Monday, February 23, 2015

"Barbarians at the Gate, with Buttercup on the Ramparts"

                       Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Barbarians at the Gate, with Buttercup on the Ramparts”
February 23, 2015

The world has always been dangerous. However, as much as we all would like to live without war, as long as there are men and women driven by passion rather than reason the possibility is unlikely. Following World War I (the war to end all wars!), Europeans desired nothing more than to live in peace. Their families, their homes, places of business, their churches, synagogues and mosques had been destroyed. Woodrow Wilson proposed a League of Nations so that men could discuss differences without resorting to bloodshed. It failed; though was ultimately reborn as the United Nations, but not until another war killed millions more. Vera Britain, author of Testament to Youth and who had lost both her brother and fiancé in the Great War, typified that desire when she wrote a plaintive letter to students at the University of Minnesota in 1934 urging them not to join the army. As a nurse in France, she knew first hand the horrors of war.

Yet just over twenty-years after the guns along that “Great White Line” were silenced, Europe found itself enmeshed in an even bloodier conflict. The Left persists in the myth that when the Right stipulates they want a strong military, it means they are anxious to go to war. It does not. They want peace; but they believe that strength is more conducive to peace than appeasement. It was preparedness and resolve that were needed in the 1930s. While his intentions may have been noble, Neville Chamberlain did not bring “peace in our time.” A well-educated friend of my wife’s recently asked what I thought of Benjamin Netanyahu speaking before a joint session of Congress. I told her I thought it was important that the American people hear from a man for whom Iran getting nuclear weapons is not an academic exercise, but would represent a mortal, existential threat. She responded: “But why does he want to go to war?”

Mr. Netanyahu does not want war. He wants to live peacefully in his small country – an oasis in a desert surrounded by those who want his country annihilated; a haven provided the Jewish people in the aftermath of a War that exterminated more than half their population. But he knows he cannot survive if he allows his enemies to be militarily stronger than is he. Who would you rather have the bigger gun, the sheriff or the bandit?

Similarly, the United States, as the richest and most powerful nation on earth, has an obligation to all civilized people to come to their defense when attacked. Obviously, we cannot do so alone. We need allies. There is a need for a United Nations where peoples from all over can come together to talk; for dialogue is far better than fighting. But, just as no city could survive without a police force, no civilization can survive without a well-intentioned nation willing and able to provide a strong military. The reason we arm our police officers is to allow the 99% – the law-abiding citizens – to go about their daily lives protected and unafraid. It is why the United States, the policeman to the civilized world by default, must maintain a strong military presence – not to be deployed wilfully, but to ensure that peace prevails.

“This is not true Islam.” President Obama was speaking at last week’s White House summit: Countering Violent Extremism. ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab and Boko Haram may not conform to Mr. Obama’s definition of Islam or, in fact, represent “true” Islam, but their leaders use religion as a recruiting tool, and they kill in the name of Allah. A caliphate is what these terrorists want – an Islamic government led by a successor to the Prophet Mohammed. Sharia law, with its draconian limitations, has already been imposed in parts of some Western countries. Mr. Obama’s assertion makes the dubious implication that he would know “true” Islam if he saw it. Most religions are spectrums. St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Old Lyme, which I attend on those rare occasions when I go, is quite different from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago where the Reverend Jeremiah Wright preached to the young Barack Obama, yet both are Christian churches. I certainly agree with the sentiment that it is hard to equate barbaric practices with religion of any sort. However, like many sentiments, that conclusion is grounded more in dupability than in historical fact. Religion has often been used as an excuse for violence, and the spread of Islam during the 7th and 8th Centuries was certainly an example. Christianity did not prevent the rise of Nazism in Germany, nor Fascism in Italy. Shintoism in Japan did not stop the brutality of their militaristic state in the 1930s and ‘40s. It may seem repetitive to say it, but it is hard to combat an enemy without acknowledging who they are. The fact that these terrorists are Islamists should be highlighted, not hidden away like a disreputable uncle. It should not be offensive to true believers of the Muslim faith if we destroy those who hi-jacked their religion.

The war against Islamic extremism is not a war against Muslims. It never has been. George Bush was clear on that point more than a decade ago. In failing to offer a coherent foreign policy, other than to be the non-Bush, Mr. Obama has led us into far more treacherous waters. Since becoming President, Syria, Nigeria, Libya and Yemen have become failed states. If Iraq is not one, it soon will be. Pakistan, a nuclear power, is rapidly disintegrating into chaos. The Taliban look likely to return to supremacy in Afghanistan. Iran is certain to become a nuclear power. Israel, the one democracy in the region, has been largely abandoned. One could add to the list of failed foreign policies by citing what is happening in Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela and Argentina. Democracy, which had been on the increase since the end of World War II, and especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has been in decline for the past six or eight years.

There is nothing simple about foreign relations. We live in a confined and complex space. We must get along with our neighbors and trading partners. But we should not atone for and we should never forsake the principals that gave rise to the success of our country. Nor can we ignore the loyalty and needs of our allies whose very survivorship depends on our friendship. That should not make us prideful. Humility is a good quality. But we must have superior intelligence and a strong military presence. For political purposes we have neutered our intelligence services and reduced our defense budgets. Yet, it is our might that best ensures peace. Appeasement did not prevent the Second World War; it will not succeed against Islamic terrorism.

As guardians of all civilized people, we should remind ourselves that we are in this position not because we sought it, but because of circumstances: our history, geography, government and people. When we stand at the ramparts, it cannot be as a buttercup; it must be as a centurion – not one looking for a fight, but one prepared, unafraid and willing to lead from the front, when (not if) the need arises.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Climate Change, Poverty and Choices"

                       Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Climate Change, Poverty and Choices”
February 19, 2015

Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote: “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” On this winter day, awakening to a temperature reading of minus one degree, this old man’s thoughts turned toward global warming (or climate change, as it is now termed), and its relative importance in a world in which one third of the population lives amidst poverty and/or disease, and one in which Islamic extremists have barbarically assaulted Western culture.

Climate change has become a big and emotional political football. Both sides festoon their respective positions. Some on the Right are deniers, as are some on the Left. The former claim that man has had little impact on the environment, despite evidence that carbon emissions are rising. The latter state that if man simply eliminated his carbon imprint the planet would revert to the status quo. The Left, especially, uses embellishment to further their cause. They speak of polar bears disappearing off melting ice floes and forecast that whole communities will disappear into rising seas. Mainstream media news coverage, laced with alarm, furthers their cause.

The Left accuses those on the Right of being in the pay of oil companies, while they use government subsidies to pay off some of their largest financial backers. Even the upfront costs for Apple’s $848 million solar project – the world’s largest company by market capitalization – will be 30% funded by taxpayer subsidies. “Environmentalism,” as Holman Jenkins recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “is a church with its reformation nowhere in sight.”

A January headline, such as the one the BBC blurted out, “2014 Warmest Year on Record, Say US Researchers,” was like the risen Christ to climate religionists. The “pause,” which saw temperatures remain pretty much unchanged for fifteen years, had been inconvenient to the story they were telling. It was the reason why ‘global warming’ morphed into ‘climate change.’ Experts’ models never foresaw the global cooling that began in the 1940s, nor did they predict the warming cycle that began in the late 1970s. And their models certainly did not anticipate the pause that began in the last years of the last century. Bjorn Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Center and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and Cool It, recently wrote that the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “found that in the previous fifteen years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees…90% less temperature rise than expected.” The cooling period that began in the 1940s is interesting because the World War, on a per person basis, likely created more pollution – with ships, aerial bombing and thousands of tanks and other smoke-belching equipment in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – than at any other time in history. Yet the last year of the War did not see any warming. The U.S. Army Medical Department wrote at the time, “The winter of 1944-45 was the coldest and wettest in years.”

At times it feels like a replay of the Scopes trial, but with Clarence Darrow nowhere to be found. During his State of the Union message, President Obama fanned the flames of hyperbole: “I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying their not scientists. Well, I’m not a scientist either. But…I know a lot of good scientists at NASA and NOAA, and at our major universities.” But what NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and NOAA (National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration) reported was more nuanced than the headlines used by the President and the media. NOAA’s number crunchers put the probability that the planet had its warmest year in 2014 at 48 percent. NASA’s analysis came in at 38 percent. The Leftist media, which ran with alarmist headlines (like the BBC headline quoted above), were guilty of selective reporting, where hype beats facts and where conclusions matter more than evidence.

There are also, of course, U.N. watchdogs who love the climate-change boondoggles that allow them to travel (while emitting hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide) to Kyoto, Copenhagen, Lima, Paris and other exotic places. As an industry, climate alarmists and hangers-on consume billions of dollars – most of which is funded by taxpayers. The prophecies of these doomsayers are reminiscent of Old Testament prophets who foretold a terrible end for nonbelievers. Such assertions provide fodder for campaign rhetoric and they provide tax payer’s money for those invested in the solar and wind industries. But they risk the example of the boy who cried wolf. Will we become so focused on who to blame that we will fail to adapt when change does appear?

In the same article noted above by Mr. Lomborg – the most sensible voice in this debate – he noted that droughts, hurricanes and typhoons have decreased in the last 20 years. He references the Oxford University database for deaths from floods, extreme temperatures, droughts and storms which shows that deaths from such causes have declined 97% over the past 100 years.

Feel-good policies, such as encouraging solar and wind should be pursued, but they must be placed in perspective. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 0.4% of global energy consumption comes from solar photovoltaics and windmills. Even using optimistic assumptions about their adoptions, the IEA estimates that only 2.2% of the world’s energy will be produced by such sources in 2014.

The best antidote to help the environment is to reduce poverty. That can be best done by promoting the concept of democratic capitalism, which unfortunately has gone into decline in recent years. Nevertheless, it has done more to eradicate poverty than any other political system. About one quarter of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) live without electricity and on less than $1.25 a day. More than half of those do not have enough food. Three-quarters of them lack access to potable water. Eighty percent of the world’s population lives on less than $10 a day. Hunger is the number one cause of death in the world, killing more people than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Preventable diseases, like diarrhea and pneumonia, take the lives of two million children every year.

If Shakespeare were writing of this era and of climate alarmists in particular, he would be hard pressed as to whether to cast Al Gore and Michael Moore in comedies or tragedies. While they are amusing in their exaggerated idiocy, they are more tragic in the sense they have successfully diverted attention and resources away from far more important problems, such as poverty, sanitation, water supply, disease and starvation. There is no question that we should be alert to a changing environment. Resources should be spent trying to analyze future trends. But climate change concerns must be put in perspective. There is no need for the arrogance that emanates so easily from the Left. Likewise, there should be no sense of schadenfreude on the part of the Right when climate alarmists are proven wrong.


Monday, February 16, 2015

"When Red was Blue and Blue was Red"

                      Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“When Red was Blue and Blue was Red”
February 16, 2015

For most of the past forty years, red represented Democrats and blue, Republicans. The reasons stem back to the soldiers of the north in our Civil War who were predominantly Republican and to the royal blue of Europe. The color red was associated with passion and socialism, characteristics more common to the Left. In the U.S., blue denoted those who put reason before empathy, an attribute more generally assigned to cold, blue-blooded Republicans, allegedly of the country club set.

While its ubiquity is relatively recent, the use of colors to depict states during Presidential elections dates back to the universal adoption of color televisions, around the mid 1970s. In October 1976, using one of the first color-coded maps, NBC’s John Chancellor depicted a white map, which then changed as states were seen as favoring one party over the other – at that time, blue for Republicans and red for Democrats. Reagan’s 1980 Republican landslide was shown in blue on NBC and CBS, but red on ABC.

Chameleon-like, the Left easily adapts to changing mores. It is why history to them is an exercise in revisionism and why relativism is critical to their moral philosophies. What they forget is the essential truth Juliet expressed when speaking to Romeo: “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” It matters not what name we assign, even for example the depiction of “red” and “blue” states. The current color-coding of electoral maps dates to the contested election of 2000, thanks to NBC’s journalist Tim Russert. As such, it was birthed in political partisanship, and its continued use has only hardened the division between the two Parties – to the amusement of pundits, but to the detriment of the nation. Mr. Russert must have concluded that red better captured the image of hot-tempered Republicans, while blue was more symbolic of even-tempered, cool Democrats. The blue-red divide is used by the media which finds convenience in simplicity. Since forty-eight of the fifty states use a winner-take-all formula for the Electoral College – the exceptions being Maine and Nebraska – the use of colors ignore the natural nuances within cities, counties and states.

The Left, in sanctimonious fashion, claims to be better educated and smarter than the Right – more intellectual; thus they must bear the obligation of looking after their rube-like and inferior cousins. Yet inequality has grown fastest over the past three decades in true-blue states like Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, at least according to a report in last month’s New York Times. That is in contrast to the most unequal states of thirty-five years ago – the red states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia.

In terms of Party affiliation, those on the Right are more free-wheeling than the disciplined, obeisant Left; so perhaps red better suits their temperament. While conformity in politics is a suppressant on individual ideas, the truculence of Republicans can cause them to appear juvenile and, worse, it can allow them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as happened last Friday. The Republican-led House and Senate skipped town with just five legislative days before funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expires. It was the President’s unilateral actions on immigration that caused dissension. Democrats had repeatedly filibustered any attempt to include an immigration fix in funding the DHS. Nevertheless, it matters not that the President exceeded his Constitutional powers, Republicans will be blamed if the Department of Homeland Security begins laying off employees at the end of the month.

At the same time and regardless of color, one notes the sanctimonious sophistry of the Left expressed in terms like “net neutrality,” which they argue would allow for a more open internet, while imposing “public utility-like” rules and regulations. Last week in Silicon Valley, the President expressed concern about cybersecurity. In a moment of delicious irony he referred to the internet, which he had just labeled not open enough, as the “wild west.” The New York Times went so far as to editorialize that “strong rules will actually help innovation flourish.” They didn’t explain how, but being the Times felt no need. Once prospects for “global warming” seemed questionable, the Left, without a hint of shame, adopted the generic term “climate change.” (In the 1970s, global cooling was all the rage.) Who will argue that climate does not change? Yet the Left persists in using the word “deniers” to describe anyone who disagrees with their thesis that man is the principal cause of climate change, with nature taking a back seat. The truth is no one knows which has had the bigger impact – man or nature. Extremists on both sides are deniers, yet only the Left wields that brush. Likewise, the Left assumes that they, above all, care for educating our young, yet they allow the demands of the unions to supercede the needs of students.

All politicians lie, but the now blue (but not “true” blue) Left speaks “red lies,” at least as defined by the Urban Dictionary – “a statement told with complete awareness that the other person knows the statement to be false.” Think of Hillary Clinton coming under sniper fire, or arguing that fault for Ambassador Chris Steven’s killing lay with a video. What about Barack Obama claiming that you could keep your doctor and your health plan, or that ISIS is the junior varsity? William James once wrote: “There is nothing so absurd that it cannot be believed as truth if repeated often enough.” Lenin and Joseph Goebbels used variations of Professor James’ words. So have our nation’s Leftists. Recent examples range from “Bush lied” regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to most recently that John Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session without informing the White House. Regarding the latter, the New York Times was forced to issue a retraction to their allegation that the White House had not been notified; nevertheless, they continue to encourage the lie.

In the end, it is substance not image that counts. It matters not what color represents which Party, but which one does most to guaranty personal freedoms, best educate our youth, care for those unable to care for themselves and encourages economic growth. Matt Vespa, writing in last summer, predicted that an influx of blue-state natives to traditionally red states would give Democrats an edge in last November’s elections. That didn’t happen. What Mr. Vespa failed to take into account was that people moved for a reason – that governments in states like New York, California and Connecticut were driving people out with regulatory impediments and high taxes. If that trend persists, Democrats may wish to reverse colors once again. My answer to that would be like Mrs. Clinton’s, but in a different context: “What difference…does it make?”


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"American Sniper"

                       Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“American Sniper”
February 4, 2015

American Sniper, the movie based on Chris Kyle’s book of the same name, depicts the brotherhood of soldiers, the adrenalin mixture of fear and bravery that accompanies every soldier in combat and the fateful decisions they must make instantaneously. The movie also covers the difficulties of subsequently re-entering civilian life – what is clinically termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. It is the gripping story of Chris Kyle’s eight years as a SEAL and his four deployments to Iraq between 2003 and 2009. There is nothing political in the story, and that is what has upset so many on the Left. It does not glorify war, but it does not condemn it. It is agnostic. It is the story of a man, a soldier and how he dealt with the demons that tormented him – not appropriately, according to the Left.

I am not a movie person; so only reluctantly did I let my wife drag me to see American Sniper last week; though I admit to having been intrigued by negative reviews from those who had not seen it, but were not shy about their criticisms. For example, former Vermont governor and Presidential candidate Howard “The Screamer” Dean admitted to not having seen the movie, yet claimed it appealed to “angry Tea-partiers.” He later apologized to the nation’s veterans, but couldn’t resist taking another jab at the “thousands of right-wing nut jobs” who had twittered him.

In their reaction to the film, the Left has become absurd in their vitriol. NBC News foreign correspondent referred to Chris Kyle as, “a racist who went on a killing spree.” Michael Moore accused snipers like Chris Kyle as “cowards.” The BBC said the film was correctly criticized “for Kyle’s attitudes toward his victims.” The actor Seth Rogen, showing his ignorance, compared the movie to Nazi propaganda. Lindy West, writing in The Guardian, said that Kyle was a “racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.” Sheldon Richman of The Future of Freedom Foundation said, preposterously, that Kyle was “no different than deranged serial killer Adam Lanza.” Racist? Killing spree? Coward?  “Victims?” Nazis? Comparable to Adam Lanza? What are these supposedly intelligent people thinking? Two things wrong with that last sentence: the critics are neither intelligent nor do they think.

As in most of their comments, the Left displayed a sense of moral superiority born of elitism. They assume their moral zeitgeist is the nation’s. They can neither understand nor tolerate those who question their narrative. The Left’s behavior is reminiscent of 19th Century Europeans who justified imperialism as their due, as it brought civilization to boors mired in ignorance. Leftists have transported that same notion of “the white man’s burden” from its colonial past into modern day America, as they see themselves bringing enlightenment to the unwashed masses – those who only care about guns and God. It is an attitude as insulting as it is sanctimonious.

Chris Kyle assuredly was no saint. But he had no pretensions as such. He was not an intellectual, a philosopher or an historian, but, then, neither are his critics. He did as he was ordered. His job was to kill bad guys intent on killing Americans. It was not to make policy or to debate his superior officers. He performed his duties as a soldier. And he was very good at what he did.

In the movie, Clint Eastwood provides no justification for the war in Iraq. There was no mention of President Bush, or anything about weapons of mass destruction. There was, however, a film-clip of the 1998 bombings at US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in which 224 people were killed, and another clip of the collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11. Those clips were central to the story, as the first motivated Mr. Kyle to join the U.S. Navy and the second hardened his resolve to do what he could to avenge attacks on America. Mr. Kyle was not alone in his sense that America had been violated and in his desire to help right what he clearly saw was a wrong. It was the attack on 9/11 that galvanized the nation, at least for a few months.

What Clint Eastwood achieved and what Bradley Cooper portrayed was a man who was brought up to believe in God, and that both good and evil exist. His father wanted him to be on the side of the good guys. After watching the televised 1998 bombings of the embassies in Africa, Chris Kyle joined the navy to serve a country in which he believed and which he loved – a country that allows bigots like Michael Moore to spout their venom. Through SEAL training he and his fellow recruits became brothers in blood. While he was appalled by what Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda forces did in Kenya and Tanzania and three years later on 9/11, the enemy could have been anyone; for he was a soldier. They could have been Vietcong, North Koreans, Nazis, Yankees or the British Army in 1776. Dilettantes can debate the merits of whether a war is “good” or “bad.” But that is not the responsibility of soldiers. Their duty is to obey their commanders and to aid their comrades. War is nasty and brutish. It should be avoided whenever possible, but it is strength and resolve that prevent war, not weakness and appeasement. When war is engaged, moreover, there can be only one outcome – victory. Clint Eastwood understands soldiers in a way his critics do not…and in a way many politicians do not. It was not the Iraq War per se that mattered to Kyle; it was his love of country, his sense of duty and his feelings for his comrades.

As a sniper, Chris Kyle’s job was to protect American lives. How many did he save? No one knows, but certainly multiples of those he killed. In the White House and in the halls of Congress, in editorial pages and on blogs, we may debate as to whether we should have been in Iraq in the first place, but for a soldier faced with an enemy that is trying to kill him there is no time for such discussion. Chris Kyle was courageous in a way his critics are not. He was given a mission. He achieved it. He came home to America and, after a period of adjustment, he found a new vocation in helping returning veterans re-enter civilian life, and for that he was killed. The hard Left is upset that millions of Americans see in the portrayal of Chris Kyle a hero to be admired. Let the Left complain; I just wish they understood that their freedom to do so is because of people like Chris Kyle, and has nothing to do with sycophants in mainstream media.


Monday, February 2, 2015

"The Month That Was - January 2015"

      Sydney M. Williams
                                                                                                                  February 2, 2015
The Month That Was
January 2015

“January is the quietest month in the garden.
 But just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean nothing is happening.”
                                                                                                                Rosalie Muller Wright, January 1999
                                                                                                                Former editor-in-chief
                                                                                                                Sunset magazine

The month began on January 1st with the college football playoffs. Oregon beat Florida State and Ohio State defeated Alabama. The ‘Buckeyes’ then won the national championship twelve days later. The month ended on the eve of the Super Bowl, which pitted the New England Patriots – they of ‘deflategate’ fame – against the Seattle Seahawks. (New England won.) While fans get excited and Super Bowl parties are the rage, the event serves also as a reminder of the need for tax reform. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars professional football garners, under the U.S. tax code the NFL is a 501(c) 6 organization, a tax-exempt enterprise.

But much more than football was packed into those thirty-one days. The President gave his State of the Union message, an upbeat message that seemed to have little relationship with the world as it is. Apart from multiple veto threats, it was, as Daniel Henninger wrote in the Wall Street Journal, a Peter Pan message – the world will be just fine “if only we think lovely thoughts.” Reality is quite different. Despite the President bragging he had concluded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Islamic terrorism persists. ISIS is undaunted in Iraq and Syria, continuing to behead prisoners. Four Parisians, trained by al Qaeda in Yemen, killed twelve staff members of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and four others at a kosher market. The Islamic group Boko Haram killed 2,000 people in Bara, Nigeria. Yemen, an alleged ally in the fight against al Qaeda, imploded with President Hadi and his cabinet resigning their posts, as Houthi rebels, another Islamic extremist organization, took over the capital city of Sana’a. Two Israeli soldiers were killed by Hezbollah, an Islamic group operating on the Lebanon border. Yet the Administration in Washington continues to have a hard time using the qualifier “Islamist” when talking about Islamic terrorism.

 At home, the state of the economy belies Mr. Obama’s blithe observations. After GDP growth spurted 5% in the third quarter, preliminary fourth numbers suggest that was a one-time event, as the Commerce Department reported that GDP grew 2.6% in the fourth quarter, and 2.4% for the year. That means that all six years of Mr. Obama’s Presidency have shown sub-standard growth (below 3%), despite the recession having ended four months after he took office. The economy remains anemic. While employment is picking up, the labor force participation rate remains at levels last seen in the 1970s. Income and wealth gaps have widened under Mr. Obama’s management of the economy. 

Elsewhere overseas, ECB President Mario Draghi opted for quantitative easing as a means of extricating Europe’s economy from its uneven, but stultifying results. Ignoring the positive benefits of deflation caused by productivity improvements, he is anxious, as are all Western governments, to inject some inflation, which is not surprising, as state obligations – pension, healthcare and operational debt – continue to build. Inflation (and the cheapening of currencies) is a boon to debtors, while it is a bane to creditors. Since the former are in charge of government policies, it is unsurprising that deflation is spoken of as the greater evil. Greece, stuck with debt they cannot repay and with an ethic that is inimical to work, opted for a far-leftist approach with the election of Alexis Tsipras as Prime Minister. The former government was happy to put off the inevitable, preferring to live in the la-la land of never having to take responsibility for the mess they created. Following the election, investors in Athens voted with their feet – with equity markets down about 20% during the next two days, and with yields on treasuries rising, suggesting there is no safe haven in that “cradle of democracy.” While I suspect the election results will only worsen an already difficult situation, I can’t blame the voters for trying something new. Europe’s final chapter is yet to be written. When it is, the reading will not be pretty. That pessimism is a fact of life throughout Europe can be seen in birthrates that fall below the replacement rate – at least on the part of non-Muslims. Cronyism and corruption combined with elitism and pettifoggery are unlikely to be routed quietly. As we in the United States are seeing in Albany, the tentacles of corruption run deep and hold fast. In the land of the blind, the old saying goes, the one-eyed man is king. The problem with too many Western governments is that there is a want of even one-eyed men.

January 27th marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland. An estimated one million people were killed in that one concentration camp. Three hundred survivors returned to remember man’s inhumanity to man. (Unfortunately, as the camp was liberated by the Soviets, many of the camp’s survivors went from one gulag to another.) While it must have been emotionally difficult for survivors to return to a scene of such atrocities, the rest of us should never forget what so-called civilized people can do to one another. It is not enough to claim that certain behavior has no place in the 21st Century. (That same argument was used in the first decade of the 20th Century.) The horrors that happened in Germany and Poland happened also in Russia and China. They are happening today in much of the Middle East and Africa. A nation that produced Goethe also produced Hitler. One that produced Tolstoi also produced Stalin. A nation that revered Confucius allowed for Mao Tse Tung. Now we have a culture that gave birth to modern mathematics terrorizing their own, as well as Jews and Christians. The lesson of Auschwitz and other death camps is that man is capable of extreme acts of cruelty. Political leaders in the U.S. must realize that there is no country – and no union of nations – that can keep barbarianism at bay, other than the United States. It requires an unabashed adherence to the principles of democracy, and a strong defense system to backstop our word. Like it or not, it is our fate and our obligation to be the guardian of peace.

Potential Republican candidates for President in 2016 debuted in hordes. The field includes those who are well qualified, along with the usual groupings of oddballs. Unfortunately, it is the latter that seem to garner much of the press, and none more so than the goofiest of the goofy – Donald Trump. If what he said or did provided humor, he would be tolerable as a welcome interlude on cold winter nights, but he seems to be only one step removed from GloZel, the bath-tub sitting, cheerio-eating and YouTube star, friend of Michelle Obama. She is a repulsive character with no redeeming characteristics, but unfortunately typifies our time. Mitt Romney opted out of the parade, but there remain at least twenty hopefuls. While some of those who remain are people I wish would disappear, on balance the field is strong. In youth, vigor and ideas they outshine the three oldies who represent the future of the Democrat Party – Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. With a combined age of 204, they could be the biological parent of several of the Republican contenders. How far we have come from a time when youth and vigor were synonymous with Democrats!

Equities in France, Germany and the UK rose during January, while major indices in the U.S. went lower. Lower oil prices and a higher Dollar, while helping consumers, have taken their toll on corporate earnings. Expectations are that earnings growth for the S&P 500 in the 4th quarter of 2014 will be unchanged from a year earlier. Volatility returned to U.S. equity markets, with January having five days during which the Dow Jones Averages moved up or down more than 1.5% – the most days since November, 2011. U.S. Treasuries, defying gravity, rose, sending the yield on the Ten-year to its lowest level in two years. Gold, after declining for two years, rose 8% during the month. The U.S. Dollar continued its march upward, rising another 5 percent.

There was, of course, much else that happened. California Senator, Barbara Boxer decided to call it quits. There are other Californian politicians that I wish would follow suit. In an unfortunate case of poor timing, just five days after the attack in Paris and a couple of weeks before the revolution in Yemen, the President released five more GITMO detainees to Yemen. In Washington school-boyish behavior became the norm. England’s Prime Minister David Cameron, during a visit to the White House, took time out from meeting with Mr. Obama to lobby members of Congress against increasing sanctions against Iran – a breach of long-standing etiquette. House Speaker John Boehner then invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress. While he had every right to do so, protocol suggests he notify the White House first. He did not. In retaliation, Mr. Obama’s team dispatched operatives to Israel to campaign for Mr. Netanyahu’s opponent in the up-coming election.

Duke University, which won’t allow a crèche at Christmas, announced that the weekly Muslim call to prayer will be from the campus chapel, countermanding their initial ruling that the call should come from the Duke University Chapel bell tower. In a questionable sartorial display, Mayor DeBlasio’s wife Chirlane McCray wore blue jeans to the funeral of a police officer killed in the line of duty. The enmity that Mayor DeBlasio had created with the police dissipated by the end of the month, but my guess those feelings of resentment are only in hibernation. We’ll see. He appears to be a man more of instinctual reaction than reason. The success of American Sniper at the box office has upset those like Michael Moore and Bill Maher who, because blinders of political correctness deny them the ability to see more than one side to a story, are unable to understand the patriotism that drives those like Chris Kyle.

Death claimed former New York Governor Mario Cuomo on January 1st, moments after his son Andrew took the oath of office for his second term in the same position. Former Republican Senator from Massachusetts Edward Brooke died at the age of 95 on January 3rd. He had been the first African-American to serve in that capacity since Reconstruction. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, one of about 40 sons of Ibn Saud, died on January 22nd. His death was not unexpected; so was replaced immediately by his half-brother Salman. Ernie Banks, former Chicago Cubs baseball player, and the “greatest power-hitting shortstop of the 20th Century” (according to the New York Times), died at the age of 83.

The month ended on a cold note, with the temperature in Old Lyme registering seven degrees when I got up on Saturday. As the sun rose, the glistening white marshes and the wind coming off the river gave promise that winter will be with us awhile – at least for another couple of months.