Jun 1 In Egypt, Cairo House opera workers strike to protest what they are calling Brotherhoodization – Islamist interference. They are upset with the government's new culture minister having fired the head of the opera house.
Jun 1 In Turkey, protests rage for a second day. Some people in Istanbul dislike the government messing with their park, including cutting down their sycamore trees. Protesters chant "Unite against fascism" and have been dispersed by water cannon and tear gas. The protests accompany unrest regarding the ruling administration's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, increased restrictions on alcohol sales, including beer, and warnings against public displays of affection. Prime Minister Erdogan says it was a mistake to use tear gas on protesters, but he holds to his plans for the park's redevelopment. When it's finished, he said, there will be more trees than before. An official description of the redevelopment includes a shopping mall and reconstruction of an Ottoman army barracks. Amnesty International describes more than 100 protesters as having been injured.
Jun 3 Protests in Turkey continue for the fourth day. Turkey's media has been lightly reporting the events, and Prime Minister Erdogan complains: "There is now a menace which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society." BBC News reports that "Officials say more than 1,700 people have been arrested in demonstrations in 67 towns and cities, though many have since been released." Erdogan describes the protesters as anti-democratic. Turkey's President Abdullah Gül, of the same political party as Erdogan, urges calm. He says there is more to democracy than just elections and tells anti-government demonstrators that their message has been "received."
Jun 4 Amid the daily news of disaster, tragedy and folly, many people are enjoying life despite their personal struggles, but the Bollywood movie star, Jiah Khan, is found dead by hanging, an apparent suicide. She was twenty-five and is reported to have been concerned about her career and future. Also this past week four South Koreans, two men and two women in their twenties, committed suicide together, leaving a suicide note. Wikipedia has a "List of countries by suicide rate" and South Korea is second, just after Greenland. China is seventh, Japan tenth, the United States thirty-fifth, Sweden (where like Greenland there is little sun) thirty-sixth, Germany forty-ninth, Israel sixty-eighth. One factor in South Korea's high suicide rate is academic achievement pressure, which is also a factor in Japan. In Haiti people are less expected to triumph in a race with others for success, and Haiti ranks at the bottom of Wikipedia's list.
Jun 5 China and Mexico agree to cooperate in energy creation, infrastructure construction, mining, new industrial trade, banking and entrepreneur exchanges. Mexico will benefit from exporting pork and tequila to the Chinese market, and China promises to provide one hundred scholarships to Mexican students each year for the next three years. China's President Xi and First Lady Peng Liyuan (photo:right) are visiting Mexico following their visit to Caribbean states and Costa Rica. China is lending Jamaica money for construction of the Baha Mar resort and the reconstruction and rehabilitation of roads and bridges.
Jun 6 Yesterday, Iran congratulated the Assad regime on its success in recapturing the strategic town of al-Qusayr in Western Syria, without mentioning its role and Hezbollah's role in that success. Iran and Hezbollah have expressed determination not to let the Assad regime fall. The European Union and United States, on the other hand, have been reluctant to arm even those among the anti-Assad forces who are committed to democracy. Some have taken this position entertaining equivalence-thinking: no arms to either side. And many among the public have supported this, seeing the arming of anti-Assad Syrians as equivalent to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has placed its hope in diplomacy, as did the UN and Kofi Annan from many months ago.
Jun 7 North Korea's rage in March this year appears forgotten. So too is the North Korean general's angry declaration to a television camera that his country was not bluffing. Nor is there news of anyone in South Korea bragging about his claim that the North was just posturing and that missiles were not about to start flying. Today, BBC News reports that North Korea "has restored a key hotline with South Korea" and has announced that it will "reopen a Red Cross is line cut in March."
Jun 8 The hate engendered by war is expressed by a Syrian refugee surrounded by her distressed children in Lebanon. She tells Margaret Warner of the News Hour (PBS), "Shia and Hezbollah attacked us, and they left nothing. They burnt the house, and we had a shop, but it is all gone now." Warner asks: "How do you feel now about Shias?" The woman replies, "I hate them." Warner asks: "All Shia?" The woman: " Yes, all of them."
Jun 8 Despite the disapproval of Pakistan's new government, the US executes another drone strike within Pakistan. A US official describes nine "militants" from the Bakka Khel tribe as having been killed. Pakistan's new prime minister since June 5, Nawaz Sharif, has demanded an end to the strikes, which are a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some in the US doubt that the strike will make Americans anywhere any safer or help influence people in our (US) favor.
Jun 10 Exposure of a government program that tracks phone records and internet communications has raised opposition from people who fear government interest in them. From Glenn Beck and others comes talk of "Big Brother," "1984" and a "Brave New World." Senator Rand Paul says "somebody will wake up and say things will change in Washington." Support for the exposure comes also from some on the political left, including Daniel Ellsberg who helped publish the Pentagon Papers. Meanwhile, head of the National Security Agency, James Clapper, who runs the program, called prism, describes its purpose as a data base from which to track terrorist communications. He describes fears as unreasonable and points out that the government is incapable of interest in or collecting data on the personal doings of everybody. Against this clarification remains the fears of people that government can have god-like powers of observation and might want to control them or take a special interest in them regarding their cheating on taxes, political beliefs, watching pornography, having an affair or some other activity. The program was exposed by a former employee in US intelligence work named Edward Snowden, 29, who says he did it "to protect basic liberties for people around the world."
Jun 11 The Obama administration plans to continue the "prism" surveillance program. Jane Harman, a liberal democrat and former US Congresswoman, describes the program as having been debated appropriately in Congress. The "leaker," Edward Snowden, is being described by the press as having advanced in the intelligence business by his performances as an internet-computer whiz but as otherwise uneducated, not even having a high-school diploma. Harman argued last night on the NewsHour that Snowden and others have made false characterizations of the surveillance program. (It takes a court order to examine the content of personal communications.) Also yesterday, a few young people appeared in a news photo carrying signs declaring Snowden a "hero."
Jun 12 Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan has decided to crush protests that began on May 31, protests that became massive and include people who don't consider themselves left or right. Erdogan describes the protests as hurting Turkey economically and as having been hijacked by vandals, terrorists and unnamed foreign forces. In a televised speech he has said: "To those ... taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings: I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents and I send you my love." Demonstrators have been attacked with water cannon and tear gas. Four have been killed, including one policeman. Erdogan remains proud that Turkey is a democracy. He expresses concern for Turkey's reputation. He has spoken against early elections. Elections are scheduled for 2014.
Jun 13 Amnesty International reports that the regime of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei> (photo:right) is increasing its repressions ahead of the presidential election scheduled for tomorrow. The report adds that at least five journalists have been arrested since March and that "a number of political activists and trade union representatives have also been arrested and harassed."
Jun 14 The "Supreme Leader" Khamenei denounces US doubts about the significance of today's elections in Iran. "We don't give a damn," he said. "To hell with you if you don't believe in our election." Khamenei rules Iran backed by the ultra-religious who dominate parliament and by the "Army of Guardians of the Islamic Revolution" (the Revolutionary Guards). Iran is a theocracy governed also by those who occupy an Assembly of Experts and Guardian Council of the (1979) Constitution. Many in the West see Khamenei as the world's leading villain, right up there with Bashar-al Assad – despite his sweet smile. He was president from 1981 to 1989 – a temporary unity of the clerical with the office of presidency not originally intended by the founding Ayatollah Khomeini. As president, Khamenei wielded considerable power. Wikipedia reports that "In his presidential inaugural address he vowed to eliminate 'deviation, liberalism, and American-influenced leftists' ... Thousands of rank-and-file members of insurgent groups were killed, often by revolutionary courts." BBC News reports that "No foreign observers will be monitoring the poll and there have also been concerns that media coverage in the run-up was unfair."
Jun 15 Zbigniew Brzezinski, a big name in the Democratic Party regarding foreign policy, speaks against President Obama's move to send weapons to Syria. Says Brzezinski: "You know, we started helping the rebels, whatever they are, and they're certainly not fighting for democracy, given their sponsorship, Qatar and Saudi Arabia ..." Brzezinski tends to avoid analogous reasoning, so he is not likely to see significance in the observation that King Louis XVI could have asked who those rebels were that his kingdom was about to help against England's King George III, or Churchill and Roosevelt could have asked why they should help the Russians against Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union – all good questions. But Brzezinski's comments about Saudi Arabia and Qatar appear to some to be slanderous, as if their support for people defending themselves and fighting state terrorism somehow contanimates that struggle. Republican Senator John McCain, meanwhile, tells the BBC that the Free Syrian Army is now in an "unfair fight" and needs "heavy weapons to counter tanks and aircraft."
Jun 16 Asked whether he approves the idea of the US and some European countries arming the Syrian opposition, Israel's President Shimon Peres, 90, says, "Look, if it were dependent on me, I would pursue a totally different policy. I would turn to the Arab League and say: 'Syria is a member of the Arab League. It is for you to enter Syria as a transitional government, stop the bloodshed, go to elections and do it in the name of the United Nations — all of us will support you.'" (Washington Post)
Jun 17 In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan has offered demonstrators a referendum on the public park issue that started the protests, and he has said kind things. But he has also insulted them, telling parents to take their children home away from their camp-ins, and he describes the protesters as manipulated by terrorists. The protesters see the issue as bigger now than the park. And, rather than opt for the quiet of political organization and electoral politics in what is a democracy, most demonstrators appear to have chosen the drama and grandiosity of continuing protests. Today trade union workers in the capital, Ankara, join the protest, with Erdogan committed to clearing away the protesters with water cannon and tear gas. "Stop blocking the streets," he commands. He is complaining about damage to the economy and rallying his supporters against the protesters with an eye to protecting his power in 2014 elections.
Jun 18 The Reuters news agency reports that Saudi Arabia has equipped Syria's anti-Assad fighters for the first time with shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, the Saudi kingdom showing less concern about al-Qaedi jihadists in Syria than some analysts in the United States. This is despite the kingdom's recent years of conflict with and opposition to al-Qaeda type jihadists. What kind of help in weaponry the anti-Assad fighters will receive from the US is not yet known. Meanwhile, following the Kerry-Putin meeting on May 7, hope that Assad would participate meaningfully in a negotiated settlement appears to have been more wishful thinking. Instead, this morning's news describes G8 summit leaders, including Putin, being "close to a Syria deal."
Jun 22 Since June 10, Brazil's leftist government has been rocked by massive protests. They began in response to a transport fare increase of 20 cents and grew to massive numbers in various cities over a wide range of dissatisfactions. The middle class appears to dominate among the protesters, but there were those who liked to throw things and provoke, and some have found opportunity to destroy property and to loot. The police, of course, have responded, but without excessively brutality displayed in the media – not quite as brutal as the police in Turkey this past week. Protesters complain about money being spent in preparation for the Olympics that should be spent on citizen well-being. President Dilma Rousseff, in office since January 2011, has tried to put herself on the side of the protesters. In a televised address she says she will draft a new plan to benefit public transport, spend more on education and that thousands of doctors will be drafted from overseas to improve the national health service. There is talk of the use of social media producing protest sizes much bigger than generations ago. And expectations appear to have risen with Brazil's economic growth rate, as high as 9.3% in the second quarter of 2010, which thereafter declined steadily to 0.9% for the year 2012. Brazil ranks 106th in per capita income. It's middling in revenues collected as a percentage of GDP, between Germany (44.9%) and the US (15.7%). It is listed as middling in corruption, and with the worst of countries in income distribution.
Jun 23 In Brazil, demonstrators continue to clash with police, with the police using tear gas and rubber bullets as demonstrators try to break through a police perimeter, glass is smashed, a few shops are looted and some fires set. The leftist government seems to be telling unhappy Brazilians that it hears their message and plans to act. But many seem to want to press on with their demonstrations, largely peaceful, for emphasis. And there must be at least a few who enjoy the excitement of battle (as I saw while participating in demonstrations in the 1960s).
Jun 24 A BBC News report by Helen Briggs describes scientists as having discovered signs of plants automatically doing math to regulate their food reserves at night. Scientists speculate that birds use an automatic math – a biological math – to preserve fat reserves during migrations. Some humans, of course, can solve problems and do simple math in their sleep, but they need a break.
Jun 25 In Foreign Policy magazine, Egypt's dissident, Mohamed Elbaradei, describes Egypt as having become a failed state. Law and order, he writes, is disintegrating. Murders, robberies and kidnapping have been rising. " You see people being lynched in public, while others take pictures of the scene. The feeling right now is that there is no state authority to enforce law and order, and therefore everybody thinks that everything is permissible. And that, of course, creates a lot of fear and anxiety." He complains that people in government are inexperienced, don't have remedies and are "not qualified to govern." He writes that prices are soaring and life is becoming "untenable," especially for the half who are living on less than two dollars per day. He titles his article, "You Can't Eat Sharia."
Jun 26 Yesterday in Brazil, dimished protests took place in low-income suburbs. Five hundred people blocked streets for several hours in Capao Redondo and Campo Limpo on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. Also yesterday, Brazil's congress overwhelmingly defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that had been a grievance of protesters across the country, and congress voted to use all royalties from new oil fields for education and health.
Jun 27 The US Supreme Court strikes down a law that denied legally married same-sex couples the same federal entitlements available opposite-sex married couples. These benefits include tax, health, pension benefits and family hospital visits. The law is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress, signed into law in 1996 and contested in the courts by Edie Windsor (photo:right and March 28). It is now ruled a violation of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment. It was a 5-4 decision. The four dissenters were the court's conservatives. Justice Scalia argued that government should be able to decide whether gay conduct is moral, and this, Scalia claimed, means that the Court had no right to consider the DOMA law. In Salon, Alex Pareene writes, "In most cases involving homosexuality, Scalia is likely to argue purely from disgust, and to resort to strange justifications for his disgust-based decisions."
Jun 28 US State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell says that Ecuador giving Snowden asylum would create "grave difficulties for our bilateral relationship." Ecuador complains that this is blackmail by the US. "Ecuador does not accept pressure or threats from anyone," said an official. Meanwhile Ecuador is being accused of a double standard regarding freedom of information. Ecuador has a law that empowers its superintendent of information and communication to heavily fine anyone involved in releasing protected information. The regime of President Correa in Ecuador is known for its restrictions on journalists and is accused of trying to muzzle critics.
Jun 29 Rafael al-Assad, Bashar's first cousin, told BBC's Katty Kay yesterday, "We want a peaceful solution for the Syria crisis ... We don't want Syria becoming another Iran, where we replaced a dictatorship with a theocracy." He didn't say why, if Bashar wants a peaceful solution, he doesn't propose UN supervised elections while holding to a purely defensive posture where he is now popular.
Jun 30 A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced seven Facebook users to between five and ten years in prison for inciting protests and harming the public order. According to BBC News, Human Rights Watch describes the convicted admitting to putting on Facebook pages support for the Shia cleric Tawfiq al-Amer, who in 2011 was calling for a constitutional monarchy. The cleric's jailing was followed by protests in the east of Saudi Arabia where Shia live.
Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.