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August 2012

Aug 1  Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put the US in favor of separating Syria's dictator-president Bashar al-Assad from his military. He said "It's very important that we don't make the same mistakes we made in Iraq." He would like to see Syria's military establishment as a part of a stable transition to democracy in cooperation with the Free Syrian Army. It's a view that reduces Syria's bloodshed and destruction merely to the Assad family wanting to stay in power. Bashar al-Assad doesn't see it that way. Today, regarding the on-going battle for Aleppo, he sent a written message from an unknown location to his military, which read: "The fate of our people and our nation, past, present and future, depends on this battle." (How winning the battle could change the past he didn't explain.)

Aug 2  Fear of recession haunts Europeans while European leaders hope that the Eurozone's central bank (ECB) tinkering with lowered borrowing costs will solve the Eurozone's problem. Lowered borrowing costs is a hit against the moneylenders, who normally want the market to decide lending rates. Some see wishful thinking by Europe's leaders and expect something more radical to happen. European markets have been rising and falling and are down again today. Yesterday, President Obama welcomed recent declarations by European leaders and the Eurozone's Central Bank on the need to do whatever is necessary to preserve the euro, and Timothy Geithner told European leaders of their need to lower interest rates.

Aug 3  Kofe Annan yesterday quit his mission as peace envoy for Syria. He admitted that it was a "mission impossible," yet for months he continued his "mission impossible" while Bashar al-Assad and the Russians used him in their public pronouncements. In his announcement yesterday, Annan put blame on the characters that he as a diplomat was obliged to understand, but didn't. And he did the false equivalence thing. He blamed the opposition forces although they were weak when the peace plan was launched and were willing to stop fighting if Assad stopped attacking their neighborhoods.

Aug 5  About NBC Olympic coverage, Sam Luce tweets: "Sitting down watching commercials with a few Olympic breaks mixed in." Someone else tweets: "You have no idea what you are missing in the BBC." A trick for accessing BBC coverage is suggested. A Brit responds: "Yes, the BBC coverage is excellent, but what you're suggesting is nefarious at best. The BBC is region locked because we, the British TV licence payer, pay for the privilege of having an excellent, commercial free service."

Aug 7  Iran blames the "warmongering" US for the crisis in Syria. Iran's moral leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sends his security chief, Omran al-Zoubi, to Damascus. There he meets with the dictator Assad and pledges Iran's determination to maintain what he calls a vital regional alliance. Omran al-Zoubi's next stop is Turkey. Meanwhile, Assad's prime minister has defected. Also, Assad's forces are trying to encircle and choke-off opposition forces in Aleppo, and those forces are running low on ammunition.

Aug 8  A Free Syrian Army announcement claims responsibility for the death of a Russian general, Vladmir Petrovic Kojaiv. It describes the general as embroiled in the "humanitarian crimes" against Syrians, and it adds, "We warn all the snakes to go back to their dens whether it is Russia, Iran and Iraq or Lebanon." (Al Arabiya)

Aug 8  The Bank of France says that France is falling back into recession. The Bank of England cuts it's forcast for the growth of the British economy to zero. Yesterday, Reuters reported that "Italy shrank further into recession in the second quarter [April to June] for a 2.5 percent yearly decline... threatening attempts by Mario Monti's technocrat government to control a debt crisis that is undermining the whole euro zone."

Aug 9  Syrian rebel commanders admit to a "strategic withdrawal" from the Salah al-Din district in Aleppo. The Assad regime used airpower against the district and has described it as a success reminiscent of the comment from a US Army major in Vietnam who said. "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it." The Assad regime has also described recent military operations in Damascus as a victory. There, today, anti-Assad forces are reported to be lying low and organizing for a coordinated offensive. Meanwhile, Iran is sponsoring a twelve-nation conference that includes Russian representation. Iran wants dialogue that includes Syria's anti-Assad forces, while it says nothing about Assad having to step down if there is to be peace. (Imagine a US president sending tanks, helicopter gunships and bomb-dropping warplanes against neighborhoods he thought hostile to his re-election.)

Aug 10  In Libya yesterday, the Interim National Transitional Council did its work by handing over political power to the country's 200-member assembly. Members to the assembly were elected on 7 July elections reported as free and fair. BBC News reports that crowds in Tripoli celebrated the hand over, "which was the first peaceful transition of power in Libya's modern history." The new assembly is to elect a prime minister and to pass laws until new parliamentary elections are held under a new constitution.

Aug 13  The summer Olympic games in London have ended. The number of medals awarded to athletes according to country puts the US first at 104 and China second at 88, but dividing the number of medals by population puts Trinidad & Tobago at the top at 3.3 per million. New Zealand scores 3.0 per million. China, because of its large population, scores 0.06 – a common score – about the same as Ethiopia, Turkey and Mexico. The United States scores much higher, at 0.33. Singapore, with two medals, scores 0.37. Canada scores at 0.52 up there with Germany at 0.54 and Russia at 0.59. Sweden scores 1.98 and Denmark at 1.6. A Ugandan won the men's marathon which provided the country its one medal, a score of 0.27 per million and a great personal achievement for the runner. The same can be said for Ethiopia's score of .07 and the great achievement of the winner of the woman's marathon. These countries were not expected to participate in activities more common to affluent countries.

Aug 14  Egypt's fifth president, Mohamed Morsi, has strengthened his political power by sending Field Marshal Tantawi, 76, and armed forces chief of staff Sami Anan, 64, into retirement. He has done so apparently assuring the men that they were retiring with dignity. Morsi has also scrapped a constitutional document that gives the military legislative and other powers. Morsi appears to have the approval of the military men being elevated in rank.

Aug 15  Yesterday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spoke of an increase of Iranians in Syria to prop up the Assad regime militarily. Also yesterday, the Assad regime's former prime minister, Riyad Farid Hijab, described the Syrian government as collapsing "morally, financially and militarily" and as controlling no more than 30 percent of Syrian territory. in Mecca the Saudi king, Abdullah, hosted a conclave of Muslims, including Iran's president, Ahmadinejad, whom he asked to sit next to him. King Abdullah proposed the establishment of a dialogue center to promote inter-sectarian harmony, and the proposal was received with thunderous applause. Iran appears to be positioning itself for the loss of the Assad regime as an ally.

Aug 16  Today, apparently with little understanding of the breadth that is politics, Floyd Lee Corkins walked into the office of the conservative Family Research Council in Washington DC, said he didn't like their politics and committed an amost universally despised political act among those who believe in democracy: he began shooting.

Aug 18  In South Africa, striking miners armed with machetes, sticks and at least one handgun are reported to have aggressed against a line of police. Considering violence against the police was a tactic with unsatisfying results. The police responded with what they describe as self-defence. The result: 34 miners dead, another 78 wounded and more than 200 arrested. South Africa is ruled today by the African National Congress, which describes itself as a "disciplined force of the left." President Jacob Zuma says, "We are all saddened and dismayed by the events."

Aug 19  Mitt Romney says he will cut federal money to Public Broadcasting, describing subsidies as money borrowed from China. The US federal government is spending $444 million on PBS in the fiscal year 2012. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation receives more federal money: $946 million in 2006. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) draws revenue from user fees – not an option Romney is considering. In the US, commercials are more pervasive than decades ago, with stations cutting portions of rebroadcast dramas. Recently Americans were stuck with commercials while trying to watch the Summer Olympics. A few found refuge with CBC or BBC broadcasts – public television being what public parks are supposed to be.

Aug 20  In Burma, the government abolishes pre-publication media censorship. Reporters will no longer be required to submit their work to state censors before publication.

Aug 20  Self-inflicted tragedy has reduced another person of high social standing. Gu Kailai, once described as China's Jacqueline Kennedy, is given a suspended death sentence, said to amount to a life in prison. She admitted in court to poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood. Gu Kailai is the wife of Bo Xilai, who was head of the Communist Party in Chongking and a contender for a position on the Communist Party's politburo. Four senior police officers have admitted charges of covering up evidence linking Ms Gu to the murder. Neil Heywood refused her request to illegally transfer money to Britain. Ms Gu had a reputation for charm, brains and drive. She has a masters degree in international politics and represented several Chinese companies in high-profile cases in the United States. The world is also witnessing a self-inflicted tragedy befalling Bashar al-Assad and his family.

Aug 21  Yesterday, President Obama warned that use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime represented a "red line" for the United States. Today, Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov displayed his measure of sensitivity to events in Syria. He warned against unilateral action in Syria apparently even if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons against Syrian populations. Lavrov spoke of the norms of international law and the principles contained in the United Nations Charter, and he warned against "democracy by bombs." The use of bombs for democracy during World War II, the Nuremberg trials, the Genocide Convention of 1948 and the UN Charter forbidding slaughter within a country didn't appear to be a parts of Lavrov's (or Putin's) point of view.

Aug 22  China's state media accuses President Obama of planning to use Syria's chemical weapons as an excuse for intervening militarily, suggesting that if the Assad regime does use chemical weapons China would fault Obama more than it would chemical weapons and the Assad regime.

Aug 22  The United Nations reports that in Latin America the gap between rich and poor has been widening. Guatemala is described as have the widest gap and Venezuela with the most narrow. Latin America is described as the most urbanized region in the world, with eight out of 10 people living in cities.

Aug 23  Prime Minister David Cameron joins President Obama in warning the Assad regime about use of chemical weapons. Presumably, contrary to China's recent claim, Obama and Cameron are trying to discourage the Assad regime from using chemical weapons rather than looking for an excuse to intervene.

Aug 26  Armed Assad supporters continue their attempt to control with intimidation. Recently In a Druse neighborhood an armed contingent carried the dead body of an anti-Assad fighter through the streets to show what happens to those who fight the Assad regime. News today describes a pro-Assad force In Darayya (a neighborhood near Damascus) having slaughtered a couple of hundred people execution style rather than in actual combat, and the government media, Sana, explains that Darayya was being "cleansed of terrorist remnants." But if Syria is again to function socially and economically as a coherent political unit, the ideologically and religiously diverse Syrians will have to get along better than they are today by moving to something more democratic. Democracy engages in an appeal to hearts and minds. The politics of intimidation – the way of authoritarian rule – is not going to work any longer in Syria. Armed Assad supporters are pursuing an impossibility.

Aug 27  Conflict at the Lonmin (a British company) platinum mine in South Africa continues – largely another division of wealth problem complicated by fighting between labor unions. Rock driller operators have been demanding a monthly wage of 12,500 rand ($1,500). Lonmin says they get about 9,800 rand with an average monthly bonus of 1,500 rand. Other miners are on strike in support of the rock drillers. Today, only thirteen percent of the 28,000 miners showed up for work and they were confronted by strikers. The production of platinum has fallen, and its price has risen on the world market. Lonmin's stock had declined again today, down to $626 from $774 eleven days ago.

Aug 28  Burma's military-backed government announces the removal of 2,082 names from its list of people considered a threat to national security. According to BBC News, this reduces the list about one-third. State media describes the move as a signal to Burmese citizens abroad that they can return home.

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Yulia Tymoshenko

Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009 (attribution: premier.gov.ru)

Aug 28  At the Republican National Convention, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik delivers the invocation. In it he denies the founding of the United States as having a place in history and as men responding politically to a new philosophical trend. Instead, he describes the founding of the United States in the same manner that despotic monarchies defended their rule: the claim of divine agency.

Aug 29  In a television interview today, Assad sticks with his political solution to Syria's crisis: killing and terrorizing his opponents – more than half the country. He says "I can summarise in one phrase: we are progressing, the situation on the ground is better but we have not yet won. This will take more time."

Aug 29  In Ukraine the high court rejects the appeal of former president, Yulia Tymoshenko. She is serving seven years in prison. She had favored aligning Ukraine with NATO and the European Union rather than with Putin's Russia. Her opponent, now President Yanukovych, has closer ties with Russia. Temoshenko claims that the charges against her are politically motivated. She complains that there has been no judicial review and that she is not receiving proper medical care.

Aug 30  Human Rights Watch reports that "Syrian government forces have dropped bombs and fired artillery at or near at least 10 bakeries in Aleppo province over the past three weeks, killing and maiming scores of civilians who were waiting for bread."

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Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.