April 2015

Apr 1 A new dynamic unfolds in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia pursues military action in Yemen, bombing targets for the sixth consecutive day and standing guard over Yemen's sea ports. Saudis have spoken about danger from Iran. According to the Saudis, Iran has been backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The stated purpose of the Saudis is to put back in power Yemen's President Hadi. They deny wanting to destabilize Iran. They describe themselves as fighting for peace. "We are not warmongers," says its foreign minister, "but if the drums of war are beaten we are ready for them." Saudi Arabia is supported by the Arab League, and the league has agreed to having a military organization similar to NATO. The US supports this move, and the Obama administration has renewed military assistance to a league member: Egypt. The Assad regime in Syria is bound to be affected. It is supported by the Iranians, and some suspect that the Iranians will want accommodation with the newly militarized Arab League rather than military confrontation. In the media there is talk of Iran and Saudi Arabia competing for supremacy in region. Today Iran warns that Saudi Arabia's moves in Yemen endanger the region.,Meanwhile the Saudi regime is boasting about national unity, and its foreign minister announces ground forces will enter Yemen as soon as possible.

Apr 2  Regarding an agreement between Iran and the US on Iran's nuclear program, hardliners in Iran are opposed to the agreement and better relations or integration with the West. They think integration would contaminate Iran culturally and politically. With Iran's Islamic revolution of 1979 in mind, they see Iran as a cause, and they don't want that cause weakened. They would rather Iran remain isolated – somewhat like North Korea. So said Karim Sadjadpour, Carnegie Endowment policy analyst, in a broadcast yesterday on Charlie Rose. The Obama administration appears to be on the side of Iran joining the international community and liberalizing. Some others in the US inadvertently put themselves on the same side as Iran's hardliners. Two Republicans, Senator McCain of Arizona and former UN ambassador John R Bolton, are among those who have spoken in favor of bombing Iran rather than the Obama administration's negotiations – the latter mentioned in a Washington Post column today by Dana Milibank. Bombing Iran, some believe, would enhance the standing in Iran of the country's anti-integrationists.

Apr 2, 1:30pm  The United States, Iran and five European Union powers announce an agreement on the shape of Iran's nuclear program. It is announced that s comprehensive nuclear accord would be drafted by 30 June. Secretary of State John Kerry tweets "Big day." Prime Minister Netanyahu tweets a note of belligerence, declaring that any deal must stop Iran's "terrorism and aggression."

Apr 5  Hardliners in Iran are saying their country is winning little or nothing and giving too much in the agreement at Lausanne, Switzerland. Hardliners in the US are saying the same thing concerning their country, and they remain concerned about Israel's security. Iran has been helping its friends in Iraq, Syria and Yeman, and elsewhere, but Iranians and their Supreme Leader must know that if they sent their military against Israel – with nukes or not – they would have war and misery big-time on their hands. Joy has appeared in Iran at the prospect of better international relations. This is expressed by Iranians who welcome the Lausanne agreement. The Supreme Leader has said nothing recently. In the US those who don't welcome the agreement focus on their distrust and dislike for Iran. They side with hostility and maybe even war with Iran. President Obama appears to be on the side of better relations and peace, and in recent days his approval ratings, around 45% on March 29, have risen to 50%. It's a little like the Cold War when Eisenhower favorered peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union and hardliners in the US were opposed. Mao Zedong in China was annoying the Soviet Union by putting himself on the side of belligerence with the US (creating the Sino-Soviet dispute) and hardliners in the US were also on the side of belligerence.

Apr 7  Today Worldmeters indicates that so far this year we have 15,148,500 deaths and 36,713,675 births. That is 21,565,175 more persons since January 1 despite the warring and killings that take place daily. Most of us hope the increase is in someone else's community. Some of us see this as 21.6 million more souls. Some others see soul in both life and afterlife and their number as incalculable. Some worry about the impact that population growth has on societies and the world. Some others prefer to ignore any such connection. Anyway, the number of people in the world today is 7.3 billion. In 1950 it was only 2.4 billion. The Population Institute tweets today about the Ministry of Health in Burkina Faso and authorization of a family planning pilot project. Meanwhile the CIA World Factbook tells us that the highest birth rates are in Africa, led by Niger, Mali, Uganda and Zambia – between 46 and 42 births per 1,000 people in a one year period. The US figure for 2014 is 13.42 per thousand. South Korea, Sinagapore and Japan are down around 8 per one thousand.

Apr 9  In China a state TV anchor, Bi Fujian, is taken off the air after having been filmed at a private banquet singing a parody song that was unkind to Mao Zedong. A state media spokeperson says he will be off the air for four days. BBC News reports that "China officially acknowledges there were faults in Mao and the personality cult which surrounded him," but that "he remains hugely respected and insulting him and other leaders is a taboo." BBC News reports that commentators "online and in the media" in China are speaking of the affair as a sign of "the lack of free speech in China."

Apr 10  Two days ago Republican Senator Rand Paul announced that "with God's help and the help of liberty lovers everywhere" he was putting himself forward as a candidate for President of the United States of America. Meanwhile in Ohio it's rain, rain and more rain, while prayers go unanswered for an an end to the drought in California. The Democratic Party's governor there, Jerry Brown, is responding with a distribution scheme – the distribution of water. There are complaints that it's being done unfairly (by Brown, not God) – as if residential lawns have a societal value equal to the growing of crops. Senator Paul doesn't like government involvement in wealth distribution (or taxation or regulations), and he is not big on collective concerns over the whims of individuals. He is known for a degree of pragmatism, however, and he has been accused by some of flip-flopping on issues. But as he goes forward with his campaign he is sure to try to have God on his side.

Apr 14  Russia agrees again to sell Iran a surface-to-air S-300 defense system. The agreement was blocked in 2010 after the UN put sanctions on Iran regarding its nuclear program. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says the voluntary embargo on S-300 deliveries to Iran is no longer needed. The system can be used against jet aircraft or incoming missiles. The Russians emphasize the "purely defensive" nature of the weaponry, but this doesn't mollify those considering the possibility of using offensive weapons against Itan. The Netanyuhu regime in Israel claims that Russia's move is proof that a nuclear ageement with Iran will result in an arms buildup and won't make the region safer, and there is concern that Itan will give the missile system to the Assad regime in Syria or to Hezbollah. Secreatary of State John Kerry has expressed his concerns to Lavrov by phone.

Apr 17  In China a 71-year-old woman journalist, Gao Yu, is sentenced today to seven years in prison. Her crime: leaking state secrets to foreign media. The state secrets were in an internal Communist Party directive concerning the Party's plan to fight threats to its power. The Guardian describes the directive as targeting subversive ideological trends including support for "western democratic ideals, media independence, civil society and the 'universal values' of human rights." The Wall Street Journal noted that it was" the third elderly critic of the Communist Party to be sentenced in court in less than a year, another sign of how Beijing's tolerance for dissent has eroded under Chinese President Xi Jinping." William Nee of Amnesty International calls it a "crack down of freedom of expression."

Apr 17  Good weather has encouraged more migrations from Africa to Italy. The UN estimates their number to be 13,000 in the past week and that during the week hundreds died trying. The Voice of America writes, "On the shores of southern Italy, each day brings a new wave of migrants and more harrowing tales of extreme suffering."

Apr 19  Today a boat carrying as many as 700 migrants is said to have capsized. Italy is pursuing a rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to have drowned. Pope Francis has expressed his "deepest sorrow" over the sinking and appeals to the international community to prevent such incidents from happening again. The European Union he EU is reported as having been criticized for halting its rescue operation last year. BBC News reports that "Some EU members said they could not afford it and expressed concerns that it was encouraging more migrants." Someone comments to the Huffington Post: 'When Africans drown off the coast of Africa, why does this fuel calls for a stronger response from Europe. Shouldn't it fuel calls for a stronger response from Africa?" Someone blames Obama for having intervened in Libya. Someone else describes Sicily as poor and getting worse and as having no work available for the migrants.

Apr 20  A look at the World Factbook today tells us that China passed the US in GDP back in 2014. So did the European Union. All three have economies in the $17 trillion range. India is fourth with a mere $7.2 trillion. We used to hear talk about China and India regarding which system would be more economically successful. Meanwhile the US leads China, India and the EU in per capita GDP but is behind Singapore, Norway and Switzerland. We are not hearing much in explanations. Today were are hearing about China's President, Xi Jinping, arriving in Pakistan. BBC News writes of China's continuing 7 percent annual GDP growth rate and China having "plenty of cash to splash" around for investment in more growth. It's investments are greatest in the US, Australia and Canada, but it's also investing big in Africa, and a government inspired investment package of $46 billion by China in Pakistan will include the building of roads, a railway and pipelines between the two countries – which share a border in the mountainous region in Pakistan's far north. China, by the way, had taxes and revenues at 22.2 percent of its GDP in 2014, compared to 17.4 percent for the US. The conservative website heritage.org gives China an economic freedom score of 52.7 compared to 76.2 for the United States. The US economy is more dependent on people with a lot of money free to invest as they please, and GDP growth in the US is hovering around a 3.5 percent annual rate, which is better than most European countries. Its rate for 2014 according to the World Factbook was 2.4 percent, ranking 131st in the world. We are not hearing accusations that US citizens with big money to spend are investing too heavily in golf courses or sports stadiums, in expanding their homes or creating products that Americans don't need, but for the time being it appears that government initiated investing as is being done by China is out performing investing done by private enterprise alone – in India and the United States. Perhaps Republicans running for president and complaining about President Obama will explain it for us.

Apr 27   The World's attention is on the big earthquake, landslide and rescue near Katmandu, Nepal. The death toll may rise to 10,000 when all the bodies are recovered. Nepal's economy is tourism-dependent and Slate magazine says the destruction may depress the economy for years. Seismologists expected the earthquake to come soon, but Nepal is among the poorer countries unable to prepare well for a big natural disaster. Virtually no one is raising the issue of fatalism, while In the US, at catholicism.about.com, concern is expressed and the disaster is described as the result of humanity's disobedience. People are asked to pray that the physical destruction be turned into the spiritual well-being of those who have survived.

Apr 27  The economist Jeffrey Sachs says the climate is becoming more unstable, that 2014 was the hottest year in instrument record. "We felt it not only in high temperatures around the world but in floods, in droughts, in extreme storms, and there's a lot more to come." He points out that in 1750 there were 800 million people alive on the planet and now there are over 7 billion, and people on average are using ten times the resources used in 1750. Sachs says 2015 is the last year we can act on climate change.

Apr 28  David Applegate, Associate Director for Natural Hazards, US Geological Survey, describes the source of the quakes in Nepal as "tectonic plates colliding... It's been going on for the last 50 million years." he said. With yesterday's comment from catholicism.about.com in mind, that would be long before humanity had appeared on earth and long before Adam's disobedience.

Apr 28  Described by Jay Michaelson in the Daily Beast, today the US Supreme Court hears arguments whether "all states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and if they don't, whether they must recognize those issued by other states. Most attention has focused on the first question, since it would render the second one irrelevant." In others words, today it will be argued whether bans on same sex marriage are constitutional. The Constitution, of course, does not lay out for its readers a definition of marriage. It doesn't contain the words "marriage" or "marry." Those against same sex marriage define marriage as between a male and female. They want the Constitution interpreted using their definition – and they would oppose a constitutional amendment that was explicit in making same sex marriage legal. They accuse those who want a broader interpretation of "marriage" of inventing law, and those who support same sex marriage accuse them of impositions.

Apr 29  Yesterday's arguments at the Supreme Court began with civil rights Attorney Mary Bonauto for the plaintiffs calling marriage the "foundation of family life in our society," and she said that denying gay couples the right to marriage relegated them to second-class status and put a "stain of unworthiness" on them. Chief Justice Roberts raised the definition of "marriage" issue. He said that for hundreds of years marriage has been defined as between a man and a woman, and he asked why should it change. Justice Ginsberg pointed to changes that have occurred in marriage over the years and appeared to be on the side of overcoming the past. From other justices came questions about societal benefits: a concern about harm to children and, oddly enough, procreation. And Justice Scalia spoke of the ancient Greeks and Romans not having marriages for homosexuals, hardly making a connection between the purposes of marriage in those ancient cultures and the dignity and equal rights for people in the United States today raised by Mary Bonauto. Justice Scalia is known more for his interest in cultural preservation than he is in overcoming the past, and he has till June to work on the issue. Then he and the other justices make their decision.

Apr 30  In Burundi, described as a presidential republic and a democracy, unrest continues following President Pierre Nkurunziza's political party having nominated him for a third term. Burundi's constitution allows only two terms. Nkurunziza's allies say his first term does not count because he was appointed for his first term by parliament; in other words he was elected president only once. Nkurunziza rose in to prominence as a rebel leader. Now he is closing down Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Tango. He has deployed his military, banned protests and shut down the country's main independent radio station. Burundi has a variety of political parties. It suffered from civil war before Nkurunziza became president in 2005, and it is described as suffering from corruption and poor access to education. It is one of the world's more densely populated countries, with many young people leaving to seek opportunities elsewhere and a birth rate four times countries such as Canada, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland. The election for the presidency is scheduled for June 26.

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