June 2014

Jun  1   Chrystia Freeland, just back from Ukraine, reports on Fareed Zakaria's broadcast today that "the people of Ukraine, 90 percent of Ukraine, are really united," that the recent election for Ukraine's presidency demolished the idea, pushed by the Kremlin, that there is a far-right threat in the Ukraine. She points to two far-right candidates each getting only one percent of the vote and one independent Jewish candidate who received two percent of the vote. She says she is not optimistic about the Donetsk region, "where the fighting is happening right now." She was in Donetsk and was "struck by the extent to which state power in about 60 percent of that region has just melted away. In that area I think it's very hard to predict what's going to happen and really dangerous."

Jun 2  The Guardian writes: "After seven years of a bitter and at times lethal rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, a historic Palestinian unity government has been sworn in, ending years of division." The unity government, controlled by Fatah, agrees tothe following: recognition of Israel, compliance to diplomatic agreements, renunciation of violence. Fatah sets its sight on controlling Gaza.In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has described Fatah, by allying with Hamas, as saying "yes to terrorism and no to peace." Israel's participation in peace negotiations with Fatah were called off in April after Israel became aware that today's agreement would take place.

Jun 2  Today In Benghazi, Libya, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia) is in a shooting war with a force led by Khalifa Haftar, the secular former general who has lived in the US for twenty years and is a US citizen. Haftar describes himself as leader of the Libyan Nahttp://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140616-ten-tickets-to-paradise-pleasetional Army, and he warns that some in Libya's congress support al-Qaeda. He vows that his army will "eradicate terrorists from Libya." Two days ago thousands of demonstrators rallied in support of Haftar in the capital Tripoli and in Benghazi.

Jun 2  In El Salvador, former Liberation Front guerilla fighter Salvador Sánchez Cerén, 69, is sworn in as president. He was with those resisting the military regime that was supported by the Reagan administration (1981-89). That twelve-year war ended in 1992 following two years of UN-led negotiations. President Sánchez's political party still is the FMLN, the umbrella group formed in 1980 from left-wing guerrilla organizations. In March this year Sanchez barely managed to defeat the conservative candidate, and in his inauguration speech he has promised to govern "for everybody." He adds that he will lead "with honesty, austerity, efficacy and transparency," and he promises "security, employment and education." El Salvador, meanwhile, has been plagued by poverty, gang violence and has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Jun 3  President Obama announces his plan for a $1 billion fund to increase deployment of US troops to Europe. He states its purpose as showing that the security of America's European allies is "sacrosanct." Also today, the president is being criticized for what Michael Gerson calls his "global war on straw men." Columnist Richard Cohen joins the "straw men" complaint, accusing Obama of speaking against what nobody is advocating: putting boots on the ground in Syria. Someone speaks against the show aspect of Obama's announcement and asks why not put "pressure on the Europeans to get their act together and beef up their own defence forces." Gallup, meanwhile, shows President Obama's approval holding steady in the last ten days of May: around 44% approving and 51% disapproving.

Jun 4  Yesterday in Nigeria, according to Gulf News (referring to the Persian Gulf), several newspapers reported that ten generals and five other senior military officers have been courts-martialed for providing arms and information to Boko Haram. According to Gulf News, this follows "months of allegations from politicians and soldiers who said that some senior officers were helping the Islamic extremists and that some rank-and-file soldiers even fight alongside the insurgents and then return to army camps."

Jun 4  Yesterday in Syria, supporters of Assad voted for him as president for seven years. The vote count is not yet in. "It's a tragic farce," says French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Other western leaders call it a sham, as do Arab leaders. Russian election observers in Syria say the vote meets international standards. (Russia has been supporting Assad.) Syria's foreign minister dismisses negative criticism, saying "No one can impose their will on the Syrian people ... Today the path to a political solution begins." Regarding solutions, Assad's air force was still bombing civilians yesterday. Someone voting for Assad told BBC News "We hope for security and stability" – in other words a military victory. Opponents of Assad have a view of democracy that differs from those of the Assad regime. They want a central government that respects local sovereignty and people. Five days ago Assad welcomed a delegation from North Korea and expressed himself on the subject of sovereignty. He told the North Korean delegation, "Both countries have been on the same footing, refusing to bow to pressures, rejecting subordination, sticking to sovereignty and independent decision and standing against the imperialist plots targeting the interests and capabilities of the peoples in their two regions." Meanwhile, many in the US in effect side with Assad by seeing Syria's civil war as a fight not between good guys and bad guys but merely between Sunni and Shia. They are adamant about their rights being protected but they are with Assad in wanting no US involvement on behalf of the victims of his bombs and shells.

Jun 5  A headline in the Jerusalem Post reads: "British foreign secretary [William Hague] joins European Union in praising Fatah-Hamas unity accord." The unity government controlled by Fatah as been described elsewhere as having agreed to the recognition of Israel, to compliance with diplomatic agreements and a renunciation of violence.

Jun 5  In Syria, Assad is described as winning 88.7% of the vote and 11.63 million people as having voted. That's roughly 10.3 million votes for Assad in a country with a population that is being described by many as at about 18 million – down from around 23 million in 2010. The difference between 10.3 million and 18 million is 7.7 million people who didn't vote for Assad. The two other candidates on the ballot together won 7.5% of the vote. Subtracting them from the 7.7 million people who did vote for Assad leaves around 6.8 million. A lot of Syrians are too young to vote. If we take 35% from 6.8 million we have 4.42 million who didn't vote for Assad or the other two on the ballot. That's less than half the votes Assad is said to have won. As leaders of successful revolutions have told us, a successful insurgency needs a large percentage of the public on its side. If these figures are any where near correct it bodes well for the Assad regime and his Russian and Iranian allies. An Associated Press article in the Washington Post yesterday summed it up as follows: "For all the serious flaws in Syria's election, it underscored the considerable support that President Bashar Assad still enjoys from the population, including many in the majority Sunni Muslim community." The numbers given us by the Assad regime could be egregious distortions. Nevertheless, it appears that Assad has been encouraged in his strategy of ignoring a negotiated settlement of the civil war and of terrorizing civilians who dislike him.

Jun 6  At their summit conference in Brussels yesterday G7 world leaders announced their "strong determination" to create an aggreement at Paris in December 2015 that is "ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances." Newsweek describes this statement as prompted by the "United States' plan to cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030." The G7 doesn't include China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but Newsweek adds that China has responded with a hint "that it would set some kind of cap on its emissions." Commenting on the G7 meeting, the international organization Oxfam complains that G7 leaders "offer climate action with one hand, making good pledges on energy efficiency and renewables, only to snatch it away with the other, by continuing to trumpet indigenous hydrocarbon resources, which are expensive, unproven and dirty like shale gas." Defending the European Union, Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, describes the EU as still in the vanguard and claims that it will "substantially over-achieve" its greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2020, delivering beyond its promised 20 percent cut relative to 1990 levels by the year 2030.

Jun 9  Taxes in Japan and Denmark make news. In Japan, retail sales have fallen following a sales tax increase from 5 to 8 percent on April 1, its first increase in seventeen years. In Denmark, a Gallup survey for the Berlingske newspaper has found that 88 percent of Danes don't mind paying taxes to help support Danish society, but 33 percent think too much money is being wasted on bureaucracy and administration. A third of those surveyed said they didn't want their tax money going to people who don't contribute anything financially to society, and 50 percent said reducing taxes would be beneficial. In Denmark in 2013 revenues were 56 percent of GDP compared to 15.3 percent for the US and 33.8 percent for Japan.

Jun 9  In a study about memory, researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School have compared mice that sleep well with those that are sleep deprived. They find that sleep increases neuron connections in the brain. According to BBC News the study showed that in their brain "sleeping mice formed significantly more new connections between neurons." Neuron connections serve memory and memory serves learning.

Jun 11  Yesterday in Iraq an army of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS or ISIL), described as well trained, seized control of government offices, the airport, and police stations in the northern city of eastern half Mosel, a city of 2 million. An Iraqi army officer described it as a "total collapse of the security forces." ISIS is Sunni. The government of Iraq, led by Prime Minister Malaki, is Shia and has been supported by Iran since before the US withdrew. ISIS has declared war on the Shia militant group Hezbollah based in Lebanon, and ISIS militants hold territory in eastern Syria. Today, BBC News speaks of 500,000 fleeing Mosel, and Arab News describes an upbeat Bashar al Assad of Syria saying that the "United States and the West have started to send signs of change" regarding Syria because of the threat of terrorism. Reuters reports a 40-year old man who fled Mosul with his family saying: "We are frightened because we don't know who they are. They call themselves the revolutionaries. They told us not to be scared and that they came to liberate and free us from oppression." The leader of ISIS has been described as Commander of the Faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, age 43, born in Samarra Iraq. He is a former al Qaeda activist and threatened retaliation for Osama bin Laden's death. The US has a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or death.

Jun 12  In a congressional race in the Richmond area of Virginia, opinion wins over money. According to BBC News, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor raised $5.44 million, his challenger had only had $207,000. It is the first time that a House Majority Leader lost a primarly election. His opponent: David Brat, an economics professor with a master's in divinity whom some are associating with the T-party. Reasons given by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: Cantor's support for reform that allows persons brought illegally to the US as children to gain citizenship. Another reason given: Mr Brat repeating attacks on crony capitalism and the "crooks up on Wall Street in some of the big banks" who should have gone to jail.

Jun 12  An Egyptian court sentences a pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdul Fattah, to 15 years in jail for illegal protest and attacking a police officer. He was demonstrating against demonstrations needing government authorization. Fattah was prominent in the 2011 revolt against President Mubarak. Some in Egypt express fear concerning free speech. Others support the new president, al Sisi, who has little tolerance for disorder, especially violence against policemen.

Jun 13  There has been blowback in the Mid-East since Russian forces invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. With war in Iraq that began in 2003 a growing Sunni insurgency was building in 2005, 2006, and 2007. According to Feisal Istrabai of Indiana University, General Petraeus was able decrease the violence "by negotiating a series of political deals with Sunni tribal sheiks and other respected figures in the Sunni community." He added: "The current government of Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq reneged on all of those promises." The continuing rise of the ISIS has been described as a political failure by the prime minister. President Obama says that ISIS on the march "should be a wakeup call for the Iraqi government." Istrabadi said yesterday that there is "no military solution to the problem" and he asked "What is airpower going to do? Are you going to bomb the cities? Are you going to bomb Tikrit? Are you going to bomb Mosul? Whole cities have fallen." Meanwhile, President Obama is threatening to use airpower but no ground force against ISIS. He says, "I don't rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria."

Jun 14  In Thailand, people who supported the recent government of Yingluck Shinawatra and who oppose the military takeover – including people who have hit the streets in red shirts – have been playing it cool and opting for the electoral politics that have given them victories in recent years. They haven't taken to streets for confrontations with the military the way that Morsi's supporters did in Egypt. Meanwhile, yesterday the military promised that power will be given to an interim government in August. Also yesterday It lifted the nationwide curfew, hoping this will bolster the country's suffering tourist industry. Three days ago the military started giving away movie tickets for the week-end, for the stated purpose of promoting "love and harmony," which befits the Buddhism of Thailand's monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Jun 15  Three Israeli teenagers have been missing since June 12, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas. He says, "Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact."

Jun 16  As violence carries on in Iraq and Syria, no news arrives lately about protests and violent demonstrations in Venezuela. But two days ago Cuba's Raul Castro spoke to people representing the Group of 77 and China meeting in Bolivia, and he warned that the Maduro regime in Venezuela needed "our staunchest support" regarding fallout from that country's anti-government protests. Castro spoke of the elected socialist government in Caracas as "the front line of independence, freedom and dignity". Demonstrations against that government have been described as protests against inflation, high crime rates and food shortages.

Jun 17  Reuters reports that residents of the village of Kasab on Syria's border with Turkey began returning home yesterday. These are people of Armenian descent and Christians. They've been filmed "dancing, cheering and waving flags in the main square" a day after Assad's army retook the areas. The village had been captured by rebels around three months ago. Syrian state television boasts that in Kasab "security and stability" have been restored.

Jun 17  Amid reports of ISIS clashing with Shiite forces 37 miles north of Baghdad, BBC News publishes photos of "dozens of Iraqi soldiers" massacred by Jihadist militants. On the "News Hour" yesterday an explanation given by the killers was that it was the killing of heretics – a mindset during the Middle Ages.

Jun 17  Prime Minister Maliki ignores Obama's call to embrace Sunni politicians as a condition of US support. Maliki lashes out at the leading Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia, accusing it of supporting Sunni insurgents and promoting "genocide." Saudi policy has been opposed to al-Qaeda and its organizations and in support of the moderate military factions in Syria not linked to Islamic extremists.

Jun 19  With ISIS fighting for control of territory in Iraq, Dick Cheney, Senator McCain and other Iraq war hawks describe President Obama as having thrown away hard fought gains that the Bush administration secured there, that we are watching an "American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory." They view the US mission in Iraq as both a liberation of the Iraqis and an application of control by the US – directed toward US interests and values. Rather than blame those to whol they handed power, they are blaming Obama for pulling out troops too early. (See Nov 27, 2008 regarding Iraq's parliament seeking US troops leaving Iraq entirely.) Meanwhile a poll published yesterday on the Huffington Post claims that "only 22 percent of Americans think the US should get involved in the current situation in Iraq ... while 51 percent think the US should stay out of it ... and even Republicans [are] more likely to oppose intervention than to support it, by 41 percent to 35 percent."

Jun 20  The president has said the United States will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to train that country's security forces. Former commander in Iraq, David Patraeus, speaks against US military intervention to support Baghdad's government, adding that the US should not act as Maliki's air force. Fareed Zakaria sees the broad coalition government in Baghdad urged by President Obama as "unlikely." He writes in the Washington Post that "It is doubtful that a Shiite government in Baghdad — using an increasingly Shiite army to defend itself — will ever fully regain the allegiance of the Sunnis. The Sunnis have done enough killing to keep the Shiites wary for decades." Saudi Arabia has "unequivocally condemned" ISIS as a terrorist group, and slams Maliki for saying otherwise. David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post, says that the first step in defeating ISIS Is getting rid of Maliki. He writes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan having leverage with the Sunni tribes and talking with tribal leaders to pull them away from ISIS.

Jun 20  International weapons inspectors have issued findings that chlorine gas has been used in a "systematic manner" in Syria this year, long after the Assad regime pledged to give up other toxic weapons such as sarin. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission said this week that evidence "lends credence to the view that toxic chemicals, most likely pulmonary irritating agents such as chlorine, have been used."

Jun 23   Vox.com describes "why the world is still failing on climate change." Clean energy is growing, but use of fossil fuels is growing faster. Asia's use of coal keeps growing. Clean energy sources, including wind and solar, are growing but they hardly counter the growth of environmentally unfriendly sources. The International Energy Agency argues that an adquate reduction in warming emissions would require $24 trillion in clean energy investments between now and 2020 and more thereafter.

Jun 23  The European Union adds sanctions against twelve Syrian government ministers. The EU accuses the ministers of responsibility for "serious human rights violations."

Jun 24  Rebels in Ukraine have agreed to the ceasefire declared by President Poroshenko a few days ago, and President Putin asks Russia's parliament to revoke his right to use force in Ukraine that it had issued on March 1. NATO lauds the ceasefire. Americans who were shouting their fears that Putin was on a march and comparing him to Hitler are quiet.

Jun 25  In Britain, the University of Cambridge says that by 2030 population growth and use of land for energy crops will leave the British short of land needed for food production. The population then is expected to exceed 70 million. (It's estimated today at 6.37 million.) Britain today is self sufficient in its barley, wheat, milk, lamb and mutton production, but it imports large amounts of fruit, vegetables and other farm products, including pork.

Jun 26  The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday, unanimously, that police can't examine the digital contents of a cell phone without a court order.

Jun 26  Three days ago, speaking of the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers, Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal, says "I cannot confirm or deny the abduction." He adds, "blessed are the hands" who carried it out.

Jun 26  A few days ago it was 50 years since the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the disappearance and murder of three civil rights workers – Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. Then, white folks in Mississippi were afraid regarding blacks voting. They believed that it was either whites dominating blacks or blacks dominating whites, and they didn't want to lose their ability to lord it over blacks. Today, the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County from which the three civil rights workers were taken has a black mayor and, writes George Will, Mississippi "has elected more African American officials than any other state." The fear that whites had in 1964 was, obviously, distortion and panic.

Jun 26  In Thailand, people have been warned that anyone advocating protest on social media will be prosecuted for sedition.

Jun 29  Israelis and Hamas are firing on one another. Rocket fire from Gaza began yesterday.

Jun 30  Sunni Jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq announced yesterday their creation of a "caliphate" – a system of Islamic rule that existed from the 600s to the end of World War I, when the Ottoman Empire ended and Ataturk took power. An audio recording distributed online declares the caliph to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new "leader for Muslims everywhere." The caliphate is described as "the dream in all the Muslims' hearts" and "the hope of all jihadists." They see the state of Iraq as no longer existing. Meanwhile, the government of Iraq is aided by Iran, Russia has given it fighter jets, and the Obama administration has sent in 300 or so advisors to help. And in Algeria, predominately Sunni and with Sharia law, a nationalist spirit dominates. Algerians are heartened by the dream of success of their nation's team in World Cup football.

May 2014  | July 2014 

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