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