Monday, December 17, 2018

"Morality and Evolution"

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

Thought of the Day
“Morality and Evolution”
December 17, 2018

Science is the search for truth, that is the effort to understand the world:
It involves the rejection of bias, of dogma, of revelation, but not the rejection of morality.
                                                                                                        Linus Pauling (1901-1994)
American chemist, educator, peace activist

Recently, a granddaughter, a senior in high school, was asked to write an essay on morality and evolution. It was a subject that caught my imagination. Was not Jesus, who lived two thousand years ago, the most moral person ever? Can one argue we are more ethical today? Do our grandchildren have better manners than did our grandparents as children? How did a world that produced the Enlightenment, two hundred years later create a Hitler and a Stalin? Would anyone suggest that Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are more respectful of others, have higher ethical standards and are less narcissistic than George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison? It is hard not to conclude we have witnessed a reverse form of evolution, at least when it comes to morality

Evolution is a natural condition. Civilizations evolve, mostly for the better. Consider the buildings we live in, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the cars we drive. Technology has changed the way we communicate, how we shop and the care we provide the sick. We have sent men into space. We grow more crops on less acreage. Evolutionary forces have reduced poverty and extended life expectancy. Even laws and prisons have become less draconian. Government has evolved – from authoritarianism to democracy. According to the website, 13 million people lived in democracies in 1830, while 3.92 billion did in 2012. Additionally, racial segregation has been addressed and government care is provided the elderly and impoverished. There has been a downside. War has become more horrific. A small number of social media companies influence how we think; privacy issues have been raised, and the prospect of cyber-war fare has increased. Still, technology-driven evolutionary forces have given us much, including time. But have they made us more gracious and considerate? Has compassionate government made us more respectful, thoughtful and thankful?

Different people will offer different answers, but one possibility is what William McGurn recently called “The Crisis of Good Intentions,” reminding this reader of Milton Friedman: “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than results.” In his Wall Street Journalop-ed, Mr. McGurn noted that there are those who claim that capitalism is facing an existential crisis. He cited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (“wild-west capitalism”), Thomas Pikety (“patrimonial capitalism”) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (the gig economy is “the reincarnation of an ancient evil”). These are people who see capitalism as pernicious and government as the genesis for equality and social good. Yet California, the most socialistic of U.S. states, has the greatest income inequality of any state. It has the highest poverty rate, as measured by the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which allows for differences in cost-of-living; yet, with 12% of the nation’s population, it is home to 24% of the nation’s billionaires. In his op-ed, William McGurn quoted Chapman University’s Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky: “California is creating a feudalized society, characterized by the ultra-rich, a diminishing middle class and a large, rising segment that is in or near poverty.” Does that not present a moral imperative?

Europe and California have become fiefdoms of hypocritical elites who brook no quarter with those with whom they disagree. Consider the climate change debate. To believers, man is principally responsible for the earth’s changing climate, reminding one of mythical King Canute’s conceit. Natural forces play no role. Salvation depends on obeisance to rules laid out by non-elected bureaucrats. If the end is worthy, so the well-intentioned proclaim, cost is immaterial. Yet carbon taxes – like those on lotteries, sports betting and marijuana sales – are regressive. Arrogance follows, as elites are segregated from average Americans. 

Politicians have found success in the obverse of John Kennedy’s famous dictum: promise what government can provide; disregard what voters can do. Yet all promises come at a cost – not only in dollars, but in ethical standards. The dollar cost is an inconvenient fact, studiously avoided. Diminution in morality is simply ignored. Promising more has become habitual, with voters rising to the bait. Government’s offer of low-interest student loans led to a rise in tuitions. A focus on regulation slows the pace of economic growth and perpetuates a permanent administrative state. Today, like Orpheus with his gifted voice, politicians charm the electorate, promising an Earth where oceans will recede, tuition-free college and birth to death care. The result is increased dependency and reduced self-reliance, habits that lead to sloth and irresponsibility. Morality stems from civility, decency, self-esteem and respect for others. It finds its foundation in the dignity of work, not the dishonor of idleness. It evolved from the Golden Rule of doing unto others what one would have done unto them – a rule once taught by parents to children and teachers to students. And it characterizes America’s middle class, which tribalism threatens to destroy.    

America’s middle class – a varied, un-compartmentalizable, but shrinking segment of the population – is unified by a value system based on a Christian-Judeo ethic, archaic in today’s global, multi-cultural world. These Americans are unique, in that they represent a cross-section of the world’s population – West and East Europeans, Asians, Africans and Latins. They believe in the rule of law, in the precept that hard work is fundamental to success, that strength comes from what we share, not how we differ. They are more likely to have nuclear families, to be church-goers and to be involved in their communities. Identity politics are useful to politicians, for they segment the electorate into identifiable groups. But the result is division, not unity, which, in turn, leads to personal greed – getting what one wants is more important than getting along.
Albert Schweitzer once allegedly wrote, “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other humans.” It is an obvious truth, as morality is only necessary within a societal structure. The reason we were taught to be polite, to open doors, listen to others and to be respectful is that such behavior is imperative to civil relations. We understand the role smart phones and video games have had on social interaction. But this change in social behavior pre-dates the advent of the internet and social media. Church attendance has been falling throughout the post-War years. Out-of-wedlock births have risen. In his 2001 book, “Bowling Alone,” Harvard Professor Robert Putnam described the collapse of community organizations. There has been a concomitant decline in volunteerism, despite a rise in the over-65 crowd. The pending bankruptcy of the Boy Scouts of America, with its oath, “On my honor, I will do my duty to God and my country,” is not only a consequence of alleged sexual misconduct, but declining membership. What twelve-year-old boy today would recite that oath, so dated and out-of-sync in a world where honor is passé andwhere “God” and “country” are denigrated? We ask: are today’s PC police better than yesterday’s parents, ministers and teachers?

None of this fully explains why morality has failed to evolve, but perhaps provides clues. My granddaughter, who recently found out she will be attending Bucknell University next fall, was as perplexed as I, as to why ethical standards have retreated. Nevertheless, we both believe culture plays a role, and that the pursuit of happiness means traveling a road paved with a moral sense.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"The Strange Death of Liberal England"

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

Burrowing into Books
Reviews of Selective Readings

                                                                                                                                 December 8, 2018

“The Strange Death of Liberal England”
George Dangerfield

English biography adroitly stops in 1910 and starts again in 1914.”

But the death of liberal England…was a brief but
complete phase in the spiritual life of the nation.”
                                                                                                George Dangerfield (1904-1986)
                                                                                                The Strange Death of Liberal England, 1935

World War I was only seventeen years in the past, and World War II four years in the future, when George Dangerfield, English born and Oxford educated, wrote this book, which is still in print.The result is an informative, literate and witty history of the four years preceding the Great War. It is a record, as Mr. Dangerfield writes, “not of great events but of little ones, which…slowly undermined England’s Parliamentary structure, until, but for the providential intervention of a world war, it would certainly have collapsed.” Whether that is correct or not will never be known; nevertheless,it is a lesson we, today, would be wise to heed,

During forty-nine of the sixty-three years between 1859 and 1922 Liberal Prime Ministers held office. These were men of high moral character who had been influenced by the Enlightenment. They were globalists and favored free trade. They had witnessed, encouraged and benefitted from the expansion of the British Empire, which they saw as destiny. They had seen the landed aristocracy gradually replaced by wealth from the Industrial Revolution and the concomitant rise of a merchant class. Yet they were British to the core, consumed with a sense of superiority.

Dangerfield sets the stage of late Edwardian England when Herbert Henry Asquith, 1stEarl of Oxford and Asquith served as Prime Minister, which he did until 1916 when he was replaced by fellow Liberal David Lloyd George, 1stEarl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor: “…the House of Lords…was filled with a horde of hereditary nobodies, possessed with a gentlemanly anxiety to do the wrong thing…” Edward VII,“just comfortably disreputable.” The new King George V (who had replaced Edward VII who died in May 1910) “…was not going to be fashionable. It now appeared he was going to be dull.” 

It was a focus on protecting the Empire that caused political leaders to underestimate the effect of “little events” percolating at home: the suffrage movement, the growth of unions and the Irish question. The suffrage movement had been a long-time brewing. It had begun in Yorkshire in 1832 and thirty-fours later promoted by John Stuart Mill, among others. Like suffrage, trade unions had been on a long boil, with the first trade unions created in the 1820s. Similarly, Catholic Ireland, which had been advocating for independence, found a willing listener in Lord Asquith’s Liberal Party, in an exchange for electoral support. These three forces merged, with meaningful consequences, in the years 1910-1914. 

As well, England’s leaders failed to understand the complex alliances that tied different countries together, and they underestimated the empirical desires of a recently unified Germany.

George Dangerfield wrote: “It was in these years [1910-1914]that that highly moral, that generous, that dyspeptic, that utterly indefinable organism known as the Liberal Party died the death. It died from poison administered by its Conservative foes, and from disillusion over the inefficacy of the word ‘Reform.’ And the last breath which fluttered in this historical flesh was extinguished by War.” 

The War did come. On the evening of August 4th, 1914, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey looked out the window of the Foreign Office and said to a friend, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit in our lifetime.” He did see them re-lit, for he died in 1933, but not before 20 million people died, including more than 700,000 from the British Empire.

Problems that plagued pre-War England began to be addressed in the post-War period. The Representation of the People Act of 1918 enfranchised women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications. But it was not until 1928 that Parliament passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act that gave the vote to all women over twenty-one. In 1922, Ireland became a free state, excluding six north eastern, predominantly Protestant counties. Union problems persisted, with the rail strike of 1919 and a general strike in 1926. It was not until after World War II – in the 1950s and ‘60s – that wages truly gained traction.

The book ends with a poignant reminder that the liberal England that went extinct in those pre-War years was a time of “Beauty and Certainty and Grace, and where nothing was real.” He quotes Rupert Brooke on leaving Rugby around 1903: “As I looked back upon five years, I seemed to see almost every hour golden and radiant, and always increasing in beauty…” It was a world captured by P.G. Wodehouse. Dangerfield concludes his book: “Today we know it(those pre-War years) for what it was; but there are moments, very human moments, when we could almost find it in our hearts to envy those who saw it, and never lived to see the new world.”

Saturday, December 1, 2018

"The Month That Was - November 2018"

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – November 2018
December 1, 2018

November comes
 And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.”
                                                                                                    Elizabeth Coatsworth (1893-1986) 
                                                                                                   “November,” 1928

November was the meanmonth, or, rather, another meanmonth. Tweets, inanities, recriminations and a general sense of unpleasantness, swept the nation and Europe:In the U.S., ballots disappeared, others became water-damaged and some arrived without signatures. In Europe, France’s Emmanuel Macron, already on the ropes for the economy, called for a European military force: “We must protect ourselves with respect to China, Russia and even the United States.This was said with President Trump, leader of the country that pays over 70% of the continent’s defense through NATO, standing nearby. This nastiness occurred despite the month hosting the great American holiday of Thanksgiving. Instead of giving thanks for living in this great land, the media and political elites went out of their way to find fault with anyone or anything that got in the way of their ideology, especially Donald J. Trump – witness the election results in Florida and Georgia and blame for the California wildfiresThe crevasse created by identity politics, Mr. Trump’s Tweets and Trump haters grows wider and deeperBridging it grows more difficult and less likely.  

Consider Jamal Khashoggi – not an admirable character, and not just because he was a columnist for The Washington Post, but because he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a right-wing, religiopolitical organization. Nevertheless, his murder was despicable and undoubtedly leaders in Saudi Arabia had fore-knowledge of the killing. But, spare me the hypocrisy – that does not make angels of those crying foul. Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other nation according to PBS. Iran is a hotbed of exporting terrorism. Yemen is ground zero in the battle between Shias and Sunnis, with Iran supporting the Houthi rebels who have infiltrated the country against the Saudi-supported government. Mr. Trump does himself a disservice in the crudity of his response, but had he singled out MBS (Mohammad bin Salman) for blame, the media and the left would have found fault for his cozying up to the Turkish dictator. As well, they would blame him for a spike in oil prices, which undoubtedly would have followed an abandonment of our decades-old relationship with the Kingdom. What Mr. Trump should do, with MBS in the spotlight, is pull concessions from the Saudis. He has already told the Saudis to end the bloodshed in Yemen, but he should do more. He should push them to restore ties with Qatar and to ensure the Gulf Cooperation Council remains effective. He should pressure the Saudis to recognize Israel. Keep in mind, the Saudis remained our ally after 9/11, despite fifteen of the nineteen hijackers being Saudi citizens. And it was President Obama who, in September 2016, vetoed a bill that held Saudi Arabia legally accountable for 9/11. Fortunately, Congress overrode his veto. Just remember, there are no clear consciences when a democratic nation’s interests require allying with a dictator.

Elections in the United States were much as expected, though counting extended into the middle of the month, and one Senate race – Mississippi – not decided until November 27. (Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith won by eight points.) Some results were not accepted by those that lost, reminding one of Anthony Trollope’s 1858 novel, Dr. Thorne: “…no political delinquency is abominable in the eyes of British politicians, but no delinquency is so abominable as that of venality at elections.” The bottom line: Democrats took over the House, while Republicans increased their lead in the Senate.

Each side declared victory, but it depended on where one placed the tape. Democrats noted that the pick-up of 39 or 40 seats in the House (California’s 21stDistrict is still undecided) as the greatest increase by Democrats in a generation. The fact that, in 2010, Democrats lost 63 House seats and 7 Senate seats to Republicans was ignored. They also down-played the fact that Republicans picked up two Senate seats and will no longer have to contend with Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. Republicans did worse in those states with high taxes – states where the wealthy lost their SALT (state and local taxes) deductions in the 2018 Tax Reform Bill. For example, Connecticut and Massachusetts remained 100% blue in Congressional seats. Republicans lost eight seats in California, five in New Jersey, at least three seats in New York and two in Illinois. As well, SALT was responsible for Republican-seat losses in Virginia and Minnesota. In generally, in those states where Mr. Trump campaigned most aggressively for Senate races, Republicans did well. That, in spite of the fact that Mr. Trump is not the most charming or diplomatic of Presidents. The election brought a record number of women to serve in Congress, 102. It elected the nation’s first Muslim and two Native Americans. Massachusetts and Michigan voted to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. The 47% turnout was a fifty-year high, according to NPR. A “blue wave” of wealthy suburbanites was met by a “red wall” of working and rural Americans.

A common complaint is that a divided and gridlocked government is bad. Yet, the Constitution was designed to make governing hard. The Founders did not want a “Big Brother” panopticon, nor did they want a National Socialist-like synopticon. They designed a government where rule of law, not men, would prevail; where the majority ruled, but rights of minorities would be protected. They chose a system that would disperse power, not centralize it, where liberty triumphed over efficiency.

The spat between President Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts is worth a few sentences. Mr. Trump is outspoken. No one should be surprised by his impetuosity and lack of tact. On the other hand, Chief Justice Roberts was wrong to imply that the Court is above political partisanship, else why the ruckus regarding the confirmation process? Has Mr. Roberts forgotten the rebuke he received from President Obama during the latter’s 2010 State of the Union, when he and his Court were chastised for the Citizen’s United decision? Over the past half century, the Court has become increasingly divided between those who believe in a “living” Constitution and originalists who believe in judicial restraint. The former use judicial activism to reflect changing customs and mores; the latter apply the law based on the meaning of the words in the Constitution at the time they were written. For conservative judges, changes in the Constitution should come from the people via their elected representatives and the legislative process, not imposed undemocratically by nine unelected justices. The 9thCircuit Court is a liberal court, which no one can deny, not even Chief Justice Roberts. Regardless, what Mr. Trump said was nowhere near as damaging as what President Franklin Roosevelt attempted, when he proposed legislation in 1937 that would have increased the Court’s size from nine to fifteen. It failed, despite Democrat majorities in both chambers. 

The Camp Fire north of Sacramento burned 153,000 acres, killed 85, destroyed 14,000 homes, decimated the town of Paradise and left unaccounted 267 people. Governor Jerry Brown blamed global warming. President Trump cited mis-management of forest lands. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, issued regulations that will do away with the Salem witch trial-atmosphere that exists on college campuses. It does not grant the accused “due process” and it ignores the right of the accused to face their accusers. In a decision that came with no surprise, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his resignation.

Immigration remained in the news with migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador arriving at our southern border. In Tijuana, 6,000 migrants were protested. When some tried to scale the wall they were stopped. A few were disease carrying, three with Tuberculosis. Some are asylum seekers, who are generally accepted; most are economic migrants, searching for better working conditions. The former must be verified. The latter must go through the normal immigration process. Determining who is who is one of the jobs of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Immigration is a dicey issue that has been politicized by the left and the right. In an interview with The Guardian, Hillary Clinton criticized the open immigration policies of Angela Merkel in 2015, saying it led to “rightwing populists,” but she then went on to equate those who question open immigration as racist and xenophobic. 

Globally, Mr. Trump, like all of his predecessors, must play a balancing act. At times, he must ally with those who are of despicable character and who play by different rules. His job is to keep Americans safe and to maintain America’s interests, which extend from stability between hostile parties to keeping open the skies and seas for American commerce. He understands the consequences of Henry Kissinger’s maxim: “The weak grow strong by effrontery – the strong grow weak through inhibition.” 

Mr. Trump is playing a high-stakes game regarding trade. He prefers unilateral trade agreements to multilateral ones – that the former better serve America’s interests. (Incidentally, while in Buenos Aires Mr. Trump and the presidents of Mexico and Canada signed the new trade pact.) Mr. Trump is a free-trader, or so he has said several times, but has used tariffs to achieve compliance on the part of those who have taken advantage of our generosity (and naiveté) and who have stolen American technology, especially China. There is no way of knowing if he will succeed. Total free trade will never occur – think of how the French protect their farmers and how we protect sugar consortiums – but the world is better off, as we move closer to that goal.

Heavier sanctions were imposed on the exporting of Iranian oil, but with exemptions being granted to eight countries – the purpose: keep oil price increases in check. Higher oil prices benefit all producers, including the renegade states of Iran, Russia and Venezuela. On November 21 Interpol elected as president Kim Jong-yang of South Korea and a former vice president of Interpol for Asia. He defeated the lead candidate, Alexander Prokochuck of the Interpol Mosco office. As Senator Marco Rubio said, putting General Prokochuck in charge of Interpol would have been akin to “putting the fox in the henhouse.” 

Brexit wobbled toward the March 29 finish line. Theresa May and the EU agreed on terms. Parliament will now have to approve the deal. But will they? Will the March 29 deadline be sacrosanct? Will Brexit improve democracy and the economy? What about Ireland and the border? During the month two cabinet ministers resigned over the agreement Mrs. May negotiated: Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. Brexit is not about weakening the EU, nor is it an attempt by Great Britain to reassert itself as a “great power.” It is about nationalism of the good kind, where laws governing citizens are made by the people’s representatives; it is about self-interest; it is about borders and trade agreements that reflect the wishes and needs of the people, and it is about British laws that govern British people being adjudicated in British courts, not the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Britain is no longer the “great power” it once was, but it was from that small island that democracy and the Enlightenment emerged. 

The month ended with the Group of 20 (G20) holding their 13thmeeting in Buenos Aires, bringing together allies and antagonists. Besides the United States, two representatives from the European Union are there along with four European countries, three from Latin America, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Australia, Canada, India, Russia, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Mr. Trump will meet privately with China’s Xi Jinping, but not with Mr. Putin.

Amazon made its choice(s): Long Island City, New York and Arlington, Virginia. New York had to offer about $3 billion in tax and other incentives; Virginia, about half that amount. New York’s bribe (to call it what it is) created interesting opponents to the deal: Conservatives who objected to the payment on principle; Queen’s residents who expect rents to rise and roads and subways to be more crowded, and the The New York Timesthat thought the dollars would have been better spent on infrastructure and social services. With consumers focused on SUVs and trucks (65% of new car sales), GM announced the closing of five plants in North America, affecting up to 14,000 jobs, causing a flurry of Trump Tweets. United Technologies announced it would spin off to shareholders their Otis and Carrier operations. 

The DJIA rose 1.7% in a volatile month. Crude oil prices (WTI) declined 21% in November. While Ohio became the first state to accept Bitcoins in payment of taxes, the price fell 36% during the month. The Federal Reserve has raised the rate on fed funds three times this year. Will they in December? I don’t know but suspect they will. Rates remain historically low. The yield on the Ten-year is at 3.02%, about 150 basis points below the post-War average, even if one removes the exceptionally high rates of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Given a current CPI rate of 2.5%, current interest rates favor borrowers, not investors. It is, of course, in government’s self-interest to keep rates low, as deficits keep adding to debt. The Social Security Administration reported in November that for the first time in thirty-five years benefits paid out exceeded taxes paid in and interest generated from the Social Security Trust Fund. By 2034, the Agency estimates it will have depleted all the funds in the Trust.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg faced growing criticism from liberal Democrats like Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobucher of Minnesota. Commenting on a story in The New York Times about Russian hackers and Facebook’s response, Senator Blumenthal said it was a “…chilling reminder that big tech can no longer be trusted.” Zuckerberg responded like a wimpy, irresponsible omega dog, first blaming Sheryl Sandberg and then suggesting that “a government-sponsored group” (not the legislature?) should “ultimately make the final judgment on what should be acceptable speech in a community.” 

Mary Keitany of Kenya won the women’s New York marathon, with a time of 2:22:48. The second-place finisher was three minutes behind. Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa won the men’s version in a time of 2:05:59. A Wall Street Journalarticle highlighted Duke’s star freshman basketball player, Zion Williamson – “…the size of Charles Barkley who can jump like Michael Jordan.”  Phil Mickelson beat Tiger Woods in their $9 million pay-per-view match in Las Vegas, in an event billed as golf’s first pay-per-view broadcast. 

A suicide bomber in Kabul killed fifty-five and wounded ninety-four. Blame fell on ISIS, as Afghan officials said the brutality exceeded even that of the Taliban! John Chau, an American missionary on North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Sea, was killed by natives. A jury was selected in the “el Chapo” trial that began in a Brooklyn federal court. The defendant is Mexico’s 10thrichest man, Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzmán whose drug trafficking has made him a billionaire. Andrés Manuel López (AMLO), an extreme leftist who aspires to centralize power, will be Mexico’s new President. Tensions tightened when Russia intercepted, fired upon and then seized three Ukrainian ships and their crew off Crimea, near the Kerch Strait that separates the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s President-elect, announced his country would be moving its embassy to Jerusalem. The BBC introduced a new, more inclusive, policy toward diversity, adding QIPA (questioning, intersex, polyamorous and asexual) to LGBTQ. Englishman, Ross Edgely, who has more in common with the 19thCentury men who created the British Empire than the BBC, completed a 74-day, 2000-mile swim around Britain. Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old Dutchman, filed suit to have his age lowered, complaining that his age hurt him on dating sites. 

Lewis Farrakhan, the American Nation of Islam leader who has referred to Jews as “termites” and who has been embraced by Women’s March leader Linda Sansour, shouted “Death to Israel” and Death to America,” while on a visit to the University of Tehran law school. Pakistan militants attacked the Chinese consulate in Karachi, in protest against China’s planned Belt-and-Road initiative (BRI), known in Pakistan as CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor). Besides the leverage that BRI gives China over its neighbors, resentment in the Islamic world is building toward China’s internment of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province. Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan, resigned her position as leader of her party after suffering “stunning” local election defeats to pro-China opposition. Writing in The New York Times, Chris Horton reported: “Voters[in Taiwan]weren’t necessarily focused on China…Stagnant wage growth, severe air pollution…and other domestic…” played a role. But don’t underestimate China! In Switzerland, The Horned Cow Initiative failed. It would have provided subsidies to farmers who allow cows and goats to keep their horns. 

November’s midterm election held a few surprises, including the election of Dennis Hof to a seat in the Arizona state legislature. Mr. Hof, a Republican and owner of several brothels in Nevada and a star of the HBO series Cathouse, had died on October 16. It is common in some of our cities to have the deceased vote; it is less common to elect them to office. Tickets went on sale for Michelle Obama’s ten-city North American tour for her book Becoming. The website Vividtickets showed tickets with average sales prices ranging from $145.00 in Detroit to $287.00 in San Jose. “Meet and Greet” tickets, according to the website, sell for up to $10,316.00. It is unclear if a book is included in the price. Book deals, a Netflix deal and speaker fees have made the Obama’s one of America’s wealthiest families, with an estimated net worth of $135 million. Converting public service into private wealth has become the norm among ex-Presidents, especially Democrats. First it was the Clintons; now the Obamas. When Harry Truman left the White House in 1953, he was offered lucrative corporate positions. He responded: “You don’t want me…you want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me…It belongs to the American people, and it’s not for sale.” What would he say today? Pete Davidson, who claims to be a comic, mocked Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw on “Saturday Night Live.” He said he looked like a “hit man in a porno movie,” then added parenthetically: “I know he lost his eye in war or whatever.” Crenshaw handled the offensive remark with class. In contrast to Mr. Crenshaw, Jim Acosta of CNN was rude and obnoxious in lecturing Mr. Trump and monopolizing a press conference. When asked to give up the microphone, he refused. For man-handling one of the White House interns he had his White House press card temporarily pulled. It is the difference between the accomplished but humble Mr. Crenshaw and the grandstanding and arrogant Mr. Acosta that says so much about civility today. 

The Borderline Bar and Grill was the scene of a horrific shooting in Thousand Oaks, California, with thirteen dead, including one police officer and the gunman. Two victims and the gunman died, following a shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida. A 7.0 earthquake shook Anchorage but left no casualties. The City of San Francisco voted to levy a “homeless” tax on city businesses with over $50 million in revenues, to help address the out-of-control homeless problem. Will money be able to do what culture has not? A Democrat activist, James Polite, was charged with vandalizing a New York synagogue, just days after eleven people were shot in a Pittsburg synagogue. Hashtag Resist member Wednesday Martin penned an essay for CNN: “What if Women Went on a Sex Strike Before the Midterms?” Her suggestion: no sex unless you vote for a Democrat. She compared herself – somewhat grandly – to Aristophane’s Lysistrata who urged women to go on a sex strike to get men, on both sides, to end the Peloponnesian War. Antifa members surrounded the home of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson. “We know where you sleep at night,” was the chant they screamed out and later posted on social media. 

The White House released a report, mandated by Congress and produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, on the consequences of climate change for the United States. Keep in mind, any prediction going out decades is subject to guess work. Nevertheless, the paper, as reported in The Wall Street Journal, said “…the globe is warming, a process driven largely by land-use changes, including cutting down forests and paving over natural surfaces, and rising emissions of greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels and methane from livestock production.” The report added:North America’s share of global carbon emissions dropped from 24% in 2004 to 17% in 2013.” Headlines were hyperbolic. Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, wrote: “Sadly, accurate science doesn’t make for good television; predicting the end of times does.” Fossil fuels maybe responsible for global warming (though the earth warmed and cooled long before man arrived on the scene), and perhaps the consequences will be dire for their continued use. But they have been used for 200 years. They have made possible faster and cheaper transportation, and less expensive the heating and cooling of our homes. They have elevated living standards around the globe. We should continue the transition from fossil fuels to investing in green R&D. But imposing carbon taxes must be weighed against the costs to economic growth. Man has altered the earth; of that there is no question. But when one average hurricane can produce, as NASA scientists have reported, the energy equivalent of 10,000 nuclear weapons or enough energy to produce all the electricity the world consumes in six months, nature remains the more indomitable force. Speaking of NASA, the spacecraft InSight became the eighth to land on Mars. It is expected to spend two years researching the planet’s core.

Azrael, the Angel of God, appeared and, on the last day of the month took away the youthful World War II hero, Commander in Chief during the First Gulf War and the 41stPresident of the U.S. George H.W. Bush at 94. He followed his wife Barbara by seven months. Stan Lee of Marvel Comics died at 95. And a good friend from my Salomon days, George Hadfield, died at 80.

In this season of Thanksgiving and Christian celebration, it is worth remembering who we are and whence we came. America is a work-in-progress, ever striving toward perfection. It has been so for nigh on four hundred years. It was built on many foundations:Individuals who had the courage to cross the seas to begin new lives unencumbered by repressive governments and religions. It was built by men and women who relied on initiative and diligence, who believed that all people were equal in the eyes of God and in the ideal that the opportunity for success should be open to all. It was built on the belief that religion and morality were inseparable. It was built on the concept of rule of law, not men. And it was built on a belief in private enterprise, which government might regulate but that should be owned and managed by private owners – creating bourgeoise values that have produced a strong middle-class.

In terms of working toward those ideals, America has made great strides, but we have also lost some ground. The Heritage Foundation has noted that people today work eight hours less a week than they did fifty years ago. We have far more work-saving appliances, giving us more leisure time. The Brookings Institute has noted that economic success is related to choice, not discrimination – that finishing high school, getting a full-time job, marrying before having children are the best paths toward a middle-class life. But we have become less religious and more secular and have seen a decline in moral and civil behavior. We don’t value work in the same way. We are more dependent on government. With economic well-being largely(but not everywhere)ours, it is sad to realize that so many Americans lack pride in their country. Yet, those on the outside see something we on the inside don’t. Last July, Gallup found that fewer than half of all Americans say they are extremely proud to be American.  On the other hand, there are an estimated 710 million people world-wide who would like to migrate, for reasons of work, food and safety. When asked by the World Economic Forum to which country they would choose to emigrate, 21% named the United States. Germany was named by 6%, and England, France and Canada by five percent. Perhaps those now here who see the U.S. as an imperialist, racist country should swap places with the 150 million who would like to be here? But I guess they would not. Instead, I suspect most believe, as Abraham Lincoln wrote in an 1862 message to Congress, that we are “…the last, best hope of earth.”

We are lucky to be here, and we should give thanks that we are. We owe it to those who came before us, to work hard and reap what our ancestors sowed. We should take pride in this land.

Welcome to December.