April 2013

would be killer

power fantasy

Apr 1 Tax shelters have become an issue in Russia as well as the United States. President Putin now approves the banking bailout procedures in Cyprus, and Russia's deputy prime minister suggests that losses by Russians would encourage Russians to bring their money home to Russian banks. He said that some money in Cyprus banks from Russia had been taxed and some not. The New York Times describes tax haven competitors elsewhere as seeking advantage from the Cyprus disaster – places such as the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, Dubai and Singapore. Meanwhile, United States prosecutors have been asking for cooperation from Liechtenstein regarding foundations and other financial vehicles being used as tax havens by wealthy Americans.

Apr 2  In Hilliard Ohio yesterday a man, 66, pulled a gun and threatened four people at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and he is reported as saying that if the police followed him home he would have to kill them too. He was arrested, and he told police he had been admitted to a mental health facility at least 40 times and has repeatedly purchased guns from a local gun store. The man is reported as having a tendency to sense evil occasionally and that yesterday he failed to take his medication. Some in the US are responding to their sense of evil and engaging in a national debate about background checks for buying guns. Ohio has an ineffectual law declaring that one cannot buy a gun if mentally ill while people with mental problems sometimes look perfectly sane.

Apr 3  The United Nations General Assembly has voted 154 to 3 with 23 abstentions to prohibit states from exporting weapons that would be used for crimes against humanity, war crimes or terrorism. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) has no impact on gun legislation or trade within the United States, but in the US the National Rifle Association vows to fight ratification by the US Senate, and some people are complaining about "UN gun grabbers." The Assad regime in Syria joined Iran and North Korea in voting against the treaty because it will not block arms being passed to rebels it describes as terrorists. This is the world's first treaty for regulating the global arms trade business.

Apr 4  North Korea has declared war against South Korea and the United States. It has shut down the industrial cooperation facility just inside its border with South Korea – its last link with the South. A South Korean newspaper, the Korea Times, headlines that the north may be aiming "to pressure [the] US for dialogue." People in South Korea are reported as thinking that the North isn't crazy enough to send its missiles flying and that its just more of the talk they've been hearing for years. In the Japan Times an analyst, Yoon Young Kwan, surveys the Korea problem since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and concludes that in recent years things have become progressively precarious. The US takes the threats from North Korea seriously and is increasing defenses for itself and South Korea, which it has vowed to protect. And some of us wonder about the likelihood of the North willing to back down, lose face and appear as having been globe, selected. If they do, what will be their talking points?

Apr 5  Today, Germany's finance minister welcomes the exposing of secret offshore banking and global tax evasion, and he says he wants more joint EU action against it. He refers to a consortium of journalists that has, according to its own report, "lay bare the names behind covert companies and private trusts in the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and other offshore hideaways. They include American doctors and dentists and middle-class Greek villagers as well as families and associates of long-time despots, Wall Street swindlers, Eastern European and Indonesian billionaires, Russian corporate executives, international arms dealers and a sham-director-fronted company that the European Union has labeled as a cog in Iran's nuclear-development program."

Apr 6  Chinese tourists are declared as having led the world in total spending abroad last year. They spent $102 billion on foreign trips, surpassing travelers from Germany and the United States. Meanwhile, big stores in London, Paris and Milan are concerned about the recent decline in tourist spending by Asians, this spending having been a bright spot during Europe's recession. According to an article in Reuters today, the Chinese "account for a third of European luxury sales." In late March, a senior North Korean official assured Chinese tour operators that there would be no war on the Korean peninsula. Chinese tourists have been flocking to South Korea rather than to North Korea. in January, President Obama signed an executive order aimed at speeding the visa process for Chinese and Brazilian tourists from four months to three weeks. Video: Chinese tourists in South Korea, Video: Chinese visit California.

Apr 7  China's state media says that tourist cruises to a chain of disputed islands in the South China Sea will begin by next month. Also today in an apparent reference to North Korea, China announces, as reported by Reuters, that "no country should be allowed to plunge the region into chaos after the United States postponed a missile test to ease talk of war." North Korea has declared that it cannot guarantee the safety of embassy personnel in its country after April 10 and accuses the US of intending to start a war. China says it is keeping its embassy people in North Korea anyway.

Apr 7  In recent days, Members of Parliament in Britain have been complaining that British taxpayers shouldn't be paying for health and education in Pakistan while rich Pakistanis were paying little tax. The MPs are calling for withholding extra aid to Pakistan.

Apr 8  In Britain, Members of Parliament call for suspension of pesticides linked to the death of bees. In the US are people urging action on this issue by their government.

Apr 8  The move by Japan's conservative government to stimulate massively its economy is accompanied by its central bank plan to double the nation's money supply. The purpose is to end deflation and to spur economic growth. The value of Japan's currency has dropped about 4.4% in the last week. Japan's public debt for 2012 was at 214% of GDP, close to twice that of the United States.

Apr 9  In Britain, Intelligence Squared has it debate on the motion "Karl Marx was right, capitalism post-2008 is falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions." There are six debaters, all bright, learned and charming. They agree that Marx wasn't right about everything. Those for the motion agree that he was right about some significant matters, and they talk about capitalism being propped up by various state interventions. The debate isn't definitional: what is and is not capitalism. They seemed to agree that they were living in a capitalist society. And the idea was put forward by Frank Fureti, for the motion and in agreement with Marx, that we don't have to be objects of history; we can innovate and create history in ways we find useful. The audience voted in favor of those opposed to the motion, 316 to 217, with 37 don't knows.

Apr 9  Pundits are analyzing North Korea while it threatens war. Anne Applebaum calls North Korea an anachronism. Looking back, the North was created by the Soviet Union which occupied it and kept Korea divided to suit its economic interests. All Koreans wanted a unified country. The North, with Stalin's backing, resisted elections to unify the country and then tried invading the South. The North was saved by intervention from China. The fighting stopped with the Stalinist regime still in place in the North. Stalinist-like repressions, propaganda and cult of personality prevailed and continues today while it remains economically dysfunctional and dependent on Chinese assistance. Applebaum and others wish but don't expect China to end the anachronistic regime in North Korea by not continuing to prop it up. BBC News describes the 1994 crisis in which the Clinton administration put aside its plans to destroy the North's nuclear capability and instead agreed to direct talks, which resulted in the North agreeing to a nuclear freeze in exchange for the US phazing out economic sanctions. And today pundits are focusing on the North making threats as a trading ploy. They don't think the North really believes the US is planning to make war. One asks, "Is Pyongyang looking for food aid or a cash injection to keep its economy from collapsing?"

Apr 10  France's president, Francois Hollande, calls for the eradication of the world's tax havens. Reuters quotes Hollande as saying, "French banks will have to publish every year the full list of their subsidiaries in the world, country by country. And they will indicate what they are doing. ... In other words it won't be possible for a bank to hide transactions carried out in a tax haven."

Apr 10  Yesterday Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as the new president of Kenya. In his inaugural address, Mr Kenyatta said he would govern for all Kenyans and that "We will leave no community behind." Children starting school next year, he added, would be given laptops.

Apr 11  Assad's Air Force "has repeatedly carried out indiscriminate, and in some cases deliberate, air strikes against civilians," reports Human Rights Watch. This strategy was described by a rebel in a PBS Frontline documentary "Syria Behind the Lines" as an attempt by the Assad regime to discourage civilians from supporting rebel fighters. It's a claim that rings true. It's common knowledge among students of war that rebel fighters are dependent on local populations. The bombing of civilians is a strategy to encourage civilians to demand that rebel fighters go away – a strategy employed against villages in South Vietnam in hope of separating local populations and the Viet Cong. It didn't save the regime in Saigon (South Vietnam). Nor has it been working In Syria. Instead of rebel forces going away, the civilians are fleeing. On the other hand for all we know at this time, Assad's airforce intentionally hitting civilians might be less a product of strategic thinking and more of a desire for revenge and to punish.

Apr 12  US Secretary of State Kerry meets with South Korea's lady president, Park Geun-hye, and aggravates North Korea by announcing that its planned test launch of a medium-range missile would be a "huge mistake" and that the US would never accept the North as a nuclear power. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has reported "North Korea probably has nuclear weapons that can be mounted on ballistic missiles," and China has increased its troops near its border with North Korea.

Apr 14  North Korea dismisses a proposal for dialogue by South Korea as a "cunning ploy." After recently threatening the South with final destruction, it accuses the South of being confrontational. And with these statements it rejects US Secretary of State Kerry's invitation to talks.

Sheikh Sabah

Kuwait's Emir, His Highness Sheikh Sabah IV

Apr 15  In Kuwait, opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak has said that the state's chief of state, its emir, would not be allowed "to take Kuwait into autocracy." Today he is put in prison for five years for insulting the emir. The emir's family, the House of Sabah, rules, and the country's constitution protects him from criticism. Several tweeters and others have been jailed on the charge. There are claims that the family is creating a rubber stamp parliament, and riot police have repeatedly used tear gas and stun grenades against demonstrators.

Apr 16  Yesterday afternoon two blasts loaded with ball bearings killed three and injured 176 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. There are no suspects or claims of responsibility.

Apr 16  China's defense ministry describes the US as having increased tensions in the Asia-Pacific by ramping up its military presence and alliances in the region. This, it says, has emboldened Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in territorial disputes. The People's Liberation Army newspaper Daily says, "Hostile Western forces have intensified their strategy to Westernize and split China, and have employed every possible means to contain and control our country's development."

Apr 16  North Korea vows "sledge-hammer blows" against South Korea unless the South apologizes for insults yesterday by demonstrators who burned portraits of the North's leaders.

Apr 17 In North Korea the state news agency announces that the country is open to talks, but not while the US is "brandishing a nuclear stick." The claim of not bluffing in its threat to make preemptive war (March 8) appears on its way to being forgotten. The crisis appears to be fading. We shall soon see whether the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, will be hailed as having scared the US into dropping its plans for war. Meanwhile, North Korean exiles are described in the Western press as laughing and saying that North Korea is not able to make a war they could hope to win, that it has all been "just talk."

Apr 18  In an interview on state television yesterday, the dictator Assad rejected reports that several parts of Syria have fallen out of his control. He said his army withdrew in some areas mainly to protect civilians. The protection of civilians, he said, is the top priority of his army battling opposition forces. This morning (EST), Aljazeera reports Syrian opposition fighters having captured "large parts of a military base in the strategic central Homs province."

Apr 18  President Obama describes the Senate's vote against its compromise gun legislation as "shameful" and says, "The gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the bill." Jon Stewart, television host of the Daily Show denounces the argument put forth by Republicans that background checks for buying guns are pointless because criminals don'tt follow laws. Stewart describes this as lawmakers arguing that there is no point in making laws because criminals are just going to end up breaking them. Some opponents of the bill took an absolutist position, saying the bill would save no lives; President Obama said the bill would save some lives. Some opponents complained that the bill demonizes gun owners. Some other opponents of the legislation want to make state laws that are now ineffective (in Ohio for example) more effective. Progressives vow to target four Democratic Party senators who voted against background checks for buying guns: Pryor of Arkansas, Baucus of Montana, Begich of Alaska and Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Apr 20  Two brothers living in the Boston area for a few years and originally from Chechnya, are accused of planting two bombs near the finish line during the Boston Marathon on April 15th. They are Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 26 and 19 respectively, They ae alleged to have killed three and injured many more. By yesterday the FBI had successfully identified them, and the attempt by the brothers to avoid capture appeared to corroborate their guilt. The older brother was killed and the younger brother taken prisoner. The mother, in Dagestan, said her sons were being framed. The father, also speaking from Dagestan, said the same. An aunt in Toronto said she was suspicious that the event was "staged." The older brother has been described as a devout Muslim. The public wonders what could have motivated the senseless act against innocent people other than Islamic extremism. Presidents Putin and Obama agree to more coordination in combating terrorism.

Apr 21  In the US, comparisons are being made between the Boston bombings of April 15 and the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

Apr 23  In Canada, two men are arraigned on charges of planning a terrorist attack on a passenger train. One is from Tunisia, Chiheb Esseghaier, 30, who was working on a PhD in engineering at a university in Quebec. The other, Raed Jaser, 35, has permanent resident status and is thought to be Palestinian. Esseghaier is said to have been threatened with expulsion from his university for disruptive behavior. He is described as having alienated colleagues with his religious views, having torn down posters he didn't approve of and pestering administration officials to install a prayer room. Canada's Globe and Mail reports that the two men had been under investigation since last year following a tip by an imam in Toronto's Muslim community.

Apr 24  Many if not most people in the US are puzzled by the absurdity of the Boston Marathon bombing; it is after all a political act that has no political benefit to people of any ideology (something al Qaeda is slow to recognize). Someone claims that "It's painful for most Americans to admit our fault in these events." Someone else labels this person an idiot liberal and complains that liberals are refusing to recognize that the bombers were Muslim extremists. Someone else writes, "our university and idiot professors share some of the blame." Another finds it necessary to label the bombers as rightwing terrorists. All this while it is realized generally that most people on the right and most people on the left would never approve or do what the Boston bombers did. Someone simply labels the bombers "vicious murderers of the worst kind." Another person wonders how someone takes the step of intentionally killing innocent people. One of the bombers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, has recently referred to an old saying that has been proclaimed from the left and the right, something about evil prevailing when good people do nothing. Great abstractions do not necessarily impart wisdom. There are bad ideas around and some people act on bad ideas. There is value, of course, in excluding killers from society and value in addressing bad ideas in their specificity.

Apr 27  Israeli, British and French intelligence services claim that the Assad regime has been using chemical weapons. The Assad regime accuses its enemies of using chemical weapons but hasn't allowed inspectors in to examine where anti-Assad forces have done so. Ground samples in areas held by those opposed to Assad have tested positive for poison gas use. The Obama administration concedes that "Our intelligence community does asses with varying degrees of that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria. President Obama has said that such use would be a red line, suggesting a greater intervention of some kind – a "game changer" he said yesterday. On the NewsHour, University of Notre Dame peace advocate David Cortright, hostile toward any use of military force, argues that the US should work with the Russians on the issue of chemical weapons. Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov sides with the Assad regime, saying that news of chemical weapons use "must not be a pretext for an intervention in Syria." On the NewsHour, Kori Schake of Stanford University expressed concern that the Obama administration might be holding to a position of required evidence and extent of use high enough to remain an excuse for not acting. She said, "The American public is war-weary, and they should be war-weary. The problem is that the Syrian government is taking advantage of that war-weariness to do truly atrocious, inhuman things. It's a war crime to use chemical weapons. Right? So they are capitalizing on our desire, as the president said, for the tide of war to be receding."

Apr 28  In Iceland the Social Democrats, now in power, lose in yesterday's elections. The right-of-center gains and is poised for a return to power. BBC News describes it as "a dramatic comeback for the [right-of-center] parties widely blamed for Iceland's economic meltdown in 2008." In appealing to voters, the right-of-center called for good times and took advantage of dissatisfaction with the austerity policies of the Social Democrats. The call for good times (let's party?) by conservatives included expressions of respect for free enterprise but also for investments. In the words of their most prominent leader, Bjarni Benediktsson, quoted by BBC News, "We've seen what cutbacks have done for our healthcare system and social benefits... now it's time to make new investments, create jobs and start growth." Also, the right-of-center promised debt relief and cuts in taxes.

Apr 29  Civil war has erupted in Iraq. But, as happened with Syria, observors are slow to call it that. It could also be called a sectarian conflict, as does Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki. An army raid on a Sunni protest camp last week has been followed by escalated violence. In the past week clashes have occurred in several towns and cities. Prime Minister Maliki, a Shia, supports Iran and Syria's so-called president Bashar al-Assad. Iraq's Sunni oppose Assad and believe they are under-represented or not represented at all by Maliiki's government. Today according to BBC News, "At least 18 people have been killed and dozens injured by five car bombs in Shia-majority provinces of southern Iraq, officials say."

Apr 30  Syria: "This is not a civil war. This is a national uprising against almost half-a-century of dictatorship." So says Murhaf Jouejati, Chairman of the Syrian National Council.

Apr 30  Search for survivors in Bangladesh came to an end yesterday, five days after a building full of garment workers in the city of Dhaka collapsed. The death toll is expected to rise to around 570. Corruption is blamed: people with political connections allowed shoddy construction and to work people in a dangerous environment. Anger and demonstrations have been followed by the arrest of the building's owner. Retailers in the West seeking cheap labor are being blamed for their part in the disaster.

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