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June 2019

Jun 2 ... Early June brings the 30th anniversary of the crackdown against the Tianamen protests, described by the NY Times. Reader comments were with the protests almost 100 percent with no sympathy for the position of the Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping and colleagues who decided on the crackdown. The protesters wanted a greater freedom that would have ended one-party rule. One-party ruled survived. The political chaos that Deng feared did not. The quest for stability has been cited as Deng's motive. Deng himself had been a victim of the Cultural Revolution and wasn't in a mood to tolerate youthful mob emotionalism. He saw himself as a pragmatist. And now, thirty years later, China's citizens are being described as telling foreign reporters that they know nothing about the crackdown because they see no value in looking back. There are dissidents for sure, but there are the many who support with some emotion China's economic advances and its one-party state. (Read an independent point-of-view by the scholar Louisa Lim, NY Times: "After Tiananmen, China Conquers History Itself". Here is another worth considering, by Nicholas Kristof.)

Jun 3 ... In April in Sudan, pro-democracy protests with women at the forefront were followed by a "Transitional Military Council" overthrowing the Islamist president-dictator Omar al-Bashir. The Military Council spoke of its intention to install a transitional civilian government which would prepare for post-Bashir elections in three years. Pro-democracy protesters were impatient and distrustful, and for weeks they camped out in front of army headquarters to pressure the generals to yield power. A week ago Sudanese workers began a national strike, cutting air and bus travel. There were counter-protests by crowds chanting religious slogans, against secularism and for rule that was "one hundred percent military." Today the military cleared away the pro-democracy demonstrators, firing live ammunition in the streets and inside the East Nile Hospital in Khartoum. Al Jazeera calls it a bloody massacre and reports that at least 35 have been killed. The UN complains. The Military Council moves against Al Jazeera journalists.

Jun 4 ... The 143rd mass shooting incident this year was at Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 31, at a public works building. DeWayne Craddock, a civil engineer, murdered 12 of his fellow workers and injured 4 — another instance of targeting whomever using a firearm as an expression of malaise if not insanity. Craddock didn't explain his motive. He used a 45 caliber pistol with a silencer. Virginia's Democrat governor, Ralph Northam, says "We must do more than give our thoughts and prayers," and today he has called for a special session of the General Assembly to take up a package of gun control bills. Virginia's legislative assembly has a Republican majority and recently voted against a bill banning high capacity ammo magazines used for more shooting without reloading. Now there appears to be at least a little bending by some Republican legislators while Democrats are looking forward to coming elections and changing the assembly's balance of power.

Jun 5 ... Rain and flooding in the US are damaging food and feed production. Record rains in the continental United States has people talking about extreme weather and the higher prices that will follow. Comments on hardship for farmers include criticism of President Trump and his negative attitude toward climate science. Trump's popularity in farming areas appears jeopardized, but today his nationwide approval-disapproval rating appears little changed, averaging among various polls at 43-53 percent.

Jun 6 ... Xi Jinping is in Moscow on a three-day visit. He has described Putin as his "best and bosom friend". The two are posturing as champions of free trade and opponents of protectionism. And, according to the Financial Times, the two will denounce international 'hegemonic dominance" by the US. Russia is courting Chinese investment, and Russian media reports that about 1,000 Chinese businessmen have accompanied Xi Jinping. He and Putin have signed an agreement to move away from the US dollar in trade and to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to develop a 5G network in Russia. The Kremlin appears unbothered by China’s move into Central Asia where China is extending its Belt-and-Road Initiative infrastructure project.

Jun 8 ... Putin's thugs strike again. A Russian investigative journalist, Ivan Golunov, working for the Latvia based news site Meduza, is reported as having been injured during his arrest this last Thursday. Golunov was put in a hospital complaining that he was feeling ill. His lawyer complains that drugs were planted on him — denied of course by the Russian authorities. According to the BBC, Meduza says Golunov is "being persecuted because of his journalistic activity".

Jun 10 ... In Russia, much of the media is controlled by the state. The headlines of three business dailies have announced support for the young journalist Golunov, saying "We are Golunov." The papers are questioning the legality of Golunov's arrest. "Even prominent pro-Kremlin broadcasters have been critical of the case," writes the BBC. Anchor Irada Zeynalova of pro-Kremlin channel NTV said: "Journalists are not angels, but neither are police… If there were no drugs on him (Golunov), those who created this crazy situation must be punished." The BBC adds: "The one lever that the punitive machine constructed under President Vladimir Putin lacks is a reverse gear. In Russia, most cases go to court and end in a guilty verdict."

Jun 12 ... The Russian government has dropped all charges against the journalist Godunov. And according to the NY Times, the Interior Minister has asked President Putin to fire two police generals. On June 20, Putin has his annual national call-in show, and it has been suggested or claimed that he wants to avoid what might have been embarrassing questions. Godunov's employer, the Latvia-based Meduza news service, praised "an unprecedented international campaign of journalistic and civic solidarity" and said, "Together we all did the incredible: we stopped the criminal prosecution of an innocent person. Thank you!"

Jun 13 ... Hong Kong in 1997 transferred from British to rule by the People's Republic of China (PRC) with Hong Kong and China to be one country with different legal systems (and the PRC responsible for foreign affairs and defense). No extradition agreement was created for the two different legal systems. In 2018 a Hong Kong resident murdered his pregnant Hong Kong girlfriend when they were vacationing in Taiwan. Hong Kong courts didn't have jurisdiction for ordinary cases that happened in other places, and Hong Kong's Chief Executive (its fourth since 1997), Carrie Lam, proposed an extradition agreement for the case-by-case transfers of fugitives. Hong Kong's legislators, many of them pro-PRC, gave Lam enough votes to pass it. An abundance of people in Hong Kong are hostile to the PRC's one-party state, and there was concern among them that the PRC would use the extradition agreement to grab dissidents. On June 9th a record high of 1.03 million protesters marched in the streets against the extradition bill and called for Carrie Lam to step down. On the 12th, the Hong Kong police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons against protesters who attempted to storm Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. (((Joseph Wang, who lives in Hong Kong, replies on Quora.com to the question about Xi Jinping and the issue here.)))

Jun 15 ... Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, said to be yielding to protests, announces a temporary withdrawal of legislation that allows extraditions to mainland China. Beijing is described as in accord with Lam. Lam expresses “sorrow and regret” for having failed to convince the public that an extradition bill was needed. The US Consulate in Hong Kong takes sides and welcomes the suspension, and Britain’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, applauds Hong Kong officials for “heeding concerns of the brave citizens who have stood up for their human rights.” Meanwhile, activists don't accept the temporary nature of the withdrawal or express interest in a legal remedy regarding extraditions, and they vow another demonstration for tomorrow.

Jun 16 ... A headline reads: "French Protesters Hang Up Their Yellow Vests." Those who burned cars and smashed windows turned off some. President Macron withdrew the fuel tax that would have hit blue-collar people in non-urban areas the hardest. The rightist and leftist parts of the movement failed to coalesce, and it failed in electoral politics, its candidates receiving less the 1 percent of the vote. Someone writes that political movements need more than outrage. Meanwhile, France has an 8.8 percent unemployment rate, including 20.8 percent among youth, among the worst in the West.

June 18 ... Eighty-five percent of the 7.4 million inhabitants living in Hong Kong has been described as seeing themselves as "Hong Kongers" rather than identifying with the People Republic of China (PRC). On Sunday, June 16, an estimated two million people in Hong Kong took to the streets, demonstrating support for the legal system inherited from British rule (part of the one country, two systems agreement with the PRC that became effective in 1997 and is supposed to last to 2047). Yesterday the Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was released from prison, and he shows no sign of wanting to diffuse conflict. He describes Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "sincere apology" as "fake" and he wants her to step down. She refuses to resign. Wong denounces President Xi Jinping, and world media describes Xi as showing weakness. More protests are threatened. Hong Kong police say they will arrest anyone attacking the police. (A NY Times article that discusses the Christianity of Hong Kongers and the crisis is here.)

Jun 22 ... Confronted with hostility from the US, including sanctions damaging their country economically, on June 13 unidentified Iranian agents with explosives again damaged oil tankers passing by their country through the Persian Gulf. On June 20, Iran fired a surface-to-air missile that downed a US military surveillance drone described by Iran as having entered its air space. President Trump called Iran's act "a very bad mistake." Trump's national security team favored a military response, and President Trump said he was "cocked and loaded" — ready to strike Iran. He warned Iran that it faced "obliteration" if war broke out. Trump was advised that Iran's political leadership was displeased by a tactical commander who had decided to shoot down the drone. President Trump is described as not wanting to repeat the mistakes of previous presidents whom he claims wasted money and lives in "pointless Middle East wars." As of now, he has called off strikes against Iran, saying he didn't think "it was proportionate." He has told Iran that the US is open to talks but would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Jun 23 ... High-ranking Revolutionary Guards are described as having shot down the US drone (on the 20th) in large part to prove they could do it — a story printed yesterday in the NY Times. And today the BBC reports the US military responding with cyber warfare: the US launched a cyber-attack on Iranian weapons, disabling computer systems that control Iranian rocket and missile launchers.

Jun 24 ... President Erdogan of Turkey suffers his biggest defeat. In an election for mayor of Istanbul his governing party loses big. Turkey is in an economic recession and Erdogan has borrowed heavily for infrastructure projects. The national debt and inflation are way up, reminiscent of Venezuela. People who have been supporting Erdogan are suffering. Some in the US welcome Erdogan's loss. One describes Erdogan as having "destroyed [Turkey's] intellectual class, shut down dozens of universities, fired thousands of civil servants, and sent his jackboots after any source of organized criticism."

Jun 25 ... Today, Jared Kushner's peace plan is laid out in Bahrain. Bahrain and Saudi Arabia appear to be humoring the Trump administration with their support for the plan. Hanan Ashrawi, a Christian member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, describes Kushner's proposal as “totally detached from any kind of political perspective of the reality on the ground, from the actual cause of our economic hardships.” Palestinians say they need economic assistance, but what they want more is political independence (the two-state solution) and respect for international solutions already offered. They complain that Israel is using its power to dominate "our lives and economy." The Palestinians want the economic freedom and fairness that would come with independence. Israelis, meanwhile, are afraid of hostile Palestinians and Hamas. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his policies enjoy the support President Trump, and Netanyahu seeks additional support from neighboring Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt.

Jun 27 ... The Supreme Court chooses not to impose a federal standard on political redistricting (gerrymandering). It was a 5-4 decision and, writing the minority, Justice Elena Kagan complained about political partisanship involved in redistricting that "under any measure" was "excessive." She wrote of gerrymandering practices that "imperil our system of government" and what are supposed to be our "free and fair elections." Voting on the side of local control were the five conservative (Republican) justices: Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh. Someone complains that state legislatures can now violate "the unambiguous constitutional provision of ‘one person, one vote.’"

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