February 2013

Feb 1 In her last interview as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton describes Iran and Russia as having stepped up their aid to the Assad regime. She says the Russians "continue to supply financial and military assistance in the form of equipment."

Feb 1 In Egypt, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, Saad al-Katatni, takes the side of political maturity and declares the need for compromise from all parties. Yesterday, Egypt's leading Islamic scholar, the Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayyeb, was on the same page and led a gathering of groups for and against President Morsi. They signed a document vowing to support "a serious dialogue," and they condemned "violence and incitement to violence." A participant was the leading opposition group, the National Salvation Front, which accuses President Morsi of "managing the country in the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood." The National Salvation Front supports today's demonstrations, which will include those who like the sensation of violence. And speaking of sensation seeking, the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has counted twenty-five women as having been sexually assaulted, mainly in Tahrir Square, since the protests erupted a week ago.

Feb 2  Yesterday in Egypt, protesters demonstrated their position regarding President Morsi by throwing stones, shooting fireworks and throwing petrol bombs at his residence and there were demonstrations. The effect was a clash with police, with one person reported killed, adding to the sixty or so killed in demonstrations since January 25. Dozens were injured. A response from Morsi's office read: "The presidency was pained by the shocking footage of some policemen treating a protester in a manner that does not accord with human dignity and human rights." (Quote from Al Arabiya.) Of the protests elsewhere, the head of Egypt's ambulance service said at least 54 people had been wounded, mostly in Cairo. Reuters reports that "The main opposition National Salvation Front denied it was to blame for the demonstrations turning violent."

Feb 3  A splinter group calling itself the Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C) has taken credit for the suicide bombing at the US embassy in Turkey. Reuters reports a spokesperson accusing the US of using Turkey as its slave state. He describes Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan as a US puppet and warns: "Murderer America! You will not run away from the people's rage." The group views the US as imperialist. As revolutionaries they can be compared to Italy's Red Brigade, Germany's Baader-Meinhof revolutionaries, the Japanese Red Army and tiny cells of individuals who associate themselves with al-Qaeda: youthful, earnest in their devotion to the destruction of their satanic enemy, but delusional.

Feb 4  The fate of Richard III of England has been confirmed by DNA testing. After losing his horse, his kingdom and his life in battle on Bosworth Field, he was buried under what became an automobile parking lot. British officials declare that he will now receive a burial proper for a king.

Feb 4  Over the shambles of neighborhoods and broken lives he has wrought, President Bashar al-Assad accuses Israel of destabilizing Syria. After months of support in weapons and money to the Assad regime, Iran announces that Israel will regret its "aggression" against Syria. He is referring to Israeli warplanes destroying weapons in Syria destined for Hezbollah, a group supported by Iran that hates Israel.

Feb 5  In Norway a new TNS Gallup poll shows the Conservative Party as rising and now the most popular of political parties, at 35.1%. It closest rival is the Labor Party, currently in power, with 26.1%. Under Labor Party leadership, Norway has been doing well economically, with a higher per capita GDP than the United States and an unemployment rate for 2012 at 3.1%. The Left has dominated Norway politically since the 1930s. The Conservative Party regards itself as an opponent of socialism, but it favors a continuation of Norway's welfare state, as does Britain's Conservative Party. It favors same-sex marriage and gay adoption rights and is tough regarding law and order issues. The party leader is Erna Solberg, perhaps Norway's next prime minister. She has undergraduate degrees in sociology, political science, statistics, and economics.

Feb 6  In Denmark, yesterday's attempted assassination of Lars Hedegaard, historian-journalist, 70, has been attributed to his criticism of Islam. Danes are calling it an attack on their democracy and right to free speech. Liberal Alliance leader Anders Samuelsen goes further and argues that anyone involved, regardless of their residency status and ethnicity, "ought to be thrown out of the country." The attack seems to have added support for Hedgaard's views and, of course, to have been void of political sophistication and foresight.

Feb 6  In Tunisia the assassination of Shokri Belaid produces violent protests, barricades and crowds chanting "the people want the fall of the regime. " Belaid was the leader of the left-leaning opposition Democratic Patriots party. The prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, has been described as a moderate Islamist.

Feb 7  Again assassination appears to be faulty strategy. Tunisia's Islamists now feel their power threatened. Lawyers and judges are on strike and protests continue. Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and President Moncef Marzouki are speaking about a new government that adequately represents all Tunisians, including secularists like the man murdered yesterday. President Marzouki has a background as a human rights activist. The prime minister is described as a moderate Islamist.

Feb 8  An article in Al Jazeera today gives us a little background on the conflict in Tunisia between secularists and Islamists. It appears that some Islamists in Tunisia do not yet have the tolerance for opposing opinions necessary for a functioning democracy. The Islamists have their street fighters who claim to be defending themselves from attacks by secularists. Last October there was the lynching of a conservative secularist leader, Lotfi Naqdh, with the Islamist dominated government claiming he died of a heart attack. Implicated in Naqdh's death is Said Chebli, head of the Tatouine branch of Leagues for the Protection of the Revolution. Reports Al Jazeera, "Many opposition parties, human rights groups and activists have called for the dissolution of the leagues." Islamist supporters of the government have also been targeting the press, accusing it of being anti-Islamist. Today is the funeral of the slain Shokri Belaid. There, verses from the Koran were read. Demonstrators packed the surrounding streets. Slogans were shouted against Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Ennahda Party: "Ghannouchi, assassin, criminal," and "Tunisia is free, terrorism out."

Feb 9  Syria's Information Minister proclaims the Assad regime ready for negotiations with opposition leaders, whoever they are, provided there are no preconditions. Some see something new in the offer. They see chance for a settlement that in giving political power to all Syrians would amount to a peaceful end to Assad's power. The passion for Assad's death is seen as an impediment to ending a war that is costing many lives and widespread miseries everyday. Some others believe that little traction for a negotiated settlement will be gained among anti-Assad fighters. Their hatred and distrust of the Assad regime in too great.

Feb 11  Assad's oppposition, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), claims unity on the issue of his departure as a precondition for any solution to the war in Syria. SNC's Moaz al-Khatib is offering Assad's representatives talks to find a way for Assad to leave power in order to "minimize bloodshed and destruction."

Feb 11 In Israel, ten women campaigning for gender equality are arrested at the Western Wall for wearing prayer shawls that Orthodox tradition holds solely for men.

Feb 12  There is now wonder whether the papacy is going to abandon use of the monarchy model – older than Christianity. That is, staying in power until death. Yesterday the world heard news that Pope Benedict XVI will resign later this month, because of ill-health. The media described many as stunned. Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, remained Pope until his death on April 2, 2005 at the age of almost eighty-five after a couple of months of health crises involving influenza, hospitalization and breathing problems. Jean Paul died as he wished, in the Vatican. Today, Pope Benedict promises "not to intefere in his successor's affairs."

Feb 13  North Korea talks tough and proud following its test-explosion of the kind of nuclear device that could be put on an intercontinental rocket. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (30?) is described by Choe Sang-Hun in the New York Times as seeming "to be attempting to raise his status as a worthy leader at home and as a foe to be taken seriously among the countries his government considers its enemies." China, South Korea, Japan express their displeasure with the test. US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, describes the test as "highly provacative." At the UN, tougher sanctions against North Korea is a possibility. North Korea declares itself to be an anti-imperialist leader. Kim Jong-un inherited his rule in the manner of old-world monarchical dynasties.

Feb 14  Japan's economy declined in the last three months of 2012. Economic growth has been hurt by declining exports and consumers not hyped into buying things or scared by inflation. Prices have been declining and what consumers don't really need they would just as soon buy later at a lower price. Interest rates are at 0.1% to encourage purchases. Japan's new conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Is giving economic recovery "top priority." In January his government approved a $116 billion stimulus package. Japan leads the world in public debt, at 198% of GDP compared to 63% for the Netherlands and 62% for the United States.

Feb 15  Anti-Assad forces continue with the military gains they have been making for more than a year (with some mistakes). They are getting closer and closer. But Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy doesn't see continuing gains. He writes of "an abyss with no real prospect of victory," contradicting those of us who guess that Assad will be out one way or another before the first of 2014. US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, says, "President Assad has the ability to be able [sic] to make the difference here by deciding to engage in a legitimate diplomatic process." He says he is going to try to talk Assad into stepping down – only slightly different from Kofe Annan's efforts last year, which amounted to asking the same of Assad.

Feb 16  Meeting in Moscow, the Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors known as the G20 announce their determination to do something about tax fraud, tax avoidance, and tax evasion. Tax avoidance has been a problem for economies in crisis – Greece for example.

Feb 16  Economic growth rates for 2012 are published and there were twelve African nations with growth rates of 7 percent or higher: Libya 121.9%, Niger 14.5, Liberia 9.0, Ghana 8.2, Ivory Cast 8.1, Rwanda 7.7. In Latin America, Chile had 5.0%, Mexico 3.8, Nicaragua 3.7. The best European performers were Russia at 3.8% and Norway at 3.1. The US economy grew at 2.2%. Europe was largely flat. Its biggest losers were Spain -1.5%, Italy -2.0, Portugal -3.0 and Greece -6%.

Feb 17  Why Europe's poor showing in 2012? Last week, Fareed Zakaria asked whether austerity as a response to Europe's economic crisis of 2008 had been a disaster because "it slowed growth, slowed tax revenues and actually increased the deficit." Arianna Huffington answered, "Look at what's happening in the U.K. with a triple-dip recession. Look at the chief economist of the IMF advising them not to proceed with austerity measures." Some conservatives, on the other hand, blame Europe's welfarism, describing it as inherently dysfunctional (although it has been around since the late 1800s).

Feb 18  Commenting on the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, Rachel Jewkes, a gender and health researcher at the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), says that a woman in South Africa is killed by her partner every eight hours.

Feb 19  President Assad says he is pleased with the course of events on the ground and also at the political level. Also he says that next year he will either run for president or leave politics but remain in Damascus to work in a clinic. (The Guardian)

Feb 19  In denying the charge of premeditated murder, Oscar Pistorius describes an unlikely scenario. He claims he thought an intruder had broken into his home and – apparently without having confronted Pistorius – locked himself in the bathroom. It was actually Reeva behind the locked bathroom door. Pistorius claims he thought she was still in his bed.

Feb 20  Saudi women take political office for the first time in the country's history. King Abdullah swears in the thirty women who are joining the Shura Council, his consultative council. Abdullah has also granted women the right to vote and to run for office in the next municipal elections, scheduled for 2015.

Feb 20  In Bulgaria, Prime Minister Borisov resigns following demonstrations against austerity and rising prices. "I will not participate in a government under which police are beating people," he said.

Feb 20  Yesterday at the UN Conference on Disarmament, North Korea's Jon Yong Ryong said that "South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction."

Feb 21  Mosquitos are reported becoming resistant to the widely used repellent Deet. With a short lifespan, evolution's natural selection works fast for mosquitos. Those mosquitos with Deet resistance genes become the successful breeders, and quickly Deet resistance genes among new born mosquitos are as common as evolution believers are among biologists.

Feb 22  India's anti-corruption campaigner, Anna Hazare, described here on 17 August 2011, is still campaigning. But columnist Anne Applebaum writes of him being described as presiding over a declining "comical anti-corruption opera." Hazare's favored solution – an omnipotent ombudsman – is thought insufficient. Whatever is sufficient must come from India's legislature, and inventing controls over corruption is not expected to be easy. One of Applebaum's readers asks us to look at the corruption in China, the Philippines, Italy and Greece. But there is some hope in India regarding women's issues, rising from recent massive demonstrations.

Feb 23  North Korea describes as aggression an annual drill planned for March 11. The US and South Korea see their joint drills as defensive. North Korea again gives reason to be defensive. It warns of "miserable destruction" if the US and South Korea ignite "a war of aggression by staging the reckless joint military exercises."

Feb 23  In Bangladesh, offended Muslims unaccustomed to opinion diversity and modern communications technology accuse bloggers of blasphemy. They clash with police, and four die. Last week in Bangladesh, reports BBC News, a blogger was killed outside his home.

Feb 25  Park Geun-hye, age 61, is sworn in as President of South Korea. Her mother was assassinated in 1974 by an individual described as under the direction of the North Korean government. She was regarded as first lady until 1979 when her father, Park Chung-hee, was also assassinated – by his own intelligence chief. She has a degree in electrical engineering. In her inauguration speech today, writes BBC News, she says she will "not tolerate any action that threatens the lives of our people and the security of our nation."

Feb 26  Speaking of health care, Stephen Brill, writer for Time magazine, has appeared on the Daily Show, the News Hour and elsewhere. He describes reasons for health care costs in the US being twice what it is in other industrialized countries (Germany and Australia for example). He claims that market controls don't exist for hospital patients as they do where customers can shop elsewhere. Non-doctor administrators are making huge salaries. Drug companies and lab companies are taking a share that lines the pockets of investors. He speaks of Medicare having the leverage "to buy efficiently" except where Congress has "handcuffed" it. Medicare, he complains, "can't negotiate the cost of wheelchairs and canes and things like that. So you could knock easily another quarter of a trillion dollars out of the Medicare bill, the taxpayers' bill, if you took the handcuffs off of Medicare."

Feb 27  It is estimated that in Italy's recent elections some 57% of voters repudiated Europe's austerity policiies (also the policy of the Republican Party in the US). With few people seeing tangible results from Prime Minister Monti's austerity measures, his party won only 10.5% of the vote. A common view is that the system is rigged in favor of Europe's big money or, as some call it, the banksters. The banks feel threatened. European stocks in the banking sector plunged 7 percent yesterday, and today the cost of borrowing money for Italy surges. Nationalism among Italians is on the rise, moving Italy closer to an acceptance of abandoning the euro. This would allow a currency manipulation that would hurt money lenders but perhaps encourage a circulation of money and that would counter recession.

Feb 28  in recent days China's foreign ministry has denied that China is protecting the illegal trade in ivory. Last night a National Geographic program titled "Battle for the Elephants" aired on television in the United States, and Chinese officials were described enriching themselves by smuggling ivory on airplanes immune from inspections. A Buddhist in China using carved ivory was interviewed blissfully describing elephants as spiritually happy in contributing their ivory.

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