The Month That Was “February 2015”

by Sydney Williams For those of us in the mid-Atlantic […]

Image by © Dreamstime

Image by © Dreamstime

by Sydney Williams

For those of us in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states, February seemed longer than twenty-eight days. March, which in three weeks will welcome spring, arrived just in time. Temperatures in the single digits, with piles of snow that while beautiful appear will never melt, defined our days and nights. The wind whistling across the river left drifts as high as the stockade fence that separates us from our neighbor.

But the world does not center on Old Lyme. It was – dare I call them what they are? – Islamic terrorists that dominated the news this month. Boko Haram, which persists in abducting and killing, has found a use for the school girls taken last spring – remember those ridiculous hashtags “Bring back our girls?” In northeastern Nigeria, several girls as young as ten were fitted out with explosive vests and made to walk into crowded markets. The vests were detonated, disintegrating the child and killing many others. A Jordanian pilot, captured last December by ISIS in Syria, was caged, doused with gasoline and then burned alive. Two people in Copenhagen were killed by an Islamic “lone wolf,” one at a “free-speech” symposium and the second outside a synagogue. The killer was shot. Knife-wielding, 6’5” ISIS Insurgents in Libya marched twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians along a beach preliminary to sawing off their heads. The victims were killed solely for their religion. Toward the end of the month, ISIS kidnapped 70 Assyrian Christians, including women and children. Their fate is unknown, but the likelihood is that they are already dead, either burned or crucified. The month ended with some good news as well as bad. Three Central Asians (residents of the U.S.) living in Brooklyn were arrested for conspiring to join ISIS, the purpose being to carry out terrorist plots against the U.S. And Austria passed a law which would ban the use of foreign funds for financing mosques, Imam’s and Muslim organizations. The law would also require that Muslims living in Austria submit to Austrian law, not Sharia law. That law should become the standard for the West. On the other hand, al Shabaab threatened to blow up the Mall of America outside Minneapolis.

The refusal to call these killers Islamists reached a level of ridiculousness when Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, stated that “violent extremists” operating in Syria and Iraq wanted to build an Islamic state; but, loyal to his President, he would not place the adjective Islamic before the noun terrorists. People can be smart without having good judgment. Mr. Obama may be smart, but he displays little wisdom and he exercises poor judgment. If his disastrous policies persist, he will leave his successor a mess that will take years to repair.

Elsewhere overseas, the alleged peace treaty in Ukraine was almost immediately violated. The outcome was not surprising, as Vladimir Putin is seemingly operating without any opposition from the West – fear of Mr. Putin seemingly exceeds European leaders’ confidence in Mr. Obama. (At home, Mr. Putin has a more direct way of dealing with adversaries, as Boris Nemtsov discovered.) Mr. Obama’s desired treaty with Iran, and Benjamin Netanyahu’s disagreement with it, is the real issue behind the rhetoric about Mr. Netanyahu’s speech before a joint session of Congress this week. The presidential election in war-torn Nigeria, which pits the current President Goodluck Jonathon against the former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, was delayed for six weeks. Markets responded positively when Greece’s international bailout was temporarily extended. The key words were “temporarily extended.” “Having your cake and eating it too” is a proverb not limited to the English. Satellite images obtained by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, show the size and scope of China’s building and land reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands, a contested area of the South China Sea. Buildings and airstrips can be clearly seen. Estimates are that the facilities on Fiery Cross Reef alone could become a military base twice as large as Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean where the U.S. Navy operates a Naval Support Facility. The world remains a “hairy” place.

As Islamic terrorists where busy burning some captors alive and decapitating others and while young girls were blowing themselves to kingdom come, President Obama hosted a three-day White House seminar: “Combating Violent Extremism.” He would like, he claims, a holistic approach that attempts to understand the psychology that causes young people to become terrorists – a lack of job opportunities perhaps? Earlier he had equated Islamic terrorism with the Crusades and the Inquisition. He blamed Christianity for slavery and Jim Crow laws. However, Christians, for the most part, admit that harm has been done in the name of Christ. But the Crusades were a defensive (and ineffectual) war, an attempt to wrest back land that had been taken over by Muslims. Inquisitions, which were a terrible violation of human rights and lasted a long time, did not result in that many deaths. And it was Christianity, not Islam, which undid slavery. In fact, estimates are that there are about 30 million slaves in the world today, many of whom live in Muslim nations.

At home, President Obama, as promised, vetoed the Keystone XL Pipeline. The FCC adopted utility-style rules to ensure “net neutrality” – the classification of broadband internet access as a telecommunication service, giving the FCC the same regulatory authority they now hold over telephone calls. The FCC said they needed the authority because they claimed that most American households have only one choice, which is most often a cable company. Yet, according to Akamai Technologies and the FCC, 74% of U.S. households have at least two providers with speeds of at least 10 or more megabits per second. As Republican candidates vie for the Presidential nomination (Democrats are preparing for a coronation), the Leftist media, in their role as publicists for the Democrat Party, focused on “gotcha” moments – attempts to embarrass Republican candidates, especially when they show signs of strength. Scott Walker, who has done well in recent polls, has been exhibit A.

The Clinton Foundation, with its acceptance of donations from foreign governments, has raised eyebrows. Most damaging have been reports that the Foundation accepted funds from governments that had been recipients of American aid while Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State – Algeria and the Dominican Republic. While the funds were surely segregated, the transactions smack of U.S. taxpayers funding a private Foundation run by a former President and a potential future President. Janet Yellen received a grilling from some Republican members of Congress, particularly in regard to a speech on inequality Ms. Yellen had made a few weeks before last November’s election – a subject not to the liking of Republican House members Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina.

Stocks had a good month. The Dow Jones Industrial Averages made a new high on February 25th, closing at 18,224.57 – up 5.6% for the month. The NASDAQ, up 7.1% for the month, is now within 1.2% of its all-time closing high, made on March 10th, 2000. Fourth quarter earnings have generally bettered expectations. Volatility declined, with the VIX falling 36% during the month. However, volume remained muted, in fact declining during the month. Markets overseas were generally higher. Concerns regarding Greece’s debt eased and oil stabilized. After seven consecutive months of declines, the price of oil firmed and was actually up nominally in February. Gold, which rose in January, declined for the month, as investors switched to a risk-off mode. That willingness to assume more risk could be seen in the Ten-year Treasury, which saw the yield rise 20%, from 1.68% to 2.02%. The Dollar rose modestly. Nevertheless, fourth quarter GDP was revised down to a 2.2% annual rate from 2.6%, and the New York Times reported that the Chicago Business Barometer fell to its lowest point since January 2009.

Government creep is a given. Consider the consequences of the Affordable Care Act where annual health insurance premiums have risen 22.5% since 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, with deductibles up 32.7%. Or look at free checking at banks since Dodd-Frank. In 2009, 76% of banks offered free checking; today 38% do. Now Mr. Obama wants to look into 401Ks, a $4.2 trillion market. Are his (and Elizabeth Warren’s) intentions honorable, or do they want to insert government into this critical, generally well-run, low-cost industry?

John Whitehead, former head of Goldman Sachs, died during the month. He represented, as the Wall Street Journal noted, “the best of Wall Street and of America’s post-World War II generation.” Also dying during the month was Alex Vraciu who, as a pilot in the Pacific during the Second World War and according to his obituary in the New York Times, shot down six dive bombers in eight minutes! Jerry Tarkanian died. He had spent as much time battling the NCAA as his opponents on the court. He never had a losing season as a coach, and he eventually won $2.5 million from the NCAA for “harassment.” Prolific author Colleen McCullough, most famous for The Thorn Birds, died at age 78. Sadly, former Knick, Anthony Mason died at age 48 of congestive heart failure.

The month was not without its odd moments. A Dutch non-profit Mars One, which hopes to colonize Mars beginning in 2025, said it had received more than 202,000 applications for the 100 spots on what they hope to be the 21st Century’s version of the Mayflower, whose passengers, interestingly, had spent time in Holland. These are to be one-way tickets to the red planet. While I have no interest in this venture, which seems based more on dreams than reality, there are those I would like to see go.

There is a natural bias toward bad news. Good news doesn’t sell as well. For example, Jon Stewart’s voluntarily leaving the Daily Show at the top of his game generated no where near the press as Brian Williams received after being forced out of NBC News for being a Pinocchio. It is perhaps not the mark of a gentleman, but I did get a certain amount of joy from seeing that Leftist, sanctimonious, over-paid narcissist being chased out of his news seat.  It is amusing to watch the Left now try to coat Bill O’Reilly with the same brush that tarnished Mr. Williams. Of course, Rudy Giuliani’s gaffe that Mr. Obama may not love his country, whether true or not, hurt the former Mayor more than the current President.

The month ended in New York cold, but at least it was not snowing.


The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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