Century 21 14 th yr
Century 21 2014- AD

Jan 1  In a New Year's message broadcast on North Korean television, Kim Jong-un attempts to appear reasonable by explaining the execution of his uncle. He described it as "the elimination of factional filth" which has bolstered the country's unity "by 100 times." He also called South Korea "warmongers," and he spoke of wanting better relations with South Korea.

Jan 1  BBC News reports that Filipinos begin the New Year with celebrations that injure 600, including a couple of deaths. One death was of a baby struck by a "stray bullet" (probably fired into the air). Another was of a teenager killed by "a firecracker display."

Jan 1  Ruth Marcus, a prominent liberal columnist for the Washington Post begins the New Year by jumping into the Edward Snowden controversy. She writes of Snowden's "messianic sense of self-importance" not having deflated. She adds: "Nor has living in an actual police state given [him] any greater appreciation of the actual freedoms that Americans enjoy." She further describes Snowden as "smug, self-righteous, egotistical, disingenuous, megalomaniacal, overwrought." George Orwell, she writes, "would have told Snowden to chill."

Jan 2  The NewsHour yesterday described false testimony that supported the manufacturers of the fire retardants in our homes and in our bodies, and brains. Efforts to get rid of the chemicals were defeated by multimillion-dollar lobbying by flame retardant manufacturers. Their lobbying efforts included paying a retired burn surgeon who repeatedly testified about infants that died of burns because there were no flame retardants to protect them. An award-winning investigative series by the Chicago Tribune dug into his testimony and found that there were no such cases. The NewsHour reports that this was followed by "mounting pressure from the public and scientific community" and that Governor Jerry Brown of California "decided to act." Changes are being made to California's furniture flammability standards. Meanwhile a number of studies have linked flame retardants to "cancer, neurological impairments and fertility problems" and remain in use. The NewsHour describes a UC Berkeley report "that you probably have flame retardants in your couch, your chair, your office chair, if you have a baby, strollers, high chairs, nursing pillows, little baby positioners, car seats... The chemicals are continuing coming out of the couch and they're heavy. They drop into dust. And then you get some dust on your hand, eat a French fry would be the classic, and they end up in your body. Toddlers who crawl in the dust of course have high levels."

Jan 2  In a speech yesterday commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Raul Castro spoke of hostile forces trying to introduce "neo-liberal and neo-colonial thinking" into Cuba. He admitted that mistakes had been made and said that, "The revolution's program will be updated every five years so that it can always answer to the true interests of the people and promptly correct any errors."

Jan 2  In her annual speech yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel, now leading a grand coalition of Social Democrats and her conservative Christian Democratic Union party, spoke of Germany pulling together: "friends and neighbors who take the initiative or put problems right.. families who provide loving care for their children and their family members every day... trade unionists and entrepreneurs who work together to ensure job security." She went on: "These people and many others like them make our society compassionate and successful. In this way it became possible this year for us to have the lowest unemployment rate and the highest labor market participation since reunification. For hundreds of thousands of families, this means having a safe future and earning recognition. And for our young people this means security, an education, a job and thus a good start in life."

Jan 3  In Cambodia, garment workers are on strike demanding a doubling of the minimum wage. Today, after workers blocked a road and clashed with police, the police opened fire killing three workers and injuring several more. Cambodia's government is in the hands of the Cambodian People's Party, formerly a Marxist-Leninist party. It is in a coalition with the party that supports Cambodia's monarchy. Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985 is, according to Wikipedia, "widely viewed as a dictator that has assumed authoritarian power in Cambodia using violence and intimidation and corruption to maintain his power base."

Jan 6  In the northern Damascus district of Barzeh, following intense negotiations in recent days, a truce has begun between Assad's forces and the Free Syrian Army. According to Alarabiya News, "The truce comes after nearly a year of fighting and bombardment in the area and both sides." The truce speaks of Assad's army withdrawing from all of Barzeh and a "cleaning of the streets (of abandoned corpses), in preparation for the road to be opened." The Free Syrian Army is to control traffic through the district, and a clause within the truce agreement speaks of residents who had fled the district able to return within two weeks and have their "services restored."

Jan 7  In the People's Republic of Bangladesh the political party in power, the left-of-center Awami League, wins the general election that occurred on the 5th. The party's leader, a 64-year-old woman, Sheikh Hasina, prime minister since 6 January 2009, remains in office. Her main opponent, another woman, Khaleda Zia, 68, a former prime minister, urged supporters to "completely boycott" what she called a "scandalous farce." She has been leading the Nationalist Party, commonly described as center-right, as secular but allied with the nation's Islamists. The elections didn't go well. BBC News describes one Bangladeshi as saying, "So many people have been killed due to political violence in the last three months, many of them torched alive inside buses. What sort of people are we? Do we qualify to be called human any more?" Another says, "In the last few days wherever I went and the word election was mentioned, people got afraid... Me, my family, and everyone I know are not voting. It is as a protest against Hasina's regime but we are not in support of the opposition either. Most people here in Bangladesh have no idea what will happen after today. But one thing we are sure of is that it will get worse."

Jan 9  In the world of bacteria - good bacteria and bad bacteria - trouble making bacteria are being accused of causing premature births. The journal Plos One, describes research that suggests certain bacteria may be responsible for the thinning of membranes of the sac that holds the infant. Early rupture of membranes is said to cause almost a third of all premature births.

Jan 9  In Pakistan the Taliban strikes again, in a car bomb attack killing what Reuters News describes as a "top Pakistani policeman renowned for his tough stance on criminals and Islamist militants."

Jan 10  Marwan Muasher, former foreign minister and deputy prime minister of Jordan, has a book on the Arab Spring coming out on the 28th. On the 9th he was interviewed by Margaret Warner on the NewsHour. He says the Arab world was "living under a state of artificially induced stability for a long time," induced by "non-democratic governments" and Muslim leaders "promising the moon." Now, he says, "the lid has been taken off" and secular regimes and forces are attempting to rule without a system of checks and balances. He says, "What we are witnessing is a direct result of an era in the Arab world where democracy was not practiced nor encouraged, an educational system which basically taught people just to blindly follow leaders without critical thinking, without asking questions... It's going to take decades work in which you have to do things to the educational system, the value system that exists in the Arab world." He sees it as a battle for pluralism. He adds that "the jihadi sort of phenomenon is transient in the Arab world... the overwhelming majority of the Arab world do not subscribe to al-Qaida types, do not subscribe to this jihadi radical thinking."

Jan 12  About the cause of turmoil in the Middle East, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, finds fault more within the Middle East rather than from the West. "These are societies," he says, "that have never really dealt successfully with modernity. You've never had a clear divide between the religious and the secular. People confuse democracy and majoritarianism. There's not a real sense of minority rights or places in these societies." (CNN, Global Public Square)

Jan 13  Fire raged yesterday in Shangri-la (renamed in 2001 to attract tourism), and it destroyed nearly 300 houses. A report describes firefighters unable to reach the fire because they had no fire engines designed for the town's narrow streets.

Jan 13 In West Virginia as many as 300,000 people enter their fifth day unable to use tap water for anything besides flushing toilets. This is the result of a chemical used to clean coal leaking out of a decaying old storage tank. "It's an old system," said a government official. He added that the company, Freedom Industries, has plans to upgrade it.

Jan 14  Frustration continues among the nearly 1.4 million unemployed Americans whose jobless benefits expired on December 28. Congressional Republicans are saying that any extension of benefits must be paid for by spending cuts. The frustrated include Carol Scott of Baltimore, who, according to columnist Eugene Robinson, "keeps getting told she is overqualified for jobs paying less, which she would happily take." Robinson points out that to receive benefits people have to show that they have been actively looking for work. Also frustrated is Lita Ness, who lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012. The Associated Press reports her as saying, "I'm registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I'm probably changing to Democrat."

Jan 15  Overheard and secretly filmed in North Korea, a woman says, "in China they have freedom of speech... The problem here is that one in three people will report you." This was broadcast last night in the US on PBS television, Frontline. It described the regime in North Korea as able to survive because of its "excluding outside unwanted information from coming in and educating the public" and that this is "starting to change, whether the North Korean leadership likes it or not."

Jan 16  In Egypt, voter turnout is pleasing authorities and government supporters and is being described as an indication of public support for the referendum on the country's new constitution. Yesterday, public celebrations by those supporting the new constitution marked the end of the voting. Egypt's army wanted a strong turnout to endorse its recent power moves. Exact figures have not yet been announced. Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhhood's former president, Morsi, boycotted the voting, as did the religiously ultra-conservative Salafis. Some on the Left also boycotted the voting. Nine people were killed in clashes involving Morsi supporters, and according to BBC News "Some 400 people have been arrested ... for disrupting the vote." Those boycotting the referendum appear to be the losers. The media in Egypt is being described by BBC News as pro-military and as portraying the vote "as key to the nation's security and stability." Egypt's stock market has rallied to a three-year high this week, according to Reuters News, "driven partly by hopes for more stable government." The new constitution was drafted by the army-backed interim government. Mona Zulficar, on the Egyptian Constitutional Committee, describes that new constitution as providing "guarantees for equal opportunity ... guarantees for equality before the law, without discrimination on any basis." And, she says, "it provides explicitly that no discrimination will be permitted based on sex, religion, belief, social or political affiliation."

Jan 20  Gene therapy has been used to revive light detecting cells in the eyes of six patiients who would otherwise have gone blind. BBC News reports today that "the doctors involved believe that the treatment could in time be used to treat common forms of blindness."

Jan 21  The Human Rights Watch report for 2014 describes the Assad regime in Syria as waging war by killing civilians. BBC News reports that there is "clear evidence that Syria has systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising." London's Telegraph writes of accusations that the Assad regime has been aiding al-Qaeda associated opponents in order to persuade the West that the uprising against him is terrorist-led. An international conference regarding the civil war in Syria is set to begin tomorrow. Thirty countries will be represented. Reuter's describes the talks as already in disarray. Assad is saying he will not step down and that the talks should focus on fighting terrorism.

Jan 22  Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has viewed the gruesome evidence of torture and killings by government forces in Syria, and he says the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Jan 22  Argentina has an inflation problem. Inflation is in double digits. The courts have overturned an attempt by the government to prevent anyone from publishing an inflation figure different from what the government says it is. The value of Argentina's currency is threatened, and the government needs more revenue. BBC News reports that anyone buying items through international websites, such as, "will now need to sign a declaration and produce it at a customs office, where the packages have to be collected." Someone complains: "Each time you go to customs, you need to spend three or four hours."

Jan 23  The population of Iraq despite all the deaths by violence and the emigration since 2003 is the subject of a report by Charlotte McDonald on BBC News. According to a UN estimate in 2003 there were around 25 million people in Iraq and today there are around 33 million - an increase of around one-third. Iraqi families have been averaging four or more children. Births have continued to well outnumber deaths.

Jan 25  Argentine poet Juan Gelman has died at eighty-three. There was a moment of silence for him across the country, while time has caught up with his opponents, the super-patriotic members of the brutal military junta who gloried in their power, murdered thousands and failed to foresee that eventually they would be reviled by their country.

Jan 25  Argentina's currency, the peso, fell eleven percent against the dollar yesterday, it's steepest fall since its financial crisis in 2002. BBC News says a government cabinet member has announced that "the country will reduce the tax rate on dollar purchases and allow the purchase of dollars for savings accounts."

Jan 28  Attacks by Buddhist monks against Christians and Muslims in Sri Lanka are reported in Saudi Arabia, where the monarchy supports peace among peoples of different faiths. Buddhists are 70 percent of the population and Muslims second with 10 percent. The Forum for Inter-Faith Dialogue is asking for full implementation of the law against such attacks. The Saudi newspaper Arab News reports: "Videos shared on YouTube have shown Buddhist monks throwing stones and smashing a Christian prayer center in southern Sri Lanka earlier this month while police looked on. Monks were also caught on video camera last year smashing Muslim-owned businesses just outside the capital."

Jan 28  The Geneva II Conference on Syria began on the 23rd and today is reported as deadlocked. So far the Assad regime's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has reminded the world that diplomacy at times is childish. He has done nothing but attack Assad's opponents and those who support them, including the United States. He hasn't suggested any interest in a cease fire anywhere or in any kind of local governance that would diminish the Assad regime's freedom to apply aggression. There is none of the generosity that comes with strength. Instead, it appears that fear is keeping the Assad regime on a course of authoritarianism and attempt to hold to power by state terrorism.

Jan 29  An article in Neurology, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), describes a study that indicates that patients with Alzheimer's disease have four times as much DDT in their body as healthy people.

Jan 30  Human Rights Watch: "Satellite imagery, witness statements, and video and photographic evidence show that Syrian authorities deliberately and unlawfully demolished thousands of residential buildings in Damascus and Hama in 2012 and 2013."

Jan 31  The first round of the Geneva II peace talks end described on the NewsHour as having failed with Assad's disappointment over Secretary of State John Kerry's insistence that he, Assad, must step down. Assad is described as having hoped that the US had come to see him as preferable to not knowing what they would be getting with an opposition that is in chaos and includes al-Qaeda surrogates.

February 2014

Feb 1  Going into February, those killed by the civil war in Syria are numbered at 130,000. Two million Syrians are refugees outside the country and four million are said to be displaced inside the country, with thousands lacking the food needed for survival and lacking shelter. Some are dying from starvation. Talks in Geneva are scheduled to continue on the 10th, seen by some as more wishful talk-talk while the Assad regime uses its time to decide the war like wars are often decided: by one side successfully applying military force. According to figures published by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group in Britain opposed to the Assad regime, during the past week death from the war killed 515 fighting on the government side, 850 fighting with the mainstream and extremists against Assad, and at least 498 civilians. At this rate according to less than accurate counting, given at least half of Syria's 22 million population hostile to the Assad regime and half of them as men, and half again as able bodied, it will take the Assad regime something like 26 years to kill off its opponents - if those killed include kids growing to a fighting age. Assad's troops are said to number around 170,000. At the rate suggested by the past week, Assad would lose something like 25,000 per year and they would cease to exist in 6.8 years. Meanwhile, today, government and rebel forces cooperate in the evacuation of hundreds of people from the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Yarmouk. The evacuation diminishes the number of people in this population center hostile to the regime.

Feb 2   People in Ukraine continue their attempt to effect political change through demonstrations and building occupations rather than through the ballot box. Their protests began following their government's rejection of a far-reaching accord with the European Union. And the protests turned violent in their confrontation with police following parliament passing legislation outlawing protests. The protests have been massive enough to bring about the resignation of the prime minister and his cabinet. President Yanukovich, elected in 2010, has been willing to talk with protest leaders, and parliament has annuled the new anti-protest laws. But the protesters want Yanukovich to resign. They want victory in the streets, a political revolution, which rarely happens when people can express themselves at the ballot box. Some speak of the possibility of a civil war. Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed US support for Ukraine's "fight for democracy," and Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov accused Western countries of a double standard regarding politics by violent protests. The election of Yanukovich in 2010 was described in Russia as "highly rated by international observers," while the losing opposition party claimed that there had been fraud.

Feb 3  In Thailand the losing political party in the elections of 2011, the Democratic Party, has been trying to win in the streets. It boycotted yesterday's elections. Yesterday, those hostile to the elections sent toughs out to block polling stations, resulting in poll closures. According to BBC News, "Protests prevented voting from taking place in 438 of Bangkok's 6,671 polling stations, and there was no voting at all in nine southern provinces" (where the Democratic Party is strongest). The protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, announced that the government would be unable to declare a result because of polling place closures, adding, "Therefore the election is a waste of time and money." Democratic Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva tells BBC News, "We are saying the government needs to recognise it has lost trust of people because of its abuse of democratic processes."

Feb 5  The Obama administration denounces Egypt's detention of three Al Jazeera journalists and calls for their release. In solidarity with the three, numerous journalists around the globe have tweeted photos of themselves with their mouths taped shut. Christiane Amanpour is among the protesters. Egypt's intirim government has accused the three of spreading false news and having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt classified as a terrorist organisation.

Feb 6  Peace talks between Pakistan's government and the Taliban have begun. The talks have been described as friendly and cordial. Salahuddin Haider writes in Arab News that "The prospects for reaching any viable peace deal with the Taliban are growing dim with each passing day," and that Taliban delegates rule out "any chances of peace until the imposition of Shariah law in the country and a complete withdrawal of US forces from neighboring Afghanistan."

Feb 6  EJ Dionne writes about "willful stupidity" this past week in the Obamacare debate. In the Washington Post today he says that "the best arguments for health-insurance reform is that our traditional employer-based system often locked people into jobs they wanted to leave but couldn't because they feared they wouldn't be able to get affordable coverage elsewhere." Dionne writes about Republicans describing the new freedom to leave a job as Obamacare hurting the economy. An example of this is Senator Orrin Hatch (whom Dionne did not mention) describing Obamacare as having a "job-killing" impact. More than 1,500 so far this morning have responded with comments to the Post, some lauding Obamacare for providing more freedom of choice, others criticizing Dionne's "rhetoric." One comment critical of Dionne reads: "You liberals are incredible. No volume of facts or truths can lead you from your Marxist messiah or your journey towards economic destruction."

Feb 7  A leaked telephone conversation exposes differences between the US and the EU over events in Ukraine. A senior US State Department official, Victoria Nuland, in a message to the US ambassador to Ukraine said "F*ck the EU," and apparently it was the Russians who tapped into and leaked the conversation. The Russians are accusing the US of arming, funding and training the opposition to take power. According to Reuters News, "Moscow portrays the anti-Yanukovich demonstrators as paid Western agents and seems to be pushing for Yanukovich to order a crackdown to clear the streets." Russia is described as having "bailed out Ukraine with an offer of $15 billion in cheap gas and loans after Yanukovich snubbed the EU trade pact" and Russia has cut off these funds" until it learns who the new prime minister will be." Meanwhile Germany's Angela Merkel again expresses anger with the US, and she expresses support for EU policy regarding Ukraine.

Feb 7 In Germany, Helmut Linnsen, treasurer for Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party, quits over scandal regarding offshore banking accounts in the Bahamas and Panama.

Feb 9  People in Sarajevo and other cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina join the politics by street action, in place of electoral politics. According to an article in Aljazeera: "For nearly twenty years, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have suffered under the administration of a vicious cabal of political oligarchs who have used ethno-nationalist rhetoric to obscure the plunder of Bosnia-Herzegovina's public coffers. The official unemployment rate has remained frozen for years at around 40 percent, while the number is above 57 percent among youth."

Feb 9  A poll released today, commissioned by the US Spanish language network Univision, shows a divide among Catholics over doctrine. The division depends on where on the globe they live and people with different traditions.. Catholics in the advanced Western democracies were found to be more in conflict with present-day doctrine than are Catholics in Africa and Asia. More than 12,000 Catholics were polled, in twelve countries. The poll shows 40 percent of Catholics in the United States opposed to gay marriage, compared with 99 percent in Africa. In most Catholic African countries 75 percent agree with the church that divorcees who remarry outside the church should not receive Communion, compared with 19 percent of Catholics in Europe. The ban on female priests is supported by 80 percent of Catholics in Africa and 76 percent in the Philippines compared with 36 percent in the United States and 30 percent in Europe.

Feb 10  The Swiss vote to bring back immigration quotas. Switzerland has been doing well economically. Its unemployment is low, but foreigners are now 23 percent of the population and people have been complaining about foreign workers driving salaries down and putting pressures on transportation, education and health services. The vote puts Switzerland in violation of its free-movement of people agreement with the European Union. (Switzerland is not a member of the EU.) Switzerland's trade with the EU is expected to suffer, and Swiss businesses complain about a new inabililty to hire talented foreigners.

Feb 11  The peace talks resumed in Geneva yesterday, and this morning the talks opened with a minute of silence for the 130,000 killed in Syria since the conflict began there in 2011. The opposition delegate Ahmed Jakal said, "I hope that the minute of silence will signal an improvement in the atmosphere this time." But Assad's propagandists put a spin on what the minute of silence was about, describing it as "for the souls of the martyrs of the village of Maan in rural Hama." The regime accuses Sunni Islamist terrorists of killing 42 Alawites there two days ago. Al Arabiaya reports a claim by a spokesman for the opposition National Coalition that no civilians were killed in Maan. "There was a battle over there between (the rebel) Free Syrian Army and Assad forces. The village itself was evacuated of civilians more than six months ago. All people in that battle were killed in action. No civilians were killed in that battle." The opposition, meanwhile complains that the Assad regime continues to kill civilians with its military assaults, and US Secretary of State John Kerry condemns the Assad regime's use of barrel bombs dropped from helicopters.

Feb 12   "The world is no longer changing every hundred years" and artificial intelligence will replace 50 percent of today's jobs in the service sector within ten years. So says Peter Diamandis, Intel entrepreneur and cofounder of the X-PRIZE Foundation. Conservative wealth distribution philosophy hasn't adjusted to the automation change so far, and no one knows how soon it will.

Feb 12   The World Press Freedom Index for 2014 is out - produced by Reporters without Borders, advocates of freedom of information. Finland, the Netherlands and Norway top the list. Denmark is 7th, Sweden 10th and Germany 14th. Syria is fourth from the bottom, followed by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

Feb 13   The journal PEN America has condemned the executions in Iran in late January of the poet Hashem Sha'bani and the cultural activist Hadi Rashedi. The two were arrested in September 2011. They were convicted in July 2012 of "enmity against God," "corruption on earth," "gathering and colluding against state security," and "spreading propaganda against the system."

Feb 13   In France, another illegal Roma camp as been destroyed, this one in a wood just outside Paris. The fifteen families living there were given between thirty minutes and an hour to collect their things. Machines then pitted the area to prevent future settlement. BBC News writes that Roma mainly from Romania and Bulgaria have been moving into Western Europe since the 1990s and that their camps in France are systematically destroyed.

Feb 14  President Obama puts in an appearance in California, giving attention to the drought there, the worst drought in the state's recorded history. The drought is hurting the state's agriculture and wildlife including salmon, and it's threatening its supply of drinking water. California has long suffered from growing populations lowering its water tables, and Californians are wondering how quickly desalination plants can be put online. CNBC writes that "California has a half dozen desalination plants (the US total is more than 300, experts say) mostly around the central coast in towns like Sand City, Marina and Cambria." Bigger and more expensive plants are on the drawing board, to be paid for by private enterprise, which will sell the water to the public. The cost of buying water is expected to rise. There is also a concern over the outflow of seawater from desalination plants, which can kill marine life. Today in California, President Obama has promised to make available within 60 days up to $100 million in aid to help California farmers who lost livestock due to drought conditions. Public comments include a complaint that Obama is worthless because he is not addressing the root of problems, and someone else criticizes climate change deniers. Someone living on a meagre income complains that the price of everything is "really going to rise sky high" and we will need to start growing our own veggies.

Feb 15  Britain's shift from drought two years ago to recent rainfall that is twice the average for January and February leaves people arguing and frustrated. The British are fighting flood waters from "extreme weather" that began in December. Property damage is extensive. Britain's agriculture is suffering. People are cursing the Environmental Agency and politicians. Some complain about those who deny that climate change is man made. Data that accounts for weather variation across a vast time span tells climate scientists that climate change is a fact and that humanity is responsible for it. But many people don't trust or pay attention to scientists, and a few of them have a preference for the absolutism called certainty and play on the doubt that is part of science. Meanwhile a Dutchman in Britain sees the Brits as having been too slow in digging their rivers deeper.

Feb 15   Geneva 2 ends with no progress having been made. The Assad regime offered those who dislike his bombs and invasions nothing in the form of a ceasefire, nothing in the form of freedom from state terrorism or hope for some kind local self-governance. Britain and France blame the Assad regime for Geneva 2's failure. President Obama, meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, now in California, said yesterday he is considering new ways to pressure Assad. He says he will continue trying "to move forward on a diplomatic solution," which sounds like more of the same talking. Today, the anti-Assad "Syrian Observator for Human Rights" describes war driven deaths in Syria as having reached 140,041, more than 7,000 of them children, and it describes the period that began with the Geneva 2 talks last month as the bloodiest during the three-year confllct.

Feb 16   On Meet the Press today, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, argued that climate change theories are built on "unproven sciences." She called the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere "very slight" and said that it benefits agriculture. Also on the program, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, noted that going from 320 to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not slight in percentage terms.

Feb 17  Yesterday Secretary of State Kerry announced that "It is urgent that we tackle climate change. He said "the windows of time is still open," but he warned that it is closing. President Obama yesterday linked the drought in California to climate change. In the Washington Post over 700 comment on the Bill Nye and Marsha Blackburn discussion on Meet the Press. Opponents of the idea of climate change cite figures, and those in favor claim that averaging the figures is basic. Someone writes that temperature data is noisy and best represented by regression analysis. This is followed by, "Regression analysis? You expect people who think the Earth is 6,000 years old to understand that?" Another describes climate change as "a scam actually started in the 70's by the Carter administration" and extended by Al Gore. Another complained that twenty-five percent off Americans surveyed believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

Feb 17  Two days ago in Kentucky a snake handling preacher, Jamie Coots, was bitten by a snake. Someone called an ambulance, and when the ambulance arrived the medics found Coots had gone home. Coots was contacted there, but he refused medical treatment. Coots died about an hour later. About a year ago Coots told police who found snakes in his car that he believed the venomous snakes couldn't hurt him as long as he had the power of God.

Feb 18  Demonstrations and rioting, rather than politics by the ballot box, resume in the Ukraine. Yesterday protesters abandoned occupation of government buildings following an amnesty offered by the government, but today in central Kiev anti-government forces responded to an attack on their encampment. They still want constitutional changes and President Yanukovich to leave office. Seven protesters and two policemen are reported as having been killed. The protesters are hurling fire bombs and stones in what is described as the worse day of violence since the demonstrations began almost three months ago. Reuters News reports that Moscow attributes the rioting to a "direct result of connivance by Western politicians and European structures that have shut their eyes ... to the aggressive actions of radical forces". Someone comments: "The Ukrainian people simply want out of Russia's domination." Someone else: "Whole regions of Ukraine openly embrace Russia ... 20 thousand protesters rioting in Kiev do not represent the whole of Ukraine." After being described as perhaps a Russian stooge he responds: "Half of Ukrainians are actually Russians, the revolting west regions are ethnic Polish… Ukraine is an artificially created country, and Kiev was the cradle of Kievska Russia."

Feb 18  In Thailand, the police appear to have turned from neutrality to action against demonstrators trying to oust the elected government of Prime Minister Yingluck. BBC News reports one police officer and two protesters shot dead and dozens injured as police clash with protesters in Bangkok.

Feb 19  The death toll from violence in the Ukraine yesterday has reached at least twenty-six. European Union leaders condemn what they describe as an "unjustified use of excessive force by the Ukrainian authorities," and they claim to be preparing sanctions against those responsible for the crackdown. President Yanukovich objects. He recognizes that modern nation-states are supposed to have a monopoly on applications of violence within the national borders, to be applied with respect for human rights - the point of debate. Anti-government forces using violence are revolutionaries whether they realize it or not, and they can't win without at least the support it takes to win an honest election. And someone comments: "Yanukovich was elected president of Ukraine in an election recognized by the US and the EU as free and open. He is up for reelection (or not reelection) in 2015 - in a year and a half from now. What is the point of those savages burning their formerly beautiful capital city?"

Feb 20  The Central African Republic, a former colony of France, is suffering from lack of a strong central government. Young men in Christian militias have found a role for themselves killing Muslims. About a mayor they killed in a nearby village one of them tells BBC News: "Even if he was a good man he was a Muslim." Also: "We don't want any of them to remain in this country." Militiamen speak of revenge for atrocities committed by Muslims. Muslims in the nearby village are afraid and waiting for protection from French troops. In other villages slaughters have occurred. According to Reuters News, "Thousands have died and around 1 million people, a quarter of the country's population, have fled cycles of violence that continue even though there are now 5,000 African and another 1,600 French peacekeeping troops deployed on the ground." Reuters adds that "heavy fighting" erupted yesterday at the country's main airport "as Christian militia tried to block the evacuation of Muslims."

Feb 21  Yesterday in Kiev violent protesters charged against police lines and the police in charge of their ranks allowed their men to fire point blank into the crowd. Seventy-seven are reported as having been killed and as many as 570 injured. Both security forces and rioters were filmed stalking the streets with rifles. Ukrainian authorities report three police as having been killed. Today, after hours of talks mediated by three European Union foreign ministers, President Yanukovich and protest leaders sign an agreement to have early elections by December. BBC News reports that "The deal provides for a national unity government, electoral reform and constitutional changes reducing the president's power."

Feb 21  Al Arabiya reports that "Iran has stepped up support on the ground for President Bashar al-Assad, providing elite teams to gather intelligence and train troops." Deliveries of munitions and equipment from Moscow continues. In a Washington Post column published on the 18th, David Ignatius wrote of a two-day "strategy meeting" with representation from Saudi Arabia, Susan Rice of the United States, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan "and other key regional powers that have been supporting the rebels."

Feb 22  In Kiev, demonstrators occupy the office of President Yanukovich, who is out of town. The opposition demands that elections be held by May. Fear that the military will move to crush the rising in the streets subsides as the military claims that it will not get involved.

Feb 22  In northeast Syria, a local Kurdish unit claims it has defeated and killed around fifty "armed mercenaries" - extremist ISIS and its allies. The fight was at a town on a highway between the cities of Hassaka and Qamishli.

Feb 22  The UN Security Council resolves unanimously that barrel bombing by the Assad regime must stop and that there must be full, unfettered humanitarian access to population centers. It added that If this is not complied with there will be more examination and futher action.

Feb 23  Ukraine's parliament removes Yanukovich from the presidency and frees Yanukovich's oppenent, the former prime minister, Julia Tymoshenko, after her more than two years in prison. She spoke yesterday to a crowd in Kiev, saying that people who had died there are heroes, and "heroes will never die. They will always be with us. They will be our inspiration." She thanked the crowd but said she had no interest in being prime minister again. Yanukovich has fled his palace on a grand estate, where today the public roams. He is in hiding and complains that parliament acted illegally. He is reported as comparing his ouster with Hitler's coup in taking power. (Hitler gained power through legitimate elections and a presidential appointment.) Parliamentarians of Yanukovich's own political party are reported as having voted for his removal on Saturday. According to BBC News one of them says. "Ukraine was betrayed and people were set against each other. Full responsibility for this rests with Yanukovych and his entourage."

Feb 24  This past week, Mercer, a consulting firm, released its ranking of 223 cities based on its Quality of Living survey (not to be confused with its Cost of Living survey). Mercer conducts its survey to help multinational companies and other employers when placing employees on international assignments.The top seven cities are Vienna, Zurich, Auckland (New Zealand), Munich, Vancouver, Düsseldorf, and Frankfurt, in that order. Berlin came in sixteenth, just behind Totonto at 15, ahead of Paris at 27 and ahead of London at 38. San Francisco is the top US city, rated equal to Paris. New York was 43rd. Among the terrible cities: Mexico City 122, Minsk (Belarus) 189, and Baghdad last at 223.

Feb 24  Winter Olympic results has Russia leading medal totals at 33. The US is second at 28 and Norway third at 26. Switzerland has 11 medals, a third of Russia's, but it has around roughly 1/17th Russia's population. Norway has 1/30th Russia's population and has 1/60th the population of the US. Canada won 25 medals, and its population is about 1/9th that of the US. Winter sports are not big in Latin America, and Latin-American countries won nothing. Neither did India. But that other country with an enormous population, farther to the north, China, won 9 medals, almost as many as Switzerland, which has 1/168th China's population.

Feb 25  In Venezuela, protests since early February have left fifteen dead according to activists, thirteen according to the government. The protesters include middle class highschool and college students. Disturbing issues in Venezuela are crime and inflation. Venezuela has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, and Inflation for 2013 is officially 56.2 percent. A professor at John Hopkins University puts that figure at 297 percent. Some blame the inflation on the government trying to prevent or slowdown people sending their money outside the country and trying to shore up Venezuela's currency, the Bolivar. According to BBC News there has been a "shortage of basic food items," and there have been the notorious toilet paper shortages. Another issue has been government violence against peaceful demonstrators, which has escalated the protests. Today's news describes the governor of the western state of Tachira, where the protests began, complaining that deployment of troops to his region is "unacceptable." He accuses those troops of "excessive use of force," and he demands the replacement of the officer in charge. The governor, Jose Gregorio Vielma Mora, is a member of President Maduro's political party, the United Socialist Party of the late Hugo Chavez.

Feb 26  NASA announces the discovery of 715 newly verified planets outside our solar system, discovered by use of the Kepler Space Telescope.

Feb 26   In Uganda, police stop women from marching to protest a law banning the wearing of miniskirts. There have been several incidents over the past week of women in short skirts being publicly harassed and assaulted. It follows a law signed three days ago that provides a penalty of life in prison for a homosexual act. Also signed by President Lokodo is a bill that bans "indecent" dressing. President Lokodo describes himself as an Anglican Christian. Uganda has been listed as 41.9% Catholic and 42% Protestant.

Feb 26  Arizona state senator Al Melvin defends his support for a "religious freedom" bill that would allow businesses to refuse to serve gay customers. He describes religious freedom as under attack in the United States. He says: "All of the pillars of society are under attack in the United States, the traditional family, the family, traditional marriage, the boyscouts, you name it."

Feb 27  Republican Governor Jan Brewer vetoes the bill that would have allowed businesses to turn away gay customers. She cites opposition from big business and says the bill would "create more problems than it purports to solve." BBC News reports that "Business groups warned it would tarnish Arizona's reputation and discourage companies from moving to the state." According to Reuters, Cathi Herrod, who helped draft the bill, complains that "The religious beliefs of all Arizonans must be respected, and this bill did nothing more than affirm that." Somone who calls himself F00 comments:"To be fair, though - if she hadn't, jewish media, not to mention lawyers, would have been up her posterior." He gives verbal support to Hawkeye19 who speaks up for the Arizona legislature, saying "Another temporary win for Satan and his followers." An apparent follower of Satan named Zigo asks about the religious freedom of those who supported slavery based on scripture.

Feb 27  The Obama administration accuses the Syrian government of having detained the relatives of opposition delegates to the Geneva II peace talks. According to BBC News, among those held is Mahmoud Sabra, the brother of the National Coalition's legal adviser Mohammed Sabra. US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki calls on the Assad regime to "unconditionally release all those unfairly arrested."

Feb 28  Columnist Michael Gerson has returned from Syria, and yesterday on the NewsHour he described his conversation with one of the victims of Assad's long standing war not only against an armed opposition but also a war on civilians. The man had been a protester and then had his house targeted by a regime tank, and he lost a 4-year-old daughter, a 6-year-old son and a 15-year-old son lost a leg. Gerson spoke of "a failure of sympathy" and added: "I talked to a lot of the great aid groups over there that are not getting much donor money right now for the Syrian crisis. One told me that they had raised in three months for the Philippines what it had taken three years to raise in the Syrian conflict."

Feb 28  In Syria's north-central city of Raqqa (about 160 kilometres east of Aleppo), al Qaeda-linked Jihadists continue their intimidations, the tactic with which Jihadists are most familiar. The Christians in Raqqa are told either pay a levy in gold and accept curbs on their faith or face death.

March 2014

Mar 1  Yesterday, President Obama announced that he was deeply concerned by reports of Russian military movements inside the Ukraine, and he said that "the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine." This morning, BBC News reports that President Putin has asked parliament to approve the use of troops in the Ukraine. There are reports that Russia already has "some extra 6,000 troops" in the Crimea. Russia says any movements by its military in Crimea are in line with agreements with Ukraine in the lease of the naval base in the port city of Sevastopol. From the street in Kiev comes a cry of "Putin, hands off Ukraine." Comments to Reuters include sarcasm aimed at Obama and his "red line" pronoucements regarding Syria. Someone complains to The Guardian (British) about Obama saying nothing about "armed protesters in Kiev bringing down a democratically elected government." Someone else remembers Hungary in 1956 and expects the Russians to do as they please.

Mar 2  Yesterday, President Putin received unanimous approval from Russia's parliament to send troops to the Ukraine. The reason given was to protect Russian lives now threatened there. Also yesterday, President Obama spoke with Putin by telephone for ninety minutes. He is reported to have warned Putin that if he does not recall Russian troops from the Ukraine, the US may boycott the economic summit in Russia scheduled for June, and he said, in the words of a White House spokesman, that Russia faces "greater political and economic isolation." Someone wisecracks that "Rumor has it that Obama has also threatened to un-friend Putin on Facebook." Someone notices that Putin has been telling the US to stay out of Ukraine while he is complicit in propping up Assad in Syria, accompanied by Obama having little more than sweet talk for Putin. Comments to newspapers aside, many in the US want Obama to keep his cool and not get us into another war. Today on television, Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry was not so cool: He spoke of Russia's "incredible act of aggression." Meanwhile, members of Ukraine's super-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) political party speak of wanting a unified Ukraine, a Ukraine rid of Jews and Russians. They call themselves National Socialists. Russians remember that German invaders called themselves National Socialists. Russians are associating these super-nationalists with Ukrainians who supported the Germans during World War II, and they point to these super-nationalists as having led the violent attacks against the police line in Kiev.

Mar 2  China has a concern that rises from an old imperialism not unlike the origins of Russia's concern regarding the Ukraine. Russia's tsarist empire expanded against Ukrainians followed in the Communist era by Ukraine as part of the USSR and Russians migrating there. The Han Dynasty expanded westward to Xinjiang around 2000 years ago, and today Xinjiang has people who resent the ethnic Han Chinese and want the independence that some ethnic Ukrainians want. Yesterday a group dressed in black attacked people in a train station in the city of Kunming in south central China. Chinese officials report that 29 people were murdered and 130 wounded, and they describe the attackers as separatists from the Xinjiang region.

Mar 3  in the Ulghur community in the city of Kunming someone complains to a Reuters reporter: "I alone have already been checked three times. The police point their guns at us. We don't know what really happened." Ulghurs are the major ethnicity in Xinjiang province, hundreds of miles from the city of Kunming, in Yunnan province.

Mar 3  Early today, Russia responded to the West by saying its troops are staying in the Ukraine to protect Russian lives and interests. By noon Eastern Standard Time, BBC News was reporting that Russia had de facto control over the Crimea. And, according to Ukrainian sources, the Russians have given Ukraine's forces there until dawn tomorrow to surrender or face an assault. The Russian stockmarket has plunged 11.5 percent and Russia's ruble has declined in value. In the US, some are describing Putin as a despot hurting himself with a mistake that doesn't require any threats of military action by President Obama.

Mar 4  Chancellor Merkel is reported as having told President Obama yesterday that President Putin is "in another world." Some interpret this as Putin believing that the US and EU are making trouble in the Ukraine (like he believes they are in Syria), and they see Putin's "other world" as including exaggeration of the threat from Ukraine's super-nationalists. That exaggeration has been extended by Russia's ambassador to the UN that Nazi sympathizers had taken power in Kiev. Meanwhile, some in the US claim that Putin wants the glory of leading another Russian Empire, and others believe this a wild exaggeration. This morning, however, Putin is easing tensions. The supposed ultimatum and threat of action that Russia was reported to have issued yesterday has been described by the Russians as false. Today Putin says force will be used only as a "last resort," and he describes those who besieged the Ukrainian base in Crimea as the Ukraine's pro-Russian "self-defense" forces.

Mar 5  Yesterday President Obama announced his budget for fiscal 2015, which begins on October 1. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the president of being political. He said: "The president has once again opted for the political stunt for a budget that's more about firing up the base in an election year than about solving the nation's biggest and most persistent long-term challenges." His Republican colleague in the House, Paul Ryan, added: "This isn't a serious document; it's a campaign brochure."

Mar 5  A survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reports that about one-third of women in the European Unions have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. Of the 42,000 interviewed the highest percentage of stated incidences occurred in Denmark with 52 percent of the women interviewed. Finland was next with 47 percent, and then Sweden with 46 percent. Britain and France came in at 44 percent. Poland was the lowest, at 19 percent. A male comments to the Copenhagen Post: "Maybe now we can finally drop the violent macho chauvinist stereotype southerners have? Seems to me it is much worse up here." A woman responds: "Nah, except they've already dansplained [sic] the numbers by claiming Danes are more open to discussing this issue, which explains the higher numbers reported. Nothing to do with the drinking culture, nope, can't have that!"

Mar 6  Early today, Crimea's parliament voted unanimously to make the Crimea a part of Russia. It appears that opinion among people in the Crimea, largely ethnic Russians, favors the move. The government in Kiev condemns as illegal any move to set up a referendum in the Crimea on the issue. It appears to want to rule in the Crimea despite opinion there, raising the old issue of the right to secede if people want it. The US is throwing its support to the new government in Kiev, and it joins Kiev in its condemnations. President Obama says a Crimea referendum would "violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law." Someone comments: "Ukraine would be better off without the Crimea - otherwise Ukraine will be doomed to permanent instability and will have to expend resources that could be better applied elsewhere on maintaining control of a region that doesn't want to be part of it." Someone describes Putin as a new Stalin, and a contrarian writes: "Ukraine. Hands off Crimea!" Another writes: "So one illegitimate government is telling another illegitimate government that they cannot hold a referendum. Forget about Crimea, it is joining Russia and there is nothing that can be done about it, END OF STORY!"

Mar 7  Donald Trump spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) yesterday and described Putin as "toying with Obama." He said that without the Crimea the Ukraine "will fall" because it's in the Crimea where "all the money is." He blamed our problems abroad on there being "no respect any longer for our great country." He described his audience as people "who wanna see this country be great again" and as "people who love this country." Regarding elections this year he predicted that "we're going to win the Senate." He spoke of building the "most luxurious hotel in the world" near the White House. He boasted that the Chinese in China, where he does business, love him, and he said also that the Chinese were taking advantage of US weakness and lack of leadership and that the US was becoming a "third world country." It was a meandering speech that included his prediction that economic disaster would follow the presidential elections in 2016. He complained that Iran was now "getting Iraq's oil" and reminded everybody of his belief that some of that oil should have been taken by the United States, saying "to the victors go the spoils." At the end of his speech his audience showed their appreciation for his concerns and analyses by giving him a standing ovation.

Mar 7  The conservative columnist Michael Gerson, in today's Washington Post, writes that President Obama's foreign policy does have a theory. Obama, he writes, "believes that as US power retreats from the world, a variety of good things will fill the vacuum. Allies and international institutions will take more responsibility. The United States will be better able to promote liberal norms, unburdened by discrediting military power."

Mar 8  Saudi Arabia bans the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi Hezbollah movement, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen - effective today. Arab News (in Saudi Arabia) describes the ban as including also "organizations that have similar ideologies and known for their terrorist and violent behavior; and are on the lists of the UN Security Council and other international organizations." Saudi citizens and expatriates are warned not to get involved with organizations that promote extremist views. According to BBC News, the kingdom is giving "Saudis fighting in Syria 15 days to return." According to Arab News, "The Kingdom has also banned participating in and promoting sit-ins, demonstrations, gatherings, and statements for any cause or activity that would threaten the unity and stability of the Kingdom."

Mar 9  People have been acting out their nationalistic fervor not so much in the three-day annual conservative convention that ended yesterday in the US but in the Crimea, where circumstances are stimulating a greater patriotic passion. Ethnic Russians there beat up and drove away a gathering of Ukrainians, many of them middle-age women, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Ukrainian poet and national hero Taras Shevchenko. The Russians also have a dislike for the media and have been attacking journalists. About 75 percent of the population in the Crimea are ethnic Russians, and the question looms as to what their government would be like should they take power, backed by Russia. Some in the Crimea are not waiting to find out and are leaving with their families for elsewhere in the Ukraine.

Mar 10  Germany's Chancellor Merkel tells Russia's Putin that the move to make Crimea a part of Russia is illegal and violates Ukraine's constitution. Meanwhile, Putin condemns "lawlessness" in eastern Ukraine and blames it on far-right militants there "conniving" with people holding power in Kiev. This brings to mind the accuracy of Putin's descriptions of Syria's problem.

Mar 10  Japan has a declining economic growth figure for October to December: an annual rate of 0.7 percent, down from 1.0 percent. Also of concern is Japan's public debt at 226 percent of GDP for 2013, ahead of second place Zimbabwe at 202 percent and Greece at 175 percent. (US public debt is at 71.8 percent and Britain's at 91 percent of GDP.) As a move against its debt, Japan's Prime Minister Abe, a conservative, is increasing sales taxes.

Mar 11  Yesterday, Britain's tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail reported Amnesty International's claim that in the Yarmouk district of Damascus Assad's forces are "starving civilians to death," with residents forced to eat cats and dogs. A woman from Glasgow comments: "Not our war, let them sort it out themselves."

Mar 11  The Kingdom of Jordan, a country with water limits, no oil exports and a population of 6.5 million, is providing for more than 1.25 million refugees from Syria, who have been pouring into the country at a rate of something like 400 per day. Observers are describing the situation as unsustainable. And some are describing the policy of Western countries, including the Obama administration, regarding Syria as floundering.

Mar 12  The Norway Post brags that Norway is the best country among industrialized nations for working women. It cites the British magazine the Economist, which on International Women's Day (March 8) published a "glass ceiling index." According to the Economist it "combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs." Sweden ranks 2nd on the list, Finland 3rd and Poland 4th. The United States is 17th, just after Australia and just ahead of Germany. At the bottom are Switzerland 25th, Japan 26th and South Korea 27th. Someone comments: "How boring."

Mar 13  In India, Ashutosh Mahara, guru and founder of the Divine Light Awakening Mission, which claims 30 million followers, was pronounced dead by doctors on January 29th. His followers have put his body in a freezer expecting him to come back to life. "He is not dead," a spokesman told BBC News. "Medical science does not understand things like yogic science. We will wait and watch. We are confident that he will come back." The spokesman described the guru as in a state of samadhi, which is the highest plane of meditation. Comments to India's Hindustan Times were largely negative, the first reading: "Totally is duty and responsibility of govt to cremate the body asap and send his followers to mental hospital."

Mar 13  In Israel, following protests by hundreds of thousands earlier this month, parliament votes 65 to 1 for legislation that ends exemptions from military service for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students. According to BBC News, a Member of Parliament representing the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party says "We understand there is a need to participate in things, but there is also a great duty of the people of Israel to study Torah."

Mar 14  Putin's popularity in Russia has reached 71.6 percent, a 9.7 percent increase since mid-February, according to a poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center. This is while Putin is reported as viewing the overthrow of Yanukovich in Kiev as masterminded by the West, parallel with his blaming the West while supporting the murderous Assad regime in Syria. Putin's view of the West appears at least a shade of what it probably was when he was a KGB agent for the Soviet Union. To the writer Anne Applebaum, Putin appears to believe his own propaganda. And he is taking some of the Russian public with him.

Mar 15  Three years ago today in the Syrian city of Daraa, arrests and mistreatment of at least 15 children for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of a school gave rise to outrage and protest. Government reactions to protests would create more outrage. Ten days later the death toll from shooting protesters in Deraa was reported as at least six people. On March 30, 2011, Assad told Syria's parliament that the protests were a foreign plot and the protesters were "dupes," and he vowed to defeat the plot. Today (March 15, 2014), Alarabiya writes: "Across the world, charities and activist groups have marked the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria... Participants in the cities of Melbourne, London and Washington DC, among other cities, have held candlelit vigils to mark the day [March 15] and remember victims of the three-year crisis.

Mar 17  Yesterday's referendum in Crimea goes 97 percent in favor of seceding from the Ukraine. A leading anchor on Russia's state television, Dmitry Kiselyov, reminds his audience that "Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash." He adds, "Americans themselves consider Putin to be a stronger leader than Obama." He asks: "Why is Obama phoning Putin all the time and talking to him for hours on end?" Someone comments to Yahoo News that "this guy is psycho." Someone else says, "If Crimea wants to be a part of Russia then go ahead. Let the rest of the Country be free and a part of the EU."

Mar 17  The Madero regime in Venezuela is blaming the US for the anti-government protests that have killed 28 people during the past month. The US responds, claiming that Venezuela is using the US as a scapegoat for its internal problems. President Madero warns that he could send his forces to dislodge opposition protesters and urges the US to discuss "peace and sovereignty" in a high level commission mediated by the Union of South American Nations.

Mar 18  President Putin signs a treaty with Crimea that joins Crimea to Russia. He says,"In the hearts and minds of people, Crimea has always been and remains an inseparable part of Russia." His speech to parliament is punctuated by standing ovations and cheers. To people massed in Moscow's Red Square he says, "Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to... their home shores, to their home port, to Russia!" He shouts "Glory to Russia" as the crowds chant "Putin, Putin, Putin." Crowds in Crimea join in the cheering, and there are tears. Putin declares that Russia is not interested in taking any part of what is left of the Ukraine - where ethnic Russians also reside.

Mar 19  Today, Israel sent its airforce against Syrian military units involved in an attack yesterday on an Israeli patrol in the Golan Heights. The Israeli military says its targets included a headquarters, a training facility and artillery batteries. Syria's Assad regime says one soldier was killed and seven were wounded. No damage is reported regarding Israel's attacking force. In Israel's attack, the Assad regime sees a motive other than self-defense. It states: "This new aggression is an attempt to divert attention from the successive victories achieved by the Syrian Arab Army, particularly in Yabroud." The Assad regime warns that Israel's attacks endanger regional stability. Someone comments: "Regional stability. Just like they have in Syria. LOL"

Mar 20  Regarding Russia's annexation of Crimea, Vice President Joe Biden, in Lithuania yesterday, announced that "As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation." In Poland yesterday, Biden described Putin's move as a "land grab." President Obama imposed sanctions on 11 Russian and Ukrainian officials two days ago, and yesterday he said that the US will put diplomatic pressure on Russia to loosen its grip on the Crimea region. Today, public opinion in the US appears divided. Some writing to journals believe the Obama administration has been making foolish pronouncements and ought to just shut up. A few anti-imperialists accuse the US of violations against sovereignty equal to or worse than what Russia is doing in Crimea. Others express fear that Putin is on the march and Obama is responding with weakness. And some believe Obama is playing it right. Comments to journals aren't accurate opinion distribution indicators. Gallup is better and has Obama's approval rating between March 16th and 19th at 45 percent, up from a recent low at 39 percent between the 12th and 14th. Judging from news coverage, opinion in Crimea is overwhelmingly favorable to President Putin and in Russia a large majority is favorable.

Mar 22  The Obama administration and the EU are imposing sanctions on Russia while President Putin is not expected in the near future to humiliate himself in the eyes of his public by backing down. Putin in his speech to the Russian nation says he is not interested in territory beyond Crimea, but President Obama says he has signed a new executive order that clears the way for more sanctions should Putin's military make moves beyond Crimea and into southern and eastern Ukraine. Germany's coordinator for relations with Russia, Gernot Erler, says US sanctions on Russsia are counterproductive and probably won't make Putin bow to Western demands concerning the Ukraine. The motive for Obama's sanctions appears to be to make Putin pay a price for what he has done and deter him from taking more. The question looms as to what will be accomplished by Putin paying a price that he can and will ignore. At least a few in the US see the president as motivated by the need to appear to be doing something other than just gape. Someone comments to the Wall Street Journal: "Sanctions hurt everyone and benefit those who sell under the curtain. An opportunity here for the ambitious." Someone else: "A battle of sanctions will hurt the USA much worse than it will hurt Russia."

Mar 24  Talk of sanctions cause worry among the Europeans. Germans are worried about their energy security and German businesses are concerned about their exports to Russia. So too are the more than 200 Danish companies that sell goods to the Russians. France's cosmetics industry and French and Italian banking fear losses. The German newspaper Die Welt (The World) writes that "EU members in South-Eastern Europe, with the exception of Romania, have warned against approving European [sanctions], explaining their industry and tourism would be hit hard." Poland does less business with Russia than do the Germans and Italians, and they support sanctions, but the Slovaks (who also were once a part of the Soviet bloc) are concerned about their car industry and their economy in general. Russians are    also worried. USA Today writes that "Sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle won't affect him, experts here say, but average Russians believe it is they who will feel the brunt of the economic penalties."

Mar 25  Human Rights Watch writes of Egypt's "sham trial" and 529 "shocking death sentences" for supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, people charged with having killed a police officer, attempted to kill two others, attacking a police station and other acts of violence. HRW describes the trial as "lacking due process protections." HRW continues: "The March 22, 2014, trial, in which the vast majority of defendants were tried in absentia, took place in under an hour. The prosecution did not put forward evidence implicating any individual defendant, even though it had compiled significant evidence during its investigations, and the court prevented defense lawyers from presenting their case or calling witnesses, three of the defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch. A second summary session was held two days later soley to announce the verdict... This trial is just one of dozens of mass trials taking place every day across Egypt, riddled with serious due process violations and resulting in outrageous sentences that represent serious miscarriages of justice."

Mar 27  In a speech in Belgium yesterday, Obama described Crimea becoming a part of Russia as a return to the old notion that European borders could be "redrawn with force." About the possibility of Russia taking more of the Ukraine he said he was against allowing "the old way of doing things to regain a foothold in this young century." Also yesterday, a former US president, Jimmy Carter, said on the News Hour: " I never have thought that anything could have deterred Putin from taking over Crimea. No matter what the Western world had done, he would still have done this, because Russians have always considered Crimea to be part of theirs. And, as you know, a majority of the Crimeans wanted to be part of Russia, so that was inevitable... But I think now he has to be stopped and prevented from taking any further military action. And I don't really think he's going to. I may be wrong, but I don't think he's going to." Meanwhile, Henry Kissinger has written: "The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country. Russian history began in what was called Kievan-Rus. The Russian religion spread from there. Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries, and their histories were intertwined before then. Some of the most important battles for Russian freedom, starting with the Battle of Poltava in 1709, were fought on Ukrainian soil."

Mar 28  President Obama is in Saudi Arabia today, and it is reported that changes regarding what to do about Syria will be discussed, including an increase in support for moderate anti-Assad forces and combating Islamic extremists. Meanwhile, the privately owned English language Saudi newspaper, Arab News, reports that "The Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Endowment and Guidance has urged preachers to keep their Friday sermons short and concise and is considering taking legal action against preachers who discuss controversial topics" - a likely reference to the Islamic fundamentalism that these days offends the Saudi monarchy. The paper describes complaints from worshippers that sermons are unnecessarily long, and it describes a ministry source as saying that "Boring sermons make worshippers inattentive and defeat the purpose of attracting people to faith."

Mar 30  GM Watch reports that Brazil's public prosecutor is seeking to suspend the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup. A recent study suggests glyphosate may be linked to a fatal kidney disease that has affected poor farming regions worldwide.

Mar 30  Across Turkey voting in municipal elections ends. Aljazeera reports "eight people being killed in fights between groups supporting rival candidates." Prime Minister Erdogan has been crisscrossing Turkey, campaigning for those who support him. According to Reuters, a vote of more than 45 percent for his side "could feed his authoritarian instincts." In recent days his government has put bans on Twitter and YouTube. At a rally in Istanbul, Erdogan ended his campaigning saying of his opponents: "They are all traitors ... Go to the ballot box tomorrow and teach all of them a lesson ... Let's give them an Ottoman slap." Erdogan is leader of the center-right, socially conservative, Islamic, Justice and Development Party, which has portrayed itself as pro-Western and pro-American.

Mar 31  Prime Minister Erdogan claims triumph. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) is said to have received 45.6 percent of the votes and the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, the secularist Kemalist party, 27.9 percent. Aljazeera reports Erdogan as having said he would "enter the lair of his enemies and make them 'pay the price' for plotting his downfall." Someone comments: "Go Erdoğan make them pay, congratulations! Congratulations! Good on you turkey." Someone who calls himself BS Spotter comments: "'Make them pay'......A real democrat, are you?" A third comments: This is just blessing of Allah on Turkey that the nation has chosen a leader like Erdogan, now he along with his team should day and night work for the dignity of Muslims."

April 2014

Apr  1 The regime in Kiev, Ukraine, condemns the visit of Russia's prime minister, Medvedev to Crimea. Medvedev was greeted warmly by those who recently voted themselves into Russian citizenship, and Medvedev promised them economic benefits, while an imposition of austerity is expected from the West and the International Monetary Fund for the Ukraine. Putin has backed his claim that he does not intend to grab any more Ukrainian territory by a telephone call to Germany's Chancellor Merkel, telling her he is moving troops away from the border between Ukraine and Crimea. The regime in Kiev is unimpressed and is making no apparent effort to improve relations with Russia for the sake of stability and the economy. Ukraine's economy has suffered since its break from the Soviet Union. Many of Ukraine's industries are energy-inefficient and heavily dependent on imports of Russian gas. Its dispute with Russia is raising its energy prices. The US Congress has passed a $1 billion aid package for Ukraine. Ron Paul, retired Congressman but still political, describes the aid package as "a rip-off for the America taxpayer" and "also a bad deal for Ukrainians." He adds, "Not a single needy Ukrainian will see a penny of this money, as it will be used to bail out international banks who hold Ukrainian government debt." President Obama is expected to sign the bill soon and to say otherwise.

Apr 2  NATO Secretary General Rasmussen (from Denmark) says "there can be no business as usual with Russia." BBC News reports that NATO foreign ministers have agreed "to suspend all practical civilian and military co-operation with Russia." The Guardian writes that "Two decades on from the end of the cold war, NATO governments returned last night to their core mission of protecting Europe from Russia." The Guardian adds: "While Barack Obama has declared that NATO must respond to the Russian force with 'strength and conviction', there is a sense among NATO diplomats that the Kremlin's strategy has reinforced NATO's raison d'être, boosting the arguments for its continued existence against regular calls for its dissolution as a cold war relic." CNN online at 2:18 PM EST has a huge headline: "It could happen in 12 hours." Referring to Ukraine's border, the subheading reads: "NATO warns about Russia's 'massive' buildup." The first of over 6000 comments to CNN's article includes the line, "I'm getting sick of all this crap."

Apr 3  AlJazeera writes: "Hundreds of Cambodian garment workers faint... Garment makers have often complained of poor ventilation, strong chemicals and the use of potent glue for footwear, although official investigations in recent years have been largely inconclusive."

Apr 3  According to the independent Moscow Times, polls show widespread support among Russians for the government's annexation of Crimea. But "not everyone in the country views the move as positive - and some see it as the last straw." Some of them are making plans to leave Russia "in pursuit of a better life abroad... Germany and Poland were the most popular destinations for Russian asylum seekers. According to the a UN report, Russia was second, after Syria, in citizens asking for safe haven. The Moscow Times mentions of businesses moving out of Russia, Russia losing its "best professionals" and a looming economic crisis. Russia's economic growth, by the way, has been exceeding that of European Union. The CIA's World Factbook lists its growth for 2011 at 4.3 percent and 2012 at 3.4 percent. Its growth between1998 and 2008 averaged 7 percent. According to the Factbook: "Slowly declining oil prices over the past few years and difficulty attracting foreign direct investment have contributed to a noticeable slowdown in GDP growth rates." The Factbook writes: "In late 2013, the Russian Economic Development Ministry reduced its growth forecast through 2030 to an average of only 2.5% per year, down from its previous forecast of 4.0 to 4.2%.

Apr 4  Climate change within the next five to ten years will lead to battles over water and food, says Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank and former Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The journalist Gwenne Dyer has a similar opinion. He reports "the real message" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report on the impact of warming on human beings, released this week, is: "If you want to go on eating regularly in a rapidly warming world, then live in a place that's either high in latitude or high in altitude. Alternatively, be rich, because the rich never starve. But otherwise, prepare to be hungry."

Apr 4  The two-week-old ban on twitter is a breach of freedom of expression and must be lifted, says Turkey's Constitutional Court. BBC News describes Prime Minister Erdogan has having vowed to 'wipe out' twitter and today as being upset by the court's ruling.

Apr 5  US Secretary of State John Kerry keeps trying to resolve conflicts. In the Washington Post an Obama administration antagonist, Charles Krauthammer, writes: "First, John Kerry convenes - against all advice and holding no cards - Geneva negotiations to resolve the Syria conflict and supposedly remove Bashar al-Assad from power. The talks collapse in acrimony and confusion. Kerry's response? A second Geneva conference that - surprise! - breaks up in acrimony and confusion. Then, even as Russian special forces are taking over Crimea, Kerry goes chasing after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov - first to Paris, then Rome, then London - offering a diplomatic 'offramp.' Lavrov shrugs him off. Russia annexes Crimea." Krauthammer ends by pointing to failing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. A comment to the Post defends Kerry, saying: "To not engage is to be totally irresponsible."

Apr 6  About the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks: "John Kerry was chomping on a very green banana here, and it's no surprise that he ends up with indigestion. It was predictable from the start ... " (Brett Stephens on Zakaria's GPS)

Apr 6  An estimated 60 percent of Afghanistan's eligible voters cast their ballots across the country in a presidential race yesterday. One-third of the 7 million voters were women. Afghan and Western officials view this as a success. With Afghanistan's rough terrain and infrastructure, ballot counting is expected to take weeks. The Taliban is described as having vowed to disrupt the elections, and now they appear ineffective. And what might the ineffective do? Today a roadside bomb killed two Afghan election workers and one policeman and destroyed dozens of ballot papers, while joy associated with the election continues

Apr 7  China announces more government spending to stimulate its economy, despite high levels of debt from previous borrowing. Rails, roads and social housing are planned. The stimulus of 2009 was paid for with credit. "This time," writes Linda Yueh of BBC News, "the central government is borrowing from the bond market, which is more the way market economies would do it.".

Apr 7  Yesterday, at a rally of "tens of thousands" just outside Bangkok, supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck reminded their fellow Thais of their presence. The leading speaker for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) complained that judicial institutions were trying to take power without elections. He said he didn't want a civil war but that "it will happen if there is a coup and democracy is stolen." Meanwhile, anti-government protesters continue their demonstrations in Bangkok's central Lumpini Park. BBC News reports that "Ms Yingluck's party has won the last five elections, but her opponents argue that Thailand's democracy is so deeply flawed that it must be reformed before another election can be held."

Apr 8  The Supreme Court in the Philippines approves a birth control law opposed by the Catholic Church. The law was passed in December 2012, with President Benigno Aquino defying pressures against it. This was followed by church groups challenging the law's constitutionality. The law requires government health centers to distribute free condoms and contraceptive pills. According to BBC News, "Sex education will also be compulsory in schools and public health workers will be required to receive family planning training. There will also be medical care for women who have had illegal abortions."

Apr 9  Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia was fueling separatist unrest in Eastern Ukraine that could be a "contrived crisis" to justify Russia taking over more of the Ukraine. The unrest he was referring to is the occupation of buildings in Eastern Ukraine by ethnic Russians who want the advantages of being a part of Russia that were won by their neighbors, the majority ethnic Russians in Crimea. Kerry said nothing about ethnic Russians expressing real feelings free of puppet strings connected to Putin in the Kremlin, and Kerry wasn't addressing the possibility that Putin could be playing the Ukraine crisis by ear rather than following a plan to expand who knows how far westward. Someone who also thinks of events as planned evils and was reading about the crisis in Ukraine commented to Reuters News that "NATO wants total control over Ukraine [and] that is why they are quick to whine and blame Russia." Also yesterday, Senator John McCain accused Kerry to his face of speaking loudly and carrying a twig, a play on Teddy Roosevelt's speak softly but carry a big stick. Kerry, of course, had a loud reply.

Apr 9  Today, David Ignatius in the Washington Post describes NATO as an irrelevant force regarding Russia's plans because of Putin stealing the "CIA's playbook," using "paramilitary 'covert action' rather than conventional military force." Someone responds with a comment to the Post: "Actually, Putin has read Hitler's playbook and is following it exactly. Crack the books to read how Hitler slipped the noose over Austria, Czechoslovakia, Danzig and Poland in the late '30s."

Apr 10  Since 2010, Greeks have lost about a third of their disposable income. Unemployment remains close to 28 percent. In recent weeks, the Greek parliament passed more austerity measures, including laying off 11,000 public sector workers in exchange for another installment of bailout money to keep the government functioning. The bailouts are from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union, granted on condition that Greece cut spending and increase taxes - austerity measures. Greece has a "junk" credit rating, but today, BBC News reports of Greece's return "to the capital markets for the first time since its economy nearly collapsed in 2010." In other words, Greece has put its debt up for sale in the form of bonds. And to attract investors the bonds begin with a 5 to 5.25 percent annual yield. The sale has found 550 investors who believe its an okay investment. Yesterday, some who felt not okay marched on parliament, protesting job and spending cuts. According to BBC News, more than 20,000 people marched through the streets of Athens chanting 'EU, IMF take the bailout and get out of here!'

Apr 11  German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Athens, described by Reuters as "a symbolic visit to mark the economic rehabilitation of a nation that over the past four years has threatened the stability of Europe and its single currency." She speaks of a new fund to finance small companies and says, "I believe that Greece has more opportunities than difficulties ahead of it." Protests in central Athens were banned and police were deployed in great number.

Apr 13  News out of Berlin describes Germans as opposed to sanctions against Russia. Stephen Evans writes in BBC News that former chancellor Helmut Schmidt is of "the go easy on Russia" school and that Schmidt thinks sanctions are 'nonsense.' Former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder feels the same, writes Evans, and Evans points out that Schroeder is "chairman of the board of Nordstream, owned by Gazprom, the Russian energy company currently in dispute with Ukraine." Evans adds that "a string of very powerful German businessmen are lining up to say how important Russia is, from the boss of Siemens, often pictured with President Putin, to the chief executives of Adidas and of the steel giant Thyssen Krupp."

Apr 14  Kiev has declared an ultimatum that pro-Russian separatists end their occupation of government buildings in eastern Ukraine or face a military crackdown. The deadline was early this morning Kiev time. It's now 6 PM Kiev time. The separatists are ignoring the ultimatum and have occupied more buildings and attacked a police station, and they are calling to Putin for help. The US is accusing Moscow of being the force behind the actions of the separatists. It sees among separatists (ethnic Russians) men wearing matching military uniforms responding to orders from a commander. NATO, a military organization, tries to be significant by warning Russia of more severe sanctions. The question remains whether Kiev will attack or be seen as bluffing. If Kiev attacks, will Moscow move its regular forces into eastern Ukraine and confront Kiev's forces? Would this be part of Putin's "game plan" as some of Putin's detractors allege?

Apr 15  Late yesterday Putin called Obama. A US White House official said that Obama "expressed grave concern about Russian government support for the actions of armed, pro-Russian separatists who threaten to undermine and destabilize the government of Ukraine." Putin has been described as telling Obama that accusations against Russia are "based on inaccurate information," and Putin blamed "current Ukrainian authorities" for "their unwillingness and inability to take into account the interests of the Russian and Russian-speaking population." This afternoon, Kiev time, Reuters reports that Ukraine Interim President Turchinov has described his military operation as having started in the eastern Donetsk region, but that it will happen in stages 'in a considered way.' Turchinov calls it an "anti-terror" action. Russia is reported as responding with the declaration that Ukraine is on "the brink of civil war."

Apr 16  President Turchinov holds back his military assault - armored units and aircraft. Yesterday there was a minor move that secured control of an airfield from the pro-Russian separatists, distant from the buildings that they were occupying. Today, some of Turchinov's troops entered the town of Kramatorsk and allowed themselves to be blocked by pro-Russian civilians. Apparently at least a few of Turchinov's soldiers went over to the side of the pro-Russians. Reuters writes of the pro-Russians moving around on Turchinov's troop carriers and stopping by a town hall occupied by the pro-Russians, to the cheers of "some people" and a call of "well done."

Apr 17  The bulk of Ukraine's military has remained in a posturing mode. Yesterday its fighter jets and helicopters made an appearance by buzzing pro-Russian separatists. Unintimidated pro-Russians attacked a National Guard base last night, and the Ukraine government reports that three of them were killed. In Russia, Putin had a televised questions and answers call-in program with the Russian public. He described Kiev's threats of force as "another very grave crime by Kiev's current leaders." He said that he has "a right" to send troops into Ukraine but that he hopes he will "not have to exercise that right." Later today, following a meeting of ministers at Geneva, including John Kerry, Russia's Sergei Lavrov, Kiev's foregin minister, and the EU's Catherine Ashton, an agreement was announced. Acccording to BBC News, "... all illegal military formations in Ukraine must be dissolved ... everyone occupying buildings must be disarmed and leave them ... there would be an amnesty for all anti-government protesters." These steps are to be overseen by monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Lavrov added, according to BBC News, that "the crisis must be settled by Ukrainians themselves and there must be long-term constitutional reforms."

Apr 18  China is reported as doing better than predicted. The slowdown from an annual 7.7 percent growth rate in GDP to 7.4 percent for the first three months of this year is described by the BBC's Linda Yueh as "due to the government rebalancing the economy, shifting away from credit-fuelled investment and towards more consumption supported by income." Rural income has risen from 10.1 percent from a year ago. Urban incomes have increased by 7.2 percent. Retail sales are growing at 12.2 percent. The growth in consumption isn't due just to debt, writes Yueh, " investment is what the Chinese government is trying to move away from, particularly in the housing market."

Apr 19  Incompetence is common, but in the transportation industry it makes the news because of death and injury. In January the Costa Concordia sank, 32 lives were lost and the captain was arrested. In July 2013 in Spain, 79 were killed when the driver of a passenger train was distracted and going much too fast for the curve he was entering. In March 2014 the driver of a small passenger train at O'Hare airport in Chicago dozed off and 32 were injured. She was fired in early April. Three days ago, the captain of a Korean-owned ferry sank. An inexperienced 25-year-old junior officer was at the helm. Faulty instructions were given to passengers to be calm and stay put. These were largely high school kids. The captain abandoned ship immediately. Some 174 passengers sensed that they should get out, and they were rescued. Another 256 are still missing. The captain has been arrested, and some are wondering what happened to the tradition of captains of ships at sea staying with their ship and attending to their responsibilities. Today the Korean Times writes that the company that owns the ferry, Chonghaejin Marine, "has been in marine accidents involving engine trouble and collisions every two to three years in the recent past."

Apr 22  Ukraine remains polarized. Its Russians still hold seized buildings in nine eastern and southern Ukrainian towns, and they see their occupations as legitimate, as representing the will of their communities. Today they have had funerals for three of their number killed two days ago at one of their checkpoints. Also, today, US Vice President Joe Biden is in Kiev, and at a press conference he speaks to those hostile to the Russians and says "We stand with you," and he announces an additional $50 million more in US aid. He says that Russia "must stop talking and start acting." He speaks of the US ready to help Ukraine's leaders to generate a united Ukraine, and he urges Russia to end its support for pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine. Russia, meanwhile, appears to favor federalization for what remains of Ukraine, and one comment to BBC News seems to agree with this position, calling for "self-determination for all." Some in their comments follow the tendency to ignore the internal nature of a conflict and emphasize instead on the evils of outside actors (as have the Putin and Assad regimes regarding Syria). A blogger for a state-owned Russian paper Russia Beyond The Headlines, Kim Palchikoff, reminds us that Russian culture was into humor during the Cold War. She writes that during the current crisis she misses the Russian comic from those days, Yuri Nikulin.

Apr 23  The regime in Kiev announces the relaunch of its "security operation" for "the liquidation of illegal armed groups" in the east of the country. Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov accuses the US of "running the show" in Ukraine. He says that Russia will respond if its interests in Ukraine are attacked. Yesterday in Russia, Prime Minister Medvedev spoke of preparations against a wave of sanctions from the West. This, he said, would include new partners to diversify its hydrocarbon exports. According to the Moscow Times he said that "full economic isolation from the West would not be lethal for Russia."

Apr 24  Today, Assad regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs in Aleppo on what is being described as a vegetable market, the bombs said to have killed 24. Yesterday, ABC News reported that the US is investigating the claim that chlorine gas was used in attacks on towns in Syria on April 11 and 12. The Assad regime denies its military has done this, but the Assad regime alone is seen as having the means of carrying and delivering such weapons - namely helicopters. writes today that Russia and Iran agree with the Assad regime that victory is possible. It writes that "Iranian media and officials are now openly declaring this as fact," while the Assad regime has claimed that the main fighting in Syria will end this year.

Apr 25  Rhetoric by officials regarding the crisis in Ukraine grows more inflated. The Ukraine prime minister yesterday sent troops against those who dislike his regime, and today he says today that Russia "wants to start World War III." Russia's foreign minister, Lavrov, accuses the West of wanting to "seize" the Ukraine, and he describes Kiev's attacks on separatists as waging "war on their own people". He adds, "This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice." Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, accuses Russia of "distraction, deception and destabilization" in eastern Ukraine, and according to BBC News he praised the authorities in Kiev, "saying they had honoured the agreement struck in Geneva to de-escalate the crisis." BBC News says that Kiev's raids on separatist checkpoints yesterday "left at least two separatists dead."

Apr 26  Yulia Tymoshenko describes the extraordinary prison torment and the trumped up charges against her by her political opponent, Viktor Yanokovich, published today in the Washington Post, an article by Lally Weymouth. Tymoshenko is running for President of the Ukraine and describes her goal as separating the separatists from the Russian military units. She wants a level of local autonomy but also a united Ukraine. She thinks "sanctions must be strong enough to threaten the economic and financial stability of Russia," and she says: "I have the impression that this is the level of sanctions for which the Western world is not ready. It seems to me that both the United States and the EU underestimate the real threat of this situation."

Apr 26  China's government is trying to put a lid on the distribution of sexually explicit literature. One of China's leading online companies, Sina, has had some of its "erotic" e-books censored. The Washington Post writes that "This high-profile case appears to be part of a broader campaign to crack down on pornography and other unsavory behavior." The government titles the crackdown as "Cleaning the Web." According to official state reports, China has shut down 110 websites and 3,300 social media accounts since mid-April, when the crackdown began. In recent years, China has been liberalizing sexually. In 2001 the Chinese ended labelling homosexuality as a mental disorder, which included electric shock therapy. Homosexuality was frowned upon beginning with the 1912 revolution when the revolution's leaders associated it with the decadent lifestyle of China's elite. Today, Shanghai has an open gay and lesbian community with an annual parade that began in 2009.

Apr 28  Two days ago Israel dropped its agreement to plan for peace talks with Palestinians. This followed the declared unity between the Western backed President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas, labelled by the US and Israel as a terrorist organization. Secretary of State John Kerry has phoned Abbas and expressed disappointment with the alliance. Hamas governs the Gaza Strip. It has been aided with funds from Iran and Egypt's Muslim brotherhood. Israelis quote Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Apr 30  Masked gunmen and pro-Russian separatists take control of more buildings in eastern Ukraine. In Kiev, President Olexander Turchynov admits that his forces in the east are "helpless." He complains that "some of these units either aid or co-operate with terrorist groups." Reuters reports that "Ukraine's acting president demanded the dismissal on Tuesday of police chiefs in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, saying much of the police in the east of the country had proven incapable of fulfilling their duties." Secretary of State John Kerry accuses Moscow of accelerating the crisis in Ukraine, as if Putin is controlling events there.

May 2014

May  1  Hundreds of protesters, most of them women, have been marching through the Nigerian capital, Abuja, calling for the release of schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants two weeks ago. The militants are Boko Haram, who oppose Western education and have staged attacks in northern Nigeria in recent years. The government has troops deployed in the main cities of the north. Civilian defense forces have also been putting pressure on Boko Haram, and Boko Haram has been retaliating with attacks on poorly defended rural villages and smaller towns. Yesterday the Washington Post wrote of reports of the captured girls being sold or shared out as brides to Boko Haram militants. A comment to the Washington Post calls Islam a "barbaric religion." Someone else writes: "Slavery and female abductions have been an Islamic practice for centuries. They did not invent it but they certainly have perfected it." Someone else sees the oil industry as the villain, describing Boko Haram as "pawns in a bigger play for power." Today, Aljazeera reports that "About 50 of the kidnapped girls managed to escape from the captors in the first days after their abduction, but some 220 remained missing, according to the principal of the Chibok Girls Secondary School, Asabe Kwambura. They are between 16 and 18 years old and had been recalled to the school to write a physics exam." Someone comments to Aljazeera calling Boko Harem "Islamic fundamentalist terrorists," suggesting they are not to be confused with Muslims who associate themselves with the 21st century.

May 2  The Kiev regime launched a dawn raid today against pro-Russian checkpoints, and the pro-Russians shot down two helicopters sent against them, killing two crew. Russian government spokesmen are reported as saying that Kiev's actions have "killed the last hope" for the deal that was agreed to in mid-April in Geneva aimed at defusing the crisis. Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, describes Moscow's point of view. He complains that "our western colleagues" don't want to see pro-Russian actions in the Ukraine as a reaction to the "violent unconstitutional coup" in Kiev, "to attempts to curtail the status of the Russian language" and to "punitive" operations among other things. Yakovenko writes that "it is unacceptable that the situation in the east is described as a result of Russian meddling." He writes that "British reporters on the ground overwhelmingly agree the protest movement has local roots and is manned by local residents. That Russia can order them to stop protesting is pure fantasy." In the United States, many see this as just Russian propaganda, while this morning the New York Times reports that White House officials assert that sanctions imposed on Russia are having a "significant impact" on its economy - something that will be elaborated on by the media in the weeks ahead.

May 5  China will upgrade Ethiopia's road system, power grid and help with agriculture, industrialization and other projects. China's Premier Li Keqiang and his wife arrived in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa yesterday for talks. Already China has funded Ethiopia's first expressway project, and it's building a light-rail transit system in Addis Ababa. According to China Daily USA, Beijing is commited to "deepening the China-Africa strategic partnership."

May 6  Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, yesterday boasted: "I abducted your girls ... God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions ... I will sell them in the marketplace ... I will sell them and marry them off. There is a market for selling humans ... women are slaves ... i want to reassure my Muslim brothers that Allah says slaves are permitted in Islam." All this he said in a 57-minute video apparently in order to benefit himself and his movement. The Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar made his boasts on the world stage in late January 2013 and was reported killed within two months.

May 7  Kiev sends troops to the southern port city of Mariupol and they drive pro-Russian "rebels" from their occupation of city hall. Kiev's force withdraws and the rebel forces take back the city hall. Meanwhile, there is talk in the media of Ukraine sliding into civil war. And today BBC News quotes Putin urging his pro-Russian allies to postpone a series of referendums in south-eastern Ukraine planned for this week-end "in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue." Yesterday in the state-owned Russian newspaper, RBTH, Vasily Kashin writes: "All the signs are that a military invasion of Ukraine's restive eastern provinces by Russian forces is not on the cards." Kashin is an "expert" at the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. In the United States, Strobe Talbott, a foreign policy "expert" with the Brookings Institute, appeared on BBC World News America yesterday speaking with emotion and certainty about Putin's mendacity and plans for more aggression regarding Ukraine.

May 8  The Beverly Hills Hotel, otherwise known as the Pink Palace, located just above Sunset Boulevard, in business since 1912, former home of Howard Hughes, Elizabeth Taylor and other well-known people, is now owned by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah. Bolkiah is implementing a Sharia law penal code that includes death by stoning, the severing of limbs, and flogging for crimes in Brunei such as abortions, adultery and homosexual acts. BBC News describes the Sultan as having announced "the first phase of the new penalties last week." Celebrities, including Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, are responding with picket signs and a boycott of the hotel. Brunei is rich in crude oil and natural gas. Its per capita wealth is greater than the US, just below that of Norway, while its infant mortality is almost twice that of the US and three times that of Norway.

May 9  Reuters headlines "Ukraine rebels ignore Putin's call to delay self-rule vote." It adds: "The decision, which contradicted the conciliatory tone set by Putin just a day earlier, caused consternation in the West, which fears the referendum will tear Ukraine apart." Agenda theories are still around. Some have been describing the crisis in Ukraine as Putin on a march or at least a product of Putin's agenda to recreate Russia's old empire. Agenda theorists are prevalent in the US. Reuters reports US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns saying that Russia is heading down a "dangerous and irresponsible path." On the opposite side of this debate, some see the crisis as part of a nefarious agenda by the West. An American veteran writes that he is "far, far, far from a Putin/Russian fan" but that he is "just tired of the US/EU wantonly roaming the world creating havoc in other countries." Someone else comments to Reuters that the "whole crisis" will be resolved by granting East Ukraine a "very significant degree of autonomy" and he complains of the West urging "its puppets in Kiev to try force" and predicts this "will fail."

May 11  The people of China are not as docile as some in the US have assumed. Yesterday in Hangzhou China thousands demonstrated against construction of a waste incineration plant. At least 39 people are reported injured, including 29 police officers, and police vehicles were set on fire. BBC News reports an announcement by local authorities that "the project will not go ahead without public support." According to BBC News, "Tens of thousands of protests are held in China every year, mostly against pollution, corruption and land grabs."

May 12  In eastern Ukraine, a big voter turnout overwhelmingly rejects rule from Kiev. Pro-Russian separatists claim 90 percent support in the industrial Donetsk region and a Russian news agency reports 96.2 percent backing in the Luhansk region. Russian authorities note the referendum's "high turnout" and describe the results as "the will of the people." Russia calls for implementation of the results and dialogue to work through the conflict, with participation by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. From Kiev comes a description of the referendum as "a farce." The Kiev regime, which recently sent troops and armored vehicles pushing against massive crowds of angry people in the east, accuses Russia of working to overthrow the country's legitimate state power.

May 14  In late March, a visit by President Obama to Saudi Arabia appeared to be cut short after two hours, without a state dinner, and there were reports, however inaccurate, that King Abdullah thought Obama "a wimp who screwed up the whole Syria thing." Yesterday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal gave signal of a major shift in attitude toward Middle East crises. According to Arab News he described crises in the Middle East as having given "major superpowers the opportunity to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, which increases the phenomenon of terrorism." He said this at the Economic and Cooperation Forum that includes ministers of Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan. Arab News reports that he has invited Iran's foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia, "stressing the Kingdom's readiness for negotiations with Teheran." Saudi Arabia and Iran have been antagonists regarding Syria, and Iran's help for Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime appears to have been successful along with Russian aid in keeping the Assad regime alive.

May 17  In India, inflation and a decline in economic growth has turned voters against the incumbent center-left Congress Party after its ten years of rule. The center-right Hindu Nationalist Party, the BJP, is celebrating a landslide election victory. It has won 282 seats in parliament compared to a mere 44 for the Congress Party (there are 543 seats divided among numerous parties). The BJP leader, Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi, celebrates with them. Modi promises "to take India forward" and "to fulfill the dreams of more than a billion people." The BJP is described as favoring foreign investments and free enterprise and is considered religiously conservative. Its members hold Hinduism to be superior to other faiths, and they support its continuing dominance within India, with some fear from India's Muslim minority. The Congress Party's rural employment guarantee scheme and other welfare schemes for the poor are being described as having failed to win the votes that the party expected. BBC News writes: "...selling welfare schemes caught up with the law of diminishing returns in an India which is increasingly young, restless and aspirational." Also there were corruption issues.

May 18  Swiss voters reject a $25 per hour minimum wage. Critics of the proposal say it would raise production costs and increase unemployment. Swizerland has no minimum wage law (neither does Germany), but labor unions influence wages through collective bargaining. The unions in Switzerland argue that surviving on less than 4,000 francs a month ($5,760) is impossible because of rents, health insurance and food costs. BBC News reports that "Most of Switzerland's low-paid workers operate in the service industry, in hotels and restaurants, and the majority of them are women." An internet seach produces a claim that the average wage for a waitress in Switzerland is currently a little under $17 per hour.

May 20  Lindsay Abrams reports in Salon that Minnesota's governor, Mark Dayton, signed a bill yesterday banning triclosan "from most retail consumer hygiene products" - which includes anti-bacterial soap. Abrams reports that the FDA has raised the possibility that the chemical could be contributing to antibiotic resistance, that University of Minnesota researchers say that finding its way into lakes and rivers the chemical can, in Linday's words, "interact with chlorine and sunlight to form dioxins, environmental pollutants that can be harmful to humans." She adds: "Put together, it's an awful lot of risks associated with a chemical that's basically useless: It's ineffective against certain bacteria and fungal infections, and hasn't been proven to be any more effective than the classic combination of soap and water."

May 21  In Beijing, President Putin signs several dozen agreements with the Chinese. One is for Russia selling gas to China, described as a "monster deal." Another involves cooperation in creating a competitor to Boeing and Airbus. Chinese companies will be working on infrastructure projects, including the first bridge across the Amur River between Russia and China in Siberia. With the meeting, Russia and China called for the de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine and for "peaceful, political ways to resolve existing problems."

May 21  Yesterday, Thailand's military declared martial law, which included closing down a couple of major television stations. A 1914 law allows it to intervene in times of crisis. Thailand's army has staged eleven coups since 1932, but the military emphasizes that instead of a coup it was acting to preserve law and order. The interim government established by the constitutional court remains in place. Early this month, the court ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine cabinet ministers for abuse of power. New elections lie ahead while protesters in yellow shirts representing the urban middle and upper classes are in Bangkok's suburbs and those who support the government, the red shirts, are camping in the center of town. The army stands between them, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army says to journalists, "Don't ask me if martial law will be long or short. When the country is peaceful we will get rid of it." Meanwhile, some adolescent girls are having fun taking and posting photos of those they think are cute soldiers.

May 22  Thailand's military announces a coup. It suspends the kingdom's constitution and takes control of the government. Normal television broadcasting is suspended, political gatherings of any more than five people are banned, a nationwide curfew is in place from 10 PM to 5 AM. The man in charge, General Prayuth, describes the coup's purpose: "In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again ... and to reform the political, economic and social structure." Protesters from Thailand's urban affluent have been denouncing an elected government that they accuse of appealing to popular sentiments. The army calls for compromise between those who don't want democracy (despite what they call their movement) and those who do. It talks as though there is equivalence between the two, and it presents itself as a fair arbiter on behalf of their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86.

May 24  In Thailand, the military has detained the gentle former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and dozens of others, including prominent academics and critics of the monarchy. The trouble making leader of the yellow shirts, Suthep Thaugsuban, who flatters the monarchy, isn't reported by the press as among the detained. A military spokesman describes their detention as giving them "time to think." General Prayuth, the coup's chief and self-ordained political philosopher, has labored with thoughts, and he says, "We must have economic, social and political reforms before elections." How this is to be done he doesn't say. Meanwhile a current article in the Economist writes of the probability that the coup" will lead to a framework allowing the historical elites to continue in charge of the country. Either way, it will not be up to General Prayuth. In Thailand the real decisions are made in the privy council and at the royal palace."

May 26  In Thailand, General Prayuth announces that he has been formally endorsed by the king, and he warns that "tough measures' will be taken if protests continue. But as of this moment people are still in the streets, holding signs that call for democracy and that read "no coup." The protests aren't massive but are expected to escalate if the Morocco model of allowing peaceful protests is ignored in favor of the crackdown model.

May 26  Anti-immigration eurosceptic parties are joyous at their success in elections to the EU's parliament. According to BBC News, "The three big centrist blocs all lost seats, though still hold the majority... The outcome means a greater say for those who want to cut back the EU's powers, or abolish it completely." Britain's David Cameron says the message is "received and understood".

May 27  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns banking reforms have not made enough progress. Its director, Christine Lagarde, blames complexity, industry lobbying and "fatigue" for the delay. She says, "The industry still prizes short-term profit over long-term prudence." Some of the biggest problems, she says, is with the too-big-to-fail firms. For a remedy she calls for "tougher regulation and tighter supervision."

May 28  In Ukraine, the newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko (he trounced Julia Tymoshenko in Sunday's election), has promised more local autonomy for people in the country's east, but separatists there have been resorting to military action to establish complete independence. Poroshenko proclaims the right to resist what he calls terrorism. Yesterday and the day before, government forces killed dozens of separatist fighters in retaking the local airport. Emotions are running high among the separatists. After the election of Poroshenko, Russia's President Putin had suggested he might be able to work with Poroshenko, and Poroshenko had said he knows Putin well and that he could get along with Russia, but reaction in Russia to the Ukraine government killing Russian separatists is disturbing the Russian public and the Putin regime.

May 28  On PBS Frontline, Assad regime strategy is described as follows: "The idea is to terrorize civilians to try to convince them to turn against rebel fighters, to prevent the growth of any kind of local government in rebel areas." This is a reference to the use of barrel bombs and artillery shelling on densely populated areas. Also reported on Frontline: more use of chemical weapons.

May 29  President Obama has been reported as approving the US military training moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime of Bashar Assad and al Qaeda-linked groups. US officials told the Wall Street Journal early this week that the US will supplement the small training programs led by the CIA which the president authorized a year ago. And yesterday In a speech to graduating cadets at West Point, Obama said he "will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators."

May 29  Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, describes the stoning to death of a woman by her family as "totally unacceptable." According to BBC News, the woman, Farzana Parveen, "who was three months pregnant, was struck down with bricks and bludgeoned by relatives furious because she married against their wishes." The incident took place in front of a court building in the city of Lahore. BBC News reports that "There are hundreds of so-called 'honour killings' in Pakistan each year."

May 30  In Egypt's presidential election, with ballots from most polling stations counted, former military chief al-Sisi wins 93 percent of the vote. The vote was extended to a third day in response to a low voter turn out. Some attributed the low turn out to hot weather, political apathy and an election boycott called by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yesterday, al-Sisi said, "We know that some people fear a return to the past, but this will not happen, there is no going back and we will move forward." He added, "The population has ambitions and there are humble people who need us to work and fight for them."

June 2014

Jun  1   Chrystia Freeland, just back from Ukraine, reports on Fareed Zakaria's broadcast today that "the people of Ukraine, 90 percent of Ukraine, are really united," that the recent election for Ukraine's presidency demolished the idea, pushed by the Kremlin, that there is a far-right threat in the Ukraine. She points to two far-right candidates each getting only one percent of the vote and one independent Jewish candidate who received two percent of the vote. She says she is not optimistic about the Donetsk region, "where the fighting is happening right now." She was in Donetsk and was "struck by the extent to which state power in about 60 percent of that region has just melted away. In that area I think it's very hard to predict what's going to happen and really dangerous."

Jun 2  The Guardian writes: "After seven years of a bitter and at times lethal rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, a historic Palestinian unity government has been sworn in, ending years of division." The unity government, controlled by Fatah, agrees tothe following: recognition of Israel, compliance to diplomatic agreements, renunciation of violence. Fatah sets its sight on controlling Gaza.In Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu has described Fatah, by allying with Hamas, as saying "yes to terrorism and no to peace." Israel's participation in peace negotiations with Fatah were called off in April after Israel became aware that today's agreement would take place.

Jun 2  Today In Benghazi, Libya, Ansar al-Sharia (Partisans of Sharia) is in a shooting war with a force led by Khalifa Haftar, the secular former general who has lived in the US for twenty years and is a US citizen. Haftar describes himself as leader of the Libyan Na Army, and he warns that some in Libya's congress support al-Qaeda. He vows that his army will "eradicate terrorists from Libya." Two days ago thousands of demonstrators rallied in support of Haftar in the capital Tripoli and in Benghazi.

Jun 2  In El Salvador, former Liberation Front guerilla fighter Salvador Sánchez Cerén, 69, is sworn in as president. He was with those resisting the military regime that was supported by the Reagan administration (1981-89). That twelve-year war ended in 1992 following two years of UN-led negotiations. President Sánchez's political party still is the FMLN, the umbrella group formed in 1980 from left-wing guerrilla organizations. In March this year Sanchez barely managed to defeat the conservative candidate, and in his inauguration speech he has promised to govern "for everybody." He adds that he will lead "with honesty, austerity, efficacy and transparency," and he promises "security, employment and education." El Salvador, meanwhile, has been plagued by poverty, gang violence and has one of the highest murder rates in the world.

Jun 3  President Obama announces his plan for a $1 billion fund to increase deployment of US troops to Europe. He states its purpose as showing that the security of America's European allies is "sacrosanct." Also today, the president is being criticized for what Michael Gerson calls his "global war on straw men." Columnist Richard Cohen joins the "straw men" complaint, accusing Obama of speaking against what nobody is advocating: putting boots on the ground in Syria. Someone speaks against the show aspect of Obama's announcement and asks why not put "pressure on the Europeans to get their act together and beef up their own defence forces." Gallup, meanwhile, shows President Obama's approval holding steady in the last ten days of May: around 44% approving and 51% disapproving.

Jun 4  Yesterday in Nigeria, according to Gulf News (referring to the Persian Gulf), several newspapers reported that ten generals and five other senior military officers have been courts-martialed for providing arms and information to Boko Haram. According to Gulf News, this follows "months of allegations from politicians and soldiers who said that some senior officers were helping the Islamic extremists and that some rank-and-file soldiers even fight alongside the insurgents and then return to army camps."

Jun 4  Yesterday in Syria, supporters of Assad voted for him as president for seven years. The vote count is not yet in. "It's a tragic farce," says French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Other western leaders call it a sham, as do Arab leaders. Russian election observers in Syria say the vote meets international standards. (Russia has been supporting Assad.) Syria's foreign minister dismisses negative criticism, saying "No one can impose their will on the Syrian people ... Today the path to a political solution begins." Regarding solutions, Assad's air force was still bombing civilians yesterday. Someone voting for Assad told BBC News "We hope for security and stability" - in other words a military victory. Opponents of Assad have a view of democracy that differs from those of the Assad regime. They want a central government that respects local sovereignty and people. Five days ago Assad welcomed a delegation from North Korea and expressed himself on the subject of sovereignty. He told the North Korean delegation, "Both countries have been on the same footing, refusing to bow to pressures, rejecting subordination, sticking to sovereignty and independent decision and standing against the imperialist plots targeting the interests and capabilities of the peoples in their two regions." Meanwhile, many in the US in effect side with Assad by seeing Syria's civil war as a fight not between good guys and bad guys but merely between Sunni and Shia. They are adamant about their rights being protected but they are with Assad in wanting no US involvement on behalf of the victims of his bombs and shells.

Jun 5  A headline in the Jerusalem Post reads: "British foreign secretary [William Hague] joins European Union in praising Fatah-Hamas unity accord." The unity government controlled by Fatah as been described elsewhere as having agreed to the recognition of Israel, to compliance with diplomatic agreements and a renunciation of violence.

Jun 5  In Syria, Assad is described as winning 88.7% of the vote and 11.63 million people as having voted. That's roughly 10.3 million votes for Assad in a country with a population that is being described by many as at about 18 million - down from around 23 million in 2010. The difference between 10.3 million and 18 million is 7.7 million people who didn't vote for Assad. The two other candidates on the ballot together won 7.5% of the vote. Subtracting them from the 7.7 million people who did vote for Assad leaves around 6.8 million. A lot of Syrians are too young to vote. If we take 35% from 6.8 million we have 4.42 million who didn't vote for Assad or the other two on the ballot. That's less than half the votes Assad is said to have won. As leaders of successful revolutions have told us, a successful insurgency needs a large percentage of the public on its side. If these figures are any where near correct it bodes well for the Assad regime and his Russian and Iranian allies. An Associated Press article in the Washington Post yesterday summed it up as follows: "For all the serious flaws in Syria's election, it underscored the considerable support that President Bashar Assad still enjoys from the population, including many in the majority Sunni Muslim community." The numbers given us by the Assad regime could be egregious distortions. Nevertheless, it appears that Assad has been encouraged in his strategy of ignoring a negotiated settlement of the civil war and of terrorizing civilians who dislike him.

Jun 6  At their summit conference in Brussels yesterday G7 world leaders announced their "strong determination" to create an aggreement at Paris in December 2015 that is "ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances." Newsweek describes this statement as prompted by the "United States' plan to cut emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030." The G7 doesn't include China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, but Newsweek adds that China has responded with a hint "that it would set some kind of cap on its emissions." Commenting on the G7 meeting, the international organization Oxfam complains that G7 leaders "offer climate action with one hand, making good pledges on energy efficiency and renewables, only to snatch it away with the other, by continuing to trumpet indigenous hydrocarbon resources, which are expensive, unproven and dirty like shale gas." Defending the European Union, Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, describes the EU as still in the vanguard and claims that it will "substantially over-achieve" its greenhouse gas emissions targets by 2020, delivering beyond its promised 20 percent cut relative to 1990 levels by the year 2030.

Jun 9  Taxes in Japan and Denmark make news. In Japan, retail sales have fallen following a sales tax increase from 5 to 8 percent on April 1, its first increase in seventeen years. In Denmark, a Gallup survey for the Berlingske newspaper has found that 88 percent of Danes don't mind paying taxes to help support Danish society, but 33 percent think too much money is being wasted on bureaucracy and administration. A third of those surveyed said they didn't want their tax money going to people who don't contribute anything financially to society, and 50 percent said reducing taxes would be beneficial. In Denmark in 2013 revenues were 56 percent of GDP compared to 15.3 percent for the US and 33.8 percent for Japan.

Jun 9  In a study about memory, researchers at New York University School of Medicine and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School have compared mice that sleep well with those that are sleep deprived. They find that sleep increases neuron connections in the brain. According to BBC News the study showed that in their brain "sleeping mice formed significantly more new connections between neurons." Neuron connections serve memory and memory serves learning.

Jun 11  Yesterday in Iraq an army of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS or ISIL), described as well trained, seized control of government offices, the airport, and police stations in the northern city of eastern half Mosel, a city of 2 million. An Iraqi army officer described it as a "total collapse of the security forces." ISIS is Sunni. The government of Iraq, led by Prime Minister Malaki, is Shia and has been supported by Iran since before the US withdrew. ISIS has declared war on the Shia militant group Hezbollah based in Lebanon, and ISIS militants hold territory in eastern Syria. Today, BBC News speaks of 500,000 fleeing Mosel, and Arab News describes an upbeat Bashar al Assad of Syria saying that the "United States and the West have started to send signs of change" regarding Syria because of the threat of terrorism. Reuters reports a 40-year old man who fled Mosul with his family saying: "We are frightened because we don't know who they are. They call themselves the revolutionaries. They told us not to be scared and that they came to liberate and free us from oppression." The leader of ISIS has been described as Commander of the Faithful Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, age 43, born in Samarra Iraq. He is a former al Qaeda activist and threatened retaliation for Osama bin Laden's death. The US has a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or death.

Jun 12  In a congressional race in the Richmond area of Virginia, opinion wins over money. According to BBC News, Republican Congressman Eric Cantor raised $5.44 million, his challenger had only had $207,000. It is the first time that a House Majority Leader lost a primarly election. His opponent: David Brat, an economics professor with a master's in divinity whom some are associating with the T-party. Reasons given by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: Cantor's support for reform that allows persons brought illegally to the US as children to gain citizenship. Another reason given: Mr Brat repeating attacks on crony capitalism and the "crooks up on Wall Street in some of the big banks" who should have gone to jail.

Jun 12  An Egyptian court sentences a pro-democracy activist, Alaa Abdul Fattah, to 15 years in jail for illegal protest and attacking a police officer. He was demonstrating against demonstrations needing government authorization. Fattah was prominent in the 2011 revolt against President Mubarak. Some in Egypt express fear concerning free speech. Others support the new president, al Sisi, who has little tolerance for disorder, especially violence against policemen.

Jun 13  There has been blowback in the Mid-East since Russian forces invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. With war in Iraq that began in 2003 a growing Sunni insurgency was building in 2005, 2006, and 2007. According to Feisal Istrabai of Indiana University, General Petraeus was able decrease the violence "by negotiating a series of political deals with Sunni tribal sheiks and other respected figures in the Sunni community." He added: "The current government of Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq reneged on all of those promises." The continuing rise of the ISIS has been described as a political failure by the prime minister. President Obama says that ISIS on the march "should be a wakeup call for the Iraqi government." Istrabadi said yesterday that there is "no military solution to the problem" and he asked "What is airpower going to do? Are you going to bomb the cities? Are you going to bomb Tikrit? Are you going to bomb Mosul? Whole cities have fallen." Meanwhile, President Obama is threatening to use airpower but no ground force against ISIS. He says, "I don't rule out anything because we do have a stake in making sure that these jihadists are not getting a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria."

Jun 14  In Thailand, people who supported the recent government of Yingluck Shinawatra and who oppose the military takeover - including people who have hit the streets in red shirts - have been playing it cool and opting for the electoral politics that have given them victories in recent years. They haven't taken to streets for confrontations with the military the way that Morsi's supporters did in Egypt. Meanwhile, yesterday the military promised that power will be given to an interim government in August. Also yesterday It lifted the nationwide curfew, hoping this will bolster the country's suffering tourist industry. Three days ago the military started giving away movie tickets for the week-end, for the stated purpose of promoting "love and harmony," which befits the Buddhism of Thailand's monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Jun 15  Three Israeli teenagers have been missing since June 12, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas. He says, "Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact."

Jun 16  As violence carries on in Iraq and Syria, no news arrives lately about protests and violent demonstrations in Venezuela. But two days ago Cuba's Raul Castro spoke to people representing the Group of 77 and China meeting in Bolivia, and he warned that the Maduro regime in Venezuela needed "our staunchest support" regarding fallout from that country's anti-government protests. Castro spoke of the elected socialist government in Caracas as "the front line of independence, freedom and dignity". Demonstrations against that government have been described as protests against inflation, high crime rates and food shortages.

Jun 17  Reuters reports that residents of the village of Kasab on Syria's border with Turkey began returning home yesterday. These are people of Armenian descent and Christians. They've been filmed "dancing, cheering and waving flags in the main square" a day after Assad's army retook the areas. The village had been captured by rebels around three months ago. Syrian state television boasts that in Kasab "security and stability" have been restored.

Jun 17  Amid reports of ISIS clashing with Shiite forces 37 miles north of Baghdad, BBC News publishes photos of "dozens of Iraqi soldiers" massacred by Jihadist militants. On the "News Hour" yesterday an explanation given by the killers was that it was the killing of heretics - a mindset during the Middle Ages.

Jun 17  Prime Minister Maliki ignores Obama's call to embrace Sunni politicians as a condition of US support. Maliki lashes out at the leading Sunni power in the region, Saudi Arabia, accusing it of supporting Sunni insurgents and promoting "genocide." Saudi policy has been opposed to al-Qaeda and its organizations and in support of the moderate military factions in Syria not linked to Islamic extremists.

Jun 19  With ISIS fighting for control of territory in Iraq, Dick Cheney, Senator McCain and other Iraq war hawks describe President Obama as having thrown away hard fought gains that the Bush administration secured there, that we are watching an "American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory." They view the US mission in Iraq as both a liberation of the Iraqis and an application of control by the US - directed toward US interests and values. Rather than blame those to whol they handed power, they are blaming Obama for pulling out troops too early. (See Nov 27, 2008 regarding Iraq's parliament seeking US troops leaving Iraq entirely.) Meanwhile a poll published yesterday on the Huffington Post claims that "only 22 percent of Americans think the US should get involved in the current situation in Iraq ... while 51 percent think the US should stay out of it ... and even Republicans [are] more likely to oppose intervention than to support it, by 41 percent to 35 percent."

Jun 20  The president has said the United States will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to train that country's security forces. Former commander in Iraq, David Patraeus, speaks against US military intervention to support Baghdad's government, adding that the US should not act as Maliki's air force. Fareed Zakaria sees the broad coalition government in Baghdad urged by President Obama as "unlikely." He writes in the Washington Post that "It is doubtful that a Shiite government in Baghdad - using an increasingly Shiite army to defend itself - will ever fully regain the allegiance of the Sunnis. The Sunnis have done enough killing to keep the Shiites wary for decades." Saudi Arabia has "unequivocally condemned" ISIS as a terrorist group, and slams Maliki for saying otherwise. David Ignatius, writing in the Washington Post, says that the first step in defeating ISIS Is getting rid of Maliki. He writes of Saudi Arabia and Jordan having leverage with the Sunni tribes and talking with tribal leaders to pull them away from ISIS.

Jun 20  International weapons inspectors have issued findings that chlorine gas has been used in a "systematic manner" in Syria this year, long after the Assad regime pledged to give up other toxic weapons such as sarin. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission said this week that evidence "lends credence to the view that toxic chemicals, most likely pulmonary irritating agents such as chlorine, have been used."

Jun 23 describes "why the world is still failing on climate change." Clean energy is growing, but use of fossil fuels is growing faster. Asia's use of coal keeps growing. Clean energy sources, including wind and solar, are growing but they hardly counter the growth of environmentally unfriendly sources. The International Energy Agency argues that an adquate reduction in warming emissions would require $24 trillion in clean energy investments between now and 2020 and more thereafter.

Jun 23  The European Union adds sanctions against twelve Syrian government ministers. The EU accuses the ministers of responsibility for "serious human rights violations."

Jun 24  Rebels in Ukraine have agreed to the ceasefire declared by President Poroshenko a few days ago, and President Putin asks Russia's parliament to revoke his right to use force in Ukraine that it had issued on March 1. NATO lauds the ceasefire. Americans who were shouting their fears that Putin was on a march and comparing him to Hitler are quiet.

Jun 25  In Britain, the University of Cambridge says that by 2030 population growth and use of land for energy crops will leave the British short of land needed for food production. The population then is expected to exceed 70 million. (It's estimated today at 6.37 million.) Britain today is self sufficient in its barley, wheat, milk, lamb and mutton production, but it imports large amounts of fruit, vegetables and other farm products, including pork.

Jun 26  The US Supreme Court ruled yesterday, unanimously, that police can't examine the digital contents of a cell phone without a court order.

Jun 26  Three days ago, speaking of the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers, Hamas leader, Khaled Mashal, says "I cannot confirm or deny the abduction." He adds, "blessed are the hands" who carried it out.

Jun 26  A few days ago it was 50 years since the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the disappearance and murder of three civil rights workers - Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. Then, white folks in Mississippi were afraid regarding blacks voting. They believed that it was either whites dominating blacks or blacks dominating whites, and they didn't want to lose their ability to lord it over blacks. Today, the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County from which the three civil rights workers were taken has a black mayor and, writes George Will, Mississippi "has elected more African American officials than any other state." The fear that whites had in 1964 was, obviously, distortion and panic.

Jun 26  In Thailand, people have been warned that anyone advocating protest on social media will be prosecuted for sedition.

Jun 29  Israelis and Hamas are firing on one another. Rocket fire from Gaza began yesterday.

Jun 30  Sunni Jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq announced yesterday their creation of a "caliphate" - a system of Islamic rule that existed from the 600s to the end of World War I, when the Ottoman Empire ended and Ataturk took power. An audio recording distributed online declares the caliph to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the new "leader for Muslims everywhere." The caliphate is described as "the dream in all the Muslims' hearts" and "the hope of all jihadists." They see the state of Iraq as no longer existing. Meanwhile, the government of Iraq is aided by Iran, Russia has given it fighter jets, and the Obama administration has sent in 300 or so advisors to help. And in Algeria, predominately Sunni and with Sharia law, a nationalist spirit dominates. Algerians are heartened by the dream of success of their nation's team in World Cup football.

July 2014

Jul  1  The US Supreme Court rules 5 to 4 that family-owned and other closely held corporations can reject government action - such as a provision in Obama care - on religious objections. The company involved in the suit is Hobby Lobby and the issue is the morning-after pill, deemed by some to be abortion. Those who support the ruling hold that if someone who works at Hobby Lobby insists on taking morning-after pills they can buy and pay for it themselves. In her desenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg warned that the court had "ventured into a minefield." She said there was nothing in the majority opinion that foreclosed the possibility of a publicly traded company making a similar claim with the possibility of religious-based exceptions on issues like blood transfusions, antidepressants, and vaccinations.

Jul 1  Iraq's Shia-dominated parliament failed today to name a replacement for Prime Minister Maliki, and Sunni and Kurds walk out, dimming hopes for the unity government wanted to keep the country together. During the parliament session there was rancor involving the Kurds. Reuters reports that "a Kurdish lawmaker accused the government of withholding salaries for the Kurds' autonomous region." A Maliki supporter shouted back that Kurds were taking down Iraqi flags, and said: "the Iraqi flag is an honor above your head. Why do you take it down? ... The day will come when we will crush your heads."

Jul 2  The ancient attack-retaliation cycle continues between Israelis and Palestinians. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu blames Hamas for the murder of three Israeli teenagers hitchhiking in the West Bank. He cites Hamas' support for the killings. Yesterday the Israeli military revived punitive demolitions by destroying each homes of the two men who have not been seen since the night the teenagers disappeared. Yesterday, Israel launched 34 airstrikes on Gaza after discovery of the bodies of the three missing Israeli boys were discovered. Netanyahu vows that Israel will avenge their deaths. Today there are reports of a sixteen year-old Palestinian forced into a car in East Jerusalem and found murdered. The boy's relatives say he was abducted at about 4 in the morning while waiting alone outside his home for the early morning call to prayer. Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem this morning vented their anger in a rising against Israeli police. The boy's mother calls on the Israelis to blow up the homes of those responsible for her son's death. Netanyahu condemns this last killing as a "despicable murder" and warns that anyone ignoring Israel's laws will be prosecuted.

Jul 3  Germany's parliament approves its first nation-wide minimum wage law - at 8.5 euros (today $11.60). It was supported by Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats as part of their power-sharing association with the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Lobbyists complained that the new policy would make Germany less competitive. BBC News writes of business leaders in Germany complaining that it would "result in fewer jobs, or force companies to move production facilities to other countries, where labour is cheaper." The wage does not cover minors, interns, trainees or long-term unemployed people for their first six months on the job. The new regulations are set to become effective on January 1, 2015. The new law still needs approval by parliament's upper house, the Bundesrat. In March this year, Britain raised its minimum wage to £6.50 ($11.14) per hour. In May, Swiss voters rejected a referendum that would have created a minimum wage at 22 Swiss Francs ($24.73) per hour.

Jul 4  With others, Mubarak Bala, 29, is released from a psychiatic hospital in northern Nigeria because of a doctors' strike. Bala is intelligent enough to have graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, but it was his intelligence that got him into trouble. His father was able to have him committed by force to a psychiatric ward because of a philosophical position that is uncommon in northern Nigeria. Mr Bala says he doesn't believe in God. The hospital diagnosed him as mentally ill. Bala says he has lost the trust of his father and elder brother and many friends. Britain's Daily Mail quotes him: "Most of my friends condemn me and tell me I am bound for hell and that in an Islamic state, I would be killed. Blasphemy is a serious thing here." Bala is being helped by a humanist charity and is in hiding. He describes his problem as a family matter "which requires family resolution."

Jul 7  Last week some young men were roaming the streets of Jerusalem chanting "Death to Arabs" and stopping cars presumably to check the ethnicity of their occupants. This was after three Israeli teenagers had been murdered while hitchhiking in the West Bank. Today the Times of Israel reports that the six Israeli teenagers who were detained two days ago for the murder of an East Jerusalem boy, age 16, Muhammad Abu Khadeir, were members of an "extremist cell." An autopsy indicates the boy was burned alive. An op-ed piece in today's Times of Israel reads: "If we are to heal this nation, the killing of Muhammed Abu Khdeir must rid us of the illusion that we enjoy a distinctive moral superiority over our neighbors."

Jul 8  Discussing confrontations in California regarding illegal child immigration, the News Hour yesterday described problem countries south of the US border. The murder rates in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were mentioned along with "weak institutional government, and lack of protections for the civil society." According to 2014 estimates in the CIA Factbook, El Salvador has a birth rate of 16.79 per 1000 and a death rate of 5.67, Honduras 23.66 to 5.3, and in Guatemala 25.46 to 4.82. (These birth rates compare with 13.42 per 1000 for the US and 8.55 for Taiwan.) Of the three Central American countries, Honduras has the highest murder rate and is the poorest. It has an annual increase in urbanization at 3.06% compared to 1.35% for El Salvador. Its birth rate contributes to a population of youths who don't fit into the country's legitimate economy - mainly banana growing. The most violent city in Honduras is San Pedro Sula, where gangs fight for territory and residents pay gangs for protection. According to the Factbook, "Honduras' young adult population - ages 15 to 29 - is projected to continue growing rapidly for the next three decades ... and limited job prospects outside of agriculture will continue to drive emigration."

Jul 9  Rocket attacks on Israel began a few days ago following the abduction and killing of three Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank. Yesterday Israel responded to the rockets with "Operation Protective Edge," Prime Minister Netanyahu announcing that "Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing at Israeli citizens." Overnight the Israeli army launched 160 airstrikes in Gaza. AlJazeera reports that "at least 27 Palestinians" were killed and "more than 100" wounded. Five rockets from Gaza were fired at Tel Aviv during this morning's rush hour. The military wing of Hamas, the Qassam Brigades, claim responsibility. An AlJazeera reader responds, describing Israel as acting no different than Nazis "who used to kill hundreds of civilians whenever any one killed a nazi soldier." Another reader: "Lets see, Israel drops leaflets and calls Palestinians to warn of attacks to save their lives. No other army does that. On the other hand Hamas randomly fires rockets at civilians and uses its own people as human sheilds." Another: "I have a suggestion for Gaza idiots. Stop shooting rockets, anti-tank arms into Israel at civilians and the IDF. Then there will be nothing to retaliate. DUHHH." Another writes that if "the genocidal Zionist savages" surrender all of the land stolen by Zionist criminals and terrorists to Palestinian people who are the rightful owners of the land, then there will be nothing to retaliate."

Jul 10  A study published in association with the National Academy of Scientists indicates that our memory clarity is affected by the size of the CA3 area of our brain. (CA3 is in that part of the brain called the hippocampus.) It is reported that "A larger CA3 may contain more neurons, which could allow greater physical separation of the different memory traces." A bigger CA3 allows a greater ability to remember shades of difference. Apart from the study, the ability to differentiate is crucial to what is commonly considered intelligence, but the BBC News article carrying the story limits the subject memory, and it adds: "Although small brain size is not related to different individuals' mental abilities (Einstein's brain was smaller than average) the relative dimensions of different components have been linked to various characteristics."

Jul 14  A leading news story for days has been what CNN describes as "the tens of thousands of immigrant children who have crossed the [US] southern border in recent months." The children are from Central America. A law passed unanimously by the US Congress in 2008 was supposed to address sex trafficking. It's called the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Action Act. CNN describes it as allowing "children entering the United States from non-bordering countries to remain in this country." The law is being described as "prohibiting most of the unaccompanied children from being immediately sent back to their home countries" and as mandating "that Central American kids receive temporary relocation, extensive assistance and elaborate immigration/deportation proceedings." Republicans are calling for sending the children back home immediately and changing the law. Representative Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, says "the children should be able to make their case for asylum." President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $3.7 billion to handle the issue. Republican Congresswoman Martha Blackburn says the first thing that should be done is "secure the border." Texas Governor Rick Perry calls on President Obama to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border as a show of force. Representative Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, objects. He says Governor Perry is wrong, that "The border is secure; the fact is, the children are handing themselves over to the Border Patrol agents." Gutierrez adds: "I will say this: Follow the law, and the law said that we must put the children's interests first, which is what President Barack Obama is doing." Meanwhile approval rating for Congress is down from 39 percent in 2009 to around 13.5 percent.

Jul 15  BBC News reports today that this morning Israel accepted "an Egyptian truce proposal for the conflict and stopped operations... However, the armed wing of Hamas, which controls Gaza, rejected the initiative as a 'surrender'." The number of dead in Gaza since Israel's retaliation began one week ago is nearing 200. The number of Israeli dead is zero, and four wounded. Hamas is reported to have fired 50 more rockets against Israel so far today. Israel's airforce rules the skies, and Israel is poised to sends its tanks into Gaza. Hamas' plan for success or victory and avoidance of failure or "surrender" remains unexpressed. Hamas is said to have something like 10,000 rockets - a failure of Israel's blockage - and Israel may launch a ground invasion to punish Hamas and destroy its arsenal, which is bound to kill many more Palestinians. A question in the minds of some is whether a substantial number of Gazans will reject Hamas' strategy. Meanwhile, anti-Israel protests in the US and Europe have turned violent.

Jul 16  Hamas' plan for success is said to be "to show its people that it has won from Israel a concession. Just an end to the fighting is not enough." This was said by Mark Perry yesterday on the News Hour. Perry was described by Margaret Warner as "in touch" with Hamas leaders. According to Perry what they have wanted since 2004 is "an end to the siege of Gaza" and they want Gaza's border with Egypt at Rafah opened so that Gaza can get its economy going." This morning the Times of Israel describes Hamas as believing time is on its side, "that world opinion and mounting Israeli frustration will ultimately work to its advantage." The paper mentions that Hamas wants some prisoners released and it describes Hamas' conditions for a ceasefire as including a "ten-year truce."

Jul 17  The President of Honduras returns to blaming drugs for migrations to the US, with poverty getting mention, and he asks for money from the US in the form of a mini-marshal plan and anti-drugs campaign. President Hernandez belongs to the right politically and he is an owner of hotels. A Washington Post article on the 15th described corruption, sweatshops and unemployment and the US seen as a paradise as factors in the migration problem. Regarding poverty, the population issue is considered by some a right-wing approach in helping rid the country of poor people. Meanwhile, Honduras has been weak in support of birth control programs and tough in opposition to emergency anti-birth measures, including the morning-after pill. Honduras had a total population of 1,487,000 in 1950. Today its population, according to the World Factbook is 8,598,561.

Jul 18  China's high-speed rail network is larger than that of the EU and US combined, according to a World Bank report, and the Chinese government's economic strategy plans to double it by 2020. High speed rail across the Eurasian continent is expected to enhance trade. Today there is news of China promoting cooperation in Latin America in building a rail system from Brazil's Atlantic coast to Peru's Pacific coast. In an issue of Forbes yesterday concern was expressed about the US with its "history of making billionaires out of rail from the days of the gold rush in California," lagging behind in the world of highspeed rail investment and building.

Jul 21  This morning the Palestinian death toll is said to have risen to 496, and Israel counts 18 of its soldiers as having died and two civilians. Israel also says that this morning it killed ten Palestinian militants who were using tunnels to enter Israel. Israel's ground offensive against Hamas began four days ago, supported by air strikes. A total of 110 rockets are reported as having been fired at Israel yesterday, and there are reports of more rockets this morning. Hamas appears defiant and not wanting to appear weak by agreeing to a ceasefire. Israel appears determined to continue to retaliate, to wait for Hamas to agree to a ceasefire and to give Hamas nothing that could be interpreted as a reward or concession for what it's been doing. The UN is doing its thing by calling for an immediate ceasefire, joined by President Obama. The scholar Michael Oren, who until recently served as Israel's ambassador to the US, told Israeli television yesterday that it is "to our sorrow" that US Secretary of State is coming to the region. The Times of Israel describes opinion in Israel that "the US should be leaving it to Egypt to handle ceasefire efforts." According to Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post this morning, Hamas is "far weaker than it was in 2008. It has lost the ability to inflict damage and casualites on Israel... the current figting is rapidly depleting its arsenal. Hamas's civilian employees are going unpaid... [and] polling by a respected Palestinian organization shows that a large majority opose Hamas's rule."

Jul 22  In the past day or two, Israelis have discovered more tunnels, and the New York Times reports Israel's minister of communications saying, "Israel must not agree to any proposal for a cease-fire until the tunnels are eliminated." This morning's death score according to the Israelis is at least 170 Palestinian militants and 27 Israeli soldiers. Two Israeli civilians have also died, and the total number of Gazans having died, including children, is into the 600s. Among Israelis the need to knock down Hamas's military capability every couple years or so has been described, until yesterday at least, as "mowing the grass."

Jul 22  BBC News reports an academic study that has found "more than 100 genes that make people more susceptible to schizophrenia - 83 of which have never been pinpointed before." Schizophrenia is described by Wikipedia as "a mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity."

Jul 23  This morning, BBC News reports that Hamas's recent actions has ended the usual quarreling in Israel, that In Israel demonstrations againt the government regarding the war are a failure. "Only Israeli Arab citizens and Jews on the fringe far-Left have participated in them." Opinion in the US, meanwhile, described by CNN yesterday, has 43% saying Israel is using the right amount of force and 12% saying they are not using enough force. That's 55% on the hawkish side. CNN descrbes 38% as unfavorable toward Israel, a 14% increase since February.

Jul 24  Today, Marwan Bishara has an article with AlJazzera titled "On Stupidity and War" telling us that Israeli talk of self-defence is an "excuse for aggression." On the Israeli side we have almost an entire nation that would see Bishara's comment as a distortion. They see their need to defend themselves militarily as actual, not just an excuse. Unmentioned by Bishara is measure as an issue regarding stupidy and war. Israel holding fire in some instances is, of course, in Israel's interest. The UN's human rights chief Navi Pillay says Israel may have committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Israel's Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni (considered a moderate) says her country is acting according to international law and tells Ms Pillay to "get lost." Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza this morning has risen to more than 700. Today there are reports that a UN-run school used as a shelter in Gaza was shelled, killing at least fifteen. The Times of Israel writes of Hamas "not about to fold" and "sure it's winning." Hamas has the deaths of numerous Israeli soldiers - 32 so far - to point to. Hamas has on its side its complaint against Israel's long-standing blockade of the Gaza strip, which is being cursed by Gazans, who are describing themselves as in an Israeli prison and speaking of Israel's colonialism. The blockade seems to have failed to prevent Hamas from acquiring rockets, so the question remains why Israel doesn't negotiate its removal.

Jul 25  This morning, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is reported as saying in a BBC News interview that Hamas "wants a truce as soon as possible, but with a genuine guarantee to lift the eight-year long siege." From the Israeli side, Michael Oren, historian and former ambassador to the US, has an article in the Washington Post today that is titled "Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas." Oren writes that he doesn't want to see a repeat of what happened in 2006 in Lebanon and 2008 and 2012 in Gaza. He writes that world opinion and the UN Security Council "compelled Israel to back down ... And the terrorists, though badly mauled, won. He continues:

Under the protection of cease-fires and, in some cases, international peacekeepers, they vastly expanded their arsenals to include more lethal and longer-range missiles. While reestablishing their rule in the streets, they burrowed beneath them to create a warren of bombproof bunkers and assault tunnels. Such measures enabled Hamas, as well as Hezbollah, to mount devastating attacks at the time of their choosing, confident that the international community would once again prevent Israel from exacting too heavy a price ... Hezbollah and Hamas sustained losses but, rescued and immunized by international diplomacy, they remained in power and became more powerful still. Hezbollah and Hamas sustained losses but, rescued and immunized by international diplomacy, they remained in power and became more powerful still.

Oren claims that if Israel is "permitted to prevail" US and Canadian-trained security forces of the Palestinian Authority can "take over key crossings and patrol Gaza's porous border with Egypt. Rather than be funneled into Hamas's war chest, international aid can be transferred directly to the civilian population to repair war damage and stimulate economic growth." Oren's position appears to be the position of the Israeli government. Someone comments to the Washington Post that Oren's article is a pathetic attempt to rationalize the inexcusable." Someone else describes Hamas and related groups as "equivalent to a invasive, metastatic cancer," and he prescribes "radical surgery." Meanwhile the death toll in Gaza today is reported as over 800.

Jul 26  In China, the government has suspended operations of a Shanghai meat dealer and has made arrests in connection with the company selling out-of-date meat to fast food chains, including McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The BBC's China editor, Carrie Gracie, writes of China's regulators "yet again" having failed to do their job, and she points out the value of investigative journalism in China. It was China's television journalism that exposed the malfeasance. Gracie complains of punitive regulations regarding journalism in China. Wikipedia reports that the media in mainland China "are becoming more autonomous and more diverse."

Jul 26  Turkey launches high-speed rail service between Instanbul and its capital, Ankara. It's expected to cut in half what was a seven-hour ride between the two cities. Meanwhile, plans for high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco, pushed by Governor Jerry Brown, are bogged down in the state's court system and an idea ridiculed by Republicans.

Jul 28  Early on this the 21st day of the Israel-Hamas crisis, the UN Security Council has called for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire" in Gaza. In a phone call to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Netanyahu says the UN call addresses the needs of Hamas, but not Israel's demands for demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

Jul 29  The International Court rules that Russian officials manipulated the legal system to bankrupt Yukos and jail its boss, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He had been openly critical of Putin's politics.

Jul 29  Today there are reports of 100 more Palestinians killed "as Israel intensifies its bombardment of Gaza and warns of a long conflict ahead." Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated Israel's goal as a demilitarized Gaza, which means destroying missile, rocket arsenals and tunnels and preventing "terrorists" from rearming. Israel is also expected to continue trying to kill Hamas leaders. John Kerry claims that the demilitarization of Gaza is a goal in its peace proposal. As Israelis describe it, there will be no rescue of Hamas by a peace deal as happened in the last Hamas-Israel flare-up. It appears that whatever cease-fire occurs will be a brief respite. Israel's Defense Forces (IDF), by the way, is tweeting descriptions of its operations. Four hours ago it said it "stuck 4 massive weapons caches that Hamas hid inside of mosques."

Jul 30  Yesterday the European Union and the US imposed sanctions on Russian banks, energy and defense firms, accusing Russia of arming and supporting rebels in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies the allegations, and today it bans fruit and vegetables from Poland and says it may extend this ban to fruits and vegetables from the European Union.

Jul 30  Hundreds of women in Turkey post pictures of themselves laughing. This is in response to comments by Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, member of the ruling political party, announcing his views on the ideal woman. Carol J Williams of the Los Angeles Times quotes him as saying the ideal woman '...will not laugh in front of everyone and she will not display her attractiveness.' According to Williams, Arinc complained about "female laughter, excessive driving, social media and cellphones as signs of Turkey's moral regression."

Jul 31  Netanyahu says tunnels will be destroyed with or without ceasefire Gaza death toll up to 1,364. Three more Israeli soldiers killed, pushes Israeli army fatalities to 56. Hamas wants Hexzfollah to join the fight against Israael. Hezbollah is described as drained by its involvement in Syria.

August 2014

Aug  1  The 72-hour truce announced by the US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began this morning at eight o'clock, EST, and ended 90 minutes later. Reuters reports that "Israel declared the ceasefire over ... saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it came in effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other soldiers ... that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel." Palestinian families had begun to return to their devastated neighborhoods. Reuters reports hospital officials as saying that "Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 50 Palestinians and wounded some 220."

Aug 4  Early yesterday Israel's military was tracking what it described as terrorists on a motorcycle. It fired just as the motorcycle was passing a UN school. Israel's military is aware of the locations of the UN schools. According to NBC News, if the shooter had waited a minute for the motorcycle to have moved farther on it would have spared the lives of civilians waiting just outside the gate of the school. At least ten Palestinians died. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, calling it "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

Aug 4   Yesterday, Yahoo News reported that "farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade," Officials for the city of Toledo Ohio warned that tap water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes, and "health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water." Yesterday in Toledo the public bought up all the bottled water available in stores.

Aug 5  The Moscow Times reports President Putin's speech glorifying Tsar Nicholas II's decision on August 1, 1914, to go to war to help Russia's Slavic brothers, the Serbs. Other European leaders have spoken of the war as a tragedy. Putin instead appeals to Russian nationalism. Russia failed utterly to help the Serbs. (Russia entering the war produced disaster for the Serbs, who handled Austria-Hungary's attack well enough on their own but were done in by the Germans.) Putin describes Russia as having been on the verge of winning its war in 1916, a ludicrous claim, and he blames Russia's failure on those who were sowing dissention within Russia - the Bolsheviks for whom he worked for years as a KGB agent. The Moscow Times writes, "From remarks earlier this year, it is clear that Putin also blames the Bolsheviks for splitting up Russia's empire."

Aug 6  Most of Israel's ground forces have pulled out of Gaza. The cease-fire continues. Israel's Operation Protective Edge appears to be over. Israeli intelligence estimates that around 3,300 missiles were fired toward Israel, and Israel's Defense Force claims to have destroyed some 3,000 more, and it estimates that some 3,000 missiles remain in Gaza. At least a few Israelis are disappointed that Hamas has not been completely wiped out. The Times of Israel, reports that a military (IDF) assessment holds that the cost of reoccupation of the Gaza Strip and completely purging it of terror "would be hundreds of soldiers' lives, endangering peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and tens of billions of shekels per year," and that "severe disorder, riots and unrest would also be expected in the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs." Some cabinet ministers doubt the report and call it "pessimistic." The Times of Israel plays with the idea that Israel "might have won" this latest contest - the fourth since 2006, 2009 and 2012. The editors of Harretz (Israel's oldest daily newspaper) call of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the blockade, rebuild the Gaza Strip, recognize the Palestinian unity government and cooperate with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The question why Israel doesn't end its occupation, dismissing it as an issue for its enemies while remaining free to defend itself militarily again if it must, remains. /// Just in from the Associated Press: Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu demands that Hamas disarm, or at least ensure that it cannot re-arm, before it considers opening Gaza's borders (closed since 2007).

Aug 6  In Saudi Arabia, men wishing to marry foreigners face tougher regulations. Police Director Major General Assaf al-Qurashii is reported as saying that men need the consent of the government obtained by submitting marriage applications through official channels.

Aug 7  Saudi Arabia in cooperation with France gives Lebanon one billion dollars to help the Lebanese army and national security forces fight the Sunni al-Qaeda linked "terrorists" who have seized the town of Arsal, near the border with Syria. With this money, Lebanon is expected to buy weapons from France.

Aug 7  The Times of Israel reports Prime Minister Netanyahu's claim, "that it would be a 'moral mistake' as well as a practical one to not take action against terrorists operating from mosques, schools and other civilian areas." Some of the comments from readers oppose Netanyahu. One of them complained: "They committed war crimes so we are permitted to commit war crimes." Another reader describes urban fighters as always fighting from civilian areas, the Polish Home Army having done it against the Germans and rebels doing it in Syria. "What are they supposed to do," he asks, "stand in an open field and wait for an airstrike?" One comment supporting Netanyahu's morality concept reads: "You are a disgrace to your own people," another says something about rats coming out of the sewer.

Aug 8  Hamas rejects Israel's willingness to open Gaza's borders in exchange for Hamas disarming. A text message from Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said there would be no extension of the 72-hour cease-fire if there was no agreement to permanently lift the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt. This morning the 72-hours expired and Hamas fired more rockets. Israel retaliated with air strikes in Gaza, the IDF saying that it is striking "terrorist sites." The IDF this morning entered the war crime argument, describing every rocket fired into Israel as a war crime because each is aimed at civilians.

Aug 9  Hamas proclaims it will make no concessions to Israel. "The resistance will continue... The occupier's intransigence will get it nowhere," says Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhum, according to the Times of Israel. The Israeli military describes a total of 70 rockets fired toward Israel since the truce yesterday, and Israel is described as striking more than 30 targets in Gaza since then. Israel isn't about to end its occupation as Hamas demands, and Hamas isn't about to disarm, leaving Israel to disarm Hamas bit by bit with military force. Yesterday a distraught elderly Gazan asked, "Why shouldn't we fire rocket at Israel? Look at what they are doing to our children!" Nobody was seen replying: because sending rockets is mere emotional satisfaction and aggravating our problem with Israel. How many in Gaza oppose Hamas firing its rockets again is difficult to find. A poll in mid-July descrbed by the Washington Institute describes 73 percent of Gazans holding that "Palestinians should adopt 'proposals for (nonviolent) popular resistance against the occupation.'"

Aug 10  President Obama has announced his intention to protect the 700,000 Yazidis in northern Iraq. These are a Kurdish speaking people who practice an ancient religion associated with Zoroastrianism and reviled by ISIS militants who view them as devil worshippers. The Huffington Post headlines that "at lead 500 Yazidis have been killed by ISIS ... women and children ... buried alive... hundreds of women kidnapped." Yazidis have fled to desert mountain top and are said to number 40,000. Obama has ordered airdrops of water and food for them, and he has authorized airstrikes against ISIS which took place two days ago. Yesterday, President Obama said it would "take some time" to help Iraq overcome its ISIS problem and to stabilize. He promised that he would not put any boots on the ground in Iraq. The airstrikes and humanitarian air drops might have to continue for months, he has said. Two of Obama's hawkish Republican critics, Senators McCain and Graham, complain that he has no vision and that his intervention won't defeat ISIS. William Saletan writes for Slate that they are are wrong. "ISIS will destroy itself. We don't have to stamp out ISIS, because its growth is inherently limited. It picks too many fights and alienates too many people."

Aug 12  The temporary Israel-Hamas truce holds for the second day. Hamas is reported as willing to have forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas police Gaza's Rafah border crossing to Egypt - a first since Gaza took power in Gaza in 2007. It's the Palestinian Authority (PA) Israel wants to deal with, and the PA is on the side of Hamas in its view of a solution to the crisis: an end to Israel's occupation of Gaza. Peter Beinart, who is working for Haaretz and CNN, describes Prime Minister Netanyahu as saying three weeks ago that Israel will require permanent, or "at least indefinite military control" of the West Bank, which means no independent Palestinian state. "In fact," says Beinart, "that's consistent with what we know about what he said in the private negotiations under Kerry." Beinart says that with this lack of a conceivable path toward a two-state solution, "you have no political strategy against Hamas."

Aug 13  Walgreens has decided not to shift its headquarters overseas, which would have cut the amount of US taxes it pays. Today, Katrina vanden Heuval writes in the Washington Post that the "rather unpatriotic move" was rejected after a backlash that included "petitions signed by several hundred thousand people, protests at Walgreens stores, and even rumblings of a consumer boycott." Vanden Heuval estimates that Walgreens' latest decision means the US government won't lose $4 billion in tax revenue. She mentions Americans for Tax Fairness having participated in the opposition to Walgreens' move overseas. She criticizes Congress "which allows and, indeed, provides an incentive for bad behavior" and a "plethora of popular corporated tax-dodging tactics... loopholes that those who can afford the best tax lawyers - such as corporations - can game the system and win."

Aug 14  Yesterday a five-day cease-fire extension was agreed to in Cairo. There was news also of a few rockets fired from Gaza but no damage or injuries. For a while it looked as though Israel was not going to retaliate, but they did, with air strikes. Hamas denied that they fired the rockets, and today the five-day truce is still on. The Times of Israel describes focus of the talks in Cairo as likely to be the blockade: the restriction of goods that enter and leave Gaza. The paper goes on to say that Gaza needs cement to rebuild but Israelis fear that it could be used "for nefarious purposes," as in tunnel building. Other sources speak of Israel holding the blockade necessary to prevent arms smuggling. We hear little if anything about the ineffectiveness of the blockade, in place since 2007, in preventing rocketry. Meanwhile, senior Hamas negotiator Khalil al-Haya is reported as optimistic about the Cairo talks and says that he is not intererested in more destruction or bloodshed "for our people."

Aug 15  The banana company Chiquita rejects a takeover bid by Brazil's Cutrale and Safra groups, saying the offer from Brazil was "inadequate." Chiquita says it is sticking to its plan to merge with the European fruit seller Fyffes. This, BBC News points out, would "allow Chiquita to avoid higher US taxes by relocating its statutory headquarters to Ireland."
Aug 15  Egypt floats an 11-point ceasefire proposal, its main points: Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza; Palestinians will stop all attacks on Israel and build no tunnels into Israel; Gaza's borders will open, including a transfer of goods between Gaza and the West Bank; buffer zones in northern Gaza will be eliminated in steps beginning January 2015; fishing off the Gaza coast will immediately be extended to 6 miles and will be gradually extended to 12 miles. These moves are to be done with coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The response by Hamas is reported as varied, with some saying Hamas is ready to accept and others complaining that the Egyptian proposal gives Hamas nothing. Yesterday demonstrators in Tel Aviv were calling for "no revenge" and an end to their country's attacks on Gaza alongside others who were carrying signs calling for the obliteration of Hamas. According to the Times of Israel, protesters carried signs with slogans such as "Even one rocket is too many," "We love the IDF," and "Conquer Gaza now!" Civility and respect were maintained between the hawks and doves. Also yesterday, Israel's Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said negotiations would only serve to empower Hamas. Israel's secular leftist Social Democratic party, Meretz, supports a negotiated settlement with Palestinians and the dismantling of most Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It has only 6 of the 120 seats in parliament. Israel's Labor Party, the party of former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, is also considered left-of-center and associated with the peace process, and they hold only 15 seats in parliament.

Aug 17  In Israel a wedding between a Jewish woman and an Arab man is taking place today. A group opposed to assimilation, Lehava, is ordered by a judge to protest no closer than 200 meters from the wedding hall. Lehava opposed Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli marrying Leonardo DiCaprio, and it has denounced Mark Zuckerberg's marriage to Priscilla Chan. Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, expresses his support for the couple "to get married and to exercise their freedoms in a democratic state," and he adds that "Not everyone has to rejoice about their happy occasion, but everyone must respect it." Last week, Lehava director Bentzi Gopstein accused the bride-to-be of "marrying the enemy while the nation is at war."

Aug 18  The wedding for the Tel Aviv couple was joyful yesterday, while everybody but the police and some news people ignored the several hundred demonstrators who were kept at the prescribed distance.

Aug 18  Nine days ago a white policeman in Ferguson Missouri fired six rounds at an unarmed 18-year-old black male, MIchael Brown, reported to have his hands in the air. Protests followed and a few found opportunity to destroy property and loot, which the Brown family and President Obama have condemned. The local police brought out Iraq-war style military equipment and offended people with their aggressive response. The community is predominately black and the Ferguson police are predominately white. Black police officers were brought in, state troopers took over and midnight curfews were declared. Yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Andrea Mitchell asked the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, "Why has a full week elapsed, and we still do not know anything? The public wants answers to what happened between Michael Brown and the white officer who shot and killed him." This morning, Reuters News describes the Missouri national guard having been "called in as the chaos continues."

Aug 19  Yesterday, President Obama complained about "a small minority" in Ferguson, Missouri, undermining peaceful protest by fomenting violence. One of the many putting in an appearance in Ferguson yesterday was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who complained that blacks have been "locked out of the economy," which some interpreted as his offering an excuse for rioting. This morning's headline in the Huffington Post reads: "CLASH." There were "fresh clashes" last night. "Police fired several rounds of tear gas into the crowd after a small number of protesters reportedly threw bottles at the officers. Shots were fired, and the cops ordered everyone without media credentials to disperse." Again yesterday there were reports on the News Hour of hostility between peaceful protesters and those who are not peaceful. The violent appear in tv clips displaying in the street a mix of glee and anger at the police. The police describe themselves as obliged to maintain peace and to protect property. The police for sure are not going to tolerate being attacked with stones, fire bombs, other objects and especially being shot at. They see a part of their job as defending themselves. Meanwhile, in the Untied States the common view is that non-violence is the way to go in expressing grievances and that violence is not productive. Demonstrations, like war, are political expressions, but the United States has an aberrant minority viewed as "crazies" who are attracted to demonstrations driven by other than a sound political strategy.

Aug 20  Yesterday Egypt urged restraint concerning the unrest in Ferguson. Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, has also raised the flag of human rights, describing events in Ferguson as more oppression by the US. Also yesterday someone made the news saying violent protest in Ferguson was necessary in order to attract attention, that otherwise the problem would be ignored. This morning's news is of the police in Ferguson saying that last night they arrested 47 mostly for failure to disperse and, that protests were "mostly peaceful."

Aug 20  Talks in Cairo have ended with Israel unwilling to give Gaza its freedom until Hamas disarms and Hamas saying it won't disarm until Israel ends its occupation. If they had discussed simultaneity it didn't make the news. With this, yesterday Hamas sent more rockets into Israel and Israel retaliated with air strikes. Nineteen more Palestinians are reported killed, and Hamas reports that the wife and child of its military commander, Mohammed Deif, were killed.

Aug 20  This morning's top story on BBC News: the US, UK and France "voice abhorrence at the apparent beheading of American journalist James Foley" by an ISIS militant in Syria. Foley is described as having been "'A brave and tireless journalist."' The beheading is reported as retaliation for US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

Aug 21  The US ignores an ISIS threat to execute another American should the US launch more air strikes. US Navy airplanes and drones hit ISIS positions near the city of Mosul in Iraq, helping Kurdish and Baghdad government forces. The New York Times reports that before beheading the American journalist James Foley, ISIS demanded that the US provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, and the NYT adds that "several European countries ... have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens," but the US refused to pay. Reuters writes this morning that a US military attempt to rescue Foley and other Americans in Syria "earlier this summer" failed because, according to the Pentagon, the hostages were "not present at the targeted location."

Aug 22  In Gaza today, responding to Israel executing by air strikes three of its leaders, Hamas activists grabbed seven who were leaving Gaza's largest mosque and shot them, after shouting that "This is the final moment of the Zionist enemy collaborators." Also this morning, a Gaza security official said that eleven suspected informers were killed at the Gaza City police headquarters, noting that the dead had been sentenced by Gaza courts. The Times of Israel this morning informed its readers that "Israel's intelligence services rely, in part, on informers to pinpoint the whereabouts of Hamas leaders." Precisely what happened wasn't described in the media, but today some of us are reminded that sometimes during wars ordinary people might fail to differentiate between an actual act of espionage and merely not conforming to wartime group-think.

Napa earth quake
A building destroyed following  6.0 earthquake
on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California

Aug 14  A building is seen destroyed following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3:00 am on Sunday morning causing damage to buildings and sending at least 70 people to a hospital

Aug 24
   A week-ago, Rand Corporation, a think-tank, described IS as "sophisticated, strategic, financially savvy and building structures that could survive for years to come." It added that IS "currently brings in more than $1 million a day in revenue and is now the richest terrorist group on the planet." Contrary to some claims, IS gets no support from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been fighting jihadist fundamentalism for years. It has denounced IS, and four days ago its Grand Mufti described IS and al-Qaeda as "enemy number one" of Islam. Qatar denies supporting IS. Its foreign minister says his country is repelled by IS views, violent methods and ambitions. Unlike the Assad regime in Syria, which has Russia and Iran for support, IS has no state as a friend. Al Qaeda in Yemen has announced its support, people are buying its oil and wheat at bargain prices, and ransom money is going to iS from France, Italy and elsewhere. As Rand Corporation claims, it could survive for years to come. This could be despite periodic airstrikes by the United States - about 100 so far. Boots on the ground worn by Kurdish forces and soldiers of the Baghdad government are not expected to destroy the Islamic State soon. Today retired General John Allien says a "comprehensive approach" is required that includes the US employing "special operations." (New York Times map of IS controlled territory)

Aug 25  Foreign ministers in the Saudi city of Jeddah pledge a unified stance against extremist ideology in the Arab world. With the Saudi minister were ministers from Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. These states have been hostile to the Assad regime in Syria, viewed as engaging in state terrorism. Syria sees benefit in hostility toward the Sunni extremists, ISIS, and Assad's foreign minister today announces that Syria is "ready" to work with the international community, including the United States, to combat terrorism.

Aug 25 Comedian John Oliver appeared on television last night mocking the way internet websites hype news in order to build traffic. The Raw Story reports today that he was directing his humor at the Huffington Post.

Aug 26  President Obama authorizes surveillance flights over Syria, described by some as a first step toward US air strikes there against ISIS. Meanwhile, regarding military action against ISIS and the view of ISIS as a threat, Harvard scholar Stephen Walt, appearing on the NewsHour, says ISIS is a "bunch of very bad guys" but their threat to the United States "has been greatly exaggerated" and "to believe that we can go in again with airpower primarily and some special forces and eliminate this problem is fanciful." He says ISIS "has maybe 20,000 fighters, no air force, no navy, basically lightly armed infantry" and have been able to expand only in stateless areas. A different view comes from Oklahoma's Senator Inhofe on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is advocating intervention and saying ISIS is "crazy" and is "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major US city, and people just can't believe that's happening."

Aug 27  Yesterday people in Gaza paraded with a lot of cheering and smiles in giddy celebration of an ambiguous "open-ended ceasefire" agreement brokered in Cairo. Hamas has been damaged, 2,143 Palestinians have been killed, more than 11,000 wounded and 100,000 made homeless in the fifty-day war. Hamas justifies itself by claiming victory. Others claim the agreement was made because of exhaustion, and it is said that Hamas didn't want to spend all of its rockets. The agreement states that Israel will ease restrictions on goods entering Gaza, on humanitarian aid and construction materials, and Israel will expand the offshore area open to Palestinian fishermen to six nautical miles. Israel's Prime Minister Netanhayu is being criticized by people who want Hamas destroyed. A rift is reported in his coalition. His approval rating, at 82 percent before the war, is now said to be at 38 percent. Israel has lost 64 soldiers in the conflict, and Israelis are concerned that another military move into Gaza would kill many more of its soldiers.

Aug 28  Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the ten Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine had probably strayed across the border "by accident." Pro-Russian rebels have taken the town of Novoazovsk and are threatening the port city of Mariupol. Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk says Russia has "unleashed a war in Europe." President Poroshenko says he will initiate an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the crisis.

Aug 28  A US citizen, 33-year-old Douglas McCain, has been reported killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria. Some are trying to describe why he joined ISIS. An article in the Washington Post describes him as having been a "goof ball" in highschool. Between ages 19 and 27 he accumulated nine misdemeanor convictions. Then he had a religious conversion and found meaning in life. The conversion was to Islam. On the News Hour yesterday a woman in a headscarf, Humera Khan, was interviewed. She is the executive director of Muflehun, a think tank that focuses on countering violent extremism. The intensity of new converts was mentioned, and Khan spoke of such men having only a shallow knowledge of Islam and wanting to prove themselves with "good deeds" and looking for "a sort of like shortcut to heaven." A tweeted New Republic article by Mehdi Hasan, dated August 22, describes jihadist newbies buying the book Koran for Dummies. Hasan writes that "the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement."

Aug 29  At the UN, in response to an accusation of Russia invading Ukraine, the Russian minister says the West doesn't understand its "close relations" with that country. Meanwhile, the Ukraine government, centered in Kiev, is fighting to establish order and its legitimate authority against a separatist minority of ethnic Russians. UIkraine is a democracy and the rebels would have a voice in the Ukraine's local and central government, but they prefer armed rebellion. As reported today in the Moscow Times, President Putin compares the Kiev government's effort with "the events of the World War II, when German fascist... occupants surrounded our cities." Half the comments to the paper regarding Putin are derisive. Also today, "heavy fighting" is reported near Mariupol, Ukraine's port city on the Azov Sea, with pro-Russian forces trying to capture the city and government troops defending.

September 2014

Sep  1 Iraq's foreign minister announces Russia's delivery of a batch of Mi-28 helicopters to help fight ISIS. And closed-door talks have begun in the city of Minsk between Russian and Ukrainian officials regarding fighting in the Ukraine, with the Russians seeking a ceasefire and who knows what else. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is involved - a 57-nation group founded in the 1970s. Meanwhlle the Ukrainian UNIAN news agency reports today that as many as 680 Ukrainian combatants have been captured in the Donetsk region. Yesterday, US Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, called for the US to arm the Ukrainian military with advanced weapons, that it might defend itself against Russia."This is a watershed moment," he said. Senator John McCain said "For God's sake, can't the US help the Ukrainians defend themselves? This is not an incursion, it's an invasion." A Ukrainian soldier is reported as saying his rifle in not effective against tanks. Someone else comments: "Putin can't afford to lose this war and he knows it." The European Union has done its speaking, telling Russia it has one week to stop its incursions into the Ukraine or face new sanctions. And the Moscow Times reported yesterday that new NATO bases are planned for Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia intended to contain the Russian threat. People are asking, "What does Putin want?" Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels. The government in Kiev says it is willing to give rights for the south and east of Ukraine but will not talk directly to those it calls Russian puppets who can only be reined in by Moscow. Putin three days ago raised the subject of nuclear weapons, saying that "Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations" and added, "This is a reality, not just words." Yesterday, Putin called for immediate talks on "statehood" for southern and eastern Ukraine,

Sep 2  All-night clashes with pro-Russian rebels drives Ukrainian forces from the Luhansk airport. Ukraine's defence minister accusses Russia of launching a "great war" that could claim tens of thousands of lives. Much is being made a Putin comment in a private conversation that Russian forces could take over Ukraine's capital in two weeks' time if they wished. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia's priority is an "immediate ceasefire." Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor describes Ukrainian armed forces as having overextended themselves, that Putin doesn't want to annex Eastern Ukraine and that it will probably be negotiations that end the crisis. Comments describe Weir as a liar and perhaps being paid by the Russians.

Sep 2  The Ma'an News Agency, largest media source in the Palestinian territories, claims that yesterday "a group of Israeli settlers chopped down grape vines on Palestinian agriculture property ... near the illegal settlement of Beit Ein." The news agency complains that "Over 90 percent of investigations into settler violence by Israeli police fail to lead to an indictment."

Sep 2  In London yesterday, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis told a crowd of up to 4,500 that he could not have foreseen the need to rally against anti-Semitism. Betweem January and June of this year, 304 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded across Britain. Rabbi Mirvis called for an end to all forms of prejudice including Islamophobia.

Sep 3   The war in western Africa against the Ebola virus is Situation Normal All Fouled Up (SNAFU). Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders complains that laws criminalizing the failure to report suspected cases are driving people underground and pushing people away from health systems. She says that, "These measures have only served to breed fear and unrest, rather than contain the virus." In the US, Doctor Thomas Frieden says that Doctors Without Borders is "doing phenomenal work" but is overwhelmed by the number of patients. What is needed, he says, is action. "Every day we delay in getting the proven treatments and prevention out there, it spreads more widely and we have more of it." Doctors Without Borders reports that 800 more beds for Ebola patients are urgently needed in the Liberian capital Monrovia alone and that in Sierra Leone highly infectious bodies were rotting in the streets. Joanne Liu is calling for field hospitals with isolation wards and mobile medical laboratories, and she speaks of "a global coalition of inaction." Yesterday by the way, health care workers at Liberia's main hospital went on strike over unpaid wages.

Sep 4  With stem cell implants, scientists in Russia have created a method for a damaged liver to rejuvenate itself, "essentially allowing a patient to regrow a healthy organ," writes the Moscow Times. The report adds that a leading cause of death of Russians over 40 is cirrhosis of the liver.

Sep 5  President Obama disapproval rating has climbed to 54% and his approval rating has dropped to 38% while he has been talking tough regarding ISIS and Russia. He has issued a joint statement with Britain's David Cameron that "We must be prepared to deploy our special forces, invest in smart defense and strengthen the capacity of forces elsewhere to tackle local conflicts through new defense capacity, building missions with our partners from Georgia to the Middle East." The day before yesterday in Estonia, Obama spoke of NATO fortifying the defence capabilities of countries threatened by Moscow, and yesterday he spoke of NATO strengthening Ukraine's military against Russia. Russia sees NATO as unfriendly and complains about NATO forces "drawing closer" to its border. Today, an expected ceasefire agreement, or "truce deal" between Ukraine and Russia is signed in the Belarus city of Minsk. But the president's critics are attacking him where they think he is vulnerable, attacking him for what they call his lack of strategy. Charles Krauthammer headlines his column in the Washington Post today, "Ukraine abandoned."

Sep 8  Concerning Ukraine, a Reuters headline this morning reads, "Shaky truce is holding." Anne Applebaum opined on CNN yesterday that "Russia is winning in that Ukraine has had to agree to the presence of Russian armed separatists inside its country." A hawkish Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal says, "it's dangerous for the West to accept the situation as it is. Because I don't think Putin is going to stop here in Ukraine. He thinks we should take seriously Putin's talk about being able to take Kiev "in the next two weeks." Some people still see Putin as a threat to the Balkan states, that Putin wants to build a political entity that includes much if not all of what used to be the Soviet Union. Peter Beinart, now with CNN, says Putin sending troops to Kiev would be "incredibly stupid." This would apply also to Putin regarding sending troops into the Balkan states. Beinart says It would be another Afghanistan for Russia. Beinart says the West could flood the Ukraine with lots of weapons but that military experts think it wouldn't help Ukraine against Russian forces. Applebaum wants to see the US "truly reinforce NATO as it currently exists," whatever that means. There has been talk that fear of NATO has been driving Putin - an irrational fear driven by his brand of nationalist emotionality and history. Henry Kissinger is reported as saying that where we are today in the Ukraine was inevitable and that we should recognize it. The old foreign policy expert for Republican hawks, Richard Haas, describes NATO as having become a "rhetorical organization" that doesn't really have "local military capability much less the will to get involved." President Obama, meanwhile, has been standing with the ceasefire, watching to see if it works and approving tough talk by NATO.

Sep 9  Today the conservative columnist Michael Gerson gives us his opinion about President Obama's strategy regarding ISIS, an article titled "Resuming the Long War." He speaks of more than 1,000 US troops already on the ground in Iraq in supportive roles and Obama's strategy being different from what it has been for the last "five, six, seven years: Special Operations raids and drone strikes while retreating from geostrategic commitments (as in Iraq) or ignoring them (as in Syria)." Now, according to Gerson, Obama "wants to 'degrade' the Islamic State's capabilities, 'shrink' its territory, and ultimately defeat 'em'". Gerson makes something of Obama's tough talk not described as a change in strategy. Now the US effort in Iraq, Gerson says, is a "counter insurgency campaign."

Sep 11  Washington Post opinion writer David Ignatius writes "Obama kept his distance despite the deaths of 200,000 Syrians but apparently can't do so any longer after the beheading of two Americans." The beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff have shaken public opinion, and President Obama has been criticized for weakness against evil forces. In a speech last night, Obama described his policy of applying more force with allies and no US troops on the ground - his position already commonly known. But the speech gave him an opportunity to emphasize how evil ISIS is, how much it is a threat to us, how grand we Americans are in supporting human decency around the globe and how determined he is to keep Americans safe. Obama's speech was not a big story in Britain. The Guardian headlines: "For expanded Isis strikes, Obama relies on legal authority he disavowed only a year ago." This morning's news about the Middle East from Al Arabiya is that Turkey will not allow the US to use its bases for military assaults against ISIS in Syria or Iraq and will not participate in such actions. Also in the news, yesterday former Vice President Dick Cheney told House Republicans, as reported by the New York Times, that the United States took its eye off the terror threat "under Mr. Obama's watch." Cheney's only remedy for foreign policy problems, according to the paper, "is war."

Sep 12  For the first time, astronomers have detected water ice clouds around a dim celestial body outside of our solar system, similar to what exists around the Earth. The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on September 9.

Sep 13  An article in Al Arabiya by Paul Crompton describes an appeal that reads, "There is no life without Jihad." This is about young men who feel lost finding help in religiousity and an activism that gives them a sense of purpose. A report out of Germany describes hundreds who travelled to Syria to join jihadist groups as largely young, male and failed at school and in their careers. And what to do about those who are turned off by brutal realities? They are trapped as get-tough strategists seek to punish those who return home. Currently there are between 20,000 and 31,000 foreign fighters with ISIS according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Something like 260 Britons "are believed to have returned from Syria, with 40 of those awaiting trial." The article quotes Ed Blanche, a counter-terrorism analyst who said. "I don't see that the western countries can legislate [measures] that can appeal to the communities in which these guys operate. If they become very restrictive then it's simply going to alienate these communities and help the radicals."

Sep 15  In Bahrian on August 25 the pro-democracy activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja started an open-ended hunger strike to protest what he called his "arbitrary arrest." He had been sentenced to life imprisonment after mass anti-government protests in Bahrain in 2011. Denmark has been trying to secure his release. His daughter Maryam Khawaja is co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. She returned to Bahrain after a three-year absence and Bahrain authorities imprisoned her, and she began her hunger strike on September 12. The UN has called for her immediate release, and expresses concern that her arrest "is linked to her legitimate work to promote human rights." Bahrain has provided a base for the US Navy since 1947. Also on September 12, Bahrain was one of the ten Middle East countries that pledged involvement in a coalition with the US against ISIS.

Sep 16  Controversy has been boiling in evangelical circles regarding nationally televised remarks in late August by Christine Olsteen, wife of Joel Olsteen, during a sermon at their Lakewood Church in Texas. She sermonized that, "When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God, really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy." Her remarks are reported as having been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media since late August, adding to the conflict in ideas that has existed among Christians for almost two mlllennia. Some of Olsteen's fellow Christians complain that the worship of God is not for oneself but a moral duty. A supporter of the Olsteens says, "He wants us to worship Him for our sake." In reporting the story, the Huffington Post has not described the disputants citing sources or whether assumption is involved.

Sep 16  New studies reported today by BBC News suggest that in their efforts at happiness people have been indulging in the consumption of too much sugar. The study claims that for the sake of health and teeth people should cut their sugar intake from the common 10 percent of energy intake down to 5 or perhaps 3 percent.

Sep 17 Mass rallies in Scotland prepare for tomorrow's independence referendum. In this age of globalization and integration, close to half of Scotland's voters are opting for separation from Britain. They want to enhance their identity as Scottish, not out of anger or hostility toward the English, Welch and people of Northern Ireland. Some Scots to the left of Prime Minister David Cameron and looking forward to distancing themselves from conservatism. Some think they can do better economically and feel better emotionally if they were politically separate from the British. The question looms regarding how gas and oil production in the North Sea would be divided, although no one expects an armed conflict would arise over the issue. With independence currency complication would arise, with Scotland needing its own currency or joining the Euro bloc. There is talk of Scotland having its own broadcasting service to replace the BBC. And there would be defense and alliance complications.

Sep 17 Yesterday there was joy and celebration in Ukraine following its parliament paving the way for membership in the European Union. And yesterday, Ukraine granted semi-autonomy and amnesty to pro-Russia rebels as part of a peace agreement with Russia.

Sep 18  Yesterday in an emotional speech, former prime minister Gordon Brown told his fellow Scots: "And what we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder ever... They don't know what they are doing. They are leading us into a trap... And let us tell the nationalists this is not their flag, their country, their culture, their streets. This is everyone's flag, everyone's country, everyone's street." He said that we Scots are "proud too that we cooperate and share, indeed we Scots led the way in cooperating, sharing across the United Kingdom - common defence, common currency, common and shared rights from the UK pension to the UK minimum wage, from each according his ability to contribute, to each according to his needs."

Sep 19  Scotland votes "No" to independence. 2,001,926 to 1,617,989. The 307-year Union survives. The United Kingdom stays united. The UK remains a member of the UN security council. Leaders in EU counties are relieved, including Germany's Foreign Mininister Steinmeier. Another German says the "No" vote prevents a "further fragmentation of Europe." Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine describes the Scottish nationalists as having "promised the moon." Italy's former prime minister, Enrico Letta, describes the vote as, "Good for us and for Europe" and adds, "Now let's not ignore the intolerance and fears which encourage separatists." President Obama has to be pleased. He is with others in seeing the British united as a stronger ally. Meanwhile, praises are issued for the democracy involved including the 85 percent voter turnout - in contrast to civil war that accompanied another effort at secession.

Sep 22  Congressional elections in the US are five weeks away. Here are two contrasting congressmen running for re-election in Kentucky. Expected to win easily in the rural 5th District is the Republican Hal Rogers, in office since 1981. Rogers criticizes the Obama Administration for allowing "taxpayer dollars to be used to continue developing job-killing regulations for our coal industry." He says that Obama's "efforts to remove coal from the nation's energy mix ... will drive up energy bills across the country." He complains of wasteful policies that "helped send nearly 8,000 coal miners to the unemployment lines in eastern Kentucky over the last two years." Rolling Stone criticizes Rogers for having steered federal homeland security money to his home district where it is less needed, and the conservative National Review and others accuse Rogers of pursuing self-interest regarding the allocation of federal funds. But his constituents pay little attention to his critics. They see Rogers as a friend and as one of them. Switching to the 3rd District in urban Louisville, the incumbent John Yarmuth has been a supporter of Obama Care, and he complains about the corrupting influence of money in politics. He has introduced a constitutional amendment to establish that financial expenditures and in-kind contributions do not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment. He speaks of "a moral obligation" to protect the environment, and he says he has "grave concerns about mountaintop removal mining, which has serious impacts on public health, our waterways, and natural areas - especially in Kentucky."

Sep 23  Following the democratic means with which the separatist issue was resolved regarding Scotland, China sentences the Uighar academic Ilham Tohti to a life in prison for merely advocating separatism for the Unghar people of Xinjiang. Amnesty International calls the verdict "deplorable". Ilham Tohti has been an advocate of peaceful dialogue between Han Chinese and Uighars, and his lawyer says that "no matter the verdict, he will not be angry nor seek revenge." Tohti is known for his research on Uyghur-Han relations and for advocating the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China. He was detained shortly after the July 2009 Urumqi riots because of his criticism of Chinese government's policies regarding Xinjiang. He was later released and then jailed again in January 2014. In 2014 he was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. China is known for having concern about threats to its great power image that exceeds Britain's government.

Sep 24  For a second day, the US bombs in Syria, striking what President Obama describes as taking the fight to terrorists who threaten our people. A poll last week by Pew Research suggests bipartisan public support 63 percent in favor and 29 percent against. A common view is that ISIS has people who could come to the United States and do bad things - as they did on September 11, 2001, when security and intelligence agencies had been lax. Now those agencies are supposed to be capable, but the idea exists that rather than just defend our borders we have to take the fight abroad, not only by supporting allies in the Middle East but also with military action. And we have doubters. Among them, former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates recently said "... there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy." James Carville, Democratic Party strategist wisecracked on Meet the Press: "Look, 13 years ago this October, we started bombing Muslims in the Middle East. We're still bombing them. Does any sane person think that 13 years from now, we're not going to still be bombing them?" From the public one can hear the complaint about the money spent on bombing. And one can hear it said that we have to support our allies and the good people in the Middle East. Referring to ISIS, President Obama suggests that it also an idea that we are fighting.

Sep 25  US, Saudi and UAE aircraft target 12 oil refineries in Syria during a third night of air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants. The US claims the refineries generated as much as $2 million per day in revenue for the militants. Also, the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria moves France to announce today that is considering attacking IS with its air power in Syria as well as Iraq. No word meanwhile has been heard from an IS spokesman that indicates they have compared the benefits of their extreme brutalities against the cost of having excited those now attacking them from the air. It appears that IS militants are led by men without any pragmatism regarding their struggle to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Sep 28  The al-Nusra Front in Syria declares solidarity with ISIS and denounces US-led air strikes as a "war on Islam." Muslims around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE who are participating in the air strikes, describe this group and their ISIS allies as not representing Islam. The al-Nusra declaration fails to address this clash of opinion. It appears as useful communication for their cause only as cheerleading (talking to themselves) or for recruiting sympathizers not given to weighing differences of opinion. Meanwhile, opinion is being expressed in the media about an ideological component that must be part of the strategy against ISIS.

Sep 28  Hong Kong police disperse protesters who were trying to push through police barricades. The protesters are against the mainland government having the power to choose who can be a candidate in the 2017 elections for the island's political leader. According to Reuters, one of the protesters, a taxi driver, said, "Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one."

Sep 29  Al-Nursa leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani calls on US citizens to denounce Washington's bombing campaign. He warns of retaliatory attacks in the "homes" of Western and Arab countries that have taken part in the bombings. In Mecca, meanwhile, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivers a keynote speech at the annual conference of the Muslim World League. He urges his fellow Muslims to be modern while maintaining Muslim values. He calls on scholars to study, analyze and deal with persuasive argument. He adds that "Human development and related concepts such as freedom, democracy and human rights shall not fall outside the framework of the cultural environment of the Ummah [Muslim community]." He speaks of positive relationships and cooperation with others" and rejection of extremism, violence and terrorism." The Saudi kingdom is a leading coalition partner with the US in air strikes. It and the Obama administration are sure to view al-Nursa's statement as ineffective bombast.

Sep 30  A study by scientists released today describes the world as having lost 52 percent of its biodiversity since 1970. Thirty-nine percent of terrestrial wildlife, 39 percent of marine wildlife, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife is described as gone. The decline has occurred in low-income countries. The World Wildlife Fund, who sponsored the study, claims that the world's human population is already too much for the land and sea available needed to produce the resources we rely on for food, fuel, building and other needs. Described by CBS News, the report adds that "the problem may get worse as more of the world adopts or aspires to the levels of consumption common in richer countries."

October 2014

Oct 1 Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide by the World Court, says he takes "moral responsibility" for crimes committed by the Bosnian Serbs he was leading during the Srebrenica massacres in July 1995 - considered Europe's worst since World War Two. Karadzic was educated as a psychiatrist. He implies that he is a moral person but as leader was too tolerant and sloppy communicating with his subordinates.

Oct 1  In Mississippi a dispute over who won a Republican run-off election in June is being decided by Mississippi's Supreme Court. Mississippi's Tea Party supports the challenger, Chris McDaniel, as has Sarah Palin. The declared winner in June was incumbent Republican Thad Cochran. Mississippi's Tea Party leader Laura Van Overschelde says the Tea Party supports Chris McDaniel for the US Senate because "he holds those truths that we should have a limited government, we should have fiscal responsibility and we should have free markets in this country." Thad Cochran also believes in limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets, but Overschelde implies that he should hold these "truths" with a greater degree of purity or less compromise.

Oct 2  The People's Republic of China wants to have on its island of Hong Kong a chief executive whom it approves, and the people of Hong Kong, apparently in overwhelming number, want a chief executive for their island that is purely their choice. Protesters calling for democracy have been in the streets and sleeping on roads around government buildings for several days. The protesters want what is implied in the words "People's Republic" - democracy. Hong Kong police warn of "serious consequences" if protesters block or charge government buildings. The police have been tear-gassing people but not shooting or charging into the crowds. Authorities appear to be hoping that people will tire and return home and to work. BBC News reports that student demonstrators vow to step up their protests if they don't get their way. Meanwhile, Hong Kong does not have the economic importance for China that it had decades ago when it was an entry point for commerce to China. Shanghai has replaced Hong Kong.

Oct 2  A second person in two days is being reported here as having taken of "full responsibility" - a phrase that has been losing meaning. Yesterday, Julia Pierson offered her resignation to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. On September 30 she appeared before a congressional committee and took full responsibility for security lapses regarding the presidency, and as if she might have been offering an excuse she said, "It's clear that our security plan was not properly executed." She is reported as failing to explain the poor communications from her office concerning how far an intruder had reached inside the White House or explaining poor communications within her agency.

Oct 3  Regarding Hong Kong, according to BBC News "many local residents have been angered by the disruption. Citizens opposed to the demonstrations have tried to remove barricades, and in the commercial district of Mong Kok, just across the channel on Kowloon peninsula, they have dismantled tents put up by the protesters. Protest leaders threaten to call off their talks with the authorities if the government doesn't prevent 'organized attacks' on their supporters. Meanwhile, the government is arguing that no violation of any law or agreement about elections has been made, that there was an agreement about nominating candidates and that the demonstrators are asking for the right to nominate. Authorities claim their right to vote is being upheld. Among a few others elsewhere in the world a shaky idea has been floating around that with a rise in economic success, perhaps above the $10,000 per capita GDP range, a country starts to become really democratic. China's per capita GDP for 2013 is estimated at $9,800, 121st among the world's nations. Singapore is fourth at $62,400, but India's per capita GDP for 2013 is a mere $4,000.

Oct 3  Responsibility and efficiency: CNN reports that four days after a Liberian man was diagnosed with Ebola in Dallas the apartment where he stayed has not been sanitized and four other people are still living there.

Oct 4  Hong Kong police arrest nineteen accused of attacking pro-democracy demonstrators. Reported among the nineteen are eight "triad gang" members. The police appear to be trying to keep apart to the pro-democracy demonstrators and those opposed to them, and few policemen have been injured. Protesters describe the police and the "mob" as working together, and they have called off talks with the authorities.

Oct 4  Austin City Limits music festival was broadcast on PBS last night. It contained some of what is known as country music, but in place of the quiet background of rural areas and country music of the thirties and forties was the jarring heavy metal sound of noisy urban life that began in the sixties.

Oct 6  In the United States, congressional election campaigning ends in four weeks. To the extent that candidates are talking about issues, Republicans are campaigning against taxes, government intrusion, President Obama and Obamacare and they might mention the deficit. Democrats are boasting about economic recovery and the need to focus on health care and education, getting money out of politics, more fairness and equal opportunity. One report from September describes voters as rating the economy as the leading issue. with figures more than three weeks old has Republicans leading 49 to 38% on the economy, the Democrats leading 46 to 41% on health care, evenly split on immigration and the Republicans leading 52 to 31% on fighting terrorism.

Oct 7  In China, the strategy of the authorities against the demonstrators in Hong Kong has been working. According to BBC News the crowds have receded from tens of thousands to just hundreds. The demonstrators have been lauded for their non-violence and for not blocking the normal functioning of business in the city. Some are describing the demonstrations as the most successful civil disobedience movement in Hong Kong's history, but what they have accomplished is unclear. Movement leaders have agreed to "formal" talks with the authorities, and the strategy of the authorities may be to talk the demonstrations to death. Meanwhile across the mainland, authorities have been knocking on doors and rounding up a few people like Ding Weibing. He had planned to read poetry and display posters in support of the demonstrations. Mr Ding's wife was able to complain to a journalist the authorities were very loud and rude. "They scolded my husband and forced him to squat on the floor while they were questioning him." She told the journalist that her husband is "a decent man who pursued justice. He didn't do anything wrong." BBC News reports that the police confiscated their computers and a camera memory card before taking Mr Ding away.

Oct 8  In Liberia, three of its six doctors have fled. According to NBC News "nursing staff members were not coming to work or had abandoned facilities." Hand washing stations for health workers consist of water jugs. Even these are scarce, and health care workers don't have much soap, hand sanitizer or bleach. Some 3,400 people have died in the current outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) speaks of impoverished health care systems in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. There are reports that trained people capable of handling the spread of Ebola are far too few. WHO counts more than 7,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea as infected with Ebola, half who have died, and WHO projects 20,000 cases by November. Experts are reported as saying that the only way to protect the rest of the world from Ebola is to stop it in West Africa.

Oct 9  As the United States nears its November congressional elections, a Gallup poll reports 54% saying that Obamacare has not had an effect on their life, 27% saying it has hurt, and 16% saying it has helped. Only 4% of Republicans rate Obama Care as having helped them. Democrats who describe themselves as having been hurt are 15% and who describe no effect from Obamacare are 56%. For Independents, 27% are in the hurt category and 53 in the no effect category. The Huffington Post reports today that House Republicans are campaigning on an anti-Obamacare platform, that most of them are speaking up for repeal of the Obamacare law and only a few for its reform. </p>

Oct 10  The minimum wage - a wealth distribution issue - appears as a state issue on the ballot in November in Arkansas. There, Republican Congressman Tom Cotton, running for the Senate, has changed his mind on the issue and says he will vote for it because of its popularity. He adds that he does not favor raising the federal minimum wage, which is now at $7.25 an hour. The ballot initiative in Arkansas will raise the minimum wage for the state to $8.50 per hour, up from $6.25 per hour. All of this is less than the federal minimum wage in 1968, which then was almost $11 measured in 2014 dollars. Germany's parliament has passed a minimum wage that goes into effect in 2015 at 8.50 euros, equivalent today at $11.61. There are complaints from businessmen of an inability to succeed if they must pay their workers $8.50 an hour. Some others, generally not Republicans, see this as an argument for ridiculously low wages, that with the competitive nature of free enterprise more successful businesses would move in to replace these losers, that if they can't pay a decent wage they shouldn't be in business. A related issue is described by Pew Research. It says that 24 percent of those interviewed in the US see the income or poverty issue in terms of some people working harder than others. In other words, if you're income is too low it's because you haven't been working hard enough. In Germany these people number only 10 percent. And we have in the US some who have looked for guidance on the issue in the Old Testament. They have tweeted from Proverbs 10:4: "Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth."

Oct 12  The European Union and United States have been talking about their Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and removing a wide range of barriers to bilateral commerce. Demonstrations took place yesterday in Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. The demonstrators are concerned about foods from the United States entering their markets that don't have the restrictions that have existed in their country. What they consider lower standards, according to BBC News, includes "more genetically modified food, hormone treated beef and chicken meat that has been rinsed with chlorine."

Oct 13  In Hong Kong, angry citizens move to clear protest barriers in the heart of the business district. They chant "open the roads" and slogans in support of the police.Truck drivers are among them, and taxi drivers rally in anger over lost business. According to Reuters the taxi drivers give the protesters until Wednesday evening to remove all of their barricades.The South China Morning Post quotes the anti-protesters as saying "Hongkongers hate you all." Police separate the anti-protesters and the protesters. The Hong Kong and Beijing governments have been calling the protests illegal. Last week the Hong Kong government called off its talks with student leaders. The size of protester ranks has dwindled. Hong Kong's Chief Executive CY Leung says the chances of China changing its mind and giving the demonstrators anything are "almost zero." A pro-democracy protester repairing his barricade tells a newsman,"We will stay to the end."

Oct 14  With mid-term elections three weeks away, blame appears as usual as a force in voter opinion. Gallop reported yesterday that Republicans win 50% to 39% on the question whether Republicans or Democrats in Congress would do a better job dealing with the economy. Republicans did well in the 2010 mid-term elections, taking over the House of Representatives. With Republicans dominating the House of Representatives job approval remains low, below 10%. That's with voters blaming everyone else's congressman, not their own, and Republicans have Obama to blame for the economy not being better. Republican voters are expected to return their party's majority in the House, and between now and 2016 they can continue blaming Obama.

Oct 14  A known threat regarding the spread of Ebola is people not doing what they should be doing to protect themselves and others. Perfecting collective behavior can't be done. In Liberia a member of an NBC News crew was infected with Ebola and is currently being treated for the disease in Omaha. On returning to the US, the rest of the crew agreed to remain in isolation for three weeks. This includes the crew leader, Dr Nancy Snyderman, a medical editor for NBC. Yesterday on NBC News Snyderman apologized for violations of the quarantine, saying "As a health professional I know that we have no symptoms and pose no risk to the public, but I am deeply sorry for the concerns this episode caused."

Oct 15  In Hong Kong, pro-democracy demonstrators decided it would serve their cause if they blocked a crucial traffic underpass. The police responded, of course. They used pepper spray, tore down barricades and removed concrete slabs and, trash cans placed by the protesters around the underpass, and they arrested forty-five. There was a failure by the police to control their own emotions. A video of police using "excessive force" against a demonstrator has gone viral. Local TV, says BBC News, "showed images of officers beating a handcuffed protester." Hong Kong's security chief announced that the offending officers have been "temporarily removed from their current duties." Later today, Hong Kong's leading tycoon, Li Ka-shing, described the demonstrators as not accomplishing anything and urged them to go home. The government strategy of restraint continues - a plan to let the demonstrations dwindle and public opposition rise against them. It appears that China's leaders will not surrender their defense against a possible rise of a an anti-Party figure winning an election for Hong Kong's chief executive and becoming a force to rally around. Control remains important to China's leaders while they attempt a balance concerning dissent and the goal of the demonstrators appears doomed to failure.

Oct 16  Rather seeing elections as about issues, a recent CBS poll claims that 56% of Republicans think the midterm elections are a judgment for or against President Obama, compared to only 9% for Democrats and 36% for independents. In the Kentucky race for US Senate, challenger Alison Grimes is trying to distance herself from Obama. She calls herself an independent thinker and a Clinton Democrat, while incumbent MItch McConnell does what he can to associate Grimes with Obama, leaving Grimes to complain that he is running against her, not Obama. Their differences on the issues, however, includes Obamacare - the Affordable Care Act. McConnell is for ending it, root and branch. Grimes is for keeping and improving it. McConnell is against raising the minimum wage, saying it would "lead to destroying jobs for young people." Grimes points out that 88% of workers who would benefit from a rise in the minimum wage are older than twenty and she speaks of a living wage being necessary to raise people out of poverty. Grimes has a pamphlet that describes an economic program to move the economy, put people back to work, and raise the middle class. And she is for reducing interest rates on student loans. McConnell speaks of the "jobs-killing Obama administration." He blames student miseries and everybody else's misery on Obama's deficit spending and taxes. Grimes wants to do something about the global warming problem but favors policy that would allow Kentucky to continue exporting coal. McConnell hedges on the climate issue, saying he doesn't know whether climate change is man-made because he isn't a scientist, and he speaks of a "war on coal" by the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Grimes favors "equal pay for equal work." She boasts the support of the United Mine Workers of America and lauds what the union is doing to protect coal miners. McConnell associates the union with the Democrats. Grimes says she doesn't want the US to be the world's policeman, and she associates McConnell with the Koch brothers and other wealthy people and vested interests who have contributed money to his campaign. She complains that "Washington isn't working for Kentucky," and McConnell brags about his 29 years as Kentucky's senator and his leadership in the Senate. Grimes describes McConnell as Mr Gridlock, and McConnell describes Grimes as an Obama liberal.

Oct 18  Around 9,000 pro-democracy protesters in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong "strike back." BBC News reports that "Their goal was to push past police lines to re-occupy the streets that had been cleared by law enforcement officials just a few hours earlier." The police were overwhelmed. The demonstrators retook territory south of a major intersection and stopped traffic in both directions.

Oct 20  With smiles all around, the Ukraine and Russian presidents, Poroshenko and Putin, had a friendly meeting on the 17th to discuss the conflict in Ukraine's eastern regions, and they agreed on the price Ukraine will pay in buying gas from Russia. This morning sporadic shelling is reported in some areas of the Ukraine despite the truce declared on September 5. Russian troops have pulled back from the border and the Ukraine crisis on the world stage appears to be all but over but no firm settlement yet between Ukraine's central government and those in the Ukraine who want some kind of independence. Amnesty International reports that atrocities were committed on both sides of the war in the Ukraine. Nobody is talking any longer about Putin on his way into Poland or the Baltic states.

Oct 21  Pew Research asks which poses the greatest threat to the world, nuclear weapons, inequality, religious & ethnic hatred, polution & environment, or AIDS & other diseases. People in the US gave inequality the hightest score, 27%, and only 15% to pollution & envirnment. Inequality also led in Spain, Greece, Germay, Poland and Italy. Fear that we are going to kill ourselves with inequality was lowest in Japan, down to a mere 12%. There it was nuclear weapons that were feared the most at 49% - perhaps not surprising given their history. Religious & ethnic hatred led among people in the Middle East and in Nigeria. It was highest, at 58%, in Lebanon - again no surprise. Pollution & environment was highest in Asia, leading in Thailand at 36% and in China at 33%, where the environment has killed a lot people. China's lowest score was relgious & ethnic hatred at 9%. AIDS & deseases led in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, where AIDS has indeed been a big threat.

Oct 22  Monica Lewinsky has put herself back on the public stage. In 1996 she talked to a co-worker, Linda Tripp, about a private affair she was having with President Clinton and, surprise surprise, it became big news. Lewinsky, 41, has a BS degree from the London School of Economics, but she has been devoting her time to writing about herself and to self-publicity. The advance for her book has been reported as $12 million. In May this year she wrote an article for Vanity Fair, and a few days ago she spoke at a Forbes Under 30 conference. It was televised, and she was seen on news programs speaking both happily and tearfully about having been a victim of cyberbullying. She describes her motive for speaking as public service against this kind of abuse.

Oct 23  In Europe a report commissioned by three farming bodies describes the European Union as on a course to "ban" use of 40 chemicals by 2020 to reduce damage to the environment. Growers are worried that it will result in consumers not buying imperfect-looking fruit, that there will be yield losses in wheat, onions, peas, carrots and potatoes. It is said that the ban could threaten Britain's crops (Britain being in the EU), increase food prices and reduce farmers' profits.

Oct 24  In Ottawa two days ago a lone Canadian gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, shot and killed an unarmed soldier stationed at a war memorial and then he shot up parliament, killing no one before being killed. Born in Montreal, he was the son of an educated Canadian woman and a Libyan businessman father and described as having had "a very good upbringing." He had converted to Islam ten years ago and was struggling, working as a laborer and at various jobs and moving from place to place. In 2011 he was arrested for robbery and making threats. He wanted to stay in jail in order to be cleaned of his crack addiction. More recently he was asked to stop attending prayers at a mosque because elders found his behavior "erratic." He found a cause and wanted a passport to go to Syria. He had been in Ottawa since October 2, staying at a mission for the homeless and seen chanting and praying.

Oct 26  Putin a couple of days ago in a 40-minute speech described as "groundless" the idea that Russia is trying "to reinstate some sort of empires and that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors." He blamed the West for the crisis in Ukraine and the United States for trying to impose a "unilatera diktat" on the rest of the world. "We did not start this," he said, and he described the US as trying to "remake the whole world" based on its own interests." He complained that US actions in Libya, Syria and Iraq have not strengthened peace and democracy.

Oct 27  Brazil's former anti-dictator activist and torture victim, Dilma Rousseff, narrowly wins re-election to a second term as president. She is a member of the Worlkers' Party, which claims to be Social Democratic, the socialism common to Europe. She is said to be popular with the poor because of her welfare programs. She speaks often about reforms. She won against complaints about a stalled economy, which her party described as tantrums by speculators. Reuters reports that "she pledges to deepen social benefits while working to revive an economy that fell into recession in the first half of this year." Rousseff promises to "unite" Brazil. Brazil remains 16th worst among 141 countries regarding distribution of family income - the gini index. Rousseff's opponent, Aécio Neves, of the centrist Social Democracy Party, described as pro-business, also campaigned against poverty.

Oct 28  In Mexico the mayor of the town of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, was in the pay of the local drug gang. In late September, students from a nearby teachers college came to town to demonstrate and raise funds for their school. The students had annoyed the mayor with a previous demonstration, and this time he wanted to prevent them from interrupting a public speech by his wife. He ordered the police to detain the protesting students. The police shot at buses carrying the students, and eyewitnesses say they saw the students being bundled into police cars. Three of the students had been killed. The police and drug gang were closely connected. The police handed the students over to the drug gang. Forty-three students disappeared. It added up to an overreach by the mayor, Abarca. The disappearances shocked Mexico and sparked nationwide demonstrations. Mexico's Attorney General said last week that during the hunt for the students investigators found a total of nine mass graves containing 30 sets of human remains. Police officers have confessed to giving the students to the drug gang. Fifty-six have been arrested in connection with the disappearance, including police officers, local officials and alleged members of the drug gang. And the mayor and his wife are on the run from federal authorities.

Oct 30  In Germany a truck driver described as a loner who doesn't like people enjoyed firing a weapon occasionally at passing cars and roadside buildings. There was one occasion when a ricochet hit a woman in the neck. For five years and something like 700 shootings the police were after him. They offered a 100,000 euro reward, but It was difficult for them partly because most drivers didn't realize immediately that their car had been hit and partly because they were prevented by a data protection law from viewing closed-circuit television coverage at motorway toll booths. Investigators set up their own license plate scanners and eventually arrested him. When arrested he told the police that he hadn't meant to harm anyone. BBC News reports that a German court "has found the man guilty of four counts of attempted murder, grievous bodily harm and dangerous interference with traffic." He has been sentenced to 10.5 years in prison.

Oct 31  In Burkina Faso "hundreds of protesters" have risen against President Blaise Compaoré, in power since his bloody coup in 1987. Yesterday they set fire to the parliament and government buildings. Among the protesters someone spoke to a TV camera about the country needing democracy. The army chief, announces the creation of a transitional government to serve until 2015 elections.

November 2014

Nov 1 Japan fighting deflation makes the news and "thrills the global stock markets." The Dow industrial average rose yesterday $195, up 1.13%. Japan's stock index, the Nikkei, soared over 5%. Japan's economy has been suffering from people not buying enough. Its poor sales abroad have created an export-import balance that is negative. Its exports of goods and services are said to be a little less than 16% of its economy, so a bigger issue is domestic buying. And Japanese buying their own products has declined following a rise in sales taxes, implemented to help pay off the government's huge public debt. It was people buying new cars that helped the US economy in recent months, but no such demand for cars exists in Japan, however much they might be able to afford it the same way Americans do, with credit buying. Japanese families aren't big on debt and Japan has a great public transportation - trains - which are used extensively. Deflation means not enough buying and low demand producing falling prices. Big business likes growth, and yesterday Japan's central bank began increasing the money supply, a strategy against deflation and toward inflation, exciting only those intensely interested in such things. Japan leads the world in public debt. It's more than twice it's GDP, 227% compared to 104% including external debt for the US, but Japan's debt is mainly money invested by Japan's citizenry, some of it money not taken by the government in taxes. As elsewhere, taxation in Japan is not popular, and politicians don't want to offend.

Nov 3  In Portland, Oregon, Brittany Maynard, 29, suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer, glioblastoma, says goodbye to all her dear friends and family and ends her life. Brittany, her husband and mother moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state's 1997 Death with Dignity Act. One argument against "Death with Dignity" claims that taking one's life is not a choice that God allows people. But among the hundreds of comments on Brittany Maynard this morning it is difficult to find one that complains that she should have waited to let the cancer kill her. Most cite her bravery and wish peace for her family. Physician-assisted suicide in the United States is legal also in Washington, Montana, Vermont, and New Mexico, and it is currently being debated in New Jersey.

Nov 4 The Brookings Institution, a Washington DC think tank, warns that efforts to secure an ambitious global climate agreement could be upset if the Republican Party takes complete control of the US Congress in the mid term elections. This warning is in the wake of a new report by the scientific Intergovernmental body (ISCC) under the auspices of the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that time is not on our side and there should be no "business as usual." President Obama's White House describes the report as "yet another wake-up call to the global community that we must act together swiftly and aggressively."

Nov 4   President Obama's disapproval rating is described by Gallop at 54%, his approval at 41%. Today is election day. Republican candidates have been hammering away at Obama and liberals. Big gun Republican intellecutual John Bolton tweets: "A vote for anyone other than a Republican candidate is a vote for Obama, Reid, and their failed liberal agenda." On yesterday's NewsHour, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell was shown describing Obama and company: "These people have run this country into the ground, and they need to be stopped." (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE.) He continued, "Who are these people? I can tell you the kind of folks they got down at the White House. They're all a bunch of college professors and community organizers. And they think they are smarter than all the rest of us. And they want to tell us how to live our lives. And starting Tuesday, we're pushing back against that kind of thing." (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE.)

Nov 5  According to Pew Research, Democrats did better than Republicans yesterday among 18 to 44 year-olds, but older voters were much more numerous and gave Republicans a new majority in the Senate. And the Republicans increased their majority in the House of Representatives to 243 against 175 for the Democrats. Journalists are describing President Obama's unpopularity as having dragged down Democrats in general. Blaming the party in power appears to have had an impact, with little blame given to House Republicans. The Republican message prevailed against what Gallup describes as the lowest score for interest in any of the last six midterm elections. Beginning in 2015 Republicans will be able to pass legislation they want - to face Obama's veto. And the Republicans will be able to stymie anything Obama wants for the nation and to frustrate Obama's ability to name new federal judges, cabinet members and senior government officials. This morning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told his successor, Mitch McConnell, that he hoped they could work together "to get things done" in Washington.

Nov 5  The Kingdom of Norway is named the most prosperous country in an annual ranking by Legatum Institute, and a World Bank report a couple of days ago listed Norway as the sixth best country in the world in which to run a business (with Singapore 1st and the US 7th).

Nov 6  Journalist David Ignatius tells us of a group effort by more than a dozen European and Asian governments to end the civil war in Syria. Ignatius writes in the Washington Post that "The group has done extensive field work in Syria, meeting with top regime officials, moderate opposition leaders and members of the extremist groups Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State." The group hopes for the kind of local conciliation that had mixed successes last year in the Homs and Damascus areas. The aim is to create local self-governing areas with their own security force not engaged in external warfare. It's suggested that the Assad regime is ready to accept a degree of decentralization that recognizes the rights and dignity of all, including the insurgents. A regime spokesperson says the regime would allow insurgents to keep their weapons and would give them amnesty in exchange for the kind of respect that would allow peaceful functions between local and central authorities.

Nov 6  Republicans are elated by their big win this week while expressing little caution about the nature of that win. Only about a third of the nation voted. The Republicans won only among those over forty-five, and many who voted Republican were not solid in their devotion to Republican positions. Sixty-three percent of Americans interviewed have told pollsters they believe our economic system favors the wealthy, and in the election every ballot measure to raise minimum wages passed - in California, Nebraska, South Dakota, Arkansas and Alaska. Republicans can push against some government regulations they dislike, push to lower taxes on corporations and push against Obama Care and various threats from abroad, but public opinion is not solidly on their side ideologically enough to warrant an optimism about holding an enduring commanding position.

Nov 7  Mid-East scholar Joshua Landis yesterday told the NewsHour: "Today, the Free Syrian Army groups that America has been supporting maybe control 1 percent of Syria, 2 percent. I don't know how much it is, but it's really nothing. And to imagine that America is going to somehow transform them into conquerors of half of Syria or even the whole of Syria, it begs the imagination."

Nov 7  A column including 32 tanks and 30 trucks has crossed into eastern Ukraine from Russia, according to the Ukraine government in Kiev. This is in the wake of separatists holding an election and declaring the independence of what they call the Donetsk People's Republic. Russia recognizes the separatist election. A Ukraine government spokesperson describes the incursion as "military equipment and Russian mercenaries to the front lines."

Nov 8  Charles Krauthammer gave us his take on the Republican election victory yesterday. The defeat, he writes. "marks the final collapse of Obamaism, a species of left liberalism so intrusive, so incompetently executed and ultimately so unpopular that it will be seen as a parenthesis in American political history." Krauthammer writes of Obama's policies being on the ballot and the voters having given it a "negative judgment." He adds that it was "not an endorsement of the GOP." Krauthammer wants the Republicans to move around Obama's veto by killing Obamacare with "a thousand cuts." He wants to see approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, fast-track trade negotiation authority for the president, a bill to authorize and expedite the export of liquid natural gas and crude oil, and a sweeping reform of the tax system including an abolition of loopholes.

Nov 8  President Obama authorises 1,500 additional boots on the ground in Iraq, doubling the number of those described as having a non-combat role there - military duty that is mainly verbal and short of pulling a trigger.

Nov 10  New global rules are announced that will prevent another round of "too big to fail" financial institutions being bailed out by taxpayers. This is from the Financial Stability Broad (FSB) created in 2009, representing the economies of G-20 nations. Big financial institutions of the world - Chase and Goldman Sachs among them - voluntarily belong in order to put themselves in good standing as responsible players. Mark Carney, the British FSB chairman, says it was "totally unfair" for taxpayers to bail out banks after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. According to BBC News, "The proposed new rules, which are up for consultation and should take effect in 2019, require 'global systemically important banks' to hold a minimum amount of cash to ensure they will be able to survive big losses without turning to governments for help."

Nov 12  In Mexico people have been in the streets for days protesting the disappearance of 43 students. (See Oct 28.) The federal government has been pursuing the case and many have been arrested including the mayor of Iguala who had ordered removal of the demonstrating students from his town. A crowd has torched the headquarters of the political party voted into power in Mexico, the PRI. President Enrique Peña Nieto is under attack although he has been pursuing his pledge to fight organized crime and drug trade and has said there will be no pacts with criminals. Government officials say local gang members have confessed to killing the students and burning their bodies. The mayor of Iguala has been tracked down by government authorities and arrested. But some people are directing their blame at those in power - common elsewhere in the world where there is mass dissatisfaction, including the United States. One at the demonstrations in Mexico tells a reporter, "I've had enough." Another says, "I'm tired of so much injustice." In Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, gangs have become more prevalent in recent years, and murder rates have risen after decades of fast population growth, but few people are inclined to connect the social problems of these countries as at least partly a disconnect between rising numbers of people and economic growth beneficial for society as a whole. Some put blame on illegal drugs trafficking, but viewing the history of gangs in Los Angeles, California, suggests a need to include other matters.

Nov 13  Regarding Mexico, a column yesterday in the Washington Examiner claimed, "Atrocities far less hideous and institutionally debilitating than the Iguala Massacre have sparked mass revolt... Mexican government corruption facilitates organized crime. Organized crime enriches a corrupt political class. Cartel gunmen and crooked cops on the streets, cartel comandantes and corrupt politicos through institutions ensnare the Mexican people." The column asks, "Anyone shocked to learn that Guerrero's murderous elites belong to Mexico's left-wing socialist people's party? Switching to Wikipedia we find, "Despite the efforts of the authorities to fight crime and fraud, few Mexicans have strong confidence in the police or the judicial system, and therefore, few crimes are actually reported by the citizens. The Global Integrity Index which measures the existence and effectiveness of national anti-corruption mechanisms rated Mexico 31st behind Kenya, Thailand, and Russia."

Nov 14  A rocket launched on 2 March 2004 by the European Space Agency reached its target 310 million of miles away, within our solar system. It's called the Rosetta Mission, and its target is a comet. Two days ago Rosetta's lander made a controlled touchdown on the comet, and it is drilling holes on the comet's surface for information about the comet's ingredients.

Nov 14  Wikipedia lists Mexico's intentional homicide rate as 21.5 per 100,000, and this is a fraction of the number for Honduras, 90.4, but more than double that of Costa Rica, at 8.5 per 100,000. Denmark, Spain and Germany each has a rate of 0.8 per 100,000, a tenth that of Costa Rica, but the question asked here is why Mexico is not more like Costa Rica. The two have population growth rates that are almost equal: 1.24% for Costa Rica, 1.21% for Mexico. Mexico and Costa Rica are almost equal in per capita wealth, Mexico at $15,600 and Costa Rica's at $12,900 for the year 2013, with Honduras at $4,800, and Denmark, Spain and Germany at $37,800, $30,100 $39,000, respectively. Perhaps these wealth figures are connected to the degree of desperation that exists in these countries, and desperation is connected to higher crime including intentional homicide. Costa Rica apparently has less desperation than Mexico. According to the World Factbook, Costa Rica has 24.8% of its population below the poverty line compared to 52.3% for Mexico, 60% for Honduras and13.4% for Denmark. Consider the high crime rate in Mexico City in recent years, a city packed with desperate people. Wealth distribution is involved, of course. Honduras' low per capita wealth is made worse by a wealth distribution figure, according to the World Factbook, worse that of Costa Rica and Mexico (and much worse than the United States). To the question why Mexico is not more like Costa Rica, perhaps the answer is the greater desperation in Mexico. Some who are thinking about the drug trade may want to add that Mexico is closer to the US than is Costa Rica. As for population growth, perhaps it can be described as an irritant regarding crime including murder in Honduras and other places of relatively low wealth. Population growth in these countries means more people given the countries resources, poor wealth distribution, greater poverrty and greater desperation. The high population growth rates in Costa Rica and Mexico can't be said to be helping either country.

Nov 16  The G20 summit in Australia concludes its business, the nations at the gathering described by Linda Yueh of BBC News as representing 85% of the world's GDP. The summit issued a statement on climate change and Ebola. There was an agreement to fight tax evasion by sharing information. The G20 nations expressed a goal of increasing GDP an additional 2% in the coming four years and creating millions of jobs. Writes Yueh, "They also emphasized a commitment to poverty eradication and reducing inequality." She adds that her understanding is that private businesses will be targeted for investment funds in infrastructure. Yueh wonders about a lack of details for implementing goals and taxpayer willingness to fund these big summits conferences "that promise much but tend to deliver somewhat less." Putin left the summit early. He said it was "constructive" but that he needed sleep. He was seen on television happily shaking hands and chatting with David Cameron. With Ukraine in mind, President Obama is reported to have told Putin that it wasn't right for one country to invade another.

Nov 17  A BBC News headline reads, "Japan falls into recession as consumers stop spending." A BBC News analyst ties this to a distribution of wealth problem. The government printed a lot of money which caused the Yen to fall. This helped exporters sell and, writes Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, "This gave a huge cash windfall to Japanese exporters. But instead of increasing the wages of their employees, they have sat on the money." He describes a huge stock market rise having benefitted only "a minority of rich people" and that a tax rise "has made them feel even poorer. Hence they have stopped spending." Japan falling into a recession is being described as a surprise. Japan's conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, of the Liberal Democratic Party, is described by Reuters as ready "to delay an unpopular sales tax hike" and to call an election two years earlier than required.

Nov 18  In Hong Kong the High Court orders the removal of barricades near businesses that have filed formal complaints. Protesters don't resist and some help in the removal of tents and fences. But protesters see themselves as not giving up. They say they will remain on the streets until their demands are met.

Nov 18  For the first time, Interpol (international police) is targeting individuals having committed crimes against wildlife. In October, Investigators from 21 countries gathered at Interpol's headquarters in France to share information on suspects. BBC News reports that "The public is being asked to provide information on the locations of nine fugitives suspected of serious environmental crimes." These crimes include illegal fishing, logging and wildlife trafficking.

Nov 19  A court in Pakistani declares four people guilty of murdering a pregnant relative who had married without her family's consent - a so-called honor killing. The young woman's father, brother, cousin and former fiancé are sentenced to die. Another brother is sentenced to ten years in jail. On May 27 the woman had been attacked with bricks in town on a road while alongside her husband. Her family claimed she married a second time without divorcing her first husband, which they described as "un-islamic." The incident created outrage in Pakistan and was condemned by the country's prime minister. According to India's Daily News, honor killings have been "on the rise in Pakistan especially in Punjab, a province of 90-million. Last year, 870 women were killed in the name of honor here."

Nov 20  Honduras has the highest intentional murder rate of any country in the world, and now its beauty queen, Maria Jose Alvarado, Miss Honduras at age 19, has been murdered along with her elder sister, following a birthday party. Alvadado was scheduled to fly to London for the Miss World Contest in December. Chief detective Leandro Osorio describes the murders as a result of the elder sister's boyfriend shooting her in a fit of rage after seeing her dancing with "another person or something similar." Alvarado was with her sister. Killing her appears to have been part of a cover up, which extedned to their burial with help by the killer's friend or friends. Connecting these murders to whatever makes Honduras the world leader in murder is difficult. It can be considered another case of poor judgment by the sister in choosing who to hang out with and her boyfriend's utter primitivity and stupidity. As for Miss Honduras, she was in her final year at the Northern Polytechnic Institute studying computer science.

Nov 21  An Associated Press article claims that the murders of Maria Alvarado and her sister "highlight what experts call an alarming trend of violence against women in Central America, fueled by poverty, domestic violence, street gangs, drug trafficking and a culture of chauvinism." Another ingredient mentioned: Alvarado's mother says her daughters were trusting and naive. "They were not very astute about assessing the people around them. They were just friendly", she said. "They were going out with people they hadn't known very long."

Nov 21  President Obama issues an executive order, creating immigration reform that Reuters News says would "let some 4.4 million who are parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents remain in the country temporarily, without the threat of deportation." The children of immigrants legal or otherwise born in the US or its territories are US citizens, and anyone of unknown parentage found in the US or its territories while under the age of five years also becomes a US citizen. The president's order applies to those who have been in the United States at last five years. Obama expresses frustration in waiting for Congress to act on the immigration issue. Republicans are claiming that the Constitution doesn't allow the president to act as Obama has.

Nov 24  So far this year, as of today, deaths in the world are estimated at 51.5 million and births (the happier occasion) at 124.7 million - according to the World Population Clock at ( The CIA's World Factbook estimates population increases this year for Libya at an estimated annual rate of 3.05%, almost 4 times that of the United States, at 0.77%. The Factbook has Nigeria growing at 2.47% and Iraq at 2.23%. The Factbook describes population decreases in American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Cooks Islands - the result of emigration. The birth rate for the United States for 2014 is estimated at 13.42 per 1,000 population and for American Samoa (US citizens) at 22.87 per 1,000. According to the Factbook, Syria has the biggest drop in population for 2014, a fall of 9.7% while its birth rate remains about the same as American Samoa, at 22.76. Syria's loss in population in the form of refugees appears to give rise to Jordan's growth in population to 3.86%, the fourth highest in the world. Jordan is a country pressured by insufficient supplies of water, oil, and other natural resources and is dependent on foreign assistance while its birth rate remains relatively high, at 25.23 per thousand, 53rd among 224 countries.

Nov 25   The day before yesterday a television show for comedian Jay Leno receiving the Mark Twain award was broadcast on television. Yesterday President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award to eighteen people, most of them in the entertainment industry: the great Meryle Streep among them, and Ethel Kennedy wife of the later Robert Kennedy, the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi, a physicist and a few retired politicians. The Presidential Medal of Freedom began when President Truman wanted to give recognition to civilians for their extraordinary contribution ot the war effort. Nowadays it's a lot about celebrating celebrities. The Mark Twain "prize for American humor" this year is similar. It has been described as recognizing people who have had an impact on American society similar to that of Mark Twain, perhaps to encourage more of it, but some complain that Leno's humor is far from Mark Twain's. It's been described as almost at a knock-knock-who's-there level, although his street interviews put a light on common ignorance.

Nov 25  Thousands in Ferguson Missouri and places across the United States make a show of their certainty that their interpretation of the killing of Michael Brown on 9 August is accurate. They are sure that the policeman who shot Brown was in no way provoked by Brown into defending himself as he did. Slate has published photos of the policeman, Darren Wilson, taken by the police for evidence that Brown assaulted the officer. The county prosecutor has described the altercation in detail, published by Reuters, but the protesters are accusing the officer of having over-reacted and that he should have been indicted for murder. Many protesters wanted peaceful demonstrations, but many others think they are making their point against Wilson's over-reaction by setting buildings on fire, smashing things and looting stores that were left unguarded. Police in the Ferguson area trying to protect property have so far arrested 61 people, and there are no reports of injuries.

Nov 26  The Ferguson policeman who shot Michael Brown says he did his job right, as he was trained, that he has a clean conscience but that he is sorry about Brown's death. President Obama tells protesters they have no excuse to commit crimes, that nothing of benefit results from destructive acts. A protester in Ferguson passes on to a newsman the slogan "no justice, no peace" and says the destruction is necessary because without it nobody would be paying attention. We are sending a message, he says. According to published comments in the media, the rioters' message isn't being received in a way they have intended and, as Obama suggests, their rationale is politically naive.

Nov 26  In Hong Kong, seven policemen are arrested for having beaten a pro-democracy protester back on 15 October. A police statement describes the policemen as detained on suspicion of "assault resulting in grievous body harm." Also, last night in Hong Kong, police acted on a court injunction and tore down one of the three protester camps and responded to resistance by arresting 116. The Hong Kong police have announced that the streets around Nathan Road are clear for the first time in weeks. Activists say they will regroup elsewhere. John Sudworth of BBC News writes: "... the protesters are weary after two solid months of sit-ins, their numbers dwindling,... with Mong Kok cleared, two other sites remain, including the main protest site in the heart of the financial district. Further court injunctions or not, that remains a much tougher proposition."

Nov 27  Britain's Royal Society warns of population growth and extreme weather, that risk to individuals from floods will rise more than four-fold and the drought risk will triple. The report's lead author Prof Georgina Mace says: "This problem is not just about to come… it's here already." She tells BBC News that "People are increasingly living in the wrong places ... For most hazards, population increase contributes at least as much as climate change - sometimes more. We are making ourselves more vulnerable whilst making the climate more extreme."

Nov 29  Demonstrations in Mexico have been massive enough to have been effective, and there is a responsive regime in power. Yesterday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced a plan to put local police under federal control, a plan to change the country's constituion and allow its 1,800 municipal forces to be desolved and taken over by state agencies. Congress will be able to dissolve local governments infiltrated by drug gangs. Also a national system for tracking down disappeared persons and a nationwide database containing genetic information will be established.

December 2014

Dec 2  Yesterday, Hong Kong's chief executive announced the end of tolerace of "illegal" demonstrations. He and Hong Kong's press describe the demonstrators as an intolerable nuisance. Police with batons, pepper spray and water cannon cleared demonstrators from Lung Wo Road in the Admiralty district. Today, co-founders of the demonstrations, Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming, call for surrender. They announce that "For the sake of the occupiers' safety, for the sake of our original intention of love and peace" they are turning themselves in and the surrender is not cowardice. The issue of China's authorities approving the candidate for Hong Kong's election of a chief executive remains unchanged. For China's leadership it's a security issue. In countries dominiated by a Communist Party, candidates for public office needed Party approval. In the Soviet Union this kind of election control didn't prevent the liberalization of Mikhail Gorbechev. It didn't prevent change. And it appears that Hong Kong's "pro-democracy" leaders are not responding to their defeat with utter hopelessness. The three leaders say they are handing themselves over to the police to demonstrate "commitment and responsibility." According to BBC News, "Occupy Central plans to continue its work through public debates, community education and funding democracy groups."

Dec 3  The Hong Kong three turn themselves in, joined by 24 supporters. A gathering outside the police station show their support. A rival group or groups jeer and shout "arrest them." The police have those turning themselves in fill out a form on which they declare their offenses. They check the box labelled "illegal assembly." They are in the police station one half-hour and then leave. Meanwhile, BBC News reports that "a few hundred protesters refuse to vacate the remaining two camps at Admiralty and Causeway Bay".

Dec 4  A cyber crime network is broken in Kenya. BBC News reports that the network was "run by 77 Chinese nationals from upmarket homes in the capital, Nairobi." Chinese officials are described as "shocked" and as cooperating with Kenyan authorities. (A Chinese presence in Kenya has been enhanced by Chinese companies involved in construction.) A fire brought the operation to the attention of Kenya's police. The police found computers linked to high-speed internet with "equipment capable of infiltrating bank accounts." Seventy-seven have been charged with being in the country illegally and operating radio equipment without permits. China has promised to send investigators to work with the Kenyans on the matter.

Dec 5  Thousands of people have taken to the streets in New York and other US cities, disrupting traffic and holding sit-ins following a Grand Jury decision not to press charges against police regarding the death of Eric Garner in New York on 17 July. A spokesperson for the Grand Jury said Garner was speaking to the officers at the time of his resistance to arrest, indicating that he was breathing. Garner was pinned to the ground and able to breath enough to complain that he couldn't breathe. The medical examiner's office found that Garner's death was caused by "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police." Some people are saying that the police were just doing their job, that there was no excessive brutality, that Eric Garner made a mistake in resisting arrest. They blame Garner's poor health and say the police usually hear protests when they restrain someone. Protesters complain that Garner was chocked to death, and they are calling for justice. Some signs read, "I can't breathe." One protester said, "People are sick and tired of the systemic problems of racism in this country." The mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, announces that "people need to know that black lives and brown lives matter as much as white lives." President Obama said, "Too many Americans feel deep unfairness when it comes to the gap between our professed ideals and how laws are applied on a day to day basis."

Dec 7  China two days ago arrested its former head of domestic security, Zhou Yongkang, and it has expelled him from the Communist Party. According to Wikipedia: "Zhou oversaw China's security apparatus and law enforcement institutions, with power stretching into courts, prosecution agencies, police forces, paramilitary forces, and intelligence organs." He will be the first to be put on trial since the "Gang of Four" in 1980. Zhou was from a poor family, recognized as a brilliant student and earned a degree in geophysics and petroleum exploration. He was a loyal and devout Communist Party member who worked his way through leadership positions by being well liked, friendly, down to earth and engaging. He was an able administrator. He also saw opportunity in investing his earnings in China's oil industry and made money for himself and his family, without seeing this as wrong. As a talented team player and a patriot he rose to become head of domestic security and a power within the Party. He retired in 2012. Zhou publicly pledged his allegiance to President Xi Jinping and called the students to whom he was speaking to unite behind Xi to pursue the "Chinese Dream." His arrest serves President Xi's effort to demonstrate his dedication to end corruption, to get the "tigers and the flies," and it marks a consolidation of power, accompanied by recent dismissals of men associated with Zhou. Zhou Yongkang is accused of abusing his power for illicit gains for his family, friends, and associates, taking "large amounts in bribes," having "committed adultery with multiple women," and having "leaked state and party secrets."

Dec 9  World Health Organization director general Dr Margaret Chan speaks of the death rate from malaria having been cut in half. She describes 4.3 million deaths averted between 2001 and 2013, "3.9 million of which were children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa." In 2004, she says, "3 percent of those at risk had access to mosquito nets, but now 50 percent do." The drop in deaths from malaria she attributes to "improved tools, increased political commitment, the burgeoning of regional initiatives, and a major increase in international and domestic financing."

Dec 9  In the US, protesters were in the streets of various cities again yesterday, demonstrating against the killing of Eric Gardner and other deaths caused by law enforcement. The protests included blocking traffic. On the News Hour last night three protesters were asked why they march. One of the three, Jessica Pierce spoke of "turning this moment into a movement, which I think is what we're focused on, which is why we had actions around the Darren Wilson case." Another of the three defended blocking traffic with the claim that "business as usual gets people killed." Meanwhile limited goals like improved police training in New York City appear to some of us as more achievable than protesting for the sake of a movement. Following the successes expressed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was some influence by demonstrations regarding the war in Vietnam specifically, but remembered too are the failures of broader goals of "the movement" and the end of movement itself in the 1970s. And the "no business as usual" tactic is remembered as having accomplished nothing and perhaps having made some people, for awhile at least, more conservative.

Dec 9  According to an opinion poll released yesterday by USA Today and the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of those under 30 say the policeman who killed Eric Garner should have been charged, but among those over 65 only 41 percent think so.

Dec 11  The US Senate Intelligence Committee has released a report on torture that former Vice President Dick Cheney describes as "full of crap." The UN has called for the prosecution of US officials involved in the 2001-2007 program. Media and leaders across the world are expressing disapproval of the torture program: Germany, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea. The report shows the April 12, 2007 testimony by then CIA Director Michael Hayden to the Senate Intelligence committee that distorts the truth (made available in detail by the Washington Post, tweeted @fsmitha), and some are talking about CIA lies. The program and for what is being called enhanced interrogation is being defended as torture has always been defended: it produced useable information. The capture of bin Laden has been frequenty mentioned with the suggestion that the security of the United States was terribly threatened while bin Laden was holed up in his hiding place. Supporters of the program said it disrupted terrorist plots, prevented mass casualty attacks and saved American and Allied lives. The Senate report claims that President Bush was not fully aware of what was being done by the CIA interrogation team. Dick Cheney says Bush was "fully informed" about interrogation techniques.

Dec 11  In Hong Kong the number of protesters has decreased from the tens of thousands who first gathered in September to only a few hundred. And today, after a final warning by the police to leave, the last of the protesters are being cleared from the streets.

Dec 15  According to the News Hour, "For the first time in history, climate change negotiators have come up with a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions in every single nation." The agreement was signed by 196 nations in Lima Peru and requires all 196 countries to create a detailed plan within the coming six months to limit emissions from burning coal, gas and oil after 2020, or for some countries 2030 or later. A few are jubilant. A News Hour guest, William Mauldin, says, "There is a lot of work to be done figuring out exactly how it's going to work, who is going to pay for it, where the money is going to come from, how much countries are going to cut." That is supposed to come at another meeting in 2015 in Paris. USA Today is not so jubilant, calling it "a weak agreement." Comments to that paper describe global warming is a hoax, express opposition to the agreement and say it's impossible to control the weather. Someone else comments that it's already too late.

Dec 16 Congress on the 14th passed the spending bill for the next fiscal year. There will be no government shutdown, and the budget remains unbalanced. According to Forbes magazine, the Department of Defense garners more than half of the overall budget, with 10 percent of that amount "earmarked for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq." Obamacare is described as "a winner" because its 2014 level of funding wasn't cut. The Environmental Protection Agency had its budget reduced by $60 million. Staffing at that agency is described as already at its lowest level in twenty-five years. The National Institute of Health receives more money for research, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) budget is reduced. According to Forbes,"Just over a third of that budget allows 'for necessary expenses… to support taxpayer services and enforcement programs' which includes rents, postage and admin[istration]." The bill forbids the IRS from targeting "groups for regulatory scrutiny based on their ideological beliefs." In today's Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampel complains that "For every dollar appropriated to the IRS in 2013, it collected $255... The agency's appropriations in the 2015 agreement are 17 percent below their 2010 level, after adjusting for inflation... Cuts to the IRS budget hurt compliance rates among taxpayers, both the dishonest and honest. Audits have slowed, and by many metrics, customer service quality has plummeted."

Dec 17  Yesterday the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) attacked a public school associated with the country's army and killed 141 people, mostly children. The TTP announced today that the attack was to avenge army-led operations against them in the Khyber and North Waziristan areas. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif responds by announcing a "war against terrorism till the last terrorist is eliminated." He proclaims an end to the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism cases and that in any action against the militants there would be no distinction between "good and bad" Taliban.

Dec 18  In Cuba, people celebrating in the street and talking to the media appear happy about the beginning of normalized relations between their country and the United States. This came yesterday with simultaneous announcements by President Raul Castro and President Obama, with Pope Francis having given his blessing to the agreement. In the US, some think they know better than the Cuban people and want to continue to treat Cuba as an enemy. They speak of normalized relations as aiding dictatorship. Cuba has elections but is politically a one-party state like China, with considerable public support like China, but the anti-normalization camp dislikes comparisons with China, or with President Bush normalizing relations with Vietnam. The Republicans will have an opportunity to express opposition to Obama's policy on Cuba by voting against lifting the trade embargo imposed on Cuba during the Cold War, which can be lifted only by Congress. Cubans are describing the embargo as damaging their economy and hurting the Cuban people.

Dec 18  Leading the charge against the normalization of relatations with Cuba is Florida's Senator Marco Rubio. He is described by the Washington Post as spitting insults at the Obama administration, describing Obama's policy on Cuba as absurd, disgraceful, outrageous and ridiculous, a concession to tyranny, based on an illusion and a lie, conceding to the oppressors and "willfully ignorant of the way the world truly works." A reporter pointed out that younger Cuban Americans support normal relations with Cuba, and Rubio replied: "I don't care if the polls say that 99 percent of people believe we should normalize relations in Cuba... This is my position, and I feel passionately about it."

Dec 19  Republican Michele Bachmann of Minnesota speaks up. The former presidential candidate did not seek re-election for her seat in Congress. She describes her intellect as having devastated her political opponents. "Well," she says, "telling the truth bothers them. They don't like to have the truth told about them... I decided to take them on in the arena of ideas by attacking their false premises and their false narratives. That's the best way to defeat them, by the way - defeat them with evidence and defeat them with their false premises, and I did that." Comments from today's media (see RawStory) suggest that some who have ideas different from her have been slow in conforming to the devastation. One of those who comments describes her as entertaining and that he will give her that. Another writes, "I like to think Liberals love her for being a poster-child of everything wrong with the Republican party." Whether Democrats in Congress when it convenes in January will show evidence of having been straightened out to any degree by her devastating logic remains to be seen.

Dec 22  Crude oil has fallen from $115 per barrel in June to around half that today. Russia, an oil exporter, is in distress. Gas at the pump in Ohio is below $2.00 per gallon. Saudi Arabia's Minister of Petroleum says that Saudi Arabia is not driving the price of oil down as part of a political agenda. Qatar's energy minister describes the fall as a "temporary correction." Speculator selling has been taking place, obviously, The fall according to the Saudi minister, as stated in The Arab News, is "mainly due to a supply glut, the weak global economy and a strong US dollar... The global oil market has become increasingly competitive in recent years with the surge in shale and sand oil production from countries outside the decades-old OPEC alliance."

Dec 22  In Russia the ruble has dropped 45% against the US dollar since the first of 2014. Russians face rising prices - inflation. People are spending their money now on appliances and whatever they can before the ruble declines further. People have mortgaged their homes in dollars and now their rate of payment has nearly doubled. Businesses are in the same boat. Banks are in trouble. Lending has dried up. Money has been leaving the country. According to BBC News, "Russia's central bank has already tried unsuccessfully to stabilise the currency, buying roubles in the markets and raising its main lending rate to 10.5%." President Putin blames the economic crisis on the West conspiring to weaken Russia. He says that even if oil drops to $40 per barrel, Russia will manage and rebound in a couple of years.

Dec 23  In Syria the Assad regime allows the delivery of medicines to opposition-held areas in Aleppo. A World Health Organization officiial says that agreement for deliveries were negotiated in "top-level" meetings. BBC News reports her as adding: "We have had some constraints in the past with delivering surgical supplies, syringes, but the situation is much better at the moment." Two days ago Assad told an Iranian officia, Ali Larijani, that the Syrian government was working on local truces in an effort to end the civil war. As expected, Larjani held to Iran's old position of ignoring Assad's terrorism and describing the United States as supporting terrorism in Syria.

Dec 24  Interpol arrests a most wanted Ivory smuggling businessman, a Kenyan, Feisal Mohamed Ali, involved in an international ring and linked to three tons of ivory seized in the Kenyan city of Mombasant. He has been on Interpol's list of "environment criminals." Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) is described by Wikipedia as "a non-governmental organization facilitating international police cooperation," established in 1923 with an "annual budget of around €78 million, most of which is provided through annual contributions by its membership of 190 countries."

Dec 26  In Turkey a 16-year-old with the courage to give a speech criticizing President Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development party has been arrested and then released. He faces trial and a possible four-year detention if found guilty of insulting the president. The prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, also of the Justice and Development party, supports the arrest. According to BBC News he says that "Everyone must respect the office of president whoever he is." BBC News reports the boy saying, "There is no question of taking a step back from our path, we will continue along this road."

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