December 2014

Dec 2  Yesterday, Hong Kong's chief executive announced the end of tolerace of "illegal" demonstrations. He and Hong Kong's press describe the demonstrators as an intolerable nuisance. Police with batons, pepper spray and water cannon cleared demonstrators from Lung Wo Road in the Admiralty district. Today, co-founders of the demonstrations, Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming, call for surrender. They announce that "For the sake of the occupiers' safety, for the sake of our original intention of love and peace" they are turning themselves in and the surrender is not cowardice. The issue of China's authorities approving the candidate for Hong Kong's election of a chief executive remains unchanged. For China's leadership it's a security issue. In countries dominiated by a Communist Party, candidates for public office needed Party approval. In the Soviet Union this kind of election control didn't prevent the liberalization of Mikhail Gorbechev. It didn't prevent change. And it appears that Hong Kong's "pro-democracy" leaders are not responding to their defeat with utter hopelessness. The three leaders say they are handing themselves over to the police to demonstrate "commitment and responsibility." According to BBC News, "Occupy Central plans to continue its work through public debates, community education and funding democracy groups."

Dec 3  The Hong Kong three turn themselves in, joined by 24 supporters. A gathering outside the police station show their support. A rival group or groups jeer and shout "arrest them." The police have those turning themselves in fill out a form on which they declare their offenses. They check the box labelled "illegal assembly." They are in the police station one half-hour and then leave. Meanwhile, BBC News reports that "a few hundred protesters refuse to vacate the remaining two camps at Admiralty and Causeway Bay".

Dec 4  A cyber crime network is broken in Kenya. BBC News reports that the network was "run by 77 Chinese nationals from upmarket homes in the capital, Nairobi." Chinese officials are described as "shocked" and as cooperating with Kenyan authorities. (A Chinese presence in Kenya has been enhanced by Chinese companies involved in construction.) A fire brought the operation to the attention of Kenya's police. The police found computers linked to high-speed internet with "equipment capable of infiltrating bank accounts." Seventy-seven have been charged with being in the country illegally and operating radio equipment without permits. China has promised to send investigators to work with the Kenyans on the matter.

Dec 5  Thousands of people have taken to the streets in New York and other US cities, disrupting traffic and holding sit-ins following a Grand Jury decision not to press charges against police regarding the death of Eric Garner in New York on 17 July. A spokesperson for the Grand Jury said Garner was speaking to the officers at the time of his resistance to arrest, indicating that he was breathing. Garner was pinned to the ground and able to breath enough to complain that he couldn't breathe. The medical examiner's office found that Garner's death was caused by "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." Some people are saying that the police were just doing their job, that there was no excessive brutality, that Eric Garner made a mistake in resisting arrest. They blame Garner's poor health and say the police usually hear protests when they restrain someone. Protesters complain that Garner was chocked to death, and they are calling for justice. Some signs read, "I can't breathe." One protester said, "People are sick and tired of the systemic problems of racism in this country." The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, announces that "people need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives." President Obama said, "Too many Americans feel deep unfairness when it comes to the gap between our professed ideals and how laws are applied on a day to day basis."

Dec 7  China two days ago arrested its former head of domestic security, Zhou Yongkang, and it has expelled him from the Communist Party. According to Wikipedia: "Zhou oversaw China's security apparatus and law enforcement institutions, with power stretching into courts, prosecution agencies, police forces, paramilitary forces, and intelligence organs." He will be the first to be put on trial since the "Gang of Four" in 1980. Zhou was from a poor family, recognized as a brilliant student and earned a degree in geophysics and petroleum exploration. He was a loyal and devout Communist Party member who worked his way through leadership positions by being well liked, friendly, down to earth and engaging. He was an able administrator. He also saw opportunity in investing his earnings in China's oil industry and made money for himself and his family, without seeing this as wrong. As a talented team player and a patriot he rose to become head of domestic security and a power within the Party. He retired in 2012. Zhou publicly pledged his allegiance to President Xi Jinping and called the students to whom he was speaking to unite behind Xi to pursue the "Chinese Dream." His arrest serves President Xi's effort to demonstrate his dedication to end corruption, to get the "tigers and the flies," and it marks a consolidation of power, accompanied by recent dismissals of men associated with Zhou. Zhou Yongkang is accused of abusing his power for illicit gains for his family, friends, and associates, taking "large amounts in bribes," having "committed adultery with multiple women," and having "leaked state and party secrets."

Dec 9  World Health Organization director general Dr Margaret Chan speaks of the death rate from malaria having been cut in half. She describes 4.3 million deaths averted between 2001 and 2013, "3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa." In 2004, she says, "3 percent of those at risk had access to mosquito nets, but now 50 percent do." The drop in deaths from malaria she attributes to "improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing."

Dec 9  In the US, protesters were in the streets of various cities again yesterday, demonstrating against the killing of Eric Gardner and other deaths caused by law enforcement. The protests included blocking traffic. On the News Hour last night three protesters were asked why they march. One of the three, Jessica Pierce spoke of "turning this moment into a movement, which I think is what we're focused on, which is why we had actions around the Darren Wilson case." Another of the three defended blocking traffic with the claim that "business as usual gets people killed." Meanwhile limited goals like improved police training in New York City appear to some of us as more achievable than protesting for the sake of a movement. Following the successes expressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was some influence by demonstrations regarding the war in Vietnam specifically, but remembered too are the failures of broader goals of "the movement" and the end of movement itself in the 1970s. And the "no business as usual" tactic is remembered as having accomplished nothing and perhaps having made some people, for awhile at least, more conservative.

Dec 9  According to an opinion poll released yesterday by USA Today and the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of those under 30 say the policeman who killed Eric Garner should have been charged, but among those over 65 only 41 percent think so.

Dec 11  The US Senate Intelligence Committee has released a report on torture that former Vice President Dick Cheney describes as "full of crap." The UN has called for the prosecution of US officials involved in the 2001-2007 program. Media and leaders across the world are expressing disapproval of the torture program: Germany, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea. The report shows the April 12, 2007 testimony by then CIA Director Michael Hayden to the Senate Intelligence committee that distorts the truth (made available in detail by the Washington Post, tweeted @fsmitha), and some are talking about CIA lies. The program and for what is being called enhanced interrogation is being defended as torture has always been defended: it produced useable information. The capture of bin Laden has been frequenty mentioned with the suggestion that the security of the United States was terribly threatened while bin Laden was holed up in his hiding place. Supporters of the program said it disrupted terrorist plots, prevented mass casualty attacks and saved American and Allied lives. The Senate report claims that President Bush was not fully aware of what was being done by the CIA interrogation team. Dick Cheney says Bush was "fully informed" about interrogation techniques.

Dec 11  In Hong Kong the number of protesters has decreased from the tens of thousands who first gathered in September to only a few hundred. And today, after a final warning by the police to leave, the last of the protesters are being cleared from the streets.

Dec 15  According to the News Hour, "For the first time in history, climate change negotiators have come up with a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions in every single nation." The agreement was signed by 196 nations in Lima Peru and requires all 196 countries to create a detailed plan within the coming six months to limit emissions from burning coal, gas and oil after 2020, or for some countries 2030 or later. A few are jubilant. A News Hour guest, William Mauldin, says, "There is a lot of work to be done figuring out exactly how it's going to work, who is going to pay for it, where the money is going to come from, how much countries are going to cut." That is supposed to come at another meeting in 2015 in Paris. USA Today is not so jubilant, calling it "a weak agreement." Comments to that paper describe global warming is a hoax, express opposition to the agreement and say it's impossible to control the weather. Someone else comments that it's already too late.

Dec 16 Congress on the 14th passed the spending bill for the next fiscal year. There will be no government shutdown, and the budget remains unbalanced. According to Forbes magazine, the Department of Defense garners more than half of the overall budget, with 10 percent of that amount "earmarked for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq." Obamacare is described as "a winner" because its 2014 level of funding wasn't cut. The Environmental Protection Agency had its budget reduced by $60 million. Staffing at that agency is described as already at its lowest level in twenty-five years. The National Institute of Health receives more money for research, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget is reduced. According to Forbes,"Just over a third of that budget allows 'for necessary expenses… to support taxpayer services and enforcement programs' which includes rents, postage and admin[istration]." The bill forbids the IRS from targeting "groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs." In today's Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampel complains that "For every dollar appropriated to the IRS in 2013, it collected $255... The agency's appropriations in the 2015 agreement are 17 percent below their 2010 level, after adjusting for inflation... Cuts to the IRS budget hurt compliance rates among taxpayers, both the dishonest and honest. Audits have slowed, and by many metrics, customer service quality has plummeted."

Dec 17  Yesterday the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) attacked a public school associated with the country's army and killed 141 people, mostly children. The TTP announced today that the attack was to avenge army-led operations against them in the Khyber and North Waziristan areas. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responds by announcing a "war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated." He proclaims an end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism cases and that in any action against the militants there would be no distinction between "good and bad" Taliban.

Dec 18  In Cuba, people celebrating in the street and talking to the media appear happy about the beginning of normalized relations between their country and the United States. This came yesterday with simultaneous announcements by President Raul Castro and President Obama, with Pope Francis having given his blessing to the agreement. In the US, some think they know better than the Cuban people and want to continue to treat Cuba as an enemy. They speak of normalized relations as aiding dictatorship. Cuba has elections but is politically a one-party state like China, with considerable public support like China, but the anti-normalization camp dislikes comparisons with China, or with President Bush normalizing relations with Vietnam. The Republicans will have an opportunity to express opposition to Obama's policy on Cuba by voting against lifting the trade embargo imposed on Cuba during the Cold War, which can be lifted only by Congress. Cubans are describing the embargo as damaging their economy and hurting the Cuban people.

Dec 18  Leading the charge against the normalization of relatations with Cuba is Florida's Senator Marco Rubio. He is described by the Washington Post as spitting insults at the Obama administration, describing Obama's policy on Cuba as absurd, disgraceful, outrageous and ridiculous, a concession to tyranny, based on an illusion and a lie, conceding to the oppressors and "willfully ignorant of the way the world truly works." A reporter pointed out that younger Cuban Americans support normal relations with Cuba, and Rubio replied: "I don't care if the polls say that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba... This is my position, and I feel passionately about it."

Dec 19  Republican Michele Bachmann of Minnesota speaks up. The former presidential candidate did not seek re-election for her seat in Congress. She describes her intellect as having devastated her political opponents. "Well," she says, "telling the truth bothers them. They don't like to have the truth told about them... I decided to take them on in the arena of ideas by attacking their false premises and their false narratives. That's the best way to defeat them, by the way — defeat them with evidence and defeat them with their false premises, and I did that." Comments from today's media (see RawStory) suggest that some who have ideas different from her have been slow in conforming to the devastation. One of those who comments describes her as entertaining and that he will give her that. Another writes, "I like to think Liberals love her for being a poster-child of everything wrong with the Republican party." Whether Democrats in Congress when it convenes in January will show evidence of having been straightened out to any degree by her devastating logic remains to be seen.

Dec 22  Crude oil has fallen from $115 per barrel in June to around half that today. Russia, an oil exporter, is in distress. Gas at the pump in Ohio is below $2.00 per gallon. Saudi Arabia's Minister of Petroleum says that Saudi Arabia is not driving the price of oil down as part of a political agenda. Qatar's energy minister describes the fall as a "temporary correction." Speculator selling has been taking place, obviously, The fall according to the Saudi minister, as stated in The Arab News, is "mainly due to a supply glut, the weak global economy and a strong US dollar... The global oil market has become increasingly competitive in recent years with the surge in shale and sand oil production from countries outside the decades-old OPEC alliance."

Dec 22  In Russia the ruble has dropped 45% against the US dollar since the first of 2014. Russians face rising prices – inflation. People are spending their money now on appliances and whatever they can before the ruble declines further. People have mortgaged their homes in dollars and now their rate of payment has nearly doubled. Businesses are in the same boat. Banks are in trouble. Lending has dried up. Money has been leaving the country. According to BBC News, "Russia's central bank has already tried unsuccessfully to stabilise the currency, buying roubles in the markets and raising its main lending rate to 10.5%." President Putin blames the economic crisis on the West conspiring to weaken Russia. He says that even if oil drops to $40 per barrel, Russia will manage and rebound in a couple of years.

Dec 23  In Syria the Assad regime allows the delivery of medicines to opposition-held areas in Aleppo. A World Health Organization officiial says that agreement for deliveries were negotiated in "top-level" meetings. BBC News reports her as adding: "We have had some constraints in the past with delivering surgical supplies, syringes, but the situation is much better at the moment." Two days ago Assad told an Iranian officia, Ali Larijani, that the Syrian government was working on local truces in an effort to end the civil war. As expected, Larjani held to Iran's old position of ignoring Assad's terrorism and describing the United States as supporting terrorism in Syria.

Dec 24  Interpol arrests a most wanted Ivory smuggling businessman, a Kenyan, Feisal Mohamed Ali, involved in an international ring and linked to three tons of ivory seized in the Kenyan city of Mombasant. He has been on Interpol's list of "environment criminals." Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) is described by Wikipedia as "a non-governmental organization facilitating international police cooperation," established in 1923 with an "annual budget of around €78 million, most of which is provided through annual contributions by its membership of 190 countries."

Dec 26  In Turkey a 16-year-old with the courage to give a speech criticizing President Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development party has been arrested and then released. He faces trial and a possible four-year detention if found guilty of insulting the president. The prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, also of the Justice and Development party, supports the arrest. According to BBC News he says that "Everyone must respect the office of president whoever he is." BBC News reports the boy saying, "There is no question of taking a step back from our path, we will continue along this road."

November 2014 | January 2015 

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.