Wednesday, May 1, 2019

"The Month That Was - April 2019"

Sydney M. Williams

The Month That Was – April 2019
May 1, 2019

Elections should be held on April 16 – the day after we pay our income taxes.
That is one of the few things that might discourage politicians from being big spenders.”
                                                                                    Thomas Sowell (1930-)
                                                                                    Economist and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institute

It wasn’t so much the release of the Mueller report – that was expected, as were its contents, at least by people like me – it was the reaction of Democrats, and others with TDS (Trump Derangemnt Syndrome), which showed that hatred for the President supersedes concern for liberalism. The report stated that no member of the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to sway the 2016 election. The report also said that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges of obstruction against the President. A bill of clean health, presented by a man who was no fan of the President, should have been reason to move onto other issues:immigration, healthcare, defense, taxes and debt, even Socialism, if that’s what the people prefer – issues on which reasonable people disagree and that are of importance to us all, to our democracy. Instead, the left is playing to its extremist base – pursuing any avenue, including impeachment, that can hamper the President, in his quest for re-election. The Mueller investigation was initiated by Democrats, but it is a game on which there are two sides. In the next few weeks, Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to issue his summation of possible abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by top officials in the Obama Administration, and the role played by the Steele Dossier, which was compiled on behalf of Fusion GPS and paid for by the Clinton Campaign and the DNC. Personal hatred for Mr. Trump has been the driving force and the division it has caused will not soon be remedied  

That Robert Mueller was a biased investigator could be seen in his gratuitous observation that the special counsel’s report “does not exonerate” Mr. Trump. It is not the function of a prosecutor (or a special investigator) to “exonerate” anyone, or even offer opinions. His investigation was to gather facts and determine whether charges should be brought. If evidence of wrong-doing was there, an indictment from a Grand Jury would have been sought, or the impeachment process would have begun. If not, he should have said nothing. We live in a country under the rule of law, where an accused is innocent until proven guilty. With not enough evidence to charge Mr. Trump with a crime, Mr. Mueller’s job was done. Mr. Trump and his campaign did not collude with the Russians. It is odd that the mainstream media did not revel in the fact that while Russia attempted to interfere in our election, they were unsuccessful. That should have been reason to celebrate. It apparently was not. Calls for impeachment grew louder. The Pandora Box being opened by those like  Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) will reverberate down through the years and will come to haunt those who believe a desired end justifies any means, legal or illegal, ethical or unethical.


Christians had a tough month. More than 250 people – “Easter worshippers,” as Barack Obama fatuously called them – were killed in Sri Lanka, most while attending Easter services at Catholic churches. ISIS took responsibility, along with a local Islamic militant terrorist group National Thowheeth Jama’ath. Among the dead were four Americans. As a percent of the population, this attack was larger than the ones on 9/11. What made it worse were reports that officials in Sri Lanka had warnings that such an attack was imminent and apparently did nothing. In Egypt, forty Coptic Christians were killed on Palm Sunday. Over 300 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since February, including half a dozen children on Easter. An April 23 article in the Washington Post, put it this way: “Estimates of how many Christians are killed yearly around the world because of their faith vary widely, from thousands to the tens of thousands, but it is certain that at any hour of the day, a Christian somewhere is being martyred. Much of this violence, though, occurs in places the Western media typically overlook.” The French were quick to not blame terrorist groups for the fire in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Nevertheless, it is ironic that a cathedral that stood for over 800 years was burned in an age when technology has made fire prevention better and response times faster. The question now is how should the cathedral be rebuilt? We live in an age of what Pope Benedict XVI, in 2005, called the “dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive.” We live in a secular age, at least those of us of the Judeo-Christian faith, when cathedrals are no longer symbols of transcendence, but are tourist attractions. As Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote, the contemporary West is one of “…dismantlers. We topple statues by night and rename streets, squares and buildings…to virtue-signal our angst over our postindustrial superiors.” In an age of multiculturalism, religion is seen as naïve and boorish.

Elections were held in Ukraine, Israel, Turkey, Slovakia, Finland and Spain, and a military coup occurred in Sudan. Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old actor with no political experience, will become the next president of Ukraine, as he garnered 73% of the vote in an election against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu won re-election (his fifth term), with the Likud Party winning the majority of votes in poorer districts. This victory will assure Mr. Netanyahu becomes Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party appeared to have lost local elections in Istanbul, causing the authoritarian Mr. Erdogan to dispute returns. Slovakia elected its first female president, the pro-European Zuzana Čaputová. The election was, according to the Wall Street Journal, “a striking, if isolatedpolitical shift for Central and Eastern Europe.” In Finland, the Centre Party of outgoing Prime Minister Juha Sipilä saw its support decline by a third to 13.8% of the vote. The Social Democratic Party (center-left) scored 17.7% of the vote, while the far-right Finns Party received 17.5%. Chairman of the Finns Party Jussi Halla-aho received the most votes of any candidate for the Eduskunta, Finland’s Parliament. A snap election in Spain saw the Spanish Socialists Workers Party, led by Pedro Sánchez, increase their number of seats to 123 from 85 in the 350-seat parliament; so despite claims to the contrary, Mr. Sánchez will have to form a coalition government. The big loser was the liberal-conservative People’s Party, which lost 71 seats and now has 66. The right-wing Vox Party picked up 24 seats, their first since its founding six years ago. An April 29 article in the Wall Street Journalnoted: “…today’s Europeans feel weak allegiances to any party – coupled with alienation from technocratic political elites.” Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, who had been in office three decades, was forced out by a military coup. Indonesia announced it would move its capital from Jakarta to an, as yet, undetermined city on a less-populated island.

On the last day of the month, Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido called for a military uprising to overthrow Nicolas Maduro’s persistent attempts – with help from Cuba and Russia – to deny his (Senor Guaido’s) legitimacy. President Trump received an invitation from Queen Elizabeth for a State Visit to England. He is expected to arrive on June 3rdand on June 6 travel to Normandy for the 75thcommemoration of D-Day. French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to abolish the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the elite, postgraduate institution that has provided most of France’s presidents, prime ministers and business executives (and from which he graduated). The school was founded in 1945 to promote “social mixing,” with acceptances based on merit not privilege. However, over the years, applicants have increasingly come from the upper classes. NATO celebrated its 70thAnniversary on April 4th. No NATO member, including the U.S., observed the anniversary. President Trump announced the withdrawal of the U.S. from the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, a treaty in effect since 2014 but never ratified by the U.S. Senate. Donald Trump designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, which it is. April was the 25thanniversary of the Rwanda genocide, during which militant Hutus killed between 800,000 and a million Tutsis, including some moderate Hutus, over a period of three months. This in a country, then, of just over six million people.


Five more Democrats entered the race for President – Pete Buttigieg, Mike Gravel, Seth Moulton, Tim Ryan and Joe Biden. They join fifteen already-announced candidates. Three others, Marianne Williamson, Stacy Abrams and Michael Bennet, have all said they are considering a run. Howard Schultz is said to be giving “serious consideration” to throwing his hat in the ring. Michael Bloomberg said he would not join the circus. As an American who believes in a government of the people, I love the interest. As an avid reader of the news, I look forward to the entertainment. But, as a New Englander who worries about fiscal profligacy, I am staggered that thousands of Americans have already put up $100 million to allow priggish egoists their moment in the sun. While more wannabes may jump into the pond, the next six months should see a winnowing of the field. On the Republican side, Mr. Trump has two challengers: William Weld and Larry Hogan, who both announced in April. John Kasich has not yet made up his mind. The President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Schumer agreed to pursue a two trillion dollar infrastructure bill.


A preliminary report for first quarter GDP showed the U.S. economy grew at 3.2%, considerably above revised-upward estimates. The U.S Labor Department reported on April 24 that, for the third week in a row, unemployment claims were the lowest since September 1969, despite the fact that the workforce is twice what it was fifty years ago. Inflation is running at 1.9 percent. But not all fiscal news is good. The annual Social Security and Medicare trustees report issued during the month showed that costs of the programs will exceed income in 2020 – the first time since 1982. The difference between then and now is that then we were at the bottom of a thirty-seven-year bear market in bonds and a ten-year bear market in stocks. Now we are, arguably, thirty-seven years into a bull market in both stocks and bonds. Can markets go higher? Of course, but we are not in the early stages of a bull run. Public pension funds share a similar fate. The Wall Street Journalreported that, “according to the most recent data from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research,” liabilities of major U.S. public pension funds are up 64% since 2007, while assets are up 30%. If private retirement and healthcare plans had posted those results, the managers would have been accused of “running a Ponzi scheme,” as Dan Mitchell recently wrote in International Liberty.

The DJIA rose 2.6%, not far off its all-time high reached seven months ago. U.S. Treasuries fell slightly, with the yield on the Ten-year rising two basis points. Gold declined $10.00 and the price of Bitcoins continued to recover, rising 28% for the month. Between $400 million and $800 million worth of Bitcoins are sent daily across the network – a lot of money, but about half the daily volume of PayPal. Interest rates remain at artificially low levels. Any pressure put on the Federal Reserve to lower rates by Mr. Trump will only lead to an increase in already-too-much unproductive debt. Modern Monetary Theory argues that countries with fiat currencies – backed by the governments that issue them – can take on as much debt as is necessary to keep their economies humming. Perhaps? I am not an economist, but debt issued must be repaid if the issuer is to maintain its credit rating. The risk to the Treasury investor is not one of default. It is that the principal will be repaid in a devalued currency. Two percent inflation causes a currency to lose half its value every generation. Is the current 2.89% coupon on a Thirty-year U.S. Treasury worth the risk that too much federal debt may push up inflation rates? When we look for extremes in financial markets, we should turn toward debt markets. Encouraging further borrowings is dangerous, at least in my opinion.


A team of doctors and scientists in Israel created a human heart using a 3D printer. While the heart was made with actual human biological material, it is only about the size of a rabbit’s heart. Nevertheless, this is a step forward in the field of organ transplants. Poland announced it is considering buying Israeli gas and reduce purchases from Russia. Japan’s Emperor Akihito, the son of war time Emperor Hirohito, abdicated in favor of his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. A handful of fossilized teeth and bones were discovered in the Philippines, evidence of a previously unknown human species. A direct image of a supermassive black hole 54 million light years away was photographed for the first time, using the International Event Horizon Telescope, a consortium that has radio telescopes around the world from the U.S. to Mexico to Chile to the South Pole. Extinction Rebellion, an environmental group (composed of, according to the London Telegraph, “well-heeled social parasites”) smashed the entrance to Dutch Shell’s headquarters, stripped naked in Parliament and generally messed up traffic and train service in London. On a visit to Beijing, Philip Hammond, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, praised China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Mr. Hammond also suggested the UK would scale back criticism of China’s expansion in the South China Sea. In a controversial move, the UK opened their 5G data network to the Chinese telecom group Huawei, the largest manufacturer of telecom equipment in the world. China’s BRI strategy, which now owns stakes in a dozen European ports, combined with Huawei’s mysterious ties to the Communist leadership in Beijing, represent a threat to America’s global hegemony and, thus, world peace. The cartoon published in the European edition of the New York Times, which showed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog leading a blind President Trump was despicable. Editors of the Times would never have allowed a Muslim or the leader of any other ethnic group, with the possible exception of Christians, to be portrayed as a dog. It was the dehumanizing of Jews in the 1930s that served as prelude to pogroms in Nazi Germany. 

Brexit remains on its tortuous path, a consequence of ineptness on the part of Prime Minister Theresa May and hindered by the nastiness of bureaucrats in Brussels. “Something profoundly unpleasant has happened in Britain over the past three years,” wrote Andrew Roberts in an April 13thop-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “It can be summed up as a barely concealed dislike of democracy on the part of a considerable subsection of the elite, those who lost the referendum.” In response to Britain’s nightmare, Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party, launched the Brexit Party. Julian Assange, after seven years, was asked to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. He was, then, arrested by British police. The U.S. is seeking extradition for the 2010 Wikileaks release of classified documents he had received from Army Private Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning in early 2010. Far-left British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the extradition of Julian Assange to the U.S. “should be opposed by the British government.” The Trump foreign policy team scored a win in the Hague: The International Criminal Court (ICC) dropped a decade-long inquiry into alleged crimes by U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. The U.S. has never accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. While the Bush and the Obama Administrations opposed the ICC’s prosecuting of U.S. nationals, the Trump Administration took definitive steps.


Kirsten Nielson resigned as Homeland Security Secretary. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein submitted his resignation to be effective May 11. Lori Lightfoot was elected mayor of Chicago. Brian Hagedorn, a conservative judge won election to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. New York City, which saw a population resurgence in the aftermath of 9/11, lost 39,523 residents in 2018, on top of 37,705 in 2017 – the first such losses in over a decade. While Yale and Middlebury, among other colleges, were denying the right of conservatives to speak, Brigham Young University was contending with students upset over an honor code that tries to balance church doctrine with the more mainstream views of their undergraduates. Two students at UNC in Charlotte, NC were shot and killed, while four were wounded, three critically. A suspect, 22-year-old Trystan Andrew Terrell, was taken into custody. While Jussie Smollett was in Hawaii celebrating his release from charges that he fabricated a racist attack, the perpetrators of that attack, the Osundairo brothers, sued him for character defamation. The Supreme Court heard a case in which no one dared utter the word at the heart of the dispute. It involved a clothing line, FUCT, which the owner said stood for Friends U Can’t Trust. Malcolm Stewart, a lawyer for the federal government, called the word, “the equivalent of the past participle of the paradigmatic profane word in our culture.” A Chinese woman, with a cache of electronic devices, was arrested trying to enter President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.  

A woman was shot and killed, and three people wounded at Congregation Chabad, a synagogue in Poway, California. The shooter was identified as 19-year old John Earnest, a student at California State University San Marcos. Donald Trump, playing to Democrats’ sense of inflated self-righteousness, offered sanctuary cities an unlimited supply of illegal (“unauthorized,” as the NY Times euphemistically calls them) immigrants. An American flag logo on the side of police cars in Laguna Beach, CA, divided the coastal city. “It feels very aggressive,” said one dopey, sanctimonious resident. The City Council decided to let the logo stand. Baylor won the women’s NCAA championship, while Virginia won the men’s. In a remarkable comeback, Tiger Woods won the Masters, his 15thmajor title and his first since 2008, Lawrence Cherono of Kenya won the 123rdBoston Marathon in 2:07:27, beating Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia by two seconds. Worknesh Defefa of Ethiopa won the women’s in 2:23:30.


Lyra McKee, a 29-year old freelance journalist and editor of news aggregator Mediagazer, was killed in Londonderry, Northern Ireland while covering unrest in the neighborhood of Creggan. Former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) died at age 87. Charles Van Doren, infamous for his role in a cheating scandal on NBC’s 1950s game show “Twenty-One,” died at 93. Richard Cole, last survivor of the famed Doolittle raid over Tokyo in April 1942 and a member of the “Greatest Generation,” died at 103.


President Trump does not fit the ideal I would prefer in a President. He is not articulate. His speech is littered with malapropisms. He appeals to emotions rather than reason. I am not a fan of his Tweets. However, I do like his policies, which have boosted the economy and especially helped minorities and working-class Americans. Sixty-five percent of Americans paid less taxes in 2018 than 2017. And I like that he has tracked entitled political establishment types to their Washington lairs and called out the media for their advocacy at the expense of unbiased reporting. Too many progressives speak in dulcet tones about opening borders to any and all and then disappear behind gated communities and homes. They promise health care for all and free tuition, without regard to costs, and they push for a guaranteed basic income without recognizing it will become a floor, not a ceiling. They recommended the ACA, which had no impact on their lives. They ignore the inevitable blowup of Social Security and Medicare, because they are not subject to their provisions. They offer policies that provide temporary relief at a cost of increased dependency. They back teachers’ unions but not school choice, and they ignore the plight of inner-city children who are ill-prepared upon graduation. Mr. Trump’s proposals are more realistic (and he, too, disappears behind the gates of Mar-a-Lago or the safety of the White House), but they align with the Chinese adage of teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish.

Most important, Donald Trump’s Presidency, perhaps unwittingly, has helped expose those like James Comey, John Brennan, James Clapper, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, high government officials who abused their positions of trust to help affect a national election. Had they been successful, their unethical behavior might never have become known. My advice as we head into the next eighteen months:patience, be skeptical, keep an open mind, listen and maintain a sense of humor; for this time of polarization, too, shall, at some point, pass.

Welcome to May.

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