigation that became known as “Fast and Furious.” The vote was 255-67, with 17 Democrats joining the majority, but which also saw 100 Democrats walk off the floor. Last Wednesday U.S. District Judge Amy Berman ruled that Mr. Holder must turn over requested documents related to Fast and Furious to the House Oversight and Reform Committees by October 1. That ruling may have prompted his decision to resign.

Elsewhere around the world, a ceasefire was declared in Ukraine, which may have slowed the killing, but did not stop it. Speaking of Ukraine, the Dutch Safety Board came to the conclusion that Malaysian Flight 17 was brought down because the aircraft had been “…penetrated by a large number of high-energy objects…leading to an in-flight break up.” I am sure the political correctness of that statement makes the families of victims breathe a sigh of relief, as they feared the plane had been shot down by Ukrainian partisans using Russian antiaircraft missiles. In Hong Kong, a march for democracy was aimed at tightening controls from Beijing. In a not very flattering comparison, the demonstrations were likened by some to the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2012. More accurately, in my opinion, Gideon Rachman, in Tuesday’s Financial Times, wrote that it was the biggest challenge to Chinese hegemony since Tiananmen Square.

The Dow Jones, on September 25th, experienced its largest decline since July 31st, when the Averages declined just over 1.5%. Volume remained anemic, excepting the day (September 19) when 270 million shares of Alibaba were priced at $68 – making it the largest IPO ever. That day volume on the consolidated exchanges soared almost 50%. For the month, equities were flat, but the VIX was up 36%. The U.S. Dollar continued its upward path, higher by 3.5% for the month and 7.2% for the quarter. Bill Gross, the “bond king,” was forced out of PIMCO, the company he had founded 43 years ago. He will join Denver-based Janus, an investment firm one tenth the size of PIMCO in terms of assets.

In sports, Derek Jeter’s retirement topped the news. After twenty years with the Yankees, Derek Jeter, one of the classiest players in baseball, played his last game in Boston where he got his 3,465th hit, an RBI single, in a game the Yankees won 9 – 5. Serena Williams won her 18th grand slam in winning the women’s U.S. Open. First-time grand-slammer, Marin Cilic, a 6’ 6” Croatian won the men’s title, beating a comparatively diminutive Japanese player, Kei Nishikori. Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, was forced to apologize for the lenient treatment of players involved in instances of domestic violence, after a video appeared of Ray Rice cold-cocking his then fiancée. The Asian games being played in Inchon, South Korea will have more content than the London Olympics of 2012. Among the games is Kabaddi, a team contact sport developed in and dominated by India.

Sadly, death took Joan Rivers from us. Ms. Rivers began her stand-up comedy routine in the 1950s and was still performing when she went in for what should have been a routine endoscopy in late August. It was an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson in 1965 that turned her into a star. (Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of ObamaCare and brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, said during the month that 75 was the ideal time to die. He is 57; I am 73. I disagree and so, I am sure, would have Ms. Rivers. She was 81.) Richard Kiel, better known as “Jaws,” also succumbed during the month. He appeared in two James Bond films – the only villain to do so – “The Spy Who Loved Me,” in 1977, and two years later in “Moonraker.” (The teeth, by the way, were made with chromium steel and, as Mr. Kiel once said, they “went up through the roof of your mouth and would kind of gag you.”)

At the start of the life cycle, Chelsea Clinton Mezvinsky gave birth to Charlotte Clinton Mezvinsky, thereby making America’s most famous political couple grandparents. Congratulations!

Like all months, September was not without its odd moments. On the evening of September 19th, in a display of incredible lack of security, Omar Gonzalez vaulted over a fence, darted across the White House lawn, entered the executive mansion, went through the East Room, and was finally tackled outside the Green Room. He was armed with a knife. Governor Andrew Cuomo began the month refusing to debate his Democrat challenger, saying “some debates are a disservice to democracy!” Fortunately he has changed his mind regarding the general election. When he returns from Afghanistan he will partake in two debates, one in the City and the other in Buffalo. Matthew Miller, an obviously mentally challenged American youth, tore up his visa upon entering North Korea and is now serving six years of hard labor. Miss New York, Kira Kazantsev, became the third Miss New York to become Miss America. It was later revealed, though, that she was tossed out of her sorority for rough hazing!  A suicide attempt (after slashing his wrists, he tried to burn down the structure) by a communications contractor at an air traffic control center in Aurora, Illinois (outside of Chicago) delayed thousands of flights across the U.S. Oscar Pistorius, the “blade runner” of Olympic fame was found guilty of “culpable” homicide.


September ended on a drizzly note – at least here in the Northeast – marking the end of summer and preparing us all for October and the start of the year’s final quarter.

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