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March 2013

Mar 1 The United States pledges $60 million in assistance to select anti-Assad forces for everything short of weaponry. It will help the Syrian opposition militarily and is aimed at helping populations in what Kerry calls "liberated" areas. Secretary of State Kerry declares that "Assad cannot shoot his way out" of his crisis. The Obama administration's decision not to give weapons has been described in the press as motivated by a continuing hope for a "political solution" rather than a military solution. Meanwhile, anti-Assad forces refuse to talk with the Assad regime until Assad steps down, and it is military success by the anti-Assad forces that drives a willingness by the Assad regime to negotiate.

Mar 2  Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian who bombastically warned France of the trouble it was getting into, is reported to have been killed.

Mar 2  While the Obama administration stops short of giving weapons to Assad's opponents, the Assad regime fights on with weapons sent from Russia, including scud missiles sent against residential areas. Syria's foreign minister, Walid Muallem, ignores that the Assad regime has been murdering people in hostile neighborhoods since 2011. He describes the United States as killing Syrians and the US aid announced by Secretary of State John Kerry as "inconceivable." Muallem speaks with a seriousness that suggests he believes he is communicating with credibility, while this site and many in the world see al-Muallem on a path similar to that taken by another Ba'athist, Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz.

Mar 3  In an interview today, Assad says his regime is ready to negotiate "with anyone, including militants who surrender their weapons." He says (again) that he is not stepping down. He accuses the British government of naivete and of using shallow and immature rhetoric and arming terrorists. Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, describes it as "one of the most delusional interviews that any national leader has given in modern times," overlooking perhaps an interview or two given by Muammar Gaddafi.

Mar 3  Close to 70 percent of Swiss voters are supporting a limit on executive pay, an initiative to apply to all Swiss companies listed on Switzerland's stock exchange. BBC News says "the new measure will give Switzerland some of the world's strictest corporate rules." Some argue that it will damage competitiveness.

Mar 4  The spending problem versus revenue problem that US Congressman John Boehner speaks of is a pressing difference of opinion also in India. India's finance minister is focusing on austerity (not spending) and legislators are interested in spending money ahead of elections due in 2014. Affluent Indians dislike taxes perhaps even more than Republicans, hence India has half the revenues per GDP of the US, less than a half the revenues of China and a fourth to a fifth the revenues of Australia, Germany and some other more wealthy countries.

Mar 5  China has a wealth distribution problem: not enough money to common people and too much to others. It has an over-production problem. The Chinese have been building more condos than there are people who can afford them. People with money looking for more of it have been speculating by purchasing condos, while whole buildings of condos remain empty. China is doing what was not done in the United States during its housing bubble: It is imposing a tax with the intention of reducing the intensity of the coming bubble-burst. Meanwhile a "people's political consultant," Chi Fulin, advises a major tax-reduction plan "to decrease income disparity." And Wen Jiabao leaves the office of premier warning of "unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable growth."

Mar 6  There is weeping and shock in Venezuela with the death yesterday of President Hugo Chavez. He is remembered for his devotion to the poor, including free healthcare and education, subsidized food, clothes and electronics. His loss has been called "irreparable" although a people's socialism is supposed to have leaders who can be replaced – the Great Man theory of history being a rightwing rather than a leftist idea. Chavez was, however, charismatic. Some others saw him as passionate but shallow, as in his siding with oppressive regimes in Iran and Syria believing these regimes were the victims of imperialism.

Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un, ashtray and gloves at the ready.

Mar 7  The regime in North Korea accuses the United States of pushing to start a nuclear war and says It will exercise its right for "a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors." Some see this as just more of North Korea's inflammatory rhetoric. Some wonder about the regime's mental state: distorted perceptions and endangering itself (and others) while believing it is pursuing self-defense.

Mar 8  North Korea rages against new sanctions imposed yesterday by the UN Security Council regarding its nuclear testing. China was among the nations signing the new resolution, and China calls for calm. North Korea is isolated, without allies on the nuclear testing and looming war issues, but it ramps up its position, saying in three days it will cancel all non-aggression treaties with South Korea. This would be a return to the status of war of 1950-53. Some outside of North Korea view the North's threatened pre-emptive nuclear strike not as stupidity but as a clever bluff, believing the its leaders know it would be suicidal. A leading North Korea general declares angrily to a television camera that they are not bluffing.

Mar 8  People traveling from Eritrea across Sudan to Egypt and elsewhere are being kidnapped and forced to call relatives as far away as the United States for ransom money. The kidnappers apply torture for screams during the calls to intensify the requests.

Mar 11  On this quiet day in East Asia, China's newspaper, China Daily, reports a move by its government for more efficiency by restructuring its railway and health ministries into parts of a larger ministry. The paper also reports a government plan to help small and micro-sized businesses overcome rising costs and financing difficulties. A government statement claims that small and micro-sized firms "serve as a significant channel for creating jobs, a major platform for entrepreneurship and an important force of scientific innovation." March 11 is ending in East Asia. In the US people have awakened to talk of a possible return of functionality to Congress.

Mar 12  The will of the Falkland Islanders is clear. They want to remain British citizens. The vote count is 1,517 in favor of the islands remaining British territory, and three against. Meanwhile, many in Argentina exercise a special understanding of possession and claim it doesn't matter what the inhabitants of the islands want. The islands, they say, are Argentina's.

Mar 12  Germany ranks second (after Switzerland) in competition for tourists. France drops from third to seventh place. The ranking is biannual by The Global Economic Forum. People going on a holiday are said to like good infrastructure and clean air. They prefer places where costs are moderate, where they feel safe and the locals are friendly and don't smoke. In Denmark, it is written, people are not as friendly as in Germany. Denmark ranks 21st, down six places from the 2011 report. The US ranks 6th, Canada 8th.

Mar 13  In the US Congress, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ted Deutch have introduced an attempt to skirt the US Supreme Court's ruling in 2010 regarding money and political campaigns. The Senator and Congressman propose that only "natural persons" be able to make political contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections. This would bar for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations and unions from spending money in elections.

Mar 13  A study published in the journal Current Biology on the lifespan of Korean eunuchs reveals that women live longer than men on average because of male hormones.

Mar 14  North Korea's threat of war is reduced to live-artillery drills near its border with South Korea, as South Korea and the US continue their annual military exercises. There is no "preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors" as threatened. The North has tossed a macho, sexist insult at South Korea's president, speaking of the "venomous swish of her skirt," although the North sees itself as the most socially progressive of states. (The North has called Hillary Clinton a "minister in a skirt.") The South's President Park is reported as patiently hoping to move the North's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, 32 years younger than she, toward reason and conciliation. She has called on the North to tone down its rhetoric, while the North threatens to destroy the South in a sea of fire and accuses the South of "warmongering."

Mar 15  Iran and Russia have been supplying the Assad regime in Syria with weapons. Today, Britain and France are pushing the European Union to lift the embargo that prevents them from sending weapons to those in Syria fighting for democracy. They believe that military pressure alone will make those on the dictatorship side of the conflict willing to effectively negotiate. Russia has complained that giving arms to the anti-Assad forces is illegal, while some others question the legitimacy of a regime that slaughters its own people. Comments sent to the Washington Post are largely opposed to the British and French move and close to (but not identical with) the positions of Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. (Bloody dictator's enjoy their legalities and the pacifism of potential opponents.) The comments call for more of the negotiations that have not worked, and they fear weapons ending up in the hands of al-Qaida. One sees a "wag the dog" effort to boost sagging popularity. Another alludes to the colonialist past of the British and French, and another is like a general with a failing analogy considering a previous war. The war he chooses is not the Bosnian war but the Afgan-Russian war, which gave birth to al-Qaida.

Mar 17  Pope Francis, elected on the thirteenth, makes his second appearance and declares. "I would iike to see a church that is poor and is for the poor." This fits his association with Francis of Assisi. Conflicting commentary follows: Someone identifies himself as an atheist and looks forward to the Church helping the poor. A second person tells the atheist to "Dream on." He says the Church "is there to get the cash off the poor and keep them poor." A third person, an agnostic, complains that the second person is one of the many in the world who has let his emotions destort his thinking.

Mar 18  The BBC reports that In recent years Cyprus has developed into an important financial hub, "especially for investors from Russia and Eastern Europe." The banks have been a tax haven. The banks have made bad investments, buying bonds for Greece's debt. Germans don't want to rescue Russian investors. Lacking cash from the EU to rescue Cyprus banking, the government of Cyprus has decided to levy the accounts of ordinary depositors. This creates a storm of protest and violates banking Rule Number One: maintaining depositor confidence. The Cyprus parliament has voted to postpone the bailout. The banking crisis in Cyprus continues as the government looks for money with which to keep the country's banks alive, and Europe trembles.

Mar 18  Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference two days ago, Sarah Palin denounces "too big to fail" bailouts.

Mar 19  Republican John Boenher, US Speaker of the House of Representatives on March 17 said, "We do not have an immediate debt crisis, but we all know that we have one looming." He complained the budget "never gets to balance." Boehner has been speaking against raising taxes to balance the budget, saying that we have a spending problem not a revenue problem. He doesn't like the German model of revenue as 44.9% of GDP compared to 15.7% for the United States, with Germany's government having balanced its budget despite its extensive spending.

Thorning-Schmidt

Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt

Mar 20 Denmark's Social Democrats respond to experience. Nearly 43 percent of the bosses of medium or large-sized enterprises polled say the government of Social Democrat Thorning-Schmidt is better for competitiveness than was the Venstre-Conservative regime. The Copenhagen Post reports that "praise for the government was partially due to a growth plan which is expected to lessen the overall cost of doing business by ten billion kroner by the year 2020."

Mar 21  In Israel, President Obama pledges an "eternal" alliance. It's good to be back in The Land, he says in Hebrew. He and Prime Minister Netanyau embrace and look genuinely friendly. Obama tells the media he is in the area to learn rather than to speak. In Israel Jewish settlements in West Bank is not a topic of discussion. In the Israeli occupied West Bank city of Ramallah he meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who has been telling the world that continued building of Jewish settlements is a stumbling block to a peace deal. At a press converence Obama says, "the Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily dignities that come with it." Not everyone buys Obama's message of friendship to both sides. In Ramallah, demonstrators chant "The occupation is a snake and Obama is its head." From Gaza two rockets are fired into Israel. In the US the Heritage Foundation joins the complaints, accusing Obama of trying to lead from behind.

Mar 22  Late yesterday Obama spoke publicly to a young Israeli audience. He told them that peace "will have to be made among peoples, not just governments (applause). ... the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, their right to justice must also be recognized (cheers, applause). ... Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. ... It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own (cheers, applause), living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements, not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It's not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished (applause). It's not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands or restricting a student's ability to move around the West Bank (applause) or displace Palestinian families from their homes. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer (cheers, applause). Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land (applause). ... Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable, with real borders that have to be drawn (cheers, applause)."

Mar 22  "Let guns be silenced and politics dominate," says Abdullah Ocalan, leader of a Kurdish rebellion that has killed 40,000. According to Reuters he is cheered by "hundreds of thousands." Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, Reuters reports, has taken "considerable political risks " by extending cultural and language rights to Kurds."

Mar 23  Al Arabiya reports that the European Union insisted today on "the need for a hasty political solution to end the carnage in Syria" – tantamount to ignoring months of failed efforts negotiating with Assad. Accompanying the EU's declaration is opposition to the one thing that will force serious negotiations for an end to the Assad regime: military pressure. Sweden's Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, influential within the EU, says that funneling weapons to Syria's insurgents would "fan the conflict and undermine efforts to seek a negotiated settlement."

Mar 24  Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Khatib resigns in frustration, saying, "For the past two years, we have been slaughtered by an unprecedentedly vicious regime, while the world has looked on." He adds: "All the destruction of Syria's infrastructure, the detention of tens of thousands of people, the forced flight of hundreds of thousands and other forms of suffering have been insufficient for the international community to take a decision to allow the people to defend themselves."

Mar 25  Cyprus bank bailout deal leaves those with less than 100,000 euros ($130,000) in their account untouched (fully guaranteed). Those with more will loose money. Among the losers are unhappy Russians. The move keeps Cyprus in the eurozone. Someone comments that no bailout would have meant ordinary Cypriots losing all their bank savings. Another writes, "Cyprus should have done what Iceland did. Bit the bullet and let the banks go bust.They would have come out of this debacle with some integrity and could have rebuilt their economy." (Icelanders have rejected joining their country to the eurozone.)

Mar 26  The Arab League convenes, and the chair for Syria is filled by a member of the National Coalition opposed to Assad: Ahmed al-Khatib. In today's Washington Post, opinion writer David Ignatius describes a split between Arab League members on the makeup of Syria's opposition. He says Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates favor moderate Muslim leadership, and Turkey and Qatar want "to see an Islamist government headed by the Muslim Brotherhood after the fall of Bashar al-Assad." Ignatius writes of fuss in the US from those who blame the division on President Obama's low key approach to Syria, and he alludes to others who see the "mess" as reason for the US to keep its distance from the conflict in Syria. At the Arab summit and representing Syria, al-Khatib declares that the Syrian people alone should determine who rules the country – as in real elections nation-wide.

Mar 27  On his much watched television show in the United States, Bill O'Reilly says, "Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, now Cypress, all broke. And other European nations are close. Why? Because they are nanny states." A contrary view on Europe is expressed by an economics professor, Richard Wolff. He says that If you want to describe places as nanny states it should be Germany and Scandinavia, "because they provide more social services to their people than anybody else. And guess what, not only are they not in trouble economically, they are the winners of the current situation. The unemployment rate in Germany is now below five percent."

Mar 27  Still responding to recent sanctions, North Korea announces that it has ordered artillery and rockets to full "combat posture" as preparation for targeting US bases in Hawaii, Guam and the US mainland. And North Korea cuts its military hotline with South Korea, adding to other recent communications cuts: a Red Cross hotline and the UN Command in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. (Video)

Mar 28  A federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), is being challenged by the US Supreme Court. That law defines marriage as between a man and a woman only. The case was originated by Edie Windsor, 83, of New York who married a woman in Toronto, Canada, and lived with her for forty-two years. When her marriage-partner died she had to pay more than $350,000 in federal inheritance taxes she would not have had to pay had her marriage been recognized. Congressional Republicans have hired the lawyer at taxpayer expense to argue in favor of the law. (President Obama isn't defending DOMA.) Some traditionalist Americans favor government intervention to defend marriage as an institution whose purpose is procreation. Some associate marriage with Biblical morality, but this is not an argument for a court of law in the United States. Arguments against DOMA question the federal government's authority to regulate marriage and complain that DOMA violates equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. (Video, Edie Windsor)

Mar 28  Today the UN reports that its Security Council "approved the creation of its first-ever 'offensive' combat force, intended to carry out targeted operations to 'neutralize and disarm' the notorious 23 March Movement (M23), as well as other Congolese rebels and foreign armed groups in strife-riven eastern Democratic Republic of Congo." Mark Lyall Grant, representing Britain said said the agreement "provided an opportunity for civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, especially women and girls, to go about their lives in safety."

Mar 29  Another boring report concerning North Korea. The US moves two radar-avoiding stealth bombers and submarines forward, preparing to defend its ally South Korea and itself against North Korea's threats. Russia criticizes the military activity near North Korea, saying a "vicious cycle" could get out of control. North Korea's leaders see the US military activity as more provocation and appear impressed by their own military capability. North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, signs the order that prepares the country's missiles for action. His news agency KCNA describes him as telling his top generals that he has "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists in view of the prevailing situation." The US is aware of a great increase in movements of vehicles and soldiers at North Korea's mid and long-range missile sites. Mass rallies are being held in North Korea supporting their Supreme Leader. It's Friday and many in the United States are looking forward to the weekend. Some see Kim Jong-un as insane. They appear little concerned, or they look forward to their military destroying North Korea's missile capabilities or more. (Video)

Mar 30  Bahrain's justice system appears to be working somewhat. This past week an appeals court overturned the convictions of twenty-one medics arrested in April 2011 at a hospital treating injured protesters. Twenty-five of their collegues also prosecuted already have been acquitted. Three remain in jail and some have not been allowed to return to their work as doctors.

Mar 31  On this Easter Day some are expressing themselves on a age-old issue: the Church having adopted the trappings of power, wealth and splendor during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. It was contrary to the humility regarding wealth of Jesus and that of Christians before Constantine. Christians are describing their pleasure with the new pope, Francis, equating his simplicity with a greater spirituality. And in his Easter message today the pope denounces "greed looking for easy gain." Some others today comment on Easter having risen from paganism. Easter originally celebrated Ishtar, a goddess of fertility. It was adapted by the Church as an accommodation in bringing pagans into the Church, but supporters of Easter believe that it is the symbolism not the "pagan" origins that matters. Also on this day, in the United States, Cardinal Dolan criticizes excessive individualism and speaks up for the collective "we" that was a big part of early Christianity. (Dolan video.)

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Copyright © 2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.