world timeline

September 2013

Sep 1   Yesterday, President Obama spoke of the urgent necessity of deterring the Assad regime from using chemical weapons. In mid-speech he said he was passing approval to do so to Congress, which convenes on September 9. In Syria a pro-Assad newspaper, Al-Thawra, describes this as stemming from Obama's "sense of implicit defeat and the disappearance of his allies" and "the start of the historic American retreat." By September 9, the sense of urgency that Obama was appealing to probably will have dissipated. There will be more talk. For many, Obama's overall strategy doesn't make sense. Anti-war and anti-Obama sentiments and a call for peace talks are likely to prevail. The Assad regime will survive a limited hit and may be strengthened by it. The US will continue to leave the "Middle East madness" to play out, as various European countries refuse involvement in any intervention not sanctioned by the UN, in effect leaving President Assad encouraged in his pursuit of state terrorism supported by Russia's veto in the UN and Russian and Iranian aid. Maybe.

Sep 2  In Vietnam, a law goes into effect that restricts internet, twitter and facebook users (about a third of the country or more) from communicating anything but personal information. Discussing anything political or sociological is forbidden. Vietnam allows only one political party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and the prohibition includes, of course, anything critical of the government or that "harms national security." Whether the new law will dampen international sales of Nike products (made in Vietnam) or otherwise reduce Vietnam's economy is not known.

Sep 3   Meltdown of the cooling system for the Fukushima nuclear reactor damaged in the tsunami of March 2011 has been causing leaks of radioactive water at an alarming rate – water used for cooling the reactor. Japan's government is taking over damage control from the private company that runs the plant and investing what is said will be an estimated 47 billion yea (473 million dollars) in a scheme to freeze the ground around the hot reactor, one hundred feet deep, with refrigeration tubing.

Sep 3  Diana Nyad, 64, US author, journalist, record-holding long distance swimmer and high-ranking squash player, displays enormous fortitude and physical strength by a 53-hour 103-mile swim in shark and jelly-fish infested water from Cuba to Florida. It was her fifth attempt.

Sep 4   Al Jazeera reports that India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are not supporting a potential US military strike in Syria. And little support exists elsewhere in the world. On television someone asks (paraphrased): If matters in Syria are so horrendous as to require military action, where are Obama's allies among world leaders? Someone interested in history points to Europe's supine attitude toward Barbary piracy, including kidnapping for ransom and women into harems, and President Jefferson' war against the pirates, sending US Marines to the shores of Tripoli. This someone (me) also points to isolationism and self-centeredness in the 1930s, the tolerance of Mussolini's slaughter of Bedouins in Libya, the widespread tolerance of fascism in general, Japan's invasion and bombings in China, the cheers for peace at the end of the Munich conference, and he asks how the sentiments of broad segments of the world's population can be used confidently as a measure of morality and wisdom in foreign policy.

Sep 5  Egypt continues its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. State prosecutors have announced that ousted President Morsi will be tried for inciting murder and violence. Mohammad Badie, Supreme Guide for the Brotherhood, has also been arrested. Four television stations that authorities see as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood have been ordered to stop broadcasting. One of them is operated by the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, which states that Egyptian authorities are jamming its satellite signals. Yesterday a military court in Egypt gave prison sentences to forty-nine people after having convicted them of shooting at soldiers during demonstrations in the port city of Suez last month. Today, Egypt's interior minister survived an assassination attempt by an explosion from a parked car set of by remote control as his motorcade passed by. The minister warns of a new wave of terrorism.

Sep 6  After a military coup in March 2012, advances by an Islamist army and military intervention by France, Mali returns to democracy. A former prime minister, Ibrahim Boubacer Keita, 65, has been elected president and took office on September 4. He was the army's preferred candidate. He promised to prioritize ability rather than political considerations when appointing ministers, and yesterday he appointed a technocrat banking official, Oumar Tatam Ly, as Prime Minister. Claims by Islamists that France was entering a quagmire in Mali proved to be no more than bombast.

Sep 7  In Australia, a national election gives victory to the conservatives, led by Tony Abbott, who will be the country's third prime minister in three months. Australia is suffering a decline in demand and price of the resources it mines and sells abroad, and during the elections the economy was an issue. Voters responded with that old presumption that maybe a new government would do better. And there was discussion about squabbles within the Labor Party, addressed by Abbott with his proclamation that his party was stable. Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke blamed internal divisions for Labor's defeat. Abbott also had what has been described as "the strident support" of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers. Abbott has pledged to repeal mining and carbon taxes that were introduced by Labor, and he has promised budget cuts, including reducing the budget for foreign aid.

Sep 8  Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have published a report concluding that man-made climate change was a factor in extreme weather events around the world for the year 2012.

Sep 9  On CNN yesterday, Fareed Zakaria described Sweden's government as pragmatic and the Swedish people as adaptable. Sweden doesn't have the inheritance taxes disliked by US conservatives. It has "very free markets, freer and less regulated than the United States in many sectors." Swedish companies pay lower tax rates than US companies. It's in great shape regarding debt. Sweden is "near the top of most rankings on quality of life and competitiveness." And according to Zakaria, "Slowly but surely, Scandinavian countries are moving away from big government to smart government. Now, despite the tax cuts and the recent move to the right, Scandinavian states are still big spenders, but increasingly efficient and effective spenders."

Sep 10  On Sunday the 8th, in an interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News, Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, appeared relaxed, more so than Rose, and at one point laughed. The subject was chemical weapons and President Obama's plan for a military strike. Assad claimed that the US had no evidence of his regime having used chemical weapons. He laid down the fear card, saying if the US attacks it should "expect repercussions." He claimed that al-Qaeda is "definitely the majority" of those fighting his regime. Rose described al-Qaeda as 15 or 20 percent. Assad spoke of the secular nature of his regime as opposed to al-Qaeda. He asked how the majority of the country could be against him when he has survived more than two years of opposition from the United States and other countries including Saudi Arabia and Turkey. He claimed that he was strong militarily because of public support. "I am not superman," he said. "When the Western countries stop supporting those terrorists will have no problem in Syria." Rose mentioned that some describe him, Assad, as a butcher, and Assad replied that he was like a doctor that had to amputate to save life. When you have terrorism, he said, you have a war. When you have a war, he added, you always have innocent victims. On ending the war, Assad spoke of negotiations with all who lay down their weapons first. He spoke of a national dialogue, an interim government and elections.

Sep 12  On September 10, President Obama spoke to the US public and urged support for his call for what Secretary of State John Kerry called "an unbelievably small" military strike against the Assad regime regarding its use of chemical weapons. Toward the end of the fifteen minute speech he announced he was postponing asking Congress to vote to authorize his military strike. He said he wanted to pursue a Russian proposal that involved Syria giving up its chemical weapons. Amid all this It appears that Congress was going to reject the proposed military strike in line with the public's overwhelming opposition to it. Meanwhile, today BBC News describes US officials as saying a plan to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal will be 'doable but difficult,' and the war with conventional weapons continues, while the Assad regime appears to be gaining.

Sep 13  Medical science reverses tissue growth. It is expected to make possible a restart of growth for heart and other organ repairs.

Sep 13  The Dutch government formally apologizes to Indonesians for excesses, including summary executions, when fighting to win back its colonial power against independence forces after having been dislodged by the Japanese. The independence struggle against the Dutch occurred between 1945 and 1949. The British and Australians supported colonialism and the Dutch.

Sep 13  In India, anti-rape demonstrators cheer the death sentence for the four who gang raped a young woman and threw her off a bus, killing her. The novelist Nilanjana Roy says there is still a rape culture in India fuelled by inequality for women.

Erna Solberg

Erna Solberg

Sep 14  Elections in Norway early this week allow the Conservative Party's "Iron Erna" Solberg to become Norway's next prime minister. The Left has been in power since the end of World World II – mainly the Labour Party. It remains the largest party, with 55 seats in Parliament, down from 65. The Conservative Party now has 48 seats, up from 30, and will rule in a coalition with another right-of-center party, the anti-immigration Progress Party, also led by a woman, which has 29 seats. The Green Party won one seat. The Socialist Left Party barely won the 4% needed to be represented in parliament. The Communist Party, anarchist Society Party, People's Power Party, Marxist Red Party, and far-right Christian Unity Party gained nothing. The Labour Party leaves Norway financially sound with surpluses and more per-capita wealth than the United States. Issues that won for the Conservative Party have been described as better care for the elderly, improved hospitals and better schools. Solberg admires Germany's Prime Minister Angela Merkel, having described her as a role model. Like Merkel, Solberg is expected to conserve her country's high-taxes and welfare-state positions compared to the US. There might be a small reduction in taxes, a little more emphasis on private enterprise, less regulation of small businesses and some tinkering with government-run bureaucracies. She will take office on October 14.

Sep 15  The Assad regime hails the Russia-US chemical weapons agreement. "It's a victory for Syria achieved thanks to our Russian friends," says a regime spokesperson. China, France, Britain, the UN and the Arab League express satisfaction. Syria is expected to start surrendering its arsenal of chemical weapons in mid-October. "Syria is committing itself to whatever comes from the UN," says another regime spokesperson. Not happy is the head of the Free Syrian Army, General Idriss, described by the Arab News as livid. He asks, "Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept [the agreement] just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?" Turkey's foreign minister also was negative. At his press conference he accused Assad of playing for time while continuing to commit atrocities. In the US some are saying Obama has won without firing a shot, by merely threatening to do so. Some others discount this and continue their opposition to any military strike against the Assad regime. Some, like Senator McCain, call for getting arms quickly to the Free Syrian Army and complain about our slowness in doing this. McCain says that Syria is not a nation "that will embrace these foreign fighters." Some others put al Qaeda at the top of their list of reasons for not supporting the overthrow of Assad.

Sep 16  No such thing as a soft war — so said Bashar al-Assad in his interview with Charlie Rose, rebroadcast in part last night on Sixty Minutes. Assad was defending himself against the accusation of being a "butcher," as Senator McCain calls him. Assad didn't qualify his comment with the observation that there are choices in warfare. He was making his excuse for attacking neighborhoods and communities that were opposed to him, saying he has been warring against terrorists and saying nothing about the right of people to defend themselves against state terrorism.

Sep 16  According to Sixty Minutes (broadcast yesterday and available online) the source of President Obama's lack of support for the Free Syrian Army is Mike Morell, who as a CIA man briefed Obama every day in the Oval Office. It appears that Morell, who recently retired, was going beyond presenting Obama with facts: he was analyzing. In other words, he was philosophizing about government and revolution, judging how best Syria can arrive at a good place for US security. The CIA has not always done well going beyond intelligence gathering (what's happening factually) into political options. Take Iran in the early fifties for example. And, the CIA has admitted that its take on Vietnam was disastrously shallow.

Sep 17 In its estimates for 2013, the CIA World Factbook still has Japan as a leader in life expectancy, at 84.46 years, with much of the world gaining longer lives at a rate of around one to two months per year. The United States is listed 51st, at 78.62 years, up in one year from 78.49, a gain of 0.13. (One month equals 0.83.) Afghanistan is listed as having gained 4.7 months, to 50.11 years. Namibia is on record as gaining more than six years, to 52.03, which can't be explained here. Zimbabwe's figure is up from 51.82 to 53.86, an advance of two years, reflecting perhaps the recent improvement in its economy. In the past year Russia has gained a little more than three years, from 66.46 to 69.85. China remains average: a gain of one month. Figures for Chad, Zambia and Libya show a decline. All these are statistical averages of life expectancy at birth. The figures would be higher, of course, if life expectancy averages were calculated from age fifty.

Sep 18  Tony Abbott begins his first day as prime minister in Australia, and he puts into force his policy on migrants in boats. The navy is to tow the boats back to Indonesia without delay. Prime Minister Abbott describes his policy as sending "a message to the people-smugglers that from today their business model is coming to an end."

Sep 19  A little more than a week ago Sixty Minutes rebroadcast a piece titled "Are robots hurting job growth?" On the internet one can find a person or two arguing that since the beginning of the industrial revolution machines have been creating more jobs and wealth for common people, but they don't address the possibility of increased automation unable to continue this job creation in a free-enterprise environment forever. And there are others who wonder about robotic machines creating more wealth for the owners of these machines and less wealth for displaced workers, disrupting the balance needed for a well functioning economy. They see a need for wealth redistribution to accompany the automation. Wealth distribution occurs through taxation, and the US is taxing less than the successful and highly industrialized economies of Germany and Norway – both of whom have less unemployment than the US (3.3% for Norway, 5.3 for Germany). They point out that with higher taxes we could have more jobs in public safety, more teachers and other public service jobs and more infrastructure work. They claim that a better distribution of wealth would increase the spending by consumers and government needed to advance the economy for everybody. But they expect tax and anti-distribution ideologies in Congress to keep that institution lagging behind automation.

Sep 20  "Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," proclaims Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil, speaking for the Assad regime to Britain's Guardian newspaper. He says that President al-Assad's government will call for a cease-fire at the Geneva conference – the stalled conference proposed by Russia and the US. Jamil adds that Syria will call for "an end to external intervention ... and the launching of a peaceful political process."

Sep 22  The Washington Post writes: "The stream of US weapons heading to moderate rebel groups in Syria is being offset by a fresh torrent of cash for Islamist extremists." Funding for the Islamists is said to be from numerous small donors, obviously people who don't see the extremists as hurting the struggle against Assad — people who apparently don't see politics as an essential part of any social movement and who don't recognize the consistent political failures of actions by violent Islamic extremists.

Sep 23  Kenya's military has freed most hostages at the luxurious mall in Nairobi, attacked two days ago by members of Al-Shabab. The civilian death toll is described as 68 with 175 injured. The purpose of the attack is to make Kenya pay for sending troops to Somalia as a part of the Africa Union's "peacekeeping" there. No broad political gains ( no winning friends and influencing people) is apparent.

Sep 23  Angela Merkel, called mutti (mommy) by her supporters, will have a third term in a nation that once had macho leaders like Bismarck, the Kaiser and Hindenburg and just seventy years ago saw the place for women as Kinder, Küche und Kirche (children, kitchen and church). Merkel is actually a tough political operator and with a brain that allowed her to acquire a doctorate in quantum chemistry and to become good at speaking Russian, English and French. Merkel's Christian Democrats won 42% of the vote. The Social Democrats won about 26%. Merkel's coalition partner, the market friendly Free Democrats, fell below the 5% needed for one seat in parliament. The anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland party is in this category with only 4.7%. The Left Party won 8.6% and the Green Party won 8.4%. Germany is expected to continue its peace-loving international positions, and a coalition between the Social Democrats, the Left (former communist) Party and the Green Party is not likely.

Sep 24  As Kenyan soldiers sweep the Westgate mall in Nairobi looking for holdout terrorists, journalists are addressing the question, who are Al-Shabaab? (short for Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen). They are described as forming in 2006 and operating in Mogadishu for six months, then an offshoot resorting to guerrilla warfare. They were making war on the African Union peace keeping force, which succeeded in driving them from Mogadishu in 2012. Al Shabaab is known for punishing women and homosexuals by stoning, and they are said to have affiliated with Al Qaeda in 2012.

Sep 25  Columnist Ruth Marcus compares the recent big election campaign in Germany with the long and expensive US presidential campaign of 2012. Germany's campaign lasted six weeks, and Merkel spent $27 million compared to Obama having spent $700 million.

Sep 25  Buying good bread in the US continues to be a tough search. Most bread has sugar, some so much that the bread tastes like cake. A lot of the bread is air. And bread in the US has potassium bromate, unless the label boasts that it does not. Potassium bromate has been banned in food products in the EU, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil, South Korea, Peru and other countries. In the US, lobbyists succeeded in getting Congress to allow its use and without labeling. According to Wikipedia,"under the right conditions [potassium bromate] will be completely used up in the baking bread."

Sep 26  According to BBC News, "Over the past few centuries, animals in Europe have not fared well. Hunting, habitat loss, and pollution have sent animals into decline." But a recent report commissioned by the conservation group Rewilding Europe describes a comeback for wildlife as a result of legal "protections, curbs on hunting and people moving away from rural areas and into cities." Another article about animals in Europe, dated Sep 23, by Kevin Mathews, headlines: "Humans banned from using bridges for animals in Germany." He writes: "Germany is building some new bridges, but don't even think about traveling over them. These cool passageways are designated for animals only, a method of both protecting and enhancing the lives of creatures whose territories have been interrupted."

Sep 27  The secession of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the Republic of Sudan of two-thirds of its crude oil output, reducing revenues and dollars with which to import food. Since the 23rd, people in Sudan have been protesting fuel subsidy cuts. Rights groups complain that police have killed at least 50 protesters, aiming their weapons at heads and chests. Sudan ranks high in percentage of the population emigrating. It ranks 65th in population growth, more than double the rate of the United States. It's one of the poorest of countries, with an authoritarian elite, a trade imbalance and corruption ranked among the highest in the world. Its president, Omar al-Bashir, is wanted by the International Court on seven counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Sep 28  Some have described Iran's President Rouhani as trying to dupe the West with a charm campaign. They see Iran as an enemy. Israeli Prime MInister Netanyahu speaks of "fraud" and a possible trap. In Iran, meanwhile, among those greeting Rouhani's return from the UN is a small crowd that chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," and someone from the crowd throws a shoe that misses Rouhani's car. An article in the New Yorker includes a claim that Rouhani "will have to contend with the hard-liners ... who for more than a decade have defined their foreign policy as a covert war on the US and Israel."

Sep 28  Egypt's high court has issued a preliminary injunction that outlaws the Muslim Brotherhood activities and freezes its assets. The case was brought to the court by the socialist Tagammu Party, which accuses the Brotherhood of terrorism and exploiting religion for political gain. The Tagammu Party, according to Wikipedia, "is considered to be a defender of the principles of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952."

Sep 29  The US Senate, dominated by Democrats, has passed a bill to give the federal government funds to keep it running. The Republican dominated House of Representatives has attached an anti-Obamacare amendment to the bill. Senate leader Harry Reid promises rejection of the House's version of the bill, and President Obama says he would veto such a bill. Congress must pass a funding bill by the end of tomorrow if the US is to avoid a government shutdown in two days.

Sep 30  In the Washington Post on the 25th, opinion writer Matt Miller had an article on the US healthcare debate appearing absurd to Canadians, including conservatives. He wrote of Canada's single-payer system known for its quality and cost-effectiveness, and he described it as providing healthcare at a much lower cost per person than the United States. He wrote of a "tough-minded" Toronto businessman, David Beatty, wondering why big US companies "want to be in the business of providing health care anyway." Turning from Miller's opinion piece to today, we in the US have Republicans still fighting against Obamacare (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) three years after Obamacare became law. Also, last November Obama was re-elected with Obamacare as a central issue. After that, Republicans tried and failed forty times to pass anti-Obamacare legislation. Now they are trying again by linking Obamacare to a government funding bill. Matt Miller ended his opinion piece referring to the Republican senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, who has been leading the charge for the Republicans and spoke on the Senate floor for 21 hours straight against Obamacare. Miller opined: "Maybe when US business leaders muster the common sense of their Canadian counterparts, they'll deliver the message the Ted Cruzes of the world need to hear: sit down and shut up."

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