Sydney M. Williams
The Month That Was
December 1, 2015
“My sorrow, when she’s here with me
Thinks these dark days of Autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.”
Robert Frost (1874-1963)
“My November Guest”
A Boy’s Will, 1915
Paris may not have burned, but it came under attack again by ruthless, Godless Islamic radicals. One hundred and thirty – mostly young – people were murdered in six incidents on Friday, the 13th of November. This was only the latest in a series of killings by terrorists invoking Islam as reason and cause. Earlier they had downed a Russian airliner and a few days later 41 Shiite Muslims were killed by two suicide Islamic terrorists in Beirut, Lebanon. Religion is a great comfort for those in need of spiritual uplift. It does far more good than harm. But religion, throughout the centuries, has also been a cause of wars, something we should not forget. The horror the world is now experiencing will not end until peace-loving Muslims assert leadership. And it will not end as long as the West fails to connect Islam with the terror and the desire for a caliphate that some of its members’ advocate.
After the Charlie Hebdo massacres, Western leaders traveled to Paris to march in solidarity. Millions of people wore signs, “I am Charlie.” In April, 2014, 200 school girls in Nigeria were kidnapped by Boko Haram. Like the “I am Charlie” signs, millions of people, including Michelle Obama, posted the hashtag, “save our girls.” That was the extent of the West’s involvement – feel-good symbols that made the wearer feel sanctimonious, but did nothing for the victims. This time there have been neither marches nor signs
Equally disturbing, though less deadly, have been the obsequious Uriah Heep’s that pass for college administrators and professors in many of our colleges and universities. Protests have risen supporting the concept of “safe places,” places where students can be assured of never hearing words that make them uncomfortable or feeling vulnerable. Yale president Peter Salovey sent an e-mail to his university’s community, which captured today’s campuses fawning, liberal orthodoxy. In the e-mail he apologized for the university, and said the he is committed “to a campus where hatred and discrimination are never tolerated.” In fact, he was yielding to a subtler, but equally insidious form of intolerance – toward those whose ideas do not conform with the liberal perspective that dominates his university. He wants a place where the prejudices of “victims” are never challenged – an institution that prefers the comfort of a student’s psyche to the confrontation of ideas. In doing so, he encourages fragility among his students. Whatever happened to the nursery rhyme my mother used to recite: “sticks and stones will break my bones…” Is Yale preparing its young women and men for the world outside its college gates?
Elsewhere overseas there was both good and bad news. Jihadi John, the Islamic British swordsman, died in a U.S. Drone strike in Syria. The leaders of China and Taiwan met in Singapore, the first such meeting since the Chinese Communists took over mainland China in 1949. As well, China ended its one-child policy, but too late to prevent what will become an aging and shrinking Chinese population. Argentina discarded what Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the Wall Street Journal calls Kirchnerismo in favor of the center-right, Mauricio Macri. Mr. Macri has promised to lift all capital controls and have his country join the democratic forces in the region. In Myanmar (formerly Burma), Aung San Suu Kyi led her party, National League for Democracy, (NLD) to a landslide win, defeating the ruling, military-backed Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP). Apparently the constitution prevents Ms. Suu Kyi from becoming president, but the win will give her a greater say in whatever government is formed.
A century’s-old enmity between two former empires was aroused when a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Su-24. While the Russians claimed the plane had been in Turkish airspace for only seventeen seconds, the Turks said they had warned the Russian fighter five times over ten minutes. Turkey’s parliamentary elections gave more control to President Erdogan who has become increasingly autocratic. Erdogan is a man who once said “there is no Islamic terror,” while claiming Zionism is a crime against humanity. Despite falling energy prices, a weak Euro and further quantitative easing by the ECB, Europe’s economy slowed in the third quarter to 0.3%. (Growth was 0.5% in the first quarter and 0.4% in the second.) As the month ended, the mischief makers who pass themselves off as protectors of our climate met in Paris.
Domestically, apart from the servile response to the childish tantrums of our university students, most of the media’s attention was given to what passes as our democratic process for selecting the next President. Bobby Jindal dropped out during the month. Hillary Clinton appears to be cruising toward the Democrat nomination, despite the baggage she carries. On the 28th of the month Reuters reported that Trump’s poll numbers dropped 12%, but that he still leads. A recent PEW poll showed that only 19% of Americans trust government “always, or most of the time,” which helps explain the rise of non-politicians, like Trump, Carson and Fiorina. Republicans held two debates during the month, the first hosted by CNBC. In that debate, the biggest loser, according to Jeff Jacoby writing in the Boston Herald, was the media, particularly CNBC for their “snarky” questions. Democrats held their second, with no surprises.
The Affordable Care Act looks less affordable, with rates rising on average 7.5% on government exchanges. Healthy young Americans are choosing to pay a fine rather than signing up, depriving insurance companies of premiums to help support the sick and the elderly. After all, if the young and healthy need medical care they can sign up at the last minute without penalty. Speaking of Obama Care, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of The Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell. In other news, Eric Schneiderman, the populist New York Attorney General and one-man hit-squad, claimed Exxon Mobil lied to investors and the public about the risks to climate change. The allegation appears to be a political stunt, as Exxon’s climate research has been done in public view for decades. They employ 16,000 scientists and engineers studying the effects of carbon fuels on the environment. The company, which recently pulled out of the Clinton Global Initiative, was, unsurprisingly, pilloried by Mrs. Clinton. In off-year elections, Republicans picked up a governorship in Kentucky, while Democrats added one in Louisiana. Adding to dyspeptic race relations, thirteen months ago a white Chicago policeman shot and killed a black teenager sixteen times. The cop was charged with first degree murder and demonstrators took to the streets. One would have thought the “Black Lives Matter” crowd would have been pleased with the indictment and angry at the delay in the release of the video. Was last fall’s reelection bid of Mayor Rahm Emanuel a factor in the delay?
The boards of Pfizer and Allergan agreed to merge in what would be a $160 billion corporate inversion. That raised the ire of those on the left who claim that companies should pay their “fair share” of taxes. The words “fair share” are used to incite the faithful. Never mind that the money saved in reduced taxes could be put to use hiring more people or to make investments. The fact that companies revert to inversions is testament of the need to reform the tax code: high nominal corporate rates, in a competitive global market place, drive businesses to protect their franchises. Equally silly and unproductive, Eric Schneiderman concluded that fantasy sports constitute illegal gambling. One would think that in a time of rampant corruption throughout state government that the New York Attorney General would find better ways of occupying his time and spending taxpayers’ money. Despite an anemic economy and record low labor-force-participation rates, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise the Fed Funds and Discount rates in December. If it does, it will be the first time since June 2006 that rates will have been raised. Since December 2008, the Fed Funds rate has been 0-0.25 basis points and the Discount rate at 0.75 basis points. On the day after Thanksgiving, a lone gunman invaded a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. By the time he surrendered five hours later three people including a policeman were dead and four wounded. Given reports, the man was nuts, indicating the issue is the mental health of the shooter, not the gun carried.
Weighing 1,111 carats, the largest diamond in 100 years was discovered in Botswana. A study by Nobel prize winner Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case showed a rise in mortality rates for white, middle-aged, American men. The FDA approved a genetically modified salmon – known as an AquAdvantage salmon! And my daughter-in-law had her fourth novel published, Along the Infinite Sea, a compelling historical novel set in 1935-38 Germany and 1966 Florida.
Death took Helmut Schmidt who served as Chancellor of Germany from 1974 to 1982. He died at age 96. Henry Kissinger once described him as a man who saw politics as “pragmatic action for moral objectives.” Ahmed Chalabi, a former exiled Iraqi and longtime U.S. ally, died at age 71. His influence waned when “weapons of mass destruction” were not uncovered by U.S. forces. Fred Thompson, Republican Senator from Tennessee, former Presidential candidate and actor, died at age 73. On a personal level, I lost two good friends: Beth Curry and Bob Dall. Both died too early and will be missed.
It was a hundred years ago – November 25, 1915 – that Albert Einstein set down the equation for his general theory of relativity. In doing so, he transformed our understanding of space and time. At the time, he was at the Max Planck Institute for gravitational Physics in Berlin. Eighteen years later, following the naming of Adolph Hitler as Germany’s chancellor, he left for the United States. Interestingly (at least to me), he spent the summer of 1935 in Old Lyme. Seventy-seven years ago, Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) made it clear as to the Nazi’s intentions regarding Jews. On November 14, 1940 the Luftwaffe bombed Coventry in England’s West Midlands – a city then of about 200,000. When the raid was over, more than 500 citizens were dead, with perhaps a thousand wounded. Keeping on this German theme, it was seventy years ago, November 19, 1945 that the trials in Nuremburg began. When it was over, 12 of the 24 indicted were sentenced to death; three were acquitted.
Thousands of college and university students from around the country have had an epiphany. They have discovered – as though a revelation – that some of the benefactors of their institutions were once slave owners, or racists. The only reason such divinations could come as a surprise is because of a lack of knowledge of U.S. history. Would Harvard have been better served had Isaac Royall, a slave owner who died in 1781, not left funds to establish the college’s first professorship of Law? Would Yale have been better off without the gifts of John Calhoun? Would Princeton (and the U.S.) have been better served without Woodrow Wilson as teacher and president? Of the first dozen U.S. Presidents, only John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams never owned slaves. Should we abolish all monuments associated with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler, Polk and Taylor? Or should we admit that, while slavery was evil it did exist through much of the world at that time? Should we not, instead, focus our energies on helping to remove slavery where it exists today – ironically, in many Muslim nations?
Food for thought as we say goodbye to November. Thanksgiving is behind us. Christmas and Hanukkah are before us…and then a new year. Tempus Fugit. Will someone please ask it to slow down.