May 2014

May  1  Hundreds of protesters, most of them women, have been marching through the Nigerian capital, Abuja, calling for the release of schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants two weeks ago. The militants are Boko Haram, who oppose Western education and have staged attacks in northern Nigeria in recent years. The government has troops deployed in the main cities of the north. Civilian defense forces have also been putting pressure on Boko Haram, and Boko Haram has been retaliating with attacks on poorly defended rural villages and smaller towns. Yesterday the Washington Post wrote of reports of the captured girls being sold or shared out as brides to Boko Haram militants. A comment to the Washington Post calls Islam a "barbaric religion." Someone else writes: "Slavery and female abductions have been an Islamic practice for centuries. They did not invent it but they certainly have perfected it." Someone else sees the oil industry as the villain, describing Boko Haram as "pawns in a bigger play for power." Today, Aljazeera reports that "About 50 of the kidnapped girls managed to escape from the captors in the first days after their abduction, but some 220 remained missing, according to the principal of the Chibok Girls Secondary School, Asabe Kwambura. They are between 16 and 18 years old and had been recalled to the school to write a physics exam." Someone comments to Aljazeera calling Boko Harem "Islamic fundamentalist terrorists," suggesting they are not to be confused with Muslims who associate themselves with the 21st century.

May 2  The Kiev regime launched a dawn raid today against pro-Russian checkpoints, and the pro-Russians shot down two helicopters sent against them, killing two crew. Russian government spokesmen are reported as saying that Kiev's actions have "killed the last hope" for the deal that was agreed to in mid-April in Geneva aimed at defusing the crisis. Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, describes Moscow's point of view. He complains that "our western colleagues" don't want to see pro-Russian actions in the Ukraine as a reaction to the "violent unconstitutional coup" in Kiev, "to attempts to curtail the status of the Russian language" and to "punitive" operations among other things. Yakovenko writes that "it is unacceptable that the situation in the east is described as a result of Russian meddling." He writes that "British reporters on the ground overwhelmingly agree the protest movement has local roots and is manned by local residents. That Russia can order them to stop protesting is pure fantasy." In the United States, many see this as just Russian propaganda, while this morning the New York Times reports that White House officials assert that sanctions imposed on Russia are having a "significant impact" on its economy – something that will be elaborated on by the media in the weeks ahead.

May 5  China will upgrade Ethiopia's road system, power grid and help with agriculture, industrialization and other projects. China's Premier Li Keqiang and his wife arrived in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa yesterday for talks. Already China has funded Ethiopia's first expressway project, and it's building a light-rail transit system in Addis Ababa. According to China Daily USA, Beijing is commited to "deepening the China-Africa strategic partnership."

May 6  Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, yesterday boasted: "I abducted your girls ... God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions ... I will sell them in the marketplace ... I will sell them and marry them off. There is a market for selling humans ... women are slaves ... i want to reassure my Muslim brothers that Allah says slaves are permitted in Islam." All this he said in a 57-minute video apparently in order to benefit himself and his movement. The Algerian extremist Mokhtar Belmokhtar made his boasts on the world stage in late January 2013 and was reported killed within two months.

May 7  Kiev sends troops to the southern port city of Mariupol and they drive pro-Russian "rebels" from their occupation of city hall. Kiev's force withdraws and the rebel forces take back the city hall. Meanwhile, there is talk in the media of Ukraine sliding into civil war. And today BBC News quotes Putin urging his pro-Russian allies to postpone a series of referendums in south-eastern Ukraine planned for this week-end "in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue." Yesterday in the state-owned Russian newspaper, RBTH, Vasily Kashin writes: "All the signs are that a military invasion of Ukraine's restive eastern provinces by Russian forces is not on the cards." Kashin is an "expert" at the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. In the United States, Strobe Talbott, a foreign policy "expert" with the Brookings Institute, appeared on BBC World News America yesterday speaking with emotion and certainty about Putin's mendacity and plans for more aggression regarding Ukraine.

May 8  The Beverly Hills Hotel, otherwise known as the Pink Palace, located just above Sunset Boulevard, in business since 1912, former home of Howard Hughes, Elizabeth Taylor and other well-known people, is now owned by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah. Bolkiah is implementing a Sharia law penal code that includes death by stoning, the severing of limbs, and flogging for crimes in Brunei such as abortions, adultery and homosexual acts. BBC News describes the Sultan as having announced "the first phase of the new penalties last week." Celebrities, including Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, are responding with picket signs and a boycott of the hotel. Brunei is rich in crude oil and natural gas. Its per capita wealth is greater than the US, just below that of Norway, while its infant mortality is almost twice that of the US and three times that of Norway.

May 9  Reuters headlines "Ukraine rebels ignore Putin's call to delay self-rule vote." It adds: "The decision, which contradicted the conciliatory tone set by Putin just a day earlier, caused consternation in the West, which fears the referendum will tear Ukraine apart." Agenda theories are still around. Some have been describing the crisis in Ukraine as Putin on a march or at least a product of Putin's agenda to recreate Russia's old empire. Agenda theorists are prevalent in the US. Reuters reports US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns saying that Russia is heading down a "dangerous and irresponsible path." On the opposite side of this debate, some see the crisis as part of a nefarious agenda by the West. An American veteran writes that he is "far, far, far from a Putin/Russian fan" but that he is "just tired of the US/EU wantonly roaming the world creating havoc in other countries." Someone else comments to Reuters that the "whole crisis" will be resolved by granting East Ukraine a "very significant degree of autonomy" and he complains of the West urging "its puppets in Kiev to try force" and predicts this "will fail."

May 11  The people of China are not as docile as some in the US have assumed. Yesterday in Hangzhou China thousands demonstrated against construction of a waste incineration plant. At least 39 people are reported injured, including 29 police officers, and police vehicles were set on fire. BBC News reports an announcement by local authorities that "the project will not go ahead without public support." According to BBC News, "Tens of thousands of protests are held in China every year, mostly against pollution, corruption and land grabs."

May 12  In eastern Ukraine, a big voter turnout overwhelmingly rejects rule from Kiev. Pro-Russian separatists claim 90 percent support in the industrial Donetsk region and a Russian news agency reports 96.2 percent backing in the Luhansk region. Russian authorities note the referendum's "high turnout" and describe the results as "the will of the people." Russia calls for implementation of the results and dialogue to work through the conflict, with participation by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. From Kiev comes a description of the referendum as "a farce." The Kiev regime, which recently sent troops and armored vehicles pushing against massive crowds of angry people in the east, accuses Russia of working to overthrow the country's legitimate state power.

May 14  In late March, a visit by President Obama to Saudi Arabia appeared to be cut short after two hours, without a state dinner, and there were reports, however inaccurate, that King Abdullah thought Obama "a wimp who screwed up the whole Syria thing." Yesterday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal gave signal of a major shift in attitude toward Middle East crises. According to Arab News he described crises in the Middle East as having given "major superpowers the opportunity to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, which increases the phenomenon of terrorism." He said this at the Economic and Cooperation Forum that includes ministers of Central Asian countries and Azerbaijan. Arab News reports that he has invited Iran's foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia, "stressing the Kingdom's readiness for negotiations with Teheran." Saudi Arabia and Iran have been antagonists regarding Syria, and Iran's help for Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime appears to have been successful along with Russian aid in keeping the Assad regime alive.

May 17  In India, inflation and a decline in economic growth has turned voters against the incumbent center-left Congress Party after its ten years of rule. The center-right Hindu Nationalist Party, the BJP, is celebrating a landslide election victory. It has won 282 seats in parliament compared to a mere 44 for the Congress Party (there are 543 seats divided among numerous parties). The BJP leader, Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi, celebrates with them. Modi promises "to take India forward" and "to fulfill the dreams of more than a billion people." The BJP is described as favoring foreign investments and free enterprise and is considered religiously conservative. Its members hold Hinduism to be superior to other faiths, and they support its continuing dominance within India, with some fear from India's Muslim minority. The Congress Party's rural employment guarantee scheme and other welfare schemes for the poor are being described as having failed to win the votes that the party expected. BBC News writes: "...selling welfare schemes caught up with the law of diminishing returns in an India which is increasingly young, restless and aspirational." Also there were corruption issues.

May 18  Swiss voters reject a $25 per hour minimum wage. Critics of the proposal say it would raise production costs and increase unemployment. Swizerland has no minimum wage law (neither does Germany), but labor unions influence wages through collective bargaining. The unions in Switzerland argue that surviving on less than 4,000 francs a month ($5,760) is impossible because of rents, health insurance and food costs. BBC News reports that "Most of Switzerland's low-paid workers operate in the service industry, in hotels and restaurants, and the majority of them are women." An internet seach produces a claim that the average wage for a waitress in Switzerland is currently a little under $17 per hour.

May 20  Lindsay Abrams reports in Salon that Minnesota's governor, Mark Dayton, signed a bill yesterday banning triclosan "from most retail consumer hygiene products" – which includes anti-bacterial soap. Abrams reports that the FDA has raised the possibility that the chemical could be contributing to antibiotic resistance, that University of Minnesota researchers say that finding its way into lakes and rivers the chemical can, in Linday's words, "interact with chlorine and sunlight to form dioxins, environmental pollutants that can be harmful to humans." She adds: "Put together, it's an awful lot of risks associated with a chemical that's basically useless: It's ineffective against certain bacteria and fungal infections, and hasn't been proven to be any more effective than the classic combination of soap and water."

May 21  In Beijing, President Putin signs several dozen agreements with the Chinese. One is for Russia selling gas to China, described as a "monster deal." Another involves cooperation in creating a competitor to Boeing and Airbus. Chinese companies will be working on infrastructure projects, including the first bridge across the Amur River between Russia and China in Siberia. With the meeting, Russia and China called for the de-escalation of tensions in Ukraine and for "peaceful, political ways to resolve existing problems."

May 21  Yesterday, Thailand's military declared martial law, which included closing down a couple of major television stations. A 1914 law allows it to intervene in times of crisis. Thailand's army has staged eleven coups since 1932, but the military emphasizes that instead of a coup it was acting to preserve law and order. The interim government established by the constitutional court remains in place. Early this month, the court ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine cabinet ministers for abuse of power. New elections lie ahead while protesters in yellow shirts representing the urban middle and upper classes are in Bangkok's suburbs and those who support the government, the red shirts, are camping in the center of town. The army stands between them, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army says to journalists, "Don't ask me if martial law will be long or short. When the country is peaceful we will get rid of it." Meanwhile, some adolescent girls are having fun taking and posting photos of those they think are cute soldiers.

May 22  Thailand's military announces a coup. It suspends the kingdom's constitution and takes control of the government. Normal television broadcasting is suspended, political gatherings of any more than five people are banned, a nationwide curfew is in place from 10 PM to 5 AM. The man in charge, General Prayuth, describes the coup's purpose: "In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again ... and to reform the political, economic and social structure." Protesters from Thailand's urban affluent have been denouncing an elected government that they accuse of appealing to popular sentiments. The army calls for compromise between those who don't want democracy (despite what they call their movement) and those who do. It talks as though there is equivalence between the two, and it presents itself as a fair arbiter on behalf of their king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86.

May 24  In Thailand, the military has detained the gentle former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and dozens of others, including prominent academics and critics of the monarchy. The trouble making leader of the yellow shirts, Suthep Thaugsuban, who flatters the monarchy, isn't reported by the press as among the detained. A military spokesman describes their detention as giving them "time to think." General Prayuth, the coup's chief and self-ordained political philosopher, has labored with thoughts, and he says, "We must have economic, social and political reforms before elections." How this is to be done he doesn't say. Meanwhile a current article in the Economist writes of the probability that the coup" will lead to a framework allowing the historical elites to continue in charge of the country. Either way, it will not be up to General Prayuth. In Thailand the real decisions are made in the privy council and at the royal palace."

May 26  In Thailand, General Prayuth announces that he has been formally endorsed by the king, and he warns that "tough measures' will be taken if protests continue. But as of this moment people are still in the streets, holding signs that call for democracy and that read "no coup." The protests aren't massive but are expected to escalate if the Morocco model of allowing peaceful protests is ignored in favor of the crackdown model.

May 26  Anti-immigration eurosceptic parties are joyous at their success in elections to the EU's parliament. According to BBC News, "The three big centrist blocs all lost seats, though still hold the majority... The outcome means a greater say for those who want to cut back the EU's powers, or abolish it completely." Britain's David Cameron says the message is "received and understood".

May 27  The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns banking reforms have not made enough progress. Its director, Christine Lagarde, blames complexity, industry lobbying and "fatigue" for the delay. She says, "The industry still prizes short-term profit over long-term prudence." Some of the biggest problems, she says, is with the too-big-to-fail firms. For a remedy she calls for "tougher regulation and tighter supervision."

May 28  In Ukraine, the newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko (he trounced Julia Tymoshenko in Sunday's election), has promised more local autonomy for people in the country's east, but separatists there have been resorting to military action to establish complete independence. Poroshenko proclaims the right to resist what he calls terrorism. Yesterday and the day before, government forces killed dozens of separatist fighters in retaking the local airport. Emotions are running high among the separatists. After the election of Poroshenko, Russia's President Putin had suggested he might be able to work with Poroshenko, and Poroshenko had said he knows Putin well and that he could get along with Russia, but reaction in Russia to the Ukraine government killing Russian separatists is disturbing the Russian public and the Putin regime.

May 28  On PBS Frontline, Assad regime strategy is described as follows: "The idea is to terrorize civilians to try to convince them to turn against rebel fighters, to prevent the growth of any kind of local government in rebel areas." This is a reference to the use of barrel bombs and artillery shelling on densely populated areas. Also reported on Frontline: more use of chemical weapons.

May 29  President Obama has been reported as approving the US military training moderate Syrian rebels to fight the regime of Bashar Assad and al Qaeda-linked groups. US officials told the Wall Street Journal early this week that the US will supplement the small training programs led by the CIA which the president authorized a year ago. And yesterday In a speech to graduating cadets at West Point, Obama said he "will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators."

p>May 29  Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, describes the stoning to death of a woman by her family as "totally unacceptable." According to BBC News, the woman, Farzana Parveen, "who was three months pregnant, was struck down with bricks and bludgeoned by relatives furious because she married against their wishes." The incident took place in front of a court building in the city of Lahore. BBC News reports that "There are hundreds of so-called 'honour killings' in Pakistan each year."

May 30  In Egypt's presidential election, with ballots from most polling stations counted, former military chief al-Sisi wins 93 percent of the vote. The vote was extended to a third day in response to a low voter turn out. Some attributed the low turn out to hot weather, political apathy and an election boycott called by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yesterday, al-Sisi said, "We know that some people fear a return to the past, but this will not happen, there is no going back and we will move forward." He added, "The population has ambitions and there are humble people who need us to work and fight for them."

April 2014 | June 2014 

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