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by Sydney Williams
A benefit of writing this piece is that it provides an opportunity for remembrance on how much of note transpires in a mere thirty or thirty-one days. This past November was no different.
The Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson consumed mountains of press. It also generated outrage among those fired up by the Reverend Al Sharpton and others who saw the lack of an indictment as the furtherance of racial injustice.
The consequences included demonstrations and protests that turned violent and destroyed property, mostly of those who had scrimped and saved to open their stores, many of whom are minorities.Nevertheless, my guess is that Ferguson will be only a footnote when the history of this era is written. It wasn’t injustice that resulted from the Grand Jury’s decision; it was justice that did not conform to the preconceptions of those who had tried Officer Darren Wilson in the media. So, like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and his death will disappear from memory, a tragic and unfortunate victim of those who look for racism at every opportunity.
In other news, the President issued an Executive Order granting amnesty to millions of aliens who arrived here illegally from Mexico and Central America. The President has dared Republicans to challenge him by denying confirmations, cutting off funding or shutting down government – a challenge he expects to (and probably will) win. Apparently, breaking the law is okay if you can get away with it, just as upholding only the laws he finds convenient is okay with our President. What an example to set for our youth, especially those African-Americans who saw in the 2008 and 2012 elections the ultimate fulfillment of the Civil Rights movement!
With his poll numbers in the toilet, Mr. Obama is anxious to get good news wherever he can. He signed an agreement with China, which commits that country to do nothing for the next ten years, while imposing burdens on U.S. businesses and taxpayers. It reminds me of the promises made by royalty to their subjects of “air pudding with wind sauce.” John Kerry failed to strike a deal with Iran; so that country continues to barrel toward nuclear capability, which assuredly will create a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. North Korea’s “supreme leader” Kim Jong-un had the temerity to condemn the U.S. for human rights violations! Putin persists pugnaciously.
Elsewhere at home, Jonathon Gruber provided an inside peek as to how the Left truly considers their subjects. One result of the midterm elections was the lopping off the head of the hapless Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Mr. Hagel, a former Senator and a Republican, did have disagreements with the Administration as to troop levels in Iraq, strategies regarding ISIS, and the closing of GITMO. He added fuel to the fire when, in an interview last month with Charlie Rose, he said that budget cuts are threatening America’s military capability. Mr. Obama is now searching for his fourth Defense Secretary. Amazon and Hachette settled their dispute. While the press didn’t appear to declare either one the winner, the market anointed Amazon with an 18% increase in the shares of its stock price. The New York Times reported that the Reverend Al Sharpton owes more than $4.7 million, including $3.0 million in federal income taxes. Yet he continues to flaunt before cameras and hog microphones. Were the rest of us to act like Mr. Sharpton, we would be in jail.
The mood in Europe is sour. One consequence of difficult economic times has been the rise in xenophobia and an increase in nationalism – portents that remind one of the first half of the 20th Century. Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, warned of deflation, so has introduced quantitative easing. Academics suggest the continent has lost its competitive advantage. Even Pope Francis cautions that Europe has become like “a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.” (The latter admonition, I found offensive, as I am married to a grandmother who, while she may not be fertile, is certainly vibrant!)
However Sarah Gordon, writing in Friday’s Financial Times, takes a more upbeat view. She notes that European multinationals are flush with cash. The Moody’s Liquidity Stress Index, which falls when liquidity improves, dropped to an all-time low in August. The leveraged loan market has returned to pre-crisis levels and deal volume is three times what it was a year ago. Brent crude prices are 37% below their peak levels and the Euro has fallen 4% from its March levels. Adding to this rosier view of Europe was, in my opinion, the month’s most momentous event – the European Space Agency’s landing of a vehicle on a comet. It was an incredible challenge, successfully completed – the chasing of an elusive, small object for ten years and over 300 million miles. It made me feel as a starry-eyed child before something incomprehensible, like when I first visited the Boston Museum of Science, or when I look up at the night sky and see the Big Dipper and marvel at who it was that noted that the North Star never moved, so could be a guide in navigation at sea.
There was, of course, much more during the month – some good, some bad and some just strange. The latter would include the announcement that Charles Manson received a marriage license from the State of California where he is incarcerated. Manson was convicted forty-three years ago for the brutal murder of Sharon Tate and six others. Beards are returning to Brigham Young University, which seems right as Brigham Young is always portrayed as hirsute. The town of Westminster, Massachusetts passed an ordinance banning the sale of tobacco. The decision suggests that it is not just Big Brother who is watching over us, but it is also “Big Mama,” “Big Papa” and “Big Sis.” The ordinance is being challenged, as it should be. After all, Winston Churchill, according to a book by Boris Johnson, smoked an estimated 250,000 Cuban cigars in his lifetime. He died two months past his 90th birthday! That reminds me of one of November’s highlights – last month Riverhead Books published the U.S. edition of Johnson’s The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History. Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London and a man many believe will be a future Prime Minister of England. It is a book all should read. It is beautifully written, fact and fun-filled by a man empathetic to Churchill and the challenges he faced. The fact Boris Johnson quotes Wodehouse is an added bonus, in my opinion.
On the macabre side, Boko Haram sent a suicide bomber into a Nigerian School where he killed 48 students. With all the media’s attention now focused on ISIS, it should not be forgotten that, despite the hashtag messages from First Lady Michelle Obama and others about freeing “our girls,” most of the school girls kidnapped seven months ago have not been released. (A few escaped.) By this time they are dead, concubines or are serving as slaves, among the estimated 36 million slaves in the world today. While we get hung up on names, Islamic extremism comes in many forms, all of which represent risks to the civilized world.
Financial markets were dominated by the continuing collapse in crude oil prices. West Texas Intermediate fell 18% during the month. At the month’s meeting of OPEC, the decision was made to keep producing, placing responsibility for the price decline on increased U.S. production. The Russian Ruble hurt both by the decline in crude oil prices and by the Machiavellian machinations of Vladimir Putin, fell 10% versus the U.S. Dollar. U.S. stocks fared well, with the S&P 500 rising 2.5%. In contradiction, given the similarity of their risk profiles to stocks, High Yield bonds continued to decline, with the FINRA-Bloomberg High Yield Index losing 63 basis points. The yield on that Index is now almost 100 basis points above where it was at midyear. The Ten-year Treasury rose in price, with the yield falling from 2.34% to 2.19%. Gold and silver were higher, while the price of copper, an indicator of global economic acitivity, was lower.
While the New York Giant’s record this year is dismal, their rookie wide receiver, Odell Beckham, Jr made what some are calling “the play of the year,” or “the best catch ever.” While heavily covered, he single-handedly caught a touchdown pass, with his upper body almost parallel to the ground – an incredible display of athleticism!
Death took Marion Barry, former long time Mayor of Washington, DC. Mayor Barry, a charismatic leader and a longtime presence in Washington. He was also quite controversial. He served six months in jail for drug possession; yet was reelected for a fourth term in 1994. He once characterized the demon he (like many of us) faced: “There is a constant battle between the Devil, which is flesh, and the spirit, which is God.” Mike Nichols died at the age of 83. He arrived in the United States at age seven in 1939, chased out of Hitler’s Germany. By 1960 he had teamed up with Elaine May for their eponymous Broadway satirical show. Fifty-two years later he directed Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Death of a Salesman.” P.D. James, creator of Adam Dalgliesh and one of England’s great mystery writers, died at age 94.
There were anniversaries of note. Twenty-five years ago, on November 9, the Berlin Wall came down, marking the end of the Cold War. One hundred and forty years ago, November 30, Winston Spencer Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace to the somewhat nutty Randolph Churchill and his beautiful American wife, Jenny Jerome. Winston Churchill stands alone among the colossi of the 20th Century’s first half.
So endeth the month.