Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Month That Was - October 2018

Sydney M. Williams
30 Bokum Road – Apartment 314
Essex, CT 06426

The Month That Was – October 2018
November 1, 2018

Pale amber sunlight falls across
The reddening October trees…”
                                                                                                        Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)
                                                                                                       The Poems and Prose of Ernest Dowson
Published posthumously in 1919

Ignorance about government and its Constitution threatens our nation. The Founders felt the provision of a virtue-inspired public education that includes civics imperative to the survival of the Republic they had created. Noah Webster was direct about the need for a moral sense: “The virtues of men are of more consequence to society than their abilities.” In the 1950s,” as Paul Volcker mentioned recently to Gillian Tett of the Financial Times, “courses in public administration commanded high status at universities such as Princeton. But now the phrase ‘good government’ is a mockery.” Civics is no longer universally taught. A March 2017 article in neaTodayreported that only 25% of students reach the “proficient” standard on the NAEP Civics Assessment. An article in the November 8, 2016 issue of The Atlanticnoted that 30% of Americans did not know in what century the American Revolution took place. Forty percent thought the Bill of Rights guaranteed the right to vote; 40% did not know that the Constitution gives the right to declare war to Congress; 50% did not know the terms for U.S. Senators and Representatives, and 80% did not know the origin of Lincoln’s unforgettable words: …a government of the people, by the people, for the people…” What does this portend for our countryThe direction the country is moving is not healthy for democracy. We need to calm rhetoric and emphasize the civic virtues critical to a free people.

As we approach the 100thanniversary of the Armistice that ended World War, two books, with lessons for today, are worth noting:George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England, written in 1935. The book covers three crucial events in England – Irish Home Rule, Suffrage and unionization - during the four years preceding the Great War and how attitudes and responses threatened a nation that had been the cradle of liberalism. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914by Christopher Clark covers the two or three decades leading up to the same war. The book was written in 2012 and explores the complex relationships, treaties and alliances that led well-meaning leaders into a conflict during which idealism was destroyed and sixty-million people died. Bad things happen when complacency and ignorance flourish. It is a desire for power that has caused arrogant elitists in the U.S. and Europe, who speak the language of globalism but who act with imperium. The teaching of civics, including the virtues expressed by our Founders would help restore moral principles and maintain freedoms of expression.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart, the center cannot hold…”

William Butler Yeats published “The Second Coming” in 1919, not long after the shooting stopped. While his words are a hundred years old (and are directed toward a “Second Coming”), they are relevant in a world turned upside down, where passions preclude civil debate. In the West, diversity is no longer measured in ideas, but in identities. When politicians and the media compartmentalize people, distrust is unleashed. We saw it in the Tea Party, and see it in Black Lives Matter, Antifa, White Nationalists and #MeToo. We saw hatred last week when Robert Bowers, using an assault rifle, murdered eleven Jewish worshipers (and wounded six others) at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg. Incredibly, Bowers spent an hour and eighteen minutes in the synagogue terrifying and killing the mostly older crowd. Antisemitism has been on the rise in Europe – up 10% in Germany in the first half of 2018. It has also been on the ruse in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League. We saw hatred in the acts of a Florida nut case, Cesar Altieri Sayoc, who mailed a dozen pipe bombs (none of which exploded) to a number of prominent Democrats. We saw animus in the U.S. during the Kavanaugh hearings, only redeemed by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) reasoned explanation as to why she would vote for Judge Kavanaugh: “We must always remember,” she said, “that is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy.” We have seen contempt for conservatives in restaurants where they are chased out and hostility in the Senate galleries where professional protestors heckled Judge Kavanaugh. Mud-slinging politicians have become the norm. Nobody was shocked when Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) had his Spartacus moment, or when Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) encouraged supporters to harass members of the Trump administration. Their attitudes have infected late-night TV and the media. Audiences laughed when Kathy Griffin held up a mask of Mr. Trump’s bloodied head. While the media likes to pin blame on Mr. Trump for the odium that infests our culture, its origins are rooted in a culture that celebrates violence – in movies, music and video games – and in identity politics, which serve to divide, not unite. Mr. Trump, who admittedly does not calm passions, is a consequence, not a cause.

In a supercilious article, Matt Flegenheimer wrote in The New York Timeslast month that Democrats were debating if “going high when Republicans go low” is a good strategy. What is he talking about? Governor Romney went high against President Obama who said he would bring a gun to a knife fight. Senator Collins went high and received death threats. Mr. Trump went low, but that is where his opponents were (and are). The “Swamp” that is Washington cannot be drained because if it were the city would be a ghost town. There is a tendency for those on the left to argue that “hate” speech is not protected by the First Amendment. But we should be careful about traveling that road, because once government puts limits on speech there is no knowing how restrictive they will become. A better answer is for society to instill in its young a sense of virtue. Freedom can only endure where respect for others and responsibility for one’s self exits.  

Yeats’ lines are applicable in Europe, where nationalists and unionists duel. Unintended consequences have arisen, threatening the post-War liberal world order. Election results last month in Bavaria were a manifestation of the problem. Center-right Christian Social Unionists saw their numbers decline from 47.7% of the electorate in 2013 to 35.7% in 2018. Center-left Social Democrats saw their percentage of the vote fall from 23.3% to 9.5%. The big winners were far-left Greens, who went from 10% of the vote in 2013 to 18.7% in 2018, and the far-right Alternative for Germany, which came from no-where in 2013 to 11.1% in 2018. The election in Hesse showed similar results. Angela Merkel, in response, announced she would not run for re-election as party chair of the CDU.

Apart from slow economic growth and an entitlement state that is no longer affordable, Europe’s problems have been debt, immigration and demographics. A single currency was created (1999) before political unification (yet to happen), the opposite of what happened in the United States. Here, political unification came with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, while the Dollar only became the sole currency of the United States with the passage of the National Banking Act of 1863. The Euro has made it impossible for debtor nations, like Greece and Italy, to devalue, while creditor states like Germany do not want to recognize loan losses. Birth rates in Europe have plummeted and the population is aging. The Total Fertility Rate for Europe is 1.58 (2.1 is required for replacement). The median age is 37.7. (In Germany, which now has the world’s lowest fertility rate, the median age is 45.9). William Frey of the Brookings Institute predicts by 2050 the median age for Europeans will be 52.3. Europe’s leaders are conscious that they face declining populations, which leads to a third and more visible concern – immigration. It explains their willingness to accept large numbers of immigrants. In 2015 and 2016, two million refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Europe. Forty percent of children under five are migrants, yet little has been done to assimilate them. Negative effects of unfettered immigration fall on the poor and middle classes. Elites, including government officials, are able to avoid the worst of the consequences because of where they live and where their children go to school. It is the refusal to adopt to changing conditions that has caused a decline in centrist parties.  

One outcome has been a rise in nationalist parties, composed of those who are concerned for jobs, safety, children and a loss of individual freedom. They question the wisdom of Brussels. Many have been condemned as right-wing neo-Nazis by sanctimonious governing and media elites. A book The Virtue of Nationalism, released in September, by Yoram Hazony, an Israeli philosopher, speaks to the conflict between the forces of nationalism and the post-World War II desire for unity, which has led to an omnipotent European Union. Mr. Hazony reminds readers of previous imperial attempts to suppress nation states, from the Egyptians, Persians, Romans, the Holy Roman Empire and the Austria-Hungarian Empire, to the Ottoman Empire, Napoleon’s conquest of western Europe and Hitler’s Third Reich. No matter the name – empire, imperium, realm, reich or union – the result has always been the same: the swapping of individual freedom for security and promised economic prosperity. This is not to suggest that cooperation is not helpful, especially economic and defense, for they are. But culture, custom, language and localized government are facets that distinguish nations that should be preserved, as it is from such countries that freedom emerges and thrives. A European Union that feels so insecure that it acts with contempt toward those who question its’ authority – England, Poland, Italy and Greece – is a Union for whom force will become essential. Extremism is not limited to the far-right any more than tolerance is the purview of the far-left. It is rule of law, liberty and self-government that should be the measure of the value of any society. When passions interfere with reason, things fall apart. The final two lines of Yeats’ opening stanza quoted above, while applicable to Europe are true for the U.S. and remind one of Senator Collins’ words:

“…the best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

Why has America become so divided? Identity politics has played a lead role, but also relevant is a 1987 speech by Antonin Scalia delivered to B’nai B’rith in Washington, D.C., entitled “American Values and European Values.” It is included in the posthumously published Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith and Life Well Lived. While Justice Scalia allowed that what we have in common is far greater than where we differ, there are, nevertheless, distinctions: We both believe in free speech, but Europeans are willing to suppress it, if it is offensive – the waving of a Nazi flag, or the mocking of a Muslim. Religion is more important to Americans than to Europeans, in part because people fled to this land to escape religious persecution, while those that stayed found state-controlled religion oppressive. America is more democratic. It can be messy, but it is unimaginable for Americans to live under a system where an unelected European Commission determines what national democracies can and cannot spend and do. As I read Justice Scalia’s words of thirty years ago, it struck me that many on the Left today, including academics, the media and politicians who serve them, have come to resemble their European cousins. If this is true, which I fear it is, then, contrary to what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it is not means that separate us, it is ends.


Two issues overseas claimed attention: The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident, U.S. Green Card holder and Washington Post columnist, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And the caravan of Hondurans, organized by Bartolo Fuentes of the left-wing Libre Party (allied with Venezuela and Cuba), which crossed into Guatemala, and then over the Usumacinta River into Mexico, north to the U.S. border.

The first threatens our ties to Saudi Arabia, a relationship that dates back to the close of World War II. As James Baker wrote in a New York Timesop-ed: the murder highlights the “tension between the promotion of America’s values and the protection of our interests.” Mr. Baker added that Saudi Arabia was a strategic partner in stabilizing oil markets and countering Iranian hegemony in the region, but also that “opposition to the killing of dissidents and support for a free and robust press are fundamental American principles.” The killing has given the Turks an opening in their centuries old conflict with the Saudis. Until the First World War, the Ottomans controlled all of what is now Saudi Arabia. Following the banishment of the last Sultan in 1922 and the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924, Turkey became a smaller, secular and somewhat democratic state. The autocratic Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, has abandoned any democratic tendencies. He has embraced neo-Ottoman politics and supported the Muslim Brotherhood. One irony of the episode, as Yaroslav Trofimov wrote in a Wall Street Journalarticle, is that Mr. Erdogan has gone from a pariah who jailed journalists to “a paragon of press freedom.”  Lost in the hyperbole of the media was that Mr. Khashoggi was a former press agent for Osama bin Laden. He was not, as Bruce Thornton wrote, “a critic of the Saudi regime for its human rights offenses, but for bin Salmon’s war against the Iranian -supported jihadists in Yemen.” Nevertheless, there will and should be consequences.

The second incident – the caravan making its way north – accentuates the intractable problem of finding a policy solution to immigration that satisfies all parties. It is a conundrum and has been over the past few decades. Leaving the issue unresolved serves both Parties. One claims the other lacks compassion. The other claims the first is looking for political support. But, a nation without borders is no longer a nation. On the other hand, rounding up eleven million illegals is an impossible task and, even if it were possible, contrary to our sense of humanity. We need strong borders, we need legal immigrants and we need to support those legitimately seeking asylum. But citizenship must be earned. What we don’t need are those who come in illegally, live in dark recesses, yet use our resources and participate in our elections. As mentioned above, the caravan was organized by Barbolo Fuentes. It is mainly composed of innocent men, women and children who have been duped by paid human smugglers into believing they will be able to enter the U.S. According to US intelligence sources, the caravan also includes migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. The obvious question: From where is the financing coming? The answer is embedded in another question: Who benefits from chaos in America? China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, etc.


On October 6, in confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh as Justice Kavanaugh, the Senate redeemed itself or, at least, did not worsen its reputation. However, the despicable, McCarthy-like methods of most Democrats on the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary – Dianne Feinstein, Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Dick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse – did their best to denigrate the respect in which the world’s oldest deliberative legislative body is held. The Senate’s purpose, as George Washington once explained to Thomas Jefferson, using as a metaphor the then custom of pouring hot tea into a saucer, is to “cool passions.” This time they scalded themselves.

The U.S., Canada and Mexico announced a new NAFTA agreement, which now must be approved in their respective legislatures. Rome and Brussels were at one-another’s throats over Italy’s budget. Brussels and the UK have not yet decided on the terms for Brexit, making perilous Theresa May’s position at home. At the UN, the EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini announced the creation of a new payment channel designed to bypass U.S. sanctions against Iran. Angela Merkel agreed to co-finance a liquified natural gas terminal, though her spokesman added that the decision was independent of any U.S. pressure. The Middle East, which was the birth of three of the world’s most important religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – has, for thousands of years, been a field of battle. The blood being shed in Yemen is a struggle for Mideast hegemony between the Sunnis and the Shias, the former represented by the Saudis, the latter by the Iranians. Jair Bolsonaro, a conservative, long-term Congressman and member of the Social Liberal Party, will become Brazil’s new President. He won 55% of the vote. He replaces Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party who became President when Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s Party was impeached in 2016.  For the past several years, under Socialist leaders, corruption in Brazil has been rampant and the economy has suffered, with unemployment at twelve percent. In Ireland, Michael Higgins was re-elected as president. A Jakarta-based Lion Air Boeing 737 crashed into the Java Sea thirteen minutes after take-off, killing all 189 aboard. The cause is yet to be determined.

Vice President Mike Pence, at the Hudson Institute and sounding like Ronald Reagan, denounced China’s suppression of Tibetans and Uighurs, its plan for tech dominance and its “debt diplomacy” through its “Belt and Road Initiative.” He highlighted a new U.S.-China rivalry based on economics and military strength. Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet next month in Argentina at the G-20. President Trump said he would pull the U.S. from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibits the use of intermediate and shorter-range rockets, as well as testing, producing or fielding new ground-based missiles. The dispute dates back to 2014 when the Obama Administration first accused Russia of violations. “Russia,” according to a senior administration official, “continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency.” A proposed meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin may quash this burgeoning problem. Critics of the President claim he is destroying the structure of liberalism that has allowed the world to avoid a third world war. Supporters suggest his foreign policy has halted America’s decline abroad and reflects a realists’ world view. 


Absent the deadly and devastating Hurricane Michael, which hit Florida’s panhandle with category 4 winds, midterm elections dominated the domestic news. The month began with an expected “Blue Wave,” not surprisingly, as the minority party typically picks up seats in off-year elections. But a combination of the Kavanaugh hearings and the caravan heading north from Honduras worked to temper that wave. Democrats want to turn the conversation to health care; Republicans, to the economy and immigration. As the month ended, the expectation is that Republicans will retain control of the Senate, but the House will fall to Democrats. But, in truth, the elections are too close to call.

In terms of the stock market, October lived up to its reputation. The DJIA declined 5.1 percent. The airwaves and pages were filled with explanations – many of them of the “I told you so” variety – slowing global growth, a peaking domestic economy, high multiples, too-high interest rates (a favorite of the President’s), disappointing revenue growth in the recent quarter, the effect of tariffs (a favorite of the President’s critics). My advice: The market will fluctuate. Keep in mind, stocks are up almost three-fold in the past nine and a half years. On the other hand, the CAGR of the DJIA has been a modest 4.4% since the 21stCentury began. GDP for the third quarter was reported plus 3.5 percent, driven by domestic consumption and defense. Consumer sentiment, at 98.5%, is the strongest since 2000. Unemployment is at the lowest level since 1969, with Black and Hispanic unemployment at all-time lows. Labor participation, however, remains low at 62.7 percent. For the first time in its history, GE turned to an outsider (but board member), Larry Culp, to replace John Flannery as CEO. The company also cut its dividend to $0.01, affecting 600,000 current and retired GE employees. Sears filed for bankruptcy. Brussel’s said they want to equip regulators with more direct oversight over London clearing houses. The UK objects. The U.S. sides with Britain. A top U.S. bank regulator warned Brussels that Europe’s banks could be cut off from U.S. futures markets, saying the EU was being “completely irresponsible.”


In other news internationally, Palestine was elected to lead the UN’s G77 group of emerging nations, even though it is not recognized as a member state. Meng Honqwei, a Chinese national and Chief of Interpol, was recalled home from his Paris office and stripped of his title. He is now feared dead. Kim Jong Yang of South Korea replaced him. A gunman in Crimea killed seventeen students and wounded dozens, in a shooting at a vocational college. Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, was released from a Turkish prison where he had been held for two years. An aborted launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, due to a booster malfunction, left two astronauts – one Russian and one American – unable to reach the International Space Station. No one was hurt. Emmanuel Macron’s approval ratings plummeted to 33 percent. He is seen as arrogant and out-of-touch. The death toll from the Tsunami that hit Indonesia in September has now been put at 1,550. William Nordhaus of Yale and Paul Romer of NYU shared the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for their work on climate change and innovation. A painting, “Girl with Balloon,” by the British street artist and prankster Bansky, self-destructed after fetching $1,4 million at Sotheby’s in London. In the decision as to whose face will grace the new £50 note, The New York Timescriticized the possibility of Margaret Thatcher. “She remains,” Amie Tsang wrote, “a sharply divisive figure decades after her tenure.” Meghan Markle announced she is pregnant with a baby who will be seventh in line to the British throne.

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the world series. Twenty people died when the limo carrying them crashed in the small village of Schoharie, New York. A white gunman killed two African-Americans in a Louisville, Kentucky supermarket. In an unusual move, government workers in California unseated Priya Mathur, CALPERS president. She was defeated by Jason Perez, a police official who criticized Ms. Mathur’s focus on environmental and social investing. Mr. Perez emphasized that the fiduciary responsibility of CALPERS is to maximize investor returns. Alan Dershowitz, a liberal professor emeritus from Harvard Law School, said that among the casualties of the Kavanaugh hearings was the ACLU, which claims to be non-partisan, yet spent over a million dollars to oppose Judge Kavanaugh. Hillary and Bill Clinton announced they would visit four cities this year and nine next year, for a “conversation.” The sight of old politicians trying to be relevant is reminiscent of William Jennings Bryant showing up in Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. “Stormy” Daniels’ defamation suit against Donald Trump was tossed out and she was told to pay the President’s legal fees. Elizabeth Warren claims she was right, that a DNA test shows she is between 1/64thand 1/1024thNative American. She did not explain why she claimed to be Native American, when employed at the University of Pennsylvania’s and Harvard’s law schools. A memorial erected in 1925 to honor soldiers from Prince George’s County in Maryland killed in the Great War was found to be unlawful by the Fourth U.S. Court of Appeals, as the memorial’s cross shape violates the Constitution. If this decision stands, other memorials may be at risk, including, according to Jeremy Dys writing in the Wall Street Journal, “the Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, the Argonne Cross and perhaps the Tomb of the Unknowns.” President Trump found a painting of himself he likes. It is an updated painting by Andy Thomas, which depicts Abraham Lincoln talking to Republican Presidents. Mr. Trump was inserted in the center, with his white shirt drawing the viewers eye.  Rapper Kanye West, wearing a red MAGA hat, visited the President at the White House.

Death claimed Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft at 65. Dave Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sports writer for The New York Timesdied at 93. Joachim Ronneberg, who as a 23-year-old resistance fighter in Norway led a group that destroyed a German hydroelectric plant in 1943. His exploits were memorialized in the 1965 British film, “The Heroes of Telemark,” He died at 99. William “Bill” Coors, former chairman of Adolph Coors Co. and grandson of the founder, died at 102. He had continued to be the official beer tester until his 100thbirthday.

The world is fragile. As Americans, no matter our differences, we should recognize there is no country better equipped to maintain the peace. You don’t see refugees seeking asylum in Russia, China, Cuba or Venezuela. Refugees seem to instinctively understand our wealth is a function of capitalism, which stems from democracy; and that liberty emerges from a moral foundation, which allows for civil give and take of ideas. Don’t let it fail.

Tuesday is election day. Despite the dissonance and a plethora of dissidents, we are fortunate to live in this nation. Everyone eligible should do their duty and vote; it is a sacred right, unavailable to most people in the world and too infrequently exercised here. Welcome to November.  

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