June 2015

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Jun 2  Islamic State fighters suffering from air strikes in eastern Syria are expanding their presence in the Aleppo area of Syria, opening a new front in the IS anti-IS war. The Iraqi government is still reeling from its military setback in Ramadi, just sixty miles west of Baghdad. Iraq's prime minister complains that the international coalition is not doing enough in the fight against IS. He says Iraq urgently needs more intelligence and weapons, including anti-tank guns, that it has received very few arms or ammunition despite coalition pledges. He adds that he was waiting for UN approval to uy weapons from Iran. President Obama's defense secretary has complained that Iraqi forces are unwilling to fight. In the US, the pundit Fareed Zakara opines that "the problem really is not that Iraq's army has collapsed. It's that Iraq has collapsed." The media meanwhile is discussing Islamic State forces consolidating its hold on territory by blending in with local Sunni populations.

Jun 3  President Obama signs into law the USA Freedom Act. It ends the government's gathering of telephone records, not a gathering of data that was personal, just the fact that the calls were made, thousands of calls simultaneously, without content of the communication. Now the record of calls having been made will stay with the telecom companies, but the government can search the content of specific telephone calls from the telecom companies after it provides a court order for that specific search. In the matter of personal privacy little has changed. Some put themselves at the center of it, seeing it as an issue of the government spying on them personally. Others see data collection as an important tool for national security that only those plotting crimes need worry about. Republicans have been split on the issue, with Senator Rand Paul on the side of privacy, complaining with emotion about the loss of freedom gained with independence in the late 1700s. He said something close to the old line that he was "sick and tired and wasn't going to take it any more." Senator Paul is expected to excite too few people in his bid to become the next US President.

Jun 5  Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration claim that the "much discussed" recent slowdown in global temperatures is far less than previously thought. Dr Thomas Karl, who led the new analysis, says: "We would hope that it would inform the general public that the temperature today really is continuing to warm."

Jun 5  War in Ukraine is heating up despite the cease-fire agreed to in February. Ukraine's President Poroshenko favors more power to mayors and making governors and officials at the regional intermediaries between the federal government and local government. This decentralization is not enough for pro-Russians in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. They are reported as wanting leaders perhaps powerful enough to be more loyal to Moscow than to Kiev. Poroshenko has told his military to prepare for a possible "full scale" invasion from Russia. Fighting has resumed in Eastern Ukraine, with a report yesterday of casualties of 25 dead and dozens more injured. The border between Russia and the pro-Russian regions remains open. Russia is being described as sending equipment and military men into the regions and Putin's denial as lying.

Jun 7  On fighting the Islamic State, David Petraeus a few days ago told Charlie Rose of CBS News that "In this war of ideas nothing succeeds like success. [Jihadis] want to go with a winner. Over time we want to show them that ISIL is not a winner." He labeled the situation in Iraq "worrisome." Ramadi," he said, "will be retaken." Baghdad, he claimed, will not fall but that the US needs to "augment" its help to the Abadi regime there, perhaps with more advisors and clearly with more equipment.

Jun 7  President Putin tells the Italian newspaer Corriere della Sera that the West need not fear Russia, that "Only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack Nato." Putin said that "people with some common sense cannot even imagine such a large-scale military conflict today. We have other things to think about, I assure you.">

Jun 8  President Obama, at the close of the G7 summit in Germany asks regarding President Putin, "Does he continue to wreck his country's economy and continue Russia's isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to recreate the glories of the Soviet empire? Or does he recognise that Russia's greatness does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries?" Putin was not in attendance, Russia having been excluded from what had been G8 conferences. Obama spoke of the possibility of "additional steps" could be taken to punish Russia. Also today, Reuters headlines, "With eye on US election, Republicans assail Russia's Putin." It continues: "The Russian president has emerged as a symbol for what they view as President Barack Obama's weak foreign policy, and an easy route for criticizing his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the Democrats' likely choice for the November 2016 election."

Jun 12  The Saudi writer and activist and the creator of the website Free Saudi Liberals, didn't receive his fifty lashes today – a part of his sentence of 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes for having insulted Islam. His sentence was upheld on Jun 7. His first 50 lashes were delivered outside a mosque in Jeddah on 9 January. Subsequent lashings have been postponed on medical grounds. Mr Badawi's wife, who has fled Saudi Arabia and lives in Canada with the couple's three children. is begging the Saudi monarchy that it give amnesty for her husband.

Jun 13  In late May, ten tourists, Canadian and European, at the top of Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu celebrated their climb by posing for a photograph. They were stripped to a minimum of clothing. An earthquake centered in Borneo on 6 June killed sixteen people on a mountain there. Sixteen people died. The quake was felt in Malaysia, A Malaysian official associated the quake with the nudity of the climbers on Mount Kibabalu. Local people in Malaysia believe Mount Kinabalu is the final resting place of their ancestors. They view the mountain as sacred and the claim has been made that the quake they felt was the anger of offended a Mount Kibabalu spirit or spirits. (Islam is monotheistic and so the a mountain spirit is not called a god as some did in ancient times.) Four of the climbers were arrested. Today, the four are reported as having been fined and released.

Jun 13  This last May was the warmest in more than 130 years of global recorded weather history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These were temperatures on land and the oceans, the latter 1.06 degrees fahrenheit above the 20th century average.

Jun 15  Richard Haass, president of the of the Council on Foreign Relation, and Fareed Zakaria agree that lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that military stuff doesn't fix things if the politics isn't fixed. Haass says that doing a little something new here or there isn't going to do it against the Islamic State. Haass says we are "going to be overwhelmed by the pace and the dynamic of events beyond our control." He adds, "So not only do I not think the course we're on will succeed in Iraq, I think the Middle East is probably going to get worse before It gets even worse." Some who support President Obama's strategy are not so pessimistic. They support what Haass denounces as incrementalism. There are those believe in muddling through rather than being utopian, and there are those who find comfort in the realization that the Islamic State's strategy, like al-Qaeda's before it, is fundamentally flawed.

Jun 16   Wealthy communities in heavily Republican districts between Los Angeles and San Diego face a crackdown on water usage. "Under the new rules," writes the Washington Post, "each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets." "I call it the war on suburbia," said Brett Barbre, of Yorba Linda. He compares his water hose with Charlton Heston's famous quote about guns: "They'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands." He complains that California is becoming a place of "one group telling everybody else how they think everybody should live their lives." Someone else complains that people should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns or golf on brown courses. A water supervisor complains that "whenever one of our trucks go in [to a gated community] the gardeners all seem to call each other — text-message each other — to let them know that we've arrived. So then all of a sudden we see water kind of draining off the property but no sprinklers on." Over 7000 comments follow the Washington Post article. Someone from Arizona writes: "Let us know when the last Californian has died of thirst so that we can have the appropriate celebration."

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