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August 2009

Aug 1  US economic output (GDP) declined at a slower rate in April, May and June, compared to January, February and March. The first three months of this year had a GDP decline at a rate of 6.4 percent per year. In April, May and June this decline was only 1 percent. Twenty percent of the economic activity was the result of government spending, including the first portion of its stimulus package. Reduced inventories – empty shelves – are encouraging expectations of increased production. Some estimate that this year's third quarter (July, August and September) will have a rise in output equivalent to 2.5 percent annual growth.

Aug 2  Raul Castro announced yesterday that Cuba will cut spending on education and health care to help advance the economy. Cuba's economy has one-fifth the per capita GDP of the United States and health care that produces a lower infant mortality rate: 5.82 deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 6.26 in the United States, according to CIA figures. Cuba's neighbor, the Dominican Republic, is listed as having an infant mortality rate of 25.96 deaths per 1,000. Haiti's is 59.60 per 1,000.

Aug 4  In Australia, authorities accuse five nationals of Somali and Lebanese descent of planning to kill as many soldiers on an army base as they could. The five are linked to a Somali group that wants to overthrow Somalia's UN-backed government. The connection between that struggle or advancing Islam and killing Australian soldiers remains unclear.

Aug 4  Somewhere in the United States, a motorist with a history of small-mindedness or stupidity honks his or her horn to protest having to slow down slightly for one second.

Aug 5  An article in the New York Times describes failure of the legal system in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. There is intimidation and sometimes the murder of witnesses with impunity. "Weakness of the state is matched only by the strength of its criminals." Pakistan, according to the article, is suffering from "weak civilian institutions."

Aug 7  One year ago, Georgia attacked breakaway South Ossetia. A Russian military counter-attack quickly pushed Georgia's military back. Now, rather than refraining from speaking of the matter for the sake of better relations with Russia, Georgia seeks propaganda points and sticks its thumb in Russia's eye by accusing it of having started the war an accusation not generally accepted today. And Russia, of course, responds with its version of last years events.
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Aug 7  Following Bill Clinton's retrieving two journalists imprisoned in North Korea, rightist commentators respond. They criticize the two Asian-American journalists for having stumbled into North Korea and the expense of the air transport to and from North Korea. Gordon Liddy calls them "Wee Wee" and "Long Long". Their real names are Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Most significant to the right is a posturing-prestige war. Some people on the right are perennially fearful concerning prestige. North Korea is one of the world's most ridiculed states, but critics of the Clinton mission see North Korea as having won prestige and the United States as having lost face. Pat Buchanan, on the McLaughlin Group show, predicts that the Obama administration will regret the rescue mission. Stay tuned.

Aug 8  Commander Baitullah Mehsud, the unofficial amir of South Waziristan, leader of the Taliban, organizer of the murder of Benair Bhutto and other terrorist acts inside Pakistan, has been described by followers as having been killed by a US drone missile on August 5. Strategists in the US admit that someone will rise to take his place, if he is indeed dead. Today, Baitullah's deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud (apparently not a brother or son), said reports of Baitullah death were "ridiculous." At any rate, the US strategy is to behead Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. People in South Waziristan and in greater Pakistan dislike the drone intrusions. But US strategists, while aware of the long-term importance of hearts and minds, are not willing to give up cross border drone attacks. Meanwhile, some believe that beheading the regime in Burma would be a popular move.

Aug 9  As today's reports have it, Hakimullah is no longer claiming that his commander, Baitullah Mehsud, is still alive. According to reports, a meeting took place to decide who was to replace Baitullah. Gunfire was employed. Hakimullah was shot dead. Rehman Malik appears to have been the winner. But gathering news and confirmations from South Waziiristan is difficult.

Aug 11  Reminiscent of the trials in the 1930s, when Stalin believed he was consolidating his power against rival revolutionaries, the Iranian revolution is conducting a sham trial that involves torture and publicized confessions.

Aug 11  In Burma, a regime that is criminal in its origins concludes its sham trial by sentencing Suu Kyi to 18 more months of house arrest.

Aug 12  The inflation that Obama's critics Naill Ferguson (May 31) and conservative Heritage Foundation (May 8) analysts predicted in May has not yet appeared. The Federal Reserve left key interest rates unchanged today at a record-low range of zero percent to 0.25 percent. The Federal Reserve described the US economy as having returned to a more stable footing. The Dow industrial average has not fallen again as some analysts have been predicting. These are advisors who didn't warn investors of the market collapse in 2007 and have been stunned into caution while missing out and deriding the rally that has lifted the Dow 40 percent since March. They are excusing themselves with talk of market fundamentals. The market remains at a high for the year and may be going sideways for a while, but it is not wild to suggest that it would be better for people to buy into strong companies that pay good dividends rather than earn only bankrate interest.

Aug 13  An article in the Washington Post titled "Why Are Afghans Smiling" includes the following results of a survey conducted across eight regions in Afghanistan: "Fewer than 10 percent of respondents answered that they could trust their neighbors; 20 percent said they trusted the government; 21 percent trusted the police; and 17 percent trusted the international security forces."

Aug 14  On US television, Britain's Daniel Hannan has been describing his country's National Health Service (NHS) as a "60-year mistake." The leader of Britain's Conservative Party, David Cameron, looking forward to becoming Prime Minister, has vowed to protect government funded health care from spending cuts if he comes to power, because he knows the popularity of the country's health care service. He calls the views of his fellow conservative, Mr. Hannan, "eccentric" and says that the Conservative Party "stands four square behind the NHS."

Aug 17  According to worldmeters.info, in the world so far today (8pm New York time), were 315,500 births and 138,340 deaths. This ratio of births to deaths for the day compares to the two figures for the year: 87,266,000 births and 38,128,800 deaths. The competition for space is increasing.

Aug 18  In Denmark, the Conservative Party favors a ban on people covering their face with clothing such as burkas and niqabs in public places. An immigrant from Syria, Naser Khader, who helped establish a Modern Muslims group, agrees. Danish People’s Party and the Social Democrats agree. But the Liberal Party declares legislating against certain types of clothing as step too far.

Aug 21  A team of Japanese scientists reports that plastics adrift on the oceans are decomposing, creating a toxic soup that sinks.

Aug 22  Ramadan begins. The imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca calls upon Muslims to do good deeds, to work for world peace and to stop bloodshed, violence and injustice.

Aug 24  Mali has passed a law that gives women equal rights in marriage. Protests have erupted across the nation. The head of a Muslim woman's association reports that only a minority – Muslim intellectuals – supports the law. Mali is 90 percent Muslim.

Aug 24  Pennsylvania's budget stalemate is in its eighth week, with state funding frozen. Citizens are blaming the politicians although the actions of the politicians are a reflection of what is in the heads of the citizens.

Aug 24  In the mountainous north of Yemen, a government offensive with air strikes, tanks and artillery moves against the tribal Zaidi Shia sect, which is said to have been seeking to establish Shia rule. Yemen is predominately Sunni.

Aug 25  In Malaysia, punishing a woman by six blows with a cane for having drank beer is under review by an Islamic court. Malaysia has a two-track legal system: one for Muslims, the other for non-Muslims.

Aug 27  According to General Agwai, leader of the UN and African Union peacekeeping force, the war that broke out in 2003 between Darfur rebels and government forces has ended, the rebels having fragmented politically to insignificance.

Aug 31 In Japan, the political party that has ruled since 1955, the Liberal Democrats, loses power. The Democratic Party of Japan takes power on promises to rely less on American-style capitalism (more like China perhaps, where government spending drives the economy more than consumer and entrepreneurial spending) and to do more for the people – more welfare. Japan's debt is more than 170 percent of GDP (much higher than is that of the United States, but its not in debt to foreigners), and its population is aging.

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