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Century 21 13 th yr
Century 21 2013- AD
 

2013


Jan 1  Reuters reports that Syrians have awakened on New Year's Day "to countrywide aerial bombardment." Others report Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov asserting that Assad has no intention of stepping down and Assad speaking of his willingness to end the fighting through dialogue. With this there is no reason for confidence that the end of the war in Syria can soon be brokered by the UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Assad's opponents have made gains in recent months, and there is little sign that Assad can reverse those gains or their momentum. A few months ago a few pundits in the West were expressing concern that the war in Syria would drag for many years and spread to Syria's neighbors. Today Linux Beach, on the blog sheet Daily Kos, expresses a contrary view. He predicts that 2013 will see an "end to the Assad regime." I'm with him.

Jan 2  The so-called fiscal cliff, invented by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in the summer of 2011 and passed by Congress, has been averted. His intention was to address the government debt issue and to skirt around a debt ceiling impasse. Today, Congress completed its vote for a bill that averted the "fiscal cliff." The 2011 invention didn't work and another debt ceiling crisis returns in February. The debt ceiling was invented by Congress in 1917 as a device to help finance World War One.

Jan 3  Eighteen days have passed since the rape on a bus in New Delhi, and demonstrations are still going strong. Indian authorities have charged five men with rape, and it is written that they will be tried in a couple of days and may be sentenced to death, as requested by the victim's father. A sixth will be tried in a juvenile court. The rapists are described as having been drinking and joyriding in an empty bus. They offered a ride to the victim and her male companion, who were waiting at a bus stop after having been to the cinema. On board the bus, the joyriders beat the male, scolded the young woman for being out at night with a male. They beat and took turns raping her and driving the bus. One of them shoved a metal rod into her vagina. Then they threw both victims from the moving bus. The young woman died in a hospital in Singapore on the 29th of December after great efforts were made to save her life. New Delhi now has more police night patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with tinted windows or curtains. More stringent laws regarding rape are expected.

Jan 4  "Politicians don't win elections by promising new sewers;" so says Miles O'Brien on the News Hour. Speaking of crumbling sewers (alongside our other infrastructure problems), Sue McCormick, sewerage department director for Detroit, says, "We have deferred replacement in the public systems. Ultimately we're going to see potential significant rises in failures." Pundit Fareed Zakaria complains of big spending for entitlements (consumption) while "spending for the next generation of growth has few supporters." The US is affluent compared to what it was around 1900, but we are conflicted concerning where we spend - ultimately a distribution and fun and games problem.

Jan 6  Assad makes a speech to Syrians and calls for "a reconciliation conference with those who have not betrayed Syria." He says nothing about his responsibility for Syria's troubles - what he calls a "black cloud of pain." He calls his adversaries "the enemies of God and puppets of the West" and rejects dialogue with them. His speech is scorned internationally except by the usual few, scorned by those who have taken up arms against him, but cheered by the gathering of worshippers around him. His speech is a dictator's rationalizations and delusions. It's a speech of defiance and confirms the need of overwhelming pressure against him.

Jan 7  Yesterday as Bashar al Assad made his speech at the Damascus Opera House, members of the crowd chanted "We will die for you" and "God, Syria and Bashar are enough." Every butcher-dictator needs some support around him. But there is also a little unneeded support in Western Europe and the Americas. Shooting down protesters, abductions, torture and military invasions of neighborhoods account for less with them than their ideological theorizing that whatever the West does in foreign policy is motivated by imperialism. Someone in Britain writes to the Guardian: "The only reason the West is against a negotiated settlement is from the very beginning we have only had one goal in Syria, regime change to install a puppet regime loyal to US/UK hegemony."

Jan 8  In democracies, those with political power tolerate insults. Kuwait's hereditary rulers, both the emir and prime minister, are members of the House of Sabah. They know that they are not universally appreciated, but they find it opportune to have a journalist, Ayyad al-Harbi, jailed for twitter "insults." Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy, and the monarchy has been in conflict with parliament. Parliamentary elections in December were boycotted by groups unimpressed by Kuwait's system of representation. The emir and prime minister are of a clan that migrated from Arabia and established their power in Kuwait in the early 1700s. Most of their extended family receives a monthly stipend. They host thousands of US troops, and their military is trained by the US. (But, Imperialism theorists can relax. Kuwait is oil-rich and controls that resource - not what transpires with victims of imperialism.)

Jan 10  In Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Hassan and other leading pirates have agreed to end their pirating. Authorities have persuaded them to hand over their boats and weapons. BBC News quotes a government official: "They realised that they cannot function as before with impunity and profits are no longer good." The decline in profits is said to have resulted from an increased use of private security guards on ships and better co-ordination between naval patrols in the area.

Jan 11  Despite Japan's huge public debt - almost twice that of the United States - its new conservative government approves a stimulus package equal to $116 billion dollars. The money is to be spent on infrastructure and rebuilding areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Some will be invested in education. Japan's economy is in recession, having dipped for two successive three-month periods. The stimulus is expected to boost the economy by 2 percent and create 600,000 jobs. Japan's economy has been hurt by slowing global demand and a dip in its exports, and it has low domestic consumption. Japan's manufacturers would like their fellow countrymen to buy more, and they are looking to a decline in the value of Japan's currency to make their products less expensive abroad.

Jan 12  Yesterday In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson wrote of "a year when the lower 48 states suffered the warmest temperatures, and the second-craziest weather, since record-keeping began." He added that "We see what looks like disaster looming but don't even talk about it, because the politics of climate change are inconvenient. Future generations will curse our silence." His article gets 2532 comments, including  a complaint about liberal hysteria.

Jan 13  China Daily reports that smog has "enveloped a large swathe of East and Central China" since Friday, "causing highway closures and flight delays in several provinces."

Jan 13  Arab News reports that King Abdullah's appointment of thirty educated women to the Shoura Council (a 150-member advisory body that can propose laws to the king) has won praise from "Saudis and expatriates from all walks of life... In coffee shops, five-star hotel lobbies, newsrooms, chatrooms, Internet groups and on Facebook and Twitter." On twitter are comments from a few women in the West who want more equality for Saudi women now.

Jan 14  The Guardian runs a story that headlines, "Americans are sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy nations." The story draws from an academic study in the US, and continues: "Americans lose more years of life to alcohol and other drugs than people in other affluent countries ... The US has the highest obesity rate ... death and disease take a huge toll on the younger American population, even though the US spends more on healthcare per capita than almost any other country in the world ... The situation will not improve unless Americans wake up to the truth about their health and a public debate begins."


Timbuktu and Gao
 Timbuktu and Gao
Jan 15  In Mali, religiously extremist forces somewhat associated with Al Qaeda have been expanding farther south, past Timbuktu and Gao. In cooperation with the government of Mali, the French are sending military aircraft and hundreds of ground troops, and in a few days they will be joined by a West African international force expected to be more than 3,000 in number. The insurgents have been intimidating Mali's religiously moderate populations. On behalf of the insurgents, Omar Ould Hamahar of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, fantasizes: "France has opened the gates of hell ... it has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia." The war in Afghanistan has been going for ten years. Having little support from the general population, the religious extremists in Mali are not expected to last that long, maybe not into the summer, when the Sahara heat makes ground fighting difficult.

Jan 16  An interview with a woman refugee in the Mali city of Ségou, printed in Britain's Guardian: "We left Timbuktu because of the suffering we endured there," she said. "The Mujao [Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa] and the others harassed us. We are Muslims but they imposed sharia on us by force. They are truly terrorists." Yesterday the UN Security Council unanimously supported France's intervention. Only a tiny few in Britain complain. Britain's Socialist Worker Party newspaper: "In reality the new scramble for Africa is a battle for resources and strategic interests. Now the US and [Communist] China have joined old colonial powers like Britain and France." The way out left in France expresses its adherence to anti-imperialist theory and opposition to intervention by describing Socialist Premier Hollande and the French Communist Party (PCF), who supports him, as "petty bourgeois."

Jan 16  The European Union welcomes Saudi King Abdullah's appointment of women to the kingdom's Shura Council. Some clerics protest and demand a meeting with King Abdullah. Writes Al Arabiya News, "They waited for two hours but were denied access."

Jan 17  Two days ago a jihadist group in Algeria spoke of having taken 41 hostages in retaliation for French military action in neighboring Mali. This morning's news describes the Algerian army as having rescued some of the hostages. It appears that these were British Petroleum employees. Meanwhile France increases its troop strength in Mali to 1,400.

Jan 18  This morning, Al Arabiya reports "nearly 650 hostages freed [today] by the Algerian army." It describes Algeria's government as "army dominated" and "hardened by decades of fighting Islamist militants." BBC News reports that "around 30" of the hostages are unaccounted for. The Jihadists in Algeria have been described as linked with the rebels across the border in Mali, and today those rebels are reported as having retreated northward from the town of Konna (less than fifty miles north of Mopti).

Jan 19  A Mali singer quoted in Al Arabiya: "We are very very concerned about not being able to sing in our own country because not only are women being raped, beaten and mistreated in the north, but now they want to prevent us from making music, knowing that music is the soul of Mali." He with others have released a seven-minute song titled "Mali Ko," which calls on Malians to join hands against the warring that the jihadist insurgents have brought to their country. Another sign of the futility in the tactics of the al Qaeda linked jihadists is in the Algerian army's prestige among Algerians. That prestige came from defeating jihadists in recent wars. The jihadists, however, appear not to link their success to a strategy of hearts-and-minds.

Jan 20  Across the United States yesterday, organized citizens expressed their opposition to government taking away their guns. "Stop the Gun Grabbers." read their signs. In Connecticut, expressing fear and an absolutism that rules out the measure that applies to much law making, Jessie Buchanan said: "They could take away the 10-round magazine today and tomorrow it would be the five-round and the next day it would be the whole thing."

Jan 21  Algerian troops attacked the hostage takers after learning they were killing their hostages. This morning at least 48 hostages are reported as having died, including nine Japanese. Freed were 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners. A few of the hostage takers survived and are prisoners. Their blank-faced leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is now the most wanted man in the world. He began the hostage taking by calling it a "blessed operation" by "we in al-Qaeda." It was to counter the French move into Mali. The French, he said, had fallen into a trap "more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia." Today the French and Mali government forces are moving easily northward toward Timbuktu and being cheered by Malians. The al-Qaeda linked rebels are running away, and Belmokhtar will soon be dead.

Jan 23  Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitani Party coalition allies take 31 of 120 parliament seats in yesterday's election. A newly formed centrist party, Yesh Atid, wins 19 seats. Its leader has been described as someone who will go along with Netanyahu's policies. Netanyahu will continue as prime minister and no policy changes are expected as Israel feels secure against pressures from Palestinians, the United States or Europe.

Jan 24  Yesterday's parliamentary elections in Jordan are touted by the monarchy of King Abdullah II as a success. Abdullah is working toward politically modernizing his kingdom by giving more power to parliament, and he has promised to consult with parliament in picking his cabinet.

Jan 26  Prince Turki bin Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, has called for a level playing field for the anti-Assad forces in Syria. "What is needed," he said, "are sophisticated, high-level weapons that can bring down planes, can take out tanks at a distance." The prince warned of extremists in Syria, and he added that they were predicted from day one. "Stop the killing and you won't have these terrorists," he said, "They won't have any place to go in Syria."

Jan 27  Russia's Prime Minister Medvedev claims that Bashar al-Assad has made a "grave, perhaps fatal error" and that he should have brought the opposition to the negotiating table a long time ago." He sees Assad's chances of staying in power as shrinking - as if Assad could have remained in power months ago with a negotiated settlement. Many people other than Russia's leaders and the UN's Kofe Annan saw that Assad couldn't have both negotiations and stay in power. Today, Medvedev reiterates Russia's support for negotiations but adds that Assad must not be pushed out by external forces. Some are sick of Russia's talk and wonder whether Assad now, at long last, is willing to give up power rather than be driven out by force. When he is, there will be real negotiations.

Jan 28  In Egypt massive anti-Mursi rioting has killed forty-eight people have died since the 25th. Liberals and secularists had not done as well as conservative Muslims and the Muslim Brotherhood in recent election, and now liberal and secular groups claim that the new constitution is the work of an assembly unfairly dominated by Islamists. President Morsi claims support for democracy, and he wants to talk to his opponents and allay their fears. One anti-Morsi demonstrator declares that, "only protests work." Democracy works only when the losing side stays in the game, and Egypt's main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, tries to stay in the game by ordering Morsi to appoint a national unity government and name a commission to amend the disputed constitution.

Jan 29  Claims by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and warnings from Egypt's President Morsi that in Mali the French were falling into a quagmire appear to have been distortions. Today French troops are in control of the most important towns in Mali including Timbuktu. Yesterday, Malian crowds were joyous and shouting "Vive la France." Parallel to this, on CNN on the 27th, journalist Fareed Zakaria criticized the notion that a great al Qaeda danger is on the rise in northwest Africa.

Jan 30  Israel's airforce strikes a convoy of vehicles inside Syria, apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Assad's television accuses Israel of bombing a military research center at Jamraya. An aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced that strikes by foreign powers against Syria will be considered a strike against Iran. Israel associates the Assad regime and Iran and sees Iran as the foremost threat to its security.

Jan 31  Israel is reported in the BBC as worried about sophisticated conventional weapons being passed to Hezbollah. Russia responds with a warning that yesterday's air strike is "unacceptable," and it adds: "We once again call on the end to all violence in Syria."


February 2013


 
Feb 1 In her last interview as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton describes Iran and Russia as having stepped up their aid to the Assad regime. She says the Russians "continue to supply financial and military assistance in the form of equipment."

Feb 1 In Egypt, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, Saad al-Katatni, takes the side of political maturity and declares the need for compromise from all parties. Yesterday, Egypt's leading Islamic scholar, the Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, was on the same page and led a gathering of groups for and against President Morsi. They signed a document vowing to support "a serious dialogue," and they condemned "violence and incitement to violence." A participant was the leading opposition group, the National Salvation Front, which accuses President Morsi of "managing the country in the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood." The National Salvation Front supports today's demonstrations, which will include those who like the sensation of violence. And speaking of sensation seeking, the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has counted twenty-five women as having been sexually assaulted, mainly in Tahrir Square, since the protests erupted a week ago.

Feb 2  Yesterday in Egypt, protesters demonstrated their position regarding President Morsi by throwing stones, shooting fireworks and throwing petrol bombs at his residence and there were demonstrations. The effect was a clash with police, with one person reported killed, adding to the sixty or so killed in demonstrations since January 25. Dozens were injured. A response from Morsi's office read: "The presidency was pained by the shocking footage of some policemen treating a protester in a manner that does not accord with human dignity and human rights." (Quote from Al Arabiya.) Of the protests elsewhere, the head of Egypt's ambulance service said at least 54 people had been wounded, mostly in Cairo. Reuters reports that "The main opposition National Salvation Front denied it was to blame for the demonstrations turning violent."

Feb 3  A splinter group calling itself the Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C) has taken credit for the suicide bombing at the US embassy in Turkey. Reuters reports a spokesperson accusing the US of using Turkey as its slave state. He describes Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan as a US puppet and warns: "Murderer America! You will not run away from the people's rage." The group views the US as imperialist. As revolutionaries they can be compared to Italy's Red Brigade, Germany's Baader-Meinhof revolutionaries, the Japanese Red Army and tiny cells of individuals who associate themselves with al-Qaeda: youthful, earnest in their devotion to the destruction of their satanic enemy, but delusional.

Feb 4  The fate of Richard III of England has been confirmed by DNA testing. After losing his horse, his kingdom and his life in battle on Bosworth Field, he was buried under what became an automobile parking lot. British officials declare that he will now receive a burial proper for a king.

Feb 4  Over the shambles of neighborhoods and broken lives he has wrought, President Bashar al-Assad accuses Israel of destabilizing Syria. After months of support in weapons and money to the Assad regime, Iran announces that Israel will regret its "aggression" against Syria. He is referring to Israeli warplanes destroying weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, a group supported by Iran that hates Israel.

Feb 5  In Norway a new TNS Gallup poll shows the Conservative Party as rising and now the most popular of political parties, at 35.1%. It closest rival is the Labor Party, currently in power, with 26.1%. Under Labor Party leadership, Norway has been doing well economically, with a higher per capita GDP than the United States and an unemployment rate for 2012 at 3.1%. The Left has dominated Norway politically since the 1930s. The Conservative Party regards itself as an opponent of socialism, but it favors a continuation of Norway's welfare state, as does Britain's Conservative Party. It favors same-sex marriage and gay adoption rights and is tough regarding law and order issues. The party leader is Erna Solberg, perhaps Norway's next prime minister. She has undergraduate degrees in sociology, political science, statistics, and economics.

Feb 6  In Denmark, yesterday's attempted assassination of Lars Hedegaard, historian-journalist, 70, has been attributed to his criticism of Islam. Danes are calling it an attack on their democracy and right to free speech. Liberal Alliance leader Anders Samuelsen goes further and argues that anyone involved, regardless of their residency status and ethnicity, "ought to be thrown out of the country." The attack seems to have added support for Hedgaard's views and, of course, to have been void of political sophistication and foresight.

Feb 6  In Tunisia the assassination of Shokri Belaid produces violent protests, barricades and crowds chanting "the people want the fall of the regime. " Belaid was the leader of the left-leaning opposition Democratic Patriots party. The prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, has been described as a moderate Islamist.

Feb 7  Again assassination appears to be faulty strategy. Tunisia's Islamists now feel their power threatened. Lawyers and judges are on strike and protests continue. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and President Moncef Marzouki are speaking about a new government that adequately represents all Tunisians, including secularists like the man murdered yesterday. President Marzouki has a background as a human rights activist. The prime minister is described as a moderate Islamist.

Feb 8  An article in Al Jazeera today gives us a little background on the conflict in Tunisia between secularists and Islamists. It appears that some Islamists in Tunisia do not yet have the tolerance for opposing opinions necessary for a functioning democracy. The Islamists have their street fighters who claim to be defending themselves from attacks by secularists. Last October there was the lynching of a conservative secularist leader, Lotfi Naqdh, with the Islamist dominated government claiming he died of a heart attack. Implicated in Naqdh's death is Said Chebli, head of the Tatouine branch of Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution. Reports Al Jazeera, "Many opposition parties, human rights groups and activists have called for the dissolution of the leagues." Islamist supporters of the government have also been targeting the press, accusing it of being anti-Islamist. Today is the funeral of the slain Shokri Belaid. There, verses from the Koran were read. Demonstrators packed the surrounding streets. Slogans were shouted against Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Ennahda Party: "Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal," and "Tunisia is free, terrorism out."

Feb 9  Syria's Information Minister proclaims the Assad regime ready for negotiations with opposition leaders, whoever they are, provided there are no preconditions. Some see something new in the offer. They see chance for a settlement that in giving political power to all Syrians would amount to a peaceful end to Assad's power. The passion for Assad's death is seen as an impediment to ending a war that is costing many lives and widespread miseries everyday. Some others believe that little traction for a negotiated settlement will be gained among anti-Assad fighters. Their hatred and distrust of the Assad regime in too great.

Feb 11  Assad's oppposition, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), claims unity on the issue of his departure as a precondition for any solution to the war in Syria. SNC's Moaz al-Khatib is offering Assad's representatives talks to find a way for Assad to leave power in order to "minimize bloodshed and destruction."

Feb 11 In Israel, ten women campaigning for gender equality are arrested at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls that Orthodox tradition holds solely for men.

Feb 12  There is now wonder whether the papacy is going to abandon use of the monarchy model - older than Christianity. That is, staying in power until death. Yesterday the world heard news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign later this month, because of ill-health. The media described many as stunned. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, remained Pope until his death on April 2, 2005 at the age of almost eighty-five after a couple of months of health crises involving influenza, hospitalization and breathing problems. Jean Paul died as he wished, in the Vatican. Today, Pope Benedict promises "not to intefere in his successor's affairs."

Feb 13  North Korea talks tough and proud following its test-explosion of the kind of nuclear device that could be put on an intercontinental rocket. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (30?) is described by Choe Sang-Hun in the New York Times as seeming "to be attempting to raise his status as a worthy leader at home and as a foe to be taken seriously among the countries his government considers its enemies." China, South Korea, Japan express their displeasure with the test. US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, describes the test as "highly provacative." At the UN, tougher sanctions against North Korea is a possibility. North Korea declares itself to be an anti-imperialist leader. Kim Jong-un inherited his rule in the manner of old-world monarchical dynasties.

Feb 14  Japan's economy declined in the last three months of 2012. Economic growth has been hurt by declining exports and consumers not hyped into buying things or scared by inflation. Prices have been declining and what consumers don't really need they would just as soon buy later at a lower price. Interest rates are at 0.1% to encourage purchases. Japan's new conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Is giving economic recovery "top priority." In January his government approved a $116 billion stimulus package. Japan leads the world in public debt, at 198% of GDP compared to 63% for the Netherlands and 62% for the United States.

 
Feb 15  Anti-Assad forces continue with the military gains they have been making for more than a year (with some mistakes). They are getting closer and closer. But Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy doesn't see continuing gains. He writes of "an abyss with no real prospect of victory," contradicting those of us who guess that Assad will be out one way or another before the first of 2014. US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, says, "President Assad has the ability to be able [sic] to make the difference here by deciding to engage in a legitimate diplomatic process." He says he is going to try to talk Assad into stepping down - only slightly different from Kofe Annan's efforts last year, which amounted to asking the same of Assad.

Feb 16  Meeting in Moscow, the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors known as the G20 announce their determination to do something about tax fraud, tax avoidance, and tax evasion. Tax avoidance has been a problem for economies in crisis - Greece for example.

Feb 16  Economic growth rates for 2012 are published and there were twelve African nations with growth rates of 7 percent or higher: Libya 121.9%, Niger 14.5, Liberia 9.0, Ghana 8.2, Ivory Cast 8.1, Rwanda 7.7. In Latin America, Chile had 5.0%, Mexico 3.8, Nicaragua 3.7. The best European performers were Russia at 3.8% and Norway at 3.1. The US economy grew at 2.2%. Europe was largely flat. Its biggest losers were Spain -1.5%, Italy -2.0, Portugal -3.0 and Greece -6%.

Feb 17  Why Europe's poor showing in 2012? Last week, Fareed Zakaria asked whether austerity as a response to Europe's economic crisis of 2008 had been a disaster because "it slowed growth, slowed tax revenues and actually increased the deficit." Arianna Huffington answered, "Look at what's happening in the U.K. with a triple-dip recession. Look at the chief economist of the IMF advising them not to proceed with austerity measures." Some conservatives, on the other hand, blame Europe's welfarism, describing it as inherently dysfunctional (although it has been around since the late 1800s).

Feb 18  Commenting on the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, Rachel Jewkes, a gender and health researcher at the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), says that a woman in South Africa is killed by her partner every eight hours.

Feb 19  President Assad says he is pleased with the course of events on the ground and also at the political level. Also he says that next year he will either run for president or leave politics but remain in Damascus to work in a clinic. (The Guardian)

Feb 19  In denying the charge of premeditated murder, Oscar Pistorius describes an unlikely scenario. He claims he thought an intruder had broken into his home and - apparently without having confronted Pistorius - locked himself in the bathroom. It was actually Reeva behind the locked bathroom door. Pistorius claims he thought she was still in his bed.

Feb 20  Saudi women take political office for the first time in the country's history. King Abdullah swears in the thirty women who are joining the Shura Council, his consultative council. Abdullah has also granted women the right to vote and to run for office in the next municipal elections, scheduled for 2015.

Feb 20  In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Borisov resigns following demonstrations against austerity and rising prices. "I will not participate in a government under which police are beating people," he said.

Feb 20  Yesterday at the UN Conference on Disarmament, North Korea's Jon Yong Ryong said that "South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction."

Feb 21  Mosquitos are reported becoming resistant to the widely used repellent Deet. With a short lifespan, evolution's natural selection works fast for mosquitos. Those mosquitos with Deet resistance genes become the successful breeders, and quickly Deet resistance genes among new born mosquitos are as common as evolution believers are among biologists.

Feb 22  India's anti-corruption campaigner, Anna Hazare, described here on 17 August 2011, is still campaigning. But columnist Anne Applebaum writes of him being described as presiding over a declining "comical anti-corruption opera." Hazare's favored solution - an omnipotent ombudsman - is thought insufficient. Whatever is sufficient must come from India's legislature, and inventing controls over corruption is not expected to be easy. One of Applebaum's readers asks us to look at the corruption in China, the Philippines, Italy and Greece. But there is some hope in India regarding women's issues, rising from recent massive demonstrations.

Feb 23  North Korea describes as aggression an annual drill planned for March 11. The US and South Korea see their joint drills as defensive. North Korea again gives reason to be defensive. It warns of "miserable destruction" if the US and South Korea ignite "a war of aggression by staging the reckless joint military exercises."

Feb 23  In Bangladesh, offended Muslims unaccustomed to opinion diversity and modern communications technology accuse bloggers of blasphemy. They clash with police, and four die. Last week in Bangladesh, reports BBC News, a blogger was killed outside his home.

Feb 25  Park Geun-hye, age 61, is sworn in as President of South Korea. Her mother was assassinated in 1974 by an individual described as under the direction of the North Korean government. She was regarded as first lady until 1979 when her father, Park Chung-hee, was also assassinated - by his own intelligence chief. She has a degree in electrical engineering. In her inauguration speech today, writes BBC News, she says she will "not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation."

Feb 26  Speaking of health care, Stephen Brill, writer for Time magazine, has appeared on the Daily Show, the News Hour and elsewhere. He describes reasons for health care costs in the US being twice what it is in other industrialized countries (Germany and Australia for example). He claims that market controls don't exist for hospital patients as they do where customers can shop elsewhere. Non-doctor administrators are making huge salaries. Drug companies and lab companies are taking a share that lines the pockets of investors. He speaks of Medicare having the leverage "to buy efficiently" except where Congress has "handcuffed" it. Medicare, he complains, "can't negotiate the cost of wheelchairs and canes and things like that. So you could knock easily another quarter of a trillion dollars out of the Medicare bill, the taxpayers' bill, if you took the handcuffs off of Medicare."

Feb 27  It is estimated that in Italy's recent elections some 57% of voters repudiated Europe's austerity policiies (also the policy of the Republican Party in the US). With few people seeing tangible results from Prime Minister Monti's austerity measures, his party won only 10.5% of the vote. A common view is that the system is rigged in favor of Europe's big money or, as some call it, the banksters. The banks feel threatened. European stocks in the banking sector plunged 7 percent yesterday, and today the cost of borrowing money for Italy surges. Nationalism among Italians is on the rise, moving Italy closer to an acceptance of abandoning the euro. This would allow a currency manipulation that would hurt money lenders but perhaps encourage a circulation of money and that would counter recession.

Feb 28  in recent days China's foreign ministry has denied that China is protecting the illegal trade in ivory. Last night a National Geographic program titled "Battle for the Elephants" aired on television in the United States, and Chinese officials were described enriching themselves by smuggling ivory on airplanes immune from inspections. A Buddhist in China using carved ivory was interviewed blissfully describing elephants as spiritually happy in contributing their ivory.


March 2013


Mar 1 The United States pledges $60 million in assistance to select anti-Assad forces for everything short of weaponry. It will help the Syrian opposition militarily and is aimed at helping populations in what Kerry calls "liberated" areas. Secretary of State Kerry declares that "Assad cannot shoot his way out" of his crisis. The Obama administration's decision not to give weapons has been described in the press as motivated by a continuing hope for a "political solution" rather than a military solution. Meanwhile, anti-Assad forces refuse to talk with the Assad regime until Assad steps down, and it is military success by the anti-Assad forces that drives a willingness by the Assad regime to negotiate.

Mar 2  Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian who bombastically warned France of the trouble it was getting into, is reported to have been killed.

Mar 2  While the Obama administration stops short of giving weapons to Assad's opponents, the Assad regime fights on with weapons sent from Russia, including scud missiles sent against residential areas. Syria's foreign minister, Walid Muallem, ignores that the Assad regime has been murdering people in hostile neighborhoods since 2011. He describes the United States as killing Syrians and the US aid announced by Secretary of State John Kerry as "inconceivable." Muallem speaks with a seriousness that suggests he believes he is communicating with credibility, while this site and many in the world see al-Muallem on a path similar to that taken by another Ba'athist, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz.

Mar 3  In an interview today, Assad says his regime is ready to negotiate "with anyone, including militants who surrender their weapons." He says (again) that he is not stepping down. He accuses the British government of naivete and of using shallow and immature rhetoric and arming terrorists. Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, describes it as "one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times," overlooking perhaps an interview or two given by Muammar Gaddafi.

Mar 3  Close to 70 percent of Swiss voters are supporting a limit on executive pay, an initiative to apply to all Swiss companies listed on Switzerland's stock exchange. BBC News says "the new measure will give Switzerland some of the world's strictest corporate rules." Some argue that it will damage competitiveness.

Mar 4  The spending problem versus revenue problem that US Congressman John Boehner speaks of is a pressing difference of opinion also in India. India's finance minister is focusing on austerity (not spending) and legislators are interested in spending money ahead of elections due in 2014. Affluent Indians dislike taxes perhaps even more than Republicans, hence India has half the revenues per GDP of the US, less than a half the revenues of China and a fourth to a fifth the revenues of Australia, Germany and some other more wealthy countries.

Mar 5  China has a wealth distribution problem: not enough money to common people and too much to others. It has an over-production problem. The Chinese have been building more condos than there are people who can afford them. People with money looking for more of it have been speculating by purchasing condos, while whole buildings of condos remain empty. China is doing what was not done in the United States during its housing bubble: It is imposing a tax with the intention of reducing the intensity of the coming bubble-burst. Meanwhile a "people's political consultant," Chi Fulin, advises a major tax-reduction plan "to decrease income disparity." And Wen Jiabao leaves the office of premier warning of "unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable growth."

Mar 6  There is weeping and shock in Venezuela with the death yesterday of President Hugo Chavez. He is remembered for his devotion to the poor, including free healthcare and education, subsidized food, clothes and electronics. His loss has been called "irreparable" although a people's socialism is supposed to have leaders who can be replaced - the Great Man theory of history being a rightwing rather than a leftist idea. Chavez was, however, charismatic. Some others saw him as passionate but shallow, as in his siding with oppressive regimes in Iran and Syria believing these regimes were the victims of imperialism.
 
Kim Jong-un, ashtray and gloves at the ready
Kim Jong-un, ashtray and gloves at the ready.


Mar 7
  The regime in North Korea accuses the United States of pushing to start a nuclear war and says It will exercise its right for "a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors." Some see this as just more of North Korea's inflammatory rhetoric. Some wonder about the regime's mental state: distorted perceptions and endangering itself (and others) while believing it is pursuing self-defense.

Mar 8  North Korea rages against new sanctions imposed yesterday by the UN Security Council regarding its nuclear testing. China was among the nations signing the new resolution, and China calls for calm. North Korea is isolated, without allies on the nuclear testing and looming war issues, but it ramps up its position, saying in three days it will cancel all non-aggression treaties with South Korea. This would be a return to the status of war of 1950-53. Some outside of North Korea view the North's threatened pre-emptive nuclear strike not as stupidity but as a clever bluff, believing the its leaders know it would be suicidal. A leading North Korea general declares angrily to a television camera that they are not bluffing.

Mar 8  People traveling from Eritrea across Sudan to Egypt and elsewhere are being kidnapped and forced to call relatives as far away as the United States for ransom money. The kidnappers apply torture for screams during the calls to intensify the requests.

Mar 11  On this quiet day in East Asia, China's newspaper, China Daily, reports a move by its government for more efficiency by restructuring its railway and health ministries into parts of a larger ministry. The paper also reports a government plan to help small and micro-sized businesses overcome rising costs and financing difficulties. A government statement claims that small and micro-sized firms "serve as a significant channel for creating jobs, a major platform for entrepreneurship and an important force of scientific innovation." March 11 is ending in East Asia. In the US people have awakened to talk of a possible return of functionality to Congress.

Mar 12  The will of the Falkland Islanders is clear. They want to remain British citizens. The vote count is 1,517 in favor of the islands remaining British territory, and three against. Meanwhile, many in Argentina exercise a special understanding of possession and claim it doesn't matter what the inhabitants of the islands want. The islands, they say, are Argentina's.

Mar 12  Germany ranks second (after Switzerland) in competition for tourists. France drops from third to seventh place. The ranking is biannual by The Global Economic Forum. People going on a holiday are said to like good infrastructure and clean air. They prefer places where costs are moderate, where they feel safe and the locals are friendly and don't smoke. In Denmark, it is written, people are not as friendly as in Germany . Denmark ranks 21st, down six places from the 2011 report. The US ranks 6th, Canada 8th.

Mar 13  In the US Congress, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ted Deutch have introduced an attempt to skirt the US Supreme Court's ruling in 2010 regarding money and political campaigns. The Senator and Congressman propose that only "natural persons" be able to make political contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections. This would bar for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations and unions from spending money in elections.

Mar 13  A study published in the journal Current Biology on the lifespan of Korean eunuchs reveals that women live longer than men on average because of male hormones.

Mar 14  North Korea's threat of war is reduced to live-artillery drills near its border with South Korea, as South Korea and the US continue their annual military exercises. There is no "preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors" as threatened. The North has tossed a macho, sexist insult at South Korea's president, speaking of the "venomous swish of her skirt," although the North sees itself as the most socially progressive of states. (The North has called Hillary Clinton a "minister in a skirt.") The South's President Park is reported as patiently hoping to move the North's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, 32 years younger than she, toward reason and conciliation. She has called on the North to tone down its rhetoric, while the North threatens to destroy the South in a sea of fire and accuses the South of "warmongering."

Mar 15  Iran and Russia have been supplying the Assad regime in Syria with weapons. Today, Britain and France are pushing the European Union to lift the embargo that prevents them from sending weapons to those in Syria fighting for democracy. They believe that military pressure alone will make those on the dictatorship side of the conflict willing to effectively negotiate. Russia has complained that giving arms to the anti-Assad forces is illegal, while some others question the legitimacy of a regime that slaughters its own people. Comments sent to the Washington Post are largely opposed to the British and French move and close to (but not identical with) the positions of Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. (Bloody dictator's enjoy their legalities and the pacifism of potential opponents.) The comments call for more of the negotiations that have not worked, and they fear weapons ending up in the hands of al-Qaida. One sees a "wag the dog" effort to boost sagging popularity. Another alludes to the colonialist past of the British and French, and another is like a general with a failing analogy considering a previous war. The war he chooses is not the Bosnian war but the Afgan-Russian war, which gave birth to al-Qaida.

Mar 17  Pope Francis, elected on the thirteenth, makes his second appearance and declares. "I would iike to see a church that is poor and is for the poor." This fits his association with Francis of Assisi. Conflicting commentary follows: Someone identifies himself as an atheist and looks forward to the Church helping the poor. A second person tells the atheist to "Dream on." He says the Church "is there to get the cash off the poor and keep them poor." A third person, an agnostic, complains that the second person is one of the many in the world who has let his emotions destort his thinking.

Mar 18  The BBC reports that In recent years Cyprus has developed into an important financial hub, "especially for investors from Russia and Eastern Europe." The banks have been a tax haven. The banks have made bad investments, buying bonds for Greece's debt. Germans don't want to rescue Russian investors. Lacking cash from the EU to rescue Cyprus banking, the government of Cyprus has decided to levy the accounts of ordinary depositors. This creates a storm of protest and violates banking Rule Number One: maintaining depositor confidence. The Cyprus parliament has voted to postpone the bailout. The banking crisis in Cyprus continues as the government looks for money with which to keep the country's banks alive, and Europe trembles.

Mar 18  Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference two days ago, Sarah Palin denounces "too big to fail" bailouts.

Mar 19  Republican John Boenher, US Speaker of the House of Representatives on March 17 said, "We do not have an immediate debt crisis, but we all know that we have one looming." He complained the budget "never gets to balance." Boehner has been speaking against raising taxes to balance the budget, saying that we have a spending problem not a revenue problem. He doesn't like the German model of revenue as 44.9% of GDP compared to 15.7% for the United States, with Germany's government having balanced its budget despite its extensive spending.

 
Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt
Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt


Mar 20 Denmark's Social Democrats respond to experience. Nearly 43 percent of the bosses of medium or large-sized enterprises polled say the government of Social Democrat Thorning-Schmidt is better for competitiveness than was the Venstre-Conservative regime. The Copenhagen Post reports that "praise for the government was partially due to a growth plan which is expected to lessen the overall cost of doing business by ten billion kroner by the year 2020."

Mar 21  In Israel, President Obama pledges an "eternal" alliance. It's good to be back in The Land, he says in Hebrew. He and Prime Minister Netanyau embrace and look genuinely friendly. Obama tells the media he is in the area to learn rather than to speak. In Israel Jewish settlements in West Bank is not a topic of discussion. In the Israeli occupied West Bank city of Ramallah he meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who has been telling the world that continued building of Jewish settlements is a stumbling block to a peace deal. At a press converence Obama says, "the Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily dignities that come with it." Not everyone buys Obama's message of friendship to both sides. In Ramallah, demonstrators chant "The occupation is a snake and Obama is its head." From Gaza two rockets are fired into Israel. In the US the Heritage Foundation joins the complaints, accusing Obama of trying to lead from behind.

Mar 22  Late yesterday Obama spoke publicly to a young Israeli audience. He told them that peace "will have to be made among peoples, not just governments (applause). ... the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized (cheers, applause). ... Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. ... It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own (cheers, applause), living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements, not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It's not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished (applause). It's not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands or restricting a student's ability to move around the West Bank (applause) or displace Palestinian families from their homes. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer (cheers, applause). Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land (applause). ... Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable, with real borders that have to be drawn (cheers, applause)."

Mar 22  "Let guns be silenced and politics dominate," says Abdullah Ocalan, leader of a Kurdish rebellion that has killed 40,000. According to Reuters he is cheered by "hundreds of thousands." Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, Reuters reports, has taken "considerable political risks " by extending cultural and language rights to Kurds."

Mar 23  Al Arabiya reports that the European Union insisted today on "the need for a hasty political solution to end the carnage in Syria" - tantamount to ignoring months of failed efforts negotiating with Assad. Accompanying the EU's declaration is opposition to the one thing that will force serious negotiations for an end to the Assad regime: military pressure. Sweden's Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, influential within the EU, says that funneling weapons to Syria's insurgents would "fan the conflict and undermine efforts to seek a negotiated settlement."

Mar 24  Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Khatib resigns in frustration, saying, "For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime, while the world has looked on." He adds: "All the destruction of Syria's infrastructure, the detention of tens of thousands of people, the forced flight of hundreds of thousands and other forms of suffering have been insufficient for the international community to take a decision to allow the people to defend themselves."

Mar 25  Cyprus bank bailout deal leaves those with less than 100,000 euros ($130,000) in their account untouched (fully guaranteed). Those with more will loose money. Among the losers are unhappy Russians. The move keeps Cyprus in the eurozone. Someone comments that no bailout would have meant ordinary Cypriots losing all their bank savings. Another writes, "Cyprus should have done what Iceland did. Bit the bullet and let the banks go bust.They would have come out of this debacle with some integrity and could have rebuilt their economy." (Icelanders have rejected joining their country to the eurozone.)

Mar 26  The Arab League convenes, and the chair for Syria is filled by a member of the National Coalition opposed to Assad: Ahmed al-Khatib. In today's Washington Post, opinion writer David Ignatius describes a split between Arab League members on the makeup of Syria's opposition. He says Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates favor moderate Muslim leadership, and Turkey and Qatar want "to see an Islamist government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of Bashar al-Assad." Ignatius writes of fuss in the US from those who blame the division on President Obama's low key approach to Syria, and he alludes to others who see the "mess" as reason for the US to keep its distance from the conflict in Syria. At the Arab summit and representing Syria, al-Khatib declares that the Syrian people alone should determine who rules the country - as in real elections nation-wide.

Mar 27  On his much watched television show in the United States, Bill O'Reilly says, "Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, now Cypress, all broke. And other European nations are close. Why? Because they are nanny states." A contrary view on Europe is expressed by an economics professor, Richard Wolff. He says that If you want to describe places as nanny states it should be Germany and Scandinavia, "because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what, not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation. The unemployment rate in Germany is now below five percent."

Mar 27  Still responding to recent sanctions, North Korea announces that it has ordered artillery and rockets to full "combat posture" as preparation for targeting US bases in Hawaii, Guam and the US mainland. And North Korea cuts its military hotline with South Korea, adding to other recent communications cuts: a Red Cross hotline and the UN Command in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. (Video )

Mar 28  A federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), is being challenged by the US Supreme Court. That law defines marriage as between a man and a woman only. The case was originated by Edie Windsor, 83, of New York who married a woman in Toronto, Canada, and lived with her for forty-two years. When her marriage-partner died she had to pay more than $350,000 in federal inheritance taxes she would not have had to pay had her marriage been recognized. Congressional Republicans have hired the lawyer at taxpayer expense to argue in favor of the law. (President Obama isn't defending DOMA.) Some traditionalist Americans favor government intervention to defend marriage as an institution whose purpose is procreation. Some associate marriage with Biblical morality, but this is not an argument for a court of law in the United States. Arguments against DOMA question the federal government's authority to regulate marriage and complain that DOMA violates equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. (Video, Edie Windsor )

Mar 28  Today the UN reports that its Security Council "approved the creation of its first-ever 'offensive' combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to 'neutralize and disarm' the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Mark Lyall Grant, representing Britain said said the agreement "provided an opportunity for civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially women and girls, to go about their lives in safety."

Mar 29  Another boring report concerning North Korea. The US moves two radar-avoiding stealth bombers and submarines forward, preparing to defend its ally South Korea and itself against North Korea's threats. Russia criticizes the military activity near North Korea, saying a "vicious cycle" could get out of control. North Korea's leaders see the US military activity as more provocation and appear impressed by their own military capability. North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, signs the order that prepares the country's missiles for action. His news agency KCNA describes him as telling his top generals that he has "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation." The US is aware of a great increase in movements of vehicles and soldiers at North Korea's mid and long-range missile sites. Mass rallies are being held in North Korea supporting their Supreme Leader. It's Friday and many in the United States are looking forward to the weekend. Some see Kim Jong-un as insane. They appear little concerned, or they look forward to their military destroying North Korea's missile capabilities or more. (Video )

Mar 30  Bahrain's justice system appears to be working somewhat. This past week an appeals court overturned the convictions of twenty-one medics arrested in April 2011 at a hospital treating injured protesters. Twenty-five of their collegues also prosecuted already have been acquitted. Three remain in jail and some have not been allowed to return to their work as doctors.

Mar 31  On this Easter Day some are expressing themselves on a age-old issue: the Church having adopted the trappings of power, wealth and splendor during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It was contrary to the humility regarding wealth of Jesus and that of Christians before Constantine. Christians are describing their pleasure with the new pope, Francis, equating his simplicity with a greater spirituality. And in his Easter message today the pope denounces "greed looking for easy gain." Some others today comment on Easter having risen from paganism. Easter originally celebrated Ishtar, a goddess of fertility. It was adapted by the Church as an accommodation in bringing pagans into the Church, but supporters of Easter believe that it is the symbolism not the "pagan" origins that matters. Also on this day, in the United States, Cardinal Dolan criticizes excessive individualism and speaks up for the collective "we" that was a big part of early Christianity. (Dolan video .)

April 2013
 
power fantasy
power fantasy


Apr 1 Tax shelters have become an issue in Russia as well as the United States. President Putin now approves the banking bailout procedures in Cyprus, and Russia's deputy prime minister suggests that losses by Russians would encourage Russians to bring their money home to Russian banks. He said that some money in Cyprus banks from Russia had been taxed and some not. The New York Times describes tax haven competitors elsewhere as seeking advantage from the Cyprus disaster - places such as the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Dubai and Singapore. Meanwhile, United States prosecutors have been asking for cooperation from Liechtenstein regarding foundations and other financial vehicles being used as tax havens by wealthy Americans.

Apr 2  In Hilliard Ohio yesterday a man, 66, pulled a gun and threatened four people at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and he is reported as saying that if the police followed him home he would have to kill them too. He was arrested, and he told police he had been admitted to a mental health facility at least 40 times and has repeatedly purchased guns from a local gun store. The man is reported as having a tendency to sense evil occasionally and that yesterday he failed to take his medication. Some in the US are responding to their sense of evil and engaging in a national debate about background checks for buying guns. Ohio has an ineffectual law declaring that one cannot buy a gun if mentally ill while people with mental problems sometimes look perfectly sane.

Apr 3  The United Nations General Assembly has voted 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions to prohibit states from exporting weapons that would be used for crimes against humanity, war crimes or terrorism. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has no impact on gun legislation or trade within the United States, but in the US the National Rifle Association vows to fight ratification by the US Senate, and some people are complaining about "UN gun grabbers." The Assad regime in Syria joined Iran and North Korea in voting against the treaty because it will not block arms being passed to rebels it describes as terrorists. This is the world's first treaty for regulating the global arms trade business.

Apr 4  North Korea has declared war against South Korea and the United States. It has shut down the industrial cooperation facility just inside its border with South Korea - its last link with the South. A South Korean newspaper, the Korea Times, headlines that the north may be aiming "to pressure [the] US for dialogue." People in South Korea are reported as thinking that the North isn't crazy enough to send its missiles flying and that its just more of the talk they've been hearing for years. In the Japan Times an analyst, Yoon Young Kwan, surveys the Korea problem since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and concludes that in recent years things have become progressively precarious. The US takes the threats from North Korea seriously and is increasing defenses for itself and South Korea, which it has vowed to protect. And some of us wonder about the likelihood of the North willing to back down, lose face and appear as having been globe, selected. If they do, what will be their talking points?

Apr 5  Today, Germany's finance minister welcomes the exposing of secret offshore banking and global tax evasion, and he says he wants more joint EU action against it. He refers to a consortium of journalists that has, according to its own report , "lay bare the names behind covert companies and private trusts in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and other offshore hideaways. They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran's nuclear-development program."

Apr 6  Chinese tourists are declared as having led the world in total spending abroad last year. They spent $102 billion on foreign trips, surpassing travelers from Germany and the United States. Meanwhile, big stores in London, Paris and Milan are concerned about the recent decline in tourist spending by Asians, this spending having been a bright spot during Europe's recession. According to an article in Reuters today, the Chinese "account for a third of European luxury sales." In late March, a senior North Korean official assured Chinese tour operators that there would be no war on the Korean peninsula. Chinese tourists have been flocking to South Korea rather than to North Korea. in January, President Obama signed an executive order aimed at speeding the visa process for Chinese and Brazilian tourists from four months to three weeks. Video: Chinese tourists in South Korea ,
China announces, as reported by Reuters, that "no country should be allowed to plunge the region into chaos after the United States postponed a missile test to ease talk of war." North Korea has declared that it cannot guarantee the safety of embassy personnel in its country after April 10 and accuses the US of intending to start a war. China says it is keeping its embassy people in North Korea anyway.

Apr 7  In recent days, Members of Parliament in Britain have been complaining that British taxpayers shouldn't be paying for health and education in Pakistan while rich Pakistanis were paying little tax. The MPs are calling for withholding extra aid to Pakistan.

Apr 8  In Britain, Members of Parliament call for suspension of pesticides linked to the death of bees. In the US are people urging action on this issue by their government.

Apr 8  The move by Japan's conservative government to stimulate massively its economy is accompanied by its central bank plan to double the nation's money supply. The purpose is to end deflation and to spur economic growth. The value of Japan's currency has dropped about 4.4% in the last week. Japan's public debt for 2012 was at 214% of GDP, close to twice that of the United States.

Apr 9  In Britain, Intelligence Squared has it debate on the motion "Karl Marx was right, capitalism post-2008 is falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions." There are six debaters, all bright, learned and charming. They agree that Marx wasn't right about everything. Those for the motion agree that he was right about some significant matters, and they talk about capitalism being propped up by various state interventions. The debate isn't definitional: what is and is not capitalism. They seemed to agree that they were living in a capitalist society. And the idea was put forward by Frank Fureti, for the motion and in agreement with Marx, that we don't have to be objects of history; we can innovate and create history in ways we find useful. The audience voted in favor of those opposed to the motion, 316 to 217, with 37 don't knows.

Apr 9  Pundits are analyzing North Korea while it threatens war. Anne Applebaum calls North Korea an anachronism. Looking back, the North was created by the Soviet Union which occupied it and kept Korea divided to suit its economic interests. All Koreans wanted a unified country. The North, with Stalin's backing, resisted elections to unify the country and then tried invading the South. The North was saved by intervention from China. The fighting stopped with the Stalinist regime still in place in the North. Stalinist-like repressions, propaganda and cult of personality prevailed and continues today while it remains economically dysfunctional and dependent on Chinese assistance. Applebaum and others wish but don't expect China to end the anachronistic regime in North Korea by not continuing to prop it up. BBC News describes the 1994 crisis in which the Clinton administration put aside its plans to destroy the North's nuclear capability and instead agreed to direct talks, which resulted in the North agreeing to a nuclear freeze in exchange for the US phazing out economic sanctions. And today pundits are focusing on the North making threats as a trading ploy. They don't think the North really believes the US is planning to make war. One asks, "Is Pyongyang looking for food aid or a cash injection to keep its economy from collapsing?"

Apr 10  France's president, Francois Hollande, calls for the eradication of the world's tax havens. Reuters quotes Hollande as saying, "French banks will have to publish every year the full list of their subsidiaries in the world, country by country. And they will indicate what they are doing. ... In other words it won't be possible for a bank to hide transactions carried out in a tax haven."

Apr 10  Yesterday Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as the new president of Kenya . In his inaugural address, Mr Kenyatta said he would govern for all Kenyans and that "We will leave no community behind." Children starting school next year, he added, would be given laptops.

Apr 11  Assad's Air Force "has repeatedly carried out indiscriminate, and in some cases deliberate, air strikes against civilians," reports Human Rights Watch. This strategy was described by a rebel in a PBS Frontline documentary "Syria Behind the Lines" as an attempt by the Assad regime to discourage civilians from supporting rebel fighters. It's a claim that rings true. It's common knowledge among students of war that rebel fighters are dependent on local populations. The bombing of civilians is a strategy to encourage civilians to demand that rebel fighters go away - a strategy employed against villages in South Vietnam in hope of separating local populations and the Viet Cong. It didn't save the regime in Saigon (South Vietnam). Nor has it been working In Syria. Instead of rebel forces going away, the civilians are fleeing. On the other hand for all we know at this time, Assad's airforce intentionally hitting civilians might be less a product of strategic thinking and more of a desire for revenge and to punish.

Apr 12  US Secretary of State Kerry meets with South Korea's lady president, Park Geun-hye, and aggravates North Korea by announcing that its planned test launch of a medium-range missile would be a "huge mistake" and that the US would never accept the North as a nuclear power. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has reported "North Korea probably has nuclear weapons that can be mounted on ballistic missiles," and China has increased its troops near its border with North Korea.

Apr 14  North Korea dismisses a proposal for dialogue by South Korea as a "cunning ploy." After recently threatening the South with final destruction, it accuses the South of being confrontational. And with these statements it rejects US Secretary of State Kerry's invitation to talks.

 Kuwait's Emir, His Highness Sheikh Sabah IV
Kuwait's Emir, His Highness Sheikh Sabah IV


Apr 15  In Kuwait, opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak has said that the state's chief of state, its emir, would not be allowed "to take Kuwait into autocracy." Today he is put in prison for five years for insulting the emir. The emir's family, the House of Sabah, rules, and the country's constitution protects him from criticism. Several tweeters and others have been jailed on the charge. There are claims that the family is creating a rubber stamp parliament, and riot police have repeatedly used tear gas and stun grenades against demonstrators.

Apr 16  Yesterday afternoon two blasts loaded with ball bearings killed three and injured 176 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There are no suspects or claims of responsibility.

Apr 16  China's defense ministry describes the US as having increased tensions in the Asia-Pacific by ramping up its military presence and alliances in the region. This, it says, has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in territorial disputes. The People's Liberation Army newspaper Daily says, "Hostile Western forces have intensified their strategy to Westernize and split China, and have employed every possible means to contain and control our country's development."

Apr 16  North Korea vows "sledge-hammer blows" against South Korea unless the South apologizes for insults yesterday by demonstrators who burned portraits of the North's leaders.

Apr 17 In North Korea the state news agency announces that the country is open to talks, but not while the US is "brandishing a nuclear stick." The claim of not bluffing in its threat to make preemptive war (March 8) appears on its way to being forgotten. The crisis appears to be fading. We shall soon see whether the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, will be hailed as having scared the US into dropping its plans for war. Meanwhile, North Korean exiles are described in the Western press as laughing and saying that North Korea is not able to make a war they could hope to win, that it has all been "just talk."

Apr 18  In an interview on state television yesterday, the dictator Assad rejected reports that several parts of Syria have fallen out of his control. He said his army withdrew in some areas mainly to protect civilians. The protection of civilians, he said, is the top priority of his army battling opposition forces. This morning (EST), Aljazeera reports Syrian opposition fighters having captured "large parts of a military base in the strategic central Homs province."

Apr 18  President Obama describes the Senate's vote against its compromise gun legislation as "shameful" and says, "The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill." Jon Stewart, television host of the Daily Showdenounces the argument put forth by Republicans that background checks for buying guns are pointless because criminals don'tt follow laws. Stewart describes this as lawmakers arguing that there is no point in making laws because criminals are just going to end up breaking them. Some opponents of the bill took an absolutist position, saying the bill would save no lives; President Obama said the bill would save some lives. Some opponents complained that the bill demonizes gun owners. Some other opponents of the legislation want to make state laws that are now ineffective (in Ohio for example) more effective. Progressives vow to target four Democratic Party senators who voted against background checks for buying guns: Pryor of Arkansas, Baucus of Montana, Begich of Alaska and Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Apr 20  Two brothers living in the Boston area for a few years and originally from Chechnya, are accused of planting two bombs near the finish line during the Boston Marathon on April 15th. They are Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 26 and 19 respectively, They ae alleged to have killed three and injured many more. By yesterday the FBI had successfully identified them, and the attempt by the brothers to avoid capture appeared to corroborate their guilt. The older brother was killed and the younger brother taken prisoner. The mother, in Dagestan, said her sons were being framed. The father, also speaking from Dagestan, said the same. An aunt in Toronto said she was suspicious that the event was "staged." The older brother has been described as a devout Muslim. The public wonders what could have motivated the senseless act against innocent people other than Islamic extremism. Presidents Putin and Obama agree to more coordination in combating terrorism.

Apr 21  In the US, comparisons are being made between the Boston bombings of April 15 and the London bombings of July 7, 2005 .

Apr 23  In Canada, two men are arraigned on charges of planning a terrorist attack on a passenger train. One is from Tunisia, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, who was working on a PhD in engineering at a university in Quebec. The other, Raed Jaser, 35, has permanent resident status and is thought to be Palestinian. Esseghaier is said to have been threatened with expulsion from his university for disruptive behavior. He is described as having alienated colleagues with his religious views, having torn down posters he didn't approve of and pestering administration officials to install a prayer room. Canada's Globe and Mail reports that the two men had been under investigation since last year following a tip by an imam in Toronto's Muslim community.

Apr 24  Many if not most people in the US are puzzled by the absurdity of the Boston Marathon bombing; it is after all a political act that has no political benefit to people of any ideology (something al Qaeda is slow to recognize). Someone claims that "It's painful for most Americans to admit our fault in these events." Someone else labels this person an idiot liberal and complains that liberals are refusing to recognize that the bombers were Muslim extremists. Someone else writes, "our university and idiot professors share some of the blame." Another finds it necessary to label the bombers as rightwing terrorists. All this while it is realized generally that most people on the right and most people on the left would never approve or do what the Boston bombers did. Someone simply labels the bombers "vicious murderers of the worst kind." Another person wonders how someone takes the step of intentionally killing innocent people. One of the bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, has recently referred to an old saying that has been proclaimed from the left and the right, something about evil prevailing when good people do nothing. Great abstractions do not necessarily impart wisdom. There are bad ideas around and some people act on bad ideas. There is value, of course, in excluding killers from society and value in addressing bad ideas in their specificity.

Apr 27  Israeli, British and French intelligence services claim that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons. The Assad regime accuses its enemies of using chemical weapons but hasn't allowed inspectors in to examine where anti-Assad forces have done so. Ground samples in areas held by those opposed to Assad have tested positive for poison gas use. The Obama administration concedes that "Our intelligence community does asses with varying degrees of that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria. President Obama has said that such use would be a red line, suggesting a greater intervention of some kind - a "game changer" he said yesterday. On the NewsHour, University of Notre Dame peace advocate David Cortright, hostile toward any use of military force, argues that the US should work with the Russians on the issue of chemical weapons. Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov sides with the Assad regime, saying that news of chemical weapons use "must not be a pretext for an intervention in Syria." On the NewsHour, Kori Schake of Stanford University expressed concern that the Obama administration might be holding to a position of required evidence and extent of use high enough to remain an excuse for not acting. She said, "The American public is war-weary, and they should be war-weary. The problem is that the Syrian government is taking advantage of that war-weariness to do truly atrocious, inhuman things. It's a war crime to use chemical weapons. Right? So they are capitalizing on our desire, as the president said, for the tide of war to be receding."

Apr 28  In Iceland the Social Democrats, now in power, lose in yesterday's elections. The right-of-center gains and is poised for a return to power. BBC News describes it as "a dramatic comeback for the [right-of-center] parties widely blamed for Iceland's economic meltdown in 2008." In appealing to voters, the right-of-center called for good times and took advantage of dissatisfaction with the austerity policies of the Social Democrats. The call for good times (let's party?) by conservatives included expressions of respect for free enterprise but also for investments. In the words of their most prominent leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, quoted by BBC News, "We've seen what cutbacks have done for our healthcare system and social benefits... now it's time to make new investments, create jobs and start growth." Also, the right-of-center promised debt relief and cuts in taxes.

Apr 29  Civil war has erupted in Iraq. But, as happened with Syria, observors are slow to call it that. It could also be called a sectarian conflict, as does Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki. An army raid on a Sunni protest camp last week has been followed by escalated violence. In the past week clashes have occurred in several towns and cities. Prime Minister Maliki, a Shia, supports Iran and Syria's so-called president Bashar al-Assad. Iraq's Sunni oppose Assad and believe they are under-represented or not represented at all by Maliiki's government. Today according to BBC News, "At least 18 people have been killed and dozens injured by five car bombs in Shia-majority provinces of southern Iraq, officials say."

Apr 30  Syria: "This is not a civil war. This is a national uprising against almost half-a-century of dictatorship." So says Murhaf Jouejati, Chairman of the Syrian National Council.

Apr 30  Search for survivors in Bangladesh came to an end yesterday, five days after a building full of garment workers in the city of Dhaka collapsed. The death toll is expected to rise to around 570. Corruption is blamed: people with political connections allowed shoddy construction and to work people in a dangerous environment. Anger and demonstrations have been followed by the arrest of the building's owner. Retailers in the West seeking cheap labor are being blamed for their part in the disaster.

May 2013


 
May 1  According to a survey by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than three-quarters of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia want sharia courts to decide family law issues such as divorce and property disputes. About half favor sharia courts deciding punishment for crimes such as thievery. And most Muslims do not favor sharia law being applied to non-Muslims.

May 1  In Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah declares that he will not let the Assad regime fall to "the US, Israel or Islamic extremists." Syria's anti-Assad coalition (SNC) denounces the threat. Also today, the Washington Post reports that "President Obama is preparing to send lethal weaponry to the Syrian opposition and has taken steps to assert more aggressive US leadership among allies and partners seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad."

May 2  The deaths of garment workers in Bangladesh raises the issue of retail companies caring about the conditions in which those who make their clothes work. But Scott Nova, of Workers Rights Consortium, told the NewsHour yesterday that, "The reality is, it's the brands and retailers who have the most power in the system. If they want to ensure their factories are safe, they have the power to ensure their factories are safe. They haven't chosen to exercise that power." Workers themselves are the best watchdogs and advocates concerning working conditions, and in a Huffington Post article back in 2009 he wrote, "Repression of unionization efforts at apparel factories is rarely challenged, either by the brands that buy from these factories or by local governments."

May 6  A new Pew Research Center survey of Muslims around the globe finds a widespread majority believing that Islam is the one true faith and that to be a moral person one must believe in God. The survey also found of the Muslims it interviewed in the United States that 81 percent believed violence against civilians in the name of Islam is never justified. This leaves 19 percent of those surveyed in the US believing that violence against people might at least sometimes be justified (i.e. moral) when Islam is threatened.

May 7  Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accuse Equatorial Guinea of serious human rights violations and denial of fundamental freedoms as the country moves toward legislative elections on May 26. They cite politically motivated arrests, harassment of the political opposition, voter intimidation and denial of free speech. The country's president, Obiang, has been in power since 1979. His ruling party, according to Human Rights Watch, "benefits from a virtual monopoly on power, funding, and access to national media." According to Wikipedia, "Equatorial Guinea is one of the continent's largest producers of oil, but ranks very poorly in the United Nations human development index; the vast majority of Equatorial Guineans hardly have access to clean drinking water."

May 8  Yesterday, Russia and the US agreed to convene an international conference that would encourage the Assad regime and his enemies in Syria to negotiate a peaceful settlement to their war. The hope is that Assad can be pressured into offering the Syrian people something close to democracy. Assad has not done so yet, and some believe that only greater military pressure will end the Assad dictatorship. The chances of getting Iran to withdraw its military support of Assad to induce steps toward democracy in Syria appears remote. But hope springs eternal.

May 9  Richard Haas, May 5 on Zakaria's GPS: "Second of all, we're not going to have a negotiated settlement here [Syria]. We've long, long, long since passed the line where the lions are going to lay down with the lambs. This is a fight to the finish, initially, between the Alawites and the majority, secondly, between - among the majority."

May 9  Denmark (considered socialist by some US conservatives) is concerned about creating a more healthy business environment for small businesses in its capital city, Copenhagen. The challenge, it is being said, is to create growth and jobs. The Copenhagen Post writes that, "the capital is lagging far behind cities like Stockholm, Berlin and Hamburg. Between 2001 and 2011, Greater Copenhagen had an average growth rate of 1.4 percent. The growth rate in Stockholm during the same period was 3 percent."

May 10  The head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, expresses optimism about receiving the "game changing" weapons that the Israeli airforce has tried to prevent Hezbollah from having. Receiving these weapons, says Nasrallah, would serve as Syria's reaction to Israeli air raids. The Assad regime threatens an immediate response to any new Israeli strike. A regime spokesman says, "Our retaliation will be strong and will be painful against Israel." Israel, meanwhile, is reported as determined for the sake of its survival to keep "game changing" weapons from the hands of Hezbollah.

May 11  Rios Montt, age 86, a former president of Guatemala, is found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is sentenced to 80 years in prison - the first time a former head of state has been found guilty of genocide by a court in his or her own country. In court, Montt said he "never had the intent to destroy any national race, religion, or ethnic group. ... The commanding officer in charge of the units in El Quiche region is accountable for the actions." In July 1982, the New York Times reported Montt announcing, "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you."

May 12  The people of Africa are losing benefits from the mining of resources there because of deals that amount to tax avoidance, writes Kofi Annan. He writes of secret mining deals, financial transfers and firms that shift profits to lower tax jurisdictions and concludes that "Africa loses twice as much money through these loopholes as it gets from donors."

May 14  Billionaire industrialist Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League wins big in Pakistan's elections. He is headed for his third time as prime minister. Sharif promised economic recovery, more highways, bullet trains, good relations with India and the US. He is a moderate free-enterprise conservative who has been in conflict with the left-of-center People's Party, historically led by the Bhutto family, which nationalized his properties, which he later undid.

May 15  In Bangladesh, the rubble turning is finished. Yesterday, thousands attended an Islamic prayer service for the 1,127 people now counted as having died in the collapse of the garment factory building on April 25. Also yesterday, WalMart announced it will pay for inspections at 279 factories in Bangladesh and will publish the results on its website by June 1. Inspections heretofore are being described as terribly superficial.
 
May 15  The economy of the 17-nation eurozone shrank 0.2 percent in the January to March quarter, according to European Union statistics. Nine of these 17 nations are in recession, including France, France's second recession in four years. Germany's economy grew by just 0.1 percent.

May 17  In Norway, gypsies (officially called Romani) demonstrate against the Oslo city council's plan to ban outside sleeping.

May 17  The New York Times reports that Russia is sending Yakhonts cruise missiles to Syria, missiles with advanced radar and a range that can strike against ships supplying the opposition forces with weapons and other supplies. "Ship-killers' they are called. Today there is more talk from UN General Secretary Ban ki-moon while he is visiting Russia. He warns against losing the "momentum" for peace in Syria generated by talks between Kerry and Putin on May 7. Secretary Ban proclaims that "A negotiated political solution is the only way to end the crisis," while some are aware that many conflicts across history were settled by one side defeating the other. Some of us wish the UN could conduct or moniter national elections for Syria. That would require the approval and participation of the Assad regime. Why such elections are not likely to happen soon is being revealed from day to day and will be described on this world news page in the days ahead.

May 18  The first Saudi woman, age 25, makes history by reaching the top of Mount Everest. She is Raha Moharrak, a university graduate based in Dubai. Her team included the first Qatari man and the first Palestinian man to attempt the summit. "I really don't care about being the first," she says, "So long as it inspires someone else to be second."

May 19  Assad tells an Argentinian newspaper that "to resign would be to flee." While some of us see his continuing in power as an obstacle to the reconciliation in Syria that will someday come, Assad portrays his manner of rule, which has alienated the majority of Syrians, as righteous. And he portrays himself as hero. Regarding the coming international conference initiated by the US and Russia, as he has many times before he speaks approvingly of more talk, but he adds that "we do not believe that many Western countries really want a solution in Syria."

May 21  Opposition groups meeting in Spain oppose negotiations with the Assad regime unless it is aimed at his departure. The battle for control of the strategic town of Quazar, near the Lebanese border, rages into its third day. It's a showdown of sorts. Winning the area is a must for the Assad regime. Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters are there, backed by Assad's artillery and air strikes. The anti-Assad forces are hanging on and claim they will not abandon the anti-Assad civilians there.

May 22  Iran's Guardian Council has disqualified a former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, from running for the president. Rafsanjani is thought of as someone who might have won the support of pro-reform and centrist politicians. The Guardian Council is appointed by and is loyal to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Iran remains a theocracy, not to be confused with democracy.

May 22  In truly democratic Sweden, rioting continues for a third day in largely immigrant (Middle East and Somali) neighborhoods near Stockholm. Someone was shot while threatening a policeman with a machete. Police say they tried negotiating with the man. A youth defending the rioters charges police brutality. Yesterday, Prime Minister Reinfeldt told reporters that Sweden would not be intimidated by rioters. The Justice Minister, Beatrice Ask, invites anyone who has felt mistreated to file a complaint.

May 23  Iran's Rafsanjani (See May 22) says of the Guardian Council, "I don't want to stoop to their propaganda and attacks but ignorance is troubling... They don't know what they're doing." He says he doesn't think "the country could have been run worse." The BBC reports: "The 78-year-old will not contest his disqualification [in running for president], his campaign manager was quoted as saying [yesterday]."

May 24  A BBC poll has surveyed more than 26,000 people around the world, asking them to rate 16 countries and the EU as to whether their influence in the world was "mainly positive" or "mainly negative." (Rating the more than 200 countries in the world would have been asking too much.) Germany was ranked as most respected and Canada second. The EU ranked 6th. The US was 8th of 17, just ahead of China. Russia was 13th, Israel 14th, North Korea 15th, Pakistan 16th, and at the bottom was Iran. (BBC News, May 23)

May 26  Yesterday in Lebanon, Shi'ite Hezbollah leader Nasrullah, declared war against opponents of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. "The battle is ours," he said, "and I promise you victory." Since May 19, Hesbollah has lost dozens in the battle of Qusair just inside Syria. Today two rockets of the type with a five-mile range were fired from within Lebanon and exploded near offices of Hesbollah in Beirut.

May 27  Britain and France are asking the European Union for permission to send weapons to opposition fighters in Syria. They believe that military pressure from opposition forces will encourage the Assad regime to negotiate an end to its war. But some EU members, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden, remain opposed to EU countries helping Syria's opposition defend itself from a murderous dictatorship - state terrorism - armed by Russia and supported by Iran and Hezbollah. They say, the EU should remain "a peace community." In a word: pacifist. Sanctions against arming Syrians ends on June 1, and If the EU fails to agree to continue these sanctions, in the words of the Austria foreign minister, "everybody is entitled to deliver weapons to the Assad regime or to the opposition."

May 28  Russia's foreign ministry complains of the European Union failing to renew its arms embargo for Syria. Meanwhile Russia announces that it is going ahead with delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to the Assad regime in order to deter "hotheads" from involvement in Syria's rebellion. This threatens Israel's ability to continue its airstrikes against advanced weaponry supplied by the Assad regime to Hezbollah, which believes that israel has no right to exist. Israel complains that its Ben Gurian airport would be in range of the S-300 missiles. The Times of Israel writes: "Using unusually harsh language, Minister of Intelligence, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told reporters the Russian decision to press on with the deal was an 'odd' and unjustifiable move, which he said was 'totally wrong' on moral and strategic grounds."

May 29  Encouraged by what it sees as military successes, the Assad regime is going into June peace talks with the announcement by Assad's foreign ministry that Assad will remain as Syria's president at least until elections in 2014. The peace talks that the Obama administration has been looking forward to appears to be an illusion. Meanwhile the head of Germany's intelligence agency, Gerhard Schindler, has reversed himself. Last summer he predicted that the Assad regime would collapse in early 2013; now he reports that the opposition is in trouble and the Assad regime is poised to make significant advances.

May 30  Today, in an interview with Hezbollah-link television, Assad boasts that his military has scored "major victories" and now holds "the balance of power." Speaking in Instanbul, George Sabra, the interim head of the opposition Syrian Nation Coalition, proclaims that talk of diplomatic conferences is farcical. He says, "The National Coalition will not take part in any international conference or any such efforts so long as the militias of Iran and Hezbollah continue their invasion of Syria."

May 30  In Saudi Arabia, anachronistic interpretations of Islamic proprieties show signs of more slippage. On twitter, Saudi cleric Abdullah Mohammed al-Dawood has called on men to harass women cashiers. His purpose has been to discourage them from leaving home so as not to lose their chastity. The cleric is being lambasted on twitter, and the cashiers have substantial public support.

May 31  Miners in Kyrgyzstan are dispersed in widespread clashes with police. Government has declared a state of emergency. The miners want better pay. The Canadian mine owner, Centerra Gold, complains that it is the biggest payer of taxes in Kyrgyzstan and is funding social projects. A state commission claims the company is paying too little. Miners call for nationalization. Some in government worry that nationalization would discourage more foreign investment.



June 2013


Jun 1  In Egypt, Cairo House opera workers strike to protest what they are calling Brotherhoodization - Islamist interference. They are upset with the government's new culture minister having fired the head of the opera house.

Jun 1 In Turkey, protests rage for a second day. Some people in Istanbul dislike the government messing with their park, including cutting down their sycamore trees. Protesters chant "Unite against fascism" and have been dispersed by water cannon and tear gas. The protests accompany unrest regarding the ruling administration's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, increased restrictions on alcohol sales, including beer, and warnings against public displays of affection. Prime Minister Erdogan says it was a mistake to use tear gas on protesters, but he holds to his plans for the park's redevelopment. When it's finished, he said, there will be more trees than before. An official description of the redevelopment includes a shopping mall and reconstruction of an Ottoman army barracks. Amnesty International describes more than 100 protesters as having been injured.

Jun 3  Protests in Turkey continue for the fourth day. Turkey's media has been lightly reporting the events, and Prime Minister Erdogan complains: "There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society." BBC News reports that "Officials say more than 1,700 people have been arrested in demonstrations in 67 towns and cities, though many have since been released." Erdogan describes the protesters as anti-democratic. Turkey's President Abdullah Gül, of the same political party as Erdogan, urges calm. He says there is more to democracy than just elections and tells anti-government demonstrators that their message has been "received."

Jun 4  Amid the daily news of disaster, tragedy and folly, many people are enjoying life despite their personal struggles, but the Bollywood movie star, Jiah Khan, is found dead by hanging, an apparent suicide. She was twenty-five and is reported to have been concerned about her career and future. Also this past week four South Koreans, two men and two women in their twenties, committed suicide together, leaving a suicide note. Wikipedia has a "List of countries by suicide rate" and South Korea is second, just after Greenland. China is seventh, Japan tenth, the United States thirty-fifth, Sweden (where like Greenland there is little sun) thirty-sixth, Germany forty-ninth, Israel sixty-eighth. One factor in South Korea's high suicide rate is academic achievement pressure, which is also a factor in Japan. In Haiti people are less expected to triumph in a race with others for success, and Haiti ranks at the bottom of Wikipedia's list.

 China's President Xi receives key to the city
China's President Xi receives key to the city of
San Jose, Costa Rica. (Photo/Xinhua)

Jun 5  China and Mexico agree to cooperate in energy creation, infrastructure construction, mining, new industrial trade, banking and entrepreneur exchanges. Mexico will benefit from exporting pork and tequila to the Chinese market, and China promises to provide one hundred scholarships to Mexican students each year for the next three years. China's President Xi and First Lady Peng Liyuan (photo:right ) are visiting Mexico following their visit to Caribbean states and Costa Rica. China is lending Jamaica money for construction of the Baha Mar resort and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads and bridges.

Jun 6  Yesterday, Iran congratulated the Assad regime on its success in recapturing the strategic town of al-Qusayr in Western Syria, without mentioning its role and Hezbollah's role in that success. Iran and Hezbollah have expressed determination not to let the Assad regime fall. The European Union and United States, on the other hand, have been reluctant to arm even those among the anti-Assad forces who are committed to democracy. Some have taken this position entertaining equivalence-thinking: no arms to either side. And many among the public have supported this, seeing the arming of anti-Assad Syrians as equivalent to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has placed its hope in diplomacy, as did the UN and Kofi Annan from many months ago.

Jun 7  North Korea's rage in March this year appears forgotten. So too is the North Korean general's angry declaration to a television camera that his country was not bluffing. Nor is there news of anyone in South Korea bragging about his claim that the North was just posturing and that missiles were not about to start flying. Today, BBC News reports that North Korea "has restored a key hotline with South Korea" and has announced that it will "reopen a Red Cross is line cut in March."

Jun 8  The hate engendered by war is expressed by a Syrian refugee surrounded by her distressed children in Lebanon. She tells Margaret Warner of the News Hour (PBS), "Shia and Hezbollah attacked us, and they left nothing. They burnt the house, and we had a shop, but it is all gone now." Warner asks: "How do you feel now about Shias?" The woman replies, "I hate them." Warner asks: "All Shia?" The woman: " Yes, all of them."

Jun 8  Despite the disapproval of Pakistan's new government, the US executes another drone strike within Pakistan. A US official describes nine "militants" from the Bakka Khel tribe as having been killed. Pakistan's new prime minister since June 5, Nawaz Sharif, has demanded an end to the strikes, which are a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some in the US doubt that the strike will make Americans anywhere any safer or help influence people in our (US) favor.

Jun 10  Exposure of a government program that tracks phone records and internet communications has raised opposition from people who fear government interest in them. From Glenn Beck and others comes talk of "Big Brother," "1984" and a "Brave New World." Senator Rand Paul says "somebody will wake up and say things will change in Washington." Support for the exposure comes also from some on the political left, including Daniel Ellsberg who helped publish the Pentagon Papers. Meanwhile, head of the National Security Agency, James Clapper, who runs the program, called prism, describes its purpose as a data base from which to track terrorist communications. He describes fears as unreasonable and points out that the government is incapable of interest in or collecting data on the personal doings of everybody. Against this clarification remains the fears of people that government can have god-like powers of observation and might want to control them or take a special interest in them regarding their cheating on taxes, political beliefs, watching pornography, having an affair or some other activity. The program was exposed by a former employee in US intelligence work named Edward Snowden, 29, who says he did it "to protect basic liberties for people around the world."

Jun 11  The Obama administration plans to continue the "prism" surveillance program. Jane Harman, a liberal democrat and former US Congresswoman, describes the program as having been debated appropriately in Congress. The "leaker," Edward Snowden, is being described by the press as having advanced in the intelligence business by his performances as an internet-computer whiz but as otherwise uneducated, not even having a high-school diploma. Harman argued last night on the NewsHour that Snowden and others have made false characterizations of the surveillance program. (It takes a court order to examine the content of personal communications.) Also yesterday, a few young people appeared in a news photo carrying signs declaring Snowden a "hero."

Jun 12  Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan has decided to crush protests that began on May 31, protests that became massive and include people who don't consider themselves left or right. Erdogan describes the protests as hurting Turkey economically and as having been hijacked by vandals, terrorists and unnamed foreign forces. In a televised speech he has said: "To those ... taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings: I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents and I send you my love." Demonstrators have been attacked with water cannon and tear gas. Four have been killed, including one policeman. Erdogan remains proud that Turkey is a democracy. He expresses concern for Turkey's reputation. He has spoken against early elections. Elections are scheduled for 2014.

 
Supreme Leader Khamenei
Supreme Leader Khamenei


Jun 13  Amnesty International reports that the regime of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei> (photo:right ) is increasing its repressions ahead of the presidential election scheduled for tomorrow. The report adds that at least five journalists have been arrested since March and that "a number of political activists and trade union representatives have also been arrested and harassed."

Jun 14  The "Supreme Leader" Khamenei denounces US doubts about the significance of today's elections in Iran. "We don't give a damn," he said. "To hell with you if you don't believe in our election." Khamenei rules Iran backed by the ultra-religious who dominate parliament and by the "Army of Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" (the Revolutionary Guards). Iran is a theocracy governed also by those who occupy an Assembly of Experts and Guardian Council of the (1979) Constitution. Many in the West see Khamenei as the world's leading villain, right up there with Bashar-al Assad - despite his sweet smile. He was president from 1981 to 1989 - a temporary unity of the clerical with the office of presidency not originally intended by the founding Ayatollah Khomeini. As president, Khamenei wielded considerable power. Wikipedia reports that "In his presidential inaugural address he vowed to eliminate 'deviation, liberalism, and American-influenced leftists' ... Thousands of rank-and-file members of insurgent groups were killed, often by revolutionary courts." BBC News reports that "No foreign observers will be monitoring the poll and there have also been concerns that media coverage in the run-up was unfair."

Jun 15  Zbigniew Brzezinski, a big name in the Democratic Party regarding foreign policy, speaks against President Obama's move to send weapons to Syria. Says Brzezinski: "You know, we started helping the rebels, whatever they are, and they're certainly not fighting for democracy, given their sponsorship, Qatar and Saudi Arabia ..." Brzezinski tends to avoid analogous reasoning, so he is not likely to see significance in the observation that King Louis XVI could have asked who those rebels were that his kingdom was about to help against England's King George III, or Churchill and Roosevelt could have asked why they should help the Russians against Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union - all good questions. But Brzezinski's comments about Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to some to be slanderous, as if their support for people defending themselves and fighting state terrorism somehow contanimates that struggle. Republican Senator John McCain, meanwhile, tells the BBC that the Free Syrian Army is now in an "unfair fight" and needs "heavy weapons to counter tanks and aircraft."

Jun 16  Asked whether he approves the idea of the US and some European countries arming the Syrian opposition, Israel's President Shimon Peres, 90, says, "Look, if it were dependent on me, I would pursue a totally different policy. I would turn to the Arab League and say: 'Syria is a member of the Arab League. It is for you to enter Syria as a transitional government, stop the bloodshed, go to elections and do it in the name of the United Nations - all of us will support you.'" (Washington Post)

Jun 17  In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan has offered demonstrators a referendum on the public park issue that started the protests, and he has said kind things. But he has also insulted them, telling parents to take their children home away from their camp-ins, and he describes the protesters as manipulated by terrorists. The protesters see the issue as bigger now than the park. And, rather than opt for the quiet of political organization and electoral politics in what is a democracy, most demonstrators appear to have chosen the drama and grandiosity of continuing protests. Today trade union workers in the capital, Ankara, join the protest, with Erdogan committed to clearing away the protesters with water cannon and tear gas. "Stop blocking the streets," he commands. He is complaining about damage to the economy and rallying his supporters against the protesters with an eye to protecting his power in 2014 elections.

Jun 18  The Reuters news agency reports that Saudi Arabia has equipped Syria's anti-Assad fighters for the first time with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, the Saudi kingdom showing less concern about al-Qaedi jihadists in Syria than some analysts in the United States. This is despite the kingdom's recent years of conflict with and opposition to al-Qaeda type jihadists. What kind of help in weaponry the anti-Assad fighters will receive from the US is not yet known. Meanwhile, following the Kerry-Putin meeting on May 7, hope that Assad would participate meaningfully in a negotiated settlement appears to have been more wishful thinking. Instead, this morning's news describes G8 summit leaders, including Putin, being "close to a Syria deal."

Jun 22  Since June 10, Brazil's leftist government has been rocked by massive protests. They began in response to a transport fare increase of 20 cents and grew to massive numbers in various cities over a wide range of dissatisfactions. The middle class appears to dominate among the protesters, but there were those who liked to throw things and provoke, and some have found opportunity to destroy property and to loot. The police, of course, have responded, but without excessively brutality displayed in the media - not quite as brutal as the police in Turkey this past week. Protesters complain about money being spent in preparation for the Olympics that should be spent on citizen well-being. President Dilma Rousseff, in office since January 2011, has tried to put herself on the side of the protesters. In a televised address she says she will draft a new plan to benefit public transport, spend more on education and that thousands of doctors will be drafted from overseas to improve the national health service. There is talk of the use of social media producing protest sizes much bigger than generations ago. And expectations appear to have risen with Brazil's economic growth rate, as high as 9.3% in the second quarter of 2010, which thereafter declined steadily to 0.9% for the year 2012. Brazil ranks 106th in per capita income. It's middling in revenues collected as a percentage of GDP, between Germany (44.9%) and the US (15.7%). It is listed as middling in corruption, and with the worst of countries in income distribution.

Jun 23  In Brazil, demonstrators continue to clash with police, with the police using tear gas and rubber bullets as demonstrators try to break through a police perimeter, glass is smashed, a few shops are looted and some fires set. The leftist government seems to be telling unhappy Brazilians that it hears their message and plans to act. But many seem to want to press on with their demonstrations, largely peaceful, for emphasis. And there must be at least a few who enjoy the excitement of battle (as I saw while participating in demonstrations in the 1960s).

Jun 24  A BBC News report by Helen Briggs describes scientists as having discovered signs of plants automatically doing math to regulate their food reserves at night. Scientists speculate that birds use an automatic math - a biological math - to preserve fat reserves during migrations. Some humans, of course, can solve problems and do simple math in their sleep, but they need a break.

Jun 25  In Foreign Policy magazine, Egypt's dissident, Mohamed Elbaradei, describes Egypt as having become a failed state. Law and order, he writes, is disintegrating. Murders, robberies and kidnapping have been rising. " You see people being lynched in public, while others take pictures of the scene. The feeling right now is that there is no state authority to enforce law and order, and therefore everybody thinks that everything is permissible. And that, of course, creates a lot of fear and anxiety." He complains that people in government are inexperienced, don't have remedies and are "not qualified to govern." He writes that prices are soaring and life is becoming "untenable," especially for the half who are living on less than two dollars per day. He titles his article, "You Can't Eat Sharia."
 
Edie Windsor
Edie Windsor


Jun 26  Yesterday in Brazil, dimished protests took place in low-income suburbs. Five hundred people blocked streets for several hours in Capao Redondo and Campo Limpo on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Also yesterday, Brazil's congress overwhelmingly defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that had been a grievance of protesters across the country, and congress voted to use all royalties from new oil fields for education and health.

Jun 27  The US Supreme Court strikes down a law that denied legally married same-sex couples the same federal entitlements available opposite-sex married couples. These benefits include tax, health, pension benefits and family hospital visits. The law is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress, signed into law in 1996 and contested in the courts by Edie Windsor (photo:right  and March 28 ). It is now ruled a violation of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment. It was a 5-4 decision. The four dissenters were the court's conservatives. Justice Scalia argued that government should be able to decide whether gay conduct is moral, and this, Scalia claimed, means that the Court had no right to consider the DOMA law. In Salon, Alex Pareene writes, "In most cases involving homosexuality, Scalia is likely to argue purely from disgust, and to resort to strange justifications for his disgust-based decisions."

Jun 28  US State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell says that Ecuador giving Snowden asylum would create "grave difficulties for our bilateral relationship." Ecuador complains that this is blackmail by the US. "Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone," said an official. Meanwhile Ecuador is being accused of a double standard regarding freedom of information. Ecuador has a law that empowers its superintendent of information and communication to heavily fine anyone involved in releasing protected information. The regime of President Correa in Ecuador is known for its restrictions on journalists and is accused of trying to muzzle critics.

Jun 29  Rafael al-Assad, Bashar's first cousin, told BBC's Katty Kay yesterday, "We want a peaceful solution for the Syria crisis ... We don't want Syria becoming another Iran, where we replaced a dictatorship with a theocracy." He didn't say why, if Bashar wants a peaceful solution, he doesn't propose UN supervised elections while holding to a purely defensive posture where he is now popular.

Jun 30  A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced seven Facebook users to between five and ten years in prison for inciting protests and harming the public order. According to BBC News, Human Rights Watch describes the convicted admitting to putting on Facebook pages support for the Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Amer, who in 2011 was calling for a constitutional monarchy. The cleric's jailing was followed by protests in the east of Saudi Arabia where Shia live.


July 2013


 
Jul 1  In Egypt, massive demonstrations have been taking place, the demonstrators hoping to drive President Morsi from power - as happened last year with President Mubarak. Many Egyptians support Morsi and see the demonstrators as anti-democratic, and they are also in the streets. Anti-Morsi people have served their emotions by setting fire to Morsi's headquarters. In 2012, secularists were less successful than the Muslim Brotherhood at electoral politics: organizing for elections.

Jul 1  Population figures indicate that the US population grew again by more than 2 million between July 2011 and July 2012 - nearly the same as the growth between 2010 and 2011. And today's US population is about 2.5 million more than it was in July 2012. This is more than fourteen cities of 500,000 (309.35 million in July 2010; 316.67 million in July 2013). Meanwhile population figures in Europe and Japan have been steady while populations in less developed countries have continued to expand. Egypt's growth rate is more than twice that of the United States. At the top of the list in growth rate are Libya, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The average birth rate is more than twice the average death rate.

Jul 2  In Egypt yesterday, according to Reuters, "General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delighted President Mursi's opponents by effectively ordering the president to heed the demands of demonstrators." The demonstrators are celebrating. President Morsi's supporters are describing it as a military coup, and Morsi is reported as having rejected the military's ultimatum. He complains that the military hasn't consulted with him and that he will pursue his own plan for national reconciliation.

Jul 3  In Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, a US drone strike kills 17, according to reports. The targeted are described as members of the most dangerous faction fighting US soldiers in Afghanistan. Pakistan's President Sharif has demanded an end to such attacks, complaining that they are a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty. The question remains whether the attacks add up to a plus on the side of eliminating "enemies" of the US or, on the other hand, accomplish little or nothing by harming the image of the US while creating more hostility.

Jul 4  After five or six days of gigantic demonstrations against President Morsi and demonstrations supporting Morsi, and some violence between the two sides, Egypt's army has taken power. Today, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mahmud Mansour, is sworn in as leader of an interim government. A new constitution is to be created and new elections are promised. Morsi supporters describe what has happened as a military coup. BBC News reports that the anti-Morsi protesters accused Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood "of pursuing an Islamist agenda and of failing to tackle Egypt's economic problems." Morsi is described as "in military custody." One protester said he didn't like being told how to be a good Muslim.

Jul 4  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad proclaims success, saying his opponents have failed to oust him and that he and his government will survive the civil war, having endured everything his opponents could do to topple him. He adds that "only the distant prospect of direct foreign military intervention could change that." He says he will serve out the rest of his term as president. The next election, a referendum, for another seven-year term, is scheduled for May, 2014.

Jul 5  The leader of Morsi's opposition, Mohamed ElBaradei, describes the military's ouster of Morsi as necessary to prevent a civil war. A few others are expressing regrets. Abdullah Al-Arian, a professor at a US university, writes "...we have lost, possibly forever, the opportunity to witness the Muslim Brotherhood humbled through its preferred method of political contestation." In other words he would have preferred Morsi and the Brotherhood being defeated in elections that so many didn't have the patience to wait for. Anti-democratic forces, Al-Arian writes, "have won the day... Consumed by their euphoria, the anti-Morsi movement has failed to see the dangerous path that lay ahead."

Jul 6  Some Morsi supporters are defying Egypt's military. This morning, according to BBC News, "cities were left strewn with rocks, glass and bullet casings ... after almost 24 hours of violence which left 30 dead and more than 1,100 injured." Meanwhile Egypt's ambassador to the US, Mohamed Tawfik, has described the military's position, which faults Morsi and his supporters. Tawfik accuses the Morsi group of having incited their supporters, a week ago, into facing off against the many anti-Morsi people in the street. The army, he said, had to intervene "before terrible clashes got out of control." Tawfik describes the military as peacekeepers, against violence by members of the public and especially against the incitement of violence.

Jul 7  In Egypt, a spokesman for the interim presidency says that the Muslim Brotherhood will have a voice and be able to assert their influence in new elections. The strategy of the Brotherhood is not to wait patiently till then. Patience has been in short supply in Egypt's so-called transition to democracy. The Brotherhood's revered leader, Mohammed Badie, hot with emotion, vows to restore former president Morsi to office somehow sooner, saying Egyptians will not accept "military rule" for another day. We shall see.

Jul 9  In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is describing the deaths of 51 protesters fired upon by soldiers as a massacre. The army shows footage of the protesters with guns and claims the soldiers were firing in self-defense. Someone who had been somewhere with the protesters claims in a rage before a television camera that he knows for sure there was no firing on the soldiers. Egypt's media responds with support for the military's view of the event. Charged up emotionally, according to BBC News, the Brotherhood rejects "a timetable for new elections laid out by interim president Adly Mansour, saying it is illegitimate." Some believe that the Brotherhood is responding to events against its interests.

Jul 10  The king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia congratulate Muslims across the world on the advent of Ramadan, and they denounce divisive sectarianism. Their message, read on television, states that Saudi Arabia will not tolerate extremism, and adds: "We have learned from the great Muslims of the past that Islam is a religion of love and tolerance and it promotes dialogue and peace."

Jul 10  Egypt's new interim government orders the arrest of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and nine others, for inciting violence against Egyptians. Badie is an emotionally charged "Supreme Guide" who has denounced peace efforts with Israel, saying the "enemy knows nothing but the language of force." It was he who said three days ago that Egyptians will not accept "military rule" for another day.

Jul 12  Yesterday, anti-Assad Islamists killed another Free Syrian Army leader, a top commander, Mohammed Kamal al-Hamami. Other FSA leaders call it tantamount to a declaration of war. "We will not let them get away with it," says a senior FSA commander. The FSA was begun by army deserters who chose self-defense and defeat of the Assad regime rather than shoot at innocent civilians. Now they have another war to fight.

 
Jul 15  In the US the media is dominated by news of a jury in Florida having found no convincing evidence that George Zimmerman, 29, acted other than in self-defence in his shooting and killing an unarmed Trayvon Martin, 17. In many cities people have been demonstrating peacefully. A few have found pleasure in rioting - in Oakland, California, for example, where cars were smashed and fires set. Proclamations of vigilante justice have been made: predictions that Zimmerman will go from being found innocent to being found dead. Some fault Zimmerman for having racially profiled Martin by assuming he was up to no good because he was black. A complaint has been expressed that whites are perceived as able "to stand their ground" but blacks not. Ann Coulter reacts to the jury's verdict in front of TV cameras with the word "Hallelujah," and she speaks of a "media-led mob" trying to make Zimmerman a sacrificial lamb, and with others she finds reason to fault President Obama.

Jul 16  Fervent authoritarian faith of the aggressive and violent kind takes a hit in Bangladesh. Islamist leader Ghulam Azam has been convicted of war crimes by the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh. He has been sentenced to 90 years in jail for his involvement in mass killings and rape during Bangladesh's struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971. Azam supported Pakistan. Today in Bangladesh he is still seen as a spiritual leader. On the eve of the verdict, reports BBC News, "there were sporadic clashes in different parts of the capital [Dhaka] with reports of some injuries. "

Jul 17  On a North Korean ship passing from Cuba through the Panama Canal, weapons are found under a shipment of sugar. The ship is seized by Panama authorities, looking for illegal drugs. The ship's crew now faces charges of illegal weapons smuggling. The weapons included are mid-20th century missiles, parts for MIG aircraft and anti-aircraft weaponry. Cuba has announced that "The weapons are ours." Arms trafficking expert, Hugh Griffith, speaks of renewed military co-operation between Cuba and North Korea. Meanwhile the Danes remember the suggestion during the height of Cold War tensions in Europe that their defense department be reduced to a tape recorder that repeats "we surrender" in Russian. No such humor is expected from political leaders in North Korea or Cuba.

Jul 18  China's recent GDP decline from a 7.7 percent annual growth rate to 7.5 percent has created international buzz. The decline is perhaps intended. Prime Minister Li Keqiang has said the Chinese economy needs to slow down. Mark Buchanan for Bloomberg News writes of China's leaders complaining that, "Too much money is flowing into unproductive investments." According to Buchanan, "Li means to encourage a focus on the quality rather than the quantity of growth." He wants "a gliding slowdown in which consumption, not misdirected investment and white-elephant projects, becomes the primary driver of growth."

Jul 19  A Pakistani Taliban commander, Adnan Rasheed, has written a letter (dated July 15) to Malala, the teenage education heroine honored by the United Nations. He writes, "The Taliban never attacked you because of going to school or you were [an] education lover." Rasheed claims Malala was attacked for running a smear campaign to malign their efforts to establish an Islamic education system in Pakistan's Swat district. He describes the Taliban as "not against the education of any men or women or girl." He complains of British imperialism trying to make "all human beings English ... because Englishmen are the staunch supporters of Jews." Rasheed speaks up for an education system "based on noble thoughts noble curriculum" and faults Malala for backing an education system to "produce more and more Asians in blood but English in taste, to produce more and more Africans in color but English in opinion, to produce more and more non English people but English in morale." He continues: " This so called education made Obama, the mass murder[er], your ideal. isn't it?" He ends: "All praises to Allah the creator of the universe."

Jul 20  A Norwegian interior designer on a business trip to Dubai, after a night out with colleagues on March 6, reported to police that she was raped. Marte Deborah Dalelv, 24, is still in Dubai, living under the protection of the Norwegian Seaman's Center. Her money and passport were confiscated and she was charged with having extramarital sex, drinking alcohol and perjury and sentenced to 16 months in prison. The man she accused of rape was sentenced to 13 months for extramariital sex and drinking alcohol. Norway's foreign minister is protesting.

Jul 22  Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calls on the Assad regime and opposition to work together to expel all "terrorists and extremists" from Syria. A war between opposition groups is still underway, and a compromise between the Assad regime and those who are not al-Qaeda oriented would be a beginning to ending Syria's civil war. Meanwhile, Russia is telling the Assad regime of possible loans to help Syria's battered economy.

Jul 23   World Bank reports that the African continent suffers from confusion over land governance. BBC News reports the Bank saying "farmers' inability to prove ownership, legal disputes and land grabs [have] held back cultivation." The Bank recommends governments securing land tenure rights for communities and individuals. This comes a couple of weeks after President Obama toured Africa and spoke up for its economic development.

Jul 24  An eleven-year-old Yemeni girl, Nada Al-Ahdal, has spoken with verve on video against her arranged marriage. She is reported as having fled her home to her uncle. Her video, with English captions, is reported as having had more than 5.6 million views in two days. Nada's father is reported as having responded by changing his mind and pledging not to give her away in marriage until she is seventeen. The video is here.

Jul 24  Goldman Sachs is getting more negative media attention. In the New York Times on July 21 David Kocieniewski writes that by warehousing aluminum, Goldman Sachs has raised the price of cans of beer and cola the world over.

Jul 25  While visiting Morocco to promote business ties, King Juan Carlos of Spain hails Morocco's stability. Morocco has its conflict between Islamist and less Islamist or almost secular citizens. It has a problem right now with its Islamist prime minister having lost parliamentary support. With King Mohammed VI looking on, the prime minister will be trying to form a new coalition. Morocco's constitutional monarchy has provided the country with a stability obviously greater than exists in the republics of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Yemen - while Britain has just finished gleefully celebrating the birth of His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge (born on 22 July ), who might someday become King George VII.

Jul 25  In a narrow vote, the US House of Representatives has supported the Obama administration's position on continuing the National Security Agency's data collections. It was done with the help of Republicans while a majority in Obama's party, the Democrats, voted to end the NSA practice. There was argument before the vote that the government had gone too far in the name of national security and that the program is inspired by exaggerated fear. People supporting the Obama administration on the issue see an exaggerated fear in the claim that the NSA program threatens personal privacy.

Jul 25  A Gallop poll among Whites and non-Hispanic Blacks claims an 87 percent approval of Black-White marriages, up from 4 percent in 1958. Whites alone are described as approving at a rate of 84%, up from 61 percent in 1997 and 17 percent in 1969.

Jul 26  In France, parliament ends a law against insulting the nation's president. To defend himself in a court of law a president still has issues available to others: slander or defamation. In March this year, a man was fined for telling President Sarkozy to go .... himself. According to the World Press Freedom Committee, laws "that make it a criminal offense to 'insult' the honor or dignity of public officials are used in dozens of countries to prevent and punish journalistic scrutiny of public records and official actions... Insult laws are clearly incompatible with Article 19 of the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

Jul 29  The world is focused on Egypt, where millions took to the streets over the weekend (it's Monday) both for and against the Muslim Brotherhood's ousted president, Morsi. At least 83 Morsi supporters are reported as having been killed in clashes with the military. Evidence exists that the military was fired upon, and the military, of course, claims self-defense. Morsi supporters are planning more and greater demonstrations. Some were demonstrating early today. The army is warning protesters not to approach military facilities. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls on Egypt's security forces to respect the right to free speech and assembly and urges protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

Jul 30  Self-appointed moral police of the religious kind strike again. In Kano, the major city in northern Nigeria, bombers strike at bars, in the Christian part of town. The city has a Muslim majority. The Islamist group Boko Haram is considered suspect. Twelve people are reported as having been killed.

Jul 31  Kuwait's ruling monarch in this month of fasting and forgiveness (Ramadan) announces a pardon for persons given jail time for insulting him. Many are in prison under this charge, including a woman teacher sentenced in June to eleven years for using her mobile phone to insult the king and call for regime change. The monarchy faces displeasure from both "liberals" and Islamists. In elections last week, liberals won three seats in the 50-member National Assembly, up from no seats. Kuwait does not allow political parties. Candidates run either as independents or affiliated unofficially with a tribe. Shi'ite representation fell from 17 seats to 8. (Shi'ites are 30 percent of the population.) Sunni tribal groups gained, with a shift toward greater support for the monarchy.


August 2013

 
Aug 1  In Egypt, supporters of ousted President Morsi continue their sit-in despite warnings from the military. Reuters reports that "Behind a barricade made of bricks and sandbags, rocks had been piled up to use as ammunition." A protester is reported as saying: "We are ready. We are ready to die for legitimacy." The Obama administration has called on Egypt to respect freedom of assembly.

Aug 1  In Israel a minor riot erupts in the town of Beit Shemesh when ultra-orthodox, Haredi, believers try to force a woman to move from where she was seated, at the front of the bus. The Times of Israel reports, "The driver said it was not his first time being attacked by Haredi crowds and that similar incidents had occurred in Jerusalem as well."

Aug 3  In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980 and "president" since 1987, is declared as having won just over 61 percent of the votes against nearly 34 percent for his opponent, Tsvangirai. Of the hundreds of comments to BBC News, one reads: "Of course you get elected if you control the police, paramilitaries, the courts and much else, by putting your cronies in key positions and threatening or rewarding others... it will take decades for Zimbabwe to rebuild its institutions, industry and agriculture." Another, probably British, writes: "Don't give to African charities; most of it will end up in the wrong pockets." A third calls Mugabe a dictator as says "you don't get rid of dictators that easy."

Aug 5  Egypt's military backs down in its demand that pro-Morsi sit-ins disperse. Egypt's army-installed government says it will give mediation a chance and speaks of "the rights of citizens regardless of their affiliations." But it also warns of a time limitation.

Aug 5  US and Russian plans to talk about mediation in Syria appear headed for the usual failure. Syria's dictator, Assad, gloats over recent military successes and announces his solution to the conflict in Syria: striking his opponents, whom he calls terrorists, "with an iron fist." As expected, he says nothing about state terrorism or the right of Syrians to self-defense. In his 45-minute speech he says: "I don't think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics... The opposition is not reliable ... and it has no role in solving the crisis."

Aug 6  In Turkey civilian rule over the military asserts itself, perhaps with unnecessary intensity and injustice, as a court sentences generals and journalists to prison, some for life. The accused were charged with planning the overthrow of Prime Minister Erdogan's Islamic oriented government -- the so-called Ergenekon plot. General Basbug, who led the army from 2008 to 2010, was the leading defendant. The military had seen itself as the protector of Turkey's secular state, founded by Ataturk. Since 1960 it had launched three military coups. General Basbug has declared the changes against him fanciful. Critics of the trial say there is little evidence for the charges. They describe it as a show trial and accuse the government of trying to silence its secularist opponents. Outside the courtroom protesters dispersed by police reported as using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets. Meanwhile Erdogan's government is reported as having "very good relations with the [new] top brass of the military, currently headed by General Necdet Ozel," elevated to his position following the fall of General Basbug.

Aug 7  Italy agrees to take 102 migrants refused by the island nation of Malta. The migrants are aboard an oil tanker which had rescued them at sea. Malta is a member of European Union, and an EU commission had ordered Malta to accept the migrants as a humanitarian duty, but Malta refused. BBC News reports that Malta receives "thousands of illegal migrants heading to Europe each year." Three days ago, before this latest incident, 111 migrants arrived at Malta in a dinghy. Unlike Europe, Africa has a fast growing population, and individuals are seeking opportunity in Europe. The migrants aboard the oil tanker are from Libya. Opinion in Malta appears to favor resisting the invasion and humanitarian appeals.

Aug 8  Denmark's Social Democratic government in the person of its minister for social affairs, Karen Haekkerup, says, according to the Copenhagen Post, "too many young boys from immigrant backgrounds are growing up with a disregard for Danish community standards." She seeks a cut in benefits to parents who don't keep their children in school and obeying the law. Hoping to prevent the kind of unrest that has plagued Stockholm (in Sweden), she says immigrant families should resist development of a "parallel society" of crime and gangs. A reader asks "Why not all parents of truant/criminal children regardless of ethnicity?" Another comments: "Maybe she should also target firms that discriminate against ethnic minority job candidates, and won't give trainee places to ethnic minority young people."

Aug 9  A clerk in Zurich Switzerland tells Oprah Winfrey she can't afford the handbag she is interested in. Winfrey, said to be one of the world's richest woman (Zhang Xin is richer), politely tries again and again, and with her usual class she says okay, smiles and walks out. A BBC News reader adds a comment about a clerk in an upscale store making a dumb assumption also regarding a customer's casual dress.

Aug 12  In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe's Zanu-PF party has won 160 of parliament's 210 seats. Mugabe rejects Prime Minister Tsvangirai's claim of fraud, and complaints from foreign observers. In a speech on Heroes Day (for those who died fighting against colonialism more than thirty years ago) Mugabe proclaimed: "Those who lost elections may commit suicide if they so wish. Even if they die, dogs will not eat their flesh." A man of measure, Mugabe didn't mention Tsvangirai by name. Tsvangirai has announced that he will not stay on as prime minister in what has been called a unity government. Tsvangirai has described Mugabe as having violated their original agreement by appointing governors "without consultations with me."

Aug 14  "Cairo crackdown!" "Egypt declares national emergency." According to Egypt's security forces, 95 people have been killed. A lot of blood is on the ground. At dawn, armored bulldozers began running over tents. Makeshift hospitals are set up. Interim president, Adly Mansour, announces that his government "has tasked the armed forces, in cooperation with the police, to take all necessary measures to maintain security and order and to protect public and private property and the lives of citizens." Egypt's foreign minister told the NewsHour yesterday that "the government needs to exert its authority and provide the layman on the street free access to their homes, their facilities and so on and so forth." This morning, someone else comments to the Washington Post that "it's a sad day for democracy."
 
Aug 15  Cairo's official death toll from yesterday's violence exceeds 520. There is camera evidence of protesters firing on police and police firing on the protesters. According to Al Jazeera, Egypt's interior ministry has instructed police to use live ammunition against anyone who attacks government buildings. President Obama says he "deplores the violence against civilians." France, Germany and Britain summon Egyptian ambassadors. Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, denounced "armed intervention against civilian people." Morocco's ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) describes the crackdown as a "horrible massacre" and calls on Egyptian authorities "to stand by their people not to drag the nation into a quagmire." Today the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt vows to bring down the "military coup" that toppled former President Mohammed Morsi and says it remains committed to peaceful activism. It added: "We will always be non-violent and peaceful." Also today in Egypt, there were attacks on Christian targets in several areas, setting fire to churches, homes and businesses. According to security sources and state media, the Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros has given his blessing to the military takeover that ousted President Morsi.

Aug 17   As war between Egypt's military and the Muslim Brotherhood continues, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah supports the crackdown on the Brotherhood, claiming that Egypt's interim government has the right to restore order, fight terrorism and violence and to protect properties. Saudi Arabia is "backed fully" by Bahrain. According to Al Arabiya, Jordan praises King Abdullah's support for the Egyptian government. And Kuwait supports the crackdown.

Aug 19  Following hundreds of deaths among Morsi supporters, Egypt's military leader, al-Sisi, speaks of his (the state's) responsibility in suppressing violence, and he says to Morsi supporters that in Egypt "there is room for everyone." He urges them to help "rebuild the democratic path" and "integrate in the political process." Al-Sisi's forces are thought to have been more than a little reckless in targeting Morsi supporters resorting to violence, and the violence against government forces goes on. Today, policemen were ambushed and killed in the Sinai. Saudi Arabia stands by its support for Egypt's government, saying it will make up for any loss of assistance from the United States. And Israel's former prime minister, Ehud Barak, tells journalist Fareed Zakaria: "...Sisi and the liberals, ElBaradei and others, they deserve the support of the free world. To whom else can they turn?"

Aug 20  From Cairo, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers told the NewsHour yesterday that the Egyptian government and population is bitter about news coverage by the international press corps. She said, "I can tell you that I was at an event a couple days ago. And a police officer yelled at the men around me that I was an American and therefore should be beaten. And the men began to manhandle me in an effort to suggest that I was somehow part of the problem. And it's been, I dare say, a systematic campaign going on by this government because there's so much anger that the international community has suggested that what they're doing is anything short of defending the state." From others than Nancy Youssef come reports that those supporting the former president Morsi are also angry with the US, while in the US the common view is that what is happening there is for the Egyptians to solve. Today, the Huffington Post describes a new poll indicating that a majority of Americans support cutting aid to Egypt, at least until "democracy is restored."

Aug 21  Pfc Bradley Manning is punished with a 35-year sentence in prison for leaking secret government documents -- wikileaks. Last week, in near tears, he said he was sorry for the "unintended consequences of [his] actions." Someone comments about knowing that Manning now "loves big brother" -- a view perhaps from the Left side of the political spectrum. A snap poll by Slate Magazine in early August indicates that around 25 percent believe Manning should serve more than twenty years. Those for imprisonment for less than one year (including zero years, presumably) were around 12 percent.

Aug 22  The world responds to a poison gas attack in the Damascus area reported as having killed more than a thousand. The Assad regime denies culpability but to this moment has not allowed UN people to investigate. Russia speaks of the likelihood of opposition forces being responsible. China is standing with Russia. These two prevent a strong statement from the United Nations. Meanwhile, Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, a Sunni and hostile toward the Assad regime he once embraced, complains that a red line has been crossed. And to this moment President Obama is silent -- nothing about the red line he spoke of last year. He also has voter opinion as a concern. But it is moral outrage that is spoken by Britain's foreign secretary, Douglas Haig, and France speaks of using force against the Assad regime if it is proved as having used chemical weapons against it own people.

Aug 23  In a stadium and with a large banner next to him reading "Zimbabwe will never be a colony again," Robert Mugabe is sworn in for a seventh term as president. Fear of being colonized is no longer a useful fear, but the slogan boosts Mugabe's status as a liberating hero to the cheering crowds. The opposition in Zimbabwe, meanwhile, complains that during the election bribery was employed, along with manipulation of voter rolls, that voters were turned away from polling stations and that there were many instances of voters being intimidated.

Aug 24  The scholar Joshua Landis, Director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at Oklahoma University, has spoken against intervention in Syria by the US. On the NewsHour on the 22nd he said, "If America goes in and helps one side conquer the other, things could become -- it's not going to solve the problem." He drew a parallel with the US invasion of Iraq and also asked whether intervention by the British or French to stop Americans from killing each other during the US Civil War would have made America a better place. "I'm not sure," he said, "it would have." A different approach to the Syria tragedy exists among those who don't see Syrians as having the luxury of a certain and comprehensive solution. They want to remove -- the sooner the better -- what they see as the major problem in Syria: the Assad regime. They want to end fighting that is radicalizing and dividing people and to begin the always imperfect business of building a functioning democracy. This is definitely not the view today of a majority of the US public. And President Obama in an interview yesterday on CNN vaguely appeared to be on the same page as Landis. He said that "...the situation in Syria is very difficult and the notion that the US can somehow solve what is a sectarian, complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated."

Aug 25  Germany's budget surplus is recorded as having jumped up to 0.6% of GDP in the first half of 2013. BBC News reports that German firms are "investing more in equipment and are not so hesitant anymore." Taxes and other revenues in Germany are listed by World Factbook as 45.1% of GDP compared to 15.6% for the United States. The US is still running a budget deficit.

Aug 25  Human Rights Watch describes police corruption in Liberia: "no money, no justice."

Aug 26  The death toll from the gas attack is being described as ranging from 500 to more than 1,000. The Assad regime warns that any military action against it would set the Middle East ablaze, that US military intervention would bring chaos and the Middle East would "burn." President Assad describes claims that his regime used chemical weapons as "nonsense" and an "insult to common sense." In comments to the Russian newspaper Izvestia he describes the US as facing failure if it attacks Syria, failure he says "just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to our days." Iran warns the US of "severe consequences" if it attacks Syria. Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov expresses his concern over talk about an attack. He says, "If anybody thinks that bombing and destroying the Syrian military infrastructure and leaving the battlefield for the opponents of the regime to win would end everything, that is an illusion."

Aug 27  More talk before the missiles fly. Syria's foreign minister says, "We will defend ourselves with the means at our disposal," and he says that his country has defenses that would "surprise" the world. Italy's foreign minister announces that her country will not be a part of any coalition that attacks Syria. She describes the chemical attack in Syria a war crime but says Italy's government will not support military action without Security Council authorization -- certain not to happen. Britain's parliament will discuss how to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria on the 29th. BBC News, meanwhile, reports that Madonna is the world's top-earning celebrity for the past year, earning $125 million, more than Oprah Winfrey. Glenn Beck earned $90 million and Lady Gaga $80 million.

Aug 28  President Obama argues that for the treaty that outlaws use of chemical weapons to have meaning there has to be a body of nations willing to do something when the treaty is violated. The treaty is an international arms control agreement that went into effect on 29 April 1997 and was signed by nations except North Korea and Syria, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan. Today, arguing against the treaty having meaning is Lakhdar Brahimi, envoy for a recent vain UN attempt to talk Bashar al-Assad into ending his war against his opponents in Syria. Brahimi proclaims that any military intervention in Syria would need UN approval. This is Russia's postion, and Russia would no doubt veto any such approval. Also against Obama's argument are those hostile to the spirit of internationalism with which the UN was created -- for fighting fascist aggressions. In opposing military action in response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons, columnist George Will on ABC's This Week three days ago equated believing in the international community with believing in the tooth fairy.

Aug 29  From Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government says that "The Syrian regime must not hope to be able to continue this warfare that violates international law." In the US, arguing against military action on the NewsHour is the University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer. He says, "There is no compelling moral case for intervening in Syria. And, very importantly, it's not clear that using military force is going to do any good... You don't have nations of the world coming together... The United States has no vested interest in what is going on in Syria. This is not a strategically important country... it appears that about 1,000 people were killed by chemical weapons. But I would estimate that roughly 40,000 people have been killed by conventional weapons."

Aug 30  Yesterday, Britain's parliament voted against their country supporting Obama's call for a military strike to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. Parliament voted against the Iraq war despite Prime Minister Cameron's energetic insistence that "this isn't Iraq." And there were those in parliament who wanted absolute certainty as to who was responsible for using the chemical weapons. Meanwhile, in Britain and the US, some who bother to interest themselves in foreign policy, war and peace are asking what would happen following Obama's attack against the Assad regime. Obama's position: if the Assad regime again uses chemical weapons there would be another attack. The purpose of the attack is to deter use of chemical weapons. Today, France's government gives its commitment to take action alongside the United States. But many in the US and elsewhere are sticking with their view of everything as uncertain and Obama as lacking purpose. (A BBC News video with opinions of Syrians who favor military action:

Aug 31  The United States government claims that the chemical weapons attack killed 1,429 people, including 426 children. The Obama administration has evidence of Syrian military chemical weapons personnel as operating in the area in the three days before the attack. The US has satellite evidence that shows rockets launched from government-held areas 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack. The US is aware of communications that were intercepted involving a senior Damascus official who "confirmed chemical weapons were used." Because of Iraq, some people consider US intelligence useless, as if the US is functioning in foreign policy dumb and blind. Today, President Putin seems to agree. He says it would be "utter nonsense" for the Assad regime to have used chemical weapons when it was winning its war, and he urges the US not to attack Syria and to present its evidence to the United Nations. Also on the side of more talk are many in the United States, from conservative Republicans to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, who want what-to-do debated in Congress.


September 2013



Sep 1   Yesterday, President Obama spoke of the urgent necessity of deterring the Assad regime from using chemical weapons. In mid-speech he said he was passing approval to do so to Congress, which convenes on
September 9. In Syria a pro-Assad newspaper,Al-Thawra, describes this as stemming from Obama's "sense of implicit defeat and the disappearance of his allies" and "the start of the historic American retreat." By September 9, the sense of urgency that Obama was appealing to probably will have dissipated. There will be more talk. For many, Obama's overall strategy doesn't make sense. Anti-war and anti-Obama sentiments and a call for peace talks are likely to prevail. The Assad regime will survive a limited hit and may be strengthened by it. The US will continue to leave the "Middle East madness" to play out, as various European countries refuse involvement in any intervention not sanctioned by the UN, in effect leaving President Assad encouraged in his pursuit of state terrorism supported by Russia's veto in the UN and Russian and Iranian aid. Maybe.

Sep 2  In Vietnam, a law goes into effect that restricts internet, twitter and facebook users (about a third of the country or more) from communicating anything but personal information. Discussing anything political or sociological is forbidden. Vietnam allows only one political party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the prohibition includes, of course, anything critical of the government or that "harms national security." Whether the new law will dampen international sales of Nike products (made in Vietnam) or otherwise reduce Vietnam's economy is not known.

Sep 3   Meltdown of the cooling system for the Fukushima nuclear reactor damaged in the tsunami of March 2011 has been causing leaks of radioactive water at an alarming rate - water used for cooling the reactor. Japan's government is taking over damage control from the private company that runs the plant and investing what is said will be an estimated 47 billion yea (473 million dollars) in a scheme to freeze the ground around the hot reactor, one hundred feet deep, with refrigeration tubing.

Sep 3  Diana Nyad, 64, US author, journalist, record-holding long distance swimmer and high-ranking squash player, displays enormous fortitude and physical strength by a 53-hour 103-mile swim in shark and jelly-fish infested water from Cuba to Florida. It was her fifth attempt.

Sep 4   Al Jazeera reports that India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are not supporting a potential US military strike in Syria. And little support exists elsewhere in the world. On television someone asks (paraphrased): If matters in Syria are so horrendous as to require military action, where are Obama's allies among world leaders? Someone interested in history points to Europe's supine attitude toward Barbary piracy, including kidnapping for ransom and women into harems, and President Jefferson' war against the pirates, sending US Marines to the shores of Tripoli. This someone (me) also points to isolationism and self-centeredness in the 1930s, the tolerance of Mussolini's slaughter of Bedouins in Libya, the widespread tolerance of fascism in general, Japan's invasion and bombings in China, the cheers for peace at the end of the Munich conference , and he asks how the sentiments of broad segments of the world's population can be used confidently as a measure of morality and wisdom in foreign policy.

Sep 5  Egypt continues its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. State prosecutors have announced that ousted President Morsi will be tried for inciting murder and violence. Mohammad Badie, Supreme Guide for the Brotherhood, has also been arrested. Four television stations that authorities see as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood have been ordered to stop broadcasting. One of them is operated by the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, which states that Egyptian authorities are jamming its satellite signals. Yesterday a military court in Egypt gave prison sentences to forty-nine people after having convicted them of shooting at soldiers during demonstrations in the port city of Suez last month. Today, Egypt's interior minister survived an assassination attempt by an explosion from a parked car set of by remote control as his motorcade passed by. The minister warns of a new wave of terrorism.

Sep 6  After a military coup in March 2012, advances by an Islamist army and military intervention by France, Mali returns to democracy. A former prime minister, Ibrahim Boubacer Keita, 65, has been elected president and took office on September 4. He was the army's preferred candidate. He promised to prioritize ability rather than political considerations when appointing ministers, and yesterday he appointed a technocrat banking official, Oumar Tatam Ly, as Prime Minister. Claims by Islamists that France was entering a quagmire in Mali proved to be no more than bombast.

Sep 7  In Australia, a national election gives victory to the conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, who will be the country's third prime minister in three months. Australia is suffering a decline in demand and price of the resources it mines and sells abroad, and during the elections the economy was an issue. Voters responded with that old presumption that maybe a new government would do better. And there was discussion about squabbles within the Labor Party, addressed by Abbott with his proclamation that his party was stable. Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke blamed internal divisions for Labor's defeat. Abbott also had what has been described as "the strident support" of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers. Abbott has pledged to repeal mining and carbon taxes that were introduced by Labor, and he has promised budget cuts, including reducing the budget for foreign aid.

Sep 8  Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have published a report concluding that man-made climate change was a factor in extreme weather events around the world for the year 2012.

Sep 9  On CNN yesterday, Fareed Zakaria described Sweden's government as pragmatic and the Swedish people as adaptable. Sweden doesn't have the inheritance taxes disliked by US conservatives. It has "very free markets, freer and less regulated than the United States in many sectors." Swedish companies pay lower tax rates than US companies. It's in great shape regarding debt. Sweden is "near the top of most rankings on quality of life and competitiveness." And according to Zakaria, "Slowly but surely, Scandinavian countries are moving away from big government to smart government. Now, despite the tax cuts and the recent move to the right, Scandinavian states are still big spenders, but increasingly efficient and effective spenders."

Sep 10  On Sunday the 8th, in an interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News, Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, appeared relaxed, more so than Rose, and at one point laughed. The subject was chemical weapons and President Obama's plan for a military strike. Assad claimed that the US had no evidence of his regime having used chemical weapons. He laid down the fear card, saying if the US attacks it should "expect repercussions." He claimed that al-Qaeda is "definitely the majority" of those fighting his regime. Rose described al-Qaeda as 15 or 20 percent. Assad spoke of the secular nature of his regime as opposed to al-Qaeda. He asked how the majority of the country could be against him when he has survived more than two years of opposition from the United States and other countries including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He claimed that he was strong militarily because of public support. "I am not superman," he said. "When the Western countries stop supporting those terrorists ...you will have no problem in Syria." Rose mentioned that some describe him, Assad, as a butcher, and Assad replied that he was like a doctor that had to amputate to save life. When you have terrorism, he said, you have a war. When you have a war, he added, you always have innocent victims. On ending the war, Assad spoke of negotiations with all who lay down their weapons first. He spoke of a national dialogue, an interim government and elections.

Sep 12  On September 10, President Obama spoke to the US public and urged support for his call for what Secretary of State John Kerry called "an unbelievably small" military strike against the Assad regime regarding its use of chemical weapons. Toward the end of the fifteen minute speech he announced he was postponing asking Congress to vote to authorize his military strike. He said he wanted to pursue a Russian proposal that involved Syria giving up its chemical weapons. Amid all this It appears that Congress was going to reject the proposed military strike in line with the public's overwhelming opposition to it. Meanwhile, today BBC News describes US officials as saying a plan to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal will be 'doable but difficult,' and the war with conventional weapons continues, while the Assad regime appears to be gaining.

Sep 13  Medical science reverses tissue growth. It is expected to make possible a restart of growth for heart and other organ repairs.

Sep 13  The Dutch government formally apologizes to Indonesians for excesses, including summary executions, when fighting to win back its colonial power against independence forces after having been dislodged by the Japanese. The independence struggle against the Dutch occurred between 1945 and 1949. The British and Australians supported colonialism and the Dutch.

Sep 13  In India, anti-rape demonstrators cheer the death sentence for the four who gang raped a young woman and threw her off a bus, killing her. The novelist Nilanjana Roy says there is still a rape culture in India fuelled by inequality for women.

 
Erna Solberg
Erna Solberg



Sep 14  Elections in Norway early this week allow the Conservative Party's "Iron Erna" Solberg to become Norway's next prime minister. The Left has been in power since the end of World World II - mainly the Labour Party. It remains the largest party, with 55 seats in Parliament, down from 65. The Conservative Party now has 48 seats, up from 30, and will rule in a coalition with another right-of-center party, the anti-immigration Progress Party, also led by a woman, which has 29 seats. The Green Party won one seat. The Socialist Left Party barely won the 4% needed to be represented in parliament. The Communist Party, anarchist Society Party, People's Power Party, Marxist Red Party, and far-right Christian Unity Party gained nothing. The Labour Party leaves Norway financially sound  with surpluses and more per-capita wealth than the United States. Issues that won for the Conservative Party have been described as better care for the elderly, improved hospitals and better schools. Solberg admires Germany's Prime Minister Angela Merkel, having described her as a role model. Like Merkel, Solberg is expected to conserve her country's high-taxes and welfare-state positions compared to the US. There might be a small reduction in taxes, a little more emphasis on private enterprise, less regulation of small businesses and some tinkering with government-run bureaucracies. She will take office on October 14.

Sep 15  The Assad regime hails the Russia-US chemical weapons agreement. "It's a victory for Syria achieved thanks to our Russian friends," says a regime spokesperson. China, France, Britain, the UN and the Arab League express satisfaction. Syria is expected to start surrendering its arsenal of chemical weapons in mid-October. "Syria is committing itself to whatever comes from the UN," says another regime spokesperson. Not happy is the head of the Free Syrian Army, General Idriss, described by the Arab News as livid. He asks, "Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept [the agreement] just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?" Turkey's foreign minister also was negative. At his press conference he accused Assad of playing for time while continuing to commit atrocities. In the US some are saying Obama has won without firing a shot, by merely threatening to do so. Some others discount this and continue their opposition to any military strike against the Assad regime. Some, like Senator McCain, call for getting arms quickly to the Free Syrian Army and complain about our slowness in doing this. McCain says that Syria is not a nation "that will embrace these foreign fighters." Some others put al Qaeda at the top of their list of reasons for not supporting the overthrow of Assad.

Sep 16  No such thing as a soft war - so said Bashar al-Assad in his interview with Charlie Rose, rebroadcast in part last night on Sixty Minutes. Assad was defending himself against the accusation of being a "butcher," as Senator McCain calls him. Assad didn't qualify his comment with the observation that there are choices in warfare. He was making his excuse for attacking neighborhoods and communities that were opposed to him, saying he has been warring against terrorists and saying nothing about the right of people to defend themselves against state terrorism.

Sep 16  According to Sixty Minutes (broadcast yesterday and available online) the source of President Obama's lack of support for the Free Syrian Army is Mike Morell, who as a CIA man briefed Obama every day in the Oval Office. It appears that Morell, who recently retired, was going beyond presenting Obama with facts: he was analyzing. In other words, he was philosophizing about government and revolution, judging how best Syria can arrive at a good place for US security. The CIA has not always done well going beyond intelligence gathering (what's happening factually) into political options. Take Iran in the early fifties for example. And, the CIA has admitted that its take on Vietnam was disastrously shallow.

Sep 17 In its estimates for 2013, the CIA World Factbook still has Japan as a leader in life expectancy, at 84.46 years, with much of the world gaining longer lives at a rate of around one to two months per year. The United States is listed 51st, at 78.62 years, up in one year from 78.49, a gain of 0.13. (One month equals 0.83.) Afghanistan is listed as having gained 4.7 months, to 50.11 years. Namibia is on record as gaining more than six years, to 52.03, which can't be explained here. Zimbabwe's figure is up from 51.82 to 53.86, an advance of two years, reflecting perhaps the recent improvement in its economy. In the past year Russia has gained a little more than three years, from 66.46 to 69.85. China remains average: a gain of one month. Figures for Chad, Zambia and Libya show a decline. All these are statistical averages of life expectancy at birth. The figures would be higher, of course, if life expectancy averages were calculated from age fifty.

Sep 18  Tony Abbott begins his first day as prime minister in Australia, and he puts into force his policy on migrants in boats. The navy is to tow the boats back to Indonesia without delay. Prime Minister Abbott describes his policy as sending "a message to the people-smugglers that from today their business model is coming to an end."

Sep 19  A little more than a week ago Sixty Minutes rebroadcast a piece titled "Are robots hurting job growth?" On the internet one can find a person or two arguing that since the beginning of the industrial revolution machines have been creating more jobs and wealth for common people, but they don't address the possibility of increased automation unable to continue this job creation in a free-enterprise environment forever. And there are others who wonder about robotic machines creating more wealth for the owners of these machines and less wealth for displaced workers, disrupting the balance needed for a well functioning economy. They see a need for wealth redistribution to accompany the automation. Wealth distribution occurs through taxation, and the US is taxing less than the successful and highly industrialized economies of Germany and Norway - both of whom have less unemployment than the US (3.3% for Norway, 5.3 for Germany). They point out that with higher taxes we could have more jobs in public safety, more teachers and other public service jobs and more infrastructure work. They claim that a better distribution of wealth would increase the spending by consumers and government needed to advance the economy for everybody. But they expect tax and anti-distribution ideologies in Congress to keep that institution lagging behind automation.

Sep 20  "Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," proclaims Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, speaking for the Assad regime to Britain's Guardian newspaper. He says that President al-Assad's government will call for a cease-fire at the Geneva conference - the stalled conference proposed by Russia and the US. Jamil adds that Syria will call for "an end to external intervention ... and the launching of a peaceful political process."

Sep 22  The Washington Post writes: "The stream of US weapons heading to moderate rebel groups in Syria is being offset by a fresh torrent of cash for Islamist extremists." Funding for the Islamists is said to be from numerous small donors, obviously people who don't see the extremists as hurting the struggle against Assad - people who apparently don't see politics as an essential part of any social movement and who don't recognize the consistent political failures of actions by violent Islamic extremists.

Sep 23  Kenya's military has freed most hostages at the luxurious mall in Nairobi, attacked two days ago by members of Al-Shabab. The civilian death toll is described as 68 with 175 injured. The purpose of the attack is to make Kenya pay for sending troops to Somalia as a part of the Africa Union's "peacekeeping" there. No broad political gains ( no winning friends and influencing people) is apparent.

Sep 23  Angela Merkel, called mutti (mommy) by her supporters, will have a third term in a nation that once had macho leaders like Bismarck, the Kaiser and Hindenburg and just seventy years ago saw the place for women as Kinder, Küche und Kirche (children, kitchen and church). Merkel is actually a tough political operator and with a brain that allowed her to acquire a doctorate in quantum chemistry and to become good at speaking Russian, English and French. Merkel's Christian Democrats won 42% of the vote. The Social Democrats won about 26%. Merkel's coalition partner, the market friendly Free Democrats, fell below the 5% needed for one seat in parliament. The anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland party is in this category with only 4.7%. The Left Party won 8.6% and the Green Party won 8.4%. Germany is expected to continue its peace-loving international positions, and a coalition between the Social Democrats, the Left (former communist) Party and the Green Party is not likely.

Sep 24  As Kenyan soldiers sweep the Westgate mall in Nairobi looking for holdout terrorists, journalists are addressing the question, who are Al-Shabaab? (short for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen). They are described as forming in 2006 and operating in Mogadishu for six months, then an offshoot resorting to guerrilla warfare. They were making war on the African Union peace keeping force, which succeeded in driving them from Mogadishu in 2012. Al Shabaab is known for punishing women and homosexuals by stoning, and they are said to have affiliated with Al Qaeda in 2012.

Sep 25
  Columnist Ruth Marcus compares the recent big election campaign in Germany with the long and expensive US presidential campaign of 2012. Germany's campaign lasted six weeks, and Merkel spent $27 million compared to Obama having spent $700 million.

Sep 25  Buying good bread in the US continues to be a tough search. Most bread has sugar, some so much that the bread tastes like cake. A lot of the bread is air. And bread in the US has potassium bromate, unless the label boasts that it does not. Potassium bromate has been banned in food products in the EU, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil, South Korea, Peru and other countries. In the US, lobbyists succeeded in getting Congress to allow its use and without labeling. According to Wikipedia,"under the right conditions [potassium bromate] will be completely used up in the baking bread."

Sep 26  According to BBC News, "Over the past few centuries, animals in Europe have not fared well. Hunting, habitat loss, and pollution have sent animals into decline." But a recent report commissioned by the conservation group Rewilding Europe describes a comeback for wildlife as a result of legal "protections, curbs on hunting and people moving away from rural areas and into cities." Another article about animals in Europe, dated Sep 23, by Kevin Mathews, headlines: "Humans banned from using bridges for animals in Germany." He writes: "Germany is building some new bridges, but don't even think about traveling over them. These cool passageways are designated for animals only, a method of both protecting and enhancing the lives of creatures whose territories have been interrupted."

Sep 27  The secession of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the Republic of Sudan of two-thirds of its crude oil output, reducing revenues and dollars with which to import food. Since the 23rd, people in Sudan have been protesting fuel subsidy cuts. Rights groups complain that police have killed at least 50 protesters, aiming their weapons at heads and chests. Sudan ranks high in percentage of the population emigrating. It ranks 65th in population growth, more than double the rate of the United States. It's one of the poorest of countries, with an authoritarian elite, a trade imbalance and corruption ranked among the highest in the world. Its president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Court on seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Sep 28  Some have described Iran's President Rouhani as trying to dupe the West with a charm campaign. They see Iran as an enemy. Israeli Prime MInister Netanyahu speaks of "fraud" and a possible trap. In Iran, meanwhile, among those greeting Rouhani's return from the UN is a small crowd that chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," and someone from the crowd throws a shoe that misses Rouhani's car. An article in the New Yorker includes a claim that Rouhani "will have to contend with the hard-liners ... who for more than a decade have defined their foreign policy as a covert war on the US and Israel."

Sep 28  Egypt's high court has issued a preliminary injunction that outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood activities and freezes its assets. The case was brought to the court by the socialist Tagammu Party, which accuses the Brotherhood of terrorism and exploiting religion for political gain. The Tagammu Party, according to Wikipedia, "is considered to be a defender of the principles of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952."

Sep 29  The US Senate, dominated by Democrats, has passed a bill to give the federal government funds to keep it running. The Republican dominated House of Representatives has attached an anti-Obamacare amendment to the bill. Senate leader Harry Reid promises rejection of the House's version of the bill, and President Obama says he would veto such a bill. Congress must pass a funding bill by the end of tomorrow if the US is to avoid a government shutdown in two days.

Sep 30  In the Washington Post on the 25th, opinion writer Matt Miller had an article on the US healthcare debate appearing absurd to Canadians, including conservatives. He wrote of Canada's single-payer system known for its quality and cost-effectiveness, and he described it as providing healthcare at a much lower cost per person than the United States. He wrote of a "tough-minded" Toronto businessman, David Beatty, wondering why big US companies "want to be in the business of providing health care anyway." Turning from Miller's opinion piece to today, we in the US have Republicans still fighting against Obamacare (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) three years after Obamacare became law. Also, last November Obama was re-elected with Obamacare as a central issue. After that, Republicans tried and failed forty times to pass anti-Obamacare legislation. Now they are trying again by linking Obamacare to a government funding bill. Matt Miller ended his opinion piece referring to the Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, who has been leading the charge for the Republicans and spoke on the Senate floor for 21 hours straight against Obamacare. Miller opined: "Maybe when US business leaders muster the common sense of their Canadian counterparts, they'll deliver the message the Ted Cruzes of the world need to hear: sit down and shut up."

October 2013

 
Oct 1   In the US, the Republican Party's ploy against President Obama's healthcare shuts down the federal government, partially. Some federal employees will work without pay. Parks, monuments and museums close. But junk mail is still delivered, and talk continues, with Democrats blaming Republicans and Republicans agreeing that it's all the fault of the other party. A handful of dreamers wish the US had a parliamentary system with governments run by a single party or coalition. As we know, the political system created by America's Founding Fathers was built for division and squabbling in order to weaken government.

Oct 2  A Washington ABC News poll regarding disapproval of handling negotiations over the federal budget has 50% disapproval for President Obama, 56% disapproval for congressional Democrats and 63% disapproval for congressional Republicans. A Gallop poll has Obama climbing one percent in his approval rating during September 28-30, to 45%.

Oct 2  In Australia, young male power-group camaraderie prevails in the form of many biker clubs. BBC News headlines: "Eight members of rival Australian motorbike gangs have been charged in Melbourne over a spate of shootings." BBC News photos show the bikers riding in packs. (I know the pleasure.) The BBC adds: "Not all of Australia's motorcycle groups are violent."

Oct 2  In Greece, the fascist impulse expresses itself in the Golden Dawn political movement. Today a pack of tough-looking Golden Dawn motorcyclists storm through Athens, celebrating the release of three fellow members from police custody. Twenty-three party members were detained following the September 18 murder of Pavlos Fyssas, a left-wing musician and activist. Golden Dawn has risen in popularity with economic hard times in Greece (not unlike the National Socialist (Nazi) Party in Germany in the early 1930s. It claims to have local organizations in 32 Greek cities, as well as in Cyprus. According to Wikipedia, "Members have expressed admiration of the former dictator Ioannis Metaxas, who ruled Greece from 1936 until 1941. They have also made use of Nazi symbolism, and have praised figures of Nazi Germany... According to academic sources, the group is racist and xenophobic, while the party's leader has openly identified it as nationalist and racist."

Oct 3  From Warsaw, Anne Applebaum, conservative by European standards, writes a column for the Washington Post about countries trying to become democracies and of people asking her questions. She writes of political institutions and of Obamacare having become law in the United States, confirmed by the US Supreme Court. One branch of government, she writes, is not now legally or morally empowered to change that law by holding other parts of the government hostage. She describes Republicans as damaging "the credibility of the United States abroad."

Oct 3  Britain's Prime Minister Cameron says: "Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits. It's time for bold action here." Cameron is also known for wanting to reform the UK's National Health Service but, like Margaret Thatcher, not wanting to abolish it.

Oct 4  In the United States, many are blaming Congress for the partial government shutdown. Some conservatives blame President Obama. If voters are being blamed, it's those who voted for the other political party. No one is about to blame his own mentality, although in our democracy mentality is the basic problem, with each side viewing the other side as shallow and misguided. The nation, pundits say, is polarized - although in reality opinion is slightly to the left of conservatives. (Obama received 51.1% of the vote to Romney's 47.2%.) Some conservatives, meanwhile, are having ideological fun with what is being described as the layoff of non-essential government employees. In Ohio, on October 1st, talkshow host Doc Thompson, on Blaze Radio, was laughing with his fellow conservatives. Employers in private enterprise, he said, don't keep non-essential employees around. Non-essential employees, he suggested, are a manifestation of big-government, and big-government is the enemy. Meanwhile, those being described as non-essential government employees are annoyed at what they see as a shallow and misguided interpretation of that label.

Oct 5  The US has conservatives of different kinds. One of them, David Brooks, yesterday on the PBS NewsHour, described the career people working for the US government - people during the shutdown labeled as non-essential. He mentioned David Cameron in Britain having stopped calling government bureaucrats by that name after he got to know them. Brooks said that he often asks Republicans about the "career people" they work with. "And almost universally" said Brooks, "even if a lot of the Republicans are not very fond of big government ... they say the people in the offices are quite impressive."

Oct 7  President Obama's position is clear, and it is being repeated by Democrats: the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) became law through proper legislation and was tested by the Supreme Court, and the way to reform or get rid of Obamacare is also by traditional legislative means; a law should not be changed by attaching it to a funding bill and threatening to shut the government down if that bill doesn't pass. This, according to Obama, is not the way our democracy works. A principle is at stake here, says Obama. In politics methodology is significant. That's what constitutions are about. Obama wants a vote on government funding that doesn't have the Obama proviso attached. The Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner, doesn't accept Obama's argument. He describes Obama as refusing to negotiate and with his Republican collegues he puts blame for the shutdown on Obama.

Oct 8  In Washington DC, a rift intensifies between "take our country back" Tea Party Republicans and moderate Republicans, while public support for Congress diminishes. A WashingtonPost/ABC poll has 70 percent disapproval for the Republicans, up from 63 percent a week ago. Gallop has President Obama rising 2 percent in job approval (to 45 percent) from October 4th to 6th.

Oct 8  General al-Sisi describes Egypt's armed forces as having removed President Morsi from power in order to avoid a "civil war." Yesterday, the military was targeted in several attacks around the country. BBC News wrote that "gunmen shot dead five soldiers who were in a patrol vehicle near the city of Ismailiya" and a " rocket-propelled grenade is reported to have hit a satellite station in a Cairo suburb." Today, hundreds of defiant Morsi supporters gather outside Cairo University and chant "Down with the military government." A 19-year-old find arts student with them said, "We are here standing against the coup." Another student, according to Reuters News, says "Sisi is a hero and there's no one like him." A friend added: "Mursi was a traitor and the Brotherhood are dogs."

Oct 8  Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan calls Syria's President al-Assad a terrorist.

Oct 9  Yesterday, Speaker of the House, John Boehner, gave us his version of political propriety. He said: "...if there's unconditional surrender by Republicans, he [President Obama] will sit down and talk to us. That's not the way our government works."   Meanwhile, Boehner is being described as refusing to consider voting for a "clean continuing resolution" to reopen the government and a "clean bill" to raise the debt limit."   

 
Oct 10  The Copenhagen Post reports that in Denmark atheists "now make up nearly 20 percent of the population" and just three percent "regularly attend church services." Of the remaining 77 percent, some are said to create "their own faith package or practice their faith without any framework." Some are perhaps closet atheists. Nothing was said about agnostics.

Oct 10  Michele Bachmann, Tea Party leader in the US Congress from Minnesota, describes a crisis greater than the partial government shutdown and the debt ceiling crisis. She says we are "living in the End Times ... that we have entered the Last Days." She describes indication of this as President Obama having "waived a ban on arming terrorists in order to allow weapons to go to the Syrian opposition." She adds that "US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including al Qaeda."

Oct 10  The New York Post newspaper ran an article two days ago with the headline "US adults are dumber than the average human being." Late night comics have had fun with it. The Post's story is about a serious study called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Tested were about 166,000 people, ages 16 to 65, in more than 20 countries. The Americans scored somewhere in the middle. Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and Denmark scored better.

Oct 13 This past week, the Obama administration cut aid to Egypt, telling those in power there that the aid would resume when they behaved themselves. The cut frustrated Israeli officials, the aid having been part of a 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Some say the cut will encourage Brotherhood protests. A headline in the pro-government newspaper, Al-Tahrir (named after Tahrir Square where anti-Mubarak demonstrations took place) read: "Let American aid go to hell." Meanwhile Egypt receives billions in aid from Arab allies, and many in the US are writing comments celebrating the cuts, saying sending money to Egypt doesn't make sense. Yesterday in Egypt demonstrations against the army-backed government continued, with one death having occurred.

Oct 13 Two days ago, China's President Xi visited Malaysia and promised to triple his country's trade within four years. A little more than a week ago he spoke to Indonesia's parliament, and he promised Indonesia tens of billions of dollars in investment. At the Asian economic summit in Bali this past week, Xi met with Australia's new prime minister, Tony Abbott, and he promised more trade and more cooperation in technology. President Putin was there. President Obama didn't make it to Bali. He is reported as having been busy with the government shutdown crisis.

Oct 13 In Peru, returning on a twisting mountain road from a religious celebration, 52 die as their bus plunges 650 feet. Such busses are known for being in poor condition, and their drivers are known for being careless but having reassurance from their saints and God.

Oct 14  As people in the US and others worry about the debt-ceiling crisis deadline of October 17, religious minorities and secular writers in Malaysia have the word police to worry about. A court rules that non-Muslims cannot use the word "Allah" to describe God. Muslims have been in the street protesting against this use. BBC News reports that "Christians argue they have used the word, which entered Malay from Arabic, to refer to their God for centuries and that the ruling violates their rights." In 2009, churches and mosques were attacked following a government proclamation that a Catholic newspaper, The Herald, couldn't use "Allah" to describe the Christian God.

Oct 14  According to an article in the New York Times by Gina Kolata, researchers have discovered that cancers wrap themselves in an invisible protective shield, that these shields can be broken with the right drug, and with the immune system is free to attack, "cancers can shrink and stop growing or even disappear in lucky patients with the best responses... It may not matter which type of cancer a person has. What matters is letting the immune system do its job."

Oct 15  As US Senators show good cheer and appear to be inching toward a crisis settlement, Tea Party Republicans, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, are hanging tough. In the Washington Post, conservative columnist Michael Gerson describes the reluctance of Cruz and his supporters to compromise as "romantic posturing," and he describes them as "harboring an apocalyptic diagnosis and utopian solutions." Gerson complains that "The political world is moved by optimistic pragmatists, not by despairing utopians." Meanwhile, "right flank" members of Congress are described as furious over Senate Republicans working with Democrats, producing "a mushy piece of sh*t." One of them, according to the National Review, says "If Speaker Boehner backs this he is in trouble." Boehner's fear of the Tea Party is being described as the reason he won't allow a "clean" bill to be voted on that would fund the government and end the shutdown (now in its 15th day). Those who favor such a vote claim that a minority of Republicans and the House Democrats would allow its passage.

Oct 17  Yesterday, US Senators passed an agreement that ends the partial government shutdown and delays the debt ceiling issue to early 2014. Late last night members of the House of Representatives agreed to the Senate's move. All House Democrats and 87 Republicans voted in favor; zero Democrats and 144 Republicans voted no. Senator Ted Cruz, who supported the attempt to attach funding of the government to Obamacare, complained that "Unfortunately, once again, it appears that the Washington establishment is refusing to listen to the American people." In the House, Speaker Boehner addressed those Republicans who supported the maneuver against Obamacare, saying, "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." Pew Research today claims that among Tea Party political people, support for Ted Cruz soars but with the public the Tea Party's "image turns more negative."

Oct 22  The human rights organization Amnesty International has reviewed nine drone strikes in North Waziristan, Pakistan. The organization condemns these strikes as unlawful killings. A week ago the UN report claimed that drone attacks killed 400 people in Pakistan.

Oct 22  Denmark's tax minister, Holger Nielson, complains about his fellow countrymen using tax havens, and he describes the practice as immoral. In the Copenhagen Post, Denmark is reported as having "no shortage of tax advisors openly willing to help people squirrel their money away."

Oct 24  Maersk, a huge conglomerate based in Denmark and "the world's largest shipping operator" according to the Copenhagen Post, announces that it will streamline its operations by selling holdings not directly concerned with shipping or oil drilling, and that it is looking for buyers of Dansk Supermarket, which operates the supermarket chains Føtex, Netto, and Bilka and the department store Salling.

Oct 26  Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spoke to influential Iowa Republicans and, in the words of the Huffington Post, said that "the partial government shutdown he help[ed] precipitate this month was a success despite a compromise that reopened the government and ultimately funded the health care law he has made his name fighting." The reason it was a success, said Cruz, was that it got people talking.

Oct 26  The freedom and sexual morality issue that arose when driving first became common in the US, in the early twentieth century, is alive today in Saudi Arabia. In the US it was focused on young people, male and female. In Saudi Arabia the issue of morality and freedom with driving remains focused on women, who are still prohibited from driving cars. Today, however, BBC News reports that a "handful of women defy a ban on female driving in Saudi Arabia in protest, despite stern official warnings that they will face punishment."

Oct 28  In various parts of Saudi Arabia, twelve women are "detained" for driving. Yesterday in Mecca security patrols arrested three women in their 40s. Each was accompanied by a younger brother less than 15 years of age. In Jeddah, a 50-year-old divorced Saudi woman was arrested who had a passport from another country.February 2013

 

November 2013

 
Nov 1 Germany becomes the first European country to allow parents to register babies with characteristics of both sexes as neither male nor female. Parents can now leave the gender question blank on birth certificates. Germany's move is described by BBC News as "removing pressure on parents to make quick decisions on sex assignment surgery for newborns." As many as one in two thousand people are born with characteristics of both sexes

Nov 4 According to Pew Research, 16 percent of US adults use Twitter, 84 percent do not, and 8 percent use it as their news source.

Nov 5 In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the rebellion that began in April 2012 ends with a victory by government forces, with help from UN forces. The rebels are Tutsi, an ethnic minority in DR Congo said to have close ties with the Tutsi of neighboring Rwanda. They started their rebellion claiming they were unhappy with the pay and conditions in the Congolese army, but others claim that the mutiny began when the government came under pressure to arrest and turn over their leader, Bosco Ntaganda, to the International Court Court (ICC). In the face of military defeat, rebel leadership announces they are adopting a "purely political means" to achieve their goals, and they urge their fighters to disarm and demobilise.

Nov 6 In Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) - the world's largest producer of cocoa - a court has sentenced fifteen former top officials known as "cocoa barons" to 20 years each in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the cocoa and coffee industry during the rule of former President Laurent Gbagbo.

Nov 6  Voters in Houston Texas reject a referendum that would have authorized up to $217 million in bonds to turn the Houston Astrodome into a giant convention and event center. The great Astrodome is now likely headed for demolition.The Astrodome opened in 1965. Newer stadiums have retractable domes," and since Houston opened one such stadium in 2002 the Astrodome hasn't turned a profit.

Nov 8  UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) suspends voting rights for the US and Israel because neither country has paid its dues to the UN organization. That has been their protest against UNESCO having given membership to the "State of Palestine" in October 2011.

Nov 9  The US Navy christens a $15.5 billion aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, said to be the most technologically advanced ship ever built.

Nov 12  Norway opens Africa's largest solar energy plant in Kalkbult, South Africa.

Nov 12  In Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, police and garment workers clash when hundreds of workers marched towards the prime minister's home. They demand better pay and working conditions. One of the demonstrators, a woman, is shot dead. BBC News reports that the protesting workers are from a factory that makes "clothes for Gap, H&M and other international brands." BBC News adds that "Strikes and violent demonstrations at garment factories in Cambodia have quadrupled over the past year."

Nov 12  US stock exchanges announce a plan to improve technical functioning of their markets, a response to a computer software bug that in August caused high-profile glitches and halted trading on the Nasdaq exchange.

Nov 13  With most Obamacare provisions scheduled to begin in 2014, internet access in signing up for Obamacare has been reported as faulty and has been elevated by Congressional Republicans into a scandal. Also publicized is Obamacare forcing people to pay more for health insurance than they did for their previous plan. They are complaining that they were supposed to be able to keep their previous plan if they wished. These were plans that were relatively inexpensive because, according to Obamacare, they were substandard. Obamacare wants the holders of these plans to pay for plans that cover more, this so they will subsidize the insurance of those who have not been able to afford healthcare insurance or are taking money from the healthcare sysem through illness. A Washington Post and ABC News poll indicates that 39 percent of voters are now likely to vote against a candidate who supports Obamacare, against 23 percent who say they would be likely to support such a candidate. Democrats are showing nervousness about next years congressional elections.

Nov 13 A four-day meeting of China's top Communist Party members discusses reforms for the next decade. The reforms include a bigger role in the economy for the free market. A CNN Money article describes State-owned enterprises in China as having "long enjoyed preferential treatment in key industries including finance, oil and infrastructure... but some of the state-backed businesses are now bloated, inefficient and heavy with debt." Included in the reforms that are announced is farmers having more rights over their land.

 
Nov 15 In China another reform in announced. (See above.) China's government is to relax its family planning policy of restricting most couples to having only a single child. Previously, rural families were allowed a second child if the first child was a girl or was disabled, and ethnic minorities were exempt. The new policy adds that a family is permitted two children if one parent is an only child. A Pew Research Center report in 2008 described 76 percent of China's population as supporting this policy.

Nov 15 Burma releases 69 more political prisoners, creating optimism that its persecution of peaceful activists is drawing to a close.

Nov 18 This years Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) ranks Denmark as doing the most to combat climate change. Denmark is ranked 4th, with no country considered as deserving a ranking in the top three. Sweden is ranked 5th, Portugal 6th, Switzerland 7th and Germany 8th. The US is ranked 43rd but ahead of Japan, 47th, and China, 54th. The Index is created in Germany and describes itself as "an instrument designed to enhance transparency in international climate politics."

Nov 18  Libya’s government sends its military into the capital, Tripoli, to drive out militiamen. The troops are welcomed by people in the city angry about the numerous armed groups rampaging in their city. Similar anger exists elsewhere in the country. The militias are reported as sometimes fighting each other - leftover from the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011. Some of the militias are described as nothing more than criminal gangs similar to those that arose in Somalia. The United States announces an agreement to help Libya by training as many as 8,000 soldiers.

Nov 22  As government forces In Syria continue to make gains, seven separate groups fighting the Assad regime announce their "gradual merger" into an Islamic Front. The Front, they say, will be an "independent political, military and social formation" and will create an Islamic state.

Nov 23  Egypt's government expels ambassador from Turkey after Turkey's prime minister, Erdogen, says Egypt should free ousted President Morsi. Erdogen's remarks are described by Egypt as provocative. Morsi is in prison waiting trial for inciting murder and violence.

Nov 24  In Geneva, an interim agreement between Iran and six nations - the US, UK, Russia, China, France, Germany - is established. Iran is to receive a reduction in sanctions while sanctions against its oil and banking sectors stay fully in place. Iranians in general appear to support the settlement while opponents of talks with "satanic America" are subdued. The pundit Fareed Zakaria of CNN speaks in favor of talks and against the effectiveness of sanctions, pointing out that when the Bush administration rejected Iran's offer to talk in 2003 Iran had 164 centrifuges and today it has 19,000 - growth that occurred while sanctions against Iran were in place. The Obama administration is hoping that the negotiations put an and to Iran's nuclear military capability.

Nov 27  In Thailand, massive protests enter a fourth day, against the government of Thailand's first prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. She is accused of being controlled by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in exile. The brother was ousted from power in a 2006 military coup. Affluent urbanites disliked his reforms and higher taxes. The protests are being led by former opposition Democrat Party leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who lost to Ms Shinawatra (Thailand's first woman prime minister) in 2012. The protesters have been described as wanting a government closer to an absolutistic monarchy.

Nov 28 The US public supports the Geneva agreement 44 percent to 22 percent according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey. If the agreement fails, 49 percent want an increase in sanctions against Iran, 31 percent want further diplomacy, and 20 percent want military action.

Nov 28  In Thailand's parliament, a delighted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, according to Reuters News, "easily" wins against a no-confidence move against her government. Protests continue in the street but have diminished at least a little. The passionate protesters are shouting "Kill the Thaksin regime."

Nov 29  In Thailand, protests against Yingluck Shinawatra's government continue, demonstrating a lack of respect for democracy and favor for street action over politics by elections - common these days. Shinawatra announces she will not use force against protesters occupying government ministries. She speaks of protecting democracy and suggests she will call for new parliamentary elections but that elections need more calm than now exists.

Nov 29  Conflict between Putin's Russia and the European Union continues. Under pressure from Russia, according to BBC News Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has abruptly frozen plans to sign the trade and reform deal with the EU. The EU is upset. Meanwhile Ukraine is divided between the Roman Catholic west and the Eastern Orthodox east, the former more inclined to the EU, the latter to Russia. Russia is reported as building a trading bloc, and Ukraine buys its oil from Russia. Ukraine's prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, remains in prison and on the fourth day of a hunger strike in solidarity with the protesters. The EU is looking to shared values, including human rights, the rule of law and the pace of democratic reform by countries that join it. President Viktor Yankovych has told the EU not to further involve itself in the Yulia Tymoshenko affair.

Nov 29  According to the Times of Israel, Israeli officials have denounced President Obama "for presiding over failed negotiations with Iran." The officials add that "sanctions pressure on Tehran is collapsing and the Islamic Republic has been granted the right to enrich uranium. The entire wall of sanctions, painstakingly constructed over years, is already crumbling."

Nov 30  According to Argentinian police, raids on brothels in and around the capital, Buenos Aires, have rescued nearly 100 women forced into prostitution.

December 2013

 
Dec 2  In the Central African Republic (CAR), attacks by Muslims against Christian villages have driven more than an estimated 460,000 from their homes, and more than a million are dependent on external aid. France's President Francois Hollande wants a Security Council resolution that would give UN backing for a beefed up African Union or UN force . While waiting for the Security Council, the French have decided to act, following talks with CAR's Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye. According to BBC News, some 200 French troops have arrived, and another 500 are being sent imminently.

Dec 3  In Russia a court of law convicts ballet dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko of organizing an acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Theatre, Sergei Filin. Anger regarding selection for roles seems to have been a motive for the crime.

Dec 4  Iran lists seven Western oil companies it would like to return to work in its oil and gas fields should the lifting of international sanctions make this possible. It said it would outline investment terms in April, 2014.

Dec 4  The results of DNA traced from a bone of a 400,000 year-old hominid are published in the journal Nature. (Hominid is an ancestral grouping that includes chimpanzees, gorillas and humans.) Genetic analysis finds in the bone some of the DNA that appears in the Denisovan Neanderthal who lived 40,000 years ago in East Asia, thousands of miles from the site in Spain where the bone was discovered. Matthias Meyer at the Max Planck Institute says, "It's kind of strange, this piece of DNA going around Europe and Asia, and it pops up at two different times and places." (NewsHour, 4 Dec 2013.)

Dec 5  In Libya, an American teacher, Ronnie Smith, 33, has been shot dead while jogging in Benghazi's popular residential area. He was teaching chemistry in that city's international school.

Dec 5  In Thailand, protests have stopped in reverence for and celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's 86th birthday. The king makes a speech calling on his subjects to support each other for the sake of the country.

Dec 6  South Africa's Nelson Mandela died yesterday at the age of 95. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon tells reporters, "Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world and within each one of us if we believe, dream and work together for justice and humanity." Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom says she is "deeply saddened." South Africa is mourning its first black president. At Fox News, Bill O'Reilly tells Rick Santorum, "What he did for his people was stunning … He was a great man, but he was a communist." Wikipedia describes this as follows: "Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he [Mandela] co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government." Mandela was a supporter of Cuba's Fidel Castro and also Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. He did well in South Africa as champion of national unity, peace and conciliation between whites and blacks.

Dec 8  In Singapore, in an area known as Little India, a man was knocked down and killed by a private bus. According to BBC News about 400 people took to the streets, and they torched police cars. The police commissioner describes it as the first rioting in Singapore in more than 30 years. He adds that "It is not the Singapore way." In Singapore a person involved in a riot can be sentenced to seven years in prison plus caning.

Dec 9  Libya's Prime Minister Ali Zeidan tells the Washington Post two days ago that Libya has "a few ideological people who belong to some Islamic groups - a couple of hundred, not even thousands. They want to take over the country. They do not want the state to succeed... There are extremist Islamists who see this as a last opportunity for them. They are extremists who lost in many countries, but in Libya they want to establish a state."

Dec 11  In the US, law against banks gambling with depositor money is moved on by federal regulators. It's known as the Volcker Rule and designed to prevent another 2008-style financial crisis. The largest banks will be required to comply with the law by July 2015. USA Today reports that "Because banks have already shed most of their proprietary trading businesses in anticipation of the rule, the final version should have little new effect on bank profits." The Washington Post writes, "Two of the firms that have the most to lose from an aggressively enforced Volcker Rule gained on the day, with Goldman Sachs shares up 1.23 percent and Morgan Stanley shares up 1.25 percent."

Dec 11  In Syria's civil war, gains made by Islamist militants, many of them foreigners, result in Britain and the US suspending aide to the Free Syrian Army - but humanitarian assistance to the Syrians continues. BBC News reports that "Fighters from the Islamic Front, a new alliance of major rebel groups, took control of the bases at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey last week." The Islamists are giving more credibility to the Assad regime propaganda that it is fighting foreigners and terrorists.

Dec 12  An Islamist leader falls in Bangladesh. Abdul Quader Mullah, 65, known as the "Butcher of Mirpur, and a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, is hanged today in a jail in the capital, Dhaka. He is the first person put to death for massacres committed in the country's 1971 war for independence. Mullah went to his death saying he was proud to be a martyr for the cause of Islam. Crowds were in the streets demanding his execution, but the Arab News reports that "Islamists and opposition protesters armed with crude bombs and rocks clashed ineffectively with police in riots in several cities across the country." More executions associated with the 1971 massacre are scheduled.

Dec 13  On the 11th, the Kim Jong-un regime in North Korea executed the husband of Kim's aunt, Jang Song-thaek, until last week thought to be one of the country's most powerful men. Kim Jong-un inherited power in 2011, with Jang seen as the young man's mentor or regent, and since then the regime has been posturing extreme righteousness. A couple of days ago a military court tried Jang, and he was described as a "traitor for all ages," as having attempted to overthrow the state, as guilty of factionalism, corruption and dissolute behaviour. Officialdom describes Jang as having admitted his crimes. State television announces Jang's execution with the words "despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog."

Dec 13  In yesterday's annual state-of-the nation speech, Vladimir Putin said, "We do not aspire to be called some kind of superpower ... We do not infringe on anyone's interests, we do not force our patronage on anyone, or try to teach anyone how to live ... Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia. We will never allow this to happen." He also described his support for Russians conservative social values and criticized "genderless and infertile" policies in the West. In so many words he spoke up for Russia's traditional church, against same sex marriage and such, and he wants Russian men to father more babies.

 
Dec 15  On CNN, Kurt Campbell, former US Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, describes North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un as "a young upstart" and "a kid." Campbell speaks of assessments drawn from those who knew Kim when he was a student in Switzerland. There are descriptions of Kim as less than steady emotionally and with an elevated sense of his own importance and worthiness, in Campbell's words, with "delusions of grandeur." Campbell describes Kim's executed uncle Jang as having been an internationalist, most knowledgeable about the economics and politics of the country and the man the international community, including China, looked most to for interaction with North Korea.

Dec 15  Pope Francis says he is no communist, following criticism from conservative commentators in the United States. In an interview today for the newspaper La Stampa, he says, "Marxist ideology is wrong," and he adds, "But in my life I have met a lot of Marxists who are good people, so I do not feel offended." Francis said in an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa published on Sunday.

Dec 16  In the United States, a divide between moderate Republicans and Tea Party Republicans has erupted into a war of words. Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has verbally attacked those Republicans opposed to a budget compromise bill, and from Tea Party supporters to his right comes the claim that Boehner only pretends to be a conservative but is in fact a "tax and spend liberal," and they remind Boehner of their claim that they truly represent the American people.

Dec 16  In Bangladesh, people enraged over the execution of the Islamic leader Abdul Quader Mullah are reported as having burned homes and fought street battles in three days of protest. Twenty-five people are reported dead and dozens more injured. The protesters stand against the government and majority opinion and their protest is considered a hopeless tantrum.

Dec 17  Singapore announces its deportation of 53 foreign workers and its charges against 28 others who participated in the riots described on Dec 8 on this page. A photo on BBC News shows two of the riot participants in a police vehicle, sitting with heads deeply bowed as if shamed and regretful.

Dec 17  Occasionally a pregnancy involves a fetus that has no chance of life outside the womb. Today the NewsHour describes the results of El Salvador's 1997 law that allows no exceptions against any abortions. Included is a video of Roman Catholic Bishop of San Miguel saying, "We cannot accept any law that goes against life. It is not a question of faith and religion, but of humanity." Doctors in El Salvador are complaining. Protecting the life of the mother is also not an exception, and girls and young women are being charged with murder.

Dec 18  Iran has its version of no compromise with the enemy in the person of Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of Iran's leading conservative newspaper, Kayhan (Universe) - this from David Ignatius in the Washington Post. Ignatius interviewed him and reports: "Shariatmadari says frankly that he doesn't believe in compromise with the West." Shariatmadari sees the nuclear negotiations Iran is involved in as an internal struggle over its identity. According to Ignatius, "Shariatmadari thinks these Western temptations are poisonous." Ignatius describes Shariatmadari as a militant supporter of Khomeini's 1979 revolution, whose slogans Ignatius describes are fading on Tehran's walls, literally.

Dec 19  Saudi Arabia's grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh brands suicide bombers as "criminals." In February 2010 he denounced terrorism as un-Islamic and condemned the killing of civilians.

Dec 19  This past week the US Drug and Food Administration (FDA) has warned the public that chemicals in anti-bacterial soaps and body washes can be dangerous. The agency recommends using regular soap.

Dec 21  Thailand's main opposition Democratic Party stays with the anti-government protest movement's hositility to a democratic solution to a crisis that the movement has created. The Democratic Party announces it will boycott elections set for February. The head of Thailand's army warns that a civil war might develop.

Dec 22  Egyptian authorities jail three secular activists who had been prominent among those who organized the 2011 protests against Mubarak. The three were found guilty of violating a law instituted this past November that restricts demonstrations to those authorized by the government. The three are concerned about democracy. Some other pro-democracy Egyptians side with the military backed government.

Dec 23  Al Arabiya reports that In Egypt a split from the Muslim Brotherhood gives rise to a new political party that, according to its leader, Amr Amara, is abandoning the idea of a shariah-based Islamic state and will support civilian governance. The old Brotherhood organization extended beyond Egypt, while the politics of the new group will be limited to Egypt. The new group has met with Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, and Amara says "We want to return to working within state institutions." From the old Brotherhood comes complaints that the new group is an illusion manufactured by the military-backed security services to undermine the Islamist movement.

Dec 24  The United Arab Republic damages its image among many in the world as a court convicts six foreigners and two citizens for making a video that pokes fun at teenagers. The eight are found guilty of "defaming the UAE society's image abroad." According to BBC News, this is a law against the use of "information technology to criticise senior officials, argue for political reform or organise unlicensed demonstrations."

Dec 24  In the Egyptian city of Mansura a car-bomb attack on police headquarters kills 14 and wounds more than a 100. The public blames the Muslim Brotherhood, who appear for now to have failed at whatever contest for hearts and minds existed in the town. Al Arabiya reports residents shouting for the "execution of the Muslim Brotherhood." According to Al Arabiya, "At a nearby hospital, the floor of the emergency room was slick with blood as medics rushed in casualties."

Dec 24  In South Sudan a power conflict between President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and ex-deputy Riek Machar, of Nuer ethnicity has escalated to massive killings and people fearing death because of their ethnicity. BBC News reports that, "One man in Juba said he was rounded up with 250 men and only 12 survived." Fighting that started in the capital, Juba, is reported as having spread throughout the country. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that anyone responsible for human rights violations will be held to account.

Dec 25  In her Christmas message, Queen Elizabeth says, "We all need to get the balance right, between action and reflection. With so many distractions, it is easy to forget to pause and take stock."

Dec 25  From Russia, Edward Snowden delivers an annual alternative Christmas message for Britain's Channel 4 television. He begins with a claim counter to President Obama having described NSA surveillance as limited. Snowden says that "our government is watching everything we do." He adds what some think is ridiculous exaggeration but others embrace enthusiastically: he says, "A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They'll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves - an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought."

Dec 28 In Egypt, supporters of President Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood rampage at the country's mail Islamic University. They were trying to make effective a student strike. They blocked entrances and, according to the police, students stormed several buildings on campus to "terrorize students and faculty," some fired shotguns into the air and there was a smashing of furniture. Photos have been published of campus buildings on fire. One student was killed. What was supposed to be accomplished by what appears to be the striking minority of students is unclear. To succeed strikes must be cohesive, not forced by a minority - like the Third World Strike at the UC Berkeley campus in 1969. The rampaging militants don't appear to be winning friends and influencing people, and a division among the Islamist students is clear.

Dec 30 On the NewsHour, Miles O'Brien describes research regarding our immune system killing cancer cells as it does other harmful cells, and he says cancer researchers "are extremely excited about this." (See Oct 14.) But, he adds, there is a funding problem: "Every researcher I talk to, every scientist I speak with speaks about what a dark time it is for federal funding for basic scientific research... A lot of people in Washington would say, well, why don't we have the private sector fund this? The private sector doesn't fund things if it doesn't see a good solid business plan."

Dec 31  Pew Research told us yesterday of a growing difference of opinion between Republicans and Democrats regarding evolution. Its research in 2009 had 39 percent of Republicans not believing in evolution and that number growing to 48 percent today. For Democrats those not believing in evolution has decreased from 30 percent in 2009 to 27 percent today. A difference in percentages between Republicans and Democrats that was 9 in 2009 has grown to 21.





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