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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. For descriptions of recent developments try http://www.interpretermag.com.

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 insane.....it 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."

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