Sydney M. Williams
November 3, 2014
The Month That Was
“There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir:
We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame,
She calls, and calls each vagabond by name.”
William Bliss Carman (1861-1929)
Seventy-three years ago my mother wrote, “An Ode to October.” It was the month of her parents’ birth and of their wedding. The poem begins:
“October is a happy month,
A month of love and song.”
This October was more mixed. On the positive side, markets rose, despite the S&P 500 dropping 5.6% in the first two weeks. Oil prices declined 11% during the month, a welcome relief as we head into the winter season.
Of greater concern, market volatility, as measured by the VIX, rose 61% by mid-month; though by the end of October was lower than where it had been at the start. Additionally, there were four days when the DJIA moved more than 1.5%, the most since June 2012. Increased volatility serves as a reminder of the unpredictability of markets. While bear markets always come to an end, bull markets do not grow to the sky.
Terrorism came to the Western Hemisphere, with two instances in two days in
Canada and with a hatchet-wielding Islamist
whacking a cop in .
In all three cases, justice was swift. New York won a seat on the United
Nation’s Security Council. An unmanned NASA-contracted rocket exploded on
lift-off at NASA’s Wallop Flight Facility in Venezuela . The craft, a commercial vehicle,
was carrying 5000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station.
Fortunately no one was hurt. A Russian spaceship made the trip in its stead. Not
so lucky were the pilots of SpaceShipTwo, a Virgin Galactic craft designed for
tourists that fell apart over the Virginia Mohave Desert.
One was killed; the other managed to parachute out, but was badly injured. The two
incidents highlight the fact we have lost our leadership in space.
The month was not easy for the Obama Administration. Mr. Obama, a narcissist by any measure, saw his popularity drop precipitously. Keep in mind, this was the megalomaniacal candidate who after winning the Democrat primaries in June 2008 said that his victory will be remembered as “…the moment when the rise in oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” This was the man who accepted his Party’s nomination six years ago on a
stage bedecked with fireworks and Grecian columns before 75,000 people. Today, few
candidates want to be seen with him. Alison Lundergan Grimes, in a debate with
Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, refused for 40 seconds to answer the question
as to whether she had voted for him in 2008 and 2012. From a rock star to
pariah in six years! Colorado
Regrettably for Mr. Obama, the month was consumed with
and Ebola, as well as the election. In Iraq,
is again under siege by ISIS. An estimated
1200 Iraqis were killed by ISIS in October. The
Kurdish city of Kobani in Syria, on the border with , remains
under attack from the same group. When Mr. Obama belatedly decided to confront
ISIS, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning internationalist was unable to gather a
coalition that came close to the one put together by unilateralist George Bush
eleven years ago. Since August, the coalition has flown about 4,100 missions,
about one tenth the number flown over Kosovo over the same time frame. Turkey
Ebola made landfall in the
, making it only one of eight
countries in the world that has experienced this disease. In their bid to calm
the public, the Administration and the CDC have intensified concerns because of
the incompetency of their response. It apparently is alright for aid workers to
return from West Africa without being quarantined, but not for United
soldiers. We are told to pay attention to the science, not the hype, but then doctors
admit there is much about the disease they do not know. Should the rights of
the individual take precedence over the welfare of society? Unable to come out
with a coherent response, the Administration has fumbled along like the Abbott
and Costello skit, Who’s on First. U.S.
On even years, the American people are subjected to the endless bloviating of political hacks and wannabes. October is the worst, as it is the month that precedes the election. The issues we face are critical, but the endless negativity that serves as campaigning is exhausting. Each side tries to wear out the other, hoping to hear the cry, “uncle!” Despite Democrats running for the House, Senate or governorships choosing not to have Mr. Obama by their side, they do like the money he raises. (OpenSecrets.org estimates that $3.7 billion will be spent this election year, about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.) Seemingly tone death to polls and to those candidates trying to distance themselves, Mr. Obama has said that while he is not on the ballot, the election is about his policies.
Elsewhere around the world,
continued its march toward nuclear capability despite dire consequences for the
Middle East. continued to flex its muscles.
North Korean President Kim Jong-un reappeared in public after a six-week
absence. Vladimir Putin persisted in testing the limits of power. Yet, Mr. Obama’s
Secretary of State insisted that climate change is the number one national
security threat. An economically weakened China Europe
challenges the concept of the welfare state. The British Parliament took a
non-binding symbolic vote recognizing .
And a “senior White House official” called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin a
“chickenshit.” In response, the phraseology-challenged National Security
Advisor Susan Rice said that relations with Palestine have never been stronger,
lending credence to the assertion that politicians are not truth-tellers.
Forty-three people, mostly Nepalese Sherpas, died during unseasonal blizzards
and avalanches on Annapurna, making it one of the worst disasters ever in the Israel Himalayas. By month’s end the Hong
Kong protests had petered out, but disharmony is simmering not far
below the surface, with neither protestors nor Communist leaders giving in.
After losing thousands of relevant e-mails at the IRS, cyber attacks hit the White House and JP Morgan-Chase. The latter gave up addresses, phone numbers and e-mails on 85 million accounts, representing 76 million households. It prompted one government security advisor to declare, if you really want security don’t use computers.
Financial markets had a good October. After a dicey start,
equity markets finished higher
than they began. Even the Ten-year ended the month with a yield 15 basis points
below where it started. The Dollar gained strength. But commodities fell, with
oil down $10 and gold lower by $40. Globally, the economy seemed to be
struggling; though in the U.S. ,
preliminary GDP numbers for the third quarter were reported at plus 3.5%,
better than expected. The Federal Reserve voted to end quantitative easing, but
promised to keep Fed Funds at current levels. On the other side of the world, U.S. expanded
its program of quantitative easing. Japan
In sports, the San Francisco Giants beat the Kansas City Royals in seven games to win the World Series.
yawned. On the other hand Knicks’ fans cheered when their team beat the
Cavaliers in LeBron James’ first home game since he re-joined New York . Cleveland
Death gathered in Ben Bradlee, famed editor of the Washington Post, best known as the man behind reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein when they were assigned to cover the Watergate break-in in 1972. He was 93. Oscar de la Renta, who was born 82 years ago in the
, died on October 20th. One
of his last public appearances was at the fitting of Amal Alamuddin’s wedding
dress at the end of September. The Duchess of Devonshire, Deborah Cavendish, the
youngest and last surviving of the Mitford sisters, died at age 94. She lived
at Chatsworth, her husband’s ancestral home, a modest dwelling of 297 rooms! Dominican
Republic ’s longest serving
mayor, Thomas Menino, died October 30 at age 71. Boston
Elsewhere at home, Hillary Clinton tried to one-up Elizabeth Warren: “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs.” Accused cop killer Eric Frein was captured after a seven-week manhunt in
. Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi
was released on Halloween, after seven months in a Mexican jail. A popular, but
disturbed young man of American-Indian heritage shot five students in a
high school cafeteria, before taking his own life. Unlike other high school
shootings that showed elements of randomness, this one seemed deliberate and
pre-planned. The shooter, Jaylen Fryburg, had invited five friends to have
lunch, and then point blank shot them. Three of his victims are now dead. The
month ended with the tragic hit-and-run deaths of three teen-age girls who were
trick-or-treating in Washington . Santa Ana,
Depending on how tomorrow’s elections turn out, either Democrats or Republicans will celebrate October as a “happy” month, full of “love and song.” The other will not.