Jan 1 In a New Year's message broadcast on North Korean television, Kim Jong-un attempts to appear reasonable by explaining the execution of his uncle. He described it as "the elimination of factional filth" which has bolstered the country's unity "by 100 times." He also called South Korea "warmongers," and he spoke of wanting better relations with South Korea.
Jan 1 BBC News reports that Filipinos begin the New Year with celebrations that injure 600, including a couple of deaths. One death was of a baby struck by a "stray bullet" (probably fired into the air). Another was of a teenager killed by "a firecracker display."
Jan 1 Ruth Marcus, a prominent liberal columnist for the Washington Post begins the New Year by jumping into the Edward Snowden controversy. She writes of Snowden's "messianic sense of self-importance" not having deflated. She adds: "Nor has living in an actual police state given [him] any greater appreciation of the actual freedoms that Americans enjoy." She further describes Snowden as "smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought." George Orwell, she writes, "would have told Snowden to chill."
Jan 2 The NewsHour yesterday described false testimony that supported the manufacturers of the fire retardants in our homes and in our bodies, and brains. Efforts to get rid of the chemicals were defeated by multimillion-dollar lobbying by flame retardant manufacturers. Their lobbying efforts included paying a retired burn surgeon who repeatedly testified about infants that died of burns because there were no flame retardants to protect them. An award-winning investigative series by the Chicago Tribune dug into his testimony and found that there were no such cases. The NewsHour reports that this was followed by "mounting pressure from the public and scientific community" and that Governor Jerry Brown of California "decided to act." Changes are being made to California's furniture flammability standards. Meanwhile a number of studies have linked flame retardants to "cancer, neurological impairments and fertility problems" and remain in use. The NewsHour describes a UC Berkeley report "that you probably have flame retardants in your couch, your chair, your office chair, if you have a baby, strollers, high chairs, nursing pillows, little baby positioners, car seats... The chemicals are continuing coming out of the couch and they're heavy. They drop into dust. And then you get some dust on your hand, eat a French fry would be the classic, and they end up in your body. Toddlers who crawl in the dust of course have high levels."
Jan 2 In a speech yesterday commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Raul Castro spoke of hostile forces trying to introduce "neo-liberal and neo-colonial thinking" into Cuba. He admitted that mistakes had been made and said that, "The revolution's program will be updated every five years so that it can always answer to the true interests of the people and promptly correct any errors."
Jan 2 In her annual speech yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel, now leading a grand coalition of Social Democrats and her conservative Christian Democratic Union party, spoke of Germany pulling together: "friends and neighbors who take the initiative or put problems right.. families who provide loving care for their children and their family members every day... trade unionists and entrepreneurs who work together to ensure job security." She went on: "These people and many others like them make our society compassionate and successful. In this way it became possible this year for us to have the lowest unemployment rate and the highest labor market participation since reunification. For hundreds of thousands of families, this means having a safe future and earning recognition. And for our young people this means security, an education, a job and thus a good start in life."
Jan 3 In Cambodia, garment workers are on strike demanding a doubling of the minimum wage. Today, after workers blocked a road and clashed with police, the police opened fire killing three workers and injuring several more. Cambodia's government is in the hands of the Cambodian People's Party, formerly a Marxist-Leninist party. It is in a coalition with the party that supports Cambodia's monarchy. Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985 is, according to Wikipedia, "widely viewed as a dictator that has assumed authoritarian power in Cambodia using violence and intimidation and corruption to maintain his power base."
Jan 6 In the northern Damascus district of Barzeh, following intense negotiations in recent days, a truce has begun between Assad's forces and the Free Syrian Army. According to Alarabiya News, "The truce comes after nearly a year of fighting and bombardment in the area and both sides." The truce speaks of Assad's army withdrawing from all of Barzeh and a "cleaning of the streets (of abandoned corpses), in preparation for the road to be opened." The Free Syrian Army is to control traffic through the district, and a clause within the truce agreement speaks of residents who had fled the district able to return within two weeks and have their "services restored."
Jan 7 In the People's Republic of Bangladesh the political party in power, the left-of-center Awami League, wins the general election that occurred on the 5th. The party's leader, a 64-year-old woman, Sheikh Hasina, prime minister since 6 January 2009, remains in office. Her main opponent, another woman, Khaleda Zia, 68, a former prime minister, urged supporters to "completely boycott" what she called a "scandalous farce." She has been leading the Nationalist Party, commonly described as center-right, as secular but allied with the nation's Islamists. The elections didn't go well. BBC News describes one Bangladeshi as saying, "So many people have been killed due to political violence in the last three months, many of them torched alive inside buses. What sort of people are we? Do we qualify to be called human any more?" Another says, "In the last few days wherever I went and the word election was mentioned, people got afraid... Me, my family, and everyone I know are not voting. It is as a protest against Hasina's regime but we are not in support of the opposition either. Most people here in Bangladesh have no idea what will happen after today. But one thing we are sure of is that it will get worse."
Jan 9 In the world of bacteria – good bacteria and bad bacteria – trouble making bacteria are being accused of causing premature births. The journal Plos One, describes research that suggests certain bacteria may be responsible for the thinning of membranes of the sac that holds the infant. Early rupture of membranes is said to cause almost a third of all premature births.
Jan 9 In Pakistan the Taliban strikes again, in a car bomb attack killing what Reuters News describes as a "top Pakistani policeman renowned for his tough stance on criminals and Islamist militants."
Jan 10 Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, has a book on the Arab Spring coming out on the 28th. On the 9th he was interviewed by Margaret Warner on the NewsHour. He says the Arab world was "living under a state of artificially induced stability for a long time," induced by "non-democratic governments" and Muslim leaders "promising the moon." Now, he says, "the lid has been taken off" and secular regimes and forces are attempting to rule without a system of checks and balances. He says, "What we are witnessing is a direct result of an era in the Arab world where democracy was not practiced nor encouraged, an educational system which basically taught people just to blindly follow leaders without critical thinking, without asking questions... It's going to take decades work in which you have to do things to the educational system, the value system that exists in the Arab world." He sees it as a battle for pluralism. He adds that "the jihadi sort of phenomenon is transient in the Arab world... the overwhelming majority of the Arab world do not subscribe to al-Qaida types, do not subscribe to this jihadi radical thinking."
Jan 12 About the cause of turmoil in the Middle East, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, finds fault more within the Middle East rather than from the West. "These are societies," he says, "that have never really dealt successfully with modernity. You've never had a clear divide between the religious and the secular. People confuse democracy and majoritarianism. There's not a real sense of minority rights or places in these societies." (CNN, Global Public Square)
Jan 13 Fire raged yesterday in Shangri-la (renamed in 2001 to attract tourism), and it destroyed nearly 300 houses. A report describes firefighters unable to reach the fire because they had no fire engines designed for the town's narrow streets.
Jan 13 In West Virginia as many as 300,000 people enter their fifth day unable to use tap water for anything besides flushing toilets. This is the result of a chemical used to clean coal leaking out of a decaying old storage tank. "It's an old system," said a government official. He added that the company, Freedom Industries, has plans to upgrade it.
Jan 14 Frustration continues among the nearly 1.4 million unemployed Americans whose jobless benefits expired on December 28. Congressional Republicans are saying that any extension of benefits must be paid for by spending cuts. The frustrated include Carol Scott of Baltimore, who, according to columnist Eugene Robinson, "keeps getting told she is overqualified for jobs paying less, which she would happily take." Robinson points out that to receive benefits people have to show that they have been actively looking for work. Also frustrated is Lita Ness, who lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012. The Associated Press reports her as saying, "I'm registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I'm probably changing to Democrat."
Jan 15 Overheard and secretly filmed in North Korea, a woman says, "in China they have freedom of speech... The problem here is that one in three people will report you." This was broadcast last night in the US on PBS television, Frontline. It described the regime in North Korea as able to survive because of its "excluding outside unwanted information from coming in and educating the public" and that this is "starting to change, whether the North Korean leadership likes it or not."
Jan 16 In Egypt, voter turnout is pleasing authorities and government supporters and is being described as an indication of public support for the referendum on the country's new constitution. Yesterday, public celebrations by those supporting the new constitution marked the end of the voting. Egypt's army wanted a strong turnout to endorse its recent power moves. Exact figures have not yet been announced. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhhood's former president, Morsi, boycotted the voting, as did the religiously ultra-conservative Salafis. Some on the Left also boycotted the voting. Nine people were killed in clashes involving Morsi supporters, and according to BBC News "Some 400 people have been arrested ... for disrupting the vote." Those boycotting the referendum appear to be the losers. The media in Egypt is being described by BBC News as pro-military and as portraying the vote "as key to the nation's security and stability." Egypt's stock market has rallied to a three-year high this week, according to Reuters News, "driven partly by hopes for more stable government." The new constitution was drafted by the army-backed interim government. Mona Zulficar, on the Egyptian Constitutional Committee, describes that new constitution as providing "guarantees for equal opportunity ... guarantees for equality before the law, without discrimination on any basis." And, she says, "it provides explicitly that no discrimination will be permitted based on sex, religion, belief, social or political affiliation."
Jan 20 Gene therapy has been used to revive light detecting cells in the eyes of six patiients who would otherwise have gone blind. BBC News reports today that "the doctors involved believe that the treatment could in time be used to treat common forms of blindness."
Jan 21 The Human Rights Watch report for 2014 describes the Assad regime in Syria as waging war by killing civilians. BBC News reports that there is "clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising." London's Telegraph writes of accusations that the Assad regime has been aiding al-Qaeda associated opponents in order to persuade the West that the uprising against him is terrorist-led. An international conference regarding the civil war in Syria is set to begin tomorrow. Thirty countries will be represented. Reuter's describes the talks as already in disarray. Assad is saying he will not step down and that the talks should focus on fighting terrorism.
Jan 22 Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has viewed the gruesome evidence of torture and killings by government forces in Syria, and he says the perpetrators must be brought to justice.
Jan 22 Argentina has an inflation problem. Inflation is in double digits. The courts have overturned an attempt by the government to prevent anyone from publishing an inflation figure different from what the government says it is. The value of Argentina's currency is threatened, and the government needs more revenue. BBC News reports that anyone buying items through international websites, such as Amazon.com, "will now need to sign a declaration and produce it at a customs office, where the packages have to be collected." Someone complains: "Each time you go to customs, you need to spend three or four hours."
Jan 23 The population of Iraq despite all the deaths by violence and the emigration since 2003 is the subject of a report by Charlotte McDonald on BBC News. According to a UN estimate in 2003 there were around 25 million people in Iraq and today there are around 33 million – an increase of around one-third. Iraqi families have been averaging four or more children. Births have continued to well outnumber deaths.
Jan 25 Argentine poet Juan Gelman has died at eighty-three. There was a moment of silence for him across the country, while time has caught up with his opponents, the super-patriotic members of the brutal military junta who gloried in their power, murdered thousands and failed to foresee that eventually they would be reviled by their country.
Jan 25 Argentina's currency, the peso, fell eleven percent against the dollar yesterday, it's steepest fall since its financial crisis in 2002. BBC News says a government cabinet member has announced that "the country will reduce the tax rate on dollar purchases and allow the purchase of dollars for savings accounts."
Jan 28 Attacks by Buddhist monks against Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka are reported in Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy supports peace among peoples of different faiths. Buddhists are 70 percent of the population and Muslims second with 10 percent. The Forum for Inter-Faith Dialogue is asking for full implementation of the law against such attacks. The Saudi newspaper Arab News reports: "Videos shared on YouTube have shown Buddhist monks throwing stones and smashing a Christian prayer center in southern Sri Lanka earlier this month while police looked on. Monks were also caught on video camera last year smashing Muslim-owned businesses just outside the capital."
Jan 28 The Geneva II Conference on Syria began on the 23rd and today is reported as deadlocked. So far the Assad regime's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has reminded the world that diplomacy at times is childish. He has done nothing but attack Assad's opponents and those who support them, including the United States. He hasn't suggested any interest in a cease fire anywhere or in any kind of local governance that would diminish the Assad regime's freedom to apply aggression. There is none of the generosity that comes with strength. Instead, it appears that fear is keeping the Assad regime on a course of authoritarianism and attempt to hold to power by state terrorism.
Jan 29 An article in Neurology, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), describes a study that indicates that patients with Alzheimer's disease have four times as much DDT in their body as healthy people.
Jan 30 Human Rights Watch: "Satellite imagery, witness statements, and video and photographic evidence show that Syrian authorities deliberately and unlawfully demolished thousands of residential buildings in Damascus and Hama in 2012 and 2013."
Jan 31 The first round of the Geneva II peace talks end described on the NewsHour as having failed with Assad's disappointment over Secretary of State John Kerry's insistence that he, Assad, must step down. Assad is described as having hoped that the US had come to see him as preferable to not knowing what they would be getting with an opposition that is in chaos and includes al-Qaeda surrogates.
Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.