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December 2011

Dec 1   Republicans back away from the common ideological point among them that tax cuts pay for themselves (by advancing the economy). Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, responds to President Obama's move to extend payroll tax cuts, saying he cannot support such cuts unless they are paid for – with cuts in spending. (Rachael Maddow Show, MSNBC, Nov 30)

Dec 2  China is cracking down on illegal jailers. Local governments have been paying these "security firms" to detain persons traveling to Beijing to voice grievances. (BBC)

Dec 2  Bloomberg News reports that internet and telephone monitoring and surveliiance equipment for Syria is now banned by the European Union. The Italian company, Area SpA, abandons its project for the Assad regime. (See Nov 6)

Dec 3  Arguments counter to contemporary Republican ideology have been getting a big hearing as we approach another election year. Talking about his new book, "Back to Work," Bill Clinton tells PBS journalist Judy Woodruff: "And so what I wanted to do was say, look at the last 30 years. Look what our competitors are doing. There is no example on the planet of a successful economy with broadly shared prosperity and a shrinking, weak government. You can have a small, lean government. But they're all strong. They're all working in partnership. What works are these partnerships, these networks." Clinton's poll numbers have been running 66% favorable and 33% opposed.

Dec 4  In the US, Herman Cain "suspends" his run for the Republican presidential nomination. He claims that allegations of sexual harassment and a 13-year-long extra-marital affair are false. Someone tweets: "Just had a conversation with my FOX News watching parents, who REALLY believe Cain is being smeared by Liberals. How can we even be related?"

Dec 5  Quiet community work pays off for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's first round of parliamentary elections. An article in the Los Angeles Times describes Egypt's young activists as hampered in electoral politics by egos, political naivete and as overwhelmed at the polls by better organized Islamists.

Dec 6  The National Institute for Space Research describes 6,238 square km (2,400 square miles) of rainforest in Brazil as having disappeared between August 2010 and July 2011 – a drop of 11% from the previous year – mainly the result of cattle farming, crop production and logging.

Dec 7  Dense smog in China's capital has led to cancellation of hundreds of flights at its airport. Thousands of passengers have been stranded. The US embassy describes particulate levels in the city, Beijing, as "hazardous." The UN considers Beijing as one of the most polluted in the world.

Dec 8  In an interview with Barbara Walters, President Assad of Syria said that the security forces are not his, that he doesn't command them and that there was no command to kill or be brutal. "I don't own them," he said. "I am president. I don't own the country so they are not my forces." He said that he did his "best to protect the people...no government in the world kills it people unless it's led by a crazy person." He repeated his claim that "foreign plotters" were behind the nationwide unrest. He asserted that "the majority" is not against him and that "The only thing that you could be afraid of as president is to lose the support of your people." Like ancient Rome's Nero and some like him, Assad gained power by a family connection.

Dec 9  Transparency International has released its 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index rankings (scroll down). The best scoring country is New Zealand. Tied for 2nd are Denmark and Finland. Australia is 8th, Switzerland 9th and Canada 10th. The US is 24th. Egypt is 112th. There, nepotism, bribery and patronage have been described as deeply engrained in daily life.

Dec 10  In Syria, 35 or so deaths are reported for another Friday of protests yesterday, eleven of the deaths in and around the city of Homs. Syria has a population greater than 2.5 million and a birth rate of 23.9 per 1,000, per year. Let's say half the population is anti-Assad. That's about 880 new persons born into the anti-Assad segment of society every day, and there might be about as many (let's say 70 percent) coming of age every day. That would be a little more than 600 per day. These are people who keep in mind what Assad's security forces have done to people with whom they identify. If all this holds, it means that 30, 40 or even 100 anti-Assad people killed per day isn't going to save the Assad regime.

Dec 12  European leaders agreed in Brussels last week to an increase in economic integration among countries that use the euro and to impose sanctions on member states that exceed a budget deficit limit. London is Europe's biggest financial center and more cosmopolitan than New York. To protect its independence, Britain is not joining the European Union agreement. Today France's Sarkozy complains that there are now clearly "two Europes."

Dec 13  The government of El Salvador apologizes for an army massacre of more than 1,000 persons – nearly half of them children – in 1981 during the war against the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMNL). The FMNL Is now part of a government of former guerrilla groups that won in the election in 2009. (Reported by BBC News)

Dec 13  In a fantastic exercise of false equivalence, Russia's foreign minister claims that the West should condemn the opposition in Syria as well as Syria's security forces. According to his logic a people have no right to defend themselves and should instead protest by bearing their necks to their oppressors. Some utopians, who do not understand where and how non-violent tactics work, agree with him.

Dec 14  Regarding Russia's biggest protests since the fall of the Soviet Union, aimed at Vladimir Putin, Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution says something that applies also to Britain's Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. These two were "... enormously popular when they came in, and towards that end of their tenure, after they had gone through two terms ... they started to lose their popularity. People got a little tired of seeing them. So, in other words, Mr. Putin's brand has gone stale, and he hasn't been able to reinvigorate it." (From a Dec 13 News Hour interview.)

Dec 15  Syrian defectors tell of orders to kill and torture protesters, told by Tim Lister, CNN

Dec 15  Some Republicans complain about the graduated income tax and describe it as theft. Matt Miller in today's Washington Post writes of a lot of wealth distribution going on. This includes billions in wealth from high-income states like New York and California, which vote Democratic, shipped via federal benefits and subsidies to states that vote Republican. Amid other examples, he doesn't mention wealth distribution in the form of employee share of profits.

Dec 16  In last night's debate among Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich lectured again on morality. He again claimed that secularists had no morality, no sense of right and wrong (in other words that all value is religiously derived), and he described secularism (the secularism that took Europe out of the Middle Ages?) as harmful to the nation. Last month he declared that secularism is responsible for the nation's problems. Gingrich is the leading choice among Republicans in the race for the presidency, and opposition to secularism is being described as dominant among the Republican drive for power.

Dec 16  Russia joins the 153-member World Trade Organization (WTO) after eighteen years of negotiations. (The WTO decides when trade liberalization agreements have been breached and when retaliatory trade sanctions can be imposed.)

Dec 18  A summing up is being voiced as the last of US troops leave Iraq – almost nine years since the war began. Many agree that US political leadership was incompetent, that mistakes were made in conducting the war. In the US the $1 trillion or more spent and more importantly the 4,486 US military lives lost and 32,226 seriously wounded are being weighed against changes in Iraq since 2003. The Republican Party's candidate for president in 2008, Senator McCain, remains adamant about his perception of victory in Iraq, and he fervently describes President Obama's withdrawal of troops from Iraq as putting at risk "everything that we gained." Other Republicans speak of an intractable gain: Saddam Hussein is gone. Meanwhile, many if not most Iraqis are glad they are no longer being bossed around by young foreigners with guns. And many are bitter. Civilian Iraqi deaths are counted at between 103,536 and 113,125. The war has left an estimated 1.75 million Iraqis displaced. Iraqi observers describe the war as having exacerbated sectarian animosities. Sectarian violence continues, and observers everywhere describe Iraq as still volatile, while some in the US worry about the regime in power in Iraq having declared itself a friend of the regime in Iran.

Dec 19  Kim Jong-il, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea, dies. He was called "father" by the people, and contagious weeping is displayed in a nation where people are expected to maintain childish devotion. He was the son the nation's founder, Kim il-Sung, and is succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un, age 28(?). Some of us expect the people's dynasty to end before long.

Dec 20  In Egypt yesterday dozens of newly elected members of parliament and electoral candidates, including Mohamed Beltagy of the Muslim Brotherhood, gathered on the steps of Egypt's high court to demand that the military turn over power to the lower house of parliament by January 25. Today is the fifth day of military crackdown against protesters in Cairo. General Emara calls the protesters "thugs" paid to throw Molotov cocktails at government buildings. The protesters accuse the generals of delaying the transfer of power to civilian rule. Thirteen people have died and several hundred have been wounded since the crackdown began.

Dec 21  Several thousand women marched in downtown Cairo yesterday expressing their anger over soldiers attacking demonstrators with sticks, beating women to the ground, continuing to beat and beat and to stomp the same persons. According to the New York Times, historians called the women's rally "the most significant since a 1919 march against British colonialism." On CNN, scholar Fouad Ajami described the attackers as members of the Security Forces, from poor families, with low pay, jealous of the middle and upper class demonstrators and poorly trained. Mohamed El Baradei tweets that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has "urged Egypt's Senior Military leaders to act on the violence or risk future prosecution."

Dec 22  North Korea's government media reports remarkable events marking the death of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il: ice on a famous lake that cracked 'so loud, it seemed to shake the Heavens and the Earth' and a mysterious glow on a revered mountain top. The incidents are described by the North Koreans as having occurred on their sacred mountain, Paekdu, which borders North Korea and China, where Kim Jong-il is reported to have been born, also amid unusual phenomena: a bright star that changed the season from winter to spring and an awe-inspiring double rainbow.

Dec 22  In Baghdad the worst bombing attacks in months kills at least 63 and injures around 185 – while sectarian tensions continue to divide Iraq and its government.

Dec 23  In Prague thousands gather to pay their last respects to Vacslav Havel, the dissident playwright, jailed by the Marxist-Leninist regime, who became president after the fall of that regime in 1989. At noon today the Czech nation observed a minute's silence. Havel had at least one weakness: he smoked. He died of a respiratory illness at 75. Havel was not a hater. As a playwrite he took note of humanity's weaknesses as well as strengths. He advocated tactics that were personal: individual avoidance of the Leninist regime's cultural strictures. Rock and jazz are said to have played a significant role in communicating togetherness in regime opposition. (They were not facing the kind of murderous regime that exists today in Syria.) Havel was a modest man who didn't enjoy or advocate political theater in the form of public demonstrations. He became most heroic among the Czechs without exhibitionism. Anne Applebaum writes of Havel having been different from so many of his generation. "Obsessed for so long with the tactics of destruction, few of them understood the importance of reconstruction. In fact, victory was not just toppling the old regime, victory was creating the institutions and symbols that would replace it." Applebaum writes that Havel's essay," The Power of the Powerless," will live forever.

Dec 24  Across the US, disorders erupt in stores as shoppers struggle to lay their hands on a new pair of "Air Jordan" Nike shoes, which sell for around $180. Meanwhile little enthusiasm exists for spending just a little money to help governments, local or federal, balance their budgets.

Dec 26  Al Jazeera reports that the Dead Sea has been falling by more than a meter every year. Blame is being put on Israeli and Jordanian companies taking more and more water and on climate change. The sea is at least a third less than what it was fifty years ago, and rival claims for the newly exposed land is being made by Israel, Palestinians and Jordan.

Dec 27  Fifty Arab League observers, split into teams of ten, do their first day of work in Syria. One team visits the city of Homs, the day after dozens are reported as having been killed there. Government forces including tanks are pulled back from the city. Large anti-government protests take place in the neighborhoods of Bab Sbaa and Khaldiyeh. A funeral march occurs in the Ghouta area. Rallies supporting President Bashar al-Assad and the army are reported in two other neighborhoods. (The diameter of Homs is roughly 10 miles or 16 kilometers.)

Dec 28  An activist in Homs tells the Reuters News that some families of people who have killed refuse to meet with Arab League monitors because they are being escorted by an army officer.

Dec 28  An Egyptian court has ordered the military to end forced virginity inspections in its prisons. The inspections have been claimed as necessary to counter possible charges of rape.

Dec 28  Iran's vice president threatens to block transport of oil through the Port of Hormuz – a move certain to create war – in response to the West's "plots" to impose sanctions regarding his country's nuclear program.

Dec 29  In China the year ends with a quick trial (on the 26th) and a ten-year prison sentence for Chen Xi for criticizing the Communist Party. The charge: subverting state power.

Dec 29  A summary of record breaking weather in the US for the year: in January, "paralyzing blizzards" dumping heavy snow in 22 states. In the spring, three of the largest twister outbreaks in American history in just six weeks; triple the normal amount of rainfall to the Ohio River Valley. In August, Hurricane Irene "drenched the Eastern Seaboard" and triggered record flooding in New Jersey, New York State and Vermont; Texas had its worst one-year drought; and nationwide more than 6,000 heat records were broken this year – to say nothing about the catastrophic weather that occurred elsewhere in the world. Said weather continues to be associated by many with global warming. (NewsHour, Dec 28)

Dec 30  It has been a bad year for African elephants. Despite an international ban on the ivory trade, the trade has been booming, much of the ivory ending up in China or Thailand. In 2011, 23 tons of elephant tusks have been seized, representing at least 2,500 dead animals, compared to 10 tons seized in 2010.

Dec 30  In Syria, fearful Alawi Syrians continue to support the Alawi dictator, Assad, while his regime continues to terrorize communities with tanks, bullets, knocks on doors, imprisonments, torture and death. Eleven months of protests end with more than 5,000 dead, Arab League observers and the world looking on and anguished Syrians asking why the international community continues to allow this to happen.

Dec 31  Yesterday in Syria, the presence of Arab League observers emboldened opponents of the Assad regime to call for people leaving Friday prayers to join anti-government rallies. The observers were supposed to verify the implementation of a peace initiative and an end to violence. Across Syria were big demonstrations. In the city of Douma, 150,000 sat-in in front of the Arab League observers. In Douma were reports of security forces firing on people from roof tops. There were reports of tear gas and nail bombs tossed at demonstrators elsewhere. The number killed yesterday is estimated at 35. Men were filmed being taken away by soldiers to an unknown fate, with one video showing the victim being shot at once inside a police van. State media showed government rallies and made its usual accusations of a foreign orchestrated plot. The government appears locked-in to a hostility that prevents it from making any gesture toward reconciliation. The dictator Assad, instead of appearing burdened by events, grinned with goofy happiness as he waved clumsily to cheering supporters.

to November | to January

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