May 2015

May 1   Yesterday the US Supreme Court upheld a Florida law against judicial candidates soliciting campaign money. Chief Justice Roberts sided with the court's four liberals, saying "Judges are not politicians." The court spoke of a "compelling interest in judicial integrity" and a "regrettable but unavoidable appearance that judges who personally ask for money may diminish their integrity." National Public Radio reported, " That reputation has been tarnished in recent years by the big money moving into judicial elections."

May 2  More setback for those opposed to integrating with the 21st century. Nigeria announces 234 more women and children hostages have been rescued from Boko Haram. Earlier this past week Nigerian troops pushed Boko Haram militants out of the area around the town of Bama in north-east Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan (who leaves office on May 29) predicts that Boko Haram will be routed in one month.

May 4  Ten motorcyclists from Russia are touring Europe. They are described as "fiercely nationalistic." They call themselves the Night Wolves, and having a narcissistic association with power they plan to ride into Berlin to celebrate Russia's victory over Germany in 1945. They support Putin and Putin has been described as supporting them. They were barred from entering Poland, and Russia's foreign ministry accused the Polish government of lying about the reasons why. The group is described as having about 5,000 members across the former Soviet Union.

May 5  A Russian human rights group, Memorial, is calling for a ban on public glorification of Josef Stalin. It writes: "We are in no way talking about deleting Stalin from history … But the place of a dictator belongs in museum halls, books, and in historical monographs in the context of their actions — not in city squares." Some glorification is expected in a few days when the Russians commemorate the 70th anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany. Today the French news agency AFP writes that "Since President Vladimir Putin took power in 2000, there has been a growing chorus of Russians who take a positive view of the Soviet tyrant's role in history." AFP writes of "a recent burst of patriotic fervour whipped up by state-controlled media" and a "creeping rehabilitation of Stalin."

May 6  Back March in the center of Kabul a devout Muslim woman, Farkhunda, annoyed a man and he retaliated by falsely accusing her of destroying the Koran – something he made up on the spot. She was a recent graduate of religious studies and had accused the man of selling sham trinkets. People hearing the accusation beat her to death as police stood by. She was run over by a car. Her body was burned and tossed into a river. Public outrage prompted the Afghan government and court to act with unusual swiftness. Today, following a two-day trial, a judge sentenced four men to death for the crime, sentenced eight others to 16 years in prison and acquitted 18. The accused will be able to appeal. Policemen accused of neglecting their duty will hear a verdict expected in a few days. From the accused came complaints of an unfair hearing.

May 7  Yesterday the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported a new record in wordwide carbon dioxide levels – 400 parts per million. They described this as a level not reached for the last two million years, that CO2 has risen more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times and that "half of that rise has occurred since 1980." The agency collects air samples from forty sites around the world, including remote islands. The burning of oil, gas and coal for energy is described as contributing to the rise.

May 9  It is Victory Day in Russia, the 70th anniversay of Germany's defeat. Putin is showing off Russia's weaponry. With China's President Xi standing next to him, Putin speaks of the importance of international cooperation in preventing carnage and describes what he sees as the big threat to peace. He says "in the past decades we have seen attempts to create a unipolar world." He is not referring to a diffusion of nations such as Poland, Ukraine, Britain, France, Germany and others. Better for propaganda purposes to have a single target to refer to. News sources describe "many Western leaders" as having boycotted Russia's event. But Venezuela's president, Maduro, was there. So too was Raul Castro. With Russia, they and China have been critical of hostile moves against the Assad regime in Syria.

May 12  The Pew Research Center has just published new figures on the religiosity of adults in the United States. Between the years 2007 and 2014 those who declare themselves atheists, agnostics or having no religious affiliation has risen to 22.8%, up 6.7%. Evangelical Protestants have declined from 26.3% to 25.4%. So-called "mainline" Protestants have declined from 18.1% to 14.7%. Those identifying themselves as Catholic have declined from 23.9% of the population (according to the Pew sample) to 20.8%. People adhering to non-Christian faiths as a percentage of the population has risen from 4.7 to 5.9 percent. (All this adds up to only 89.6%.) According to the research, "younger adults are far more likely than older Americans to identify as religious 'nones,' and men are more likely than women to be religiously unaffiliated." Also, "Baby Boomers also have become slightly but noticeably more likely to identify as religious 'nones' in recent years... [and] the percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73% to 64%)." It has been claimed by some that when it comes to people describing their piety many are less than candid. In other words, there may be fewer people associated with a faith than Pew's figures indicate. Some who are religiously inclined, no doubt, will see this as another indication that the world is going to hell.

May 13  Rush Limbaugh, big name media commentator, gives us his take on the Pew Research Center report on the decline of religion in the United States. People, he says, "have left their churches because of social issues and the evolution of their churches to social areas they didn't want to go and don't feel comfortable being in." In other words the decline described yesterday by the Pew Research Center is the result of people offended by homosexuality. He spoke of "less than 1 million gay activists" able to "bully and steamroll an entire country." He says he isn't condemning anyone; he is just guessing. And he complains that groups who make up a majority in the country one way or another are "not pushing back." How pushing back might be accomplished he does not say. Meanwhile a broader opinion battle continues. Someone weighing in on the issue in a media "comment" section sides with the decline and says "You don't need religion or have a book to have morals or tell you what is right and wrong." Someone disagrees with this, saying, "If you are allowed to make this up for yourself, you rapidly descend into moral relativism."

May 14  Rick Santorum is in the news again talking about running for president. Responding to the Pew Research report about Christianity's decline he told reporters yesterday that he who leads the country makes a difference, suggesting that if he were president he would reverse the trend by setting a good example.

May 14  In the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the minister of defence, Hyon Yong Chol, a couple of weeks ago was at concert hall watching the country's most popular band perform "Glorious Motherland" and "My Country is the Best." For General Choi's there were days filled with pomp, ceremony and exchanges of bows. He has been described as a sociable man and committed to his work. In his uniform heavy with medals he delivered a speech warning the US of his country's ability to launch a "nuclear strike." Then, suddenly, he was charged with treason and executed in front of a gathering of military men at a firing range. The weapon was an anti-aircraft cannon – all this according to South Korea's intelligence service, the NIS. In the US an expert on North Korea, Michael Madden, is reported by AlJazeera as saying that ""Internally, there does not seem to be any respect for [the supreme leader] Kim Jong-un within the core and middle levels of the North Korean leadership." Kim Jung Un appears to be using a failed method for holding on to power – a method that didn't work for Caligula, Nero or Robespierre.

May 15  Anthropoligist Mark Dyble has led a study, published in the journal Science, that describes men and women before the rise of agriculture as relating to each other as equals. Studying today's hunter-gatherer societies, the study describes the sexes having an equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. With agriculture, the study claims, people were able to accumulate resources for the first time and an imbalance emerged. It then began to pay more for men "to start accumulating resources and becomes favorable to form alliances with male kin." Dyble points to the difference between early humans and chimpanzees. "Chimpanzees live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies."

May 18  In Waco Texas, biker gangs wage war against each other in front of a hangout, a Twin Peaks restaurant that features waitresses in Bikinis. Police report 8 deaths and 18 injured, and "hundreds of bikers from several rival factions" involved. According to the New York Times. "The fight spilled into the parking lot, initially involving just fists and feet, but escalating quickly to chains, knives, clubs and firearms." At a press conference a policeman said, "There are dead people still there, there is blood everywhere ... There are bullet holes in vehicles all over the parking lot," Police report that people arrived with weapons as news of the gang fight spread and that they were arrested on sight. More than 165 are reported jailed. Someone comments: "People have been killing each other since we came into existence. Nothing new. Skin tone is pretty irrelevant."

May 19  The Islamic State (IS) is not on the run as described on this timeline for March 14. It has been driven out of Tikrit, but Iraqi forces moving on to strike against them in the north, in Mosul, appears to have been slowed. Today's BBC News headline reads, "IS militants tighten grip on Ramadi." It continues: "Militants were going door-to-door looking for government sympathizers and throwing bodies in the Euphrates river, residents were quoted as saying." Ramadi is the capital of Anbar province, about 65 miles west of Baghdad. An Iran-backed Shia militia is moving against Ramadi. IS is described as in control of about half of Anbar province. Rearding Iraq, in the US the columnist Michael Gerson tells Republican presidential candidates that "the alternative to invasion and occupation is not retreat." He speaks instead of "the determined exercise of power at a distance." Meanwhile the Obama administration promises to help Iraqi forces retake Ramadi. According to BBC News, "Officials said coalition aircraft were already seeking Islamic State targets in and around Ramadi, carrying out eight strikes in a 24-hour period ending Monday [yesterday], while noting 32 such strikes had been carried out over the past three weeks."

May 22  The Islamic States continues to expand. It has taken control of Palmyra, in Syria, and it has seized the last Syria-Iraq border crossing that had been controlled by the Assad regime. According to BBC News, IS now controls half of Syria. A militant among the IS fighters proclaims to a BBC News camera his love of paradise: "With men who love death as much as you love life you will never be safe as long as we are alive." This matches a statement in 2012 made by a Hamas soldier to Israeli soldiers. He said: The Al-Qassam Brigades love death more than you love life." Others have described those who favor life as being inspired by the devil.

May 25  In studying plankton, an international team of scientists find 35,000 species of bacteria, 5,000 new viruses and 150,000 single-celled plants and creatures. Of the 5,000 virus "communities" only 39 were previously known," according to BBC News.

May 25  The US compay Bell Helicopter signs a contract to have its helicopter assembled in Russia.

May 25  President Putin signs legislation that will forbid foreigners from pursuing activities that the government finds a threat to the country's constitutional order, defense or security. These foreign organizations will be denied promoting their activities through the media or the internet. Russians who collaborate with them, be they ordinary people, lawyers, banks or financial institutions, will be deemed accomplices and face fines or a prison term up to six years. Sergei Nikitin, head of the Russian branch of Amnesty International, complains that "The law is directed against civil society in Russia."

May 26  In China a government strategy document proclaims a naval focus to "open seas protection" rather than just "offshore waters defence." And it announces faster development in the country's cyber force to challenge "grave security threats." A news reader for state media makes a seemingly hyperbolic comment that war with the United States may be "inevitable." Reuters reports today that Japan is to join the US and Australia in war games, which it describes as "a sign of growing security links between the three countries as tensions fester over China's island building in the South China Sea."

May 28  President Obama on the 26th said that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act (1972) are moving to protect streams and rivers, from polluters. "One in three Americans," he said, "now gets drinking water from streams lacking clear protection... Too many of our waters have been left vulnerable to pollution." Landowners vulnerable to the charge of pollution are irate and letting Congress know of their opposition to being told how to manage their own property. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to block Obama's move, and the Senate has a similar bill pending. The Associated Press reports that Republican Senator James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will consider a measure this summer and "continue our work to halt EPA's unprecedented land grab."

May 28  Last year, Texas suffered from drought. In recent days Texas has experienced record rain falls. Floods are reported as having killed nineteen. Bill Ney, the science guy, has complained that no weather newspersons are uttering the phrase Climate Change. Deniers have expressed outrage with Nye for mentioning climate change. A sampling of newscasts in Europe yesterday did produce talk of "extreme weather," including Britain's BBC News reporting that "Extreme weather has been wreaking havoc in the US, where storms and tornadoes have caused major flooding in the states of Oklahoma and Texas."

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