Jan 1 In his New Year speech, President Putin said "An atmosphere of kindness, goodwill and generosity warms our hearts." He talked patriotism: "Love for one's Motherland is one of the most powerful and enlightening feelings. It has found its reflection in our fraternal aid to the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol, after they made the firm decision to return to their native home. This event will remain a landmark in national history." He thanked his listeners for "your innermost truthfulness, honour, justice and responsibility for the fate of your country, for your invariable readiness to defend Russia's interests, to be with it both in days of triumph and in times of trial, to strive for the implementation of our bravest and grandest of plans." In his State of the Union speech on December 4, Putin referred to a challenge to Russian patriotism by the West's old policy of containment, adding that "every time when anyone only thinks Russia has become strong, independent, such instruments are applied immediately." He said, "We will never pursue the path of self-isolation, xenophobia, suspicion and search of enemies. All this is manifestation of weakness, while we are strong and self-confident." BBC News reports today that "more than a dozen protesters" have been arrested in central Moscow following their "demonstrating all night against the conviction of prominent opposition leader Alexei Navaln." Today the Moscow Times headlines "Despite oil riches, life in Putin's Russia is hard - and about to get harder." It describes "ordinary Russians" as aware of problems at home but having "a limited grasp of how their country compares to the outside world, or its role internationally."
Jan 1 Happy New Year! In Shanghai, people in a packed crowd celebrating the coming New Year rush to pick up fake money thrown from the balcony of a nightclub. The crush kills 36 and according to BBC News, injures "some 47 others."
Jan 2 Relations between Qatar and the el-Sisi regime in Egypt have been strained. Qatar's ruling family, the House of Thani, funds Al-Jazeera, and three of Al-Jazeera's journalists have been in prison for over a year, sentenced seven to ten-year sentences on charges of publishing false Egyptian news and aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Britain's The Guardian writes that "Qatar has moved to repair relations with Egypt and its own Gulf neighbors by shutting down a controversial pro-Islamist TV channel that has infuriated the military-backed authorities in Cairo." Al-Jazeera announced on 29 Dec that its affiliate broadcast called Egypt Direct was ceasing broadcast immediately until "conditions are favorable" for it to return to Egypt. The el-Sisi regime is pretending that Egypt's judiciary is independent, widely viewed as a farce. Yesterday Egypt's highest court granted the three journalists – Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed – retrials citing procedural flaws in the original trial. The judge had the power to release all three on bail but didn't, and the verdict could take months.
Jan 5 The 114th Congress convenes under full Republican control for the first time since 2006. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday morning television yesterday gave the country his analysis why the economy hasn't being growing as fast as he thinks it should: government regulations. He said his party's top priority will be easing regulations to boost the economy. McConnell foresees relief in passage of the Keystone oil pipeline and overhauling the Affordable Care Act (Obama care). On December 18 he said "a Republican Senate will redouble efforts to combat the president's war on Coal. And a Republican Senate will have the opportunity to push back on the president's unilateral action of immigration." More economic analysis comes in a comment to the Huffington Post: "The economic crash was a purposeful and treasonous acted of the democrat controlled 110th congress." Someone replies: "Here we go with revisionist right wing chatter. Out of the right wing parallel universe." Someone else tells Democrats to "shut your ugly and immoral pieholes ... Elections have consequences, and you lost." How much Republicans will be able to reason with President Obama and his fellow Democrats remains to be seen. Obama's approval rating, by the way, was 46 percent on the 3rd.
Jan 6 Demonstrations continue in Germany by the movement called Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West (PEGIDA). It began in October in response to street battles in Hamburg between Kurds and Salafists. And there were demonstrations in Dresden by immigrants in support of the Kurd struggling against ISIS. In December, PEGIDA demonstrations grew in size to seven, ten and seventeen thousand, with signs calling for preserving "our culture," against "religious fanaticism" and against "religious wars on German soil." In her New Year message Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the movement, saying everyone has the right to voice their opinion, but she advised against following those who have called the rallies "because all too often they have prejudice, coldness, even hatred in their hearts." BBC News reports "some 18,000 people" attending an anti-immigration rally in Dresden yesterday, and it writes of "weekly protests" and "counter demonstrations ... with thousands marching in Berlin, Cologne, Dresden and Stuttgart." It adds that a "total of 22,000 anti-Pegida demonstrators rallied in Stuttgart, Muenster and Hamburg." According to the German tabloid Bild, people are saying "no" to xenophobia and "yes" to diversity and tolerance. The demonstrators in Dresden marched in silence, and they avoided triviolizing their demonstration by talking to reporters.
Jan 7 More killing for God and his messenger. In Paris. two men with assault rifles invade the offices of a satirical magazine and murder twelve people, including two police officers. The killers left shouting "Allah Akbar. We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad." The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, reprinted a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006 that had originally appeared in Danish publication. Recently, Charlie Hebdo tweeted a cartoon of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Jan 8 French police say they know who the killers are: Cherif Kouachi, age 32, and his brother Said Kouachi, age 34, French citizens of Algerian descent. They are on the run in France. Amateur video shows the killers yesterday running toward a wounded policeman as he lay on the pavement and one of the attackers saying, "you wanted to kill me?" Then he shot the officer in the head. Now they have thousands who want them dead, and they are about die or be taken prisoner. Their stupidities produce other stupidities: two Muslim places of worship have been reported as set on fire. Dread has been reported among France's Muslim population. In the US, gun control is attacked, and Richard Greneli, a Fox News contributor, complains that Hillary Clinton wants us to empathize with the killers. In Paris on the other hand, the mood is somber. Come night, lights on the Eiffel Tower weere turned off. The Metro halted for a minute or two. Schools closed across the city. People are identifying with the victims and expressing support for the tradition of freedom of the press. France is having a day of national mourning.
Jan 9 Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders denounce the flogging – 50 lashes – on an independent-minded Saudi blogger, Raef Badawi. They describe Badawi as having exercised his right to freedom of expression. Badawi was convicted in May last year of a "cybercrime" and insulting Islam. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail. The flogging, fifty lashes at a time, are to occur weekly. The lashes today were applied just outside a mosque, on this holy day of Friday, with worshippers as an audience, an apparent warning about improper behavior. Yesterday, by the way, Saudi Arabia denounced the murders at the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris, calling it a "cowardly terrorist act which Islam as well as other religions reject." Today, surviving members of Charlie Hebdo have vowed to push forward with their next edition, increasing the print run to 1 million copies, well beyond its usual 60,000 copies, in defiance of the gun attack that killed 10 of their colleagues. The old response that we shouldn't offend has not made much of an appearance in the West. Meanwhile Badawi's wife, Ensaf Haidar, has accepted the Scottish Secular Society's annual Aikenhead award on her husband's behalf, and she with Badawi's three children have moved to Canada.
Jan 12 A third attacker in Paris on January 7, Amedy Coulibaly, made a video claiming association with the other two assassins and described his motive, saying: "You attack the Islamic state; we attack you." Coulibaly shot dead a female police officer on the 8th and on the 9th took hostages at a Jewish grocery store, killing four. Like the other two, he is now dead.
Jan 12 Schools are re-opening across Pakistan twenty-seven days after a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that killed 140. This includes the pupils and teachers of that school returning for the first time since the attack. There will be a ceremony to remember the victims.
Jan 12 The economist Nouriel Roubini, also known as Doctor Doom, expresses doubt that demand for labor will continue to grow with technology. He questions whether service-sector employment will continue to offset job loss resulting from robotics and automation. He notes that "Foxconn, which produces iPhones and other consumer electronics, plans to replace much of its Chinese workforce of more than 1.2 million with robots." Meanwhile a headline at Reuters reads: "Strong job gains in December point to solid year for the U.S. economy."
Jan 12 Croatia elects its first woman president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, a former foreign minister. It has been described as a shift to the right after a centre-left coalition failed to end six years of economic recession.
Jan 13 Making the news today is a tweet on January 9 by Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, which read: "Maybe most Moslems [are] peaceful but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible." In Al Jazeera, Tony Karen writes that the suggestion that Muslims are collectively responsible for crimes committed by someone who shares the same faith "has sparked outrage." Mr Karen writes of questions being asked such as whether all Catholics were responsible for the child abuse among the clergy, and a man asking whether his aging Muslim parents in North Carolina should be expected to help destroy terrorist groups.
Jan 13 Yesterday in Dresden the weekly PEGIDA anti-Immigrant rally drew between 25,000 and 40,000 people – considerably higher than the 18,000 who came the previous week. Someone carried a sign showing Chancellor Merkel wearing a headscarf. Banners read, "Stop multiculturalism." "Everyone is too many," Lutz Bachmann, one of the organizers described PEGIDA's demands for a new immigration law, forcing immigrants to integrate (speak German) and prohibiting those who leave Germany to fight with the Islamists are not allowed to return to Germany.
Jan 14 From California, a Mr Holmes has emailed that his wife Angie has been discharged from a hospice and nursing home and today is living again at home. She is doing house and yard work. Early last year she had been given three months to live before Holmes put her on what he called a "starvation" diet. Soon she was walking again without a walker. The hospice, writes Holmes, was amazed by her recovery. Angie's friends described her recovery as a miracle. Norm credits his insistence that she eat quality foods such as fruits and veggies full of anti oxidants. The staff at the nursing home commented on this, he says, "in a positive way."
Jan 14 Today from Yemen a commander of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Nasr al-Ansi, appeared in an 11-minute video posted online and claimed his organization's responsibility for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. He described the two brothers who carried out the attack as heroes.
Jan 16 Today's scheduled weekly 50 lashes of flogging for Raif Badawi has been postponed by Saudi authorities on medical grounds. His wounds from last week's beating have not healed sufficiently. According to BBC News "the doctor recommended that the flogging be postponed until next week." Protests against the beatings come from the US, Canada, Britain, Italy, France and elsewhere, from governments and demonstrations in front of Saudi embassies. People had taken the slogan "I am Charlie," referring to the freedom of the press issue regarding the recent assassinations in Paris, and are saying "I am Raif." Some in Saudi Arabia don't see it as a freedom of the press issue. Badawi they claim was irresponsible because he insulted Islam. In Saudi Arabia one does not have the right to reject the Islamic religion. Badawi is accused of apostasy. The Saudi regime proclaims tolerance of various faiths but no freedom for it subjects not to believe or to express disbelief, and some Saudi pundits with a shallow understanding of freedom say in effect that they believe in freedom of expression so long as the ideas expressed are correct according to their view and the view of the authorities. In The Arab News, Aijaz Zaka Syed writes," Being a member of the tribe that earns its living by the pen, I cherish free speech. A journalist and writer is nothing without his freedom—the freedom to speak his mind, freedom to take a stand and speak truth to power." Then he accuses the people at Charlie of "provoking" people, suggesting that they should have censored themselves so as not to provoke animosity. In his article Syed says nothing about the benefits of tolerating or ignoring insults – better at least than murdering or whipping the one considered to have done the insulting.
Jan 18 The Arab News, published in Saudi Arabia, complains that "offensive cartoons serve the interests of extremists." It writes that "The Council of Senior Scholars have slammed publications continuing to publish blasphemous cartoons saying it does not constitute freedom of expression but rather a form of hate speech." Angry Muslim demonstrators have taken to the streets in parts of the world. Yesterday the President of Niger described at least ten people having been killed in church fires and violent clashes in his country. The protests there have been described as including attacks on a French cultural center, several churches and Christian shops. In Pakistan a demonstrator to a television camera spoke of "the double standard of the West" where "speaking of certain things about the holocaust or the power of England is a crime, but when blasphemy is committed against the Prophet Mohammed they say it is freedom of speech." Those who think the demonstrator is inaccurate in his comparison acknowledge that in Britain a lot of speech is illegal, speech that incites criminal acts or likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress or cause a breach of the peace (racist speech targeted at individuals). But they can point to the British scientist Richard Dawkins who ridicules and mocks Christianity without being arrested, and nobody has been imprisoned or sentenced to whippings for advocating that England rid itself of its monarchy and become a republic. Meanwhile, back and forth on the freedom of speech issue remains prominent in the media.
Jan 20 Talking to the News Hour yesterday about al-Qaeda and conflict in Yemen, Abudulwaha Alkebsi of the Center for International Private Enterprise spoke of the conflict in Yemen between Shia and Sunni and the need for economic growth and the creation of jobs. Economic failure he said creates recruitment fodder for one side or the other. "Most of these people are angry young men who have no jobs, who have no future. They find friendship and family within either the Houthi or al-Qaida. We need more jobs in Yemen. And that's the only way it will stop." Regarding trends effecting the economy, according to the World Factbook, Yemen has an annual rate of 6.4 deaths and 36.2 births per 1,000 population, one of the higher population growth rates in the world.
Jan 21 In Yemen today, Houthi rebels tightened their hold on the capital, Sanaa. Yesterday they took control of the presidential palace complex. Their leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, accuses the president and other leaders of ignoring the people's interests. The Houthi are Shia and not al-Qaeda.
Jan 21 Authorities in China fire four local officials whom they hold responsible for the thirty-six deaths that occurred in Shanghai when a packed crowd celebrating the coming New Year rushed to pick up fake money thrown from the balcony of a nightclub. Rather than blame people in the crowd, authorities accused the officials of having failed to prevent public risk. BBC News quotes a government accuser: "Preventative and response preparation was sorely lacking, early warnings on the night were weak, and the response measures were not suitable."
Jan 22 In Australia the indigenous Barngarla people win their nearly 20-year campaign for rights to their traditional land, 44,481 square kilometers, along the north-western shore of the Spencer Gulf in South Australia. According to BBC News, "groups such as mining companies must now negotiate with the Barngarla over proposed developments."
Jan 23 Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, defacto ruler since 1995 and king since 2005, died yesterday after several weeks of pneumonia. He is succeeded by his half-brother, King Salman, 78, who has proclaimed on state TV: "We will continue, God willing, to hold the straight course this country has followed since its establishment by the late King Abdullaziz [who reigned from 1932 to 1953]." BBC News notes King Abduallah's, "massive security clampdown in 2003 following the first of a series of militant attacks in Saudi Arabia. The attacks were believed to have been caused by Islamist groups angered at the country's pro-Western stance and Abdullah vowed to quash terrorism in Saudi Arabia." BBC News adds: "At home he was seen as a reformer, albeit a slow and steady one, allowing mild criticism of the government in the press, and hinting that more women should be allowed to work."
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra
Jan 23 Yemen's president and prime minister, who were allied with the US, have quit. Houthi rebels rule the capital. They are Shia said to be sponsored by Iran. Saudi Arabia announces withdrawal of its aid to Yemen. Pundits are saying that the Saudis are not likely to tolerate an Iranian backed power on their southern (1,000 mile) border. Yemen's army has been described as "melted away" while "Sunni tribes, encouraged by al-Qaeda," according to BBC News, have been "busy mobilizing to confront the Houthis."
Jan 24 Another assault on democracy is delivered by the military regime in Thailand. The former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had been democratically elected but forced from office by Thailand's military. Yesterday she was banned from politics for five years and a phony charge was leveled against her that could put her in jail for ten years. Shinawatra was to hold a news conference at a Bangkok hotel but troops arrived and prevented her from speaking. According to BBC News, she and her brother, another former popularly elected prime minister, "remain hugely popular among Thailand's rural poor but are hated by the urban and middle-class elite."
Jan 26 Russian separatists in Ukraine have launched an offensive. France and Britain condemn the separatist attacks in the Black Sea port of Mariupol that killed at least 30 "innocent civilians, including children, and wounding many others." President Obama blames Moscow and says the US would work with its European partners to "ratchet up the pressure on Russia." Germany's Chancellor Merkel has phoned Putin asking him to "put pressure" on Ukraine's pro-Kremlin separatists to end the upsurge in violence. The Kremlin in Moscow blames Kiev and warns that increased economic pressure on Moscow would be "absolutely destructive" blackmail. Also, today the Moscow Times headlines, "Soaring Inflation Hits Grocers as Russians Cut Food Budgets."
Jan 26 The Washington Post describes a growing "terror threat" to Saudi Arabia." It reports that Saudi officials have "made it illegal for imams in the country's 85,000 mosques to give sermons sympathizing with religious extremists." The Post quotes an official who says, "We are also educating the imams to tell people that what ISIS is saying is against Islam... They represent violence. We represent the real Islam."
Jan 27 President Putin yesterday gave students in Russia his version of the conflict in Ukraine. According to the Russian news agency TASS he called the Ukrainian army "a NATO legion." He describes Ukraine's military as not pursuing "the goal of defending Ukraine's national interests. It has quite different goals – geopolitical containing of Russia, which is absolutely inconsistent with the national interests of the Ukrainian people." NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says Putin is talking nonsense and he calls on Russia to stop supporting the pro-Russian rebels in the Ukraine militarily. Standard and Poors cuts Russia's credit rating to "junk." EU leaders direct their foreign ministers to consider further sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, Russia finds comfort in its tie with Iran, to whom it sells military equipment and other stuff. Iran's Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan speaks of the need for cooperation between Russia and Iran against interference by "non-regional forces in regional affairs." He says, according to the Moscow Times that all problems are the result of the "destructive US policy of interfering in the internal affairs of other countries." Iran and Russia have long been on the same page also regarding the conflict in Syria.
Jan 28 Putin is described in the Guardian as a criminal who "presides over a mafia regime and who personally authorised the sensational murder eight years ago of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko." The Guardian was reporting a statement made in Britain's High Court by the Queen's Council (QC) acting for Litvinenko's widow, Marina. Litvinenko was an agent with Russia's Federal Protective Service and with others had accused his superiors of ordering the assassination of the Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky. He fled with his family to London and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom where he worked as a journalist, writer and consultant for the British intelligence services. A British murder investigation pointed to Andrey Lugovoy, a member of Russia's Federal Protective Service, as the prime suspect in Litvinenko's murder.
Jan 29 In legislative elections four days ago in Greece, the left-wing political coalition SYRIZA won 36.3 percent of the popular vote and 149 seats in the 300-seats parliament, defeating the coalition of parties that had been governing the country. SYRIZA's leader and Greece's new prime minister is Alexis Tsipras, age 40, a former member of the Communist Youth of Greece who remains friendly toward the variety of people of the Left in Greece, including Social Democrats. He was an exceptional student who has done postgraduate studies in Urban and Regional Planning. In May 2014, in a speech in Berlin, he spoke against what has been called the "Merkel-dominated neo-liberal political course in Europe." He came to power in a coalition with the conservative-populist Independent Greeks party, also anti-establishment, which had won 13 seats in parliament. Prime Minister Tsipras has been talking of restructuring the Greek debt with the EU and the IMF. At his first cabinet meeting he said, according to BBC News: "We won't get into a mutually destructive clash but we will not continue a policy of subjection." Meanwhile Germany's vice-chancellor says it is unfair of Greece to expect other states to pick up its bills. Greece's debt has been described as having origins in non-payment of taxes.
Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.