January 2019

Jan 3 ... The island now called Taiwan was, in the 1700s, dominated by Dutch and Spanish imperialists, and they opened the island to immigration from China. China's Qing Dynasty was the nominal ruler in Taiwan until 1895, when the Empire of Japan took over. After Japan's defeat in 1945 and China's civil war, Chiang Kai-shek's anti-communist regime fled to Taiwan, in 1949, and established power there. Many in Taiwan identified themselves as Taiwanese and opposed what to them appeared to be invasion from China. In keeping with the Cold War, Taiwan was recognized as independent by the United States — the "two Chinas" policy never accepted by China's Communist regimes. And yesterday China's leader, Xi Jinping, in effect proclaimed that Taiwan is still Chinese and that he plans on getting it back — somewhat slowly. He said that if Taiwan were to agree to unification, its rights would be ensured by the same "one country, two systems" framework that Beijing promised Hong Kong (when British colonial control ended there in 1997). It's a promise many do not expect will win a lot of support among the people of Taiwan.

Jan 4 ... Many fear that a poorly performing economy in China will slow down the world economy. Stock indexes fell big on January 2, including those on the Shanghai exchange, and on the 3rd, in New York, the Dow tumbled 2.38% (680 points). The market was down big in Tokyo today, the 4th. An economic slowdown in China will hurt those looking to export to China and slow the world economy. President Trump's tariffs and his looking to punish China and to force that country to reduce its trade deficit with the United States is viewed as contributing to the problem. The Shanghai exchange is down from around 5200 points in the year 2015 to around 3600 today, and this includes more than a 24% loss during the year 2018. China's economy grew something like 6.3% in 2018 (a number beyond US dreams). But consumer confidence in China is low right now, China's job market is tougher, and there are declining car sales and faltering retail sales. A lot of people see China doing well economically as a benefit for the world in general — something unrelated to China yesterday having landed equipment on the other side of the moon and its growing military capability.

Jan 5 ... President Trump says he will not sign a bill to reopen government that doesn't include money for his wall — one of his election promises. Trump tweeted early Saturday that "...we need a WALL." He has also said we have a wall. We can see a video of people dropping into the US side from an 18-foot wall. What there is of a wall no doubt slows down the illegal migrants. Nancy Pelosi says she is indeed concerned about border security and is looking forward to spending government money to that end, but not on Trump's wall — additions to the wall described as impractical and a waste of money. President Trump says that Capitol Hill Democrats are trying to stop him from fulfilling a top campaign promise. Trump supporters are buying the accusation that Pelosi is opposing border security. For at least some of them The Wall has an uncomplicated appeal. The barriers that Pelosi is described as willing to support — faceted and programmatic — have less appeal. Some are looking forward to compromise: Pelosi giving a little funding for The Wall so that Trump can describe himself as having won something.

Jan 7 ... A young Saudi woman, age 18, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, was trying to flee from her family during a flight to Kuwait. She escaped and was headed for Australia on a flight with a connection in Bangkok. There, a Saudi met her coming of her flight and seized her Australian visa and her passport — the Saudi's perhaps having dropped some cash on Thai authorities. The young Saudi woman told the BBC that she has renounced Islam and is afraid that her faily will kill her.

Jan 8 ... Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun barricaded herself in her airport hotel room. She has her passport back and is described by the BBC as under the care of the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Her father is flying to Bangkok, and she is asking for asylum in Canada, the United States, Australia or the UK. Within a day, Australia will say that the UN declares her a legitimate refugee.

Jan 10 ... In Venezuela, President Madura is sworn in for his second term. The crowds celebrating the event are smaller than those that greeted him after his first inauguration almost six years ago (5 March 2013). In his speech, Maduro says he wants "a new beginning" and "to fix the mistakes, the many mistakes that have been made." The US, Canada and others do not recognize the legitimacy of Madura's new term.

Jan 11 ... The BBC reports that African migration to Europe has declined to 'a trickle' thanks to a trafficking ban across the Sahara. In Niger "many traffickers have been jailed and hundreds of their vehicles confiscated."

Jan 13 ... France has its ninth week-end of anti-Macron protests. In Paris, 5,000 were in the street, and a total of 8,000 across France, a little more than last week — compared to the 300,000 when the protests began. A high cost of living is described as behind the anger, and protesters accuse the government of favoring the urban elite. One sign was fantasy, demanding that President Macron resign or there will be revolution. One reporter, John Lichfield, describes yesterday's protesters, taunting the police and throwing rocks, as looking different from the "provincials" who made up most of the marchers back in November.

Jan 16 ... Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29, and Britain's trade and economy are suffering. Prime Minister May's compromise exit plan was voted down on the 15th, 432 to 202. The United Kingdom is functioning despite the division between those who want the economic advantages that accompany staying in the EU and, on the other hand, those described as "xenophobes" who want tougher borders against immigration, freedom from the EU's Court of Justice and no EU participation in Britain's governance. The prime minister, Theresa May, might be replaced soon by voting (no coup, no impeachment attempt, no waiting for November 2020 elections). Someone asks, "Who wants Brexit, the olds, the deplorable and the right wind plutocrats and crooks." Someone else writes: "Brexit is another triumph for Putin and his social media trolls." Now comes this: news that Britain's currency, the pound, has spiked. Someone thinks this means that markets expect a second referendum and this time a vote against Brexit. (Britain has not been on the euro and no-brexit is better for British banking.)

Jan 17 ... Britain dithers. Theresa May has survived a No-Confidence vote in Parliament: 325-306. Reports are that no majority exists in the country for anything other than a second referendum on whether to leave or stay in the EU. Those in favor of this are saying this time the people will be paying attention, that they have learned something and will reject the make-Britain great (sovereign and independent) again appeal of those politicians who favor leaving the EU. Prime Minister May (who originally sided with those for remaining in the EU) rejects a second referendum and is submitting a new leave-the-EU plan, one that Parliament will accept. May's conservative party is split on the Brexit issue and would break-up with other than some kind of neither-nor plan that May is trying to offer.

Jan 18 ... In 1995-96, Republicans led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down the government for 21 days, trying to force President Clinton to accept cuts spending cuts. In 2013, Republicans shut down the government for 17 days, trying to defund the Affordable Care Act. In December 2018, anticipating the incoming Democratic Party control of the House in January, Congress shut down the government, trying to get funding for President Trump's border wall. Today the shutdown is in its 28th day. The US Constitution gives the House sole power and responsibility for appropriating government funds, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refuses to let Trump use the shut down to pressure her fund the wall, saying she will negotiate such funding after the shut down. Trump blames her and the Democrats for the shut down. One poll has 54 percent blaming Trump for the shut down and 31 percent blaming the Congressional Democrats. Some Democrats are praising Pelosi for standing tough. Some want to her to "compromise," to capitulate to something of Trump's making, giving President Trump something to brag about.

Jan 19 ... Trump offers Democrats a compromise regarding immigration that his hardliner allies (Ann Coulter among them) describe as amnesty. Democrats reject his offer. For them, sequence still reigns: end the shutdown and then we'll negotiate what to do about immigration. The Democrats say they don't want to reward bad behavior (the shutdown).

Jan 20 ... Protests in France yesterday (Saturday) were about the same size as last week. Town meetings during the week seem not to have helped. President Macron, a "centrist" Social Democrat complaining about poor people "screwing about" while some are behaving properly upset many. Placards called for Macron to resign, giving the demonstration for some an illusion of purpose.

Jan 21 ... According to Dylan Riddle of the Institute of International Finance, "there has been a breathtaking accumulation of debt in the last decade or so." Worldwide debt reached a record 318 percent of world GDP in September — borrowing by governments, businesses, and households. It has fueled economic growth, and who knows when this bubble deflates?

Jan 23 ... Shutdown disccomfort rises. Around 800,000 federal employees are affected. In the Coast Guard some are relying on donations from food pantries while their regular paychecks remain on hold. FBI special agents and employees will soon miss their second paychecks. The number of airport security workers failing to show up for work hit an all-time high over the weekend. A ripple affect is hurting small businesses. Consumer confidence is falling. Support for Trump is taking a least a bit of a hit. A new poll claims that 57 percent of registered voters have said they would definitely vote against Trump in 2020, compared to just 30 percent who said they would back the president. This Thursday, separate proposals by Republicans and Democrats to fix the crisis will be voted on in the Senate.

Jan 24 ... The US (Pres Trump), Canada, and the UK recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's interim leader. With them are Argentine, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. Guaidó is backed by nationwide demonstrations, with 14 having died since the 22nd. President Maduro has ordered all US diplomats to leave, and the US is not complying. Moscow calls the US move an attempt at regime change, a violation of international law and a "direct path to bloodshed" (civil war). The military in Venezuela, supported by Putin, backs Maduro. Also on Maduro's side are Turkey, Iran, and China. Trump doesn't rule out military intervention.

Jan 25 ... Yesterday six Republican senators, including Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine, voted with the Democrats to reopen the government without funding for President Trump's wall — the Democrats ready to negotiate border security following passage of the bill. Voting for the Democratic Party's bill was 52 for and 44 against. All of the latter were Republicans, their game to stay together on the Trump team and to prevent appearance of a political victory for the Democrats. The bill was 8 short of the 60 needed to succeed. Today, major delays at airports are creating a heightened sense of urgency, and Republican senators are working on what some of them have embraced: "compromise."  Later today (early afternoon), President Trump announces: "We have reached a deal to end the shutdown." He agrees to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations proceeded concerning border and security.

Jan 26 ... There was no gloating by Pelosi when Trump stopped the government shutdown for 21 days, and some quietly welcomed Trump's step back. But there were those who view politics as Mussolini's fascists did: a heroic-triumph/humiliation-defeat contest and compromise as weakness. Today on Twitter, President Trump responded, writing that he would be holding to his promise that "We will build the Wall! We can, however, expect that Pelosi and Trump (the Democrats and Republicans) will reach an agreement in the coming twenty days. And we can hope that Republicans have been discouraged from using government shutdown as a political lever.

Jan 27 ... Yesterday (Saturday) in France the Yellow Vest protests were a little smaller than the week before: about 69,000 nationwide, according to France's Interior Ministry. Today were counter-demonstrations called the "Republican March of Liberties," not supporting Macron necessarily, with people wearing red scarves and complaining about the violence and lawlessness of the Yellow Vest demonstrations. In Paris, the red scarf demonstrators numbered 10,500, according to police figures, compared to 4,000 for the Yellow Vests the day before.

Jan 30 ... In South Africa a controversial group of companies, Bosasa, (to trade under the name African Global Operations) is still in the news for having splashed piles of money around over the past decade, buying the favors of public officials, influencing journalism, and creating the scandal that eventually resulted in Jacob Zuma announcing his resignation as President in February 2018. Late this month a former Bosasa chief operations officer, Angelo Agrizzi, has been testifying, providing "mountains of revelations." Today, President Cyril Ramaphosa, says that corruption must be dealt with harshly and that this year should be the last in which South Africa is described as a country ripped apart by corruption. Meanwhile, Transparency International (TI) has published its 2018 Corruption Perception Index. The lower score equals more corruption. South Africa for 2018 had a score of 43. Newsweek describes Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore, and Switzerland as the least corrupt, scoring between 84 and 88 points. Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria scored at the bottom (10, 13 and 13 points, respectively). For 2018, the US drops to a score of 71, down from 75 for 2017. The US scores for different segments of society can be found here.

Jan 31 ... Support by Venezuela's military top brass is keeping Maduro in power, and opposition leader Juan Guaidó says he has held secret meetings with the military, trying to win their support. After Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998, the former paratrooper purged the military of politically unfriendly officers. He promoted those who were friendly and allowed them to benefit from economic arrangements. Phil Gunson, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, claims that Venezuela's "senior officers, would like this to continue because they are making money out of it but also because they are so compromised."


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