November 2014

Nov 1 Japan fighting deflation makes the news and "thrills the global stock markets." The Dow industrial average rose yesterday $195, up 1.13%. Japan's stock index, the Nikkei, soared over 5%. Japan's economy has been suffering from people not buying enough. Its poor sales abroad have created an export-import balance that is negative. Its exports of goods and services are said to be a little less than 16% of its economy, so a bigger issue is domestic buying. And Japanese buying their own products has declined following a rise in sales taxes, implemented to help pay off the government's huge public debt. It was people buying new cars that helped the US economy in recent months, but no such demand for cars exists in Japan, however much they might be able to afford it the same way Americans do, with credit buying. Japanese families aren't big on debt and Japan has a great public transportation – trains – which are used extensively. Deflation means not enough buying and low demand producing falling prices. Big business likes growth, and yesterday Japan's central bank began increasing the money supply, a strategy against deflation and toward inflation, exciting only those intensely interested in such things. Japan leads the world in public debt. It's more than twice it's GDP, 227% compared to 104% including external debt for the US, but Japan's debt is mainly money invested by Japan's citizenry, some of it money not taken by the government in taxes. As elsewhere, taxation in Japan is not popular, and politicians don't want to offend.

Nov 3  In Portland, Oregon, Brittany Maynard, 29, suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, says goodbye to all her dear friends and family and ends her life. Brittany, her husband and mother moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state's 1997 Death with Dignity Act. One argument against "Death with Dignity" claims that taking one's life is not a choice that God allows people. But among the hundreds of comments on Brittany Maynard this morning it is difficult to find one that complains that she should have waited to let the cancer kill her. Most cite her bravery and wish peace for her family. Physician-assisted suicide in the United States is legal also in Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico, and it is currently being debated in New Jersey.

Nov 4 The Brookings Institution, a Washington DC think tank, warns that efforts to secure an ambitious global climate agreement could be upset if the Republican Party takes complete control of the US Congress in the mid term elections. This warning is in the wake of a new report by the scientific Intergovernmental body (ISCC) under the auspices of the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that time is not on our side and there should be no "business as usual." President Obama's White House describes the report as "yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively."

Nov 4   President Obama's disapproval rating is described by Gallop at 54%, his approval at 41%. Today is election day. Republican candidates have been hammering away at Obama and liberals. Big gun Republican intellecutual John Bolton tweets: "A vote for anyone other than a Republican candidate is a vote for Obama, Reid, and their failed liberal agenda." On yesterday's NewsHour, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell was shown describing Obama and company: "These people have run this country into the ground, and they need to be stopped." (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE.) He continued, "Who are these people? I can tell you the kind of folks they got down at the White House. They're all a bunch of college professors and community organizers. And they think they are smarter than all the rest of us. And they want to tell us how to live our lives. And starting Tuesday, we're pushing back against that kind of thing." (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE.)

Nov 5  According to Pew Research, Democrats did better than Republicans yesterday among 18 to 44 year-olds, but older voters were much more numerous and gave Republicans a new majority in the Senate. And the Republicans increased their majority in the House of Representatives to 243 against 175 for the Democrats. Journalists are describing President Obama's unpopularity as having dragged down Democrats in general. Blaming the party in power appears to have had an impact, with little blame given to House Republicans. The Republican message prevailed against what Gallup describes as the lowest score for interest in any of the last six midterm elections. Beginning in 2015 Republicans will be able to pass legislation they want – to face Obama's veto. And the Republicans will be able to stymie anything Obama wants for the nation and to frustrate Obama's ability to name new federal judges, cabinet members and senior government officials. This morning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told his successor, Mitch McConnell, that he hoped they could work together "to get things done" in Washington.

Nov 5  The Kingdom of Norway is named the most prosperous country in an annual ranking by Legatum Institute, and a World Bank report a couple of days ago listed Norway as the sixth best country in the world in which to run a business (with Singapore 1st and the US 7th).

Nov 6  Journalist David Ignatius tells us of a group effort by more than a dozen European and Asian governments to end the civil war in Syria. Ignatius writes in the Washington Post that "The group has done extensive field work in Syria, meeting with top regime officials, moderate opposition leaders and members of the extremist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State." The group hopes for the kind of local conciliation that had mixed successes last year in the Homs and Damascus areas. The aim is to create local self-governing areas with their own security force not engaged in external warfare. It's suggested that the Assad regime is ready to accept a degree of decentralization that recognizes the rights and dignity of all, including the insurgents. A regime spokesperson says the regime would allow insurgents to keep their weapons and would give them amnesty in exchange for the kind of respect that would allow peaceful functions between local and central authorities.

Nov 6  Republicans are elated by their big win this week while expressing little caution about the nature of that win. Only about a third of the nation voted. The Republicans won only among those over forty-five, and many who voted Republican were not solid in their devotion to Republican positions. Sixty-three percent of Americans interviewed have told pollsters they believe our economic system favors the wealthy, and in the election every ballot measure to raise minimum wages passed – in California, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arkansas and Alaska. Republicans can push against some government regulations they dislike, push to lower taxes on corporations and push against Obama Care and various threats from abroad, but public opinion is not solidly on their side ideologically enough to warrant an optimism about holding an enduring commanding position.

Nov 7  Mid-East scholar Joshua Landis yesterday told the NewsHour: "Today, the Free Syrian Army groups that America has been supporting maybe control 1 percent of Syria, 2 percent. I don't know how much it is, but it's really nothing. And to imagine that America is going to somehow transform them into conquerors of half of Syria or even the whole of Syria, it begs the imagination."

Nov 7  A column including 32 tanks and 30 trucks has crossed into eastern Ukraine from Russia, according to the Ukraine government in Kiev. This is in the wake of separatists holding an election and declaring the independence of what they call the Donetsk People's Republic. Russia recognizes the separatist election. A Ukraine government spokesperson describes the incursion as "military equipment and Russian mercenaries to the front lines."

Nov 8  Charles Krauthammer gave us his take on the Republican election victory yesterday. The defeat, he writes. "marks the final collapse of Obamaism, a species of left liberalism so intrusive, so incompetently executed and ultimately so unpopular that it will be seen as a parenthesis in American political history." Krauthammer writes of Obama's policies being on the ballot and the voters having given it a "negative judgment." He adds that it was "not an endorsement of the GOP." Krauthammer wants the Republicans to move around Obama's veto by killing Obamacare with "a thousand cuts." He wants to see approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, fast-track trade negotiation authority for the president, a bill to authorize and expedite the export of liquid natural gas and crude oil, and a sweeping reform of the tax system including an abolition of loopholes.

Nov 8  President Obama authorises 1,500 additional boots on the ground in Iraq, doubling the number of those described as having a non-combat role there – military duty that is mainly verbal and short of pulling a trigger.

Nov 10  New global rules are announced that will prevent another round of "too big to fail" financial institutions being bailed out by taxpayers. This is from the Financial Stability Broad (FSB) created in 2009, representing the economies of G-20 nations. Big financial institutions of the world – Chase and Goldman Sachs among them – voluntarily belong in order to put themselves in good standing as responsible players. Mark Carney, the British FSB chairman, says it was "totally unfair" for taxpayers to bail out banks after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. According to BBC News, "The proposed new rules, which are up for consultation and should take effect in 2019, require 'global systemically important banks' to hold a minimum amount of cash to ensure they will be able to survive big losses without turning to governments for help."

Nov 12  In Mexico people have been in the streets for days protesting the disappearance of 43 students. (See Oct 28.) The federal government has been pursuing the case and many have been arrested including the mayor of Iguala who had ordered removal of the demonstrating students from his town. A crowd has torched the headquarters of the political party voted into power in Mexico, the PRI. President Enrique Peña Nieto is under attack although he has been pursuing his pledge to fight organized crime and drug trade and has said there will be no pacts with criminals. Government officials say local gang members have confessed to killing the students and burning their bodies. The mayor of Iguala has been tracked down by government authorities and arrested. But some people are directing their blame at those in power – common elsewhere in the world where there is mass dissatisfaction, including the United States. One at the demonstrations in Mexico tells a reporter, "I've had enough." Another says, "I'm tired of so much injustice." In Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, gangs have become more prevalent in recent years, and murder rates have risen after decades of fast population growth, but few people are inclined to connect the social problems of these countries as at least partly a disconnect between rising numbers of people and economic growth beneficial for society as a whole. Some put blame on illegal drugs trafficking, but viewing the history of gangs in Los Angeles, California, suggests a need to include other matters.

Nov 13  Regarding Mexico, a column yesterday in the Washington Examiner claimed, "Atrocities far less hideous and institutionally debilitating than the Iguala Massacre have sparked mass revolt... Mexican government corruption facilitates organized crime. Organized crime enriches a corrupt political class. Cartel gunmen and crooked cops on the streets, cartel comandantes and corrupt politicos through institutions ensnare the Mexican people." The column asks, "Anyone shocked to learn that Guerrero's murderous elites belong to Mexico's left-wing socialist people's party? Switching to Wikipedia we find, "Despite the efforts of the authorities to fight crime and fraud, few Mexicans have strong confidence in the police or the judicial system, and therefore, few crimes are actually reported by the citizens. The Global Integrity Index which measures the existence and effectiveness of national anti-corruption mechanisms rated Mexico 31st behind Kenya, Thailand, and Russia."

Nov 14  A rocket launched on 2 March 2004 by the European Space Agency reached its target 310 million of miles away, within our solar system. It's called the Rosetta Mission, and its target is a comet. Two days ago Rosetta's lander made a controlled touchdown on the comet, and it is drilling holes on the comet's surface for information about the comet's ingredients.

Nov 14  Wikipedia lists Mexico's intentional homicide rate as 21.5 per 100,000, and this is a fraction of the number for Honduras, 90.4, but more than double that of Costa Rica, at 8.5 per 100,000. Denmark, Spain and Germany each has a rate of 0.8 per 100,000, a tenth that of Costa Rica, but the question asked here is why Mexico is not more like Costa Rica. The two have population growth rates that are almost equal: 1.24% for Costa Rica, 1.21% for Mexico. Mexico and Costa Rica are almost equal in per capita wealth, Mexico at $15,600 and Costa Rica's at $12,900 for the year 2013, with Honduras at $4,800, and Denmark, Spain and Germany at $37,800, $30,100 $39,000, respectively. Perhaps these wealth figures are connected to the degree of desperation that exists in these countries, and desperation is connected to higher crime including intentional homicide. Costa Rica apparently has less desperation than Mexico. According to the World Factbook, Costa Rica has 24.8% of its population below the poverty line compared to 52.3% for Mexico, 60% for Honduras and13.4% for Denmark. Consider the high crime rate in Mexico City in recent years, a city packed with desperate people. Wealth distribution is involved, of course. Honduras' low per capita wealth is made worse by a wealth distribution figure, according to the World Factbook, worse that of Costa Rica and Mexico (and much worse than the United States). To the question why Mexico is not more like Costa Rica, perhaps the answer is the greater desperation in Mexico. Some who are thinking about the drug trade may want to add that Mexico is closer to the US than is Costa Rica. As for population growth, perhaps it can be described as an irritant regarding crime including murder in Honduras and other places of relatively low wealth. Population growth in these countries means more people given the countries resources, poor wealth distribution, greater poverrty and greater desperation. The high population growth rates in Costa Rica and Mexico can't be said to be helping either country.

Nov 16  The G20 summit in Australia concludes its business, the nations at the gathering described by Linda Yueh of BBC News as representing 85% of the world's GDP. The summit issued a statement on climate change and Ebola. There was an agreement to fight tax evasion by sharing information. The G20 nations expressed a goal of increasing GDP an additional 2% in the coming four years and creating millions of jobs. Writes Yueh, "They also emphasized a commitment to poverty eradication and reducing inequality." She adds that her understanding is that private businesses will be targeted for investment funds in infrastructure. Yueh wonders about a lack of details for implementing goals and taxpayer willingness to fund these big summits conferences "that promise much but tend to deliver somewhat less." Putin left the summit early. He said it was "constructive" but that he needed sleep. He was seen on television happily shaking hands and chatting with David Cameron. With Ukraine in mind, President Obama is reported to have told Putin that it wasn't right for one country to invade another.

Nov 17  A BBC News headline reads, "Japan falls into recession as consumers stop spending." A BBC News analyst ties this to a distribution of wealth problem. The government printed a lot of money which caused the Yen to fall. This helped exporters sell and, writes Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, "This gave a huge cash windfall to Japanese exporters. But instead of increasing the wages of their employees, they have sat on the money." He describes a huge stock market rise having benefitted only "a minority of rich people" and that a tax rise "has made them feel even poorer. Hence they have stopped spending." Japan falling into a recession is being described as a surprise. Japan's conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, of the Liberal Democratic Party, is described by Reuters as ready "to delay an unpopular sales tax hike" and to call an election two years earlier than required.

Nov 18  In Hong Kong the High Court orders the removal of barricades near businesses that have filed formal complaints. Protesters don't resist and some help in the removal of tents and fences. But protesters see themselves as not giving up. They say they will remain on the streets until their demands are met.

Nov 18  For the first time, Interpol (international police) is targeting individuals having committed crimes against wildlife. In October, Investigators from 21 countries gathered at Interpol's headquarters in France to share information on suspects. BBC News reports that "The public is being asked to provide information on the locations of nine fugitives suspected of serious environmental crimes." These crimes include illegal fishing, logging and wildlife trafficking.

Nov 19  A court in Pakistani declares four people guilty of murdering a pregnant relative who had married without her family's consent – a so-called honor killing. The young woman's father, brother, cousin and former fiancé are sentenced to die. Another brother is sentenced to ten years in jail. On May 27 the woman had been attacked with bricks in town on a road while alongside her husband. Her family claimed she married a second time without divorcing her first husband, which they described as "un-islamic." The incident created outrage in Pakistan and was condemned by the country's prime minister. According to India's Daily News, honor killings have been "on the rise in Pakistan especially in Punjab, a province of 90-million. Last year, 870 women were killed in the name of honor here."

Nov 20  Honduras has the highest intentional murder rate of any country in the world, and now its beauty queen, Maria Jose Alvarado, Miss Honduras at age 19, has been murdered along with her elder sister, following a birthday party. Alvadado was scheduled to fly to London for the Miss World Contest in December. Chief detective Leandro Osorio describes the murders as a result of the elder sister's boyfriend shooting her in a fit of rage after seeing her dancing with "another person or something similar." Alvarado was with her sister. Killing her appears to have been part of a cover up, which extedned to their burial with help by the killer's friend or friends. Connecting these murders to whatever makes Honduras the world leader in murder is difficult. It can be considered another case of poor judgment by the sister in choosing who to hang out with and her boyfriend's utter primitivity and stupidity. As for Miss Honduras, she was in her final year at the Northern Polytechnic Institute studying computer science.

Nov 21  An Associated Press article claims that the murders of Maria Alvarado and her sister "highlight what experts call an alarming trend of violence against women in Central America, fueled by poverty, domestic violence, street gangs, drug trafficking and a culture of chauvinism." Another ingredient mentioned: Alvarado's mother says her daughters were trusting and naive. "They were not very astute about assessing the people around them. They were just friendly", she said. "They were going out with people they hadn't known very long."

Nov 21  President Obama issues an executive order, creating immigration reform that Reuters News says would "let some 4.4 million who are parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents remain in the country temporarily, without the threat of deportation." The children of immigrants legal or otherwise born in the US or its territories are US citizens, and anyone of unknown parentage found in the US or its territories while under the age of five years also becomes a US citizen. The president's order applies to those who have been in the United States at last five years. Obama expresses frustration in waiting for Congress to act on the immigration issue. Republicans are claiming that the Constitution doesn't allow the president to act as Obama has.

Nov 24  So far this year, as of today, deaths in the world are estimated at 51.5 million and births (the happier occasion) at 124.7 million – according to the World Population Clock at The CIA's World Factbook estimates population increases this year for Libya at an estimated annual rate of 3.05%, almost 4 times that of the United States, at 0.77%. The Factbook has Nigeria growing at 2.47% and Iraq at 2.23%. The Factbook describes population decreases in American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Cooks Islands – the result of emigration. The birth rate for the United States for 2014 is estimated at 13.42 per 1,000 population and for American Samoa (US citizens) at 22.87 per 1,000. According to the Factbook, Syria has the biggest drop in population for 2014, a fall of 9.7% while its birth rate remains about the same as American Samoa, at 22.76. Syria's loss in population in the form of refugees appears to give rise to Jordan's growth in population to 3.86%, the fourth highest in the world. Jordan is a country pressured by insufficient supplies of water, oil, and other natural resources and is dependent on foreign assistance while its birth rate remains relatively high, at 25.23 per thousand, 53rd among 224 countries.

Nov 25   The day before yesterday a television show for comedian Jay Leno receiving the Mark Twain award was broadcast on television. Yesterday President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award to eighteen people, most of them in the entertainment industry: the great Meryle Streep among them, and Ethel Kennedy wife of the later Robert Kennedy, the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi, a physicist and a few retired politicians. The Presidential Medal of Freedom began when President Truman wanted to give recognition to civilians for their extraordinary contribution ot the war effort. Nowadays it's a lot about celebrating celebrities. The Mark Twain "prize for American humor" this year is similar. It has been described as recognizing people who have had an impact on American society similar to that of Mark Twain, perhaps to encourage more of it, but some complain that Leno's humor is far from Mark Twain's. It's been described as almost at a knock-knock-who's-there level, although his street interviews put a light on common ignorance.

Nov 25  Thousands in Ferguson Missouri and places across the United States make a show of their certainty that their interpretation of the killing of Michael Brown on 9 August is accurate. They are sure that the policeman who shot Brown was in no way provoked by Brown into defending himself as he did. Slate has published photos of the policeman, Darren Wilson, taken by the police for evidence that Brown assaulted the officer. The county prosecutor has described the altercation in detail, published by Reuters, but the protesters are accusing the officer of having over-reacted and that he should have been indicted for murder. Many protesters wanted peaceful demonstrations, but many others think they are making their point against Wilson's over-reaction by setting buildings on fire, smashing things and looting stores that were left unguarded. Police in the Ferguson area trying to protect property have so far arrested 61 people, and there are no reports of injuries.

Nov 26  The Ferguson policeman who shot Michael Brown says he did his job right, as he was trained, that he has a clean conscience but that he is sorry about Brown's death. President Obama tells protesters they have no excuse to commit crimes, that nothing of benefit results from destructive acts. A protester in Ferguson passes on to a newsman the slogan "no justice, no peace" and says the destruction is necessary because without it nobody would be paying attention. We are sending a message, he says. According to published comments in the media, the rioters' message isn't being received in a way they have intended and, as Obama suggests, their rationale is politically naive.

Nov 26  In Hong Kong, seven policemen are arrested for having beaten a pro-democracy protester back on 15 October. A police statement describes the policemen as detained on suspicion of "assault resulting in grievous body harm." Also, last night in Hong Kong, police acted on a court injunction and tore down one of the three protester camps and responded to resistance by arresting 116. The Hong Kong police have announced that the streets around Nathan Road are clear for the first time in weeks. Activists say they will regroup elsewhere. John Sudworth of BBC News writes: "... the protesters are weary after two solid months of sit-ins, their numbers dwindling,... with Mong Kok cleared, two other sites remain, including the main protest site in the heart of the financial district. Further court injunctions or not, that remains a much tougher proposition."

Nov 27  Britain's Royal Society warns of population growth and extreme weather, that risk to individuals from floods will rise more than four-fold and the drought risk will triple. The report's lead author Prof Georgina Mace says: "This problem is not just about to come… it's here already." She tells BBC News that "People are increasingly living in the wrong places ... For most hazards, population increase contributes at least as much as climate change – sometimes more. We are making ourselves more vulnerable whilst making the climate more extreme."

Nov 29  Demonstrations in Mexico have been massive enough to have been effective, and there is a responsive regime in power. Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a plan to put local police under federal control, a plan to change the country's constituion and allow its 1,800 municipal forces to be desolved and taken over by state agencies. Congress will be able to dissolve local governments infiltrated by drug gangs. Also a national system for tracking down disappeared persons and a nationwide database containing genetic information will be established.

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