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March 2009

Mar 2  Stocks slump further in Asia, Europe and the United States. There is talk of the economies of the US and Europe being in shambles. Martin Wolf of the Financial Times describes Obama's stimulus as too timid. Republicans speak of Obama's stimulus as a disaster. Between its high in July 1929 and low in July 1932 the stock market fell 79 percent. A comparable fall of 79 percent from the high of 14,000 in 2008 would take the market down to 2940 in the year 2011, but let us consider the naivete of the Hoover administration in the years from 1929 through 1932. The Dow is now down over 50 percent from its 2008 high. It's at 6763. Everyone knows that you are not supposed to sell near the bottom. Given that the bad news could hardly be louder, one might guess that we are near the bottom and that it is the 2009 equivalent of blood on the streets, when savvy investors are supposed to buy. But when loss of wealth is of concern fear can be more powerful than cold calculation.

Mar 2  In Guinea-Bissau, soldiers shoot and kill President Joao Bernardo Vieira, ending his third term as president. The assassination follows the belief by military persons that the president was responsible for an explosion that killed the army chief of staff a few hours earlier.

Mar 3  In the US controversy still exists, perhaps now winding down, over Rush Limbaugh's declaration that he wants President Obama's economic stimulus policy to fail. Limbaugh says that this policy cannot succeed and will not succeed. But he adds that he wants it to fail, as if he has a choice. Some view the enthusiastic response by many Republicans to Limbaugh and conclude that he is foremost among them in influence.

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan

Sudan's President Bashir listens to a speech at a conference in Ethiopia. His willingness to travel internationally is now likely at an end. (Wikimedia commons)

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman(Wikimedia commons)

Mar 4  Some Republicans, Newt Gingrich among them, are accusing the Obama administration of "transplanting" European socialism to Washington. "Stalin would love this stuff," says Mike Huckabee. Harold Meyerson, a confessed Social Democrat, writes of this in the Washington Post and describes the difference between the socialists of the 1930s in the US and today's Social Democrats. He writes that the social-oriented capitalism of the Social Democrats is on the horizon "because the deregulated capitalism of the past 30 years has blown itself up, taking much of the known world with it."

Mar 4  A faulty altimeter is blamed for a role in the crash of a Turkey Boeing 737 in the Netherlands on February 25 that killed nine. The plane was landing on automatic pilot.

Mar 4  A cultural note out of China reported in a Chinese newspaper tells of a man who goes to the police station in the early morning hours to report that his wallet was stolen along with his pants while he was in a park with a female acquaintance. He decides to file no report because he does not want his wife to know about it.

Mar 4  The International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant against President Oman al-Bashir of the Sudan, charging him with war crimes in Darfur. Bashir's defenders speak of a "neo-colonialist" plot to destabilize Sudan.

Mar 6  Tensions between the United States and Russia over the fighting between Georgia and Russia last August have been evaporating. Russia is cooperating with the US regarding the US getting supplies to Afghanistan. And there is talk of a new srategic arms reduction treaty by the end of the year.

Mar 6  Paul Krugman writes that the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve Board have convinced themselves that the troubled assets held by banks are worth more than they actually are. Krugman opines that too much taxpayer money would be needed to subsidize these assets adequately. "Realistically, it's not going to happen," he writes. He adds that "It’s very hard to rescue an essentially insolvent bank without, at least temporarily, taking it over. And temporary nationalization is still, apparently, considered unthinkable."

Mar 7  In the online magazine Slate, Jacob Weisberg continues a debate. He ponders the claims of Newt Gingrich and others that President Obama wants to bring "European socialism" to the United States. Weisberg writes of the upside and downside of Western European societies and concludes that people like Gingrich misread "an ideologically moderate president's substantive views, his political sophistication, and what's within the realm of the possible in our country." He writes that Obama understands that "Americans want government to fix the free market, not take its place."

Mar 8  Rocket fire into Israel by Gaza militants is almost a daily occurence, as are Israeli air strikes against targets like today: against two "smuggling tunnels" under the Egypt-Gaza border and against a "weapons warehouse."

Mar 9  President Obama signs an executive order lifting restrictions on federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. The ban had forced some scientists to leave the US to continue their reseach. The BBC reports that some researchers now might flock to the US if they think funding is "more readily available" there.

Mar 10  A male chimpanzee in a zoo in Sweden displays a skill needed by investors: strategic planning. He has collected and stored rocks for throwing at zoo visitors. Chimps planning future events heretofore have been considered by scientists to be unproven.

Bernie Madoff

"Bernie" Madoff, finance guru (Wikimedia commons)

Mar 10  The panic of the last three weeks by some owners of stocks diminished today as stock prices, as indicated in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, bounded higher by 379 points (5.8 percent) from a twelve-year low.

Mar 12  Frequently if not always, financial scam artists cannot maintain their scheme in a big economic downturn. They are left exposed. And one such exposed scammer, "Bernie" Madoff, pleaded guilty today to an 11-count criminal complaint, admitting to defrauding investors of almost $65 billion. He faces a maximum sentence of 150 years in prison. Meanwhile, hucksters remain in the financial advice industry in abundance, a couple of them having written a book. The best in the industry

Mar 12  In Pakistan, President Zardari's government tries to suppress unrest created by supporters of a popular opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, and by a lawyers' movement. The lawyers are calling for reinstatement of judges sacked by former President Musharraf and calling for an independent judiciary.

Mar 12  Serbia's judiciary sentences thirteen fellow Serbs for their having "murdered, tortured and inhumanely treated prisoners of war" in the village of Ovcara near Vukovar in Croatia in 1991.

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Mar 12   Hamas announces that it is trying to find out who is responsible for the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel that have been occurring recently. Hamas says now is the wrong time for such attacks.

Mar 12   A study published in Science concludes that only in Europe have skies become cleaner than they were some 30 years ago. It is claimed that Europe enjoys the difference as a result of its air quality regulations.

Mar 14   California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is under attack from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, right-wing talk radio hosts and other anti-tax people. Schwarzenegger wants to increase revenues in order to avoid budget crises. His Proposition 1A budget measures for the May 19 ballot includes an increase in sales taxes and in motor license payments. The anti-tax people complain that Schwarzenegger's taxes will harm the economy. In conservative Orange County this past week a crowd of 15,000 gathered and destroyed DVDs, VHS tapes, and memorabilia associated with Schwarzenegger, and they waved placards and a stick with a latex replica of the governor's head. Speaking recently before California's Commonwealth Club, Schwarzenegger complained of an unwillingess of Californian legislators to act until a crisis gets their attention. It was not until Katrina, he said, that they saw they should fix California's dikes. Schwarzenegger wants to channel a lot of the water that is now running into the sea to help solve the state's water crisis, which will take money, but he claims it should be done.

Mar 16   In election campaigning in El Salvador, the Arena Party has associataed FMNL candidate Mauricio Funes with Hugo Chavez and has described Funes as a dangerous socialist. Arena and the FMNL were on opposite sides in a civil war that lasted from 1980 to 1992. Both sides have agreed to try politics by the ballot. Mauricio Funes wins and become president-elect. He calls for the maturity needed in a functioning democracy, for a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration. He thanks the crowd for choosing "the path of hope." Funes promises to crack down on those big businesses that have exploited government complacency to evade taxes.

Andry Rajoelina

Andry Rajoelina(Wikimedia commons)

Mar 16  Pakistan's government moves to reinstate the judges removed in 2007 by former President Pervez Musharraf in 2007. The opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, calls off demonstrations. Jubilation spreads.

Mar 17  People frustrated by economic hard times have won the military to the side of an opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina, a former disc jockey. Rajoelina has led protests that began in January and have left more than 100 people dead. Today the military drives the constitutionally elected president, Marc Ravalomanana, 59, a religiously fervent Protestant, from power after Ravalomanana called for a referendum on the presidency to defuse the unrest. The South African Development Community describes it as a military coup. Rajoelina, a Roman Catholic, promises elections in two years and says, "I accept humbly and with love – I assume as a duty – all responsibility, management and leadership of our beloved country, Madagascar." Madagascar's constitution requires presidential candidates to be at least 40 years of age. Rajoelina is 34.

Mar 18  Pakistan's foreign ministry complains that US air strikes, with drone aircraft, are counter-productive. There have been at least six drone air strikes into Pakistani territory since President Obama took office.

Mar 19  The US Congress moves to stop bonuses issued by the insurance giant AIG to its executives. AIG has a reputation for having used offshore tax havens, among them the Cayman Islands, to avoid paying US taxes. In court today, AIG is suing the US government to retrieve 306 million dollars taken from it by the government's revenue service. To keep AIG in business, the US government has recently bought 80 percent of the company – described as a bail out.

Mar 20  Southern African countries are refusing to recognize the authority of Andry Rajoelina's regime in Madagascar. The United States joins them in condemning the regime.

Mar 20  Israeli Defense Forces order an investigation into descriptions by Israeli soldiers of violations of military rules of engagement that were permitted during January's Gaza war. Described are abuses against property and unnecessary killing rising from the venting of hostility against Palestinians.

Mar 23  The US Congress the Keysian model that rescued Sweden and Germany in the 1930s is fading as more politicians side with the public mood against bailouts.

Mar 23  The Obama-Geithner plan to rescue the banks from their toxic assets sends stocks upward. The economists Robert Reich and Paul Krugman are distressed by the Obama-Geithner plan. Krugman sees the economy in trouble not because banks are not lending – they are, he says – but because people are not buying and therefore businesses are not hiring. Today in the New York Times, Krugman describes the Obama-Geithner plan as a rehash of the Bush-Paulson strategy. He thinks that the Geithner scheme is over-estimating the value of banking's toxic assets. He writes that "It’s just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets."

Mar 23  The president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, speaks out against more deficit spending, siding with Europe's governments in how to overcome the worst recession in a generation.

Mar 25  The center-left, including President Obama, Britain's Gordon Brown and Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Russ favor deficit spending for the sake of speeding recovery and with recovery an earlier revenue enhancement – Keysian economics. Also, the Dutch government favors deficit spending. Center-right politicians in Europe tend to be opposed. This includes Sarkozy of France. And today the Czech Republic's center-right prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, in an address to the European Union parliament, described Obama's plans for deficit spending as "a road to hell."

Mar 27  Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek resigns following a no confidence vote in the Czech Republic's parliament.

Mar 27  Robert Hormats of Goldman Sachs reports that some European leaders are opposed to more stimulus spending because they believe that their societies have enough social insurance benefits already in place – more of the European socialism that rightwing commentators in the US, like Sean Hannity of Fox News, are complaining about.

Mar 27  President Obama describes his strategy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan. He plans to send an extra 4,000 US personnel to train and bolster the Afghan army and police. He plans more support for civilian development in Afghanistan. And he speaks of striking at al Qaeda within Pakistan.

Mar 27  Monica Crowley, conservative political commentator, weighs in on a debate about how to respond to the economic crisis. She tells her McLaughlin Group fellow panelists that "government cannot create wealth."

Mar 30  In Pakistan more bloodshed is initiated by extremists. Young bearded men with submachine guns and hand grenades attack a police academy on the outskirts of the city of Lahore. A few of the attackers blow themselves up during the eight hours before they are killed or overwhelmed. The strategy of the attackers produces no apparent gains for their cause except for the killing of eight policemen, two civilians and the wounding of 95.

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