October 2012

Demonstrations in Syria

Despite months of regime assaults, some neighborhoods in Syria are still demonstrating. Today (Oct 5) a YouTube video shows one such demonstration with a sign insulting to President Obama and NATO.

anti-drone protest

Image from 2011, found in Opinion Maker magazine

Oct 1  Arnold Schwarzenegger, impulse and the human condition: On 60 Minutes, he says his family was most important to him. Referring to his hanky-panky with the family maid that ruined it for him, he asks himself, "That is something that I will always look back and say, 'How could you have done that?'"

Oct 1  Labour Party leader Ed Miliband tells British banks that if they don't split between "casino operation" investment banking and traditional customer banking, a future Labour government will "break them up."

Oct 1  Bahrain's highest court upholds prison sentences for nine medics who served people injured during last year's pro-democracy protests.

Oct 3  President Assad of Syria enters another month of war against those he calls terrorists – and I view as freedom fighters. Last month the Assad regime announced they had cleared Damascus of the terrorists, but then they felt they had to attack again in Damascus, and again, and again. It was the same with the major city of Allepo: claims of having defeated the terrorists and fighting that rages on to today. Syria's foreign minister talks silly by saying that his government is ready to negotiate an end to the fighting but that various nations have to stop supplying arms to the terrorists first. Last month BBC News America broadcast a history of the conflict in which it described Assad's mother telling him to be tough like his father. And to today that continues to be Bashar al-Assad's solution to the conflict, although his side is gaining nothing while killing a lot of people, making refugees of many, destroying buildings and creating a lot of suffering.

Oct 5  In the wake of a cross-border mortar attack by Syria and Turkey's retaliatory response (two days ago), fears have been expressed about an escalating regional conflict. For months we have been hearing such fears from those opposed to arming Syria's Free Syrian Army. Today, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague says, again perhaps, "...the longer the conflict goes on in Syria the greater the danger for international peace and security." Meanwhile there are no signs of diplomacy speeding a settlement, and the world stands by as Assad's aircraft and artillery bomb and shell neighborhoods hostile to his rule.

Oct 7 In Pakistan, politician and former cricket star, Imran Kahn, has led a thousands-strong nine-mile motorcade and protest rally against President Obama's drone policy. Khan describes drone attacks as violations of Pakistani sovereignty and international law, and he advocates shooting them down. He and others describe drone attacks as counter productive. The occasional attacks kill a targeted enemy leader but inflame opinion against the United States, and others rise to take the place of whomever is killed. At stake essentially, says Khan, is a hearts-and-minds struggle. A recent study by Stanford Law School and New York University's School of Law has called for a re-evaluation of drone policy, describing the number of "high-level" targets killed as a percentage of total casualties as extremely low: about 2 percent.

Oct 8  For the sixth day Assad's troops have fired into Turkey and Turkey has fired back. Turkey's President Gul said today that "worst-case scenarios" are playing out in Syria, that this could not go on indefinitely and that Assad's fall is inevitable. Speaking to reporters, Gul said. "It is a must for the international community to take effective action before Syria turns into a bigger wreck and further blood is shed." Some of us wonder about Assad's control over his troops (as well as police) – control that has in the past appeared lacking. A few days ago the Assad regime apologized to Turkey. Is Assad now willing to extend his war to Turkey and NATO? Are the same aggressive instincts of those forces under Assad, that have brought Syria to where it is now, speeding Assad to its demise?

Oct 9  With an 81% turnout in voting and 54% of the vote, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's chief of state and head of government since February 1999, has won another 6-year term as president. He is reported as saying that the more than six million people who voted for the oppostion should be taken into account going forward. Chavez promises "to respond with greater efficacy and efficiency to the needs of our people" and adds: "I promise you I'll be a better president."

Oct 10  Jordan is relatively quiet following demonstrations numbering thousands last week. Demonstrators and Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood want broader political representation and a more democratic parliament, and there is a call for parliament rather than the king to have the power to appoint or to dismiss the prime minister. Al Arabiya has recently reported the Syrian regime trying to promote unrest against Jordan's King Abdullah, who has allowed Syrian defectors and refugees into his kingdom. Jordan is hurting economically, but an uprising doesn't appear on the way in Jordan, which has a king shrewder than those who have been guiding the Assad regime. Like Muhammad VI in Morocco, King Abdullah allows people to express their grievances unmolested. Today, less than a week after dissolving parliament, King Abdullah appointed a new prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, who is forming Jordan's fifth government in two years.

Oct 11 Pakistan's Taliban is busy taking its backward steps in the ultimate contest of winning hearts and minds. A Taliban member has shot a 14-year-old school girl, Malala Yousafzai, in the head as she was riding home in a school bus. Two other girls were also shot. Malala had been campaigning for the right of girls to education. Mass protests against the shooting have erupted, with demonstrators carry signs reading: "Say no to terrorism" and "women's voice for peace, justice, freedom and honor." BBC News reports that Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayan has visited Malala in the hospital in Peshawar and has said it is time to "stand up to fight the propagators of such barbaric mindset and their sympathisers." Word comes from the Taliban that if the girl survives, another attempt will be made to kill her.

Oct 12  Three news items for today. Botswana's high court has overturned a customs law that prevented women from inheriting property, such as the family home. Botswana's constitution declares equality between men and women. The second item is from Tunisia, where an announcement has been made that the country's new constitution will have no clause for punishing blasphemy. Third, in Guatemala an army colonel and eight soldiers have been arrested and accused of killing indigenous demonstrators during last week's protest.

Oct 15  Singapore and Switzerland are opposed to foreigners moving funds to their banks for the purpose of tax avoidance. Germany is working with Switzerland on the matter. And wary of its citizens hiding money abroad, the German government has signed an agreement with Singapore for an exchange of banking information.

Oct 16  Abortions in Argentina are becoming more accessible. Abortion in Argentina was illegal except in the case of rape or to protect a woman's health. Doctors have performed an abortion for a woman who had been rescued from a prostitution ring. Argentina's Supreme Court overturned a previous decision, and the doctors will not be prosecuted. Women's rights advocates are celebrating.

Oct 17  Today in Uruguay a Senate vote of 17 for and 14 against gives women the right to a legal abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy and to later-term abortions when the mother's life is at risk or the fetus is so deformed it would not survive. A health minister, Leonel Briozzo, claims non-surgical abortions (using the drug misoprostol) ought to be standard practice for abortions. Cuba and Mexico are two other Latin American countries with similar abortion rights.

Oct 18  A month ago there was confused reporting about the attack in Libya that killed a US ambassador. On that same day as that attack there were anti-US demonstrations about a movie that insulted Muhammad the Prophet. Insufficient differentiation was applied by professional newsmen, and the confusion was passed on to members of the Obama administration (described here on Sep 17 and 19). The Republican candidate for president of the US, Mitt Romney, tried to gain politically from the events, and this week he was still trying to make as much of the sloppy intelligence as he could. He accused President Obama of conspiring to cover up what really happened in order to hide his weakness in foreign policy. Debating Romney on the 16th, Obama described what he had said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack: his calling the death of the ambassador an act of terror and his determination to hunt down those involved. Romney questioned this easily verifiable point and didn't want to give up his point. He complained that "It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group."

Oct 19  Approaching elections in the US in eighteen days, a common view among Republicans was expressed last night by Bill O'Reilly at Fox News in his "memo" titled "What kind of a country do you want?" This view holds that Democrats are taking the country too much in the direction of Europe and that Europe's troubles are too much government spending and a common profligacy. Spain's troubles arose from the foolishness of its banks and Greece suffered more from tax evasion than it did from common Greeks wallowing in ease and luxury like aristocrats. And there are European countries with high tax rates and extensive government spending programs that are doing well.

Oct 24  "I wish I'd heard more clarity from the candidates about how the United States will shape an Islamic world in turmoil," writes Washington Post opinion writer, David Ignatius. He misses the point. It is the people of the Islamic world who are shaping the islamic world. It was the people of the Islamic world who created the "Arab Spring," not US foreign policy. Rather than shape the Islamic world, the US can be a go-along helpful friend. It is the Islamic world that will give failure to the dreams of al Qaeda, that will give more freedom and opportunity to its women, more freedom for its intellectuals, better economic organization, less corruption and rid themselves of rulers like Bashar al-Assad.

Oct 25  The International Monetary Fund predicts that economic growth in the US in the next four years will be around 3 percent – better than other wealthy nations. In the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria credits Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury. He writes: "In addition to providing general liquidity, the Fed and the Treasury rescued the financial system but also forced it, through stress tests and new rules, to reform. The result is that US banks are in much better shape than their European counterparts."

Oct 28  People in the province of Zhejiang, on China's east coast south of Shanghai, have not been shy about protesting against environmental risks to their health. In September 2011, people stormed a factory they feared was endangering them with pollution. Several company cars were overturned and offices were destroyed. This month, in the city of Ningbo, they are protesting again. One of the protesters, a middle-aged woman, is reported by Dawn.com as saying, "The sky was so clear when I was a child. Look at it now." With the protests is the usual clash between police trying to keep order and the crowd increasing in anger as some among them are arrested and taken away. Meanwhile, authorities are moving to accommodate people's grievances. Government officials announce that a plan to expand a state-owned petrochemical plant has been shelved.

Oct 29  Protests continue in Ningbo China for a fourth day, with reports of little public confidense in the government's promises. Authorities demand that the protesters remain peaceful. Those detained in previous days have not yet been released. Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, describes the protesters as "educated, middle class professionals who are not overly political but can and will mobilize on public health issues."

Oct 29  Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik demands a halt to drone attacks by the US, claiming that the attacks have been rendering his country's efforts to counter terrorism ineffective.

Oct 30  Bahrain's King Hamad In November 2011 promised legal reforms to protect freedom of speech and other basic rights. Today a BBC News headline reads: "Bahrain government bans protests." The government is associating speech and violence and freedom of speech with agreeable speech. In the manner of authoritarian regimes the monarch's interior minister, Sheikh Rashid Al Khalifah, claims there has been abuse of the freedom of speech and that protests would be permitted only after security and stability are sufficient to maintain national unity.

Oct 31  Election results in the Ukraine indicated a win for president Viktor Yanukovich and his ruling party. Norway News describes the election as "largely in line with international standards" but adds that it is "particularly regrettable that the two leading opposition politicians Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuri Lutsenko are serving prison sentences and were unable to take part in the election." Viktor Yanukovich has been in power since February 2010. Under Yanukovich the Ukraine's relations with Russia have improved. Yanukovich continues to pursue a visa agreement with the European Union, but joining the EU is not in the cards – something Russian President Putin does not want.

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