December 2012

Dec 1  Egypt's new draft constitution is described by proponents as creating a balance of power between the president and the parliament that will avoid the parliament being dissolved or the president having to resign. The president is to be elected by popular vote for a four year term and eligible for no more than two terms. Opponents complain about an article that protects "the true nature of the Egyptian family" and promotes "morals and values," phrasing they fear will allow state control over the contents of such arts forms as books and films. They complain about a lack of protection for female equality. And they fear an article that bans "insulting or defaming all prophets and messengers" or "insulting humans" – broad language that might be used to crack down on many forms of speech. The draft was approved by a special assembly after a minority of liberal and Christian members walked out in protest. Mass demonstrations have been taking place for days, including those who support the constitution with banners that read "The people want implementation of God's law." President Morsi has decreed for himself temporary power to block Egypt's judiciary from blocking the creation of the constitution. This angers Egypt's liberals who are screaming against Morsi's "power grab" and describing him as a "dictator" and "pharaoh." Morsi declares against dictatorship and for democracy. He sets December 15 for a referendum on the constitution.

Dec 3  Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to world condemnation of considered plans to expand Jewish settlements, saying "We will carry on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel's strategic interests." Britain, France and Sweden follow by a summon of Israeli ambassadors, and Germany and Russia voice their disapproval. The planned construction is for an area just east of East Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim that building there would cut Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank.

Dec 4  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz asks about the decision to assassinate the Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari – which occurred on November 14. Jabari received a draft of an agreement for a permanent cease-fire with Israel and, claims Haaretz, "was apparently expected to reply to it affirmatively." The newspaper claims that "... the decision to kill Jabari shows that our decision makers decided a cease-fire would be undesirable for Israel at this time... Israel's leaders killed three birds with one stone: They assassinated the man who had the power to make a deal with Israel; they took revenge on someone who had caused more than a few Israeli casualties; and they signaled to Hamas that communications with it will be conducted only through military force." By the way, back in October Prime Minister Netanyahu called for early elections and he is said to be concerned about the opinions of Israelis on the far right.

Dec 5  The argument about President Bush's tax cuts of 2001 extends to within the Republican Party. Senator DeMint of South Carolina opposes compromise with the Democrats regarding taxes, claiming that raising taxes would "destroy jobs." In today's Washington Post, Ruth Marcus reminds us that the purpose of the Bush tax cuts, which DeMint wants to maintain, was to return to tax payers what President Bush said was a surplus. Tax payers, said Bush, had been over-charged. "As it turned out," writes Marcus, "the people of America – in particular, the rich people of America – hadn't been overcharged, they were undercharged. They received an unaffordable tax cut premised on the false notion of affordability."

Dec 6  Ireland unveils another austerity budget and protests hit the streets. People don't like having to pay for problems created by the country's banking-construction bubble, and there are complaints that austerity isn't working. Some finance-oriented people, meanwhile, are talking about a turn around. Ireland's largest banks can borrow again on the open market. Interest rates on Ireland's sovereign bonds are falling. Moody's and Fitch have upgraded their outlooks on the country and some of its banks. A right-of-center party is in power, and, seeing the world differently from some US Republicans, they have been raising taxes in addition to cabbslashing spending. But the government is holding down on taxing multi-national corporations – which served them well before the 2008 crash.

Dec 7  Today, Egypt's opposition coalition rejected meeting President Morsi tomorrow to discuss their differences. Morsi wants political stability and, he says, democracy. The question remains whether Morsi is willing to give ground by offering a better guarantee of rights than exists in the draft constitution that will be voted on by the public in eight days. The opposition coalition appears to think that talking with President Morsi would be to legitimize his current political positions. Opponents of the new constitution appear to have worked themselves into a passionate view of Morsi as an evil tyrant, and they appear to believe that they have the power to overthrow him by continuing their street protests. Recent nationwide voting suggests otherwise, and the military stands with Morsi on the side of stability.

Dec 9  James Baker, the Republican Party's former Secretary of State, Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Treasury, tells Fareed Zakeria on CNN that the debate between President Obama and the Republicans regarding the fiscal cliff crisis ought to be "done in confidence and behind closed doors because it makes it extraordinarily difficult when you try to do it in the public domain. It looks like the campaign is just continuing... I don't think they'll ever get there doing it this way. They're just jousting with each other. And each side is repeating its campaign talking points."

Dec 10  Prime Minister Netanyahu says that a recent vow by Hamas to vanquish Israel vindicated Israel's reluctance to relinquish more land to the Palestinians. "They have no intention of compromising with us," he said. "They want to destroy our country... We want true peace with our neighbors. but we will not close our eyes nor bury our heads in the sand."

Dec 10  In Romania, anti-austerity voters give electoral victory to Prime Minister Victor Ponta's center-left coalition.

Dec 11  Being competitive in attracting business is argued by those wanting right-to-work (anti-union shop) legislation in Michigan. Meanwhile the fire in a Bangladesh Tazreen Fashions garment factory on November 24 that killed 112 is still in the news. Tazreen Fashions had been competitive enough to attract business from Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. Wal-Mart management claims it didn't know where their business was going, that work had been subcontracted to Tazreen Fashions without their knowledge.

Dec 12  Russia refuses to join the West in removing Bashar al-Assad from power in order to end the war in Syria. A think tank scholar in Russia, Georgy Minsky, is quoted in the Washington Post: "Putin has no doubts that the regime will fall. But he doesn't want it to look like he dumped Assad. He would lose face if he moves closer to the West and gives up his support for Assad."

Dec 12  President Obama joins the US with the move last month by France, Britain, Turkey and Gulf states in recognizing the anti-Assad coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

Dec 13  Japan complains of a state-owned Chinese aircraft intruding into its airspace today. Also, today is the 75th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. In Nanjing sirens wailed, thousands sang songs, soldiers in dress uniforms carried memorial wreaths, and Nanjing's head of the Communist Party told the crowd, "We are here to recall history, grieve for compatriots who suffered and died, and to educate people about the lessons of history." A nationalism by Japanese troops outraged with the Chinese was part of the history that produced the Nanjing Massacre. Some have been describing China's Communist Party as appealing to an extraordinary nationalism to create "cohesion" and to win the support of China's citizenry.

Dec 14  A Polish national In Britain, Wlodzimierz Umaniec, who has claimed that his vandalism is art, is sentenced to two years in prison. Umaniec has been reaching for attention by promoting an undeveloped philosophy of art, a movement called Yellowism. On Twitter, Yellowism receives insults.

Dec 15  Another young loner kills strangers. He kills 20 children at an elementary school and five others, but also his mother – in Newtown Connecticut. The killer, Adam Lanza, is a reminder of Canada's young killer, Kimveer Gill who was also "quiet and unassuming" and a sharp student. Gill had the antipathy toward humanity in general that it takes to do what he and Adam Lanza did to strangers. Lanza's antipathy toward his mother, if that is what drove him to kill her, is still a mystery. The other ingredient in Adam Lanza's case was the availability of guns. Lanza's mother had a gun collection which became her son's weapons.

Dec 16  From Lebanon, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, a Shi'ite and ally of President Bashar al-Assad, says: "The situation in Syria is getting more complicated [but] anyone who thinks the armed opposition can settle the situation on the ground is very very very mistaken." Nasrallah is supported by Iran's autocratic regime and is accused of sending fighters to Syria to help Assad.

Dec 17  The Assad administration in the person of Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa proclaims that neither side can win Syria's civil war. El Arabiya News repeats a report that President Assad is planning an escape from Damascus and preparing for a last stand in his home town of Qardaha in the Alawite area on the Mediterranean coast.

Dec 17  A story emerges about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shooter's father was uncomfortable living with his wife Nancy and their "special needs" son, Adam. He divorces her and leaves her with an annual $240,000 payment. She has a survivalist philosophy and a lot of guns. She has been teaching Adam to shoot. Adam is dysfunctional socially and probably sexually frustrated and disgusted with himself and life in general. He plays video games – reported to be the kind with a lot of shooting and killing people. The mother tells a friend that Adam is getting worse, that she is "losing" him, but she hasn't locked up her guns or removed them from her home. Adam kills her, 20 children and six adults and ends his shooting spree by killing himself.

Dec 18  Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has won in a landslide, promising to hang tough against China's challenge in the East China Sea and to improve Japan's stagnating economy. The LPD has held power most of the time since the end of World War II. Its rival, the center-left Democratic Party has been in power for the last three years. In the elections just ended, a third party movement failed to make gains. The prime minister to be, Abe, will return to office on December 26. He promises more public spending despite Japan's debt near 200 percent of GDP. Japan is stagnating economically because of declining exports and because the public is not buying as much as economic strategists would like. Abe plans to push the annual GDP growth rate to 3 percent.

Dec 19  In northwestern Pakistan two vaccination workers in a campaign against polio have been shot to death. No group is reported to have claimed responsibility, but the Taliban is said to have accused health workers of being US spies and has claimed that vaccine makes people sterile.

Dec 19  Word is out that mass murderer Adam Lanza, age 20, shot his mother after learning that she was planning to send him away to a "psychiatric facility". There is speculation that they quarrelled. The mother, Nancy Lanza, didn't think of locking up her guns, and Adam shot her in the head in the morning while she was still in bed. Nancy is reported as having spent time as a volunteer with kindergartners at the school where Adam continued shooting. According to an interview with a plumber who worked at the family home, Adam Lanza spent hours playing violent video games such as Call Of Duty.

Dec 20  After many months of conflict with the US position that Assad would fall from power and should fall from power, Russia's President Putin now proclaims that Russia's main concern is the fate of Syria. "We are not concerned," he says, "about the fate of Assad's regime." Putin is looking to a political settlement without Assad – the US position for more than a year. Putin tries to put a good face on Russia's position regarding Syria, which has included support for the Assad regime, by saying: "We understand what is going on there." Also today Putin defends a proposed ban on US citizens adopting Russian children. This is in retaliation for what he describes as an "unfriendly human rights law" in the United States. That law restricts high-ranking Russians involved in the abuse and death of Sergei Magnitsky from visiting the United States.

Dec 21  Regarding mass murder, Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post cites a 2011 University of California at Berkeley study that finds states with strong laws that commit the mentally ill have about a one-third lower homicide rate. Krauthammer adds that "Just a tiny percent of the mentally ill become killers." Then he turns to the issue of video games: "Young men sit for hours pulling video-game triggers, mowing down human beings en masse without pain or consequence. And we profess shock when a small cadre of unstable, deeply deranged, dangerously isolated young men go out and enact the overlearned narrative." He notes that "involuntary commitment impinges upon the liberty clause of the Fifth Amendment" and that "curbing 'entertainment' violence impinges upon First Amendment free speech."

Dec 21  President Obama is urging Americans to keep up the pressure for tighter gun control. It is hoped that without assault weapons murderers will not be able to kill so many so fast. Bomb making is more complex, and its substances are not an issue. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 including 19 children and injured 800 with a bomb. Andrew Kehoe blew up an elementary school, killing 38 children, two teachers and four adults.

Dec 23  Following the massacre in Connecticut nine days ago, a debate is rising about the influence of violent video games. On December 21st the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, complained that "media conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society by bringing an ever-more-toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty into our homes." A few students of human behavior have doubts and want more research. Indeed, not everyone who watches these games feels an urge to kill people in real life. The question is whether the games encourage abnormal people caught up in abnormal circumstances to kill – something difficult for academics to substantiate scientifically. Many are ready to err on the side of the games being a danger. They see the games as having no countervailing entertainment or artistic value and at best only encourage indolence and stupifying mindlessness.

Dec 24  In India young men have been able to rape with impunity because of police attitudes, poverty of the victims, class attitudes and court costs for the victims. Victims who want to go to court must wait years for their cases to be heard. The conviction rate is 34.6 percent. Last week in India's capital, New Delhi, a middle-class 23-year-old woman medical student was raped by as many as seven men for about an hour and then thrown off the bus. The men are reported as lower class recent migrants to the city. This, in addition to not having taken place in the countryside, has resulted in days of violent protests in New Delhi. Prime Minister Singh today says he shares people's anger and anguish but that violence will serve no purpose. He promises that something will be done to protect women.

Dec 25  In Swaziland, run by one of the world's last absolute monarchies, where the king has great wealth and a palace for at least ten of his thirteen wives, where trade unions and opposition parties have been banned, police announce that an 1889 law that bans immoral dress will be enforced it they receive a complaint. Such dress includes mini-skirts or a top that exposes part of the stomach. The police spokesperson, a woman, added that women make it easier for rapists by wearing mini-skirts. According to BBC News, "Last month, police reportedly blocked women in mini-skirts marching against rape in the second city, Manzini."

Dec 26  China opens its 1,428-mile highspeed train route. It cuts a 22 hour journey to 10 hours and has 35 stops between Beijing and the southern city of Guanzhou. It's viewed as both a convenience and a good investment for China's economy — as the US stays with its less efficient and more environmentally damaging air travel.

Dec 26  President Morsi signs into law Egypt's new constitution. Its passage just won with 63.8 percent of the votes, but only a third of the electorate voted. Many bitterly oppose the constitution, saying the document favors Islamists and betrays the anti-Mubarak revolution. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie says Egyptians should "begin building our country's rebirth with free will... men, women, Muslims and Christians." Some look for his support in reforming the constitution so it can be more broadly supported. Meanwhile, more unrest and division is foreseen as rising from President Morsi's response to economic difficulties.

Dec 28  In Syria, "extremists" are better armed than the US backed Free Syrian Army, according to the director for the Syrian American Council in Washington, Mohammad Alaa Ghanem. In today's Washington Post he writes of his recent visit to Syria and having found the Aleppo Transitional Revolutionary Council "run by a 23-member board of university-educated professionals," and he was impressed by their professionalism. He also found anti-Assad combatants joining the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra, The who were better supplied with food and weapons.

Dec 29  In the Philippines a bill is signed into law providing free access to contraception and family planning. The Catholic Church is described as having bitterly opposed the bill, and President Benigno Aquino is calling for national reconciliation. The Philippines has one of the fastest growing populations in Asia. There are forecasts that the population could double again within three decades. Manila, including adjacent Quezon City, leads the world in population density.

Dec 30  Uneasy is the dictator who tries to stay in power by sending murderous forces against neighborhoods that dislike him. El Arabiya News reports that Bashar al-Assad fears sleeping in the same bedroom on successive nights, he doesn't step outside into the daylight, is on guard against his food being poisoned. and he restricts his contacts "to a small circle of family members and trusted advisors."

Dec 31  Germany's conservative chancellor, Angela Merkel, warns that "the economic environment" will be "more difficult next year." She associates German prosperity with a prosperous European Union (with whom Germany does most of its trading). Referring to policy she tells her fellow Germans that "we need to strike the right balance" and we need "continued patience." This contradicts the foreign minister of France's Socialist Party government. Last week he forecast that "the worst is behind us."

to November | to January 2013

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