Monday, August 3, 2015

The Month That Was - July 2015

                  Sydney M. Williams
                                                                                                                             August 3, 2015
The Month That Was
July 2015

Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
                                                                                                                George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
                                                                                                                “Man and Superman,” 1905

July is the month that commemorates our independence from Great Britain. The Declaration begins with the memorable words by Thomas Jefferson: “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another…” The Declaration of Independence speaks to the rights of man that were endowed by our Creator, and that among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

While not specifically mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, honor and virtue were traits that defined the character of the Founding Fathers. Two events this past month indicate how far we have strayed from that time. One was the secret filming at Planned Parenthood where doctors casually and callously negotiated the price of fetal tissues while sipping wine over lunch. It was revolting. Most of us recognize the value of scientific research, but most of us also see life as sacred. Reconciling the sanctity of life and the research that helps sustain it is not easy, but that is one function of Planned Parenthood. To listen to them defend what they did on legal grounds, but ignore the question of ethics was disrespectful and dispiriting. All human remains should be treated with respect. It was obvious that, to the people at Planned Parenthood, the fetuses discussed never represented life – hearts and lungs could have been carburetors or fan belts.

The other was Tom Brady’s reaction to the NFL’s upholding his suspension. Brady had to have known that the footballs he was using were deflated. He is the best in the business, an idol to youth and beloved by his fans. To compare what he did to wife-beaters or steroid users is not the point. All violators of rules and customs deserve to be punished, but in Mr. Brady’s case it is especially wrong, because there was no need. He is the game’s best quarterback. Yet he cheated. He deserves no compassion. His defenders are equally devoid of honor and virtue. Have we lost all standards of a civilized society?

Now that I’ve got that off my chest we can move on to people and events that made news during the month. And July was eventful! The spacecraft New Horizons darted past Pluto. In a rebuke to European leaders, Greek citizens voted not to accede to the bailout terms imposed by creditors. The Obama Administration signed a deal with Iran that will affect his legacy – perhaps like Chamberlain’s? A “lone wolf” Islamic terrorist shot and killed four Marines and one U.S. Sailor in Chattanooga

The New Horizon spaceship was launched in 2006. It traveled three billion miles, at a speed of 31,000 miles per hour. It came within 7,000 miles of Pluto. In order to send back the pictures meant pinpoint timing and accuracy. After nine years of travel, it reached the optimum spot within 100 seconds of plan! Its success is a testament to the men and women who work at NASA. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born U.S. citizen shot and killed five servicemen in Tennessee. Since 1992, military personnel have not been permitted to carry firearms when on domestic bases. If you recall, that was one reason Major Nidal Hasan was able to kill so many at Fort Hood in 2009. It makes no difference whether Abdulazeez was a “lone wolf” or acting under orders from a terrorist organization, an armed Marine should have been able to stop him.  Not allowing active duty military personnel to carry weapons is an open invitation to another such incident. Another nut with a gun, John Houser, shot and killed two young women in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana before turning the gun on himself. The Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage. My only objection to the decision is that I believe change in society’s social mores are best determined by popular vote, rather than by the opinion of nine individuals, or, in this case, five.

At least three more Republicans joined the field for the Republican nomination: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Governor John Kasich of Ohio and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore. With seventeen entrants, it looks like the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. However, by year’s end the field should resemble the Belmont. Conventional wisdom says that a crowded field is bad for Republicans. I am not so sure. It shows a Party with a lot of breadth and depth. While there are numerous issues from immigration, education and the nuclear deal with Iran, the overriding concern for most people is the economy, which has put-putted along at a 2% annual rate since the recovery began six years ago – a third less growth than happened under George W. Bush and only half that achieved by Mr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton. Mr. Obama says he speaks for the poor and downtrodden, yet his policies have made the poor poorer and the rich richer. Republicans sense opportunity, which is why the field is crowded. As they say at the Olympics, which Boston during the month won the right to avoid, “Let the games begin!”

In going to the United Nation’s Security Council before Congress, the President assured that his deal with Iran will come to fruition. Sanctions, the only lever the West had in dealing with the Mullahs, are already being lifted. European leaders have begun meeting with their Iranian counterparts. A ‘snap-back’ of sanctions, as commonsense tells us, is not possible. They are already off the table. Iran is the world’s prime sponsor of terrorism. Globally, terrorism was up 35% in 2014, on top of a 43% rise in 2013. If Iran doesn’t change its behavior (which seems unlikely) the Middle East is going to get a lot more difficult for the next President. Speaking of which, Mr. Obama made an odd comment when speaking to the perpetual leaders of African nations on his recent trip: “In eighteen months, I’m turning over the keys – I want to make sure I’m turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems the country faces and the world faces.” Was that a threat, or just an Obamaism?

Sixty-one percent of Greek voters voted “no” on a Referendum demanding more austerity by creditors. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who in June unfriended Angela Merkel on Facebook, found that ignoring the Referendum was a better alternative than adhering to it. Despite the current calm, Greece’s problems (and Tsipras’) are not over. Full diplomatic relations were restored between the U.S. and Cuba – another incubator of terrorism. ISIS continued its march, killing 30 people in the Turkish town of Surac. As a NATO member, that attack may have consequences. According to a report from the Associated Press last month, American intelligence agencies have concluded that “ISIS is fundamentally no weaker than it was when the U.S. – led bombing campaign began a year ago.” Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped from a maximum prison, with what appeared to be maximum help and minimum resistance. One of the first things he did was to issue a fatwa against Donald Trump who is prone to disparaging Hispanics, especially Mexicans who illegally enter the U.S.

U.S. stocks were modestly higher during the month, but the Shanghai Index declined 14.3%. The Emerging Market Index was down 6.3%, perhaps in sympathy with commodities, most all of which were lower. Crude oil futures were lower by 21.2%. The VIX, a measure of volatility, declined by a third. The Ten-year Treasury saw modest strength with the yield declining 14 basis points. The Federal Reserve met and stuck to their story: they are preparing for a modest increase – perhaps only because they want to be able to lower rates in the future. Globally, according to David Stockman, central banks’ balance sheets have risen from $3 trillion to $22 trillion over the past fifteen years, with most of that increase in the past seven years. When the history is written of the post-financial-crisis era, the central theme will be this spree of printing money at unprecedented rates and the extraordinary low interest rates that have been its consequence.

July was a big month for sports, with Wimbledon, the British Open and the United States’ women’s soccer team beating Japan to win the World Cup. In the latter, team captain Abby Wambach scored a hat trick in the first sixteen minutes of the game. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz were inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. The all-star game was played on the 14th in Cincinnati, with the American League winning 6-3. On the 28th, after being behind 5-0 in the first inning, the Yankees went on to beat the Texas Rangers 21-5.

The month had its quirky moments. In a case of moral justice,, an online website for spouses who want extracurricular activity in their lives, was hacked. Thirty-seven million users had their information compromised. The Site’s motto, “Life is short; have an affair,” was changed by “The Onion” to: “Have an affair; life will be long.” Divorce lawyers must be salivating! Walter James Palmer, a dentist in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and an avid hunter of big game, became the prey of Zimbabwe officials who want him extradited to face charges for killing ‘Cecil,’ a well known and beloved lion. An earth-like planet was discovered using the Kepler Space Telescope. The planet, Kepler 452B, is 1900 light years away, yet scientists were able to determine that it is 60% larger than earth and circles its sun every 385 days. Those who looked to the skies on Friday evening saw a “blue” moon, called blue because of its rarity – the second full moon in a month. The next one will be in January 2018.

Sixty years ago last month Disneyland opened on 160 acres in Anaheim, California. Medicaid was fifty years old in July. During their first full year they spent $1 billion. In 2015, they are projected to spend $500 billion. The Affordable Care Act increased enrollment in Medicaid; so that 20% of Americans (71 million people) are now covered by this state-sponsored plan. It was in July 1975 that the Communist Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. By the end of his four-year reign more than a million Cambodians were dead. July was also the 20th Anniversary of Srebrenica where Serbian soldiers slaughtered 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. 

August is upon us, the month that marks the end of summer for our children and grandchildren. Use the time wisely.

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