Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"The Month That Was - October 2016"

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – October 2016

                                                                                                                                 November 1, 2016

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
                                                                                                Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)
                                                                                                “Anne of Green Gables” 1908

The election, Mosul, Yemen, Hurricane Matthew, Bob Dylan, Chicago Cubs, Tom Haydn. They all made news in October. Apart from the Cubs and Bob Dylan, most of the news (as is so often the case) was bad. In the case of the election, it was dispiriting. On a happier note, October is leaf season in New England. This year, at least in my part of Connecticut, it was vibrant. The DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection), which publishes every year “The ten best places to see fall foliage in Connecticut,” did not this year include Essex, Lyme or Old Lyme among their recommendations. Not to take anything away from other parts of the State, but it is hard to beat the contrast between the blue of the Connecticut River and the green of evergreens that line its bank, with the golds and reds of our color guard – Oaks, Maples, Beeches, Hickories, Sumacs and Birches.

The October “surprise” was the bombshell emanating from a letter FBI Director James Comey sent, after first alerting the Department of Justice, to senior members of Congress. In the letter he asserted that, after submitting a laptop that belonged to Anthony Weiner and his estranged wife Huma Abedin to metadata analysis, his only choice was to re-open the e-mail case against Hillary Clinton. While Democrats rose up in alarm, they have no one to blame but themselves. Mrs. Clinton chose to use a private e-mail account and server. She chose to lie about its use and chose to cover-up what she had done. She had e-mails destroyed. Her husband met covertly with Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. The Administration went along with her shenanigans, as did the Democrat establishment. These revelations not only expose Clinton corruption and the immorality of the Administration and the Justice Department, they could well determine the outcome of the election. Regardless, this “surprise” is symptomatic of an awful election year. If Hillary wins and the data shows she is indictable, what happens? If she loses and the data exonerates her, what happens?

Donald Trump was blamed for the rudeness of his remarks – deservedly so, as his words are pathological, uncouth and insensitive. But the press paid little attention to the lies and corruption of Hillary Clinton, and overlooked the discord inspired by the ideological leanings of Barack Obama. His high ratings obscure the fact that it was Mr. Obama who set the agenda over the past eight years. It was Mr. Obama who proclaimed “I won” at the start of his first term and who failed to make peace with those he had defeated. ObamaCare would not be the mess it is today, had he been less patronizing and more conciliatory seven years ago. The world we live in and the policies that have made it so – a Middle East in chaos, Israel abandoned, rising threats from China and Russia, an anemic economic recovery, racial discord and polarization of the electorate – is the world Mr. Obama is bequeathing us. A study last year by London based International Institute for Strategic Studies noted that 63 armed conflicts in 2008 resulted in 56,000 deaths. In 2014, 42 armed conflicts produced more than three times as many deaths – 180,000. Mr. Obama cannot blame Bush, or Republican leaders. This is his world. Why would anyone want more of the same?

Reaction could be consequential. The downswing of a pendulum’s parabola is equal to its upswing. The further left we move – increased government regulation; Executive Orders; politicians isolated from those they represent; unaccountable federal agencies; wealth transfers; inequality; failing public schools; corruption – the further right will be the response. Professor Justin Gest of George Mason University, in his book The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality, suggests that 65% of white Americans would support a European-style far-right party. I have no idea if Professor Gest is correct. I hope he is wrong, but actions have reactions. According to a poll conducted by the World Economic Forum and released in October, thirteen of the twenty emerging markets rated as having the most trustworthy politicians in the 2016 survey were rated as “not free.” One example is Tunisia, the sole democratic success of the 2011 Arab uprisings. In 2010, its politicians were ranked 15th most trustworthy. This year they were ranked 63rd. Mr. Obama may not bear sole responsibility, but he was leader of the free world during the past eight years when freedom and democracy began to fail.

Yemen has become ground zero in the fight between Sunnis, backed by Saudi Arabia, and Shiites, backed by Iran. The U.S. is involved – in a limited way – but on the seas, in the air and on the ground. Yemen, a country of 25 million, is among the world’s poorest. No one knows exactly how many people have been killed, but estimates through August were at least 10,000, half of whom were civilians. On October 8, 140 people were killed in a funeral hall, allegedly by Saudi-led airstrikes. A week later, an American destroyer, the USS Nitze, was attacked by Iran-financed Houthis while navigating the Bab el-Mandeb waterway between Yemen and East Africa. The ship returned fire, destroying Houthi-controlled targets. The situation today is a far cry from two years ago ago. Then, following a series of successful Drone attacks against al Qaeda targets in Yemen, Mr. Obama called the country a success.

The war against ISIS is Shakespearean in its complexity and tragedy. Russia, our ally against ISIS, is allied with Assad who is our enemy. Iran also supports Assad. ISIS is the enemy common to us, Russia, Turkey, Iraq, Kurds and Assad. Kurds have enemies in Turkey and Iraq. The losers are Syrian freedom fighters, who the West has refused to arm, and who are fighting both Assad and ISIS. Turkey, geographically close to both Aleppo and Mosul, has a self-interest in the outcome. Turkish President Erdogan has assumed dictatorial powers, and is a risk to peace in the region. ISIS is like the Greek mythological monster Hydra. When one head is lopped off, two more grow in its stead. In the meantime, the destruction of Aleppo, in the northwestern corner of Syria, continued during the month. Photographs of orphaned and homeless children, of ancient buildings in ruin, were gut-wrenching. In Iraq, the battle for Mosul began, with the U.S. playing the role of advisor, but with the real work being done by Kurds and the Iraqi military. The goal is to dislodge ISIS, who use civilians as human shields. Mosul lies on the banks of the Tigris, in northern Iraq, not far from the Syria and Turkey borders. No recent American President has inherited a peaceful Middle East, but the next President will inherit a far messier situation than anything we have seen before.   

During the month, 52 people in Ethiopia were killed in a stampede during an anti-government protest. The Philippines pivoted away from their long-time alliance with the U.S. when President Rodrigo Duterte announced a “separation,” and stronger ties with China. By the 9th of October, the number of people killed in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew had exceeded 1,000. Colombians rejected the the pact with FARC, because drug couriers and rebels were getting off too lightly. Nevertheless, The Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to their President Juan Manuel Santos. China’s President Xi Jinping was named “core” leader, equating him with Mao Zedong. Antonio Guterres, former Socialist Prime Minister of Portugal, current Secretary of Socialist International and head of the UN’s refugee program was elected to replace Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General of the United Nations. Freedom’s decline persists.

The largest merger of the year was announced when AT&T said they would buy Time Warner for $85.4 billion. Wall Street voted with their feet the next day, sending both stocks lower. Italy, near default not long ago, issued €5 billion, 50-year bonds with a yield of 2.85%, and Austria issued €2 billion in 70-year bonds with a yield of 1.53%! Wells Fargo & Co. chairman and CEO John Stumpf, resigned, an ignominious end to an otherwise illustrious career. Sterling fell 6% against the Dollar for the month. New York’s Governor Cuomo signed a bill that will essentially ban Airbnb from operating within the state. Preliminary third quarter GDP came in at 2.9%, the best numbers this year, but below expectations. U.S. stocks traded lower, with the S&P 500 declining 2%, from 2168.27 to 2126.15.

The World Series is a battle between two perpetual losers. It has been 108 years since the Chicago Cubs won the Series, and 71 years since they won the National League pennant. The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948. As the month ended, Cleveland led the series three games to two. 

In other news, there were two more Presidential debates and a Vice Presidential debate during the month. While audiences were large, I doubt many minds were changed. The National Museum of African-American Art opened at the Smithsonian. It hails Anita Hill, but ignores Clarence Thomas. The Orange County Republican Headquarters in Hillsborough, North Carolina was firebombed. The death toll in North Carolina from Hurricane Matthew reached twenty-two. Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. The politically incorrect satirist Jesse Wright, a man who finds nothing sacred, was criticized by the Left as racist. New York City scrapped a requirement that licensed cabbies learn English. The Obama Administration surrendered U.S. oversight over the worldwide network to a multinational organization, ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, located between Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, was allegedly solved after meteorologists discovered odd “hexagonal” – shaped clouds, between 20 and 50 miles wide, forming over the area. They are, in essence, air bombs, formed by microbursts that can reach 170 miles per hour. Twenty-nine year-old Pete Kostelnick ran from San Francisco to New York City in 42 days, beating the prior record by four days. He averaged 72 miles a day – almost three marathons a day for six weeks!

When Islamic terrorists don’t strike our country for a few weeks we forget the brutality of their attacks. But the rest of the world does not. In the first two weeks of October there were 112 such attacks by Islamic terrorists, in the Middle East, Africa and Asia that killed 955 people. Included were 284 civilians who were executed by ISIS at the Agricultural College in Mosul. The dead do not include the 140 people who died in the Saudi airstrike in Yemen. In the second half of the month, during a three-day period, 151 people were killed – 30 civilians, as an act of reprisal, in the norther n city of Feroz Koh, Afghanistan; an attack on the Police Training College in Islamabad, Pakistan that killed 59; and 62 dead in four incidents in one day in Baghdad. Islamic extremists may be off our front pages, but they remain as deadly as ever.

Thailand’s long-serving King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after seven decades on the throne. Vicente Bermudez Zacarias, the Mexican judge in the ‘El Chapo’ case, became the first federal judge assassinated in ten years. He was 37 years old. Tom Haydn, the 1960s anti-war activist, whose name will be forever linked with the Chicago-7 trial and his ex-wife Jane Fonda, died at age 76. Wodehouse fans lost Lieutenant Colonel Norman Murphy, the founder of the British branch of the International P.G. Wodehouse Society, and the author of In Search of Blandings, a 1981 tale of his search for the original of Lord Emsworth’s family castle. Col. Murphy was noted as an after-dinner speaker, where he was sometimes compared to a machinegun, as his words tumbled out without stop, often mixing Latin with English. I once accompanied him on one of his foot tours of Mayfair. He walked as fast as he spoke. Norman Murphy was 83.

In a week, this dreadful election will be over. Nobody will be satisfied, as neither candidate is liked. Those who claim that Donald Trump is unfit to be President ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton, as her e-mails have shown, is also unfit and undeserving of the office. The best outcome would be a stalemated government. Gridlock, remember, is democracy’s answer to political extremism. We have survived more difficult times, including a Civil War; so we will get by, even if it seems that we won’t. Lucy Montgomery had to be thinking of fall foliage, not of the 2016 Presidential election. On to November!   

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