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February 2019

Feb 2 ... In Virginia, third-trimester abortions are permitted when a woman’s physician and two other doctors certify that continuing a pregnancy would result in a mother’s death, or “substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” An abortion bill initiated by Democrats considered allowing only one doctor to sign off on such an abortion instead of two. A Republican asked whether a severely deformed "fetus" expelled from the mother and still attached to the placenta would be a matter of choice. It's something that never happens, but anti-abortionists, including Senator Rubio (R-Fl), cried "infanticide". (Partial-birth abortions — a matter of inches — did happen and has been a big issue in the abortion debate.) On the no choice side are those who believe that soul and the right to life begin at conception and that deformities and dysfunctionalities no matter how bad are irrelevant. From the no choice side in Virginia, death threats have occurred.

Feb 3 ... President Trump and NATO ministers accuse Russia of having been in violation of the arms control accord that Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987, the US saying it has been going on more than a decade. Russia (Putin) denies the violation and says Russia will build weapons previously banned. The US has started a six-month countdown to a final withdrawal from the treaty while it "moves forward" on the creation of new missiles. China is a concern behind the Trump administration finally moving to withdraw from its arms control treaty with Russia. China has not been bound by an arms treaty and in deploying what a senior US official describes as more than 1,000 intermediate-range missiles banned by the treaty. China is advancing in weaponry. Regarding Russia, building new weapons is one thing; deploying them something else. Putin says he will not deploy new missiles unless the US does so first, but an arms race appears to be in place.

Feb 4 ... A test in Finland concludes that Universal Basic Income (UBI) is undesireable. A random group of 2,000 unemployed people were given an low income without requirements. A professor of social policy at the University of Helsinki, Heikki Hiilamo, speaks of the the fear that young people "would just stay at home and play computer games.”

Feb 5 ... Yesterday, more than half of the countries that make up the European Union said they recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim leader — this following Maduro's rejection of a new vote. Venezuela isn't working economically and desperate people are leaving daily — 3 million since 2014 (of a population around 30 million). Whether there will be a civil war, Maduro says "depends on the level of madness and aggressiveness of the northern empire [the US] and its Western allies." Guaidó says the constitution allows him to assume power temporarily when the president is deemed illegitimate. In a speech yesterday, Guaidó said that the "possibility of a civil war in Venezuela" was a "Maduro invention."

Feb 6 ... Perhaps President Trump helped himself a little with his read and well-delivered State of the Union speech last night, but it is also being described as "likely to change few minds." Trump extended his sales enthusiasm to exaggerations of various economic figures including economic growth during his presidency. (Check online stats – Wikipedia perhaps – indicating the US with something less than having, as Trump claims, "far and away the hottest economy anywhere in the world.") For me, the childlike emotional rah-rah intensity of so many supposedly adults on the Republican side of the aisle was depressing. The Washington Post editorializes that the speech was "a thin sheen of 'unity' over large helpings of the same old polarizing demagoguery."

Feb 7 ... This morning, President Trump's press secretary Sarah Sanders tweets: "A CBS News poll found 80% of independents approved of... Trump’s State of the Union. Americans clearly favor the booming Trump economy over socialism that would destroy it."  In his speech (on the 5th) Trump said, "Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country." Between now and the elections in 2020 we shouldn't be surprised by Republicans reducing the Democrat agenda to a label (abstract and circumstance-free) that includes associations with economic failure, loss of freedoms, and mass murder).

Feb 8 ... The Saturday protests in France have been declining, and the BBC quotes someone as saying that "we can't demonstrate every Saturday," that "we should focus on the electoral system." But people in the "yellow vest" movement are being described as unable to coalesce enough to form a political party — a party to rival what some of them describe as the "political elite that has despised us". The winner in this appears to be President Macron, whose La République En Marche (REM) party is on course to doing well in the parliamentary elections coming on 26 May. The cynics who believe that Macron cares only about his rich friends are losing.

Feb 9 ... The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives this past week held its first hearing on gun violence in eight years. A congressional committee heard complaints about how ridiculously easy it is for anybody to buy guns. Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL) argued against better background checks and in favor instead of "a wall, a barrier on the southern border." (The many gun deaths in his state, including the Parkland shooting, have all been by the native-born.) In 2017, Republicans revoked a regulation that made it harder for the mentally ill to buy guns. The bill on background checks now being considered by the House will not become law if Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Majority Leader, doesn't push the bill in the Senate.

Feb 10 ...Three days ago Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) described in a press conference their proposal for "A Green New Deal," a package of proposals to comprehensively address climate change and the economy. Speaker Pelosi described it as "The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is," and she described it as "one of several or maybe many suggestions we will receive." Some others are talking about a division between the left and moderates within the Democratic Party. President Trump yesterday tweeted with sarcasm that the Green New Deal was "brilliant", a plan that would "permanently eliminate all planes, cars, [farting] cows, oil, gas & the military – even if no other country would do the same."

Feb 12 ... Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic revolution — which killed thousands and drove hundreds of thousands to flee the new theocracy. An article in the NY Times by Thomas Erdbrink noted that the theocracy has failed to transform the Iranian people to the strict religious observance that it wanted, that it has failed at cultural control and that the revolution's police has largely given up the fight. Satellite dishes are on rooftops again, and Iranians are watching over 200 Persian-language channels operating from abroad. People can play musical instruments again in public, and young men and women can hold hands in public. Many more people, including women, can get an education than could before the revolution. The common Iranian is described as wanting to live in the 21st-century. Also yesterday, many demonstrated support for the regime, for Islamic principles and for standing strong against the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. A NY Times reader claimed that the new model for Iranians is China (China's economic success pulling 700 million out of poverty in a mere 15 years). Another reader hoped that a war between Israel and Iran doesn't ruin everything.

Feb 14 ... The military was in power while Hosni Mubarak was Egypt's fourth president (1981-2011). Egypt's fifth president, Mohamed Morsi, was thrown into prison, and it was Field Marshal Sisi who became Egypt's sixth president, in 2014. El-Sisi's presidency has entrenched authoritarian rule and the military’s dominance over the country. And today, Egypt's parliament (a unicameral legislature) voted to extend el-Sisi's rule until 2034. According to the NY Times, parliament's "workings are quietly managed by Mr. el-Sisi’s intelligence agencies. According to The Guardian, "the risks of speaking out against the proposed changes are high in a country where even seemingly benign protests can result in arrest."

Feb 15 ... Three years after nearly 200 countries signed a landmark climate agreement in Paris, they are still far off-track from preventing severe global warming in the decades ahead. The secretary general of the United Nations this week said “We are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.” Greta Thunberg of Sweden, 15, (images) has spoken at the UN and at world forum in Davos (Switzerland). "We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis... One thing we need more than hope is action... We've had thirty years of pep-talking and selling positive ideas. And I'm sorry, but it doesn't work... You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes... We have not come here to beg world leaders to care... You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again... We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.”

Feb 16 ... The day before yesterday, Congress overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan border security bill, ending tensions about another government shutdown. The bill gave President Trump $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new barriers in Texas' Rio Grande Valley — less than the $5.7 billion he asked for. The bill provides more than $1 billion for other forms of border security, including improvements in surveillance equipment and hiring 600 more customs officers (plus more immigration judges and more detention spaces for illegal immigrants). Yesterday, Trump announced he is declaring an emergency on the US-Mexico border and taking funds from the US military in place of the money Congress didn't provide him. Democrats are claiming the move is illegal and serves only as show for his supporters, whom he had promised a "wall."

Feb 18 ... An article on global warming titled "Time to Panic" in the NY Times (Feb 16) claims: "Being alarmed is not a sign of being hysterical; when it comes to climate change, being alarmed is what the facts demand." Someone describes it as "more alarmist ranting." Someone else writes of the need to avert a disaster that will otherwise render much of the world uninhabitable, and another writes of the difficulty envisioning tragedies and fools not acting defensively until catastrophes actually strike.

Feb 20 ... The so-called Ivory Queen, Yang Fenglan, is convicted on charges regarding the smuggling of around 800 pieces of ivory from Tanzania to the Far East between the years 2000 and 2014. In Tanzania she is sentenced to 15 years in jail. Born in China in 1949, she has lived and worked in Tanzania since the 1970s. (The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), describes poaching as having reduced the population of African elephants by 110,000 during the past 10 years.

Feb 21 ... Mass shootings so-far this year in the US are counted as 28. A would-be shooter arrested last week is described by federal prosecutors as plotting to kill a long list of prominent journalists and Democratic politicians, as well as professors, judges and what he called “leftists in general.” The list includes those he called “traitors” — well-known anchors, hosts on the CNN and MSNBC news networks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others. He is Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, a self-described white nationalist. In his letter (quoted by prosecutors) Hasson wrote about wanting to start a race war and said “Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch.” He described himself as a "man of action." Federal agents found 15 firearms and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition in his apartment.

Feb 22 ... Last night on Fox News, Laura Ingraham’s guest, Joe diGenova, described the US as "in a civil war." He claimed there are "two standards of justice: one for Democrats, one for Republicans... So the suggestion that there's ever going to be civil discourse in this country for the foreseeable future is over. It’s not going to be. It’s going to be total war. And as I say to my friends, I do two things – I vote and I buy guns.” DiGenova is a former prosecutor who has served on President Trumps legal team and has accused FBI officials of trying to "frame" President Donald Trump for "nonexistent" crimes.

Feb 23 ... Rather than wait for the Maduro government to fall from power by weight of the opinions and actions of Venezuelans, the Trump administration has been employing sanctions. According to Maduro, the US is waging an economic war against Venezuela. Maduro's military has been blocking aid the US has sent that now sits on the Colombia-Venezuela border. Maduro describes the aid as "a Trojan horse" and an excuse to interfere in Venezuela. Perhaps it would not have damaged Modura much if he had just accepted the aid as a gift, but he says that Venezuelans are not beggars, and now there are confrontations and Maduro's military is seen again as brutalizing people. Venezuelan troops are reported as having fired tear gas at people looking to cross into Colombia. Members of parliament have posted defiant messages on social media denouncing the use of force, and a few soldiers are reported as having abandoned their posts. (Maduro's fall will come when Venezuela's military men join the opposition.)

Feb 24 ... The attempt to break through Madura aid blockade has left 285 people injured and 37 hospitalized on the Colombian side of the border, according to Colombia’s foreign minister. The attempt to convert Maduro's soldiers holding the line at the border has failed. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, still in Colombia, vows an extended effort with the help of foreign powers — treason in the eyes of Venezuelans supporting Maduro. Yesterday, Senator Rubio (R-FL) announced that the door has been opened "to various potential multilateral actions" not previously on the table. And US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweets that Maduro's "days are numbered."

Feb 25 ... People claim our nation is facing an emergency no less than we did in 1941 during World War II. That war was a financial burden. Public debt climbed to 121 percent of GDP at the end of the war in 1945. The new emergency that threatens to ruin our way of life is described as the continuing growth in global warming. People in politics are calling for bold action, creation of a Green New Deal — the "new deal" part reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal rather than instruments of warfare and destruction. The proposals vary in detail while all in favor see it as good if not a necessary investment, with debt that could be paid off soon enough. (Today, the Washington Post presents its own version). Some worry about government debt and having to pay more in taxes. Younger people are more concerned about what is happening to the planet and their future.

Feb 26 ... In the US, the Left (including Noam Chomsky) has been complaining about an agency that is supposed to be protecting the public (FDA regulators) being too cozy with those they are supposed to regulate. That issue this past Sunday was brought to the fore by the tv journalism of Sixty Minutes. It's top story was about the FDA allowing a labeling change that gave the maker of Oxycontin the opportunity for expanded profit that it had been eagerly seeking. Sales tripled. The law says that a drug cannot be promoted as safe and effective unless it's proven to be safe and effective, but, according to Sixty Minutes, "these opioids" are now used in a way that has not been proven safe. The drug should have remained for short-term use only. "Corrupt, immoral, and depraved was how the change in labeling was described. (Online under the title "Did the FDA ignite the opioid epidemic?"

Feb 27 ... The Democrats having won control of the House of Representatives, a Democrat is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and with this Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was asked to testify today to that committee. A Republican on the committee, Carol Miller, described the purpose of the hearing as discrediting the President, as a "grabbing at straws" and a "media circus." The Democrats seemed to think that its purpose was disclosure for Congress and the public. Republicans were repetitive in their questioning of Cohen, claiming that because he had lied before that nothing in his testimony today should be considered as possibly true, and they tried to discredit Cohen (who is on his way to serving three years in prison) of looking forward to lucrative book deal. Cohen came across as a men trying this time to tell the truth, and Congressman Lynch (D-Mass) told him that Republicans "aren’t afraid that you’re going to lie; they’re afraid you’re going to tell the truth.”

Feb 28 ... Two weeks ago, Muslim jihadis conducted a suicide car-bomb attack that killed 40 of India's reserve police force personnel in that part of Kashmir controlled by India. The Jaish-e-Mohammed jihadist group, based in northern Pakistan near Kashmir, boasted responsibility for the attack. Two days ago, India retaliated: an airstrike against the jihadi base. The Pakistanis claimed that India's attack struck an open ravine, resulting in minimal damage. Pakistan retaliated against India's retaliation. An Indian plane was shot down and its pilot was captured, followed by a demand from impassioned people in India for their "brave" pilot's release. Pakistan's prime minister announced that the pilot will be returned to India today as a first step to de-escalate the crisis between the two nuclear powers. The Jaish-e-Mohammed group remains dedicated to the merge of all Kashmir with Pakistan. The group's origins has been associated with Pakistani military intelligence. The group runs an "imposing" madrassa attended by hundreds of children every year. There have been official government bans, but public support for the organization has resulted in government toleration.


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Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.