April 2012

Apr 1  Regarding Syria, power talkers are now using words of immediacy. At the "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul, Turkey's Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, tells foreign ministers and others from seventy countries that the "legitimate demands of the Syrian people must be met, right here, right now." Two days ago Kofe Annan demanded that the Assad regime implement his six-point peace plan "immediately." Today, Assad's military assaults on neighborhoods continue.

Apr 1  In Mali, Tuareg rebels continue their drive for an independent Tuareg state. They advance to Timbuktu.

Apr 1  Chinese police arrest six people and shut down 16 websites for spreading rumors about military vehicles on the streets involved in a coup.

Apr 1  In the wake of failed diplomacy, the coalition of 70 nations announces late today that the rebels in Syria will receive pay that adds to several million dollars per month and will also receive communications equipment to help them organize, remain in contact with the outside world and to evade regime attacks. These will be channeled through the Syrian National Council, which may help various rebel groups accept it as the alternative authority to the Assad regime.

Apr 2  Researchers at UCLA find persons who carry two gene variants that affect the production of serotonin are more susceptible to post-traumitic stress disorder than are others.

Apr 2  Winners of the giant lottery wisely try to remain anonymous while so-called news organizations, pursuing entertainment rather than news, refuse to leave the winners alone.

Apr 3  Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya Television: "But even if you have a cease-fire, the other conditions will be practically impossible for Assad to implement. Is he going to release tens of thousands of political prisoners? Is he going to allow unfettered access to the international media? If that happens, I can assure you what you will see in the streets are the massacres in Aleppo, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands probably of Syrians demonstrating. And he will be forced to shoot them. Otherwise, he will fall." (News Hour, April 2)

Apr 4  In Turkey, two surviving leaders of the 1980 pro-business military coup are put on trial. Following the coup, around 600,000 people were detained. Pro-labor persons were labeled as Communists. Fifty were executed by hanging. Thousands lost their citizenship and went into exile and gruesome torture was routine. Because of age and ill-health the two are not appearing in court and are not expected to go to prison.

Apr 5   Testifying on Capital Hill (and broadcast on C-SPAN), Professor Michael Greenberger stated yesterday that the amount that people in the US have been paying for gasoline above what they were paying in mid-December (90 days) totals to $10 billion. Eighty percent of this rise he attributed to speculation – pure gambling. He noted that in the past Congressional action sent a signal to speculators that the bubble was over and this inspired speculators to sell, sending gas prices down precipitously. Testifying and agreeing with Greenberger was Gene Guilford, President & CEO of statewide energy marketers trade group, who worked for Ronald Reagan.

Apr 6  A jury in the US has found Victor Bout, the Russian known as the "Merchant of Death," guilty of conspiring to kill Americans, delivering anti-aircraft missiles and aiding a terrorist organization. He is sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 2008 in Thailand, Bout was caught in a sting operation by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The UN has named Bout an associate of Liberia's Charles Taylor, who is awaiting judgment for war crimes. Russia's foreign ministry claims the treatment of Bout is "clearly political" and potentially damaging to Russia-US relations. (Russia supports and sells arms to the Assad regime in Syria, said to be mistreating its citizens.)

Apr 7  In Tunisia, two bloggers are sentenced to seven years in jail for having posted a cartoon of a naked Muhammad the Prophet. Their crime is described as a "violation of morality" and as "disturbing public order." One of the men, Jabeur Mejri, is in jail while the second, Ghazi Beji, is being sought. A moderate Islamist government is in power, and some in Tunisia are concerned about freedom of expression.

Apr 8  Richard Dawkins, the world's foremost atheist, has gone agnostic now a former atheist. (Reported today in The Telegraph on this Easter Sunday).

Apr 9  In Morocco, three young men who don't understand what makes a successful political movement try sensational sabotage against ATM machines and government buildings. Seventeen people are killed, mostly tourists, and 20 others wounded. People in Morocco can demonstrate without being fired upon, government is not hauling or bombarding people out of their homes, and people can vote for the person they want to represent them in parliament. The army of three young men is in custody. No demonstrations of support for them have been reported and none is expected.

Apr 9  Fighting between Syrian rebels and security forces at the border with Turkey results in twelve of the security forces dead and the rebels running across the border to a refugee camp yards from the border, where one of them dies from his wound or wounds. A Turkish translator and policeman are among the injured. Emotions are again inflamed in Turkey, and the Turkish foreign ministry protests. Also today (9AM EDT), according to BBC News at least 50 people are reported killed in Syria. Internationally, fantasies about Kofi Annan's peace plan are fading.

Apr 10  The Austrian Roman Catholic cleric Helmut Schüller says that the ban on women priests and the ban on priests marrying is not a matter of theology but of history and tradition – matters that are constantly changing. Father Schüller is head of a movement that includes between 300 and 400 Austrian priests and priests elsewhere in the world, including the United States, seeking reforms. Pope Benedict XVI describes their reforms as "unthinkable" and says that disobedience is no solution.

Apr 11 The Assad regime again promises to implement Kofi Annan's six point peace plan – tomorrow. Today, Assad's troops shell hostile neighborhoods in the city of Homs.

Apr 11  Fighting continues between Sudan and South Sudan in the disputed Heglig oil region.

Apr 12  Morocco's government agrees to parliament's increase in taxes on businesses for a fund that will reduce the widest of wealth inequalities. A reform of food and energy subsidies is expected to follow. The government admits that these subsidies now benefit mostly those who need them least.

Apr 12  A ceasefire holds, somewhat. Late in the day at least 37 people are reported as having been killed by army gunfire across Syria. Kofi Annan urges the UN Security Council to demand a full military withdrawal from around hostile areas in order to comply with his peace plan and to bolster what he sees as an extremely fragile truce. Syria's Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, says the Assad regime is committed to reforms, absolutely, and adds that "we have started the process." He describes the recent brutal attacks on hostile neighborhoods as defensive and as providing the regime security. "Why should we commit suicide," he asks.

Apr 13  Connecticut joins much of Europe and sixteen other US states by repealing its death penalty – but death remains for the eleven already on the state's death row. (Maine abolished the death penalty in 1887, Norway in 1902, Denmark in 1930.)

Apr 13  A German court denies Patrick Stuebing and his sister the right to live together. The two have had four children together. Stuebing did not meet his sister until he tracked down his family as an adult. He has already served three years in prison for violating Germany's incest law.

Apr 14  The UN Security Council unanimously approves sending as many as thirty monitors to Syria. Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, activists have reported "almost 20 deaths across Syria, including nine in the city of Homs, where videos uploaded to the Internet indicated that government forces had begun shelling once again."

Apr 15  At a summit meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, President Obama responds with conservatism to calls from participants for a new approach to the drug problem. Obama ignores experience in the Netherlands and claims that new drug legislation would be "corrupting."

Apr 16  Spain was not profligate on the eve of the crash of 2008 – at least as some see it. Then Spain suffered from a burst housing bubble, and its banks fell deeply in debt. Now Spain is in an economic depression. Its overall unemployment rate is 23.6 percent. Youth unemployment is over 50 percent. Anxiety has just sent Spain's bond yields above 6 percent. Spain's debt at the end of 2011 was 68.22% of GDP compared to 99.66% for the US. For Spain, the cost of borrowing is getting worse. Spain has had a center-right party in power since December 21, 2011, and its formula for recovery is conservative in orientation: austerity.

Apr 17 "The fundamental objective at the moment is to reduce the deficit," said Spain's prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, yesterday. "If we don't achieve this, the rest won't matter: we won't be able to fund our debt, we won't be able to meet our commitments." He was countered by a London-based economist, Madhur Jha, who said, "People are beginning to realize the more and more austerity you impose on an economy, the worse it becomes in terms of growth and also in terms of debt sustainability."

Apr 17  In the US Senate, a proposal to raise tax rates to at least 30% for those earning more than $1,000,000 per year failed to receive the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The vote was 51-45 with all Republicans voting against except Susan Collins of Maine. Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor sided with the Republicans. A Gallup poll on the 13th indicated that 60% of the public favors the proposal and 37% disapproves.

Apr 18  In Britain, according to an Environmental Science and Technology report, automobile exhaust each year causes nearly 5,000 deaths. Matched against the 2,000 or so deaths annually from traffic accidents, the study concludes that automobile pollution is the more deadly. BBC News adds: "Of the 19,000 annual UK deaths estimated, 7,000 are due to pollutants blown in from the continent. In London, European pollutants add 960 deaths each year to the 2,200 caused by UK combustion fumes."

Apr 18  War has been unanimously declared by Sudan's parliament, and today Sudan's smiling and happy president, Omar al-Bashir, declares his goal of "liberating" the people of South Sudan. Sudan and South Sudan have a dispute over the oil fields at Heglig, on the border between the two countries.

Apr 19  The Anders Breivik trial is taking place in Norway. Breivik describes himself as a hero nationalist for having killed 77 people. He describes his victims as Marx-influenced liberals who were surrendering their culture and way of life. He attributes to himself the same kind of authority-in-action importance that Timothy McVeigh did.

Apr 20  Sudan's threat to make war to drive South Sudan's President Klir from office – an actual and convincing threat rather than skirmishes and bluff – inspires President Klir to begin withdrawing his troops from the Heglig oil fields – to take three days. Heglig is internationally recognized as a part of Sudan. President Klir chooses international arbitration.

Apr 22  Japan writes off the more that 3.7 billion dollars that Burma owes it as it resumes development aid.

Apr 22  Logging companies in Brazil are accused of using gunmen to wipe out Awá hunter-gatherers from the eastern Amazon forests. The Awá are reported as having been reduced in number to about 300. The Guardian reports that Survival International is "campaigning to stop what a judge has referred to as 'genocide'."

Apr 23  President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea has been described as a ruthless dictator. His first son, Teodorin Obiang, is wanted by French prosecutors on corruption charges. President Nguema strikes back, accusing Europe with having renewed its colonial ambitions. "Our enemies," he says, "never sleep." Equatorial Guinea has the highest per capital wealth of any African nation while most of its people are described as living in squalor.

Apr 23  Anders Breivik tells Norway's court that his killing seventy-seven people was "a small barbarian act to prevent a larger barbarian act".

Apr 24  Sudan's president, Omar al Bashir: "We will not negotiate with the South's government, because they don't understand anything but the language of the gun and ammunition." (Reuters news agency)

Apr 24  President Obama: "National sovereignty is never a license to slaughter your people."

Apr 25  Scientific research at Oxford University, the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Centre in New York and the Rega Institute in Belgium reveals in our genetic material today traces of viruses from creatures as far back as the dinosaur era. These viruses have evolved to stay within their host cell where they have profilerated very effectively, spending their entire life cycle within the cell.

Apr 25  Britain's economy has had an economic growth at minus 0.2% in the first three months of this year, creating the double dip recession that many have feared. Labour Party politicians ask Prime Minister Cameron, of the Conservative Party, for an explanation. Cameron describes the growth figures as "very, very disappointing."

Apr 26  Days ago the FBI shut down webservers used by malware criminals, and it acquired the IP addresses of compromised computers for victim notification. Today the BBC reports that a global police operation has taken down dozens of websites that have been selling credit card details and other private information.

Apr 26  The neighboring countries Argentina and Uruguay agree to share bank information aimed at fighting tax evasion. Argentinians had been hiding cash in Uruguayan banks.

Apr 27  Proponents of international justice praise the guilty verdict against Charles Taylor on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity, murder, rape and terrorism. The idea is advanced that no one is above the UN Charter's declaration against war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some hope that the trial will be a deterrence. Some others doubt this, and they fear that it will be harder to convince brutal dictators to leave office and go into exile.

Apr 29  The New York Times reports that Apple Corporation avoids paying billions in tax dollars by creating a subsidiary in Nevada where corporate taxes are zero. Corporate taxes levied in California, writes the New York Times, is 8.84 percent. Apple's home state, California, is having a revenue problem, much like Greece had along with a tax evasion problem going into its crisis.

Apr 30  The Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, head of the UN observer mission to Syria, warns that even 1,000 unarmed observers cannot end the violence in Syria. The civil war in Syria rolls on. Another suicide bombing kills nine of Assad's men early today. This time in the city of Idlib. Two days ago the bombing was in Damascus. UN monitors have rushed to Idlib to do more looking on.

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Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.