August 2011

Aug 1 The Global Competitiveness Report, published by the Word Economic Forum (a Swiss non-profit organization) has released its 2012-2013 rankings. Switzerland leads. Then comes Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and the United States.

Aug 1  Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head by Jared Loughner in January, returns to the House of Representatives to vote. She is greeted with applause, cheers, hugs and acclaim from the rostrum.

Aug 2  South Africa's high speed train is up and running between the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg – a 20 minute trip. During rush hour by car the trip can take a couple of hours. The train's top speed is 100 miles per hour, and it cost 3.8 billion dollars to put into operration. The government plans more investment in this infrastructure. South Africa has less than one-fourth the per capita GDP of the United States. Its infrastructure ranking has been listed as 56th compared to 23rd for the US, just behind Spain. First is Switzerland.

Aug 3  The Republicans have won in the budget bargaining, the Democrats winning the raising of the debt ceiling and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, saying he is happy in getting 98 percent of what he wanted. The debate over economic policy will continue. Agreeing with the conservative Republicans is John Taylor, economics professor at Stanford University and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, who was a Treasury official in the George W. Bush administration. With the notorious pundits Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, he believes that Obama's stimulus did not work, and he is waiting for businessmen to be inspired to hire by their increased confidence in the economy. It appears that the Democrats will be powerless and the economy will remain unstimulated at least until January 2013.

Aug 4  The UN Security Council responds to about as bad as it gets in dictatorial brutalities by merely condemning the Assad regime's "widespread violations of human rights." And, matching the oft-spoken words of a well known and respected pontiff, it calls for "an immediate end to all violence." Russia and China added to the UN's weakness regarding the Assad regime's violence by voting against a stronter resolution.

Aug 5  Amnesty International complained yesterday that the UN Security Council's response to the recent bloodshed in Syria is "completely inadequate." The Amnesty spokesperson added that, "The UN must act now, with a firm and legally binding position. At the very least, its position must include imposing an arms embargo, freezing the assets of President al-Assad and other officials suspected of responsibility for crimes against humanity, and referring the situation to the ICC Prosecutor," Amnesty International has received the names of more than 1,500 people believed to have been killed since pro-reform protests began in mid-March. Today, Friday, security forces again fired with live ammunition and tear gas against protesters in various cities, and, in the Qadam district of Damascus, protesters carried a banner reading: "Bashar is slaughtering the people and the international community is silent."

Aug 9  Late Friday, Standard & Poor's lowered its US credit rating from AAA to AA+. On Monday stocks in Asia and Europe were down 2 or 3 percent and in the US the Dow fell 5.6% – the biggest fall for the Dow since the 2008 economic crisis. Today – Tuesday – stocks bounced back, the Dow rising 3.98% (429.92 points).

Aug 9  Standard & Poor's explained its move as caution against the prospect of political gridlock preventing the recovery necessary to paying down the debt. Democrats have been calling it the "Tea Party Downgrade." Tea Party Republicans and their fellow travelers have been vociferous in blaming the downgrade on Obama. When asked about the responsibility of Congress for the budget, the conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly has said yes but but Obama is failing to lead.

Aug 9  Standard & Poor's and both Democrats and Republicans recognize that economic growth is necessary to raise revenues to address the debt. Meanwhile, Republicans continued to denounce stimulus spending. Speaking on the anti-stimulus side of the debate, Steve Forbes, on Sunday on CNN proclaimed counterfactually that, "You never get a recovery from more spending." Others continue to claim that the Obama stimulus early in his administration was of no help to the economy. And, on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly yesterday argued against progressive adjustments in wealth division while claiming that there is no wealth to divide: he proclaimed that we're broke.

Aug 10  Armed offenses into cities and towns by the Assad regime continue – the latest in the northeast of Syria. Meanwhile, Saudi King Abdullah has denounced the offensives as unacceptable, and this has encouraged Syria's Sunni population. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria. Turkey's foreign minister yesterday urged Assad to stop killing protesters. Syria's state-run news agency has responded defiantly to Assad's critics by announcing the government's will to relentlessly fight "terrorist groups," referring to the few who have armed themselves rather than present themselves for slaughter. The majority of protesters remain non-violent with hope of more erosion of support for Assad within the country.

Aug 11  About the motives of those who have been rioting and looting in various cities in Britain these last few days, Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post observes that they are not protesting with signs or talking to the press as did protestors in Egypt. These are people not deprived of political democracy. They are not students protesting rising costs in education or housewives protesting rising food prices. Their manner suggests that dignity is not their concern. They are encouraging each other with hand-held high-tech devices to grab what they can from stores – inedible things – while expressing their defiance by breaking glass and trashing cars. There are indications of envy of the well-to-do among them. An observer complains that "the welfare state really has left a generation of young people feeling both dependent on government handouts and entitled to more." Someone else writes: "They are like penned-in animals protesting that the farmer isn't putting enough feed into their trough." However deprived they feel relative to the greater affluence of others, they are being considered by society in general and by the David Cameron government as criminals.

Aug 13  In Syria, masses of people refuse to diminish their protests despite the dictator Assad's attempt to terrorize them with brutality. Writes BBC News: "Activists said at least 16 people died on Friday [yesterday] as protesters came under fire in towns and cities across the country." Also yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton complained that buying oil and gas from Syria and exporting arms there were giving Assad "comfort in his brutality." Yesterday in Syria were chants of "Death to Assad." Assad's forces are entering cities and then withdrawing rather than occupying. When they withdraw, people come back into the streets, encouraged by their numbers. The logic of events leaves local freedom fighters to deal with Assad's local agents. It's a battle Assad appears unable to win.

Aug 15   Over the weekend one of the Republicans running for president at the Iowa state fair, Rick Santorum, said that we would be all right if we would just believe in the people. Exactly which people amid all the conflicting opinions we should believe in he didn't say, but some of us suspect that he was referring to those who side with him.

Aug 15   Another confusing line, also approved with applause and squeals, was a suggestion delivered by Ron Paul that the nation's troubles stemmed from not following the Constitution. He said that "If we'd just follow the Constitution we'd be all right." It leaves some of us wondering how our great judicial system has allowed the nation to drift away from the Constitution – while led as it is by a conservative Supreme Court and legislators and everyone else, especially those with wealth to protect, free to litigate?

Aug 17  In India citizens are fed up with what they describe as corruption of the political class. The crusading leader of the movement, Anna Hazare, started a hunger strike because only part of his proposed legislation has government support. The government has arrested Hazare to protect him from himself, and today tens of thousands are in the streets for him, demonstrating their support.

Aug 18  In India, anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has agreed to the government's offer that he leave prison. Hazare's aides say he will extend his hunger strike for fifteen days in a public park. Hazare wants no watered-down compromise version of his proposed anti-corruption legislation, and Prime Minister Singh accuses him of trying to circumvent democracy.

Aug 18  In Chile, a commission investigating human rights abuses during the reign of General Pinochet (1973-90) adds 9,800 more people to a list of persons held as political prisoners and tortured, raising the total of recognized victims to 40,018.

Aug 19  Yesterday, President Obama demanded that Bashar al- Assad, President of Syria, step aside, and Secretary of State Clinton said, "The transition to democracy in Syria has begun." This is a move coordinated with leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Turkey. With the European Union it includes freezing Syrian assets and sanctions against buying Syrian oil. The protest movement in Syria is described as encouraged. Also there was news yesterday that Assad told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that military and police operations against demonstrators has ended. Today Syria's military attacked the populations of various cities, and another 20 people are reported killed.

Aug 21  Rebels are closing on Tripoli. A rebel television broadcast from Qatar urges listeners to treat Gaddafi supporters whom they are arresting with dignity. "It is enough humiliation for him that he is under arrest."

Aug 21  An inter-ethnic war over resources in South Sudan has killed at least 500 people. There is competition for land and water resources, and Murle pastoralists are accused of aggression. An estimated 40,000 cattle have been stolen – with people dependent on their livestock for food. Villages have been burned to the ground.

Aug 22  The extent to which people in Tripoli emerged in the streets yesterday to celebrate the end of the Gaddafi regime exposes the nonsense and fantasy expressed by Gaddafi and his spokesmen and the oppression that kept these people subdued and secretive. As of this morning, only one-fifth of Tripoli is reported to be controlled by Gaddafi forces.

Aug 24  People on Fox News normally critical of President Obama are demonstrating the fairness of which they sometimes speak. They, including Bill O'Reilly, have been praising Obama regarding Libya – no US or NATO dead, no fortune spent, and the anti-Gaddafi forces having a sense that it is their war and their victory. Our modesty is reaping benefits. Support for US exceptionalism as a license to attempt control rather than to partner with others, or the call for Obama to do nothing regarding Libya, are points of view not riding high at the moment.

Aug 25  Those in power in the throes of losing a war have been inclined to fantasize. It happened in Germany and Japan as early as 1943-44. Given the increase in capability of the forces against Gaddafi, it was obvious as they were closing in on Tripoli that Gaddafi and company would not be able to reverse the tide of war. Then Gaddafi's son spoke of a clever trap in Tripoli that would break the rebels' back. Today, hiding like a pursued rodent, Gaddafi is calling on the people of Tripoli to capture and kill his adversaries, whom he calls rats, "street by street, house by house."

Aug 26  "... I have been traveling around [Tripoli] every day since Monday (it's Friday), and more and more neighborhoods are secure. What seems to be happening is that you have got like neighborhood committees ... And I have to say that there is still this there's still this huge sense of joy here that, however hard the conditions are, whenever you talk to people and you say, how are you feeling, they say: I'm free. We're free, free at last. Gadhafi is gone. So, however hard it is, they're just still full of excitement, absolutely thrilled to be living this moment." Lindsey Hilsum, International Television News

Aug 30   In running for president of the United States, Rick Perry joins others in making jobs the leading issue. He is asking people to look at what he has achieved as governor of Texas by keeping taxes low. With this he is leading other Republicans running for president and is even or a little ahead of President Obama in polling that compares the two – while unemployment in Texas remains about average for the states, at 8.4 percent.

Aug 31  Mitt Romney claims that because he has been a businessman he would make a better president than a "career politician." Some of us suspect that he is intelligent enough to know that running a corporation puts demands on an executive that are different from the demands on the nation's top executive (who is responsible regarding issues much broader and different in dynamics than a corporation's interests), and he must know that there is no shortage of examples of businessmen who did poorly when trying to be politicians. Some no doubt think that Romney is making a calculated appeal to the many who don't think of such things. Some others might see Romney as just a good-natured, rather happy and ambitious mental mediocrity.

July | to September

Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.