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April 2019

Apr 1 ... In Turkey, President Erdogan has been campaigning for his party's candidates, appealing to his conservative Muslim base, using bellicose rhetoric, labeling some of his opponents as terrorists. Turkey's economic boom since 2002 (and its privatization) has been bumpy and has declined. International market support for Turkey's currency has also declined, making goods from abroad more expensive, contributing to an inflation at around 11 percent. The unemployment rate in December 2018 was 13.5 percent, hurting Erdogan politically. In yesterday's elections, Erdogan's party lost control of the capital, Ankara, and his party appears to be trailing in Istanbul, intensely embarrassing Erdogan. Meanwhile, the Erdogan regime has prevented journalists and their families from traveling. Turkey accounts for one-third of all journalists imprisoned around the world. Movies and books are censored and internet usage is policed. Freedom House has reduced Turkey’s status from Partly Free to Not Free.

Apr 3 ... According to the NewsHour (PBS) some Hondurans are moving to the US border as an automatic response to crop failures. The NewsHour describes rising temperatures and declining rainfall as killing crops and jeopardizing the survival of the many small-scale farmers in Honduras — growers of corn and beans, including coffee beans. There has been a surge of migration to urban areas (where gangs thrive), but also some see running to the US as the best or proper alternative. A 49-year-old farmer who was interviewed said: "I already feel old, but the situation forces me to go." Honduras has 43 percent of its population living in rural areas, and 39 percent are engaged in agriculture (compared to 2 percent in agriculture in the US. The population of Honduras was around 2 million in 1960 and is now more that 9 million. Wealth distribution is much worse than in the United States, and those in need expect little help from their anti-leftist government. Meanwhile, banana plantations, in this the original "banana republic", are keeping people in the US and Europe well supplied.

Apr 4 ... A military coup in 1964 overthrew Brazil's president since 1961: João Goulart. Brazil's conservatives supported the coup. They didn't like Goulart's support for reforms. Two decades of murderous military rule and heavy censorship followed. At least 434 people were killed or disappeared according to the findings of a 2014 national truth commission. And many more were detained and tortured. Civilians returned to power in 1985. In January 2019 a rightwinger, Jair Bolsonaro, became president. He now announces that the years of military rule will be officially celebrated as "a democratic regime by force", and his regime announces that there will be a "progressive shift" in school textbooks.

Apr 5 ... In Sudan, women are at the forefront of the nationwide protests against the autocratic Islamist, Omar al-Bashir, who has run the country since his military coup nearly 30 years ago. A group of university women chant, "Hey, Bashir, get out of here, you can’t face our revolution." The recent demonstrations began in December over the rising price of bread and were joined by professionals fed up with economic decline. The protesters represent a cross-section of the population, which includes former government officials. Bashir says he will step down in 2020. Meanwhile, Physicians for Human Rights describe Bashir’s forces as having attacked at least seven medical facilities, having arrested at least 136 health personnel, having fired tear gas and other weapons into hospital wards, denying the injured medical care during the current wave of unrest. Bashir's departure will be a loss for his ally, Putin. And Bashir is still being sought by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide.

Apr 6 ... This last Thursday, Prince Charles and his sons, William and Harry, attended the world premiere of "Our Planet", underlining the royal family's support for action regarding climate change. Charles paid tribute to the work of the scientist and natural historian Sir David Attenborough, who narrates the new eight-part Netflix series. Attenborough warns that "what we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth." Meanwhile, USA Today tells us of the earth's carbon dioxide at the highest levels in 3 million years and of new research that connects the warming climate and catastrophic flooding.

Apr 7 ... In Iran, continuous floods that started in March have claimed 70 lives, destroyed infrastructures and displaced thousands of people. In one province, 200 bridges and 400 kilometers of roads were 100 percent destroyed. In another, dozens of villages and towns have been evacuated. The Iran Labor News Agency describes the damages left by the recent floods as "unprecedented during the past century." Foreign Minister Javad Zarif complains that US sanctions are blocking international aid and relief efforts, including relief helicopters and funds from a number of bank accounts.

Apr 9 ... President Trump is telling potential migrants from Central America that the US is "full." He wants them to believe that running to the US is not an option or their best option. His Secretary of Homeland Security, Kristeen Nielsen, has resigned in response, it seems, to Trump's new get-tough policy including favor of more separating children from their parents. Senator Kamila Harris (D-CA), interviewed last night on MSNBC, resisted Trump's attempt at disincentivizing the would-be migrants. Harris spoke of the US turning its back on people "fleeing murder capitals of the world." Although visualized as a flood, these migrants are a small minority, running from their fellow-citizens rather than fighting with them for change. Regarding Honduras, conservatives are in power and those advocating reforms that work against the pervasive corruption are mainly on the left politically. Regarding immigration to the US and the coming 2020 elections, Trump's tough approach stands opposed to the humanitarian sentiments of his Democratic Party opponents. Meanwhile, former President Barack Obama tells young people at a town hall meeting in Berlin, Germany: "We can't label everybody disturbed by immigration as racist."

Apr 10 ... Prime Minister Netanyahu's main rival "centrist" party concedes defeat. Netanyahu will form a coalition government with those associated with the ultra-Orthodox and settlers in the occupied West Bank. Israeli voters have shifted to the right since the days of Shimon Perez and Yitzhak Rabin, and some are blaming Hamas and the Palestinians for this. Some others see Israel's occupation as enflaming Palestinian hostilities. Netanyahu has expressed his intention to annex settlement territory that Palestinian want as a part of their future state. President Trump, a Netanyahu ally, describes Netanyahu's as improving the chance of a peace breakthrough. Some others don't expect any unwinding of hostilities. They see it increasingly likely that Israel will become a binational state in which Jews enjoy rights denied to Palestinians.

Apr 11 ... A team of astronomers has released an image of what they call a "back hole." The word "hole" can be associated with a variety of images including holes in the body (the anus) and holes in the ground, but their "black hole" is a metaphor. Like a hole in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans it doesn't exist. Scientists struggle with language like the rest of us. They go beyond metaphor and describe their black hole as a vacuum created by a "collapsed" star. Electromagnetic radiation that we call "light" is sucked in — a gravitation process — and with no light traveling outward the so-called hole is "black" and is thought of as a hole in space. Making it more difficult for we mortals to fathom is the fact that the light surrounding the blackness is reaching us after traveling 53 million years, while some of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around the concept of a few thousand years. The distance is also mind-boggling: 500 million trillion kilometers to somewhere in our own galaxy.

Apr 12 ... In Sudan back in 1989, Omar Bashir, holding the rank of brigadier, took power in a coup. In 2010 he won his first term as the country's elected president. This year, economic difficulties including inflation and a plummeting currency have given rise to four months of continuous protest demonstrations by citizens of various occupations joined by vociferous women and some soldiers — people inspired by the passion for democracy that is appearing among many in Africa. Yesterday the army turned against Bashir and put him under house arrest. The military leaders who engineered the coup say they are imposing a three-month state of emergency and will rule for a maximum of two years while the nation prepares for elections. Their leader, General Ahmed ibn Auf, says the country has suffered from "poor management, corruption, and an absence of justice," and he apologizes "for the killing and violence that took place".

Apr 13 ... Massive protests erupt in Bangladesh against the burning to death of a female student, Nusrat Jahan Rafi. The nation's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has asked for stern actions against the killers. Rafi was set afire by students loyal to the school's principal, whom she had accused to sexual harrassment.

Apr 15 ... Finland's parliamentary elections yesterday included issues that are with us in the US elections for next year. The Social Democratic Party (founded in 1898 and with links to trade unions) won the most seats in parliament and returned to the leadership they lost in 2003. But only one seat behind was the anti-immigrant Finn Party (founded in 1995). It jumped up from only 17 seats and fifth place to second place and 39 seats. The liberal-conservative Centre Party (in power until last month) plummeted from 49 seats to 31 seats. The Social Democrats pledged to strengthen the welfare system. They pledged opposition to an austerity agenda, promised taxes to combat inequality and supported something similar to a "Green New Deal". Finns Party members warned their working-class supporters that they were being betrayed by urban elites, that environmentalists would "take saugage from the mouths of laborers" and do harm to family pets, and they promised to cut immigration and enforce stricter asylum rules. The Finns Party has announced an alliance with Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party.

Apr 16 ... Responding to the news of destruction by fire of the wooden roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, some are following the common impulse to assume, and they are describing the fire as an intentional act. YouTube added to the impulse by putting online, in association with the fire, a depiction of the terrorist 9/11 attacks of 2001 in New York. Choosing responsible journalism was Neil Cavuto, hosting a show at Fox News. Cavuto was on the phone with a guest, Catholic League president Bill Donohue, who remembered that last month a 17th-century church was set on fire in Paris, that tabernacles have been knocked down, crosses torn down, statues smashed, and that a number of churches in France vandalized so far in 2019. Cavuto and another Fox host, Shepard Smith, cut off their guests, saying they wanted to avoid conjecture. Meanwhile, Texas talk-show host Alex Jones has asked whether the Notre Dame fire is intended as a sign that Islam is taking over France.

Apr 18 ... Yesterday, protesters chanted "Sodom and Gomorrah" at Pete Buttigieg during his rally in Iowa. Sodom and Gomorrah is a tale derived from oral history that found its way into sacred literature, and descriptions of biblical anti-homosexuality include the story of the Persians (led by Cyrus the Great) overthrowing Assyrian rule in Judah and allowing a resurgence of worship of the god Jehovah (Yahweh). Judah's King Josiah and priests of Jehovah-worship moved against the worshippers of other gods. The practices of rival worship, including homosexuality, were forbidden and labeled an abomination. That was in the seventh century BCE. Yesterday those protesting Buttigieg, the openly gay Navy veteran and presidential candidate, were drowned out by chants from his supporters.

Apr 19 ... Indonesia re-elects President Joko Widodo. He defeats by 10 percent a former general supported by radical Islamist groups. Indonesia is nominally 87 percent Muslim, 10 percent Christian, 1.7 Hindu, and 0.9 percent Buddhist or Confucian. Presidential candidates are required to be "mindful of God". Indonesia's constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but intolerances exist (including hostility towards homosexuality). Widodo's running mate (not the vice-president) was the country’s top Muslim cleric — said to have been a concession to religious conservatism. Indonesia's economy has an annual growth rate at 5.2 percent, having slowed since the end of the commodities export boom in 2012. The economy is described as wanting regarding infrastructure and resource distribution, but Widodo is known for his honesty and incremental economic progress. His political party was founded by the daughter Indonesia's first president (from 1945-67) — Sukarno.

Apr 20 ... Expressing anger about economic hardship — their own and those with less — and about the great amount of money collected for repairs at Notre Dame cathedral, France's Yellow Vest protesters marched through the streets of Paris and other cities on Saturday for the 23rd week. Hundreds were arrested and dozens injured as violence broke out between demonstrators and police. The head of France's CGT workers union, Philippe Martinez, has said: "They should stop telling us that there is no money to counter social inequality." Others described Macron as "president of the rich". (Scoring inequality of family income, the Gini Index, with higher numbers being greater inequality, France has been at 32.3, Germany's at 31.0, Sweden at 27.2 and the US at 41.5.)

Apr 21 ... Coordinated suicide bombings kill at least 207 people and wounded more than 450 in Sri Lanka. The targets were two Roman Catholic Churches, a Protestant church, and three high-end hotels. Seven suspects have been arrested. The government speaks against racial disharmony, temporarily shuts down social media, and imposes a curfew. Twenty-seven of the dead have been described as foreigners, several of them American. Other victims were British, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese nationals. Sri Lanka has been described as 70.2 percent Theravada Buddhists, 12.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim (mainly Sunni) and 7.4 percent Christians (mostly Roman Catholic). Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war ended 10 years ago, its Sinhalese-speaking majority (largely Buddhist) against the Tamil-speaking six-percent minority (largely Hindu). The UN described 40,000 Tamil civilians as having been killed in the final phases of that war, with hardline Buddhist monks being blamed. This war was followed by conflict between populist and chauvinist monks (the Bodu Bala Sena) and Muslims. Now, the world is looking forward to learning who is responsible today's slaughter. An extremist group of Muslims, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, is suspected. Last year this group was linked to vandalizing Buddhist statues.

Apr 22 ... Yesterday, Sunday, a 60 Minutes report by Leslie Stahl (CBS News) featured former Justice Department official John Carlin describing the Putin regime using a Russian hacker, Evgeniy Bogachev, one of the FBI's most wanted cybercriminals. Carlin says, "the Russian government is a criminal syndicate. It's a rogue state when it comes to cyber activity and it's causing harm to countries, companies, and people throughout the world."

Apr 23 ... According to the Mueller Report, Russia intervened in the US presidential election "in a sweeping and systematic fashion" — hoping to install Donald Trump in the White House. News organizations report that the Trump campaign was aware of this intervention and welcomed it. Trump describes this as "fake news" and vehemently claims that there was "no collusion," that he didn't conspire with the Russians. President Trump did try to shut down the Justice Department's Mueller investigation. The report describes ten episodes where Trump could potentially have obstructed justice while president and one before he was elected. The report leaves Congress to pursue impeachment of the president on charges of "obstruction of justice" — if it so wishes. Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders are among those who don't want an "impeachment" distraction or show, recognizing it would fail in Senate. They want the focus on beating Trump and the Republicans at the polls. Some other strategists, including Elizabeth Warren and Ocasio-Cortez, are less pragmatic and interested in a legalistic propaganda victory. There is talk about impeachment as congress's duty to prosecute Trump's violations of the law (obstruction of justice). Meanwhile, talk of Trump pursuing an "imperial presidency" has surfaced: mainly congressional Republicans allowing the president powers rather than keeping his power checked as mandated by the constitution.

Apr 24 ... Today NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes of our border with Mexico burdened by a spike in apprehensions since last October and burdened by a crush of asylum applications. Friedman says "yes, walls work" but "we don’t have the resources to deal with what is happening, that our "system" is overwhelmed and chaotic. Someone responds to the column with the comment that most crossers "are really economic migrants." Someone else writes that "the only thing that will prevent illegal immigration is full implementation of E-Verify, for all employers, including you and me if we hire nannies, etc. A wall won't do it, though it may slow things down a bit." (Friedman's article.)

Apr 25 ... The Reverend Franklin Graham, a Trump supporter, tweets that "the Bible ... defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized." The tweet is aimed at presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, a former Naval Intelligence Officer who served in Afghanistan and has been the mayor of South Bend (Indiana) since 2012. As a candidate, Buttigieg is described as doing well because of his intelligence and likable manner. He's a Harvard graduate, a former Rhodes scholar and speaks several languages. Buttigieg describes himself as a gay Christian and speaks of God’s love being experienced in our support for one another and support for "the least among us.” Graham is described as chasing a minority position (except among fundamentalists). Pew Research describes acceptance of homosexuality as having risen, to 54 percent in 2014, up from 45 percent in 2007, with around 68 percent accepting same-sex marriage in 2017. (In strongholds of religious conservatism, like Mississippi and Alabama, the opposition to same-sex marriage is higher.)

Apr 26 ... Yesterday, protesters from across Sudan filled the streets of the capital city, Khartoum, calling for the military to hand power over to a civilian administration. Islamists call for a rally to support the military. According to the Associated Press, Islamist preachers are accusing protest leaders of seeking to undermine divine rule and impose western values of freedom, democracy and human rights. In his Friday sermon, Khartoum-based Salafi preacher Abdel-Hay Youssef accused the protest movement of seeking to "dictate their own will on the people." He rejected a blueprint for transition to civilian rule suggested by protesters. He asked whether they were trying to "contradict people's identity and to divorce God's Shariah (Islamic law) from the government?"

Apr 28 ... Yesterday another shooting. A 19-year-old, John T. Earnest, righteously screaming and cursing, with an assault rifle, killed a 60-year-old woman and injured an eight-year-old girl and two adult males at a synagogue north of San Diego, in California. Someone charged him ending his shooting, and he fled. He called the police and surrendered peacefully. He has described himself as willing to sacrifice his future “for the sake of my people” — a hero — while at Google Images he appears to be a normal kid with he an adolescent smile and a narcissistic hairdo. He's generally chauvinistic (excessive loyalty to people like himself and dislike for those who are different). This includes male chauvinism — his favor of writings supporting men's rights against feminism. He also calls himself a white supremacist. He boasts that he set fire to a mosque in the town of Escondido last month. And the Washington Post writes today of his having drawn inspiration from the mosques shootings in New Zealand back in March and his having described Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler as role models. He has been a student at California State University San Marcos — his student days now over. He appears to think that he knows exactly what is wrong with the world. His committing murder was a political act, futile and naive of course, and divorced from realities (historical) that should be a part of one's education but that somehow never reached him.

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Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.