July 2014

Jul  1  The US Supreme Court rules 5 to 4 that family-owned and other closely held corporations can reject government action – such as a provision in Obama care – on religious objections. The company involved in the suit is Hobby Lobby and the issue is the morning-after pill, deemed by some to be abortion. Those who support the ruling hold that if someone who works at Hobby Lobby insists on taking morning-after pills they can buy and pay for it themselves. In her desenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg warned that the court had "ventured into a minefield." She said there was nothing in the majority opinion that foreclosed the possibility of a publicly traded company making a similar claim with the possibility of religious-based exceptions on issues like blood transfusions, antidepressants, and vaccinations.

Jul 1  Iraq's Shia-dominated parliament failed today to name a replacement for Prime Minister Maliki, and Sunni and Kurds walk out, dimming hopes for the unity government wanted to keep the country together. During the parliament session there was rancor involving the Kurds. Reuters reports that "a Kurdish lawmaker accused the government of withholding salaries for the Kurds' autonomous region." A Maliki supporter shouted back that Kurds were taking down Iraqi flags, and said: "the Iraqi flag is an honor above your head. Why do you take it down? ... The day will come when we will crush your heads."

Jul 2  The ancient attack-retaliation cycle continues between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu blames Hamas for the murder of three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking in the West Bank. He cites Hamas' support for the killings. Yesterday the Israeli military revived punitive demolitions by destroying each homes of the two men who have not been seen since the night the teenagers disappeared. Yesterday, Israel launched 34 airstrikes on Gaza after discovery of the bodies of the three missing Israeli boys were discovered. Netanyahu vows that Israel will avenge their deaths. Today there are reports of a sixteen year-old Palestinian forced into a car in East Jerusalem and found murdered. The boy's relatives say he was abducted at about 4 in the morning while waiting alone outside his home for the early morning call to prayer. Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem this morning vented their anger in a rising against Israeli police. The boy's mother calls on the Israelis to blow up the homes of those responsible for her son's death. Netanyahu condemns this last killing as a "despicable murder" and warns that anyone ignoring Israel's laws will be prosecuted.

Jul 3  Germany's parliament approves its first nation-wide minimum wage law – at 8.5 euros (today $11.60). It was supported by Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats as part of their power-sharing association with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Lobbyists complained that the new policy would make Germany less competitive. BBC News writes of business leaders in Germany complaining that it would "result in fewer jobs, or force companies to move production facilities to other countries, where labour is cheaper." The wage does not cover minors, interns, trainees or long-term unemployed people for their first six months on the job. The new regulations are set to become effective on January 1, 2015. The new law still needs approval by parliament's upper house, the Bundesrat. In March this year, Britain raised its minimum wage to £6.50 ($11.14) per hour. In May, Swiss voters rejected a referendum that would have created a minimum wage at 22 Swiss Francs ($24.73) per hour.

Jul 4  With others, Mubarak Bala, 29, is released from a psychiatic hospital in northern Nigeria because of a doctors' strike. Bala is intelligent enough to have graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, but it was his intelligence that got him into trouble. His father was able to have him committed by force to a psychiatric ward because of a philosophical position that is uncommon in northern Nigeria. Mr Bala says he doesn't believe in God. The hospital diagnosed him as mentally ill. Bala says he has lost the trust of his father and elder brother and many friends. Britain's Daily Mail quotes him: "Most of my friends condemn me and tell me I am bound for hell and that in an Islamic state, I would be killed. Blasphemy is a serious thing here." Bala is being helped by a humanist charity and is in hiding. He describes his problem as a family matter "which requires family resolution."

Jul 7  Last week some young men were roaming the streets of Jerusalem chanting "Death to Arabs" and stopping cars presumably to check the ethnicity of their occupants. This was after three Israeli teenagers had been murdered while hitchhiking in the West Bank. Today the Times of Israel reports that the six Israeli teenagers who were detained two days ago for the murder of an East Jerusalem boy, age 16, Muhammad Abu Khadeir, were members of an "extremist cell." An autopsy indicates the boy was burned alive. An op-ed piece in today's Times of Israel reads: "If we are to heal this nation, the killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir must rid us of the illusion that we enjoy a distinctive moral superiority over our neighbors."

Jul 8  Discussing confrontations in California regarding illegal child immigration, the News Hour yesterday described problem countries south of the US border. The murder rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were mentioned along with "weak institutional government, and lack of protections for the civil society." According to 2014 estimates in the CIA Factbook, El Salvador has a birth rate of 16.79 per 1000 and a death rate of 5.67, Honduras 23.66 to 5.3, and in Guatemala 25.46 to 4.82. (These birth rates compare with 13.42 per 1000 for the US and 8.55 for Taiwan.) Of the three Central American countries, Honduras has the highest murder rate and is the poorest. It has an annual increase in urbanization at 3.06% compared to 1.35% for El Salvador. Its birth rate contributes to a population of youths who don't fit into the country's legitimate economy – mainly banana growing. The most violent city in Honduras is San Pedro Sula, where gangs fight for territory and residents pay gangs for protection. According to the Factbook, "Honduras' young adult population – ages 15 to 29 – is projected to continue growing rapidly for the next three decades ... and limited job prospects outside of agriculture will continue to drive emigration."

Jul 9  Rocket attacks on Israel began a few days ago following the abduction and killing of three Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank. Yesterday Israel responded to the rockets with "Operation Protective Edge," Prime Minister Netanyahu announcing that "Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing at Israeli citizens." Overnight the Israeli army launched 160 airstrikes in Gaza. AlJazeera reports that "at least 27 Palestinians" were killed and "more than 100" wounded. Five rockets from Gaza were fired at Tel Aviv during this morning's rush hour. The military wing of Hamas, the Qassam Brigades, claim responsibility. An AlJazeera reader responds, describing Israel as acting no different than Nazis "who used to kill hundreds of civilians whenever any one killed a nazi soldier." Another reader: "Lets see, Israel drops leaflets and calls Palestinians to warn of attacks to save their lives. No other army does that. On the other hand Hamas randomly fires rockets at civilians and uses its own people as human sheilds." Another: "I have a suggestion for Gaza idiots. Stop shooting rockets, anti-tank arms into Israel at civilians and the IDF. Then there will be nothing to retaliate. DUHHH." Another writes that if "the genocidal Zionist savages" surrender all of the land stolen by Zionist criminals and terrorists to Palestinian people who are the rightful owners of the land, then there will be nothing to retaliate."

Jul 10  A study published in association with the National Academy of Scientists indicates that our memory clarity is affected by the size of the CA3 area of our brain. (CA3 is in that part of the brain called the hippocampus.) It is reported that "A larger CA3 may contain more neurons, which could allow greater physical separation of the different memory traces." A bigger CA3 allows a greater ability to remember shades of difference. Apart from the study, the ability to differentiate is crucial to what is commonly considered intelligence, but the BBC News article carrying the story limits the subject memory, and it adds: "Although small brain size is not related to different individuals' mental abilities (Einstein's brain was smaller than average) the relative dimensions of different components have been linked to various characteristics."

Jul 14  A leading news story for days has been what CNN describes as "the tens of thousands of immigrant children who have crossed the [US] southern border in recent months." The children are from Central America. A law passed unanimously by the US Congress in 2008 was supposed to address sex trafficking. It's called the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act. CNN describes it as allowing "children entering the United States from non-bordering countries to remain in this country." The law is being described as "prohibiting most of the unaccompanied children from being immediately sent back to their home countries" and as mandating "that Central American kids receive temporary relocation, extensive assistance and elaborate immigration/deportation proceedings." Republicans are calling for sending the children back home immediately and changing the law. Representative Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, says "the children should be able to make their case for asylum." President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to handle the issue. Republican Congresswoman Martha Blackburn says the first thing that should be done is "secure the border." Texas Governor Rick Perry calls on President Obama to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border as a show of force. Representative Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, objects. He says Governor Perry is wrong, that "The border is secure; the fact is, the children are handing themselves over to the Border Patrol agents." Gutierrez adds: "I will say this: Follow the law, and the law said that we must put the children's interests first, which is what President Barack Obama is doing." Meanwhile approval rating for Congress is down from 39 percent in 2009 to around 13.5 percent.

Jul 15  BBC News reports today that this morning Israel accepted "an Egyptian truce proposal for the conflict and stopped operations... However, the armed wing of Hamas, which controls Gaza, rejected the initiative as a 'surrender'." The number of dead in Gaza since Israel's retaliation began one week ago is nearing 200. The number of Israeli dead is zero, and four wounded. Hamas is reported to have fired 50 more rockets against Israel so far today. Israel's airforce rules the skies, and Israel is poised to sends its tanks into Gaza. Hamas' plan for success or victory and avoidance of failure or "surrender" remains unexpressed. Hamas is said to have something like 10,000 rockets – a failure of Israel's blockage – and Israel may launch a ground invasion to punish Hamas and destroy its arsenal, which is bound to kill many more Palestinians. A question in the minds of some is whether a substantial number of Gazans will reject Hamas' strategy. Meanwhile, anti-Israel protests in the US and Europe have turned violent.

Jul 16  Hamas' plan for success is said to be "to show its people that it has won from Israel a concession. Just an end to the fighting is not enough." This was said by Mark Perry yesterday on the News Hour. Perry was described by Margaret Warner as "in touch" with Hamas leaders. According to Perry what they have wanted since 2004 is "an end to the siege of Gaza" and they want Gaza's border with Egypt at Rafah opened so that Gaza can get its economy going." This morning the Times of Israel describes Hamas as believing time is on its side, "that world opinion and mounting Israeli frustration will ultimately work to its advantage." The paper mentions that Hamas wants some prisoners released and it describes Hamas' conditions for a ceasefire as including a "ten-year truce."

Jul 17  The President of Honduras returns to blaming drugs for migrations to the US, with poverty getting mention, and he asks for money from the US in the form of a mini-marshal plan and anti-drugs campaign. President Hernandez belongs to the right politically and he is an owner of hotels. A Washington Post article on the 15th described corruption, sweatshops and unemployment and the US seen as a paradise as factors in the migration problem. Regarding poverty, the population issue is considered by some a right-wing approach in helping rid the country of poor people. Meanwhile, Honduras has been weak in support of birth control programs and tough in opposition to emergency anti-birth measures, including the morning-after pill. Honduras had a total population of 1,487,000 in 1950. Today its population, according to the World Factbook is 8,598,561.

Jul 18  China's high-speed rail network is larger than that of the EU and US combined, according to a World Bank report, and the Chinese government's economic strategy plans to double it by 2020. High speed rail across the Eurasian continent is expected to enhance trade. Today there is news of China promoting cooperation in Latin America in building a rail system from Brazil's Atlantic coast to Peru's Pacific coast. In an issue of Forbes yesterday concern was expressed about the US with its "history of making billionaires out of rail from the days of the gold rush in California," lagging behind in the world of highspeed rail investment and building.

Jul 21  This morning the Palestinian death toll is said to have risen to 496, and Israel counts 18 of its soldiers as having died and two civilians. Israel also says that this morning it killed ten Palestinian militants who were using tunnels to enter Israel. Israel's ground offensive against Hamas began four days ago, supported by air strikes. A total of 110 rockets are reported as having been fired at Israel yesterday, and there are reports of more rockets this morning. Hamas appears defiant and not wanting to appear weak by agreeing to a ceasefire. Israel appears determined to continue to retaliate, to wait for Hamas to agree to a ceasefire and to give Hamas nothing that could be interpreted as a reward or concession for what it's been doing. The UN is doing its thing by calling for an immediate ceasefire, joined by President Obama. The scholar Michael Oren, who until recently served as Israel's ambassador to the US, told Israeli television yesterday that it is "to our sorrow" that US Secretary of State is coming to the region. The Times of Israel describes opinion in Israel that "the US should be leaving it to Egypt to handle ceasefire efforts." According to Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post this morning, Hamas is "far weaker than it was in 2008. It has lost the ability to inflict damage and casualites on Israel... the current figting is rapidly depleting its arsenal. Hamas's civilian employees are going unpaid... [and] polling by a respected Palestinian organization shows that a large majority opose Hamas's rule."

Jul 22  In the past day or two, Israelis have discovered more tunnels, and the New York Times reports Israel's minister of communications saying, "Israel must not agree to any proposal for a cease-fire until the tunnels are eliminated." This morning's death score according to the Israelis is at least 170 Palestinian militants and 27 Israeli soldiers. Two Israeli civilians have also died, and the total number of Gazans having died, including children, is into the 600s. Among Israelis the need to knock down Hamas's military capability every couple years or so has been described, until yesterday at least, as "mowing the grass."

Jul 22  BBC News reports an academic study that has found "more than 100 genes that make people more susceptible to schizophrenia – 83 of which have never been pinpointed before." Schizophrenia is described by Wikipedia as "a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity."

Jul 23  This morning, BBC News reports that Hamas's recent actions has ended the usual quarreling in Israel, that In Israel demonstrations againt the government regarding the war are a failure. "Only Israeli Arab citizens and Jews on the fringe far-Left have participated in them." Opinion in the US, meanwhile, described by CNN yesterday, has 43% saying Israel is using the right amount of force and 12% saying they are not using enough force. That's 55% on the hawkish side. CNN descrbes 38% as unfavorable toward Israel, a 14% increase since February.

Jul 24  Today, Marwan Bishara has an article with AlJazzera titled "On Stupidity and War" telling us that Israeli talk of self-defence is an "excuse for aggression." On the Israeli side we have almost an entire nation that would see Bishara's comment as a distortion. They see their need to defend themselves militarily as actual, not just an excuse. Unmentioned by Bishara is measure as an issue regarding stupidy and war. Israel holding fire in some instances is, of course, in Israel's interest. The UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay says Israel may have committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Israel's Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni (considered a moderate) says her country is acting according to international law and tells Ms Pillay to "get lost." Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza this morning has risen to more than 700. Today there are reports that a UN-run school used as a shelter in Gaza was shelled, killing at least fifteen. The Times of Israel writes of Hamas "not about to fold" and "sure it's winning." Hamas has the deaths of numerous Israeli soldiers – 32 so far – to point to. Hamas has on its side its complaint against Israel's long-standing blockade of the Gaza strip, which is being cursed by Gazans, who are describing themselves as in an Israeli prison and speaking of Israel's colonialism. The blockade seems to have failed to prevent Hamas from acquiring rockets, so the question remains why Israel doesn't negotiate its removal.

Jul 25  This morning, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is reported as saying in a BBC News interview that Hamas "wants a truce as soon as possible, but with a genuine guarantee to lift the eight-year long siege." From the Israeli side, Michael Oren, historian and former ambassador to the US, has an article in the Washington Post today that is titled "Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas." Oren writes that he doesn't want to see a repeat of what happened in 2006 in Lebanon and 2008 and 2012 in Gaza. He writes that world opinion and the UN Security Council "compelled Israel to back down ... And the terrorists, though badly mauled, won. He continues:

Under the protection of cease-fires and, in some cases, international peacekeepers, they vastly expanded their arsenals to include more lethal and longer-range missiles. While reestablishing their rule in the streets, they burrowed beneath them to create a warren of bombproof bunkers and assault tunnels. Such measures enabled Hamas, as well as Hezbollah, to mount devastating attacks at the time of their choosing, confident that the international community would once again prevent Israel from exacting too heavy a price ... Hezbollah and Hamas sustained losses but, rescued and immunized by international diplomacy, they remained in power and became more powerful still. Hezbollah and Hamas sustained losses but, rescued and immunized by international diplomacy, they remained in power and became more powerful still.

Oren claims that if Israel is "permitted to prevail" US and Canadian-trained security forces of the Palestinian Authority can "take over key crossings and patrol Gaza's porous border with Egypt. Rather than be funneled into Hamas's war chest, international aid can be transferred directly to the civilian population to repair war damage and stimulate economic growth." Oren's position appears to be the position of the Israeli government. Someone comments to the Washington Post that Oren's article is a pathetic attempt to rationalize the inexcusable." Someone else describes Hamas and related groups as "equivalent to a invasive, metastatic cancer," and he prescribes "radical surgery." Meanwhile the death toll in Gaza today is reported as over 800.

Jul 26  In China, the government has suspended operations of a Shanghai meat dealer and has made arrests in connection with the company selling out-of-date meat to fast food chains, including McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The BBC's China editor, Carrie Gracie, writes of China's regulators "yet again" having failed to do their job, and she points out the value of investigative journalism in China. It was China's television journalism that exposed the malfeasance. Gracie complains of punitive regulations regarding journalism in China. Wikipedia reports that the media in mainland China "are becoming more autonomous and more diverse."

Jul 26  Turkey launches high-speed rail service between Instanbul and its capital, Ankara. It's expected to cut in half what was a seven-hour ride between the two cities. Meanwhile, plans for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco, pushed by Governor Jerry Brown, are bogged down in the state's court system and an idea ridiculed by Republicans.

Jul 28  Early on this the 21st day of the Israel-Hamas crisis, the UN Security Council has called for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire" in Gaza. In a phone call to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Netanyahu says the UN call addresses the needs of Hamas, but not Israel's demands for demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

Jul 29  The International Court rules that Russian officials manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos and jail its boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He had been openly critical of Putin's politics.

Jul 29  Today there are reports of 100 more Palestinians killed "as Israel intensifies its bombardment of Gaza and warns of a long conflict ahead." Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated Israel's goal as a demilitarized Gaza, which means destroying missile, rocket arsenals and tunnels and preventing "terrorists" from rearming. Israel is also expected to continue trying to kill Hamas leaders. John Kerry claims that the demilitarization of Gaza is a goal in its peace proposal. As Israelis describe it, there will be no rescue of Hamas by a peace deal as happened in the last Hamas-Israel flare-up. It appears that whatever cease-fire occurs will be a brief respite. Israel's Defense Forces (IDF), by the way, is tweeting descriptions of its operations. Four hours ago it said it "stuck 4 massive weapons caches that Hamas hid inside of mosques."

Jul 30  Yesterday the European Union and the US imposed sanctions on Russian banks, energy and defense firms, accusing Russia of arming and supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies the allegations, and today it bans fruit and vegetables from Poland and says it may extend this ban to fruits and vegetables from the European Union.

Jul 30  Hundreds of women in Turkey post pictures of themselves laughing. This is in response to comments by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, member of the ruling political party, announcing his views on the ideal woman. Carol J Williams of the Los Angeles Times quotes him as saying the ideal woman '...will not laugh in front of everyone and she will not display her attractiveness.' According to Williams, Arinc complained about "female laughter, excessive driving, social media and cellphones as signs of Turkey's moral regression."

Jul 31  Netanyahu says tunnels will be destroyed with or without ceasefire Gaza death toll up to 1,364. Three more Israeli soldiers killed, pushes Israeli army fatalities to 56. Hamas wants Hexzfollah to join the fight against Israael. Hezbollah is described as drained by its involvement in Syria.

June 2014 | August 2014

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