Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Month That Was - June 2016

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – June, 2016

                                                                                                                                           July 5, 2016

“Summer is a promissory note signed in June,
Its long days spent and gone before you know it,
And due to be repaid next January.”
                                                                                                               Hal Borland (1900-1978)
                                                                                                               Author, journalist, naturalist

Two items dominated the news last month. One was the terrorist attack at the Pulse, a night club in Orlando. The second was the vote in the UK to exit the European Union. The former was one more episode in an on-going – yet undeclared – war by Jihadists; the latter is, perhaps, a precursor of change yet to come.

Islamists struck again. The Administration first tried to turn the attack into a “gun” incident. When that did not work, they made it a homophobic hate crime. The Pulse does cater to the LBGT crowd and it may well be that Omar Mateen singled out the club for that reason. Islamist extremists are homophobic, but they are also misogynistic and they hate anyone whose religion does not accord with theirs. Of course it was a “hate” crime. Hate is behind all killings. But ignoring the fact that Mr. Mateen was inspired by ISIS is a failure to address reality. In a line that might have been heard in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Attorney General Loretta Lynch expressed the Administration’s means of combatting Jihadism: “Our most effective response to terror and hatred is compassion, unity and love.” I’m in favor of all three, but I also know that Jihadists are an enemy that must be destroyed.

Showing the people to be sovereign, the British voted to exit the European Union. The vote surprised the establishment and proved too much for a media disdainful of those who take issue with their self-claimed wisdom. News reports were filled with dire predictions of financial markets collapsing, economies shuddering, and a rise in nationalism. As least one commentator compared the current scenario to the 1930s – others resurrected 2008. Uncertainty does breed nervousness, but critics overstate the consequences. Financial markets adjust to changing circumstances; economies muddle along, and the Brexit vote should be a wake-up call to a continent whose leaders’ isolation from and condescension toward the people had made them oblivious to a host of concerns: the encroachment of the administrative state; economies growing too slowly to support both the state and redistribution; and an open immigration policy that had let in large numbers of Islamists who threaten their culture and their lives.

The ideal of a United States of Europe is just that, an ideal. It is not the United States and never will be. Nationalist roots go deep in Europe. Language and traditions are embedded in local cultures. Keep in mind, these are countries that have fought one another over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In contrast, with the exception of African slaves, those who came to America deliberately chose to abandon their past, and become part of something new. Ours became a pluralistic society. In Europe, the attempt is to build a multicultural one – a far more difficult task. Can it be done? Perhaps. It should be remembered that a vote to leave the European Union should not be construed as a desire to disengage from the world. It is, rather, a decision to change one’s starting stance. Peaceful coexistence is the main goal. That is achieved when people respect differences, trade, communicate and visit. A common market serves everyone’s economic interests, while NATO plays the same role in defense. Is a political combination necessary? I’m not sure. Federalism has many attributes that a single, unified government does not possess.

The basic reason that the majority of people in the UK voted to leave the EU, in my opinion, is that democracy in Europe has morphed into an administrative state, laden with bureaucrats who thrive on regulations. That trend also exists in the United States. When change is perfunctory, as it was, there is always risk. Nationalism may follow, or government could become a kakistocracy, but I suspect that risk is small. The real goal in Europe is stability, along with an affirmation of the values that have given Europe freedom and prosperity. Therein lies the real risk. Those liberties are an anathema to some recent Muslim immigrants who would impose Sharia law that would alter the Christian-Judeo culture that has served the cause of liberty so well. If the citizens of Europe could be assured that the laws that have brought freedom and prosperity would not be amended there would be less disquiet. It was not primarily nativism, xenophobia or Islamophobia that has caused the anxiety that led to Brexit. It was common sense, and a desire to leave unmolested a culture, laws and a system that have worked so well.

In the United States we are settling in for a long summer of having as our November options two reprobate Presidential candidates. One is a corrupt woman who has notoriously lied, has been accused of paranoia in working with those who serve her, and who has used the system to make herself and her family wealthy – a woman who as Secretary of State was, in part, responsible for the rise in Islamic terrorism and for deteriorating relations with former allies. The other is a master of invective, a businessman whose only experience in politics is as a lobbyist, who worked the system for his benefit. He is a man for whom the word “character” does not to fit. In both cases, negatives out-weigh positives. Abuse, slander and half-truths are their weapons, something that may entertain the electorate, but provide little of substance to voters.

The final Congressional report on Benghazi was issued. It produced no ‘smoking gun’ that Mrs. Clinton, thwarted the military from any attempts at a rescue. But the report also made clear that she deliberately lied as to the motive for the attack when she spoke publically, including comments made to the families at Andrew Air Force Base when bodies of the four men killed were returned to the U.S. Not reported in The New York Times was the fact that the minority report on Benghazi – a report allegedly without political bias – contains at least 23 references to Donald Trump! Why?

In a curious bit of beneficial timing for Hillary, on the morning of the day California, New Jersey and three other states held primaries, three news sources – CBS, AP and The New York Times – stated (falsely) that Mrs. Clinton had the necessary number of delegates to win the Democrat nomination. Sanders disappeared from the front pages. Eric Holder made the dubious announcement that, while Edward Snowden should be returned to the U.S. to face trial, he had performed a “public service.” Paul Ryan, without much enthusiasm, endorsed Donald Trump. Floods in West Virginia killed twenty-four. Fires in California burned 65,000 acres, destroyed more than 200 homes and killed two people. One week after the Orlando massacres, leaders of the Democratic Party in Florida allowed the anti-gay Imam Maulana Shafayat Mohamed to speak at their Leadership Blue Gala. Fear of offending Islamists won out over offending the LGBT community.  

Around the world, Islamic terrorism persisted. Including the attack in Istanbul at the end of June, but excluding Fallujah which was finally wrenched from ISIS control during the month, at least 1200 people were killed in June by Islamic terrorists. Nineteen Yazidi teenager girls were placed in iron cages by ISIS soldiers and burned to death. Their crime: refusing to become sex slaves. Not included in the numbers were the bodies of four hundred men and women, discovered in a mass grave in Fallujah, who had been executed by ISIS. The “religion of peace” persists in its demonic ways, unopposed in a serious way by the West where political correctness has become a religion – an impediment to even acknowledging our enemy.

Brexit rocked markets, at least temporarily. That was not a surprise. The bane of markets is uncertainty, and Brexit was a leap into the unknown. On the other hand, it is an opportunity if Britain’s new leaders seize it. The goal should be to increase the rate of economic growth, through empowering individual initiative, and ensuring that regulation is aimed at protecting consumers, not favored businesses. The fastest path to economic growth is to simplify regulation and taxes. All the “wise” people in government, media, academia and banking were expecting Britain to remain within the EU; so were pollsters and markets. When that didn’t happen, markets adjusted, but Armageddon never arrived. The British Pound did decline versus the U.S. Dollar from 1.46 to 1.32 (a 9.5% drop), but it had risen 2.8% in the three days before the vote. By months’ end, it closed at 1.33. (Keep in mind, the BP has not been a pillar of strength. Over the past two years, the Pound had declined 14.6% versus the Dollar, from 1.72 to 1.46.) On the other hand, the FTSE 100, which fell 5.6% in the two days following Brexit, rallied back to 6504.33, or 2.6% above where it had been the day before the vote. In the U.S., four days of volatile markets – two down, then two up – left stocks where they started, increasing commissions for brokers, but doing little for investors.

In other financial news, the U.S. jobs report for May showed a gain of 38,000 jobs, the worst showing in six years, and putting “stop” to the Fed’s plan to gradually raise interest rates. The (admittedly) volatile S&P GSCI commodity index rose 20% for the first six months of 2016 – a harbinger of future inflation? Exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act are proving too costly for some insurance companies. During the month United Health Care pulled out of California, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield exited Minnesota. Swiss voters overwhelmingly (77%) rejected the notion of a universal basic income plan – a concept gaining some traction in the U.S. from both the Left and the Right. A report out from the CATO Institute, quoting statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, showed that in 2014 total average federal wage compensation averaged 78% higher than that of the private sector – $119,934 versus $67,246.

“Hamilton” won eleven Tony’s. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalism – the organization that uncovered the “Panama Papers” – had its budget cut by its parent, the Center for Public Integrity. Were they getting too close to too many “important” people in global political capitals? Stephen Lynch (D – MA) disclosed that 72 people working for the Department of Homeland Security were listed on the U.S. terrorist watch list. London’s new Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced a ban on “racy” ads on the City’s public transportation system. The start of a less open society? The longest rail tunnel in the world (35.5 miles) opened under the Swiss Alps. The death rate in the U.S. rose for the first time in a decade. Bill Clinton met privately with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, despite the fact that Mrs. Clinton is under investigation by the Justice Department. Coincidentally, their private jets happened to be at the Phoenix airport at the same time. Their preposterous claim: They talked about grandchildren. A report from OpenTheBooks.com revealed that the number of non-Defense Department personnel authorized to make arrests and carry firearms (200,000) exceeds the number of U.S. Marines (182,000).   

Hockey and basketball seasons finally came to an end, with the Pittsburg Penguins beating the San Jose Sharks to win the Stanley Cup, and with the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA playoffs over the Golden State Warriors.

Iconic figure, Mohammed Ali (born Cassius Clay) died during the month at age 74. My favorite photo, among the hundreds that were published at the time of his death, was the one of Ali dressed in hunter’s garb before the “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Forman in Zaire in 1974. He is pictured giving a gentle punch to Rosie Schaap, the then three-year-old daughter of Dick Schaap – a wonderful image of a talented, but human and gentle man. On a more personal note, I lost a good friend when Gerald Walpin died in New York. Gerry, a lawyer and U.S. inspector general, was a friend and mentor to my writings. He represented all that is honorable and true, even standing up to the White House when he felt the necessity. Gerald Walpin was 84.

The summer solstice came and went, bringing with it a shortening of days, as we head into July.    



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