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, "...credit-fuelled 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. StrategyPage.com 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.

March 2014 | May 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.