Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"The Month That Was - August 2016"

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – August 2016

                                                                                                                                 September 6, 2016

“A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing,
the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.”
                                                                                                            Harry James “Jim” Dent (1953 - )
                                                                                                            American author and sportswriter

The “dog days” of August were awash with news: The Brazilian Olympics; floods in Louisiana; fires in California; an earthquake in Italy; riots in Milwaukee; the Presidential campaign; Islamic jihadist attacks in Pakistan, Turkey, London and Paris; Russian bombers flew over Syria out of Iranian airbases; Aetna became the third insurer to reduce its role in ObamaCare; Rookie Gary Sanchez hit eleven homeruns in August; and for the first time in 16 years the Dow Jones Industrials, the S&P 500 and the NASDAQ all made highs on the same day – August 11th… And two news articles reflective of our times.

Both appeared in The New York Times, the “house organ” for the far-left. The paper is worth reading because where else can conservatives find out so inexpensively what, if anything, goes on inside the minds of vacuous, supercilious elites. The first, on August 7th, written by by Jim Rutenberg, was headlined “Trump is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism.” It was a condescending justification for the fact that the Times has lost all detachment when it comes to reporting political news. The second, “Push to Alter Constitution Via the States,” was written by Michael Wines on August 11th. The claim was that conservatives were circumventing Congress in an attempt to amend the Constitution by going directly to the States, which are largely controlled by Republicans. Article Five of the Constitution provides two means by which a convention can be called for its amendment. One is via Congress, but the second is by application of two thirds of States’ Legislatures. To suggest that Republicans are evading Congress may be true, but the move is legal and the accusation is presumptuous. It helps explain why liberal elites don’t understand why so many are upset with the direction the country is headed.

The Olympics dominated the first half of the month, with several contestants who had medaled in previous Olympics participating. While the professionalization of the Olympics is a turn-off (I did not watch Andy Murray or the American basketball team), it was fun to see Michael Phelps win again…and again. Twenty-three gold medals is a record likely to hold for a while. Nineteen-year old Katie Ledecky was exciting to watch. She is likely to add to her five gold medals four years from now in Tokyo. American gymnast Simone Biles won three golds. The American women’s “eight” had the stamina and determination to come from behind and cross the finish line a half boat length ahead of Great Britain. An unsung star, American Kim Rhode won a bronze in skeet shooting – the sixth consecutive Olympics in which she medaled. In prior Olympics she won three golds, one silver and one bronze. No woman has ever before medaled in six Olympics. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt lived up to his name at the Olympics, and in nightclubs! There were other extraordinary athletes that space does not allow me to acknowledge. Back home A-Rod will be leaving the Yankees. Tim Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner who played three seasons with the Broncos and Jets, was offered a spot with the Atlantic League Bridgeport Bluefish to play baseball. Given his eleven home runs in August, Yankee Gary Sanchez is the most exciting rookie since Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

Like Diogenes, we search for an honest politician. They are hard to find. Mr. Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns raises the specter that either he is not as rich as he claims, or that he has mastered the art of tax avoidance. It is not his flip-flopping on issues like immigration that is troubling; it is his hubris. As regards Mrs. Clinton, it is clear that connections between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department involved pay-to-play. While she claims no fire, Mrs. Clinton admits there is smoke. With staff members on both payrolls simultaneously something was wrong. As for her private e-mail account, she disingenuously placed blame on former Secretary of State Colin Powell. As a gentleman (a trait alien to both Clintons), he denied any responsibility, but without tarnishing her image. Of course he never had thirteen devices or a private server. A history of dissembling, stonewalling and blaming others has characterized the Clinton personae as long as they have been in the public eye. It is neither ideology nor a desire to better the world that drives them; it is a quest for power and personal gain.

Floods in Louisiana showed nature at her most powerful, while fires in California demonstrated the harm man can do, intentionally or otherwise. (Cause for the fires has not yet been ascertained, but California fire officials say that 95% of wildfires are a consequence of man.) More than thirty-one inches of rain fell on Livingston Parish (part of the greater Baton Rouge metropolitan area) in fifteen hours. Thirteen people are dead, 40,000 homes damaged and 86,000 people have applied for relief. While the National Interagency Fire Center reported a total of 5,375 wildfires in California this year, it was the Blue Cut fire in the San Bernardino forest 60 miles east of Los Angeles that got everyone’s attention. That fire burned 36,000 acres and destroyed 320 structures, making it the 20th most destructive fire in California history. Meanwhile, President Obama spent two weeks at his vacation retreat in Martha’s Vineyard where he played ten rounds of golf. Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old black man was shot and killed in Milwaukee by a black police officer. Carrying a weapon (reportedly stolen), he ran off during a traffic stop. When ordered to stop and drop the pistol, he didn’t; so he was shot. Black Lives Matter activists immediately claimed this as another example of racial inequities. Riots ensued. Six businesses were destroyed, police cars were smashed and burned, and seventeen people, all with prior criminal records, were arrested the first night. Ninety people were murdered in Chicago, the city’s bloodiest month in two decades.

Islamic terrorists persisted in their pursuit of death and destruction. In over a hundred incidents in dozens of cities, more than a thousand individuals were killed during the month, according to records maintained by TROP (TheReligionofPeace.com). Prophetically, a study showed that 40% of last year’s asylum seekers in Europe were young men between the ages of 18 and 34. A key ISIS leader, Abu Mahammad al Adnani, was killed in Syria by a U.S. Drone. Russia raised its presence in the Middle East, using an Iranian airbase and crossing Iraqi air space to bomb targets in Syria. Putin strengthened ties with Turkish President Erdogan, who selected Russia as the first country he will visit after July’s attempted coup. More information emerged regarding the payment to Iran of $1.7 billion ($400 million in moneys held since 1979, plus $1.3 billion in interest). $400 million was paid in cash. It was flown into Tehran on an unmarked plane, and delivered upon the release of American hostages held by Iran, implying a de facto ransom payment. A 6.2 earthquake in Italy struck a remote mountainous region east and north of Rome, killing at least 290. The Brazilian Senate voted 61-20 to impeach former populist President Dilma Rousseff. Venezuela’s descent into chaos is a vivid portrayal of the consequences of Socialism.  Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced a deal to end the 50-year conflict with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – a deal that many claim is too lenient to those who committed atrocities.

Despite a persistently weak economic recovery, near record-low labor participation rates, non-farm business sector labor productivity having declined 0.5% in the second quarter, and a downward revision for first quarter 2016 real hourly compensation to a decrease of 0.4%, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen, speaking in Jackson Hole on August 26, said: “I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months.” Markets took her comments in stride. The yield on the Ten-year rose four basis points, then fell back to where it had been. Gold prices fell $0.63. For the month, the DJIA fell three tenths of one percent. Trading volume was the lowest in two years. Volatility declined. The VIX is near nine-year lows and daily swings in the market were mostly non-existent. A lack of volatility often suggests complacency – but in this case complacency without exuberance. The latter, however, is to be found in abundance in sovereign debt markets. This is a bubble, created by central bankers, which will, at some point, burst, and do so with unknown (but likely significant) consequences. An August 20 headline in the Financial Times read: “Britain’s economy is an enigma after Brexit vote.” The implication was that good news is not good news when the result is at odds with the narrative. In the U.S., second quarter GDP was revised down slightly from 1.2% to 1.1%, and August employment numbers, according to ADP, added 177,000 jobs versus an estimate of 175,000. (Labor Department employment numbers, out on September 2, were 50,000 lower than expected.) Aetna joined United Health and Blue Cross-Blue Shield in being forced to abandon some ObamaCare markets. Unlike governments, businesses must adhere to the discipline of bankruptcy.

Elsewhere, Mylan’s pricing for its EpiPens raised accusations of extortion. The company’s pricing is difficult to justify. (My daughter has two sons who must carry EpiPens.) Nevertheless, apart from charges of gouging, questions arise: Why has the FDA has been so slow to approve generics? Why was Mylan the first to do so, but only after negative publicity? Competition is always the best answer to high prices. And is it pertinent that Mylan CEO is the daughter of West Virginia Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin? John Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago, sent a letter to incoming freshmen that showed a rare academic commitment to free speech. Naturally it upset the politically correct who have done so much to destroy precepts of liberty. Trump reorganized his campaign, demoting Paul Manafort and hiring Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, and he traveled to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto.  New York City cab drivers will no longer be required to speak English, a decision that will not help riders of yellow cabs, but which will boost ridership for Uber and Lyft. Huma Abedin separated from her pervert husband, Anthony Weiner. Why took you so long, Huma? A certified nut case, Stephan Rogata, used suction cups to scale twenty-one floors of the 58 story Trump Tower.

The Wall Street Journal quoted a Monmouth University national survey that asked whether respondents had a favorable opinion of Trump, Clinton, both or neither. The winner, with a plurality of 35%, was “neither.” July’s mysterious shooting death of Seth Rich, a DNC staffer remains unsolved.  He was the alleged source for Wikileaks’ publication of DNC e-mails, an action that got Chairwoman Debby Wasserman Schultz fired. Proxima B, a new “earth-like” planet was discovered 4.2 light years away – nearby, in terms of the solar system. A new study suggested that the Greenland shark may have a life span approaching 400 years. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s court martial for desertion, originally scheduled for August, was postponed to February, after President Obama leaves office. Coincidence?

Death snatched 83-year-old Gene Wilder, one of Hollywood’s zaniest comedians. While he was best known as Willy Wonka in “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory,” my favorite was as Dr. Frankenstein in “Young Frankenstein.” Also dying was Jeremiah J. O’Keefe at age 93, who became an ace in his first battle in skies over Okinawa, and General John Vessey, a recipient of a battle-filed commission in World war II who then rose to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1982, died at age 94.

On the 30th of August were three statements that said a lot about who we have become: FBI Director James Comey ominously told how Russian hackers threatened cyberattacks on the U.S. election system. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Bangladesh about a string of recent ISIS attacks, imperiously suggested: “Perhaps the media would do us all a service if they didn’t cover it quite as much. People wouldn’t know what was going on.” And President Obama casually mentioned that he would be guest editor for the November issue of liberal publication, Wired Magazine. Imagine the uproar from Democrats if George W. Bush had announced in August 2008 that he would become guest editor for the November issue of of The Drudge Report! Fact is stranger than fiction.

Welcome to September.

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