March 2015

Mar 1 The top story in today's English version of the Moscow Times is the massive outpouring today in Russia for the anti-Putin activist Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister. He was assassinated two days ago while walking home from a restaurant in central Moscow. The paper describes Putin as having called the assassination a "provocation" and as having vowed to pursue those who killed Nemtsov. Nemtsov was Jewish, and some have suggested the possibility of his being murdered by Islamistic extremists to blacken Putin's name. The Moscow Times writes that "Some young people walking in central Moscow asked: 'Who is Nemtsov anyway?'"   The paper describes Putin's opponents as talking about Putin having whipped up nationalism, hatred and anti-Western hysteria to rally support for his policies on Ukraine and deflect blame [regarding] an economic crisis.

Mar 2  Parlmentary elections in Estonia's keep the Reform Party in power. The results are being described as a disappointment to the "pro-Russian" Center Party, which took 24.8 percent of the vote. Estonia is a member of NATO and the EU since 2004. It is a former Soviet Republic. Its population was more than 30 percent Russia 1989. In 2014 the Russians were officially 24.8 percent of the population. The Reform Party advocates free-enterprise, a flat tax and zero taxes for corporations, but revenues have been around 35 percent of GDP compared to 17 percent for the US. Further to the Left, Estonia's Social Democratic Party won 15.2%, finishing third.

Mar 3  It is the second day in the war for Tikrit. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and Shi'ite militiamen are advancing through the city, delayed by the Islamic State forces resisting with explosives and suicide bombers – more, one gathers from news reports, than with regular troops. The Iraqis have been attacking also with their aircraft. On their side in Tikrit are tribal leaders opposed to the Islamic State. Reported among the Shi'ite militiamen is Iran's Qassem Suleimani, a general who has been supervising most of Iran's proxies and has been accused of terrorizing Sunnis. The battle for Tikrit is being described as a strategically important milestone on the way to retaking the city of Mosul.

Mar 4  Congressional Republicans think President Obama is weak in foreign policy. They are strong in their support of Israel and invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to express his opinions on Obama's negotiations with Iran, which they know Netanyahu dislikes. Netanyahu came and yesterday said what he has been saying all along. He is worried about Iran having the material to make an atomic weapon. Neither does Obama want Iran to have an atomic weapon, but he believes in the possibility of an agreement. Iran wants sanctions lifted, and it claims it does not want nuclear weapons. Netanyahu told Congress of the Iranian regime's desire to destroy Israel. He said that if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran it "would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them." He said "not a single nuclear facility would be demolished" and that "inspectors document violations; they don't stop them." President Obama talked back, saying that Netanyahu does not offer any "viable alternatives" that would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." He added that stopping negotiations would cause Iran to accelerate their nuclear program "without constraint." Today the Times of Israel describes Netanyahu as having "failed to offer concrete proposals how to curb nuclear threat" but said Netanyahu hinted he would back an agreement Israel "may not like, but could live with." If this is so, some of us wonder about the substance of his speech to the US Congress. Netanyahu, by the way, faces an election in two weeks and is campaigning for his fourth term as prime minister.

Mar 5  A US Department of Justice investigation reports that in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, "City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the City budget." The report describes emails from "current city officials" over the past several years as containing racially insensitive remarks, one describing President Obama as a "chimpanzee." The report said several Ferguson officials "routinely dismissed parking tickets for their friends, colleagues and acquaintances" and complained about residents not taking responsibility regarding their tickets.

Mar 5  Namibia's outgoing president, Hifikepunye Pohamba, wins the Mo Ibrahim prize for African leadership. The award includes a $5 million initial payment plus $200,000 per year for life, exceeding the $1.3 million for the Nobel Peace Prize. Former recipients of the Mo Ibrahim prize: Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, and Kofi Annan. Pohamba has been in office since 21 March 2005 and has distinguished himself by moves against corruption and pushing for gender equality and increased spending on housing and education. He leaves office on 21 March 2015.

Mar 7  The mayor of Ferguson Missouri, James Knowles III, has announced that a court clerk, Mary Ann Twitty, has been fired and that two others, associated with the Police Department, are no longer employed. The three are accused of having communicated racist jokes or comments in city emails. The emails were disclosed in a US Department of Justice report. Mayor Knowles is a Republican, age 35, with BA degrees in political science and criminal justice.

Mar 9   Joseph Nye reminds us that "declining societies are often more dangerous than rising ones." For this reason he fears Russia more than China. Going into Europe's Great War in 1914 he points out, Austria-Hungary was "the only major power that really wanted war, and that's because Austria-Hungary was in decline." (Spoken on the 8th on Fareed Zakaria's CNN program the Global Public Square.)

Mar 9  On his program, Zakaria spoke of Prime Minister Netanyahu's eloquence in "identifying the problems with the potential nuclear deal with Iran. But when describing the alternative to it, he entered never, never land, painting a scenario utterly divorced from reality. Congress joined him on his fantasy ride, rapturously applauding as he spun out one unattainable demand after another."

Mar 10  A quote from the Moscow Times (an English-language daily newspaper published in Moscow since 1992): "Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he ordered officials to start work on taking control of Crimea weeks before a referendum which, the Kremlin has asserted until now, prompted the region's annexation from Ukraine." (9 Mar 2015)

Mar 14  Iraqi forces with Iranian help have been advancing in the city of Tikrit. The so-called Islamic State is late in launching a counter offensive. The longer it waits the higher the morale and the stronger its enemy. Instead, Islamic State resistance appears to be the strategy of those headed for defeat, similar to the use of body traps by retreating armies. It's reminiscent of 1943 when Germany and Japan were losing their wars but would continue fighting a year or two more. The Islamic State appears to be less than the tiger some have believed it to be. It makes a show of murdering non-combatants, but as a military force it isn't holding up, and probably like Germany and Japan during the World War it will pursue futility rather than make it easier for itself by quitting early.

Mar 16  Prime Minister Netanyahu, ending his election campaigning, vows that as long as his party – the Likud – is in power "there will be no concessions or withdrawals" from the occupied territories. He says the Jewish Home Party will be his main coalition partner. The Home Party's leader, Naftali Bennett, is with Netanyahu on stage and promises that Israel will never cede "a centimeter of land" to the Palestinians. "A people cannot be an occupier in its own land," he says, echoing the belief of his party's members that Jews are divinely commanded to retain control over the Land of Israel – including the West Bank. In accord with this, Netenyahu boasts that "we are building in Jerusalem, in all Jerusalem. This isn't the way of the left," he says, referring to his opponents Herzog and Livni. And Bennett warns that under Herzog-Livni "the capital of a Palestinian state will be established in East Jerusalem."

Mar 17  Yesterday, Netanyahu proclaimed that under his administration there would be no Palestinian state. He is claiming to be the man to be trusted regarding Israel's security – a security accomplished by not giving the Palestinians relief from Israel's occupation of their land. A group of 186 retired Israeli generals are campaigning against Netanyahu. With them is former Mosad Director Meir Dagan, former Intelligence Commander Amos Yadlin and fomer Mossad Director Shabai Shavit. These men appear to hold that a peace deal with the Palestinians would help serve Israel's security better than an endless war with Palestinians remaining under Israeli occupation. It's the opinion also of many leaders in the West, whose support Israel is going to continue to need.

Mar 22  In today's Sunday talk on CNN, Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei is described as not wanting to wipe Israel off the map militarily, especially involving nuclear weapons. What he wants is Israel to give up its rule over 4.5 million people against their will. Also discussed is the tense relations between Obama and Netanyahu. Netanyahu is described as on the outs with a lot of Western leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel, made worse by Netanyahu's statement the day before the election that there would be no Palestinian state while he is Prime Minister. Netanyahu won votes from rightwingers as he intended and 30 seats for his Likud Party – a big success. The following day Netanyahu defended his position on the two-state solution, telling journalists that he meant that a two-state solution were not possible under present conditions. Netanyahu is viewed by some as slippery rather than trustworthy and as not friendly to a peace deal. He is known as friendly toward Jewish settlements, seen as a roadblock to a deal with the Palestinians. Netanyahu appears as not to be the man who is going to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank. Last July he said in a speech that he would never allow a Palestinian state without an Israeli military presence on its territory. The question remains what the Obama administration will do in the United Nations regarding support for Israel. Meanwhile US conservatives are in tune with the right in Israel and find fault with Obama rather than Netanyahu. Today, in an interview on CNN, Senator McCain told the president to get over his "temper tantrum" regarding Netanyahu's campaign remark.

Mar 24  Yesterday Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "I know the things I said a few days ago hurt some of Israel's citizens and hurt Israel's Arabs. I had no intention to do that. I apologize for it." He has been accused of fear mongering trying to win votes. Having apologized for hurting people's feelings leaves him unapologetic for attitudes toward the Palestinians and Israel's Arab community that some believe reflect a chauvinism detrimental to peace in the area. Meanwhile, Netanyahu remains the champion against those who want to wipe Israel off the map – people who help Netanyahu win elections. The Obama administration says it accepts Netanyahu's apology and US State Department says it t wants to see actions, not words; in other words, better policies.

Mar 25  In the US, whites are becoming less of a majority, as most of us know. Pew Research describes whites as 78 percent of the population for the age group 69-84 and 57 percent for the age group 18-33 – the so-called millennials. For these same age groups blacks are up from 8 percent to 13 percent, Asians from 4 to 6 percent. Hispanics among the millennials are 21percent, up from 8 percent. How many older whites resent this change is not reported. Pew Research in September 2014 reported the 69-84 age group as 23 percent "mostly conservative" and 22 percent "mostly liberal." The millennials were 12 percent mostly conservative and 28 percent mostly liberal. In other words, old white conservatives are in decline, and some among them no doubt don't like it.

Mar 26  China has a law against "provocation and causing a disturbance." Under this law, authorities have detained five young women who, for International Women's Day, were planning to distribute literature opposed to males groping females on subways and busses (often crowded). Foreign governments and human rights activists have asked China to release the five young women, and it has been mentioned that they were merely planning to suggest that all citizens comply with Chinese law. China, it has also been pointed out that Beijing has is stepping up its suppression of political activism. A foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, is reported as saying said that nobody has the right to ask China to release the group. She said that her government "hoped relevant people would stop interfering in China's judicial sovereignty." This for some is just noise from the authorities in Beijing. Nobody outside China expects advanced powers to surrender their freedom to judge, their expressions of concern and their global outlook about how people are treated.

Mar 27  People were dismayed yesterday by the news that the crash of the German airliner three of days ago was deliberate. Today the top news story is that it was the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, age 28, who did it. He had been treated for depression years ago but had been considered recovered or cured. Yesterday people who knew Lubitz superficially expressed disbelief. Lubitz was able to play God and take 148 passengers and 5 other crew members with him in death after the pilot left the cockpit to go to the toilet. Lubitz took advantage of the security system that enables someone inside the cockpit to block the code system that unlocks the door from the passenger side. And the door was too strong for the pilot to break down – a drama that can be heard on the flight tape. The strategy of having of someone in the cockpit able to block the code system was strategy against the possibility of a hijacker forcing the code from a crew member. In the US if one of the two in the cockpit leaves he is simultaneously replaced by a flight attendant who is supposed put things right if something happens to the person flying the plane. Another possible precaution: both the pilot and co-pilot could have the means on their person to nullify the locking of the door. The episode is a reminder how easy it has been for many people, including child suicide bombers, to kill others by the dozens, or even hundreds without great anguish.

Mar 28  Today it has been revealed to the media that Andreas Lubitz had a dream. He wanted to be an airline pilot captain. But, according to a former flight attendant friend, "because of his health problems ... that was practically impossible." Lubitz had a problem with depression. And he was one of those who saw significance in standing out from the crowd. He wanted to be noticed. His flight attendant friend reports that he told her: "One day I'm going to do something that will change the whole system, and everyone will know my name and remember."

Mar 31  Meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Arab League members agree to create a combined military force. The Arab League has 22 members. Six of them are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates. Not among them is Assad's Syria, kicked out in September 2011. The league was described yesterday as looking to combat Iran, Houhti rebels in Yemen and Islamic forces linked to Iran. The governments of member states are known for their hostility toward organized extremist groups, including the so-called Islamic State, of ISIS.

Mar 31  Bashar al Assad of Syria, in a recent interview with Charlie Rose, described Saudi Arabia and ISIS as one and the same ideologically. A "dark ideology," he said. "Definitely," he added. He also described Turkey's President Erdogan as a "fanatic" and "suffering from political megalomania." Assad describes himself as trying to win the hearts and minds of the Syrians, as merely fighting bad guys and as the victim of vicious propaganda. The United States he accuses of seeking only "followers" and never "partners" in its international relations. He sees the Arab League having suspended his membership as having nothing to do with the brutality of his regime. He sees himself still in power because of support from the Syrian people – saying nothing about support from Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and vicious military action. Assad appears to some of us as having the kind of mind, quite common in the world, that allows itself fantasies, that demonizes and is unrealistic about his adversaries and holds to a sense of persecution – a mediocre mind not good at handling conflicts.

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