Saturday, June 29, 2019

"The Eustace Diamonds" by Anthony Trollope

Sydney M. Williams

Burrowing into Books
“The Eustace Diamonds” by Anthony Trollope
June 29, 2019
She looks like a beautiful animal you are afraid to caress for fear it should bite you –
 an animal that would be beautiful if its eyes were not so restless, and its teeth so sharp and white.”
                                                                        Lucy Morris to Frank Greystock regarding Lady Eustace
                                                                        The Eustace Diamonds, 1872
                                                                        Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

When one puts down a Trollope, or any good novel, one bids adieu to friends – those we have come to know, most of whom we like, perhaps others we don’t. Like a journey’s end, one feels good in the accomplishment but sad that the adventure is over. But memories have been forever etched.

This is a story of greed and generosity, of calumny and compliment, of shallowness and strength. It is a tale of how small lies turn into big ones with devastating effect. It is the story of Lizzie Eustace a young woman, recently widowed from a rich husband, Sir Florian Eustace. Lizzie is smart and manipulative, beautiful and vicious. Before getting married, she had lied to her husband about a debt she had incurred. Her husband learned of her lie but died while on their honeymoon; so that what happened in Naples stayed in Naples.

The centerpiece of the story are the Eustace diamonds, a valuable necklace, estimated to be worth £10,000 – approximately $1,000,000 today. They were given her by the late Sir Florian under disputed conditions. However, as an inveterate liar, Lizzie’s version is certain to be wrong. She tells all who will listen that the necklace is rightfully hers, but the Eustace family lawyer, Mr. Camperdown, claims it as an heirloom, thus belongs to the Eustace family. As well, she inherited Portray, a Eustace family castle in Scotland with an annual income of£4000. Lizzie has an infant son who will eventually inherit the title and, thus, the diamonds. But it is her self-inflicted indebtedness and her proclivity to lie that concerns Mr. Camperdown.

In contrast to Lizzie, there is Lucy Morris, a governess to the Fawn family and the young lady with whom Frank Greystock has fallen in love. Frank is an impecunious lawyer and Member of Parliament, as well as Lizzie’s cousin and sometimes lover. He vacillates between the two women, attracted to one but infatuated by the other. He becomes engaged to Lucy but spends more time than necessary with the temptress Lizzie. In the end, honor prevails, and he decides in Lucy’s favor: “…a man captivated by wiles was only captivated for a time, whereas a man won by simplicity would be won for ever – if he himself were worth the winning.”

Other characters include Lord Fawn, a weak but titled man (he “…could not think and hear at the same time.”) to whom Lizzie has become engaged We come to know Lord Fawn’s mother, an honorable woman, along with her unmarried daughters, all of whom love Lucy, but not Lizzie. We meet Mrs. Carbuncle, her niece Lucinda Roanoke who becomes (temporarily) engaged to Sir Griffin, Lord George, Mr. Emilius and John Eustace, brother to the late Sir Florian and the closest person the story has to a hero. There are myriad detectives and servants we get to know. Portray’s manager, for example, is a dour Scot, Mr. Gowran, a man who is protective of the property, but not of Lizzie. He provides some of the story’s lighter moments.

Frank is conflicted. He has a need for money, which the £4000 per year that is Lizzie’s would be of use should he marry his cousin. But he loves the decent Lucy. (“There was no doubt about Lucy being as good as gold – only that real gold, vile as it is, was the one thing Frank needed so much.”) Early in the story, walking through Grosvenor Square he recites the Quaker’s advice to the old farmer, from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Northern Farmer, New Style:” “Doänt thou marry for money, but goäwheer munny is!”    

There are stories within stories and plots within plots. We follow Lizzie to Scotland and are witness to a vivid description of a foxhunt. We re-meet friends from previous novels, like Lady Glencora, Plantaganet Palliser, Madam Max and the Duke of Omnium. As this is the third in the Palliser series, politics play a role. We learn about a bill introduced by John Stuart Mill granting enfranchisement to women, which was defeated in 1867, five years before the publication of this novel. We learn about attempts to bring decimalization to British currency, and that a farthing, by definition, was one quarter of a penny, a puzzle for those who wanted to reform the currency, which would turn a farthing into a fifth of a penny. 

One of the best reasons for reading classics is the wisdom imparted, something not found in non-fiction. The character traits of those who populate these novels remain current across time and generations. Unlike some of Trollope, this story ends happily, if not for Lizzie, at least for the reader. One personal note: If remaining stoic in the face of happy outcomes is a sign of masculinity, I fail the test. I blubber in movies when things end happily. In The Eustace Diamonds, when good finally triumphed over evil, tears streamed down my face, as joy in the outcome clashed with regret that the end had arrived.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"The Liberal World Order - At Risk?"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Liberal World Order – At Risk?”
June 20, 2019

Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
                                                                                                T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
                                                                                                Choruses from the Rock, 1934

The liberal world order grew from the ashes of World War II, a war that killed almost four percent of the world’s population – that is one out of every twenty-five people. Look at your town, city, street or apartment building and consider the human cost! It is no surprise that Western leaders wanted to ensure that no such atrocity happened againIt was the United States that exited the War in a position of global strength, and thus became the guarantor of security and the principal provider of funds necessary to rebuild both its allies and its enemies. The U.S., in 1945 had about 50% of the world’s wealth, with only 6.5% of its population. Militarily, the U.S. was peerless and, until 1949, the only country with an Atomic weapon.

The liberal order was committed to democratic ideals and the free movements of goods and people. It was organized around nation states. The result has been seventy years of unprecedented prosperity. And, while genocides in subsequent years were experienced in Cambodia and Rwanda, Europe and Japan remained at peace. To help enforce that liberal order, supranational organizations were built, like the United Nations, NATO and the World Bank. However, because of transnational governance, those institutions threatened to override the laws of the sovereign states they were charged to uphold. As well, the impulse to impose progressive norms on all nations was a natural consequence of these organizations. They interfered with internal affairs, when autocracies threatened, and they spread progressive ideas, without regard to a country’s customs and traditions. As well, well-intentioned Presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush wanted to transform autocratic regimes into democratic ones, with the former’s National Endowment for Democracy and the latter’s “freedom agenda” – a task that proved insurmountable.   

As early as February 1948, George Kennan said we must avoid “sentimentality” and deal in “straight power concepts” – a role played by the United States’ military, which was not always welcomed. In the same memo, Mr. Kennan was emphatically realistic: “We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.” Yet the reach of humanitarian groups within the United Nations has expanded: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations Economic and Social Council, the United Nations Department of Global Communications, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF. These NGOs employ tens of thousands of people, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, with the U.S. being the principal benefactor. While purporting to further the “liberal order,” they, in fact, undermine it, at least according to the dictates of Mr. Kennan. Brock Chisholm, a Canadian and first Director- General of the World Health Organization and who died in 1971 was blunt: “To achieve world government, it is necessary to remove from the minds of men their individualism, loyalty to family traditions, national patriotism and religious dogmas” – an Orwellian concept, the beginnings of which we see in Brussels today and in the words and deeds of those who put supranational organizations and treaties above the nation state.

Things change. The world today is different from the one in 1945. The Soviet Union recovered and fell. China rose. Theocracy appeared in Iran, which then became an exporter of terror, as did its neighbor Iraq. The 1970s oil embargo strengthened OPEC and enriched the elite in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia and other oil-rich nations. North Korea became an aggressor. Climate change became politicized. Today the United Nations Human Rights Council includes such non-democratic nations as Cuba, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A re-energized Russia invaded Georgia and Ukraine. China’s attempt at reform was set back by an autocratic Xi Jinping. On a relative basis, the United States position in the world declined. Today, with 4.4% of the world’s population, the U.S. produces 24% of the world’s GDP. Non-state terrorism, under the guise of Islamism, became a major threat, while nations like Iran and North Korea, footnotes in 1945, threaten the world with exported terrorism and are aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons. A resurgent Russia and China offer economic and societal alternatives to developing nations, from a West that has vacated its moral framework.

We are told by progressives that populism, nationalism and authoritarianism threaten the “liberal order” from within, while powers like Russia, China and Iran contest its hegemony and legitimacy Dartmouth professors Jennifer Lind and William Wohlforth wrote last January in Foreign Affairs: “Instead of expanding it to new places and new domains, the United States and its partners should consolidate the gains the order has reaped.” In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a few days before Donald Trump was sworn in as President, Vice President Joe Biden warned: “The liberal international world order is at risk of collapse.” His words were aimed at Russia and at the social instability he claimed was caused by the top one percent not paying their fair share of taxes. But there are other causes. A recent survey, taken by the Center for American Progress and quoted by David Brooks in a recent New York Timesop-ed, suggested that Americans care most about terrorism and illegal immigration. What they care least about is promoting democracy. Mr. Brooks believes the U.S. is “withdrawing from the world.” I am not so sure. It is my sense we are re-ordering priorities after spending too much time on what George Kennan called “sentimentality and day-dreaming,” and not enough time on jobs and security.

The world changes, but the needs for order and freedom, remain. In World Order, Henry Kissinger wrote: “Order and freedom, sometimes described as opposite poles on the spectrum of experience, should instead be understood as interdependent.” We live in an information age, with the amount of data growing exponentially. We have an accumulated knowledge that exceeds our ability to consume and digest. But, have we gained wisdom? Listening to our politicians and pundits, one could only answer in the negative. Whatever direction our foreign policy goes, not all will be satisfied. But we should have one goal – the avoidance of nuclear devastation. There are those who recommend restraint and, while that sounds reasonable, restraint without a moral framework will not do the job – and it will not do the job unless one is militarily strong. We in the West, with our Judeo-Christian heritage and our traditions of families, churches and schools, should have the right moral impulse. A problem with globalism is it leads to multiculturalism and an absence of moral certitude. We do not have all the answers and are not always right, but thus far no other culture comes close to ours in terms of moral rectitude. Margaret Thatcher once wrote: “There is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women in democratic societies cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves.”  Morality is not, as some globalists would have one believe, relative. It is absolute. There is good and there is evil. To prevail, we must remain militarily and morally strong. 

Later, in Choruses from the Rock,T.S. Eliot goes on:

The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.”

Eliot is lamenting a world that has forsaken religion, first for Reason and then for money and power. The liberal world order was always an ideal. Though it worked well for Europe, it has separated from its moral anchor. Roger Scruton in Conservativism wrote, “…political communities, democracies included, are held together by something stronger than politics. There is a ‘first person plural,’ a pre-political loyalty, which causes neighbors who voted in opposing ways to treat each other as fellow citizens, for whom the government is not ‘mine’ or ‘yours,’ but ‘ours,’ whether we approve of it or not.” The liberal world order bemoaned by Vice President Biden is not possible unless Western Nations recognize the moral turpitude of practices that promote incivility and elevate identity politics over unityWe must remember that in the U.S., we are Americans; in Germany, Germans; in Italy, Italians; in Poland, Polish, etc. We have rights that must be honored. We have traditions that must be maintained. We have communities into which all, including immigrants, must be integrated. As for immigrants, the onus is on them to adapt to the standards and customs of the country to which they have emigrated. It cannot be otherwise. Within a nation, we cannot live segregated lives. We have laws that, until they are changed by the legislative process, must be obeyed. Personal responsibility and accountability are fundamental. Together, these elements create the foundation on which all else stands. It is the only way a civil society can persevere. It is the only way a liberal world order can prevail. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Republic, Democracy or Democratic Republic?"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Republic, Democracy or Democratic Republic?”
June 11, 2109

“…democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely 
dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.
                                                                                                “Perspectives on the Constitution” 1998
Richard R. Beeman, Ph.D. (1942-2016) 
                                                                                                American historian and professor

Throughout most of the long history of man, the purpose of a life was simply to survive and procreate. Governments were formed as people began to live in communities. Republics and democracies were improvements on what had come before. Both have as their basis “people.” The word “republic” is derived from the Latin phrase “res publica,” the people’s concern. The word “democracy” stems from two Greek words, “demos,” meaning the people and “kratia,” meaning power or rule. Both are defined as forms of government in which ultimate power is invested in the people through a government run by their elected representatives, chosen either directly or indirectly. Both are in contrast to what had been the norm for most people over the millennia – large numbers controlled or enslaved by monarchial governments, which could be benevolent but more often were malevolent and autocratic.

But there are differences between republics and democracies. The latter implies rule by a simple majority, so that minority rights may be abridged, or over-ruled, by majority vote, whereas a republic relies on a written constitution that protects the natural rights of its citizens, including the rights of minorities. While autocracies are tyrannies by a minority, democracies devolve into a tyranny of the majority. Republics are less efficient, which can lead to frustration. If division is broad, the consequence can be the birth of multiple parties, followed by anarchy. Republics, better than democracies, protect the rights of all citizens. Apart from small towns, democracies have never lasted. The first known democracy was developed by Athenians and lasted from about 500 BC to circa 300 BC.  Their history was known to the Founders. In an 1814 letter to John Taylor, John Adams wrote: “Remember, democracies never last long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” Alexander Hamilton wrote, “Real liberty is never found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.” Our Founders created a Republic, as the apocryphal story of Benjamin Franklin attests, with its purpose of providing, as our Declaration of Independence reads, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But our Country has begun to doff the mantle of republicanism and don the robes of democracy. In 1913, the 17thAmendment was passed, which allowed for direct election of Senators, rather than to have them chosen by states’ legislatures. In 2013, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) adopted what was termed the “nuclear option” of eliminating the 60-vote rule on executive branch nominations and federal judicial appointments, excluding Supreme Court appointees. In April 2017, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) allowed a simple majority to end debate on Supreme Court appointees. Disappointed and in disbelief over the 2016 election, when Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and Donald Trump succeeded in the Electoral College, Democrats urged the direct election of a President – doing away with the Electoral College, a critical filament attaching ourselves to republicanism. For one thing, the Electoral College provides a defense against regionalism. For another, it pushes parties to build coalitions. Thus far, fourteen states and the District of Columbia, with 183 Electoral College votes, have passed bills and signed a pact that would grant their electoral college votes to whoever won the national popular vote, regardless of how the people in their state voted. (The Nevada legislature passed such a bill, but it was vetoed by Democrat Governor Steve Sisolak.) All these actions have in common one thing – a diminution of minority interests.

Democracies have other weaknesses, one highlighted by Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh: “A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury,”…leading to “a loose fiscal policy.” We’re not there yet, but we’re closer. The Tax Policy Center estimates that forty-four percent of employed Americans did not pay any federal income tax in 2018, two percentage points more than in 2017. While those people do pay payroll taxes, excise taxes and state taxes, Professor Tyler’s words serve as a warning to a Western world fixated on increasing welfare payments and benefitting from abnormally low interest rates, rates that encourage borrowings and discourage savings. Governments are inclined to spend – for necessities such as defense, roads, schools and the welfare of the truly needed, but they also want to make life easier for their constituents – to purchase their votes, if you will. Constraints on spending simply do not exist – or will not until the debt burden becomes so heavy that the taxes required cause people to revolt. For the fiscal year 2018, 61.5% of the $4.1 trillion federal budget went to mandatory items, like transfer payments, while 7.6% went to net interest. That left only 31% for defense and other discretionary items, like education, science, veteran’s benefits, transportation, space and energy and the environment. If interest costs were a more normal three percent, interest expense, as a percent of the budget, would be fifteen percent. The Federal Reserve may have temporary control over the cost of money, but ultimately markets win. The fiscal deficit this year is expected to top a trillion dollars. Excessive debt leads, ultimately, to a cheapened currency, higher inflation and higher interest rates. Wisdom born of prudence has been subsumed by greed for political power. Continued government expenditures in excess of revenues, and abetted by artificially low interest rates, are a recipe for a day of reckoning.

Wealthy, coastal elites ensure a majority by including minorities who are dependent on their largesse – minorities identified by skin color, gender, sexual preference or religion. It is segregation of the electorate by identity. It is diversity in all but what is most important – ideas. They are patronizing toward those who disagree with them and hypocritical in passing laws for which they are not accountable. They are not interested in political philosophies outside their slipstream. They have enlisted the aid of universities, who they have helped through student loan programs, which assure those institutions a growing stream of students. Universities have responded by impinging free speech in the name of political correctness. As well, a republic’s and a democracy’s last line of defense is the media, many of whom today, however, have been co-opted by the Left to support their programs. I am a straight, white, male Protestant living in Connecticut; yet, as a conservative in a “blue” state, I am a minority. Am I recognized as such? Of course not. No one has yet prevented me from saying or writing what I want, but I am not so naïve as to believe that as we become more polarized my rights may be denied. Already, I have been accused of being racist and homophobic.

So, are we still a republic, as Benjamin Franklin purportedly told the woman outside Constitutional Hall in July 1787? He said we would be, but only as long as we could keep it. And, as noted above, it is fraying at the edges. I believe we are, but less robust than we once were, perhaps a democratic republic? Our system is fragile. A diversity of ideas is discouraged. Our form of government is not well understood by most citizens. Schools no longer make a priority of teaching civics and history; politicians are self-serving, caring not for “the people,” as they proclaim, but for the next election. Too much hatred fills the airWe should take nothing for granted.Republics are easy to lose and almost impossible to rebuild.     

Saturday, June 1, 2019

The Month That Was - May 2019

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

The Month That Was – May 2019
June 1, 2019

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”
                                                                        Williams Shakespeare (1564-1616)
                                                                        “Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day?” 1609

Cultural wars are largely bloodless, but that does not render them ineffective. While not perfect, liberal western societies have done more for mankind than any other system yet devised. They have in common a neo-classical heritage, representative government, natural rights, free market economies, rule of law, an understanding of civics and an appreciation for history. These characteristics (which we in the West take for granted but should not) have lifted millions of people out of poverty and brought freedom to even more. Now, politicians and commentators from both sides see these traits under attack. It is the cause that is disputed, and which has been responsible for the social and political divisiveness here and in Europe.

Those on the right see the threat to liberalism stemming from the growing power and influence of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats, an absence of a universal moral sense and diminishing virtues, universities intolerant of conservative thought, a myopic media, a facile entertainment industry and a tolerance for the intolerant. Those on the left find blame “far-right populists,” “racists” and “white supremacists.” In an article two weeks ago, in the Wall Street Journal, Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and Stanford professor, supported their view: Citing the fact that we have seen “…twelve years of erosion…,” he dated the start of the decline to 2006. However, he laid blame on a “…new wave of populist authoritarians from Hungary to the Philippines,” but ignored the fact that Viktor Orbán was elected prime minister of Hungary in 2010 and that Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines in 2016. While slavering blame indiscriminately on conservatives, he wrote, “…America’s decay is increasingly advanced. President Donald Trump has insulted U.S. allies, befriended Vladimir Putin, excused a grim list of other dictators, embraced nativist politics and movements…” I believe Professor Diamond is wrong.

All societies most be wary of attacks, no matter from which direction they come. But, overlooked in Mr. Diamond’s diatribe is that Eastern Europe, after almost six decades of subjection, first to Nazi and then to Soviet rule, is now, understandably, defending its sovereignty. As well, he disregarded the fact President Obama cozied up to Cuba’s Castro’s and to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, that he bowed to the Saudi king, and paid hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran for a flawed nuclear deal. The pallets of dollars airlifted to Tehran went to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to help fund Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists. Mr. Obama failed to prod China into following trade rules, and never confronted Vladimir Putin on his interference in the Middle East. Also omitted was the role played by the Clintons in expediting the sale of Uranium One to Russia. Mr. Trump has imposed the toughest sanctions on Russia of any recent President; he has confronted China for their theft of technology and for their aggression in the South China Sea. He has told allies in Europe – countries which provide generous welfare payments to their citizens – that they should pay two percent of their GDP for their own defense. And that is an insult? 


Attorney General William Barr has become an anathema to the Left, as he threatens the narrative that Donald Trump is a risk to liberalism, that he is the cause of the divisions that rend our nation. Like students in Winthrop House at Harvard, the Left feels imperiled by the directive issued by President Trump to Mr. Barr, to declassify all documents and files from the CIA, the Justice Department and the National Security Agency that led to the Mueller investigation. Now, Democrats, acting like spoiled Harvard students, seek safety, and hope to find it in the diversionary tactic of bringing articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump. They take their strategy from Fifth Century BC Chinese General Sun Tzu who said the best defense is a good offense. We saw this during the past month, in words and threats from Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and others. We saw it in the Bob Mueller interview and in Nancy Pelosi’s dancing through the raindrops, navigating the Scylla of her neurotic, far-left members and the Charybdis of what impeachment would mean in 2020. Mr. Mueller’s report made clear that no investigation was obstructed. Everyone he chose to interview was interviewed and, while Mr. Trump suggested Mr. Mueller be fired, no one acted on it. Yet, he insisted he had not exonerated the President. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Thursday editorial reminded us: “Since when do prosecutors make it their job to pronounce whether someone they investigate is exonerated? Their job is to indict, or not, and if not, then keep quiet.” Innocence is the default position in this country. As a friend, a retired British judge, recently wrote me: “The judicial process in the U.S. is really weird…If there is no evidence, surely he has actually been exonerated.” Vincent Davis Hanson, in a recent essay on this matter, likened Democrats’ relentless pursuit of Mr. Trump to Captain Ahab’s phobic quest for Moby Dick.

Progressives are not paragons of virtue interested in righting wrongs. They want the power that political office brings. They are concerned with what Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz might find, as he looks into the justification used by the Obama Administration for secret surveillance warrants from U.S. FISA Courts, warrants used to spy on the Trump campaign. They know the probe will consider the “dossier” created by Fusion GPS and British former spy Christopher Steele. They are troubled that Mr. Barr hired John Durham, United State Attorney for the District of Connecticut, to investigate origins of the alleged “Trump-Russian collusion” or conspiracy, when no collusion was found by Robert Mueller.  Questions need be answered. Was the dossier, which was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, Russian misinformation? Why did the FBI use questionable sources to obtain the FISA warrants to spy on Carter Page, a junior member of the Trump campaign? What was the role played by James Comey, John Brennan, James Clapper and even Bob Mueller? Were the Justice Department and the CIA actually spying on the Trump campaign and, if so, who was responsible? Should anyone in the Obama Administration be held accountable? When the door to this dank cellar opens, ill-smelling odors will emerge. A liberal society cannot survive if one side uses government for its own, political purpose? The media appears uninterested in this story, as it does not conform with the tale they have been telling for the past two and a half years. Fashioning a defense is more important than a search for the truth. All of this explains the vicious attacks on the “villainous” Donald Trump, as Nancy Pelosi referred to him. But it is more than that. It is an attack on our form of government – our democratic republic. Democrats never accepted their loss in 2016; they did not accept the findings of Mr. Mueller. They have but one objective: Destroy the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. That end, in their opinion, justifies any means.


The European Parliament is the only EU political organization directly elected by the people. While it does not have much power – most of that resides in the appointed European Commission – it is reflective of sentiment. That said, last Sunday’s European Parliament election showed centrist parties holding a slim majority of the 751 seats. But the vote was really a victory for parties outside the mainstream. It showed dissatisfaction with the status quo. Nationalist parties like Brexit in England, National Rally in France, Alternative for Germany, and League in Italy garnered about twenty-five percent of the vote. Ivan Krastev wrote in the New York Times: “Of the five individual political parties with the biggest representation in the new European Parliament, four are anti-European Union.” As well, far-Left and Green parties added 60 seats, bringing their total to 176, or twenty-three percent. Europe has a problem, and… it is Europe, which has encouraged dependency and become less free. With the background of a 20thCentury bloodbath of two wars and a global depression, it is unsurprising that Europe emerged from the Second World War focused on building social welfare states, with the United States providing much of its defense.  As a consequence, they have inhibited economic growth and lost sight of the virtues of Western culture. They are not living up to their potential. With forty percent more people than the U.S., Europe generates a GDP that is thirty percent less. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Josef Joffe noted that while Russia brags of its neo-imperialism, China develops its Belt and Road Initiative and Donald Trump focuses on “America First,” Europe is underperforming, “rudderless and rent by internal divisions.” As for the influx of Muslim migrants, sanctimonious European progressives accept the conventional wisdom that Islam is a religion of peace, while ignoring the fact that it has become an instrument of war.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who has been a disaster for Britain, announced her intent to resign on June 7. Her Conservative Party finished the EU Parliamentary elections with less than ten percent of the vote – their worst showing in history. Labour did little better, with less than fifteen percent. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party was the top vote-getter, with thirty-two percent. The future of Brexit, already delayed, remains in doubt. In India, the world’s largest democracy where over six hundred million people voted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won re-election by a margin exceeding expectations. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, won re-election, running against a hardline Muslim opponent – former army general Prabowo Subianto. Scott Morrison, of the center-right Liberal Party, came from behind to win re-election as Prime Minister of Australia. Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People’s Party called for a snap election after the country’s Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, of the Freedom Party, resigned over a secretly-filmed video that showed him promising government contracts to a woman claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. A new vote will be held in September. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, of the African National Congress, won re-election with an absolute majority, but diminished support. Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government in Israel, leading to a new round of elections in September.

The war of words with Iran intensified. A missile launched by a suspected Iran-backed militia landed within a mile of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Attacks on four Saudi tankers, off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf, were attributed to Iran. A pipeline in Saudi Arabia was attacked. Iran was said to be responsible. Iran maintains a presence in Syria and Yemen and is becoming more involved in Iraq. Their purpose: destabilize the region by weakening the Sunni faction led by Saudi Arabia. The U.S. retaliated. Diplomats in Iraq were withdrawn, and the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike force moved into the Persian Gulf. The White House designated the IRGC a terrorist organization. A game of good-cop, bad-cop was played, with National Security Advisor John Bolton playing the bad cop and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acting as good cop. Sanctions, imposed by the U.S., after withdrawing from the faulty Iranian nuclear deal negotiated by then Secretary of State John Kerry, are hurting their economy. President Trump wants to tighten them further. He wants to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, by ending all sanction waivers for countries importing Iranian crude. 


Stocks traded lower during the month. The S&P 500 was down 6.6% for the month – the first down month of the year – driven lower by slowing global economic growth, an inverted yield curve and trade wars with China and Mexico. The Michigan Consumer Confidence Index for May came in at 100.0, 2.8 points above April but below the 102.0 estimate. The first revision to first quarter U.S. GDP showed the economy grew at 3.1%, modestly below the 3.2% earlier reported. Bonds rallied, and the Ten-year Note ended the month with a yield twenty-one basis points lower than the Three-month Bill. Gold rallied 1.7 percent, while oil (West Texas Intermediate) fell 11.5 percent. Bitcoin, continuing its rally, rose 16.5% to $8525.55.


In other news, Billionaire Robert Smith, a black technology investor, announced in a graduation speech at Morehouse College that he would pay off all the student loans of graduating seniors, an amount estimated at $40 million. The New York Timeslamented that if only he had paid higher taxes, the government could have done the same thing. Jeff Koon’s “Rabbit,” a stainless-steel copy of a plastic inflatable toy, which is owned by Robert Mnuchin, art dealer and father of the U.S. Treasury Secretary, was sold at auction for $91.1 million – a record for a living artist – proving that a fool and his money are soon parted. The College Board, a non-profit company that owns and administers the SAT, announced they would include a new rating, an “adversity score,” using fifteen subjective factors, leading us further from a merit-based society. President Trump unveiled an immigration plan that would emphasize skills, eliminate the visa lottery and limit family migration to immediate family – spouses and minor children. The government filed a suit against U.S. makers of generic drugs for colluding to raise prices. North Carolina, facing rising healthcare costs, as are most states, voted to end future-retiree healthcare coverage for new workers hired in 2021. The problem is wide-spread. According to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “…pension funds across the country are, by some estimates, $4 trillion short!” Tiger Woods received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Valerie Plame, former CIA operative and infamous for her claim she was “outed” during George W. Bush’s second term, announced she is running for Congress. Less well known are her anti-Semitic tweets, urging followers to read articles like “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars” and “Why I Still Dislike Israel.” On the last day of the month, twelve people were killed in a shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

Scientists from Cambridge University created a living organism from DNA that is entirely man made. The New York Timesreported, “…perhaps a new form of life, experts said, and a milestone in the field of synthetic biology.” Or, will this be the genesis of a new “master race?” A California jury awarded a California couple $2.055 billion who blamed their cancer on the weed killer Roundup, a product acquired by Bayer from Monsanto last year. There are 13,400 claims against Bayer tying cancer to the herbicide. Roundup was first introduced in 1974. While companies should be liable for faulty and dangerous products, awards of this size, along with class-action suits, threaten scientific research, medical practice and product development. Tort reform is needed. A Great White shark was spotted in Long Island Sound, off the coast of Greenwich, apparently looking for Wall Street brethren.  Jean-Jacques Savin spent 127 days inside a capsule-shaped barrel, as he drifted with currents and wind from the Canary Islands, across the Atlantic, to St. Eustatius in the Caribbean – a 3,125-nautical-mile trip. “I lived my dream,” he said upon landing. (I would have thought a nightmare!) The King of Thailand, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, age 66, was crowned, two years after ascending the throne. The delay was due to years of mourning for his father who had served as King for seven decades. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle welcomed their son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. An albino Panda was sighted in Southwestern China. There have been at least ten deaths on Mt. Everest this year, attributed to the large numbers of paying climbers. They were guided up the mountain and then had to wait in line to make the final ascent. One climber said, “It was scary. It was like a zoo.” Julian Assange, who is now being held by British police, awaits extradition to either the U.S. for espionage or to Sweden for rape. Berlin condemned as anti-Semitic the growing international movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, a movement supported by a number of American universities. Ayaan Hirsi Ali described Islamist-driven anti-Semitism as “the reigning anti-Semitism of the day.” The plan to oust Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro appears to have failed.


Death appeared. Edmund Morris, presidential biographer, died at 78. Former Republican Senator Todd Cochran of Mississippi died at 81. George Kelling, who with James Q. Wilson developed the “broken-window” method of law enforcement, died at 83. Bart Starr, the most valuable player in Super Bowls I and II, died at 85. Richard Lugar, former Republican Senator from Indiana who was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Obama, died at 87. Murray Gell-Mann, the physicist behind the concept of the ‘Quark’ and once married to a neighbor’s (in Old Lyme) daughter, died at 89. Warren Phillips, long-time newsman and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, died at 92. John Lukacs, historian and biographer and who once wrote “knowledge of the past is the very opposite of a burden,” died at 95. Doris Day, a perennial favorite and of whom Oscar Levant once said, “I knew her before she was a virgin,” died at 97. Robert Maxwell, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, died at 98. I.M. Pei, whose “graceful grids of glass” graced buildings and skylines around the world, died at 102. Herman Wouk, author of “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Winds of War,” died at 103. And I lost three friends: Charles Rinaldi, 76 and Jim Dwyer, 77, both of Darien, CT, and Milt Allen, 92, a friend from Old Lyme and neighbor in Essex.


It is easy to despair for today’s culture’s negative effect on our political systems. It is easy to fear that democracies and free-market capitalist markets are headed for decline. Moral relativism has replaced a sense of universal virtue embedded in our generations-old Judeo-Christian heritage. Political correctness and identity politics have divided us. The concept of service, especially as it applies to national politics, has disappeared. Harry Truman once said about the Presidency: “It belongs to the American people and it is not for sale.” President Clinton showed that it was for sale, taking in millions of dollars for himself and his foundation. George W. Bush, more modest, adhered to the Truman standard. Now, Barack Obama looks to better Bill Clinton, with a multi-million-dollar deal with Netflix, estimated at $125 million, and a $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House. Deals like these attract the wrong people to politics, not driven by a sense of public duty, but as a means to become rich. As well, we have become more dependent, as an editorial during the month in London’s Financial Timesmade clear:The headline: “Jobs are no longer a route out of poverty in the UK.” They cited a report from the United Nations human rights council – a group that includes Venezuela and China, that regularly condemns Israel and from which the U.S., thankfully, withdrew in 2018. The report, endorsed by the FT, condemned the UK for emphasizing individual responsibility instead of compassion:“..relying on employment alone is not enough...precarious employment, low wage growth and expensive housing costs mean a job is not the route out of poverty it once was.”One can only conclude, corruption is rampant in politics and global governmental bodies are moving toward administrative states. An emphasis on equality of outcomes, rather than opportunities, means sidelining the more important goal of encouraging social and economic mobility. In the U.S., the Left caters to teachers’ unions in preventing the spread of charter schools, the competitive alternative to failing public schools in inner cities.  A cynic would conclude that hypocritical progressives want to keep people ignorant and easier to control. Perhaps? We should keep open the gates of mobility and not maintain a status quo where the rich stay rich and the poor remain poor. 

But I go on too long. June is upon us, a month of flowers and sunshine, a month of graduations, reunions and anniversaries. In three weeks, it will be summer. Enjoy the month.