September 2014

Sep  1 Iraq's foreign minister announces Russia's delivery of a batch of Mi-28 helicopters to help fight ISIS. And closed-door talks have begun in the city of Minsk between Russian and Ukrainian officials regarding fighting in the Ukraine, with the Russians seeking a ceasefire and who knows what else. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is involved – a 57-nation group founded in the 1970s. Meanwhlle the Ukrainian UNIAN news agency reports today that as many as 680 Ukrainian combatants have been captured in the Donetsk region. Yesterday, US Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat, called for the US to arm the Ukrainian military with advanced weapons, that it might defend itself against Russia."This is a watershed moment," he said. Senator John McCain said "For God's sake, can't the US help the Ukrainians defend themselves? This is not an incursion, it's an invasion." A Ukrainian soldier is reported as saying his rifle in not effective against tanks. Someone else comments: "Putin can't afford to lose this war and he knows it." The European Union has done its speaking, telling Russia it has one week to stop its incursions into the Ukraine or face new sanctions. And the Moscow Times reported yesterday that new NATO bases are planned for Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia intended to contain the Russian threat. People are asking, "What does Putin want?" Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels. The government in Kiev says it is willing to give rights for the south and east of Ukraine but will not talk directly to those it calls Russian puppets who can only be reined in by Moscow. Putin three days ago raised the subject of nuclear weapons, saying that "Russia is one of the most powerful nuclear nations" and added, "This is a reality, not just words." Yesterday, Putin called for immediate talks on "statehood" for southern and eastern Ukraine,

Sep 2  All-night clashes with pro-Russian rebels drives Ukrainian forces from the Luhansk airport. Ukraine's defence minister accusses Russia of launching a "great war" that could claim tens of thousands of lives. Much is being made a Putin comment in a private conversation that Russian forces could take over Ukraine's capital in two weeks' time if they wished. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia's priority is an "immediate ceasefire." Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor describes Ukrainian armed forces as having overextended themselves, that Putin doesn't want to annex Eastern Ukraine and that it will probably be negotiations that end the crisis. Comments describe Weir as a liar and perhaps being paid by the Russians.

Sep 2  The Ma'an News Agency, largest media source in the Palestinian territories, claims that yesterday "a group of Israeli settlers chopped down grape vines on Palestinian agriculture property ... near the illegal settlement of Beit Ein." The news agency complains that "Over 90 percent of investigations into settler violence by Israeli police fail to lead to an indictment."

Sep 2  In London yesterday, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis told a crowd of up to 4,500 that he could not have foreseen the need to rally against anti-Semitism. Betweem January and June of this year, 304 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded across Britain. Rabbi Mirvis called for an end to all forms of prejudice including Islamophobia.

Sep 3   The war in western Africa against the Ebola virus is Situation Normal All Fouled Up (SNAFU). Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders complains that laws criminalizing the failure to report suspected cases are driving people underground and pushing people away from health systems. She says that, "These measures have only served to breed fear and unrest, rather than contain the virus." In the US, Doctor Thomas Frieden says that Doctors Without Borders is "doing phenomenal work" but is overwhelmed by the number of patients. What is needed, he says, is action. "Every day we delay in getting the proven treatments and prevention out there, it spreads more widely and we have more of it." Doctors Without Borders reports that 800 more beds for Ebola patients are urgently needed in the Liberian capital Monrovia alone and that in Sierra Leone highly infectious bodies were rotting in the streets. Joanne Liu is calling for field hospitals with isolation wards and mobile medical laboratories, and she speaks of "a global coalition of inaction." Yesterday by the way, health care workers at Liberia's main hospital went on strike over unpaid wages.

Sep 4  With stem cell implants, scientists in Russia have created a method for a damaged liver to rejuvenate itself, "essentially allowing a patient to regrow a healthy organ," writes the Moscow Times. The report adds that a leading cause of death of Russians over 40 is cirrhosis of the liver.

Sep 5  President Obama disapproval rating has climbed to 54% and his approval rating has dropped to 38% while he has been talking tough regarding ISIS and Russia. He has issued a joint statement with Britain's David Cameron that "We must be prepared to deploy our special forces, invest in smart defense and strengthen the capacity of forces elsewhere to tackle local conflicts through new defense capacity, building missions with our partners from Georgia to the Middle East." The day before yesterday in Estonia, Obama spoke of NATO fortifying the defence capabilities of countries threatened by Moscow, and yesterday he spoke of NATO strengthening Ukraine's military against Russia. Russia sees NATO as unfriendly and complains about NATO forces "drawing closer" to its border. Today, an expected ceasefire agreement, or "truce deal" between Ukraine and Russia is signed in the Belarus city of Minsk. But the president's critics are attacking him where they think he is vulnerable, attacking him for what they call his lack of strategy. Charles Krauthammer headlines his column in the Washington Post today, "Ukraine abandoned."

Sep 8  Concerning Ukraine, a Reuters headline this morning reads, "Shaky truce is holding." Anne Applebaum opined on CNN yesterday that "Russia is winning in that Ukraine has had to agree to the presence of Russian armed separatists inside its country." A hawkish Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal says, "it's dangerous for the West to accept the situation as it is. Because I don't think Putin is going to stop here in Ukraine. He thinks we should take seriously Putin's talk about being able to take Kiev "in the next two weeks." Some people still see Putin as a threat to the Balkan states, that Putin wants to build a political entity that includes much if not all of what used to be the Soviet Union. Peter Beinart, now with CNN, says Putin sending troops to Kiev would be "incredibly stupid." This would apply also to Putin regarding sending troops into the Balkan states. Beinart says It would be another Afghanistan for Russia. Beinart says the West could flood the Ukraine with lots of weapons but that military experts think it wouldn't help Ukraine against Russian forces. Applebaum wants to see the US "truly reinforce NATO as it currently exists," whatever that means. There has been talk that fear of NATO has been driving Putin – an irrational fear driven by his brand of nationalist emotionality and history. Henry Kissinger is reported as saying that where we are today in the Ukraine was inevitable and that we should recognize it. The old foreign policy expert for Republican hawks, Richard Haas, describes NATO as having become a "rhetorical organization" that doesn't really have "local military capability much less the will to get involved." President Obama, meanwhile, has been standing with the ceasefire, watching to see if it works and approving tough talk by NATO.

Sep 9  Today the conservative columnist Michael Gerson gives us his opinion about President Obama's strategy regarding ISIS, an article titled "Resuming the Long War." He speaks of more than 1,000 US troops already on the ground in Iraq in supportive roles and Obama's strategy being different from what it has been for the last "five, six, seven years: Special Operations raids and drone strikes while retreating from geostrategic commitments (as in Iraq) or ignoring them (as in Syria)." Now, according to Gerson, Obama "wants to 'degrade' the Islamic State's capabilities, 'shrink' its territory, and ultimately defeat 'em'". Gerson makes something of Obama's tough talk not described as a change in strategy. Now the US effort in Iraq, Gerson says, is a "counter insurgency campaign."

Sep 11  Washington Post opinion writer David Ignatius writes "Obama kept his distance despite the deaths of 200,000 Syrians but apparently can't do so any longer after the beheading of two Americans." The beheadings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff have shaken public opinion, and President Obama has been criticized for weakness against evil forces. In a speech last night, Obama described his policy of applying more force with allies and no US troops on the ground – his position already commonly known. But the speech gave him an opportunity to emphasize how evil ISIS is, how much it is a threat to us, how grand we Americans are in supporting human decency around the globe and how determined he is to keep Americans safe. Obama's speech was not a big story in Britain. The Guardian headlines: "For expanded Isis strikes, Obama relies on legal authority he disavowed only a year ago." This morning's news about the Middle East from Al Arabiya is that Turkey will not allow the US to use its bases for military assaults against ISIS in Syria or Iraq and will not participate in such actions. Also in the news, yesterday former Vice President Dick Cheney told House Republicans, as reported by the New York Times, that the United States took its eye off the terror threat "under Mr. Obama's watch." Cheney's only remedy for foreign policy problems, according to the paper, "is war."

Sep 12  For the first time, astronomers have detected water ice clouds around a dim celestial body outside of our solar system, similar to what exists around the Earth. The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters on September 9.

Sep 13  An article in Al Arabiya by Paul Crompton describes an appeal that reads, "There is no life without Jihad." This is about young men who feel lost finding help in religiousity and an activism that gives them a sense of purpose. A report out of Germany describes hundreds who travelled to Syria to join jihadist groups as largely young, male and failed at school and in their careers. And what to do about those who are turned off by brutal realities? They are trapped as get-tough strategists seek to punish those who return home. Currently there are between 20,000 and 31,000 foreign fighters with ISIS according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Something like 260 Britons "are believed to have returned from Syria, with 40 of those awaiting trial." The article quotes Ed Blanche, a counter-terrorism analyst who said. "I don't see that the western countries can legislate [measures] that can appeal to the communities in which these guys operate. If they become very restrictive then it's simply going to alienate these communities and help the radicals."

Sep 15  In Bahrian on August 25 the pro-democracy activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja started an open-ended hunger strike to protest what he called his "arbitrary arrest." He had been sentenced to life imprisonment after mass anti-government protests in Bahrain in 2011. Denmark has been trying to secure his release. His daughter Maryam Khawaja is co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. She returned to Bahrain after a three-year absence and Bahrain authorities imprisoned her, and she began her hunger strike on September 12. The UN has called for her immediate release, and expresses concern that her arrest "is linked to her legitimate work to promote human rights." Bahrain has provided a base for the US Navy since 1947. Also on September 12, Bahrain was one of the ten Middle East countries that pledged involvement in a coalition with the US against ISIS.

Sep 16  Controversy has been boiling in evangelical circles regarding nationally televised remarks in late August by Christine Olsteen, wife of Joel Olsteen, during a sermon at their Lakewood Church in Texas. She sermonized that, "When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God, really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy." Her remarks are reported as having been shared hundreds of thousands of times on social media since late August, adding to the conflict in ideas that has existed among Christians for almost two mlllennia. Some of Olsteen's fellow Christians complain that the worship of God is not for oneself but a moral duty. A supporter of the Olsteens says, "He wants us to worship Him for our sake." In reporting the story, the Huffington Post has not described the disputants citing sources or whether assumption is involved.

Sep 16  New studies reported today by BBC News suggest that in their efforts at happiness people have been indulging in the consumption of too much sugar. The study claims that for the sake of health and teeth people should cut their sugar intake from the common 10 percent of energy intake down to 5 or perhaps 3 percent.

Sep 17 Mass rallies in Scotland prepare for tomorrow's independence referendum. In this age of globalization and integration, close to half of Scotland's voters are opting for separation from Britain. They want to enhance their identity as Scottish, not out of anger or hostility toward the English, Welch and people of Northern Ireland. Some Scots to the left of Prime Minister David Cameron and looking forward to distancing themselves from conservatism. Some think they can do better economically and feel better emotionally if they were politically separate from the British. The question looms regarding how gas and oil production in the North Sea would be divided, although no one expects an armed conflict would arise over the issue. With independence currency complication would arise, with Scotland needing its own currency or joining the Euro bloc. There is talk of Scotland having its own broadcasting service to replace the BBC. And there would be defense and alliance complications.

Sep 17 Yesterday there was joy and celebration in Ukraine following its parliament paving the way for membership in the European Union. And yesterday, Ukraine granted semi-autonomy and amnesty to pro-Russia rebels as part of a peace agreement with Russia.

Sep 18  Yesterday in an emotional speech, former prime minister Gordon Brown told his fellow Scots: "And what we have built together by sacrificing and sharing, let no narrow nationalism split asunder ever... They don't know what they are doing. They are leading us into a trap... And let us tell the nationalists this is not their flag, their country, their culture, their streets. This is everyone's flag, everyone's country, everyone's street." He said that we Scots are "proud too that we cooperate and share, indeed we Scots led the way in cooperating, sharing across the United Kingdom – common defence, common currency, common and shared rights from the UK pension to the UK minimum wage, from each according his ability to contribute, to each according to his needs."

Sep 19  Scotland votes "No" to independence. 2,001,926 to 1,617,989. The 307-year Union survives. The United Kingdom stays united. The UK remains a member of the UN security council. Leaders in EU counties are relieved, including Germany's Foreign Mininister Steinmeier. Another German says the "No" vote prevents a "further fragmentation of Europe." Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine describes the Scottish nationalists as having "promised the moon." Italy's former prime minister, Enrico Letta, describes the vote as, "Good for us and for Europe" and adds, "Now let's not ignore the intolerance and fears which encourage separatists." President Obama has to be pleased. He is with others in seeing the British united as a stronger ally. Meanwhile, praises are issued for the democracy involved including the 85 percent voter turnout – in contrast to civil war that accompanied another effort at secession.

Sep 22  Congressional elections in the US are five weeks away. Here are two contrasting congressmen running for re-election in Kentucky. Expected to win easily in the rural 5th District is the Republican Hal Rogers, in office since 1981. Rogers criticizes the Obama Administration for allowing "taxpayer dollars to be used to continue developing job-killing regulations for our coal industry." He says that Obama's "efforts to remove coal from the nation's energy mix ... will drive up energy bills across the country." He complains of wasteful policies that "helped send nearly 8,000 coal miners to the unemployment lines in eastern Kentucky over the last two years." Rolling Stone criticizes Rogers for having steered federal homeland security money to his home district where it is less needed, and the conservative National Review and others accuse Rogers of pursuing self-interest regarding the allocation of federal funds. But his constituents pay little attention to his critics. They see Rogers as a friend and as one of them. Switching to the 3rd District in urban Louisville, the incumbent John Yarmuth has been a supporter of Obama Care, and he complains about the corrupting influence of money in politics. He has introduced a constitutional amendment to establish that financial expenditures and in-kind contributions do not qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment. He speaks of "a moral obligation" to protect the environment, and he says he has "grave concerns about mountaintop removal mining, which has serious impacts on public health, our waterways, and natural areas – especially in Kentucky."

Sep 23  Following the democratic means with which the separatist issue was resolved regarding Scotland, China sentences the Uighar academic Ilham Tohti to a life in prison for merely advocating separatism for the Unghar people of Xinjiang. Amnesty International calls the verdict "deplorable". Ilham Tohti has been an advocate of peaceful dialogue between Han Chinese and Uighars, and his lawyer says that "no matter the verdict, he will not be angry nor seek revenge." Tohti is known for his research on Uyghur-Han relations and for advocating the implementation of regional autonomy laws in China. He was detained shortly after the July 2009 Urumqi riots because of his criticism of Chinese government's policies regarding Xinjiang. He was later released and then jailed again in January 2014. In 2014 he was awarded the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. China is known for having concern about threats to its great power image that exceeds Britain's government.

Sep 24  For a second day, the US bombs in Syria, striking what President Obama describes as taking the fight to terrorists who threaten our people. A poll last week by Pew Research suggests bipartisan public support 63 percent in favor and 29 percent against. A common view is that ISIS has people who could come to the United States and do bad things – as they did on September 11, 2001, when security and intelligence agencies had been lax. Now those agencies are supposed to be capable, but the idea exists that rather than just defend our borders we have to take the fight abroad, not only by supporting allies in the Middle East but also with military action. And we have doubters. Among them, former Secretary of Defence Robert Gates recently said "... there will be boots on the ground if there's to be any hope of success in the strategy." James Carville, Democratic Party strategist wisecracked on Meet the Press: "Look, 13 years ago this October, we started bombing Muslims in the Middle East. We're still bombing them. Does any sane person think that 13 years from now, we're not going to still be bombing them?" From the public one can hear the complaint about the money spent on bombing. And one can hear it said that we have to support our allies and the good people in the Middle East. Referring to ISIS, President Obama suggests that it also an idea that we are fighting.

Sep 25  US, Saudi and UAE aircraft target 12 oil refineries in Syria during a third night of air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants. The US claims the refineries generated as much as $2 million per day in revenue for the militants. Also, the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria moves France to announce today that is considering attacking IS with its air power in Syria as well as Iraq. No word meanwhile has been heard from an IS spokesman that indicates they have compared the benefits of their extreme brutalities against the cost of having excited those now attacking them from the air. It appears that IS militants are led by men without any pragmatism regarding their struggle to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

Sep 28  The al-Nusra Front in Syria declares solidarity with ISIS and denounces US-led air strikes as a "war on Islam." Muslims around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE who are participating in the air strikes, describe this group and their ISIS allies as not representing Islam. The al-Nusra declaration fails to address this clash of opinion. It appears as useful communication for their cause only as cheerleading (talking to themselves) or for recruiting sympathizers not given to weighing differences of opinion. Meanwhile, opinion is being expressed in the media about an ideological component that must be part of the strategy against ISIS.

Sep 28  Hong Kong police disperse protesters who were trying to push through police barricades. The protesters are against the mainland government having the power to choose who can be a candidate in the 2017 elections for the island's political leader. According to Reuters, one of the protesters, a taxi driver, said, "Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one."

Sep 29  Al-Nursa leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani calls on US citizens to denounce Washington's bombing campaign. He warns of retaliatory attacks in the "homes" of Western and Arab countries that have taken part in the bombings. In Mecca, meanwhile, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia delivers a keynote speech at the annual conference of the Muslim World League. He urges his fellow Muslims to be modern while maintaining Muslim values. He calls on scholars to study, analyze and deal with persuasive argument. He adds that "Human development and related concepts such as freedom, democracy and human rights shall not fall outside the framework of the cultural environment of the Ummah [Muslim community]." He speaks of positive relationships and cooperation with others" and rejection of extremism, violence and terrorism." The Saudi kingdom is a leading coalition partner with the US in air strikes. It and the Obama administration are sure to view al-Nursa's statement as ineffective bombast.

Sep 30  A study by scientists released today describes the world as having lost 52 percent of its biodiversity since 1970. Thirty-nine percent of terrestrial wildlife, 39 percent of marine wildlife, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife is described as gone. The decline has occurred in low-income countries. The World Wildlife Fund, who sponsored the study, claims that the world's human population is already too much for the land and sea available needed to produce the resources we rely on for food, fuel, building and other needs. Described by CBS News, the report adds that "the problem may get worse as more of the world adopts or aspires to the levels of consumption common in richer countries."

August 2014 | October

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