Jan 1 Reuters reports that Syrians have awakened on New Year's Day "to countrywide aerial bombardment." Others report Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov asserting that Assad has no intention of stepping down and Assad speaking of his willingness to end the fighting through dialogue. With this there is no reason for confidence that the end of the war in Syria can soon be brokered by the UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Assad's opponents have made gains in recent months, and there is little sign that Assad can reverse those gains or their momentum. A few months ago a few pundits in the West were expressing concern that the war in Syria would drag for many years and spread to Syria's neighbors. Today Linux Beach, on the blog sheet Daily Kos, expresses a contrary view. He predicts that 2013 will see an "end to the Assad regime." I'm with him.
Jan 2 The so-called fiscal cliff, invented by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in the summer of 2011 and passed by Congress, has been averted. His intention was to address the government debt issue and to skirt around a debt ceiling impasse. Today, Congress completed its vote for a bill that averted the "fiscal cliff." The 2011 invention didn't work and another debt ceiling crisis returns in February. The debt ceiling was invented by Congress in 1917 as a device to help finance World War One.
Jan 3 Eighteen days have passed since the rape on a bus in New Delhi, and demonstrations are still going strong. Indian authorities have charged five men with rape, and it is written that they will be tried in a couple of days and may be sentenced to death, as requested by the victim's father. A sixth will be tried in a juvenile court. The rapists are described as having been drinking and joyriding in an empty bus. They offered a ride to the victim and her male companion, who were waiting at a bus stop after having been to the cinema. On board the bus, the joyriders beat the male, scolded the young woman for being out at night with a male. They beat and took turns raping her and driving the bus. One of them shoved a metal rod into her vagina. Then they threw both victims from the moving bus. The young woman died in a hospital in Singapore on the 29th of December after great efforts were made to save her life. New Delhi now has more police night patrols, checks on bus drivers and their assistants, and the banning of buses with tinted windows or curtains. More stringent laws regarding rape are expected.
Jan 4 "Politicians don't win elections by promising new sewers;" so says Miles O'Brien on the News Hour. Speaking of crumbling sewers (alongside our other infrastructure problems), Sue McCormick, sewerage department director for Detroit, says, "We have deferred replacement in the public systems. Ultimately we're going to see potential significant rises in failures." Pundit Fareed Zakaria complains of big spending for entitlements (consumption) while "spending for the next generation of growth has few supporters." The US is affluent compared to what it was around 1900, but we are conflicted concerning where we spend – ultimately a distribution and fun and games problem.
Jan 6 Assad makes a speech to Syrians and calls for "a reconciliation conference with those who have not betrayed Syria." He says nothing about his responsibility for Syria's troubles – what he calls a "black cloud of pain." He calls his adversaries "the enemies of God and puppets of the West" and rejects dialogue with them. His speech is scorned internationally except by the usual few, scorned by those who have taken up arms against him, but cheered by the gathering of worshippers around him. His speech is a dictator's rationalizations and delusions. It's a speech of defiance and confirms the need of overwhelming pressure against him.
Jan 7 Yesterday as Bashar al Assad made his speech at the Damascus Opera House, members of the crowd chanted "We will die for you" and "God, Syria and Bashar are enough." Every butcher-dictator needs some support around him. But there is also a little unneeded support in Western Europe and the Americas. Shooting down protesters, abductions, torture and military invasions of neighborhoods account for less with them than their ideological theorizing that whatever the West does in foreign policy is motivated by imperialism. Someone in Britain writes to the Guardian: "The only reason the West is against a negotiated settlement is from the very beginning we have only had one goal in Syria, regime change to install a puppet regime loyal to US/UK hegemony."
Jan 8 In democracies, those with political power tolerate insults. Kuwait's hereditary rulers, both the emir and prime minister, are members of the House of Sabah. They know that they are not universally appreciated, but they find it opportune to have a journalist, Ayyad al-Harbi, jailed for twitter "insults." Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy, and the monarchy has been in conflict with parliament. Parliamentary elections in December were boycotted by groups unimpressed by Kuwait's system of representation. The emir and prime minister are of a clan that migrated from Arabia and established their power in Kuwait in the early 1700s. Most of their extended family receives a monthly stipend. They host thousands of US troops, and their military is trained by the US. (But, Imperialism theorists can relax. Kuwait is oil-rich and controls that resource — not what transpires with victims of imperialism.)
Jan 10 In Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Hassan and other leading pirates have agreed to end their pirating. Authorities have persuaded them to hand over their boats and weapons. BBC News quotes a government official: "They realised that they cannot function as before with impunity and profits are no longer good." The decline in profits is said to have resulted from an increased use of private security guards on ships and better co-ordination between naval patrols in the area.
Jan 11 Despite Japan's huge public debt – almost twice that of the United States – its new conservative government approves a stimulus package equal to $116 billion dollars. The money is to be spent on infrastructure and rebuilding areas devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Some will be invested in education. Japan's economy is in recession, having dipped for two successive three-month periods. The stimulus is expected to boost the economy by 2 percent and create 600,000 jobs. Japan's economy has been hurt by slowing global demand and a dip in its exports, and it has low domestic consumption. Japan's manufacturers would like their fellow countrymen to buy more, and they are looking to a decline in the value of Japan's currency to make their products less expensive abroad.
Jan 12 Yesterday In the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson wrote of "a year when the lower 48 states suffered the warmest temperatures, and the second-craziest weather, since record-keeping began." He added that "We see what looks like disaster looming but don't even talk about it, because the politics of climate change are inconvenient. Future generations will curse our silence." His article gets 2532 comments, including a complaint about liberal hysteria.
Jan 13 China Daily reports that smog has "enveloped a large swathe of East and Central China" since Friday, "causing highway closures and flight delays in several provinces."
Jan 13 Arab News reports that King Abdullah's appointment of thirty educated women to the Shoura Council (a 150-member advisory body that can propose laws to the king) has won praise from "Saudis and expatriates from all walks of life... In coffee shops, five-star hotel lobbies, newsrooms, chatrooms, Internet groups and on Facebook and Twitter." On twitter are comments from a few women in the West who want more equality for Saudi women now.
Jan 14 The Guardian runs a story that headlines, "Americans are sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy nations." The story draws from an academic study in the US, and continues: "Americans lose more years of life to alcohol and other drugs than people in other affluent countries ... The US has the highest obesity rate ... death and disease take a huge toll on the younger American population, even though the US spends more on healthcare per capita than almost any other country in the world ... The situation will not improve unless Americans wake up to the truth about their health and a public debate begins."
Jan 15 In Mali, religiously extremist forces somewhat associated with Al Qaeda have been expanding farther south, past Timbuktu and Gao. In cooperation with the government of Mali, the French are sending military aircraft and hundreds of ground troops, and in a few days they will be joined by a West African international force expected to be more than 3,000 in number. The insurgents have been intimidating Mali's religiously moderate populations. On behalf of the insurgents, Omar Ould Hamahar of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, fantasizes: "France has opened the gates of hell ... it has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia." The war in Afghanistan has been going for ten years. Having little support from the general population, the religious extremists in Mali are not expected to last that long, maybe not into the summer, when the Sahara heat makes ground fighting difficult.
Jan 16 An interview with a woman refugee in the Mali city of Ségou, printed in Britain's Guardian: "We left Timbuktu because of the suffering we endured there," she said. "The Mujao [Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa] and the others harassed us. We are Muslims but they imposed sharia on us by force. They are truly terrorists." Yesterday the UN Security Council unanimously supported France's intervention. Only a tiny few in Britain complain. Britain's Socialist Worker Party newspaper: "In reality the new scramble for Africa is a battle for resources and strategic interests. Now the US and [Communist] China have joined old colonial powers like Britain and France." The way out left in France expresses its adherence to anti-imperialist theory and opposition to intervention by describing Socialist Premier Hollande and the French Communist Party (PCF), who supports him, as "petty bourgeois."
Jan 16 The European Union welcomes Saudi King Abdullah's appointment of women to the kingdom's Shura Council. Some clerics protest and demand a meeting with King Abdullah. Writes Al Arabiya News, "They waited for two hours but were denied access."
Jan 17 Two days ago a jihadist group in Algeria spoke of having taken 41 hostages in retaliation for French military action in neighboring Mali. This morning's news describes the Algerian army as having rescued some of the hostages. It appears that these were British Petroleum employees. Meanwhile France increases its troop strength in Mali to 1,400.
Jan 18 This morning, Al Arabiya reports "nearly 650 hostages freed [today] by the Algerian army." It describes Algeria's government as "army dominated" and "hardened by decades of fighting Islamist militants." BBC News reports that "around 30" of the hostages are unaccounted for. The Jihadists in Algeria have been described as linked with the rebels across the border in Mali, and today those rebels are reported as having retreated northward from the town of Konna (less than fifty miles north of Mopti).
Jan 19 A Mali singer quoted in Al Arabiya: "We are very very concerned about not being able to sing in our own country because not only are women being raped, beaten and mistreated in the north, but now they want to prevent us from making music, knowing that music is the soul of Mali." He with others have released a seven-minute song titled "Mali Ko," which calls on Malians to join hands against the warring that the jihadist insurgents have brought to their country. Another sign of the futility in the tactics of the al Qaeda linked jihadists is in the Algerian army's prestige among Algerians. That prestige came from defeating jihadists in recent wars. The jihadists, however, appear not to link their success to a strategy of hearts-and-minds.
Jan 20 Across the United States yesterday, organized citizens expressed their opposition to government taking away their guns. "Stop the Gun Grabbers." read their signs. In Connecticut, expressing fear and an absolutism that rules out the measure that applies to much law making, Jessie Buchanan said: "They could take away the 10-round magazine today and tomorrow it would be the five-round and the next day it would be the whole thing."
Jan 21 Algerian troops attacked the hostage takers after learning they were killing their hostages. This morning at least 48 hostages are reported as having died, including nine Japanese. Freed were 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners. A few of the hostage takers survived and are prisoners. Their blank-faced leader, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is now the most wanted man in the world. He began the hostage taking by calling it a "blessed operation" by "we in al-Qaeda." It was to counter the French move into Mali. The French, he said, had fallen into a trap "more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia." Today the French and Mali government forces are moving easily northward toward Timbuktu and being cheered by Malians. The al-Qaeda linked rebels are running away, and Belmokhtar will soon be dead.
Jan 23 Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party and his ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitani Party coalition allies take 31 of 120 parliament seats in yesterday's election. A newly formed centrist party, Yesh Atid, wins 19 seats. Its leader has been described as someone who will go along with Netanyahu's policies. Netanyahu will continue as prime minister and no policy changes are expected as Israel feels secure against pressures from Palestinians, the United States or Europe.
Jan 24 Yesterday's parliamentary elections in Jordan are touted by the monarchy of King Abdullah II as a success. Abdullah is working toward politically modernizing his kingdom by giving more power to parliament, and he has promised to consult with parliament in picking his cabinet.
Jan 26 Prince Turki bin Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies and former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, has called for a level playing field for the anti-Assad forces in Syria. "What is needed," he said, "are sophisticated, high-level weapons that can bring down planes, can take out tanks at a distance." The prince warned of extremists in Syria, and he added that they were predicted from day one. "Stop the killing and you won't have these terrorists," he said, "They won't have any place to go in Syria."
Jan 27 Russia's Prime Minister Medvedev claims that Bashar al-Assad has made a "grave, perhaps fatal error" and that he should have brought the opposition to the negotiating table a long time ago." He sees Assad's chances of staying in power as shrinking – as if Assad could have remained in power months ago with a negotiated settlement. Many people other than Russia's leaders and the UN's Kofe Annan saw that Assad couldn't have both negotiations and stay in power. Today, Medvedev reiterates Russia's support for negotiations but adds that Assad must not be pushed out by external forces. Some are sick of Russia's talk and wonder whether Assad now, at long last, is willing to give up power rather than be driven out by force. When he is, there will be real negotiations.
Jan 28 In Egypt massive anti-Mursi rioting has killed forty-eight people have died since the 25th. Liberals and secularists had not done as well as conservative Muslims and the Muslim Brotherhood in recent election, and now liberal and secular groups claim that the new constitution is the work of an assembly unfairly dominated by Islamists. President Morsi claims support for democracy, and he wants to talk to his opponents and allay their fears. One anti-Morsi demonstrator declares that, "only protests work." Democracy works only when the losing side stays in the game, and Egypt's main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, tries to stay in the game by ordering Morsi to appoint a national unity government and name a commission to amend the disputed constitution.
Jan 29 Claims by Mokhtar Belmokhtar and warnings from Egypt's President Morsi that in Mali the French were falling into a quagmire appear to have been distortions. Today French troops are in control of the most important towns in Mali including Timbuktu. Yesterday, Malian crowds were joyous and shouting "Vive la France." Parallel to this, on CNN on the 27th, journalist Fareed Zakaria criticized the notion that a great al Qaeda danger is on the rise in northwest Africa.
Jan 30 Israel's airforce strikes a convoy of vehicles inside Syria, apparently targeting weapons destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Assad's television accuses Israel of bombing a military research center at Jamraya. An aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced that strikes by foreign powers against Syria will be considered a strike against Iran. Israel associates the Assad regime and Iran and sees Iran as the foremost threat to its security.
Jan 31 Israel is reported in the BBC as worried about sophisticated conventional weapons being passed to Hezbollah. Russia responds with a warning that yesterday's air strike is "unacceptable," and it adds: "We once again call on the end to all violence in Syria."
Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.