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11/21/2015

For the week 11/16-11/20

[Posted 11:30 PM ET, Friday]

Note: If you haven’t already done so, please click on the gofundme link above, or send a check to PO Box 990, New Providence, NJ  07974.

*Special thanks this week to Jeanne and Dan D. in Honolulu.

Edition 867

*Warning...if you are used to printing this out, this one is about 40 pages.

Paris and the War Against ISIS

Let’s first recap some of the key events since news of the attacks broke last Friday night. 

The terrorist assault on Paris was carried out by three teams of coordinated attackers.  [Seven killed, six blowing themselves up.  One other escaped.]  By Saturday night, officials said the death toll had reached 129 victims [upped to 130 today], with 352 others injured, 99 of them seriously.  French President Francois Hollande said the military would patrol the capital and that France was under a nationwide state of emergency, the borders closed.

“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” Hollande told the nation, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.  “It is an act of war that was prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside, which the investigation will help establish.”

On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

“Today brothers from all across the world set foot in Gaul and remind the kaffir (disbelievers) in dur Al Kuffr (the land of disbelievers) that we live beside you.

“We watch you when you go to sleep. And today we bring you your death,” a statement read, via Twitter.

Monday, at a rare joint session of both houses of parliament, Hollande called for the state of emergency to be extended to three months and for new authority to strip French citizenship from people involved in terrorism.  [Both houses approved the measures by week’s end.]

“These acts of war have been decided and planned in Syria,” said Hollande.  “They have been organized in Belgium and perpetrated on our soil with French accomplices.”

French jets launched strikes on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria.  Russia and the U.S. did the same, with the U.S. also striking ISIS oil tankers with the help of Russian intelligence.

French police launched a manhunt for an eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam, a French national, while Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national, was sought for helping plan the attack.

Police carried out 168 raids overnight, Sunday, across France.   More than 20 were arrested and 100 placed under house arrest.  30 weapons were uncovered, including a rocket launcher.  More raids were conducted in succeeding days.

With word at least one of the attackers may have hid among the migrants, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, called on the country to close its borders to immigrants immediately.

“Our fears and our warnings on the possible presence of jihadis among the migrants have unfortunately now been turned into tangible reality by these bloody attacks,” she said.

Hollande said he would visit President Obama in Washington and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this coming week in a bid to form a grand coalition against ISIS.

Then on Wednesday, in a massive pre-dawn raid by French police commandos, the suspected architect of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed, along with a female who it was first thought blew herself up (but on Friday it was revealed a male did, killing her) while seven were arrested.  Friday, a third body was found in the rubble of the building that had basically collapsed due to the explosions and over 5,000 rounds of gunfire.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned terrorists could potentially use chemical weapons.

“The morbid imagination of those [terrorists] who give orders is without limit: assault rifles, beheadings, human bombs, knives...One should not rule out anything,” Valls told Parliament on Thursday.

For its part, ISIS issued further warnings during the week, citing Washington and New York as targets, while a video, with a spokesman, “Al Ghareeb the Algerian,” warned Europe more attacks were coming.

“I say to the European countries that we are coming, coming with booby traps and explosives, coming with explosive belts and (gun) silencers and you will be unable to stop us because today we are much stronger than before,” he said.

Friday, we learned the ringleader, Abaaoud, was able to slip into Europe among Syrian migrants, as police on the continent admitted they are unable to monitor thousands of suspected jihadists.

Abaaoud returned to France from Syria via the migrant route through Greece.  At least two of the other jihadists involved in the Paris attacks – as well as the man, Salah, on the run – had also posed as migrants or refugees to return from trips to Syria.

French intelligence was unaware Abaaoud was in the country until after the massacre.

EU home affairs ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday are reprising demands to close perceived loopholes and gaps in the passport-free Schengen zone’s security arrangements.  Every traveler into the zone will have their details checked against the Schengen Information System (SIS) watch list – a database accessed by all EU countries – to monitor extremists and other criminals.

At present, only non-EU passport holders are meant to have SIS checks.  EU passport holders only undergo a cursory visual passport inspection, to respect their ‘freedom of movement.’  [Daily Telegraph / Irish Independent]

Meanwhile, Russia came to grips with the late-October downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, saying in a statement attributed to Vladimir Putin that it was an act of terror: 

“This is not the first time Russia has met with terrorist activity, most often without any obvious reason, internally or externally, as with the explosion in a station in Volgograd at the end of 2013.  We have not forgotten.

“The murder of our people over Sinai ranks among the severest of such acts.  We are filled with tears from our souls and hearts. This will be with us always.  But that will not stop us from finding and punishing the perpetrators.

“We will search for them everywhere. We will find them wherever on the planet they are hiding.”

Putin ordered the Russian navy to cooperate with French warships “as allies.”

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said the Paris attacks were part of what he calls a “piecemeal World War III.”

Former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, told the Wall Street Journal: “If you don’t play offense, this thing quickly turns into penalty kicks.  No matter how good your goalie is, the ball is going to eventually go into the back of the net....

“The sophistication, ambition and geographic reach of ISIS has grown more quickly than we anticipated.  The American air campaign against ISIS more resembles a fine Irish mist than it does a thunderstorm. And it’s got to look more like a thunderstorm now.”

From Turkey and a G20 summit, President Obama held a press conference on Monday.

Q (Jim Acosta / CNN): (You) said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world.  How is that not underestimating their capabilities?  And how is that contained, quite frankly?  And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS.  I guess the question is – and if you’ll forgive the language – is why can’t we take out these bastards?

President Obama: Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add.  I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason, as I said, Jim, is because there are costs to the other side.  I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars.  And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later.  It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.

Separately, the president said: “What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”

Oh brother.  As many soldiers and ex-soldiers said after the president’s above statement, this is what you sign up for when you join the military.  You sign up to defend the country, and in the course of that you could get killed or wounded.  The main thing our soldiers want is to be led. They want leadership.  President Obama is not providing that.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in response: “With his excuse-laden and defensive press conference, President Obama removed any and all doubt that he lacks the resolve or a strategy to defeat and destroy ISIS.  Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage.”

On the issue of terrorists infiltrating the migrant community and possibly coming to the United States, James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Congress that while there were challenges screening Iraqi refugees, the process was tougher for Syria.  “If we have no information on someone, they’ve never crossed our radar screen...it will be challenging,” he said.  [More on this below.]

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon / Defense One

“Even on Thursday, the day before the Paris attack, Obama defended his policies for containing the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, from further ground gains in Iraq.  ‘We have contained them,’ Obama told ABC News.  ‘They have not gained ground in Iraq.  And in Syria they’ll come in, they’ll leave.  But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain.’

“And again, the president pleaded for patience, saying ‘I think what is true is that this has always been a multi-year project...we don’t have ground forces there in sufficient numbers to simply march into Al-Raqqa in Syria and clean the whole place out.’...

“Of course at the center of the entire Syria policy conversation is the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. In 2011, the U.S. policy was, as the president said, that the time had come ‘for President Assad to step aside.’  But now Russia has come to Assad’s aide, without truly going after ISIS, while the U.S. goes after ISIS, but not Assad.

“ ‘There may be a ratcheting up of what we will do against ISIS but not against Assad,’ said Dennis Ross, who has served four American administrations as a diplomat focused on the Middle East.  ‘The Russians would need to put real pressure on both Assad and the Iranians. And the Saudis, Qataris won’t stop if the regime does not.  And where is our leverage?  Why would anyone respond to us?  We are going after ISIS for understandable reasons. But if Putin does not go after them as well, there won’t be a ceasefire.’

“Some inside the administration have argued that Assad is the cause of the violence and ISIS the symptom, and that without removing the former you could not stop the latter.  The only problem is the Obama administration’s foreign policy team has long feared who and what kind of regime would succeed Assad.  But without a plan to transfer power from Assad while pursuing the fight against ISIS, expect more of the same battle and bloodshed up ahead.

“ ‘They don’t want to rock the boat with Damascus,’ said the administration official.  ‘And the Russians are now saying, ‘See, it only proves we are on the right side.’

“ ‘It is all talk. The war continues until one side defeats the other.  Nothing has changed.’”

Editorial / Washington Post

“The Paris attacks created a tactical opportunity for Vladimir Putin.  For two months the Russian ruler sought to persuade Arab and Western nations to join what he described as an alliance against the Islamic State, even as a Russian offensive in Syria targeted Western-backed Syrian rebel forces.  He was spurned, and his military campaign bogged down.  Now, in the wake of Paris, French President Francois Hollande suddenly has become a convert to the grand-alliance idea; he has scheduled visits to Washington and Moscow next week to promote it.

“Mr. Putin is doing his best to look like a potential partner.  On Tuesday, after weeks of obfuscation, his government suddenly confirmed that the Islamic State was responsible for the bombing of a Russian airliner last month, and Russian forces carried out a rare wave of attacks against the Islamic State capital, Raqqa.  The Kremlin has much to gain: An alliance could mean the end of European sanctions against Russia, which will expire in January unless renewed, and the concession of a Russian say over the future of Syria and perhaps also Ukraine, where Russian-backed forces have resumed daily attacks.

“The question for Western governments, including a rightly skeptical Obama administration, is whether joining with Mr. Putin would help or hurt the cause of destroying the Islamic State.  For now, that’s not a hard call.  Russia has little to offer the U.S.-led coalition in military terms, even if it proved willing to focus its attacks on the Islamic State rather than rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, Mr. Putin’s strategy of bolstering rather than removing the Assad regime is, along with Iran’s similar strategy, the single biggest obstacle to defeating the jihadists....

“The only productive contribution Mr. Putin could make to an anti-Islamic State coalition would be to reverse himself, use Russia’s leverage to obtain the removal of Mr. Assad and stop attacks on Western-sponsored forces.  Failing that, an alliance with Russia would be a dangerous false step for the United States and France.”

Editorial / Washington Post (separate one)

“Pressed about his strategy for fighting the Islamic State, a petulant-sounding President Obama insisted Monday, as he has before, that his critics have offered no concrete alternatives for action in Syria and Iraq, other than putting ‘large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.’  This claim was faulty in two respects.  First, few if any White House critics are proposing a U.S. ground operation on the scale of the previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  At the same time, military experts both within and outside the administration have proposed more modest measures that could significantly increase the pressure on the Islamic State if the president were to adopt them.

“Mr. Obama is right that the route to destroying the Islamic State lies in finding local partners in the Middle East and elsewhere who can stabilize their countries with U.S. and other international support.  If that broad strategy is correct, however, its implementation has been consistently underpowered.  U.S. aid to Iraqi and Syrian allies has been too small and too slow to arrive; airstrikes have been conducted at a fraction of the pace of previous campaigns....

“In response to failures, Mr. Obama has tended to escalate U.S. action in small increments unlikely to make a decisive difference – like his recent decision to dispatch fewer than 50 Special Operations to Syria....

“For more than a year, some experts have been urging Mr. Obama to begin the direct delivery of weapons, ammunition and other equipment to Kurdish forces in Iraq as well as Sunni tribal fighters.  The administration has persisted in trying to route this materiel through the Iraqi government, only to see the deliveries slowed or blocked.  The administration could begin direct deliveries while exerting more pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on promises to reach political accords with Sunnis and Kurds.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“(French President) Hollande has been right to declare war on Islamic State and order French bombing raids on its capital in eastern Syria.  France is still a militarily capable nation, as it proved when it turned back an al Qaeda offensive in Mali in 2013.  It can do significant damage to ISIS if it increases the tempo of its current bombing or deploys its Foreign Legion to liberate the city of Raqqa.

“But France can’t lead a decisive military campaign on its own, which is why Mr. Hollande is casting about for potential partners.  He won’t find them in Europe, despite his decision to invoke an obscure and toothless European collective defense clause.

“Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, was oddly noncommittal on Sunday when he was asked if France should trigger the Article 5 mutual-defense clause of the NATO charter.  ‘That’s a decision for the French to make,’ he said. That seeming reluctance and Mr. Hollande’s decision not to invoke Article 5 makes us wonder if the Obama Administration quietly told Paris not to bother.  Keep in mind that NATO did invoke Article 5 after 9/11, which led to Europe’s cooperation with the U.S. against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

“No wonder Paris is making overtures for a joint military option with Moscow, which must be delighted at this opening to renew an old European friendship while weakening NATO in the bargain.  President Obama is missing an opportunity to help an ally in its hour of need and fortify the larger Atlantic alliance.”

Editorial / USA TODAY

“This is a war in which civilians are on the front lines. Concertgoers at a music hall. Fans outside a soccer game. Diners at a café.  Many of the more than 130 victims were young professionals and students, including Nohemi Gonzalez, a senior at California State University, Long Beach.

“It is a war in which it is impossible to protect every ‘soft target,’ so the international community must take the fight to the enemy, which has established strongholds in Syria and Iraq.  It cannot be won by playing defense or ‘containing’ the threat.

“It is a war that, if we are not careful, threatens to undermine civil liberties, compassion for refugees, religious freedom and other values that define Western society.

“It is a war that is likely to be long, and it will be hard to know when it is over.  Surrender won’t come at a courthouse or on a battleship.

“It is a war in which there is nothing to negotiate. There are no territorial lines to discuss, no acceptable political comprises. The enemy must be destroyed, using the full array of military, economic and intelligence means.

“It is a war in which the path to victory will be erratic.  Successes, such as last week’s recapture of Sinjar in Iraq and the apparent killing of the psychopathic Islamic State executioner known as Jihadi John, will be followed by tragedies such as Friday’s attacks.

“It is a war of modernity against medievalism, of civilization against barbarity.”

Peggy Noonan / Wall Street Journal

“What to do?

“On this issue the American president is, amazingly, barely relevant. The leaders and people of Europe and America will not be looking to him for wisdom, will, insight or resolve. No commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces can be wholly irrelevant, but to the extent one can be, Mr. Obama is.  He has misjudged ISIS from the beginning – they were not, actually, the junior varsity – to the end. He claimed last week, to George Stephanopoulos, that ISIS has been ‘contained.’ ‘I don’t think they’re gaining strength,’ he said just before Paris blew.

“After the attacks Mr. Obama went on TV, apparently to comfort us and remind us it’s OK, he’s in charge. He prattled on about violence being at odds with ‘universal values.’  He proceeded as if unaware that there are no actually universal values, that right now the values of the West and radical Islam are clashing, violently, and we have to face it.  The mainstream press saw right through him.  At the news conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta referred to the ‘frustration’ of ‘a lot of Americans,’ who wonder: ‘Why can’t we take out these bastards?’ The president sighed and talked down to him – to us.  He has a strategy and it’s the right one and it’s sad you can’t see it.

“Let him prattle on about climate change as the great threat of our time.

“All he can do at this point is troll the GOP with the mischief of his refugee program.  If he can’t work up a passion about radical Islamic violence, at least he can tie the Republicans in knots over whether they’re heartless bigots who want to prevent widows and children from taking refuge from the Syrian civil war....

“Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude.  In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s ‘optimism.’ That was his power, they say – he was optimistic.

“No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss.  Reagan’s power was that he was confident.  He was confident that whatever the problem – the economy, the Soviets, the million others – he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic.  And get the job done.

“What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this.  We can do it.

“Who will provide that?  Where will it come from?  Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?”

Ralph Peters / New York Post

“President Obama’s approach of delayed and diluted action – ever doing the minimum demanded by domestic politics – has allowed ISIS not only to survive but to expand its appeal, its numbers, its territory and its global impact. Starbucks took 30 years to reach five continents.  ISIS did it in two.

“In his press conference in Turkey on Monday, Obama continued to insist that there was no need to change his Syria policy, that success merely ‘will take time.’  Yet it’s precisely because of our unwillingness to take the threat seriously and then to respond forcefully that ISIS now has a deep bench of seasoned ‘middle managers’ ready to replace the leaders we kill; it has tens of thousands of combat-veteran jihadis; it’s made the caliphate real in the city of Raqqa; and it’s had the leisure to learn how to cope with our weapons (human shields work every time).

“With a free assist from Edward Snowden, it’s even learned how to circumvent our intelligence efforts. Ask the French.

“Obama wouldn’t go to Raqqa. So the jihadis went to Paris....

“Our military has the resources to shatter ISIS, but political correctness has penetrated so deep into the Pentagon that, even should a president issue the one-word order, ‘Win!’ our initial actions would be cautious and halting.  We’ve bred a generation of military leaders afraid of being prosecuted by their own government for the kind of errors inevitable in wartime. Instead of ‘leaning forward in the foxhole,’ our leaders lean on lawyers.

“If lawyers had had to approve our World War II target lists, we couldn’t have won. War is never clean or easy, and the strictures imposed on our military today just protect our enemies.  Collateral damage and civilian casualties are part of combat and always will be.  The most humane approach is to pile on fast and win decisively – which results in far less suffering than the sort of protracted agony we see in Syria.

“The generals who won World War II would start by leveling Raqqa*, the ISIS caliphate’s capital.  Civilians would die, but those remaining in Raqqa have embraced ISIS, as Germans did Hitler. The jihadis must be crushed.  Start with their ‘Berlin.’

*Ed. Mr. Peters wrote this three days after my screed of 11/13 recommending same.

“Kill ten thousand, save a million.

“Unthinkable? Fine. We lose.

“And the jihadis? They’ll always have Paris.”

Charles Krauthammer / Washington Post

“If (one of the goals) of the Paris massacre was to frighten France out of the air campaign in Syria – the way Spain withdrew from the Iraq war after the terrorist attack on its trains in 2004 – they picked the wrong country.  France is a serious post-colonial power, as demonstrated in Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic and Mali, which France saved from an Islamist takeover in 2013.

“Indeed, socialist President Francois Hollande has responded furiously to his country’s 9/11....

“Meanwhile, Barack Obama, titular head of the free world, has responded to Paris with weariness and annoyance. His news conference in Turkey was marked by a stunning tone of passivity, detachment and lassitude, compounded by impatience and irritability at the very suggestion that his Syria strategy might be failing.

“The only time he showed any passion was in denouncing Republicans for hardheartedness toward Muslim refugees.  One hundred and twenty-nine innocents like dead, but it takes the GOP to kindle Obama’s ire.

“The rest was mere petulance, dismissing criticisms of his Syria policy as popping off.  Inconveniently for Obama, one of those popper-offers is Dianne Feinstein, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She directly contradicted Obama’s blithe assertion, offered the day before the Paris attack, that the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIL) was contained and not gaining strength.  ‘I have never been more concerned,’ said Feinstein.  ‘ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding.’

“Obama defended his policy by listing its multifaceted elements.  Such as, ‘I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters.’  An ‘entire’ discussion, mind you.  Not a partial one.  They tremble in Raqqa....

“Obama complained of being criticized for not being bellicose enough.  But the complaint is not about an absence of bellicosity but about an absence of passion, of urgency and of commitment to the fight. The air campaign over Syria averages seven strikes a day.  Seven.  In Operation Desert Storm, we flew 1,100 sorties a day.  Even in the Kosovo campaign, we averaged 138.  Obama is doing just enough in Syria to give the appearance of motion, yet not nearly enough to have any chance of success....

“Hollande is trying to gather a real coalition to destroy the Islamic State, even as Obama touts his phony 65.  For 11 post-World War II presidencies, coalition leading has been the role of the United States. Where is America today?  Awaiting a president.  The next president.”

Editorial / Army Times...written days before the Paris attacks....

“First, Washington must change its approach to the conflict, which has delayed progress.  Officials have suggested that Washington could have used more air power to stop the Islamic State group as it advanced on Palmyra to destroy its ancient ruins, but was concerned doing so would have helped Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

“If the mission’s goal is to destroy the Islamic State group, that aim must be at the core of an integrated strategy.  This ambiguity is why America’s European and Arab allies worry there is greater interest in appearing to fight Islamic State militants than actually doing so. America invited everyone to the party, offering coordination but no leadership. Washington must now lead.”

---

So let’s go back to what I wrote on the fly last Friday night, hours after learning of the Paris attacks, and with many details not yet known.

Since day one of this column, almost 17 years ago, I have noted I have but one mantra, “Wait 24 hours” before making any broad comments on big news events that might have just hit as I’m writing or posting this column.  But last week I couldn’t afford to wait a full week before saying anything and I’m not into doing special reports in between.

What I wrote, in haste, was harsh to many of you.  I know I probably lost some readers over it. 

But if I had to do it again, it would be exactly the same with one very small change.

My thoughts on the rise of the far right in Europe, going back years before the current migrant crisis, have been spot on.  Add in the impact of the Paris attacks and you’ve seen even this week how the tension on this front has only ratcheted up three-fold.  Attitudes will continue to harden and they aren’t likely to improve much over the coming years.

My feelings on Syria, that we lost any chance of success in 2012, have been as prescient as anything else written on the topic; following the president’s performance at his news conference in Turkey on Monday, even more so.

I need to remind you that on Sept. 8, 2012, I wrote the following in this space:

“Syria: The killing continues, now estimated at anywhere from 23,000 to 26,000 in the civil war, with the UN pegging the official refugee figure at over 230,000 (the unofficial number far higher), which is destabilizing to neighbors Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, while there is a true humanitarian catastrophe developing in Syria itself as 1.2 million have been displaced and 2.5 million are in dire need of aid.  I’ll just say this in terms of the political debate taking place in the U.S.  One of the Democrats’ campaign slogans is ‘Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.’  It needs to be pointed out that at least 20,000 of the Syrian deaths could have been prevented if the White House had taken coordinated humanitarian action with Turkey early on.  Not a military invasion but just the establishment of safe havens and the Obama administration could have significantly reduced the human toll.

“But it’s too late now. We missed our opportunity. The situation is indeed far more dangerous.

“It was the same situation in 2009 when President Obama missed an opportunity in Iran to support the Greens, but instead when the United States just sat back, the mullahs crushed the uprising and now look where we are there.

“It’s pathetic.  It’s what infuriates me about how the president is getting a pass on his foreign policy.”

Earlier, August 18, 2012, I wrote in WIR:

“William Perry, former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, warned that if America continued to sit on its hands, ‘we’ll be in no position to influence the post-Assad government.’ Perry has recommended that the U.S. impose a no-fly, no-drive zone in northern Syria.

“President Obama just wants the war to stay out of the American public’s mindset until after the first week in November....”

That same week, I also quoted the late Fouad Ajami from an op-ed of his in the Wall Street Journal.

“The sight of Hillary Clinton cutting a rug on the dance floor this week in South Africa gives away the moral obtuseness of America’s chief diplomat. That image will tell the people of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, under attack by a merciless regime, all they need to know about the heartlessness of U.S. foreign policy.

“True authority over foreign affairs has been vested in the White House, and for that matter, in the Obama campaign apparatus.  All the great decisions on foreign policy – Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle raging in Syria, the challenge posed by the Iranian regime – have been subjugated to the needs of the campaign. All that is left for Mrs. Clinton is the pomp and ceremony and hectic travel schedule....

“This is foreign policy trivialized.”

Now we advance three+ years.  All this past week I didn’t see a single commentator point out what I’m about to, not even Sens. John McCain or Lindsey Graham.

Look back above at what I wrote in Sept. 2012.  Look at the death toll, the number of refugees and the number displaced in Syria.

Now look at today.  The day before the Paris attacks, Sec. of State John Kerry himself used a death toll in Syria of 300,000!  There are well over four million refugees, well over seven million now displaced.  Over eleven million combined!  In Sept. 2012, this figure approximated 1.5 million.

I wrote back then the death toll, had we instituted the no-fly zone that the likes of McCain, Graham and William Perry sought, would have been around 3,000 to 6,000.

Compare that to 300,000.  Every single right-thinking person in the world should be sick to their stomach looking at this.

So why are we freakin’ worried about killing some civilians in Raqqa, and/or Mosul, if we do what we should be doing...bomb those two ISIS strongholds to smithereens!  Not this pin-prick stuff that took place this week.  I love the French and the tough action President Hollande is taking, but I’ve seen the reports...they’re hardly inflicting any real damage at all, ditto what the U.S. and Russia are doing there.

Again, I cannot repeat this enough.  Nearly 300,000 have been killed due to the fact President Obama didn’t want to install a no-fly zone in 2012, because he didn’t want to upset the election mantra.  Bin Laden is dead...GM is alive.

Airpower can work.  ISIS has yet to be truly disrupted or feel any broad pain.  Last week I used Dresden as an example.  I know that is harsh.  But you all know this is war.

We don’t need 50,000 boots on the ground, President Obama’s sick strawman that he likes to trot out.

Continuing with my remarks from last week...

What did I tell you about the train ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the center of Paris that I’ve written of from time to time, including last week.  The ride “into the center of Paris; to see the ugly suburbs, to see some of the ugly individuals who hop on the train, to get a sense of the teeming ghettos...the boiling cauldrons of hate.”

You know what suburb you pass on this train, that I have seen countless times and wondered just what was going on in there?  Saint-Denis, right next to the Stad de France that you also pass.  You saw what happened there on Wednesday.  Case closed.

I also wrote last week of my trips to Beirut and I just have to expound on this topic one more time.

In 2005, following the horrific assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, the people of Lebanon rose up and booted out the Syrians, including the Syrian army and their intelligence goons, that had been running the country since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.  I was observing this and saw that there would be a pause of about four weeks before the Lebanese were to hold rolling elections over three or four weeks.  I was concerned that there would be heavy violence during the elections (it turns out it was limited, thankfully), so I thought, smartly, I’ll go in the weeks before the voting started and that’s when I went, with my room at the Phoenicia Hotel overlooking the bomb crater where Hariri and his bodyguards were blown to pieces.

I wrote then from the scene that I was incredulous how there was basically just some police tape around the site and learned from my new friends at the hotel (the workers who witnessed the carnage first hand) that the U.N. had done virtually no investigation at all.  [The case has still not been adjudicated properly, but everyone knows it was directed from Syria.]

My big takeaway from the trip was how I saw the urgency for the United States to flood the country with aid (working with the French, ironically, who did what they could...remember, Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East) in order to provide the Lebanese Army the tools it needed to keep order in the region and, most importantly, prevent Hizbullah from filling the void.

So what did President George W. Bush and Condi Rice do?  Nothing!  Zero, of any substance.

What did this allow Hizbullah to do?  Fill the void.  Why?  Hizbullah’s main argument has always been it is the only true force that can prevent Lebanon from being overrun by Israel.

If President Bush (who some conveniently forget was totally AWOL, and I used that term in this space, from the start of the Iraq War until Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Jack Keane grabbed him by the lapel and shook him out of his stupor to support the surge) had bulked up the Lebanese military, Hizbullah would have had no argument.

Instead, Hizbullah launched their counter-revolution, protest movement, and won a permanent role in the government.  They never should have been part of it.

American leadership?  Non-existent. The result?  Iran (and to a certain extent Syria) have been flooding Lebanon with heavy weapons and tens of thousands of rockets so that the next Israeli-Hizbullah war will truly be hell on earth and threaten Israel’s survival (which is all the more reason Israel must keep ISIS, Hizbullah, al-Nusra, and Iran out of the Golan Heights, which would make for another front during a war).

Lastly, I said I wish there was one slight comment I wish I had made in last week’s diatribe and that is about French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.  I wrote, “If I were born and raised in France, I’d have to think seriously about voting for (her).”

I was putting myself in the shoes of a Frenchman today. Not as Brian Trumbore, American.

I know a lot about the National Front and its economic policy, for example.  It’s a disaster.  But I fully appreciate why her popularity, especially after the Paris attacks, should surge, at least in the short run.

But if, as expected, the race in 2017 in France is between Hollande, Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy, I imagine I’d vote for Sarkozy.

I hope this coming week is a far more quiet one.  I’d like to enjoy my Thanksgiving.

Washington and Wall Street

The Federal Reserve released the minutes from its meeting last month and it showed that most members thought it would be appropriate to lift interest rates in December provided economic data warranted it and there were no “unanticipated shocks.”  The Paris attacks probably don’t fall into this category, especially since the financial markets took them in stride.

But there remains a divide among policymakers, with some warning that it was “unlikely” that information received before the Dec. 15-16 confab would support an increase.

The minutes said in part, “Some participants thought that the conditions for beginning the policy normalization process had already been met.  Most participants anticipated that, based on their assessment of the current economic situation and their outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation, these conditions could well be met by the time of the next meeting.”

As for economic news, the consumer price index for October came in at 0.2%, including ex-food and energy, with the CPI rising 0.2% for the last 12 months, 1.9% on core, or essentially at the Fed’s 2% target, though this is not their preferred metric.  [It’s good enough for me...especially given the wage component contained in the last employment report.]

October housing starts were down 11% to 1.060 million on an annualized basis, far weaker than expected though due to a big drop in multi-family homes.

And industrial production for last month fell 0.2%, the ninth month out of 10 it has been negative.

In another sign of weakness, the Wall Street Journal reported imports at the three largest ports in the U.S.; L.A./Long Beach and New York, fell 10% between August and October.

Meanwhile, there is still the risk of a government shutdown in December (Dec. 11).  New House Speaker Paul Ryan warned a spending bill needed to avoid a shutdown must include Republican policy measures, “riders,” in the sweeping spending bill.  Ryan also warned President Obama against using executive action to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Congress reached a deal with the White House boosting spending by $80 billion during the next two years and increasing the federal government’s borrowing limit until mid-March 2017.

But Congress still must pass individual spending bills divvying up the funding.

The White House has said Republicans need to keep partisan policy measures out of the bill.

Finally, UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer, dealt a huge ‘potential’ blow to the future of ObamaCare by threatening to withdraw from insurance exchanges that have reduced the number of Americans without healthcare coverage.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 established a network of online exchanges that allowed individuals to purchase individual plans, which helped send the percentage of people without coverage to just 9 percent from 16 percent five years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But UNH can’t make a profit on plans it is offering through the exchanges and it is contemplating abandoning the schemes altogether.  The company said it will make a final decision in the first half of 2016, but this could lead to a cascade of other insurers doing the same thing, because if one leaves, the risks rise for the others.

Aetna and Anthem, two other big players, did say this week they were not ready to abandon ship and I think those saying this is the end of ObamaCare are getting a little ahead of themselves, as much as I wish it were true.  Kaiser Permanente, for example, which has 450,000 individual exchange customers across eight states and Washington, D.C., said it’s “strongly committed” to the marketplaces.

Separately, the average premium for medium-benefit plans offered to 40-year-old non-smokers will rise 10.1% in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Europe and Asia

The eurozone’s bailout lenders approved a new loan payout to Greece as well as a planned bank rescue – totaling 12bn euro ($13bn), but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ coalition was reduced to just a six-seat majority in the 300-member parliament following dissent over an austerity vote, that includes new fees and taxes, including higher duties on wine, as well as a key formula for providing some overly indebted homeowners protection from foreclosure.

The trouble for Tsipras, however, is just getting started as he needs to proceed with a drastic overhaul planned for the country’s troubled pension system. And he can no longer count on support from pro-European opposition parties.

Of the 12bn euro to be disbursed, 2bn would be spent on Greece’s domestic needs, while up to 10bn would go toward recapitalizing the Greek banks – rebuilding their cash reserves.  Bad loans are one of the biggest problems plaguing the banks, nonperforming business loans being more of an issue than mortgage delinquencies.

On the overall eurozone economic front, inflation came in at an annualized rate of 0.1% for October, compared with -0.1% in September, still well below the European Central Bank’s target of 2%. 

Spain was -0.9% (ann.), Germany 0.2%, France 0.2%, and Italy 0.3%.

Inflation in the U.K. (I always feel obligated to say ‘non-euro U.K.’) was -0.1%, with the Bank of England voting 8-1 to keep interest rates at 0.5%, the latest BoE forecast showing rates could remain at historic lows well into 2016.

U.K. retail sales fell more than expected in October after surging in September, with the Office for National Statistics saying volumes declined 0.6% after a 1.7% upturn the prior month.  But wages keep rising and the fall is seen as no big deal.  Retail sales are up 3.8% from a year ago, after all.

New car sales in the European Union in October eased to the slowest pace in five months, as Volkswagen’s diesel crisis hit the region’s largest manufacturer, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

Registrations (sales) in the EU rose 2.9% in October to 1.1 million vehicles.

VW’s share of the EU new car market fell slightly to 25.1% in October from 25.9% a year earlier.

Sales in the U.K., fell 1.1%, the first monthly decline there since February 2012.

EU sales growth in September was 9.8%.  For the first 10 months of the year, they have risen 8.2%.

On the migration front, aside from the fallout of the Paris attacks, Anne Applebaum wrote the following for the Washington Post prior to the events of 11/13.

“(Europe’s) Schengen treaty, which eliminates borders between those countries that are members, is under mortal threat. Sweden has introduced temporary checks at its border crossings, just to monitor the flow of people. Slovenia and Hungary have put up fences on their borders with Croatia.  A reasonable E.U. plan to distribute refugees among many countries isn’t working, because most refugees want to go to Berlin or Stockholm, not Tallinn or Bratislava.  But even if they did want to go, the institutions to transport and house them don’t exist.

“This legal and logistical crisis pales beside the looming political crisis.  Across the continent, people are unsettled by the sense that Europe has lost control.  There is talk of German hypocrisy: For years – decades, really – Germany positioned itself as the keeper of Europe’s rules.  Whether dealing with the Greek crisis or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany has always stuck solemnly to whatever treaties it signed or promises it made, even those made irrelevant by changing politics, such as Germany’s insistence on its old promise not to put military bases on NATO’s eastern border. When Germany suddenly changed the immigration rules and, without consultation at the European level, forced everyone else to accommodate, widespread disaffection began to spread....

“To preserve the freedom of movement within its borders, to prevent a wave of far-right governments from taking power – to preserve, in other words, the E.U. itself – Europe needs emergency measures.  It must reassert control over its outer borders, create refugee processing centers at entry points, patrol its coasts.  Compassion is vital, the victims of Syria’s brutal war cannot be forgotten, and it may eventually be possible to resettle many of them inside the E.U.  but if Europe itself becomes dysfunctional, that will not happen, because Europe will be incapable of extending compassion to anyone else.”

Following the Paris attacks, there was a domino effect as the likes of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia announced they weren’t allowing in the so-called economic migrants whose countries aren’t shattered by armed struggles or wars.

Turning to Asia....

Japan is back in recession after its economy shrank an annualized rate of 0.8% in the third quarter, worse than expected, for a second consecutive quarter of decline (-0.7% in Q2), the definition of recession, though no one is expecting a downward spiral.

That said, it’s a new blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to end deflation and revitalize the economy, “Abenomics.”  Since he took office at the end of 2012, the economy has experienced six quarters of growth and five quarters of decline.

Sluggish demand is not conducive to companies raising wages, which is what’s required to finally get inflation going again.

The silver lining in the third quarter report is virtually the entire decline was due to businesses running down inventory and that can’t continue forever.  Consumption contributed to growth, but investment was weak.

Japan continues to suffer from China’s big slowdown; Japan selling lots of industrial and construction equipment and machinery to the mainland.

In China, home prices rose for the first time in over a year in October on an annual basis, signaling some stabilization.  But with still sky-high inventories it is unlikely there will be a sustained rebound in prices.

Average new home prices rose 0.1% in October from a year earlier, according to the National Statistics Bureau, reversing September’s 0.9% drop.

Housing accounts for 15% of GDP in China so it’s important to at least keep things steady in the sector.

At the APEC conference in Manila (more on this below), President Xi Jinping told his audience that the fundamentals of China’s economy remain positive, and that it is proving resilient.

One other item this week...Chinese police arrested hundreds of people suspected of running an operation that illegally transferred a staggering $125bn out of China into foreign currencies.  The news comes as Beijing has been trying to tighten capital controls and stop money from flooding out of the country.

Street Bytes

--After a brutal performance last week, stocks rallied despite the terror attacks in Paris, and then Mali on Friday, as investors became more comfortable with the coming Fed interest rate hike.

Now much of the preceding may make no sense whatsoever, and it shouldn’t, but at times Wall Street acts totally irrationally.  I mean, c’mon, the market is overvalued, with a 22 trailing P/E on the S&P 500, but it is what it is.

The Dow Jones and S&P rose 3.3%, the best week for the latter since December of last year, while Nasdaq gained 3.6%.

The Dow, at 17823, is exactly where it stood at the close of last year.  As they would have said on “Hee-Haw,” “Sa-lute!”

I’m sorry, but there are some weeks I can’t take seriously when it comes to the Street and this was one of them.

On the other hand, the market averages for the year are essentially right where I said they’d be for all of 2015.

Now, though, it’s about the holiday shopping season and the National Retail Federation is calling for sales in November and December to rise 3.7% vs. last year’s 4.1% pace.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.29%  2-yr. 0.92%  10-yr. 2.26% 30-yr. 3.02%

Essentially unchanged on the week.

--Ford Motor Co.’s proposed four-year U.S. labor contract is in danger of being rejected after United Auto Workers members voted it down by almost 2-to-1 at big factories in Kentucky and Missouri.

Those who are turning down the deal don’t believe the gains they’ve won make up for the givebacks granted in earlier contracts to keep the company alive.  Kristin Dziczek, director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told Bloomberg: “They felt if they’re not going to get back the concessions they gave up now, when will they get them back? Well, we’re in a different world now.”

The contract includes $10,000 in bonuses upon ratification. Wage increases of $10,633, plus a variety of bonuses and guaranteed payouts boosting the average Ford production worker’s pay by $32,500 over the life of the contract, according to the union.  [Note: I’ve seen lesser figures than the above in other articles.]

Final voting is due in on Friday and I haven’t seen the results.

Earlier, Fiat Chrysler workers rejected the first contract the union negotiated in September and then the unions ratified a second offer last month.  GM’s proposed pact isn’t yet ratified, with skilled-trades workers rejecting it, while production workers approved it.  The UAW has set a Friday deadline to resolve the GM deal.

--Wal-Mart beat Wall Street’s expectations on earnings by a penny in the third quarter, with same-store sales rising 1.5%, the fifth straight quarter of growth after a long stretch of declines.

But while the earnings beat, profit fell 11% for the quarter and the company warned it would continue to do so as Wal-Mart’s costs rise, such as for higher wages. This fiscal year and next, Wal-Mart plans to spend $2.7 billion on wage increases and another $2 billion to improve its e-commerce operations. [See below.]

--Target Corp. posted third-quarter results that met analysts’ estimates and the company raised guidance slightly.  Comp store sales rose 1.9%, a little better than expected as well.  CEO Brian Cornell continues to update many of the stores, while paring costs, and it has been paying off.

Now it’s all about the holidays.

--As a Bloomberg piece noted, both Target and Wal-Mart saw a big slowdown in online sales growth last quarter, which isn’t good.

Target’s Internet sales grew 20%, missing the 30% it expected.  Wal-Mart posted e-commerce growth of 10%, compared with 16% in the second quarter and 21% a year earlier.  Wal-Mart is spending as much as $1.5 billion this year to improve its e-commerce operations, and investors expect to see a big bump in sales.

--Meanwhile, the Commerce Department released its quarterly survey of e-commerce sales, nationwide, and they rose 15.2% in the third quarter vs. a year earlier, while total retail sales increased 1.6% in the same period.  E-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2015 accounted for 6.8% of total sales.  This last figure was 7.2% in the second quarter.

So this points out the limits to e-commerce, as much as we talk about it. Consumers are still reluctant to buy certain items online, including food and beverages or drugs and health care, which are in some of the largest categories.

--Home-improvement king, Home Depot Inc., keeps racking up solid results, handily beating earnings expectations for the third quarter, with same-store sales up 5.1%, including a strong 7.3% in the U.S.

Overall, Home Depot posted a profit of $1.73 billion, with revenues rising 6.4% to $21.82 billion.

--Lowe’s, the second-largest do-it-yourself chain, reported a 25% rise in profits last quarter, exceeding expectations, with same-store sales up a solid 5%.

--This was telling. Caterpillar, the world’s largest mining and construction equipment manufacturer by sales, said it did not expect demand for excavators in China to recover to the peaks of 2010-12.

Want an example?  The company said industry-wide sales of hydraulic excavators between 10-90 tons, will reach the “23,000 range” in China this year.  “That compares with a total of more than 27,000 sold in March alone in 2011 and more than 112,000 for the whole of 2010, which was the peak year for the market.”  [Lindsay Whipp / Financial Times]

--A high-speed TGV train undergoing a test run for the Paris-Strasburg high-speed line scheduled to open next year derailed near Strasbourg, killing at least ten people.

The train was carrying 49 railway technicians when it left the tracks, caught fire, and plunged into a canal.  “Excessive speed” was blamed by officials.

--BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, closed a $1bn macro hedge fund, Global Ascent, after its worst-ever performance (down about 9.5%) and investor outflows.  The fund was focused on bond and currency markets.  It lost 12.3% in the first three months of 2015. [Financial Times]

--French industrial gas group, Air Liquide, announced it was buying U.S.-based Airgas in a $13.4 billion deal.  Air Liquide would become the world’s largest industrial gas company by sales.  [We’re talking stuff like oxygen, hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, etc.]

--Marriott International announced it was buying Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide for $12.2 billion in cash and stock, creating the world’s largest hotel company.  Starwood’s brands include Westin, the W, Sheraton and St. Regis.

Starwood has been beset by management woes and announced in April that it was exploring strategic alternatives.

The combined Marriott and Starwood company will have about 5,500 owned or franchised hotels with 1.1 million rooms worldwide.

--Pfizer is nearing a merger with Allergan for as much as $150bn in a so-called corporate inversion; Pfizer moving its corporate address to Ireland, where Allergan is, in order to significantly reduce its tax bill.

The combined company would have nearly $53 billion in annual sales, with products including Lipitor, Viagra and Botox.

--How catastrophic was the massive dam failure in Brazil earlier this month?  The operators of the Samarco mine, Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd., struck a deal with state and federal prosecutors to establish a “socio-environmental escrow” of over $260 million.

The collapse of two dams at the iron-ore mine sent mining mud flooding through remote valleys, wiping out several communities, killing fish and livestock, and at least 11 people (18 still officially missing at last word).

Deutsche Bank estimates the final bill for Vale and BHP could top $1 billion.  Insurance limits have already been topped with the initial agreement.

--Cloud computing, online software vendor Salesforce.com Inc. posted a 24% jump in quarterly revenue for its fiscal third quarter and predicted it would report more than $8.1 billion in revenue for the 12 months ending January 2017, up 20% to 22% over the prior, also beating the Street’s expectations.

Deferred revenues, a key metric used by analysts to evaluate subscription businesses, rose 28% in FQ3, as CEO Marc Benioff said it’s not as much about tech trends like cloud computing, but rather, how can Salesforce’s service help a company grow.

For the three-month period ended Oct. 31, Salesforce reported a net loss of four cents a share, compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier.

But excluding items, adjusted per-share earnings were 21 cents, beating the Street’s estimates of 19 cents.

--Cloud computing rival Workday reported Q3 earnings of $0.04, ex-items, better than the consensus forecast of a loss of $0.04, while revenue for the quarter came in at $305.3 million versus the consensus estimate of $303.5 million, up 42% year-over-year.

Cofounder and CEO Aneel Bhusri said, “We had a strong third quarter, and welcomed our largest financial management [AON] and HCM [Human Capital management] customers to date.  Wordkay also delivered its best performance in new annual contract value for Workday Financial Management in the history of the company.”

For the current quarter, Workday sees revenue in a range of $317 and $320 million, or growth of 40% to 41% compared to the prior year, but this is slightly less than the Street has been forecasting so it was a classic ‘sell the news’ story in terms of the company’s stock, which initially fell sharply on the earnings release but rallied back by the close on Friday.

--An Indian trade group said India will overtake the U.S. to have the second-largest population of Internet users after China by December, with the number rising to 402 million from 375 million in October.  According to the World Bank, China has about 650 million Internet users.

But overall Internet penetration in India is low, at just 30% of the population, vs. roughly 50% in China and 87% in the U.S., also according to the WB.  [Sean McLain / Wall Street Journal]

--Square, the San Francisco-based payments company, priced its IPO below its range, at $9 each per share, or about 40% below the level paid by investors in its private fundraising a year ago.

The Square IPO was viewed as a critical one for the tech industry in particular as investors become increasingly skeptical of high valuations that startups (i.e., ‘unicorns,’ $billion companies) are garnering.

Square went public with a valuation of $3.2bn, when investors deemed it worth $6bn a year ago.  It closed its first day at $13.07, giving the company a market cap of $4.2 billion.  [Square closed the week at $12.67.]

CEO Jack Dorsey made $300 million himself on the deal; Dorsey also being CEO at Twitter.

--Match Group, an online dating conglomerate, sold its shares to investors on Thursday and the spin-off from Internet holding company IAC/InterActiveCorp. priced its IPO at the lower range, $12, and, like Square, had a successful first day, closing at $14.74, or up 23%.  [$15.37, Friday.]

I’ve used Match.com’s service (cough cough...hack hack).  Can’t say anymore...wouldn’t be prudent.

--In a bizarre move, fashion retailer Urban Outfitters agreed to buy a pizzeria chain, Philadelphia-based Vetri restaurants, because, in the words of management, it allowed Urban to capture more of consumers’ spending.  As an analyst at Baird summed up, a “small foray into the pizza business has fueled investor anxiety as the core business softens.”

--Shares in Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. plummeted 12% on Friday as the company announced the E. coli outbreak, once thought to be under control, had spread to six states, including California and New York.  People were seen rushing out of restaurants, mouths covered and carrying toilet paper.

OK, not really, but I’ve never eaten at a Chipotle so what do I care?  I’m a preservatives kind of guy, myself. Give me fast food with a lengthy shelf life and artificial coloring and I’m a happy camper.

--McDonald’s is replacing its discount “Dollar Menu & More” with a feature called “McPick 2,” which allows customers to pick two of the following for $2: a McDouble, a McChicken, small fries and mozzarella sticks.

--Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison, three years more than the maximum sought by the government, after he pled guilty to child-pornography charges.

--Shares in Tesla Motors, Inc. fell sharply, and then recovered, on word its entire fleet of Model S vehicles was being recalled due to a seat belt issue.  I think it strangles the driver, but otherwise, not to worry if you are driving behind a Tesla at a safe distance.

--New York City’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8% in October, reaching its lowest level since 2006, but as you’ll see below, this good news hasn’t helped Mayor Bill de Blasio.

--El Nino is gaining strength with heavy rain forecast for California between January and March – and perhaps into May, according to climatologists, such as Bill Patzert, for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Patzert told the Los Angeles Times: “El Nino is here. And it is huge.... At this point, we’re just waiting for the impacts in California.”

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said this El Nino is expected to be among the three strongest on record since 1950.

These storms will come one after another, which I can’t help but note is very likely to wreak havoc on the California swing for the PGA Tour.

But the drought will officially be over, says moi.

The waters of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru currently have a surface temperature 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average. [More weather news in ‘Random Musings.’]

--Nearly half of Russians who had bought package tours to Egypt were prepared to pay extra to change their destination, even before Moscow officially confirmed the Sinai plane crash was an act of terrorism, the Vedomosti newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Favorite alternative destinations were Israel, Thailand, India and Vietnam.  [Moscow Times]

--Cancellations have been mounting at Paris hotels, as you can imagine.  At one Best Western, more than 50 percent of the hotel’s reservations were canceled immediately afterward, as reported by the New York Times.  My problem wouldn’t be being in Paris, it would be getting there, and the risk your flight is forced to return due to a bomb threat.

One president of a travel group in Paris said, “Right now we are not getting new reservations.”

The United Nations conference on climate change, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 30 and run for two weeks, was expected to bring in 40,000 visitors, with countless dinners and receptions.  But now it is being scaled back to the bare essentials, with 200 events around the city already being canceled.

And then of course you have the Christmas holidays, a huge time for travel to Paris, and other European cities, for that matter.

According to a merchants group, Paris department store sales this week are down by as much as 50 percent.  [Doreen Carvajal / New York Times]

--Health authorities in Liberia confirmed a case of Ebola; Liberia having been declared Ebola-free on May 9, though there was a resurgence of the disease in late June.  It was then declared Ebola-free again on Sept. 3.

--Sign of the Apocalypse: The other day I mentioned how impressed I was with the Santa Claus at The Mall at Short Hills, and then a few days later I saw a piece where at the Cherry Hill Mall in South Jersey, parents were being charged $35 to $50 for kids to partake in its Adventure to Santa holiday display, according to Philly.com.

So when this story hit, social media lit up and the mall pulled the charges, last I saw.

Foreign Affairs

Mali: A terrorist attack at a Radisson Blu hotel in the capital of Bamako killed 22, before soldiers shot their way into the place and liberated dozens of captives, with five attackers dying in the process.  At one point, the five gunmen were holding 170 hostages, according to officials.

The attackers shot their way into the hotel at dawn and if you could successfully recite the Islamic profession of faith, they let you go.

At least one American was among the victims.  It does not appear the attack was the work of Islamic State and related to Paris, but rather it seems to have been the work of an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Mali has long been a hotbed of terrorism and in 2013, some 3,000 French troops helped save the country from falling under the total control of Islamists.

Libya: Last Friday I wrote that the United States should bomb the hell out of any ISIS strongholds in Libya and on Saturday, a U.S. airstrike took out the head of Islamic State in Libya, Abu Nabil al Anbari, one of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s top lieutenants.  The U.S. said the operation was actually underway prior to news of the Paris attacks and was not linked.

Israel: A 36-year-old Palestinian who did not have a previous security record, stabbed two Israelis to death and wounded a third at a religious school entrance in south Tel Aviv on Thursday. The terrorist was apprehended by civilians who subdued him until police arrived.  A Hamas spokesman described the attack as “heroic” and called for more such attacks against Israel.

But then three more were killed the same day, making five total, including a Palestinian passer-by and an 18-year-old American yeshiva student, as a Palestinian man opened fire with a submachine gun from a car as he passed vehicles stopped in traffic in the West Bank.  He then crashed his car into another vehicle.  Three were killed in the chaos.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page: “Behind these terrorist attacks stands radical Islam, which seeks to destroy us, the same radical Islam that struck in Paris and threatens Europe.”  [Jerusalem Post / New York Times]

At least 16 Israelis have been killed in stabbing, vehicular and shooting attacks by Palestinians since the beginning of October.

Separately, Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli-American convicted of spying for Israel, was freed on Friday after 30 years in prison.

Pollard, 61, was serving a life sentence in a North Carolina correctional facility.  His release brings to an end one of the most painful episodes in U.S.-Israeli relations.  He was first arrested for passing information on to Israel while working for U.S. naval intelligence.

Part of the parole decision reached in July is that Pollard must spend the next five years in the U.S.  This guy should have rotted in jail. 

Egypt: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is making a huge mistake in not acknowledging it was terrorism that took down the Russian passenger jet over the Sinai, instead dredging up a familiar theme of a Western conspiracy to harm Egypt.  Every crisis is a shadow war against foreign enemies, a veteran journalist told the New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick.

Recently, heavy flooding in Alexandria that caused a number of deaths was blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood for plugging up the sewers.

I’ve supported Sisi, but he needs to get real...real fast.

Russia / Ukraine: Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in one 24-hour period in eastern Ukraine last weekend, the highest death toll since a fragile cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists began two months ago.  Western nations, including the United States, continue to refuse to send the Ukrainian military lethal weapons it has requested.

Editorial / Washington Post

“Now the Russian guns are firing again. In the past week there have been dozens of incidents daily in which the supposedly withdrawn weapons, including heavy mortars and Grad rockets, have been fired at Ukrainian positions.  Nine Ukrainian soldiers have been reported killed. Having proved in September that he could switch off the shooting in Ukraine when it suited him, Russian President Vladimir Putin has now, at a minimum, allowed it to resume.  It’s a development that Western governments contemplating an alliance with the Russian ruler in the Middle East cannot afford to ignore....

“What’s clear is that Mr. Putin has not given up his objective of restoring Russian control over part of all of Ukraine.  He still seeks to undermine the pro-Western government in Kiev; this week the Kremlin announced a ban on Ukrainian food imports.  Through the peace talks, Mr. Putin is attempting to force Ukraine to accept the authorities he installed in the territories captured by Russia and to rewrite the constitution to give them special powers.  Meanwhile, he uses his military forces to probe and pressure.

“Ukrainian officials suspect that Mr. Putin’s offer to ally with the West in the Middle East may be part of this game.  The price for cooperation with France and the United States in Syria, they worry, may be concessions on Ukraine – such as the lifting of E.U. sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion, which will lapse in January if not renewed.  European officials have said the sanctions will remain in effect until the peace agreement, which calls for Russian forces to withdraw, is fully implemented.  But that was before the terrorist attacks in Paris and French President Hollande’s decision to reach out to Mr. Putin.

“The resumed shooting by Russian forces in Ukraine does not appear to have slowed Mr. Hollande’s initiative.  It should.  If Western governments ally with Russia in Syria even as its forces attack Ukraine, they will be tolerating and even encouraging Mr. Putin’s aggression.”

China: At the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Manila, which is mainly intended to foster unity on trade among 21 Pacific rim economies, President Obama demanded China end artificial island building in the South China Sea, which pissed off China because it had insisted disputes with its Asian neighbors over the sea should not be on the agenda.

A recent commentary in the China Daily read in part: “Washington’s recent provocative moves have infringed upon Beijing’s maritime sovereignty and security in the South China Sea.

“But China is not one to give in when it comes to its territorial, maritime and security interests, and the U.S. is unlikely to succeed in its designs by instigating Asean countries to challenge China’s maritime rights in the South China Sea.”  [South China Morning Post]

Separately, in the world of sports, there was a huge moment Tuesday night when in a qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Hong Kong held China to a draw, as Hong Kong citizens used the match to express their ill will towards Beijing, including booing and jeering the Chinese national anthem, which is also Hong Kong’s.

The match was held in a Hong Kong stadium in the dense, working-class Mong Kok district, which was the scene last year of violent clashes between police and demonstrators, as sentiment towards the mainland has continued to sour amid fears of Beijing’s encroaching on the semi-autonomous territory.

The Chinese Football Association added to the resentment when it was accused of racism for releasing a publicity poster describing Hong Kong’s players as “black-skinned, yellow-skinned and white-skinned” – a dig at the team’s contingent of naturalized foreign-born players.

FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Association for booing the anthem.

But in the match itself, China desperately needed a win to stay in the hunt for the World Cup and with a population 200 times larger than Hong Kong’s 7 million, China was supposed to handily beat Hong Kong.  The 0-0 draw was seen as a huge victory by Hong Kong fans, who as the report by Philip Wen of the Sydney Morning Herald described it, treated the game “as if they had won the World Cup itself,” especially since it condemns its much larger neighbor to a humiliating elimination at the very first hurdle.

The reaction in China was scathing against the national team.

Hong Kong has a very slim chance of advancing itself, which would be a helluva story if they could.

You know how I feel about the place...one of my favorites in the world (along with Paris and Vienna).  Good luck the rest of the way, Hong Kong!

France: One more comment on December’s election in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, home to nearly six million people, including the city of Lille, as well as the refugee camp at the port of Calais.  Marine Le Pen has a very real chance of winning it which would give her an even larger platform ahead of the 2017 presidential elections.

The Economist commented two days before the Paris attacks:

“Ms. Le Pen’s ascension...is due to more than a narrow anti-immigrant message. It is also a pitch to the people against the system.  Perhaps the greatest cheers in Saint-Quentin are reserved for her denunciation of the interchangeable ruling parties, which ‘promised everything’ and ‘betrayed everyone.’  They are devoting all their energies not to governing the country, she jokes, but to fretting about the rise of the FN [Front National / National Front].  Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, has warned darkly of the ‘drama’ of a possible FN regional victory, declaring that ‘everything should be done’ to stop it.  Yet the more that politicians try to take the moral high ground against Ms. Le Pen, the more she casts herself as the victim of an elite cabal.

“It may yet be that voters are not ready to hand power to the FN, or that rivals gang up in the second round to thwart it....As it is, the regions run schools and transport, but have no powers over policing or asylum. So Ms. Le Pen’s chief promise over Calais is to ‘make a din’ and force the government to step in, to process genuine asylum-seekers and expel those who are not....

“(But) those queuing up to hear Ms. Le Pen do not seem put off (by any criticisms of her or the party).  ‘Even if I don’t agree with all her ideas,’ says a middle-aged woman who has turned up with her husband, ‘she is the only one who speaks about us.’”

Gideon Rachman / Financial Times

“The reaction of French voters in next month’s regional elections will be watched closely.  Opinion polls were already suggesting that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, will win in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region; her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen (Ed. she is rather telegenic), has also topped some polls in the Provence region in the south.  The National Front, which has a long history of hostility to Muslim immigration and which has also argued for the restoration of frontier controls, may well benefit in the aftermath of the attacks.  Some of its arguments were, in any case, already seeping into the discourse of the traditional center-right parties.

“The terror attacks in Paris also come at a time when Europe is in the midst of a ‘migrant crisis.’  With Germany set to receive more than 1m refugees this year – most of them from the war-torn Middle East – the domestic pressure on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to close her country’s borders to more migrants per head than any other EU country – has announced a closure of its borders to new refugees, albeit as a temporary measure.  In the aftermath of Paris, Ms. Merkel will surely be tempted to take a similar measure, easing the political and social pressure on her government.  But she will also be aware of the dangerous knock-on effects such an action could have on Balkan countries further down the migrant route.”

Nigeria: Boko Haram showed it is still a terrorist force to be reckoned with, killing at least 45 in a series of bombings across the northern sector.  On Oct. 23, it killed another 42 in explosions at mosques in the region.

Boko Haram has killed about 1,000 since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in May, vowing to crush the group.

Earlier, Buhari ordered the arrest of a former government official and others accused of stealing more than $2 billion (with a ‘b’) intended to fund the fight against Boko Haram.

Random Musings

--Ron Fournier / National Journal, via Defense One

“Monday was a horrible day for American leadership.  First, our petulant, tone-deaf president showed more anger toward his political critics than toward ISIS. Second, the Republican presidential hopefuls turned their backs on Syrian war refugees in a xenophobic frenzy.

“At a news conference in Turkey for the G-20 summit, Barack Obama bristled in defense of his ISIS strategy, his initial dismissal of the terrorist state, his military response, his diplomacy, and his willingness to accept refugees from Syria.

“ ‘And,’ wrote my colleague George Condon, ‘there was no hiding his frustration.’

“Which was a shame, because nobody cares about Obama’s precious feelings.

“What the people of France and its freedom-loving allies care about is defeating ISIS.  They wonder about the commitment of a U.S. president who dismissed ISIS as a ‘JV team’ before it beheaded Americans, who declared ISIS ‘contained’ before it attacked Paris, and whose advisers now say ISIS can’t attack the United States.  Nobody believes that.

“ ‘No,’ Obama insisted, ‘we haven’t underestimated [their] abilities.’  Nobody believes that, either.

“For all his skills as an orator, Obama is a lousy communicator. He doesn’t lead, he lectures. He argues rather than educates. His rhetoric is self-focused, not uplifting toward a cause greater than himself.  He spins and shifts blame, rarely admitting fault.

“Obama tries to show steely resolve, but his affect is stubborn arrogance.

“Even his supporters slammed the president’s performance.  ‘Obama’s tone in addressing the Paris atrocity was all wrong,’ wrote Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.  ‘At times he was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive.  The president said, essentially, that he had considered all the options and decided that even a large-scale terrorist attack in the heart of a major European capital was not enough to make him reconsider his policy.’

“Which brings me to the GOP, the source of Obama’s frustration and an obstacle to the safety of Syrian refugees.

“ ‘Wake up and smell the falafel,’ said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, using  a slur to argue against the settlement of refugees.

“How does a party that proclaims the sanctity of life risk the deaths of so many innocents because it is difficult – not impossible – to screen refugees?  How can the party of religious freedom include at least three candidates who would admit Christian refugees from Syria, but no Muslims?” 

--John Podhoretz / New York Post

“Here’s how some of the would-be leaders of the Republican Party have reacted to the horror in Paris:

“Mike Huckabee says the Paris attacks mean we need to ‘wake up and smell the falafel.’  Jeb Bush wonders if maybe we could somehow only take in Christian refugees from Syria, as if there’s a way to tell.  Not to be outdone, Chris Christie says his state is so not going to take in any refugees he won’t even allow a ‘5-year-old orphan’ in.

“Meanwhile, Donald Trump alternately says his talent for finding good real-estate locations gives him a near-supernatural ability to detect threats against America, and that he’d use his real-estate talent to purchase property to ‘build a safe zone in Syria, build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is, so they can live.’

“Also, Trump would look into closing mosques, because, you know, that First Amendment thing, whatever.

[Ed. Mr. Podhoretz was writing before Trump’s despicable database comment.  And, yes, he said it; his Twitter denial notwithstanding.]

“ISIS turns the City of Lights into a bloody battlefield and GOP newsmakers use it as the occasion to crack ethnic jokes, float unconstitutional proposals and make tough-sounding noises that cast them more as Dickensian villains than policymakers.

“The sheer mind-numbing, stomach-churning unseriousness on display is beyond appalling.

“But then, so was the response of the Leader of the Free World. As the world reeled from the horror in Paris, President Obama took to a microphone to declare his anti-ISIS policy was sound – and anyone who dared to disagree was just popping off.

“He scoffed at the concept of an American victory against ISIS as somehow beneath him: ‘What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people.’

“That was, of course, a shot at Donald Trump, who should probably have been the last thing on the president’s mind at a time of high crisis.”

--I watched a lot of the Democratic debate on Saturday night and Hillary Clinton’s performance was, to put it mildly, unimpressive.  CBS moderator John Dickerson was outstanding, on the other hand, and refused to let Clinton off the hook with her non-answers on topics such as ISIS and Libya, which only exposed her further.  If Republicans have gotten their act together post-convention, the nominee will riddle her in the debates.  There is no possible ‘record of success’ for her to fall back on.

Or, as the Wall Street Journal editorialized:

“Mrs. Clinton’s case for the White House is that she is the most seasoned candidate in the field, but even an entry-level foreign service officer could do better than claiming the way to deal with trouble is to deal with trouble.  Presumably Mrs. Clinton recognizes that the growing world disorder is a political problem. She’d like to maintain her top-diplomat image, glide past accountability for Obama-Clinton results, and hope nobody notices the contradiction.  No wonder Democrats tried to bury this spectacle – and, by the way, the next debate is the Saturday before Christmas.”

John Podhoretz / New York Post (again)

“Discussing foreign policy in the wake of the attack on Paris at a Democratic-candidate debate last night, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the Republican Party a guide map to her defeat.

“A Republican candidate who can effectively harness President Obama’s former chief diplomat to the Obama policies in the Middle East that have helped lead us to this dreadful pass is going to give Clinton a devil of a time.

“Under appropriately polite but devastatingly persistent questioning by moderator John Dickerson, Clinton proved astonishingly incoherent.

“We must ‘root out’ ISIS, she said, and implicitly criticized Obama when she said it ‘cannot be contained, it must be defeated.’  At the same time, she said, ‘it cannot be an American fight.’  However, ‘American leadership is essential.’  And yet, she said, ‘I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility.’

“Instead, and breathtakingly, she suggests the person who must take the lead is Syria’s dictator, himself responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his own people and the progenitor of the refugee crisis that is turning Europe inside out: ‘I really put that on [President Bashar] Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.’

“This is nonsense on stilts, and it deconstructs itself....

“If ongoing events make foreign policy a key voting issue in 2016, and the Republican candidate is as assured at questioning Clinton about it as Dickerson was last night, Hillary will reap the whirlwind – and the Republican will be the beneficiary.”

The debate on CBS drew 8.6 million viewers, well below the record figures that CNN, CNBC, Fox News and Fox Business received, but then, as the Journal noted, they buried Clinton on a Saturday, which has the smallest TV audience of the week.

--George Will / Washington Post

“Paris was for all Americans, but especially for Republicans, a summons to seriousness that should have two immediate impacts on the Republican presidential contest.  It should awaken the party’s nominating electorate from its reveries about treating the presidency as an entry-level job. And it should cause Republicans to take another look at Chris Christie, beginning with his speech in Florida the day after the Paris attacks.

“Until now, many Republicans have been treating the nominating process as a mechanism for sending a message to Washington.  The eruption of war in the capital of a NATO ally is a reminder that the nominating process will potentially send a commander in chief to Washington.  This might, and should, hasten the eclipse of Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and especially Donald Trump.  His coarse, vulgar and nasty 95-minute effusion last week in Fort Dodge, Iowa, answered this question: When he begins to fade, will he draw upon a hitherto well-hidden capacity for graciousness, or will he become a caricature of his normal persona, which itself is a caricature of democracy’s most embarrassing possibilities?

“Watch Trump on YouTube and consider his manner in light of his stupendously unconservative proposal, made one day earlier, for a federal police force.  (It would conduct about 500,000 deportations a month to remove approximately 11.4 million illegal immigrants in two years).  Then watch Christie on YouTube and pay particular attention to his affirmation of the foundational conservative belief in the indispensability, the sovereignty and the prerogatives of nationhood....

“In Florida, Christie sounded a new theme: ‘There are all too many people in academia and in global business that aren’t really interested in America as a nation-state anymore.’....

“Heightened security concerns might be Christie’s opportunity. The more disorderly the world becomes, the less luminous is the one credential that supposedly qualifies Hillary Clinton for the presidency. The credential is not her adequate but unremarkable eight-year Senate career. Rather, it is her four years as secretary of state.  Recall the question Ronald Reagan posed to voters at the conclusion of his single debate with Jimmy Carter a week before the 1980 election:  Are you better off today than you were four years ago?  The electorate’s answer was emphatic.

“In a debate 10 months from now, the Republican nominee will ask a variant of Reagan’s question: Is America safer or more respected today, anywhere in the world, than it was when Clinton became secretary of state?”

--Bobby Jindal quit the Republican presidential race.  Good riddance.  I think the four people in the country who supported him was a ‘soft’ figure.

--Some poll data....

A new national Bloomberg Politics poll has Donald Trump at 24% (up three points from September), Ben Carson 20% (up four points), Marco Rubio 12% (up four points), Ted Cruz 9% (up four points) and Jeb Bush 6% (down seven points).

A Fox News poll out of New Hampshire:

Trump 27%, Rubio 13%, Cruz 11%, Bush 9%, Carson 9%, Kasich 7% and Christie 6%.

A WBUR New Hampshire survey:

Trump 22%, Carson 11%, Rubio 11%, Cruz 8%, Bush 7% and Kasich 7%.

--The House voted 289-137 on Thursday to approve legislation effectively halting the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the U.S.  [47 Democrats crossed party lines.]

This is a totally reasonable move, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, that requires the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence to certify that refugees who are admitted pose no security threat.

The White House says the current process already takes up to 24 months, as President Obama vowed to veto the bill.

Senate Democrats are preparing an alternative that slaps controls on the visa waiver program, which some say has too many loopholes and poses the greater security issue.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Univ. of Virginia politics expert Larry Sabato said the Paris attacks would make Republicans “even more anti-immigration” and force more moderate candidates, such as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, to take a tougher stance, which could hurt the party’s standing with non-white voters in the general election.  But he said the Democrats also faced a conundrum since it was “hard to see how they can continue to support absorbing 10,000 Syrians into the U.S.” 

Editorial / Washington Post

“In the face of the horror in Paris – not to mention Beirut and Baghdad – an instinctual reaction is to attempt to close the United States to the world and, in effect, ignore the plight of people America might help.  At best, this reaction is understandable but self-defeating.  From the mouths of Republican presidential candidates, it has become downright ugly....

“Europe is awash in Syrian refugees, its officials overwhelmed by the volume of people, nearly all of whom are simply seeking to survive.  Germany alone may take 1 million people by the end of the year.

“The United States, by contrast, is hardly more than a bit player in the refugee crisis, in part because it insists on an orderly and lengthy vetting process.  The United Nations screens and then refers refugees to U.S. authorities, who work with Department of Homeland Security and intelligence officials to perform background checks and conduct interviews.  Performing background checks on people coming from a failed state can be hard, but the program is set up to bring in the most vulnerable – the sick, the maimed, women, children and the elderly. Every step in the screening process reduces the risk....

“Accepting only Christians would damage the country’s reputation and betray the notion that Americans are bound by common allegiance to laws, not creeds.  These impacts would far outweigh the meager security benefits such an approach would provide.

“The Paris attacks have shaken up the discussion on Syria.  But the moral calculus regarding refugees who have been driven from their homes, beaten, tortured, gassed and raped hasn’t changed.  The humanitarian necessity is overwhelming.  Half of all Syrians have been displaced, and more than a quarter-million people have died. There is no excuse to sit by.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“The larger point is one we’ve been trying to explain to our progressive friends since the war on terror began.  An important reason to accept small infringements on liberty to prevent terrorist mass murder is because the political consequences of failure will be so much worse for liberal values.

“Metadata collection or surveillance of mosques or Muslim students doesn’t compare to what a frightened American public might support if a Paris-like event occurred on Rush Street in Chicago or the Mall of America in Minneapolis.  The internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II were a shameful period in U.S. history, but FDR, a progressive hero, allowed the camps under political pressure after Pearl Harbor.

“The same point holds for overseas interventions.  Mr. Obama boasts that he has avoided George W. Bush’s Iraq mistake by not intervening in Syria.  But doing nothing also has moral consequences. These now include the rise of a terrorist caliphate, the worst refugee flood in Europe since World War II, and the increasing risk of Paris-like killings across the West.  Mr. Obama’s foreign policy of liberal nonintervention may lead to the deaths of far more innocents than creating a Syrian safe-zone and destroying Islamic State would have.

“If Mr. Obama fought Islamic State with half the vigor with which he delivers moral lectures, he’d find that a much less fearful America would welcome far more refugees.”

Michael Gerson / Washington Post

“This is the hard fact. Americans don’t want this role, but they need to lead an alliance of Sunni powers (the Gulf States, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt) and NATO countries to crush the Islamic State. The current strategy of train, equip and bomb is not containing the threat. And we can’t rely on Iran and Russia to do the job without inviting new problems.

“All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists.  Instead of blaming refugees, we need to make sure our counterterrorism and intelligence policies give us a chance to screen and stop any threat... But if U.S. politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative.  They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating the United States’ (already complicated) task in the Middle East.  Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness.  It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.”

--According to a Bloomberg Politics survey, 64% of Americans view Islam as “an inherently peaceful religion, but there are some who twist its teachings to justify violence.”  28% believe “Islam is an inherently violent religion, which leads its followers to violent acts.”  8% are not sure.

ISIS is cited by 35% of Americans as the top issue, about the same as concerns about jobs, immigration, health care and the federal deficit combined.  [21% ISIS alone, 14% terrorism top issue...35% combined.]

53% of U.S. adults say the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.  Just 28% would keep the program with the screening process as it now exists, while 11% favor a limited program to accept only Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims.

53% of Americans favor a U.S.-Russia military coalition to fight Islamic terrorism.

--According to a New York Times / Siena College poll, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a 28% approval rating among white New Yorkers, with 59% disapproving.  In early 2014, not long after his term began, 38% of whites approved and 45% disapproved.

The mayor’s overall approval rating is at 44%, down from 52% last December.

52% of New Yorkers say the city is on the wrong track, including 62% of whites and 51% of Hispanics.  Black residents are evenly split.

--Update: The other week I mentioned that Rider University in New Jersey was slashing more than a dozen majors and laying off professors in order to close a budget gap, which I saw as a harbinger of things to come.

Well, the faculty union agreed to a two-year wage freeze and other concessions that spare the college from having to make the cuts in both programs and profs.

--But speaking of college and America’s campuses....

George Will / Washington Post

“Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, dealt with the Crisis of the Distressing E-mail about Hypothetical Halloween Costumes about as you would expect from someone who has risen to eminence in today’s academia.  He seems to be the kind of adult who has helped produce the kind of students who are such delicate snowflakes that they melt at the mere mention of even a potential abrasion of their sensibilities.

“Salovey gave indignant students a virtuoso demonstration of adult groveling. With a fusillade of academia’s clichés du jour, he said the students’ ‘great distress’ would be ameliorated by ‘greater inclusion, healing, mutual respect, and understanding’ in the service of – wait for it – ‘diversity.’  But of course only diversity that is consistent with the students’ capacious sense of the intolerable.

“Salovey said he heard their ‘cries for help.’  The cries came from students who either come from families capable of paying Yale University’s estimated $65,725 costs for the 2015-16 academic year or who are among the 64 percent of Yale undergraduates receiving financial aid made possible by the university’s $25.6 billion endowment.  The cries were for protection (in the current academic patois, for ‘a safe space’) from the specter of the possibility that someone might wear an insensitive Halloween costume.  A sombrero would constitute ‘cultural appropriation.’  A pirate’s eye patch would distress the visually challenged.  And so on, and on....

“On campuses so saturated with progressivism that they celebrate diversity in everything but thought, every day is a snow day: There are perishable snowflakes everywhere. The institutions have brought this on themselves. So, regarding the campuses’ current agonies, schadenfreude is not a guilty pleasure, it is obligatory.”

Wednesday/Thursday, at Princeton, black students occupied the university president’s office, demanding campus-wide changes in support of black students.

The demands include removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus, including renaming the Wilson residential college, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, “and any other building named after him.”  Plus the students, representing the Black Justice League, want a mural of Wilson removed from a dining hall.  Wilson was a racist, you see.

In addition, the Black Justice League demands that all faculty and staff undergo cultural competency training and set up a marked, communal space for black students on campus, which should be named “at the students’ discretion in order to avoid naming it after a white benefactor or person with bigoted beliefs,” per the written demands of the group.  [NJ.com]

So might as well name the space the “H. Rap Brown” square yard; Mr. Brown, for you younger folk, being a former leader of the Black Panthers.

But Thursday night, administrators signed a document committing them to begin conversations about addressing racial tension on campus, including possibly removing Wilson’s name from some public spaces, as the students ended their sit-in.

The New York Times reported, “Shortly after the document was signed, an administrator received a bomb or firearm threat by email.”

Wilson, by the way, aside from graduating from Princeton and serving as president of the United States for two terms, served as Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910.  He did, according to historians, hold some racist views.

--According to data from the Japan Meteorological Agency and NASA, October was not only the warmest ever recorded, but the planet obliterated October records set just last year.  October 2015 out-baked October 2014 by 0.34 degrees (0.19 Celsius) and 0.32 degrees (0.18 Celsius) in JMA and NASA’s analyses, respectively.

“The planet’s temperature departure from the long-term average of 1.04 Celsius in October is the greatest of any month ever recorded by NASA.... 

“Earlier this month, Britain’s weather service, the Met Office, and NASA both stated that the Earth’s average temperature is likely to rise 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time by the end of this year. This milestone is significant since it marks the halfway point to two degrees Celsius, the internationally accepted limit for avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.” [Jason Samenow / Washington Post]

--According to new research, headed up by a scientist from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, drinking three to five cups of coffee a day might help you live longer.

“Moderate coffee consumption reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and Type 2 diabetes, scientists found in a study of more than 200,000 people.

“Whether the coffee contained caffeine made no difference.  The benefits are thought to be linked to other plant compounds in coffee besides the stimulant.” 

The results were published in the journal “Circulation” and are part of an ongoing analysis of three large studies with 208,000 male and female participants.  [Irish Independent]

--Finally, I can’t help but note the death of a police dog, Diesel, in the raid in Saint-Denis on Wednesday; one of the heroes in an otherwise incredibly depressing time.

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces...and all the fallen.

God bless America.

Vive Le France!

---

Gold closed at $1078...five-year low
Oil $41.46

Returns for the week 11/16-11/20

Dow Jones  +3.35%  [17823]
S&P 500  +3.3%  [2089]
S&P MidCap  +2.9%
Russell 2000  +2.5%
Nasdaq  +3.6%  [5104]

Returns for the period 1/1/15-11/20/15

Dow Jones  +0.00%
S&P 500  +1.5%
S&P MidCap  -0.4%
Russell 2000  -2.45%
Nasdaq +7.8%

Bulls  45.3
Bears  28.9  [Source: Investors Intelligence]

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Brian Trumbore



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Week in Review

11/21/2015

For the week 11/16-11/20

[Posted 11:30 PM ET, Friday]

Note: If you haven’t already done so, please click on the gofundme link above, or send a check to PO Box 990, New Providence, NJ  07974.

*Special thanks this week to Jeanne and Dan D. in Honolulu.

Edition 867

*Warning...if you are used to printing this out, this one is about 40 pages.

Paris and the War Against ISIS

Let’s first recap some of the key events since news of the attacks broke last Friday night. 

The terrorist assault on Paris was carried out by three teams of coordinated attackers.  [Seven killed, six blowing themselves up.  One other escaped.]  By Saturday night, officials said the death toll had reached 129 victims [upped to 130 today], with 352 others injured, 99 of them seriously.  French President Francois Hollande said the military would patrol the capital and that France was under a nationwide state of emergency, the borders closed.

“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” Hollande told the nation, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.  “It is an act of war that was prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside, which the investigation will help establish.”

On Saturday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

“Today brothers from all across the world set foot in Gaul and remind the kaffir (disbelievers) in dur Al Kuffr (the land of disbelievers) that we live beside you.

“We watch you when you go to sleep. And today we bring you your death,” a statement read, via Twitter.

Monday, at a rare joint session of both houses of parliament, Hollande called for the state of emergency to be extended to three months and for new authority to strip French citizenship from people involved in terrorism.  [Both houses approved the measures by week’s end.]

“These acts of war have been decided and planned in Syria,” said Hollande.  “They have been organized in Belgium and perpetrated on our soil with French accomplices.”

French jets launched strikes on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria.  Russia and the U.S. did the same, with the U.S. also striking ISIS oil tankers with the help of Russian intelligence.

French police launched a manhunt for an eighth attacker, Salah Abdeslam, a French national, while Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian national, was sought for helping plan the attack.

Police carried out 168 raids overnight, Sunday, across France.   More than 20 were arrested and 100 placed under house arrest.  30 weapons were uncovered, including a rocket launcher.  More raids were conducted in succeeding days.

With word at least one of the attackers may have hid among the migrants, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s National Front, called on the country to close its borders to immigrants immediately.

“Our fears and our warnings on the possible presence of jihadis among the migrants have unfortunately now been turned into tangible reality by these bloody attacks,” she said.

Hollande said he would visit President Obama in Washington and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this coming week in a bid to form a grand coalition against ISIS.

Then on Wednesday, in a massive pre-dawn raid by French police commandos, the suspected architect of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed, along with a female who it was first thought blew herself up (but on Friday it was revealed a male did, killing her) while seven were arrested.  Friday, a third body was found in the rubble of the building that had basically collapsed due to the explosions and over 5,000 rounds of gunfire.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls warned terrorists could potentially use chemical weapons.

“The morbid imagination of those [terrorists] who give orders is without limit: assault rifles, beheadings, human bombs, knives...One should not rule out anything,” Valls told Parliament on Thursday.

For its part, ISIS issued further warnings during the week, citing Washington and New York as targets, while a video, with a spokesman, “Al Ghareeb the Algerian,” warned Europe more attacks were coming.

“I say to the European countries that we are coming, coming with booby traps and explosives, coming with explosive belts and (gun) silencers and you will be unable to stop us because today we are much stronger than before,” he said.

Friday, we learned the ringleader, Abaaoud, was able to slip into Europe among Syrian migrants, as police on the continent admitted they are unable to monitor thousands of suspected jihadists.

Abaaoud returned to France from Syria via the migrant route through Greece.  At least two of the other jihadists involved in the Paris attacks – as well as the man, Salah, on the run – had also posed as migrants or refugees to return from trips to Syria.

French intelligence was unaware Abaaoud was in the country until after the massacre.

EU home affairs ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday are reprising demands to close perceived loopholes and gaps in the passport-free Schengen zone’s security arrangements.  Every traveler into the zone will have their details checked against the Schengen Information System (SIS) watch list – a database accessed by all EU countries – to monitor extremists and other criminals.

At present, only non-EU passport holders are meant to have SIS checks.  EU passport holders only undergo a cursory visual passport inspection, to respect their ‘freedom of movement.’  [Daily Telegraph / Irish Independent]

Meanwhile, Russia came to grips with the late-October downing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, saying in a statement attributed to Vladimir Putin that it was an act of terror: 

“This is not the first time Russia has met with terrorist activity, most often without any obvious reason, internally or externally, as with the explosion in a station in Volgograd at the end of 2013.  We have not forgotten.

“The murder of our people over Sinai ranks among the severest of such acts.  We are filled with tears from our souls and hearts. This will be with us always.  But that will not stop us from finding and punishing the perpetrators.

“We will search for them everywhere. We will find them wherever on the planet they are hiding.”

Putin ordered the Russian navy to cooperate with French warships “as allies.”

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said the Paris attacks were part of what he calls a “piecemeal World War III.”

Former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, told the Wall Street Journal: “If you don’t play offense, this thing quickly turns into penalty kicks.  No matter how good your goalie is, the ball is going to eventually go into the back of the net....

“The sophistication, ambition and geographic reach of ISIS has grown more quickly than we anticipated.  The American air campaign against ISIS more resembles a fine Irish mist than it does a thunderstorm. And it’s got to look more like a thunderstorm now.”

From Turkey and a G20 summit, President Obama held a press conference on Monday.

Q (Jim Acosta / CNN): (You) said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world.  How is that not underestimating their capabilities?  And how is that contained, quite frankly?  And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS.  I guess the question is – and if you’ll forgive the language – is why can’t we take out these bastards?

President Obama: Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add.  I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason, as I said, Jim, is because there are costs to the other side.  I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars.  And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later.  It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.

Separately, the president said: “What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.”

Oh brother.  As many soldiers and ex-soldiers said after the president’s above statement, this is what you sign up for when you join the military.  You sign up to defend the country, and in the course of that you could get killed or wounded.  The main thing our soldiers want is to be led. They want leadership.  President Obama is not providing that.

Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in response: “With his excuse-laden and defensive press conference, President Obama removed any and all doubt that he lacks the resolve or a strategy to defeat and destroy ISIS.  Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage.”

On the issue of terrorists infiltrating the migrant community and possibly coming to the United States, James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told Congress that while there were challenges screening Iraqi refugees, the process was tougher for Syria.  “If we have no information on someone, they’ve never crossed our radar screen...it will be challenging,” he said.  [More on this below.]

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon / Defense One

“Even on Thursday, the day before the Paris attack, Obama defended his policies for containing the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, from further ground gains in Iraq.  ‘We have contained them,’ Obama told ABC News.  ‘They have not gained ground in Iraq.  And in Syria they’ll come in, they’ll leave.  But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain.’

“And again, the president pleaded for patience, saying ‘I think what is true is that this has always been a multi-year project...we don’t have ground forces there in sufficient numbers to simply march into Al-Raqqa in Syria and clean the whole place out.’...

“Of course at the center of the entire Syria policy conversation is the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. In 2011, the U.S. policy was, as the president said, that the time had come ‘for President Assad to step aside.’  But now Russia has come to Assad’s aide, without truly going after ISIS, while the U.S. goes after ISIS, but not Assad.

“ ‘There may be a ratcheting up of what we will do against ISIS but not against Assad,’ said Dennis Ross, who has served four American administrations as a diplomat focused on the Middle East.  ‘The Russians would need to put real pressure on both Assad and the Iranians. And the Saudis, Qataris won’t stop if the regime does not.  And where is our leverage?  Why would anyone respond to us?  We are going after ISIS for understandable reasons. But if Putin does not go after them as well, there won’t be a ceasefire.’

“Some inside the administration have argued that Assad is the cause of the violence and ISIS the symptom, and that without removing the former you could not stop the latter.  The only problem is the Obama administration’s foreign policy team has long feared who and what kind of regime would succeed Assad.  But without a plan to transfer power from Assad while pursuing the fight against ISIS, expect more of the same battle and bloodshed up ahead.

“ ‘They don’t want to rock the boat with Damascus,’ said the administration official.  ‘And the Russians are now saying, ‘See, it only proves we are on the right side.’

“ ‘It is all talk. The war continues until one side defeats the other.  Nothing has changed.’”

Editorial / Washington Post

“The Paris attacks created a tactical opportunity for Vladimir Putin.  For two months the Russian ruler sought to persuade Arab and Western nations to join what he described as an alliance against the Islamic State, even as a Russian offensive in Syria targeted Western-backed Syrian rebel forces.  He was spurned, and his military campaign bogged down.  Now, in the wake of Paris, French President Francois Hollande suddenly has become a convert to the grand-alliance idea; he has scheduled visits to Washington and Moscow next week to promote it.

“Mr. Putin is doing his best to look like a potential partner.  On Tuesday, after weeks of obfuscation, his government suddenly confirmed that the Islamic State was responsible for the bombing of a Russian airliner last month, and Russian forces carried out a rare wave of attacks against the Islamic State capital, Raqqa.  The Kremlin has much to gain: An alliance could mean the end of European sanctions against Russia, which will expire in January unless renewed, and the concession of a Russian say over the future of Syria and perhaps also Ukraine, where Russian-backed forces have resumed daily attacks.

“The question for Western governments, including a rightly skeptical Obama administration, is whether joining with Mr. Putin would help or hurt the cause of destroying the Islamic State.  For now, that’s not a hard call.  Russia has little to offer the U.S.-led coalition in military terms, even if it proved willing to focus its attacks on the Islamic State rather than rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, Mr. Putin’s strategy of bolstering rather than removing the Assad regime is, along with Iran’s similar strategy, the single biggest obstacle to defeating the jihadists....

“The only productive contribution Mr. Putin could make to an anti-Islamic State coalition would be to reverse himself, use Russia’s leverage to obtain the removal of Mr. Assad and stop attacks on Western-sponsored forces.  Failing that, an alliance with Russia would be a dangerous false step for the United States and France.”

Editorial / Washington Post (separate one)

“Pressed about his strategy for fighting the Islamic State, a petulant-sounding President Obama insisted Monday, as he has before, that his critics have offered no concrete alternatives for action in Syria and Iraq, other than putting ‘large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.’  This claim was faulty in two respects.  First, few if any White House critics are proposing a U.S. ground operation on the scale of the previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  At the same time, military experts both within and outside the administration have proposed more modest measures that could significantly increase the pressure on the Islamic State if the president were to adopt them.

“Mr. Obama is right that the route to destroying the Islamic State lies in finding local partners in the Middle East and elsewhere who can stabilize their countries with U.S. and other international support.  If that broad strategy is correct, however, its implementation has been consistently underpowered.  U.S. aid to Iraqi and Syrian allies has been too small and too slow to arrive; airstrikes have been conducted at a fraction of the pace of previous campaigns....

“In response to failures, Mr. Obama has tended to escalate U.S. action in small increments unlikely to make a decisive difference – like his recent decision to dispatch fewer than 50 Special Operations to Syria....

“For more than a year, some experts have been urging Mr. Obama to begin the direct delivery of weapons, ammunition and other equipment to Kurdish forces in Iraq as well as Sunni tribal fighters.  The administration has persisted in trying to route this materiel through the Iraqi government, only to see the deliveries slowed or blocked.  The administration could begin direct deliveries while exerting more pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on promises to reach political accords with Sunnis and Kurds.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“(French President) Hollande has been right to declare war on Islamic State and order French bombing raids on its capital in eastern Syria.  France is still a militarily capable nation, as it proved when it turned back an al Qaeda offensive in Mali in 2013.  It can do significant damage to ISIS if it increases the tempo of its current bombing or deploys its Foreign Legion to liberate the city of Raqqa.

“But France can’t lead a decisive military campaign on its own, which is why Mr. Hollande is casting about for potential partners.  He won’t find them in Europe, despite his decision to invoke an obscure and toothless European collective defense clause.

“Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, was oddly noncommittal on Sunday when he was asked if France should trigger the Article 5 mutual-defense clause of the NATO charter.  ‘That’s a decision for the French to make,’ he said. That seeming reluctance and Mr. Hollande’s decision not to invoke Article 5 makes us wonder if the Obama Administration quietly told Paris not to bother.  Keep in mind that NATO did invoke Article 5 after 9/11, which led to Europe’s cooperation with the U.S. against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

“No wonder Paris is making overtures for a joint military option with Moscow, which must be delighted at this opening to renew an old European friendship while weakening NATO in the bargain.  President Obama is missing an opportunity to help an ally in its hour of need and fortify the larger Atlantic alliance.”

Editorial / USA TODAY

“This is a war in which civilians are on the front lines. Concertgoers at a music hall. Fans outside a soccer game. Diners at a café.  Many of the more than 130 victims were young professionals and students, including Nohemi Gonzalez, a senior at California State University, Long Beach.

“It is a war in which it is impossible to protect every ‘soft target,’ so the international community must take the fight to the enemy, which has established strongholds in Syria and Iraq.  It cannot be won by playing defense or ‘containing’ the threat.

“It is a war that, if we are not careful, threatens to undermine civil liberties, compassion for refugees, religious freedom and other values that define Western society.

“It is a war that is likely to be long, and it will be hard to know when it is over.  Surrender won’t come at a courthouse or on a battleship.

“It is a war in which there is nothing to negotiate. There are no territorial lines to discuss, no acceptable political comprises. The enemy must be destroyed, using the full array of military, economic and intelligence means.

“It is a war in which the path to victory will be erratic.  Successes, such as last week’s recapture of Sinjar in Iraq and the apparent killing of the psychopathic Islamic State executioner known as Jihadi John, will be followed by tragedies such as Friday’s attacks.

“It is a war of modernity against medievalism, of civilization against barbarity.”

Peggy Noonan / Wall Street Journal

“What to do?

“On this issue the American president is, amazingly, barely relevant. The leaders and people of Europe and America will not be looking to him for wisdom, will, insight or resolve. No commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces can be wholly irrelevant, but to the extent one can be, Mr. Obama is.  He has misjudged ISIS from the beginning – they were not, actually, the junior varsity – to the end. He claimed last week, to George Stephanopoulos, that ISIS has been ‘contained.’ ‘I don’t think they’re gaining strength,’ he said just before Paris blew.

“After the attacks Mr. Obama went on TV, apparently to comfort us and remind us it’s OK, he’s in charge. He prattled on about violence being at odds with ‘universal values.’  He proceeded as if unaware that there are no actually universal values, that right now the values of the West and radical Islam are clashing, violently, and we have to face it.  The mainstream press saw right through him.  At the news conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta referred to the ‘frustration’ of ‘a lot of Americans,’ who wonder: ‘Why can’t we take out these bastards?’ The president sighed and talked down to him – to us.  He has a strategy and it’s the right one and it’s sad you can’t see it.

“Let him prattle on about climate change as the great threat of our time.

“All he can do at this point is troll the GOP with the mischief of his refugee program.  If he can’t work up a passion about radical Islamic violence, at least he can tie the Republicans in knots over whether they’re heartless bigots who want to prevent widows and children from taking refuge from the Syrian civil war....

“Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude.  In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s ‘optimism.’ That was his power, they say – he was optimistic.

“No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss.  Reagan’s power was that he was confident.  He was confident that whatever the problem – the economy, the Soviets, the million others – he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic.  And get the job done.

“What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this.  We can do it.

“Who will provide that?  Where will it come from?  Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?”

Ralph Peters / New York Post

“President Obama’s approach of delayed and diluted action – ever doing the minimum demanded by domestic politics – has allowed ISIS not only to survive but to expand its appeal, its numbers, its territory and its global impact. Starbucks took 30 years to reach five continents.  ISIS did it in two.

“In his press conference in Turkey on Monday, Obama continued to insist that there was no need to change his Syria policy, that success merely ‘will take time.’  Yet it’s precisely because of our unwillingness to take the threat seriously and then to respond forcefully that ISIS now has a deep bench of seasoned ‘middle managers’ ready to replace the leaders we kill; it has tens of thousands of combat-veteran jihadis; it’s made the caliphate real in the city of Raqqa; and it’s had the leisure to learn how to cope with our weapons (human shields work every time).

“With a free assist from Edward Snowden, it’s even learned how to circumvent our intelligence efforts. Ask the French.

“Obama wouldn’t go to Raqqa. So the jihadis went to Paris....

“Our military has the resources to shatter ISIS, but political correctness has penetrated so deep into the Pentagon that, even should a president issue the one-word order, ‘Win!’ our initial actions would be cautious and halting.  We’ve bred a generation of military leaders afraid of being prosecuted by their own government for the kind of errors inevitable in wartime. Instead of ‘leaning forward in the foxhole,’ our leaders lean on lawyers.

“If lawyers had had to approve our World War II target lists, we couldn’t have won. War is never clean or easy, and the strictures imposed on our military today just protect our enemies.  Collateral damage and civilian casualties are part of combat and always will be.  The most humane approach is to pile on fast and win decisively – which results in far less suffering than the sort of protracted agony we see in Syria.

“The generals who won World War II would start by leveling Raqqa*, the ISIS caliphate’s capital.  Civilians would die, but those remaining in Raqqa have embraced ISIS, as Germans did Hitler. The jihadis must be crushed.  Start with their ‘Berlin.’

*Ed. Mr. Peters wrote this three days after my screed of 11/13 recommending same.

“Kill ten thousand, save a million.

“Unthinkable? Fine. We lose.

“And the jihadis? They’ll always have Paris.”

Charles Krauthammer / Washington Post

“If (one of the goals) of the Paris massacre was to frighten France out of the air campaign in Syria – the way Spain withdrew from the Iraq war after the terrorist attack on its trains in 2004 – they picked the wrong country.  France is a serious post-colonial power, as demonstrated in Ivory Coast, the Central African Republic and Mali, which France saved from an Islamist takeover in 2013.

“Indeed, socialist President Francois Hollande has responded furiously to his country’s 9/11....

“Meanwhile, Barack Obama, titular head of the free world, has responded to Paris with weariness and annoyance. His news conference in Turkey was marked by a stunning tone of passivity, detachment and lassitude, compounded by impatience and irritability at the very suggestion that his Syria strategy might be failing.

“The only time he showed any passion was in denouncing Republicans for hardheartedness toward Muslim refugees.  One hundred and twenty-nine innocents like dead, but it takes the GOP to kindle Obama’s ire.

“The rest was mere petulance, dismissing criticisms of his Syria policy as popping off.  Inconveniently for Obama, one of those popper-offers is Dianne Feinstein, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. She directly contradicted Obama’s blithe assertion, offered the day before the Paris attack, that the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIL) was contained and not gaining strength.  ‘I have never been more concerned,’ said Feinstein.  ‘ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding.’

“Obama defended his policy by listing its multifaceted elements.  Such as, ‘I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters.’  An ‘entire’ discussion, mind you.  Not a partial one.  They tremble in Raqqa....

“Obama complained of being criticized for not being bellicose enough.  But the complaint is not about an absence of bellicosity but about an absence of passion, of urgency and of commitment to the fight. The air campaign over Syria averages seven strikes a day.  Seven.  In Operation Desert Storm, we flew 1,100 sorties a day.  Even in the Kosovo campaign, we averaged 138.  Obama is doing just enough in Syria to give the appearance of motion, yet not nearly enough to have any chance of success....

“Hollande is trying to gather a real coalition to destroy the Islamic State, even as Obama touts his phony 65.  For 11 post-World War II presidencies, coalition leading has been the role of the United States. Where is America today?  Awaiting a president.  The next president.”

Editorial / Army Times...written days before the Paris attacks....

“First, Washington must change its approach to the conflict, which has delayed progress.  Officials have suggested that Washington could have used more air power to stop the Islamic State group as it advanced on Palmyra to destroy its ancient ruins, but was concerned doing so would have helped Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

“If the mission’s goal is to destroy the Islamic State group, that aim must be at the core of an integrated strategy.  This ambiguity is why America’s European and Arab allies worry there is greater interest in appearing to fight Islamic State militants than actually doing so. America invited everyone to the party, offering coordination but no leadership. Washington must now lead.”

---

So let’s go back to what I wrote on the fly last Friday night, hours after learning of the Paris attacks, and with many details not yet known.

Since day one of this column, almost 17 years ago, I have noted I have but one mantra, “Wait 24 hours” before making any broad comments on big news events that might have just hit as I’m writing or posting this column.  But last week I couldn’t afford to wait a full week before saying anything and I’m not into doing special reports in between.

What I wrote, in haste, was harsh to many of you.  I know I probably lost some readers over it. 

But if I had to do it again, it would be exactly the same with one very small change.

My thoughts on the rise of the far right in Europe, going back years before the current migrant crisis, have been spot on.  Add in the impact of the Paris attacks and you’ve seen even this week how the tension on this front has only ratcheted up three-fold.  Attitudes will continue to harden and they aren’t likely to improve much over the coming years.

My feelings on Syria, that we lost any chance of success in 2012, have been as prescient as anything else written on the topic; following the president’s performance at his news conference in Turkey on Monday, even more so.

I need to remind you that on Sept. 8, 2012, I wrote the following in this space:

“Syria: The killing continues, now estimated at anywhere from 23,000 to 26,000 in the civil war, with the UN pegging the official refugee figure at over 230,000 (the unofficial number far higher), which is destabilizing to neighbors Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, while there is a true humanitarian catastrophe developing in Syria itself as 1.2 million have been displaced and 2.5 million are in dire need of aid.  I’ll just say this in terms of the political debate taking place in the U.S.  One of the Democrats’ campaign slogans is ‘Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.’  It needs to be pointed out that at least 20,000 of the Syrian deaths could have been prevented if the White House had taken coordinated humanitarian action with Turkey early on.  Not a military invasion but just the establishment of safe havens and the Obama administration could have significantly reduced the human toll.

“But it’s too late now. We missed our opportunity. The situation is indeed far more dangerous.

“It was the same situation in 2009 when President Obama missed an opportunity in Iran to support the Greens, but instead when the United States just sat back, the mullahs crushed the uprising and now look where we are there.

“It’s pathetic.  It’s what infuriates me about how the president is getting a pass on his foreign policy.”

Earlier, August 18, 2012, I wrote in WIR:

“William Perry, former defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, warned that if America continued to sit on its hands, ‘we’ll be in no position to influence the post-Assad government.’ Perry has recommended that the U.S. impose a no-fly, no-drive zone in northern Syria.

“President Obama just wants the war to stay out of the American public’s mindset until after the first week in November....”

That same week, I also quoted the late Fouad Ajami from an op-ed of his in the Wall Street Journal.

“The sight of Hillary Clinton cutting a rug on the dance floor this week in South Africa gives away the moral obtuseness of America’s chief diplomat. That image will tell the people of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, under attack by a merciless regime, all they need to know about the heartlessness of U.S. foreign policy.

“True authority over foreign affairs has been vested in the White House, and for that matter, in the Obama campaign apparatus.  All the great decisions on foreign policy – Iraq and Afghanistan, the struggle raging in Syria, the challenge posed by the Iranian regime – have been subjugated to the needs of the campaign. All that is left for Mrs. Clinton is the pomp and ceremony and hectic travel schedule....

“This is foreign policy trivialized.”

Now we advance three+ years.  All this past week I didn’t see a single commentator point out what I’m about to, not even Sens. John McCain or Lindsey Graham.

Look back above at what I wrote in Sept. 2012.  Look at the death toll, the number of refugees and the number displaced in Syria.

Now look at today.  The day before the Paris attacks, Sec. of State John Kerry himself used a death toll in Syria of 300,000!  There are well over four million refugees, well over seven million now displaced.  Over eleven million combined!  In Sept. 2012, this figure approximated 1.5 million.

I wrote back then the death toll, had we instituted the no-fly zone that the likes of McCain, Graham and William Perry sought, would have been around 3,000 to 6,000.

Compare that to 300,000.  Every single right-thinking person in the world should be sick to their stomach looking at this.

So why are we freakin’ worried about killing some civilians in Raqqa, and/or Mosul, if we do what we should be doing...bomb those two ISIS strongholds to smithereens!  Not this pin-prick stuff that took place this week.  I love the French and the tough action President Hollande is taking, but I’ve seen the reports...they’re hardly inflicting any real damage at all, ditto what the U.S. and Russia are doing there.

Again, I cannot repeat this enough.  Nearly 300,000 have been killed due to the fact President Obama didn’t want to install a no-fly zone in 2012, because he didn’t want to upset the election mantra.  Bin Laden is dead...GM is alive.

Airpower can work.  ISIS has yet to be truly disrupted or feel any broad pain.  Last week I used Dresden as an example.  I know that is harsh.  But you all know this is war.

We don’t need 50,000 boots on the ground, President Obama’s sick strawman that he likes to trot out.

Continuing with my remarks from last week...

What did I tell you about the train ride from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the center of Paris that I’ve written of from time to time, including last week.  The ride “into the center of Paris; to see the ugly suburbs, to see some of the ugly individuals who hop on the train, to get a sense of the teeming ghettos...the boiling cauldrons of hate.”

You know what suburb you pass on this train, that I have seen countless times and wondered just what was going on in there?  Saint-Denis, right next to the Stad de France that you also pass.  You saw what happened there on Wednesday.  Case closed.

I also wrote last week of my trips to Beirut and I just have to expound on this topic one more time.

In 2005, following the horrific assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, the people of Lebanon rose up and booted out the Syrians, including the Syrian army and their intelligence goons, that had been running the country since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.  I was observing this and saw that there would be a pause of about four weeks before the Lebanese were to hold rolling elections over three or four weeks.  I was concerned that there would be heavy violence during the elections (it turns out it was limited, thankfully), so I thought, smartly, I’ll go in the weeks before the voting started and that’s when I went, with my room at the Phoenicia Hotel overlooking the bomb crater where Hariri and his bodyguards were blown to pieces.

I wrote then from the scene that I was incredulous how there was basically just some police tape around the site and learned from my new friends at the hotel (the workers who witnessed the carnage first hand) that the U.N. had done virtually no investigation at all.  [The case has still not been adjudicated properly, but everyone knows it was directed from Syria.]

My big takeaway from the trip was how I saw the urgency for the United States to flood the country with aid (working with the French, ironically, who did what they could...remember, Beirut was known as the Paris of the Middle East) in order to provide the Lebanese Army the tools it needed to keep order in the region and, most importantly, prevent Hizbullah from filling the void.

So what did President George W. Bush and Condi Rice do?  Nothing!  Zero, of any substance.

What did this allow Hizbullah to do?  Fill the void.  Why?  Hizbullah’s main argument has always been it is the only true force that can prevent Lebanon from being overrun by Israel.

If President Bush (who some conveniently forget was totally AWOL, and I used that term in this space, from the start of the Iraq War until Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Jack Keane grabbed him by the lapel and shook him out of his stupor to support the surge) had bulked up the Lebanese military, Hizbullah would have had no argument.

Instead, Hizbullah launched their counter-revolution, protest movement, and won a permanent role in the government.  They never should have been part of it.

American leadership?  Non-existent. The result?  Iran (and to a certain extent Syria) have been flooding Lebanon with heavy weapons and tens of thousands of rockets so that the next Israeli-Hizbullah war will truly be hell on earth and threaten Israel’s survival (which is all the more reason Israel must keep ISIS, Hizbullah, al-Nusra, and Iran out of the Golan Heights, which would make for another front during a war).

Lastly, I said I wish there was one slight comment I wish I had made in last week’s diatribe and that is about French National Front leader Marine Le Pen.  I wrote, “If I were born and raised in France, I’d have to think seriously about voting for (her).”

I was putting myself in the shoes of a Frenchman today. Not as Brian Trumbore, American.

I know a lot about the National Front and its economic policy, for example.  It’s a disaster.  But I fully appreciate why her popularity, especially after the Paris attacks, should surge, at least in the short run.

But if, as expected, the race in 2017 in France is between Hollande, Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy, I imagine I’d vote for Sarkozy.

I hope this coming week is a far more quiet one.  I’d like to enjoy my Thanksgiving.

Washington and Wall Street

The Federal Reserve released the minutes from its meeting last month and it showed that most members thought it would be appropriate to lift interest rates in December provided economic data warranted it and there were no “unanticipated shocks.”  The Paris attacks probably don’t fall into this category, especially since the financial markets took them in stride.

But there remains a divide among policymakers, with some warning that it was “unlikely” that information received before the Dec. 15-16 confab would support an increase.

The minutes said in part, “Some participants thought that the conditions for beginning the policy normalization process had already been met.  Most participants anticipated that, based on their assessment of the current economic situation and their outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation, these conditions could well be met by the time of the next meeting.”

As for economic news, the consumer price index for October came in at 0.2%, including ex-food and energy, with the CPI rising 0.2% for the last 12 months, 1.9% on core, or essentially at the Fed’s 2% target, though this is not their preferred metric.  [It’s good enough for me...especially given the wage component contained in the last employment report.]

October housing starts were down 11% to 1.060 million on an annualized basis, far weaker than expected though due to a big drop in multi-family homes.

And industrial production for last month fell 0.2%, the ninth month out of 10 it has been negative.

In another sign of weakness, the Wall Street Journal reported imports at the three largest ports in the U.S.; L.A./Long Beach and New York, fell 10% between August and October.

Meanwhile, there is still the risk of a government shutdown in December (Dec. 11).  New House Speaker Paul Ryan warned a spending bill needed to avoid a shutdown must include Republican policy measures, “riders,” in the sweeping spending bill.  Ryan also warned President Obama against using executive action to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Congress reached a deal with the White House boosting spending by $80 billion during the next two years and increasing the federal government’s borrowing limit until mid-March 2017.

But Congress still must pass individual spending bills divvying up the funding.

The White House has said Republicans need to keep partisan policy measures out of the bill.

Finally, UnitedHealth, the largest U.S. health insurer, dealt a huge ‘potential’ blow to the future of ObamaCare by threatening to withdraw from insurance exchanges that have reduced the number of Americans without healthcare coverage.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 established a network of online exchanges that allowed individuals to purchase individual plans, which helped send the percentage of people without coverage to just 9 percent from 16 percent five years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But UNH can’t make a profit on plans it is offering through the exchanges and it is contemplating abandoning the schemes altogether.  The company said it will make a final decision in the first half of 2016, but this could lead to a cascade of other insurers doing the same thing, because if one leaves, the risks rise for the others.

Aetna and Anthem, two other big players, did say this week they were not ready to abandon ship and I think those saying this is the end of ObamaCare are getting a little ahead of themselves, as much as I wish it were true.  Kaiser Permanente, for example, which has 450,000 individual exchange customers across eight states and Washington, D.C., said it’s “strongly committed” to the marketplaces.

Separately, the average premium for medium-benefit plans offered to 40-year-old non-smokers will rise 10.1% in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Europe and Asia

The eurozone’s bailout lenders approved a new loan payout to Greece as well as a planned bank rescue – totaling 12bn euro ($13bn), but Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ coalition was reduced to just a six-seat majority in the 300-member parliament following dissent over an austerity vote, that includes new fees and taxes, including higher duties on wine, as well as a key formula for providing some overly indebted homeowners protection from foreclosure.

The trouble for Tsipras, however, is just getting started as he needs to proceed with a drastic overhaul planned for the country’s troubled pension system. And he can no longer count on support from pro-European opposition parties.

Of the 12bn euro to be disbursed, 2bn would be spent on Greece’s domestic needs, while up to 10bn would go toward recapitalizing the Greek banks – rebuilding their cash reserves.  Bad loans are one of the biggest problems plaguing the banks, nonperforming business loans being more of an issue than mortgage delinquencies.

On the overall eurozone economic front, inflation came in at an annualized rate of 0.1% for October, compared with -0.1% in September, still well below the European Central Bank’s target of 2%. 

Spain was -0.9% (ann.), Germany 0.2%, France 0.2%, and Italy 0.3%.

Inflation in the U.K. (I always feel obligated to say ‘non-euro U.K.’) was -0.1%, with the Bank of England voting 8-1 to keep interest rates at 0.5%, the latest BoE forecast showing rates could remain at historic lows well into 2016.

U.K. retail sales fell more than expected in October after surging in September, with the Office for National Statistics saying volumes declined 0.6% after a 1.7% upturn the prior month.  But wages keep rising and the fall is seen as no big deal.  Retail sales are up 3.8% from a year ago, after all.

New car sales in the European Union in October eased to the slowest pace in five months, as Volkswagen’s diesel crisis hit the region’s largest manufacturer, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

Registrations (sales) in the EU rose 2.9% in October to 1.1 million vehicles.

VW’s share of the EU new car market fell slightly to 25.1% in October from 25.9% a year earlier.

Sales in the U.K., fell 1.1%, the first monthly decline there since February 2012.

EU sales growth in September was 9.8%.  For the first 10 months of the year, they have risen 8.2%.

On the migration front, aside from the fallout of the Paris attacks, Anne Applebaum wrote the following for the Washington Post prior to the events of 11/13.

“(Europe’s) Schengen treaty, which eliminates borders between those countries that are members, is under mortal threat. Sweden has introduced temporary checks at its border crossings, just to monitor the flow of people. Slovenia and Hungary have put up fences on their borders with Croatia.  A reasonable E.U. plan to distribute refugees among many countries isn’t working, because most refugees want to go to Berlin or Stockholm, not Tallinn or Bratislava.  But even if they did want to go, the institutions to transport and house them don’t exist.

“This legal and logistical crisis pales beside the looming political crisis.  Across the continent, people are unsettled by the sense that Europe has lost control.  There is talk of German hypocrisy: For years – decades, really – Germany positioned itself as the keeper of Europe’s rules.  Whether dealing with the Greek crisis or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany has always stuck solemnly to whatever treaties it signed or promises it made, even those made irrelevant by changing politics, such as Germany’s insistence on its old promise not to put military bases on NATO’s eastern border. When Germany suddenly changed the immigration rules and, without consultation at the European level, forced everyone else to accommodate, widespread disaffection began to spread....

“To preserve the freedom of movement within its borders, to prevent a wave of far-right governments from taking power – to preserve, in other words, the E.U. itself – Europe needs emergency measures.  It must reassert control over its outer borders, create refugee processing centers at entry points, patrol its coasts.  Compassion is vital, the victims of Syria’s brutal war cannot be forgotten, and it may eventually be possible to resettle many of them inside the E.U.  but if Europe itself becomes dysfunctional, that will not happen, because Europe will be incapable of extending compassion to anyone else.”

Following the Paris attacks, there was a domino effect as the likes of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia announced they weren’t allowing in the so-called economic migrants whose countries aren’t shattered by armed struggles or wars.

Turning to Asia....

Japan is back in recession after its economy shrank an annualized rate of 0.8% in the third quarter, worse than expected, for a second consecutive quarter of decline (-0.7% in Q2), the definition of recession, though no one is expecting a downward spiral.

That said, it’s a new blow to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to end deflation and revitalize the economy, “Abenomics.”  Since he took office at the end of 2012, the economy has experienced six quarters of growth and five quarters of decline.

Sluggish demand is not conducive to companies raising wages, which is what’s required to finally get inflation going again.

The silver lining in the third quarter report is virtually the entire decline was due to businesses running down inventory and that can’t continue forever.  Consumption contributed to growth, but investment was weak.

Japan continues to suffer from China’s big slowdown; Japan selling lots of industrial and construction equipment and machinery to the mainland.

In China, home prices rose for the first time in over a year in October on an annual basis, signaling some stabilization.  But with still sky-high inventories it is unlikely there will be a sustained rebound in prices.

Average new home prices rose 0.1% in October from a year earlier, according to the National Statistics Bureau, reversing September’s 0.9% drop.

Housing accounts for 15% of GDP in China so it’s important to at least keep things steady in the sector.

At the APEC conference in Manila (more on this below), President Xi Jinping told his audience that the fundamentals of China’s economy remain positive, and that it is proving resilient.

One other item this week...Chinese police arrested hundreds of people suspected of running an operation that illegally transferred a staggering $125bn out of China into foreign currencies.  The news comes as Beijing has been trying to tighten capital controls and stop money from flooding out of the country.

Street Bytes

--After a brutal performance last week, stocks rallied despite the terror attacks in Paris, and then Mali on Friday, as investors became more comfortable with the coming Fed interest rate hike.

Now much of the preceding may make no sense whatsoever, and it shouldn’t, but at times Wall Street acts totally irrationally.  I mean, c’mon, the market is overvalued, with a 22 trailing P/E on the S&P 500, but it is what it is.

The Dow Jones and S&P rose 3.3%, the best week for the latter since December of last year, while Nasdaq gained 3.6%.

The Dow, at 17823, is exactly where it stood at the close of last year.  As they would have said on “Hee-Haw,” “Sa-lute!”

I’m sorry, but there are some weeks I can’t take seriously when it comes to the Street and this was one of them.

On the other hand, the market averages for the year are essentially right where I said they’d be for all of 2015.

Now, though, it’s about the holiday shopping season and the National Retail Federation is calling for sales in November and December to rise 3.7% vs. last year’s 4.1% pace.

--U.S. Treasury Yields

6-mo. 0.29%  2-yr. 0.92%  10-yr. 2.26% 30-yr. 3.02%

Essentially unchanged on the week.

--Ford Motor Co.’s proposed four-year U.S. labor contract is in danger of being rejected after United Auto Workers members voted it down by almost 2-to-1 at big factories in Kentucky and Missouri.

Those who are turning down the deal don’t believe the gains they’ve won make up for the givebacks granted in earlier contracts to keep the company alive.  Kristin Dziczek, director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told Bloomberg: “They felt if they’re not going to get back the concessions they gave up now, when will they get them back? Well, we’re in a different world now.”

The contract includes $10,000 in bonuses upon ratification. Wage increases of $10,633, plus a variety of bonuses and guaranteed payouts boosting the average Ford production worker’s pay by $32,500 over the life of the contract, according to the union.  [Note: I’ve seen lesser figures than the above in other articles.]

Final voting is due in on Friday and I haven’t seen the results.

Earlier, Fiat Chrysler workers rejected the first contract the union negotiated in September and then the unions ratified a second offer last month.  GM’s proposed pact isn’t yet ratified, with skilled-trades workers rejecting it, while production workers approved it.  The UAW has set a Friday deadline to resolve the GM deal.

--Wal-Mart beat Wall Street’s expectations on earnings by a penny in the third quarter, with same-store sales rising 1.5%, the fifth straight quarter of growth after a long stretch of declines.

But while the earnings beat, profit fell 11% for the quarter and the company warned it would continue to do so as Wal-Mart’s costs rise, such as for higher wages. This fiscal year and next, Wal-Mart plans to spend $2.7 billion on wage increases and another $2 billion to improve its e-commerce operations. [See below.]

--Target Corp. posted third-quarter results that met analysts’ estimates and the company raised guidance slightly.  Comp store sales rose 1.9%, a little better than expected as well.  CEO Brian Cornell continues to update many of the stores, while paring costs, and it has been paying off.

Now it’s all about the holidays.

--As a Bloomberg piece noted, both Target and Wal-Mart saw a big slowdown in online sales growth last quarter, which isn’t good.

Target’s Internet sales grew 20%, missing the 30% it expected.  Wal-Mart posted e-commerce growth of 10%, compared with 16% in the second quarter and 21% a year earlier.  Wal-Mart is spending as much as $1.5 billion this year to improve its e-commerce operations, and investors expect to see a big bump in sales.

--Meanwhile, the Commerce Department released its quarterly survey of e-commerce sales, nationwide, and they rose 15.2% in the third quarter vs. a year earlier, while total retail sales increased 1.6% in the same period.  E-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2015 accounted for 6.8% of total sales.  This last figure was 7.2% in the second quarter.

So this points out the limits to e-commerce, as much as we talk about it. Consumers are still reluctant to buy certain items online, including food and beverages or drugs and health care, which are in some of the largest categories.

--Home-improvement king, Home Depot Inc., keeps racking up solid results, handily beating earnings expectations for the third quarter, with same-store sales up 5.1%, including a strong 7.3% in the U.S.

Overall, Home Depot posted a profit of $1.73 billion, with revenues rising 6.4% to $21.82 billion.

--Lowe’s, the second-largest do-it-yourself chain, reported a 25% rise in profits last quarter, exceeding expectations, with same-store sales up a solid 5%.

--This was telling. Caterpillar, the world’s largest mining and construction equipment manufacturer by sales, said it did not expect demand for excavators in China to recover to the peaks of 2010-12.

Want an example?  The company said industry-wide sales of hydraulic excavators between 10-90 tons, will reach the “23,000 range” in China this year.  “That compares with a total of more than 27,000 sold in March alone in 2011 and more than 112,000 for the whole of 2010, which was the peak year for the market.”  [Lindsay Whipp / Financial Times]

--A high-speed TGV train undergoing a test run for the Paris-Strasburg high-speed line scheduled to open next year derailed near Strasbourg, killing at least ten people.

The train was carrying 49 railway technicians when it left the tracks, caught fire, and plunged into a canal.  “Excessive speed” was blamed by officials.

--BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, closed a $1bn macro hedge fund, Global Ascent, after its worst-ever performance (down about 9.5%) and investor outflows.  The fund was focused on bond and currency markets.  It lost 12.3% in the first three months of 2015. [Financial Times]

--French industrial gas group, Air Liquide, announced it was buying U.S.-based Airgas in a $13.4 billion deal.  Air Liquide would become the world’s largest industrial gas company by sales.  [We’re talking stuff like oxygen, hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, etc.]

--Marriott International announced it was buying Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide for $12.2 billion in cash and stock, creating the world’s largest hotel company.  Starwood’s brands include Westin, the W, Sheraton and St. Regis.

Starwood has been beset by management woes and announced in April that it was exploring strategic alternatives.

The combined Marriott and Starwood company will have about 5,500 owned or franchised hotels with 1.1 million rooms worldwide.

--Pfizer is nearing a merger with Allergan for as much as $150bn in a so-called corporate inversion; Pfizer moving its corporate address to Ireland, where Allergan is, in order to significantly reduce its tax bill.

The combined company would have nearly $53 billion in annual sales, with products including Lipitor, Viagra and Botox.

--How catastrophic was the massive dam failure in Brazil earlier this month?  The operators of the Samarco mine, Vale SA and BHP Billiton Ltd., struck a deal with state and federal prosecutors to establish a “socio-environmental escrow” of over $260 million.

The collapse of two dams at the iron-ore mine sent mining mud flooding through remote valleys, wiping out several communities, killing fish and livestock, and at least 11 people (18 still officially missing at last word).

Deutsche Bank estimates the final bill for Vale and BHP could top $1 billion.  Insurance limits have already been topped with the initial agreement.

--Cloud computing, online software vendor Salesforce.com Inc. posted a 24% jump in quarterly revenue for its fiscal third quarter and predicted it would report more than $8.1 billion in revenue for the 12 months ending January 2017, up 20% to 22% over the prior, also beating the Street’s expectations.

Deferred revenues, a key metric used by analysts to evaluate subscription businesses, rose 28% in FQ3, as CEO Marc Benioff said it’s not as much about tech trends like cloud computing, but rather, how can Salesforce’s service help a company grow.

For the three-month period ended Oct. 31, Salesforce reported a net loss of four cents a share, compared with a loss of six cents a year earlier.

But excluding items, adjusted per-share earnings were 21 cents, beating the Street’s estimates of 19 cents.

--Cloud computing rival Workday reported Q3 earnings of $0.04, ex-items, better than the consensus forecast of a loss of $0.04, while revenue for the quarter came in at $305.3 million versus the consensus estimate of $303.5 million, up 42% year-over-year.

Cofounder and CEO Aneel Bhusri said, “We had a strong third quarter, and welcomed our largest financial management [AON] and HCM [Human Capital management] customers to date.  Wordkay also delivered its best performance in new annual contract value for Workday Financial Management in the history of the company.”

For the current quarter, Workday sees revenue in a range of $317 and $320 million, or growth of 40% to 41% compared to the prior year, but this is slightly less than the Street has been forecasting so it was a classic ‘sell the news’ story in terms of the company’s stock, which initially fell sharply on the earnings release but rallied back by the close on Friday.

--An Indian trade group said India will overtake the U.S. to have the second-largest population of Internet users after China by December, with the number rising to 402 million from 375 million in October.  According to the World Bank, China has about 650 million Internet users.

But overall Internet penetration in India is low, at just 30% of the population, vs. roughly 50% in China and 87% in the U.S., also according to the WB.  [Sean McLain / Wall Street Journal]

--Square, the San Francisco-based payments company, priced its IPO below its range, at $9 each per share, or about 40% below the level paid by investors in its private fundraising a year ago.

The Square IPO was viewed as a critical one for the tech industry in particular as investors become increasingly skeptical of high valuations that startups (i.e., ‘unicorns,’ $billion companies) are garnering.

Square went public with a valuation of $3.2bn, when investors deemed it worth $6bn a year ago.  It closed its first day at $13.07, giving the company a market cap of $4.2 billion.  [Square closed the week at $12.67.]

CEO Jack Dorsey made $300 million himself on the deal; Dorsey also being CEO at Twitter.

--Match Group, an online dating conglomerate, sold its shares to investors on Thursday and the spin-off from Internet holding company IAC/InterActiveCorp. priced its IPO at the lower range, $12, and, like Square, had a successful first day, closing at $14.74, or up 23%.  [$15.37, Friday.]

I’ve used Match.com’s service (cough cough...hack hack).  Can’t say anymore...wouldn’t be prudent.

--In a bizarre move, fashion retailer Urban Outfitters agreed to buy a pizzeria chain, Philadelphia-based Vetri restaurants, because, in the words of management, it allowed Urban to capture more of consumers’ spending.  As an analyst at Baird summed up, a “small foray into the pizza business has fueled investor anxiety as the core business softens.”

--Shares in Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. plummeted 12% on Friday as the company announced the E. coli outbreak, once thought to be under control, had spread to six states, including California and New York.  People were seen rushing out of restaurants, mouths covered and carrying toilet paper.

OK, not really, but I’ve never eaten at a Chipotle so what do I care?  I’m a preservatives kind of guy, myself. Give me fast food with a lengthy shelf life and artificial coloring and I’m a happy camper.

--McDonald’s is replacing its discount “Dollar Menu & More” with a feature called “McPick 2,” which allows customers to pick two of the following for $2: a McDouble, a McChicken, small fries and mozzarella sticks.

--Former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle was sentenced to 15 years and eight months in prison, three years more than the maximum sought by the government, after he pled guilty to child-pornography charges.

--Shares in Tesla Motors, Inc. fell sharply, and then recovered, on word its entire fleet of Model S vehicles was being recalled due to a seat belt issue.  I think it strangles the driver, but otherwise, not to worry if you are driving behind a Tesla at a safe distance.

--New York City’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8% in October, reaching its lowest level since 2006, but as you’ll see below, this good news hasn’t helped Mayor Bill de Blasio.

--El Nino is gaining strength with heavy rain forecast for California between January and March – and perhaps into May, according to climatologists, such as Bill Patzert, for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  Patzert told the Los Angeles Times: “El Nino is here. And it is huge.... At this point, we’re just waiting for the impacts in California.”

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center said this El Nino is expected to be among the three strongest on record since 1950.

These storms will come one after another, which I can’t help but note is very likely to wreak havoc on the California swing for the PGA Tour.

But the drought will officially be over, says moi.

The waters of the Pacific Ocean west of Peru currently have a surface temperature 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average. [More weather news in ‘Random Musings.’]

--Nearly half of Russians who had bought package tours to Egypt were prepared to pay extra to change their destination, even before Moscow officially confirmed the Sinai plane crash was an act of terrorism, the Vedomosti newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Favorite alternative destinations were Israel, Thailand, India and Vietnam.  [Moscow Times]

--Cancellations have been mounting at Paris hotels, as you can imagine.  At one Best Western, more than 50 percent of the hotel’s reservations were canceled immediately afterward, as reported by the New York Times.  My problem wouldn’t be being in Paris, it would be getting there, and the risk your flight is forced to return due to a bomb threat.

One president of a travel group in Paris said, “Right now we are not getting new reservations.”

The United Nations conference on climate change, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 30 and run for two weeks, was expected to bring in 40,000 visitors, with countless dinners and receptions.  But now it is being scaled back to the bare essentials, with 200 events around the city already being canceled.

And then of course you have the Christmas holidays, a huge time for travel to Paris, and other European cities, for that matter.

According to a merchants group, Paris department store sales this week are down by as much as 50 percent.  [Doreen Carvajal / New York Times]

--Health authorities in Liberia confirmed a case of Ebola; Liberia having been declared Ebola-free on May 9, though there was a resurgence of the disease in late June.  It was then declared Ebola-free again on Sept. 3.

--Sign of the Apocalypse: The other day I mentioned how impressed I was with the Santa Claus at The Mall at Short Hills, and then a few days later I saw a piece where at the Cherry Hill Mall in South Jersey, parents were being charged $35 to $50 for kids to partake in its Adventure to Santa holiday display, according to Philly.com.

So when this story hit, social media lit up and the mall pulled the charges, last I saw.

Foreign Affairs

Mali: A terrorist attack at a Radisson Blu hotel in the capital of Bamako killed 22, before soldiers shot their way into the place and liberated dozens of captives, with five attackers dying in the process.  At one point, the five gunmen were holding 170 hostages, according to officials.

The attackers shot their way into the hotel at dawn and if you could successfully recite the Islamic profession of faith, they let you go.

At least one American was among the victims.  It does not appear the attack was the work of Islamic State and related to Paris, but rather it seems to have been the work of an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Mali has long been a hotbed of terrorism and in 2013, some 3,000 French troops helped save the country from falling under the total control of Islamists.

Libya: Last Friday I wrote that the United States should bomb the hell out of any ISIS strongholds in Libya and on Saturday, a U.S. airstrike took out the head of Islamic State in Libya, Abu Nabil al Anbari, one of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s top lieutenants.  The U.S. said the operation was actually underway prior to news of the Paris attacks and was not linked.

Israel: A 36-year-old Palestinian who did not have a previous security record, stabbed two Israelis to death and wounded a third at a religious school entrance in south Tel Aviv on Thursday. The terrorist was apprehended by civilians who subdued him until police arrived.  A Hamas spokesman described the attack as “heroic” and called for more such attacks against Israel.

But then three more were killed the same day, making five total, including a Palestinian passer-by and an 18-year-old American yeshiva student, as a Palestinian man opened fire with a submachine gun from a car as he passed vehicles stopped in traffic in the West Bank.  He then crashed his car into another vehicle.  Three were killed in the chaos.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page: “Behind these terrorist attacks stands radical Islam, which seeks to destroy us, the same radical Islam that struck in Paris and threatens Europe.”  [Jerusalem Post / New York Times]

At least 16 Israelis have been killed in stabbing, vehicular and shooting attacks by Palestinians since the beginning of October.

Separately, Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli-American convicted of spying for Israel, was freed on Friday after 30 years in prison.

Pollard, 61, was serving a life sentence in a North Carolina correctional facility.  His release brings to an end one of the most painful episodes in U.S.-Israeli relations.  He was first arrested for passing information on to Israel while working for U.S. naval intelligence.

Part of the parole decision reached in July is that Pollard must spend the next five years in the U.S.  This guy should have rotted in jail. 

Egypt: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is making a huge mistake in not acknowledging it was terrorism that took down the Russian passenger jet over the Sinai, instead dredging up a familiar theme of a Western conspiracy to harm Egypt.  Every crisis is a shadow war against foreign enemies, a veteran journalist told the New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick.

Recently, heavy flooding in Alexandria that caused a number of deaths was blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood for plugging up the sewers.

I’ve supported Sisi, but he needs to get real...real fast.

Russia / Ukraine: Five Ukrainian soldiers were killed in one 24-hour period in eastern Ukraine last weekend, the highest death toll since a fragile cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists began two months ago.  Western nations, including the United States, continue to refuse to send the Ukrainian military lethal weapons it has requested.

Editorial / Washington Post

“Now the Russian guns are firing again. In the past week there have been dozens of incidents daily in which the supposedly withdrawn weapons, including heavy mortars and Grad rockets, have been fired at Ukrainian positions.  Nine Ukrainian soldiers have been reported killed. Having proved in September that he could switch off the shooting in Ukraine when it suited him, Russian President Vladimir Putin has now, at a minimum, allowed it to resume.  It’s a development that Western governments contemplating an alliance with the Russian ruler in the Middle East cannot afford to ignore....

“What’s clear is that Mr. Putin has not given up his objective of restoring Russian control over part of all of Ukraine.  He still seeks to undermine the pro-Western government in Kiev; this week the Kremlin announced a ban on Ukrainian food imports.  Through the peace talks, Mr. Putin is attempting to force Ukraine to accept the authorities he installed in the territories captured by Russia and to rewrite the constitution to give them special powers.  Meanwhile, he uses his military forces to probe and pressure.

“Ukrainian officials suspect that Mr. Putin’s offer to ally with the West in the Middle East may be part of this game.  The price for cooperation with France and the United States in Syria, they worry, may be concessions on Ukraine – such as the lifting of E.U. sanctions imposed on Russia after its invasion, which will lapse in January if not renewed.  European officials have said the sanctions will remain in effect until the peace agreement, which calls for Russian forces to withdraw, is fully implemented.  But that was before the terrorist attacks in Paris and French President Hollande’s decision to reach out to Mr. Putin.

“The resumed shooting by Russian forces in Ukraine does not appear to have slowed Mr. Hollande’s initiative.  It should.  If Western governments ally with Russia in Syria even as its forces attack Ukraine, they will be tolerating and even encouraging Mr. Putin’s aggression.”

China: At the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering in Manila, which is mainly intended to foster unity on trade among 21 Pacific rim economies, President Obama demanded China end artificial island building in the South China Sea, which pissed off China because it had insisted disputes with its Asian neighbors over the sea should not be on the agenda.

A recent commentary in the China Daily read in part: “Washington’s recent provocative moves have infringed upon Beijing’s maritime sovereignty and security in the South China Sea.

“But China is not one to give in when it comes to its territorial, maritime and security interests, and the U.S. is unlikely to succeed in its designs by instigating Asean countries to challenge China’s maritime rights in the South China Sea.”  [South China Morning Post]

Separately, in the world of sports, there was a huge moment Tuesday night when in a qualifying round for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Hong Kong held China to a draw, as Hong Kong citizens used the match to express their ill will towards Beijing, including booing and jeering the Chinese national anthem, which is also Hong Kong’s.

The match was held in a Hong Kong stadium in the dense, working-class Mong Kok district, which was the scene last year of violent clashes between police and demonstrators, as sentiment towards the mainland has continued to sour amid fears of Beijing’s encroaching on the semi-autonomous territory.

The Chinese Football Association added to the resentment when it was accused of racism for releasing a publicity poster describing Hong Kong’s players as “black-skinned, yellow-skinned and white-skinned” – a dig at the team’s contingent of naturalized foreign-born players.

FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Association for booing the anthem.

But in the match itself, China desperately needed a win to stay in the hunt for the World Cup and with a population 200 times larger than Hong Kong’s 7 million, China was supposed to handily beat Hong Kong.  The 0-0 draw was seen as a huge victory by Hong Kong fans, who as the report by Philip Wen of the Sydney Morning Herald described it, treated the game “as if they had won the World Cup itself,” especially since it condemns its much larger neighbor to a humiliating elimination at the very first hurdle.

The reaction in China was scathing against the national team.

Hong Kong has a very slim chance of advancing itself, which would be a helluva story if they could.

You know how I feel about the place...one of my favorites in the world (along with Paris and Vienna).  Good luck the rest of the way, Hong Kong!

France: One more comment on December’s election in the region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais, home to nearly six million people, including the city of Lille, as well as the refugee camp at the port of Calais.  Marine Le Pen has a very real chance of winning it which would give her an even larger platform ahead of the 2017 presidential elections.

The Economist commented two days before the Paris attacks:

“Ms. Le Pen’s ascension...is due to more than a narrow anti-immigrant message. It is also a pitch to the people against the system.  Perhaps the greatest cheers in Saint-Quentin are reserved for her denunciation of the interchangeable ruling parties, which ‘promised everything’ and ‘betrayed everyone.’  They are devoting all their energies not to governing the country, she jokes, but to fretting about the rise of the FN [Front National / National Front].  Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister, has warned darkly of the ‘drama’ of a possible FN regional victory, declaring that ‘everything should be done’ to stop it.  Yet the more that politicians try to take the moral high ground against Ms. Le Pen, the more she casts herself as the victim of an elite cabal.

“It may yet be that voters are not ready to hand power to the FN, or that rivals gang up in the second round to thwart it....As it is, the regions run schools and transport, but have no powers over policing or asylum. So Ms. Le Pen’s chief promise over Calais is to ‘make a din’ and force the government to step in, to process genuine asylum-seekers and expel those who are not....

“(But) those queuing up to hear Ms. Le Pen do not seem put off (by any criticisms of her or the party).  ‘Even if I don’t agree with all her ideas,’ says a middle-aged woman who has turned up with her husband, ‘she is the only one who speaks about us.’”

Gideon Rachman / Financial Times

“The reaction of French voters in next month’s regional elections will be watched closely.  Opinion polls were already suggesting that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, will win in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region; her niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen (Ed. she is rather telegenic), has also topped some polls in the Provence region in the south.  The National Front, which has a long history of hostility to Muslim immigration and which has also argued for the restoration of frontier controls, may well benefit in the aftermath of the attacks.  Some of its arguments were, in any case, already seeping into the discourse of the traditional center-right parties.

“The terror attacks in Paris also come at a time when Europe is in the midst of a ‘migrant crisis.’  With Germany set to receive more than 1m refugees this year – most of them from the war-torn Middle East – the domestic pressure on Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to close her country’s borders to more migrants per head than any other EU country – has announced a closure of its borders to new refugees, albeit as a temporary measure.  In the aftermath of Paris, Ms. Merkel will surely be tempted to take a similar measure, easing the political and social pressure on her government.  But she will also be aware of the dangerous knock-on effects such an action could have on Balkan countries further down the migrant route.”

Nigeria: Boko Haram showed it is still a terrorist force to be reckoned with, killing at least 45 in a series of bombings across the northern sector.  On Oct. 23, it killed another 42 in explosions at mosques in the region.

Boko Haram has killed about 1,000 since President Muhammadu Buhari took office in May, vowing to crush the group.

Earlier, Buhari ordered the arrest of a former government official and others accused of stealing more than $2 billion (with a ‘b’) intended to fund the fight against Boko Haram.

Random Musings

--Ron Fournier / National Journal, via Defense One

“Monday was a horrible day for American leadership.  First, our petulant, tone-deaf president showed more anger toward his political critics than toward ISIS. Second, the Republican presidential hopefuls turned their backs on Syrian war refugees in a xenophobic frenzy.

“At a news conference in Turkey for the G-20 summit, Barack Obama bristled in defense of his ISIS strategy, his initial dismissal of the terrorist state, his military response, his diplomacy, and his willingness to accept refugees from Syria.

“ ‘And,’ wrote my colleague George Condon, ‘there was no hiding his frustration.’

“Which was a shame, because nobody cares about Obama’s precious feelings.

“What the people of France and its freedom-loving allies care about is defeating ISIS.  They wonder about the commitment of a U.S. president who dismissed ISIS as a ‘JV team’ before it beheaded Americans, who declared ISIS ‘contained’ before it attacked Paris, and whose advisers now say ISIS can’t attack the United States.  Nobody believes that.

“ ‘No,’ Obama insisted, ‘we haven’t underestimated [their] abilities.’  Nobody believes that, either.

“For all his skills as an orator, Obama is a lousy communicator. He doesn’t lead, he lectures. He argues rather than educates. His rhetoric is self-focused, not uplifting toward a cause greater than himself.  He spins and shifts blame, rarely admitting fault.

“Obama tries to show steely resolve, but his affect is stubborn arrogance.

“Even his supporters slammed the president’s performance.  ‘Obama’s tone in addressing the Paris atrocity was all wrong,’ wrote Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.  ‘At times he was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive.  The president said, essentially, that he had considered all the options and decided that even a large-scale terrorist attack in the heart of a major European capital was not enough to make him reconsider his policy.’

“Which brings me to the GOP, the source of Obama’s frustration and an obstacle to the safety of Syrian refugees.

“ ‘Wake up and smell the falafel,’ said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, using  a slur to argue against the settlement of refugees.

“How does a party that proclaims the sanctity of life risk the deaths of so many innocents because it is difficult – not impossible – to screen refugees?  How can the party of religious freedom include at least three candidates who would admit Christian refugees from Syria, but no Muslims?” 

--John Podhoretz / New York Post

“Here’s how some of the would-be leaders of the Republican Party have reacted to the horror in Paris:

“Mike Huckabee says the Paris attacks mean we need to ‘wake up and smell the falafel.’  Jeb Bush wonders if maybe we could somehow only take in Christian refugees from Syria, as if there’s a way to tell.  Not to be outdone, Chris Christie says his state is so not going to take in any refugees he won’t even allow a ‘5-year-old orphan’ in.

“Meanwhile, Donald Trump alternately says his talent for finding good real-estate locations gives him a near-supernatural ability to detect threats against America, and that he’d use his real-estate talent to purchase property to ‘build a safe zone in Syria, build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is, so they can live.’

“Also, Trump would look into closing mosques, because, you know, that First Amendment thing, whatever.

[Ed. Mr. Podhoretz was writing before Trump’s despicable database comment.  And, yes, he said it; his Twitter denial notwithstanding.]

“ISIS turns the City of Lights into a bloody battlefield and GOP newsmakers use it as the occasion to crack ethnic jokes, float unconstitutional proposals and make tough-sounding noises that cast them more as Dickensian villains than policymakers.

“The sheer mind-numbing, stomach-churning unseriousness on display is beyond appalling.

“But then, so was the response of the Leader of the Free World. As the world reeled from the horror in Paris, President Obama took to a microphone to declare his anti-ISIS policy was sound – and anyone who dared to disagree was just popping off.

“He scoffed at the concept of an American victory against ISIS as somehow beneath him: ‘What I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people.’

“That was, of course, a shot at Donald Trump, who should probably have been the last thing on the president’s mind at a time of high crisis.”

--I watched a lot of the Democratic debate on Saturday night and Hillary Clinton’s performance was, to put it mildly, unimpressive.  CBS moderator John Dickerson was outstanding, on the other hand, and refused to let Clinton off the hook with her non-answers on topics such as ISIS and Libya, which only exposed her further.  If Republicans have gotten their act together post-convention, the nominee will riddle her in the debates.  There is no possible ‘record of success’ for her to fall back on.

Or, as the Wall Street Journal editorialized:

“Mrs. Clinton’s case for the White House is that she is the most seasoned candidate in the field, but even an entry-level foreign service officer could do better than claiming the way to deal with trouble is to deal with trouble.  Presumably Mrs. Clinton recognizes that the growing world disorder is a political problem. She’d like to maintain her top-diplomat image, glide past accountability for Obama-Clinton results, and hope nobody notices the contradiction.  No wonder Democrats tried to bury this spectacle – and, by the way, the next debate is the Saturday before Christmas.”

John Podhoretz / New York Post (again)

“Discussing foreign policy in the wake of the attack on Paris at a Democratic-candidate debate last night, Hillary Rodham Clinton gave the Republican Party a guide map to her defeat.

“A Republican candidate who can effectively harness President Obama’s former chief diplomat to the Obama policies in the Middle East that have helped lead us to this dreadful pass is going to give Clinton a devil of a time.

“Under appropriately polite but devastatingly persistent questioning by moderator John Dickerson, Clinton proved astonishingly incoherent.

“We must ‘root out’ ISIS, she said, and implicitly criticized Obama when she said it ‘cannot be contained, it must be defeated.’  At the same time, she said, ‘it cannot be an American fight.’  However, ‘American leadership is essential.’  And yet, she said, ‘I don’t think that the United States has the bulk of the responsibility.’

“Instead, and breathtakingly, she suggests the person who must take the lead is Syria’s dictator, himself responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his own people and the progenitor of the refugee crisis that is turning Europe inside out: ‘I really put that on [President Bashar] Assad and on the Iraqis and on the region itself.’

“This is nonsense on stilts, and it deconstructs itself....

“If ongoing events make foreign policy a key voting issue in 2016, and the Republican candidate is as assured at questioning Clinton about it as Dickerson was last night, Hillary will reap the whirlwind – and the Republican will be the beneficiary.”

The debate on CBS drew 8.6 million viewers, well below the record figures that CNN, CNBC, Fox News and Fox Business received, but then, as the Journal noted, they buried Clinton on a Saturday, which has the smallest TV audience of the week.

--George Will / Washington Post

“Paris was for all Americans, but especially for Republicans, a summons to seriousness that should have two immediate impacts on the Republican presidential contest.  It should awaken the party’s nominating electorate from its reveries about treating the presidency as an entry-level job. And it should cause Republicans to take another look at Chris Christie, beginning with his speech in Florida the day after the Paris attacks.

“Until now, many Republicans have been treating the nominating process as a mechanism for sending a message to Washington.  The eruption of war in the capital of a NATO ally is a reminder that the nominating process will potentially send a commander in chief to Washington.  This might, and should, hasten the eclipse of Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and especially Donald Trump.  His coarse, vulgar and nasty 95-minute effusion last week in Fort Dodge, Iowa, answered this question: When he begins to fade, will he draw upon a hitherto well-hidden capacity for graciousness, or will he become a caricature of his normal persona, which itself is a caricature of democracy’s most embarrassing possibilities?

“Watch Trump on YouTube and consider his manner in light of his stupendously unconservative proposal, made one day earlier, for a federal police force.  (It would conduct about 500,000 deportations a month to remove approximately 11.4 million illegal immigrants in two years).  Then watch Christie on YouTube and pay particular attention to his affirmation of the foundational conservative belief in the indispensability, the sovereignty and the prerogatives of nationhood....

“In Florida, Christie sounded a new theme: ‘There are all too many people in academia and in global business that aren’t really interested in America as a nation-state anymore.’....

“Heightened security concerns might be Christie’s opportunity. The more disorderly the world becomes, the less luminous is the one credential that supposedly qualifies Hillary Clinton for the presidency. The credential is not her adequate but unremarkable eight-year Senate career. Rather, it is her four years as secretary of state.  Recall the question Ronald Reagan posed to voters at the conclusion of his single debate with Jimmy Carter a week before the 1980 election:  Are you better off today than you were four years ago?  The electorate’s answer was emphatic.

“In a debate 10 months from now, the Republican nominee will ask a variant of Reagan’s question: Is America safer or more respected today, anywhere in the world, than it was when Clinton became secretary of state?”

--Bobby Jindal quit the Republican presidential race.  Good riddance.  I think the four people in the country who supported him was a ‘soft’ figure.

--Some poll data....

A new national Bloomberg Politics poll has Donald Trump at 24% (up three points from September), Ben Carson 20% (up four points), Marco Rubio 12% (up four points), Ted Cruz 9% (up four points) and Jeb Bush 6% (down seven points).

A Fox News poll out of New Hampshire:

Trump 27%, Rubio 13%, Cruz 11%, Bush 9%, Carson 9%, Kasich 7% and Christie 6%.

A WBUR New Hampshire survey:

Trump 22%, Carson 11%, Rubio 11%, Cruz 8%, Bush 7% and Kasich 7%.

--The House voted 289-137 on Thursday to approve legislation effectively halting the resettlement of refugees from Syria and Iraq to the U.S.  [47 Democrats crossed party lines.]

This is a totally reasonable move, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, that requires the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence to certify that refugees who are admitted pose no security threat.

The White House says the current process already takes up to 24 months, as President Obama vowed to veto the bill.

Senate Democrats are preparing an alternative that slaps controls on the visa waiver program, which some say has too many loopholes and poses the greater security issue.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Univ. of Virginia politics expert Larry Sabato said the Paris attacks would make Republicans “even more anti-immigration” and force more moderate candidates, such as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, to take a tougher stance, which could hurt the party’s standing with non-white voters in the general election.  But he said the Democrats also faced a conundrum since it was “hard to see how they can continue to support absorbing 10,000 Syrians into the U.S.” 

Editorial / Washington Post

“In the face of the horror in Paris – not to mention Beirut and Baghdad – an instinctual reaction is to attempt to close the United States to the world and, in effect, ignore the plight of people America might help.  At best, this reaction is understandable but self-defeating.  From the mouths of Republican presidential candidates, it has become downright ugly....

“Europe is awash in Syrian refugees, its officials overwhelmed by the volume of people, nearly all of whom are simply seeking to survive.  Germany alone may take 1 million people by the end of the year.

“The United States, by contrast, is hardly more than a bit player in the refugee crisis, in part because it insists on an orderly and lengthy vetting process.  The United Nations screens and then refers refugees to U.S. authorities, who work with Department of Homeland Security and intelligence officials to perform background checks and conduct interviews.  Performing background checks on people coming from a failed state can be hard, but the program is set up to bring in the most vulnerable – the sick, the maimed, women, children and the elderly. Every step in the screening process reduces the risk....

“Accepting only Christians would damage the country’s reputation and betray the notion that Americans are bound by common allegiance to laws, not creeds.  These impacts would far outweigh the meager security benefits such an approach would provide.

“The Paris attacks have shaken up the discussion on Syria.  But the moral calculus regarding refugees who have been driven from their homes, beaten, tortured, gassed and raped hasn’t changed.  The humanitarian necessity is overwhelming.  Half of all Syrians have been displaced, and more than a quarter-million people have died. There is no excuse to sit by.”

Editorial / Wall Street Journal

“The larger point is one we’ve been trying to explain to our progressive friends since the war on terror began.  An important reason to accept small infringements on liberty to prevent terrorist mass murder is because the political consequences of failure will be so much worse for liberal values.

“Metadata collection or surveillance of mosques or Muslim students doesn’t compare to what a frightened American public might support if a Paris-like event occurred on Rush Street in Chicago or the Mall of America in Minneapolis.  The internment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II were a shameful period in U.S. history, but FDR, a progressive hero, allowed the camps under political pressure after Pearl Harbor.

“The same point holds for overseas interventions.  Mr. Obama boasts that he has avoided George W. Bush’s Iraq mistake by not intervening in Syria.  But doing nothing also has moral consequences. These now include the rise of a terrorist caliphate, the worst refugee flood in Europe since World War II, and the increasing risk of Paris-like killings across the West.  Mr. Obama’s foreign policy of liberal nonintervention may lead to the deaths of far more innocents than creating a Syrian safe-zone and destroying Islamic State would have.

“If Mr. Obama fought Islamic State with half the vigor with which he delivers moral lectures, he’d find that a much less fearful America would welcome far more refugees.”

Michael Gerson / Washington Post

“This is the hard fact. Americans don’t want this role, but they need to lead an alliance of Sunni powers (the Gulf States, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt) and NATO countries to crush the Islamic State. The current strategy of train, equip and bomb is not containing the threat. And we can’t rely on Iran and Russia to do the job without inviting new problems.

“All our efforts are undermined by declaring Islam itself to be the enemy, and by treating Muslims in the United States, or Muslims in Europe, or Muslims fleeing Islamic State oppression, as a class of suspicious potential jihadists.  Instead of blaming refugees, we need to make sure our counterterrorism and intelligence policies give us a chance to screen and stop any threat... But if U.S. politicians define Islam as the problem and cast aspersions on Muslim populations in the West, they are feeding the Islamic State narrative.  They are materially undermining the war against terrorism and complicating the United States’ (already complicated) task in the Middle East.  Rejecting a blanket condemnation of Islam is not a matter of political correctness.  It is the requirement of an effective war against terrorism, which means an effective war against the terrorist kingdom in Syria and western Iraq.”

--According to a Bloomberg Politics survey, 64% of Americans view Islam as “an inherently peaceful religion, but there are some who twist its teachings to justify violence.”  28% believe “Islam is an inherently violent religion, which leads its followers to violent acts.”  8% are not sure.

ISIS is cited by 35% of Americans as the top issue, about the same as concerns about jobs, immigration, health care and the federal deficit combined.  [21% ISIS alone, 14% terrorism top issue...35% combined.]

53% of U.S. adults say the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.  Just 28% would keep the program with the screening process as it now exists, while 11% favor a limited program to accept only Syrian Christians while excluding Muslims.

53% of Americans favor a U.S.-Russia military coalition to fight Islamic terrorism.

--According to a New York Times / Siena College poll, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a 28% approval rating among white New Yorkers, with 59% disapproving.  In early 2014, not long after his term began, 38% of whites approved and 45% disapproved.

The mayor’s overall approval rating is at 44%, down from 52% last December.

52% of New Yorkers say the city is on the wrong track, including 62% of whites and 51% of Hispanics.  Black residents are evenly split.

--Update: The other week I mentioned that Rider University in New Jersey was slashing more than a dozen majors and laying off professors in order to close a budget gap, which I saw as a harbinger of things to come.

Well, the faculty union agreed to a two-year wage freeze and other concessions that spare the college from having to make the cuts in both programs and profs.

--But speaking of college and America’s campuses....

George Will / Washington Post

“Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, dealt with the Crisis of the Distressing E-mail about Hypothetical Halloween Costumes about as you would expect from someone who has risen to eminence in today’s academia.  He seems to be the kind of adult who has helped produce the kind of students who are such delicate snowflakes that they melt at the mere mention of even a potential abrasion of their sensibilities.

“Salovey gave indignant students a virtuoso demonstration of adult groveling. With a fusillade of academia’s clichés du jour, he said the students’ ‘great distress’ would be ameliorated by ‘greater inclusion, healing, mutual respect, and understanding’ in the service of – wait for it – ‘diversity.’  But of course only diversity that is consistent with the students’ capacious sense of the intolerable.

“Salovey said he heard their ‘cries for help.’  The cries came from students who either come from families capable of paying Yale University’s estimated $65,725 costs for the 2015-16 academic year or who are among the 64 percent of Yale undergraduates receiving financial aid made possible by the university’s $25.6 billion endowment.  The cries were for protection (in the current academic patois, for ‘a safe space’) from the specter of the possibility that someone might wear an insensitive Halloween costume.  A sombrero would constitute ‘cultural appropriation.’  A pirate’s eye patch would distress the visually challenged.  And so on, and on....

“On campuses so saturated with progressivism that they celebrate diversity in everything but thought, every day is a snow day: There are perishable snowflakes everywhere. The institutions have brought this on themselves. So, regarding the campuses’ current agonies, schadenfreude is not a guilty pleasure, it is obligatory.”

Wednesday/Thursday, at Princeton, black students occupied the university president’s office, demanding campus-wide changes in support of black students.

The demands include removing Woodrow Wilson’s name from campus, including renaming the Wilson residential college, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, “and any other building named after him.”  Plus the students, representing the Black Justice League, want a mural of Wilson removed from a dining hall.  Wilson was a racist, you see.

In addition, the Black Justice League demands that all faculty and staff undergo cultural competency training and set up a marked, communal space for black students on campus, which should be named “at the students’ discretion in order to avoid naming it after a white benefactor or person with bigoted beliefs,” per the written demands of the group.  [NJ.com]

So might as well name the space the “H. Rap Brown” square yard; Mr. Brown, for you younger folk, being a former leader of the Black Panthers.

But Thursday night, administrators signed a document committing them to begin conversations about addressing racial tension on campus, including possibly removing Wilson’s name from some public spaces, as the students ended their sit-in.

The New York Times reported, “Shortly after the document was signed, an administrator received a bomb or firearm threat by email.”

Wilson, by the way, aside from graduating from Princeton and serving as president of the United States for two terms, served as Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910.  He did, according to historians, hold some racist views.

--According to data from the Japan Meteorological Agency and NASA, October was not only the warmest ever recorded, but the planet obliterated October records set just last year.  October 2015 out-baked October 2014 by 0.34 degrees (0.19 Celsius) and 0.32 degrees (0.18 Celsius) in JMA and NASA’s analyses, respectively.

“The planet’s temperature departure from the long-term average of 1.04 Celsius in October is the greatest of any month ever recorded by NASA.... 

“Earlier this month, Britain’s weather service, the Met Office, and NASA both stated that the Earth’s average temperature is likely to rise 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels for the first time by the end of this year. This milestone is significant since it marks the halfway point to two degrees Celsius, the internationally accepted limit for avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.” [Jason Samenow / Washington Post]

--According to new research, headed up by a scientist from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, drinking three to five cups of coffee a day might help you live longer.

“Moderate coffee consumption reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, and Type 2 diabetes, scientists found in a study of more than 200,000 people.

“Whether the coffee contained caffeine made no difference.  The benefits are thought to be linked to other plant compounds in coffee besides the stimulant.” 

The results were published in the journal “Circulation” and are part of an ongoing analysis of three large studies with 208,000 male and female participants.  [Irish Independent]

--Finally, I can’t help but note the death of a police dog, Diesel, in the raid in Saint-Denis on Wednesday; one of the heroes in an otherwise incredibly depressing time.

---

Pray for the men and women of our armed forces...and all the fallen.

God bless America.

Vive Le France!

---

Gold closed at $1078...five-year low
Oil $41.46

Returns for the week 11/16-11/20

Dow Jones  +3.35%  [17823]
S&P 500  +3.3%  [2089]
S&P MidCap  +2.9%
Russell 2000  +2.5%
Nasdaq  +3.6%  [5104]

Returns for the period 1/1/15-11/20/15

Dow Jones  +0.00%
S&P 500  +1.5%
S&P MidCap  -0.4%
Russell 2000  -2.45%
Nasdaq +7.8%

Bulls  45.3
Bears  28.9  [Source: Investors Intelligence]

Have a great Thanksgiving.

Brian Trumbore