February 2015

Feb 2  Reuters news service reports that for his 2016 budget, unveiled today, President Obama will close a loophole that allows US corporations to pay no taxes on profits from overseas earnings. Today, corporations do not have to pay taxes on such earnings if the money is not transferred to the US. The billions gained from this change, according to the White House, as described by Reuters, would "fund repairs and improvements to roads, bridges, transit systems and freight networks that would replenish the Highway Trust Fund." Yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said, "What I think the president is trying to do here is to, again, exploit envy economics."

Feb 2  The US had its big party yesterday – a fun time for millions watching the Superbowl on television. A record for TV viewing was set. Tickets for watching in the stadium are said to have gone for something like $10,000 per seat. Paul McCartney and John Travolta were there. TV commercials were a part of the attraction. And there was the half-time show headlined by Katy Perry screaming declarations while riding a giant electronic tiger, with lots of electronic flash and heavy metal sound. The game came to a close with the Seattle Sea Hawks on the verge of scoring to win. They had three tries to advance one yard to the goal line for six points, but they risked the one thing could lose the game for them: their quarterback through the ball into a crowd of players and the pass was intercepted by a player for the New England Patriots. The Patriots let the clock run out and the game was over. The Patriots won 28 to 24. There was a lot of cheer and a minor brawl among the players. Although it broke a television viewing record about half of television viewers were watching something else and many more were spending yesterday without watching television. Puritans opposed to the fun were difficult to find in the media this morning, but there was the comment of one young man who claimed that the game created great memories for him.

Feb 3  Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease, a viral infection of the respiratory system, immune system, and skin. It resulted in about 96,000 deaths in 2013, down from 545,000 deaths in 1990. An outbreak of measles started in mid-December when at least 40 people who had visited or worked at Disneyland in California contracted the disease, and it has spread to at least six other states. Disease control people are calling for vaccinating children. In 1835 in Britain vaccination was made mandatory for the sake of the entire community. The issue of freedom to reject being vaccinated is still with us. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has spoken against mandatory vaccination, saying that parents should have some choice. CNN News says, "The straight talking governor is suddenly mealy-mouthed over measles." Senator Rand Paul, also viewed as a presidential candidate, says of vaccinations, "most of them should be voluntary." President Obama is also talking about vaccinations, without saying whether they should be mandatary. He says: "There is every reason to get vaccinated – there aren't reasons to not... The fact is that a major success of our civilization is our ability to prevent disease that in the past have devastated folks. And measles is preventable." A poll taken in 2014 by the Pew Research Center describes 68% of Americans for and 30% against children being required to get vaccinations.

Feb 4  In Britain, scientists can now replace the faulty embryo nucleus of one woman with a healthy nucleus from another woman – the DNA of the two women allowing a male and female couple to have a healthy child. BBC News describes this as a three-person baby and as stopping a genetic disease being passed from mother to child. Parliament has voted its approval, 382 for and 128 against. Arguments against leaned toward fear of a slippery slope to the unknown.

Feb 5  Observations with the Planct telescope have led to the conclusion that radiation erupted into stars 140 million years earlier than previously estimated – discussed today by BBC News in its Sci/Environment section. This is about the uninverse visible to we humans. We know of time as matter and motion, and Big Bang empiricism gives us nothing definite about our universe having been created out of nothing.

Feb 5  Speaking to Germany's finance minister about solving Greece's economic crisis, Greece's finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, describes his government as needing technical help and moral and financial support from the rest of the EU to fight against corruption and tax evasion. He said the we "need Germany on our side." (http://www.thelocal.de/)

Feb 9  A failure in strategy by ISIS was discussed on yesterday's Sunday morning talk show on CNN – Zakaria's GPS. Fawaz Gerges, a Mid-East scholar, said that "ISIS is strangling itself. ISIS is pitting itself against the Muslim mainstream, Muslim public opinion and Arab public opinion. There is really shock and outrage throughout the Arab and Muslim world. I would argue that ISIS is digging its own grave." Lately ISIS was described as burning the Jordanian pilot alive in a cage for its shock value, to demonstrate effective power and win new recruits. ISIS mentality is authoritarian, and they make opponents by ignoring appeals to hearts and minds, for some a strategy of weakness. ISIS appeared to be winning some Jordanians into wanting Jordan to withdraw from the anti-ISIS coalition, but after burning the pilot the Jordanians swung behind their king and a greater determination to fight ISIS. ISIS is a little like the authoritarian military men in Russia fighting the Bolsheviks. These tough old anti-Bolsheviks were abusive toward the peasants they should have been trying to win to their side, and they pushed peasants to the side of the Bolsheviks.

Feb 9  Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (retired) joined those who are criticizing President Obama for not having a comprehensive strategy in dealing with the global threat from Jihadist terror organizations. He said "... the strategy that we've had is not – is not working. I mean, it's clearly not working. Just look at the kinds of things we're facing." His alternative was unclear – a one fits all by-the-book response for every nation and challenge? Or should we rely instead on flexibility geared to specifics coordinated with local allies? A clip was shown of Senator McCain saying, "Let there be no doubt, we still do not have a viable strategy to counter ISIL, and if you are not winning in war, you are losing." How about if you are not winning a war against self-destructive fools, be patient and stay in there? Elsewhere, Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer was saying, "Yes, it's not World War II. It's the '30s, it's not the '40s," an analogy suggesting that we are being weak like those in the 1930s who gave Hitler his path to success in war. And finally yesterday there was the opportunitically strident Fox News commentator Judge Jeanine. She complains that Obama is too soft on terrorism. Don't think about the drone strikes. She said that it has finally come together for her, that she has finally realized that President Obama is "comfortable with extremism ... he's okay with it."

Feb 10  Bashar al-Assad of Syria tells Jeremy Bowen of BBC News that he is not opposed to co-operating with other countries regarding the fight against the so-called Islamic State (IS), but that he will not talk with US officials, "because they don't talk to anyone, unless he's a puppet." Regarding the United States training and equipping a "moderate" rebel force to fight IS militants, Assad describes this as a "pipe-dream" because there are no moderate fighters in Syria opposed to his regime. He sees his side as the reasonable party and denies using weapons that kill indiscriminately, like barrel bombs. He tells Bowen: "I know about the army. They use bullets, missiles and bombs. I haven't heard of the army using barrels, or maybe, cooking pots." Bowen reports that "President Bashar al-Assad looks remarkably relaxed for a man who has been at the centre of the catastrophe that has hit Syria in the last four years. He is extremely polite, and smiles quite a lot."

Feb 13  President Obama predicts that the Islamic State "will lose." And he is asking for authorization from Congress for hit and run boots on the ground – limited operations rather than a prolonged ground war – to help produce that outcome. He says, "I'm convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war." He speaks of the air strikes against IS engaged in by the US in a coalition with other nations as having put the Islamic State on the defensive.

Feb 16  Islamic State warriors in Libya have beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians – more of their effort at winning friends and influencing people. Al Jazeera reports "ISIL camps, graining sites and weapons storage areas" in Libya, across Egypt's border, "where armed groups have thrived amid chaos." The Christians had been seized from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya. A video by the Islamic State warriors emerged yesterday showing them forcing a group of men to the ground and decapitating them. Today, Egypt's President Sisi condemned the "inhuman criminal killers" and announced that his country's air force has bombed Islamic State positions in Libya. Meanwhile, Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East studies at The London School of Economics, has described ISIL (or ISIS) as self-destructing.

Feb 16  In Pakistan, angry cricket fans carried TV sets into streets and smashed them, demonstrating their anger following the Pakistani team losing to India's team in a World Cup match played in Saudi Arabia.

Feb 17  Greece's new Leftist government is holding to its campaign promise of rejecting the EU's austerity recovery program. Other members of the Eurozone, especially Germany, are not cooperating regarding Greece paying its debt to investors (bonds holders). Greece's government is about to run out of money with which to function for its citizens and needs loans, and those loans are not forthcoming from within Greek society. Greece has not set itself up to pay its way with revenues collected from within its own borders. BBC News describes two opinon polls last week that indicate that 79 percent of Greeks support the government's policies. The BBC describes Greece as burdened by a debt of 323 billion Euros, 60 percent of this owed to private Eurozone lenders, 10 percent to the International Monetary Fund, 6 percent to the European Central Bank and 3 percent to Greek banks. Japan is burdened by a huge debt also, but it's largely to its own citizens.

Feb 18  According to the New York Times, Libya has had "no effective government" since Qaddafi was overthrown in October 2011. Libya is "a patchwork of fiefs controlled by local or ideological militias." A group of moderate and extremist Islamists called Libya Dawn controls the capital, Tripoli. Libya Dawn is at war with another group called Operation Dignity and includes former Qaddafi soldiers and military equipment. Egypt's President al-Sisi is calling for a coalition of nations to intervene in Libya to rid it of extremists, which he says are a threat to Egypt. Sisi's airstrikes two days ago in Libya near the border with Egypt have drawn "harsh criticism" from Omar al-Hassi, the militia-supported "prime minister" in Tripoli. Despite Libya's divisions, Sisi wants the new intervention to have the consent of the country's people and government. Asked if he would strike again in Libya he said: "We need to do it again, all of us together."

Feb 19  Yesterday on television there were attempts to explain young people joining the Islamic State movement. The most succinct came from Mike Morrell, former Deputy Director of the CIA, on the Charlie Rose show. His key word was "purpose." Young men who have been leading aimless dissolute lives are introduced to Islam and the creation of a new world order. It gives them a purpose. It's an appeal that depends on the success of the movement, and recently the Islam State has been a success. Morrell's comments aside, as the sensation and newness of the movement wear off, its ability to recruit will fade. Long range, the movement's success depends on the mechanics of hearts-and-minds and defense against its powerful enemies. The Islamic State, out of tune with modernity, will become a failed movement while people in general continue with the purpose of making a living, educational opportunities for their children and maybe a little fun. Movements come and go and life goes on.

Feb 21  Victor Yanukovich, former Ukraine president who fled to Russia is reported by the Moscow Times as saying, "God has left me alive, so it looks like I'm needed for something ... As soon as there is a possibility for me to return, I will return and will do everything I can to make life better in Ukraine." Also today, from the West come reports of continued military support for the Russian rebels in the Ukraine. The ceasefire that was suppose to start six-days ago has not yet taken hold. Secretary of State John Kerry has accused Putin's Russia of "craven behavior." British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said "additional sanctions" were on the agenda and that "Russia has engaged in an absolutely brazen and cynical process over these last days."

Feb 22  Young Muslims in Norway yesterday circled the Oslo Synagogue to show their support for Jews. It was called a "Ring of Peace" and was joined by 1,500 others. Its organizers said that they wanted to show that they strongly reject anti-Semitism.

Feb 22  To win a four-month extension on debt repayment, Greece's government announces that it will crackdown on tax evasion – a major element in the origins of its economic trouble. It said also that it was compiling a list of measures to make the Greek civil service more effective.

Feb 23  On CNN's Sunday talk show the discussion was about associating "Islamic State" terrorists with Islam. Some people dislike President Obama's remark that "We are not at war with Islam," and they accuse him of playing politics by turning a blind eye to the ideology of Islam. An academic, Bernard Haykel, was described as joining the criticism and quoted as saying, "It's this Islam is a religion of peace mantra." The CNN moderator and pundit Fareed Zakaria commented: "There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and perhaps 30,000 members of ISIS [the Islamic State], and yet Haykel feels that it is what 0.0019 percent of what Muslims do that defines the religion." One of the guests, Peter Beinhart, mentioned that we didn't declare war on fascist Spain during World War II and in the Cold War we were allied with Communist Yugoslavia and China. In other words, we should "narrow" our target rather than play with big abstractions like fascism, communism, what is Islam, are Italian-Americans or Japanese-Americans loyal citizens. As Beinhart said, "from the point of an American foreign policy we as a nation have done best when we have defined our enemies narrowly." A question for the viewers remained: Why should Obama offend those Muslims who are with us in winning against the Islamic State?

Feb 25  An big showdown offensive targeting the city of Mosul has been announced. It's the largest city controlled by the Islamic State, where Iraqi troops last year dropped their weapons and fled. A half million people left the city in 2014 and more than one million remain, virtually all Sunni Muslims. The force attempting to retake Mosul will be mostly Shia, about 25,000 strong, and some observers have described the US as too optimistic about the ability of the mission to succeed. Success will be the ability to hold the city and keeping it reasonably secure. Meanwhile, last week ISIS blew up Mosul's public library. More than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts are reported as having been burned.

Feb 26  Yesterday, Amnesty International called for UN reform. It urged an end of the veto by Security Council members in cases of mass atrocities. In a 415-page annual report detailing abuses in 160 countries, the human rights organization described d global responses to conflict from Nigeria to Syria as having been "shameful and ineffective." It claimed the five permanent Security Council members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the US – "consistently abused" their veto rights to "promote their political self-interest or geopolitical interest above the interest of protecting civilians." Russian and Chinese vetoes on the Syrian crisis were described as having given President Bashar al-Assad's regime "a blank check." Calls for such reform also occurred back in September by world leaders addressing the UN General Assembly. Among them were Erdogan of Turkey and Hollande of France.

Feb 27  In Bangladesh a blogger who believed in secularism is hacked to death by a mob. His wife is injured in the attack. The victim and his wife were walking home from a book fair. He is Avijit Roy. He had founded the website "Free Mind," set up in the year 2000. He was a US citizen born in Bangladesh and visiting there. He had received death threats said to have come from "Islamic radicals." True-believing violence prone Islamists in Bangladesh have many others to be concerned about in their desire to wipe out free-thinking: unintimidated students and social activists in Bangladesh have gathered to protest the murder. Wikipedia writes that in Bangladesh "Many atheist bloggers came under attack in 2013 during organised protests against online 'blasphemy', leading to the murder of Ahmed Rajib Haider." It adds that "Reporters without Borders has noted that Islamist groups produce hit lists including the murdered sociology professor Shafiul Islam, and atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin, who narrowly survived a stabbing attack in 2013." Wikipedia goes on to say that in 2013, after widespread protests calling for the government to execute atheist bloggers "the secular government reacted by arresting some bloggers and blocking about a dozen websites and blogs, as well as giving police protection to some bloggers."

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Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.