March 2012

Maher al-Assad

Maher al-Assad, financial wheeler-dealer, said to have convinced his brother in 2001 to end the Damascus Spring.

Mar 1  The Free Syrian Army announces a tactical withdrawal from the neighborhood of Baba Amr a common tactic for guerrilla fighters facing superior government forces. Government forces now claim full control of Baba Amr, following almost a month of heaving shelling. Government troops, led by Assad's wealthy younger brother, Maher, are described as having sealed-off Baba Amr and having allowed the rebels to leave in preparation for moving in to "cleanse" the neighborhood. The so-called seal might explain why the rebels didn't leave sooner. Meanwhile, the anti-Assad Syrian National Council (SNC) says it will bring armed groups under a central command and control the flow of weapons.

Mar 1  When Senator Ted Kennedy died, Andrew Breitbart called him a "pile of excrement" and tweeted "Rest in Chappaquiddick." Early today Breitbart died, at the age of 43. He was a journalist who said he enjoyed making enemies. Following his death he is being criticized for knowingly using lies and trickery and for demeaning the profession of journalism. On the other hand, Newt Gingrich tweets that "Andrew Breitbart was the most innovative pioneer in conservative activist social media in America. He had great courage and creativity." And Mitt Romney tweets: "Ann and I are deeply saddened by the passing of @AndrewBreitbart: brilliant entrepreneur, fearless conservative, loving husband and father."

Mar 2  All but two of the European Union's twenty-seven leaders have signed a new treaty to enforce budget discipline within the Euro currency bloc. Twelve were needed to the treaty to take effect. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the main architect of the pact, describes it as a "great leap" toward stability and political union. Reuters News quotes her as telling reporters, "We have the two instruments. On the one hand, the fiscal pact, and, on the other, the permanent European rescue mechanism. The two are interlinked." Ireland will hold a referendum on the issue said to amount to whether Ireland wants to remain inside the euro currency bloc.

Mar 3  In the US at least 28 people are killed as storms and tornadoes sweep across vast parts of the Midwest. Some describe it as more "freaky weather," and some associate this with global warming while deniers of global warming remain focused on their Republican presidential candidates. One candidate, Rick Santorum has said global warming is not climate science, but "political science". Newt Gingrich during his campaign has turned agnostic on global warming, saying "I think that the evidence is not complete." Mitt Romney, like Gingrich has shifted his position, Romney saying during his campaigning, "My view is that we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet,"

Mar 5  Putin wins Russia's presidential election with a reported 63 percent of the vote. Exit polls indicated a Putin victory, but there are ballot stuffing allegations. People are saying they voted for Putin because he improved the economy, crediting him with making their lives better. Meanwhile Putin repeats his campaign bluster about the glory of Russia and the defeat of foreign threats, suggesting that the massive demonstrations against him within Russia have been instigated by foreign agencies. "No one can force anything on us," he says.

Mar 5  An opinion piece at arab, out of Saudi Arabia, writes: "Most Islamic countries are being left behind in social progress as compared with other nations. There are essentially five reasons for this situation. First, we must consider the educational curriculums adopted in Islamic countries, knowing that education is the first step toward refining the talent and minds of scientists, inventors and innovators." Comments below the article are favorable.

Mar 6  A former economic advisor to two Republican presidents criticizes conservative Republicans regarding taxes. Bruce Bartlett thinks that replacing income taxes with the Value-Add Tax (VAT) (paying taxes as we buy things) would simplify taxation and "could clean up so many of our problems in our tax code." He mentions a conservative who describes Europe as one giant gulag because of the VAT. "Well, you know, " says Bartlett, "I've been to Europe. Germany doesn't look like a slave camp to me." (Zakaria GPS, Mar 4, 2012)

Mar 7  In an article titled "Prosperity, autocracy and democracy," Chrystia Freeland describes politics as a historical force in economic development. The economist Daron Acemoglu tells her, "It is really about societies that have a more equitable distribution of political power versus those that don't." (Reuters)

Mar 7  In Chile a savage attack on a young gay man arouses political leaders to push anti-discrimination legislation.

Mar 8  US Senator Feinstein says she doesn't know who we would be helping with any kind of military assistance to the Free Syrian Army. Some see the FSA as the body that will end the Assad regime. The FSA is running medical supplies and small arms from neighboring Lebanon and maybe elsewhere. The FSA has checkpoints that prevent armed Assad agents from entering towns to strike against targeted individuals. So for some the answer to the senator's question who we would be helping is: the many Syrians who are opposed to the Assad regime, the many who have deserted Assad's military, and the many under attack who have an enhanced appreciation for freedom and liberty. Meanwhile, the British defence secretary says it would be illegal for the UK to arm the Syrian rebels against a "terrible regime," and China repeats the old and oft-made request that the conflict be settled peacefully through dialogue.

Mar 9  Danny Abdul Dayem, British citizen of Syrian descent just back from Syria, responds with outrage to Robert Malley telling him on the News Hour that we should give Kofi Annan's diplomacy a chance to work. Says Danny: "Diplomacy with the Assad regime will not work. He will only leave by force. We all know this. He will not leave by any peaceful talk or any politician talk... We need to save human lives and stop talking about this. People are dying... We need help, any kind of help." With a no fly zone, Mr Dayem says, "More than 70 percent of the army would defect with their tanks and their heavy artillery. They can't defect now because the Assad force will bombard them with airstrikes." About fear of war he says, "There is already a war going on right now." (video and transcript)

Mar 10  Around 85 percent of private investors holding Greece's debt agree to a cut in the money owed them – a "haircut" better for them than a default. It reduces Greece debt load by $140 billion and is said to be the biggest sovereign restructuring in history. It is described as allowing Greece to move ahead with its economic reform program. Private insurance policies kick-in, helping investors taking a loss.

Mar 11  In Syria, guerrilla tactics include attacking checkpoints and military transport vehicles to capture weapons and hostages. Rebels know they can't hold when Assad's military arrives in strength. According to the Los Angeles Times some still don't have arms. AK-47s dominate, purchased on the black market or seized from Assad's military. "A few have rocket-propelled grenades. But the paucity of heavy munitions, antitank and antiaircraft weaponry in particular, is their great lament."

Mar 12  The president of China's Supreme People's Court, Wang Shengjun, tells his country's parliament that reforms are needed to overcome lingering problems with transparency and corrupt judges. And today elections resume in Wukan village, the third and final vote accompanied by an optimism about democracy.

Mar 13  A court in Guatemala sentences Pedro Pimentel Rios, 55, for his role as a special forces soldier in the massacre of 201 people in the village of Dos Erres in 1982.

Mar 13  In Syria, President Assad plans to avoid any tribunal – while his recent massacres stimulate more talk. Secretary Clinton calls again for Assad to stop his violence, while Kofe Annan, momentarily in Turkey, looks forward to more pleading. He says, "We expect to hear from the Syrian officials today."

Mar 14  Yesterday an Obama-approved drone aircraft raid killed 15 "suspected militants" in Pakistan. Some among those who like seeing Obama being forceful concerning other matters question the effectiveness of such killings. Last year Pakistan's Imran Khan passionately complained that the drone attacks in Pakistan were benefitting al Qaeda.

Mar 14  Under Argentine law, abortion is allowed only in cases where the mother's life or health are at risk, or if the woman is deemed "of feeble mind." Amid public outrage in favor of a 15-year-old rape victim, the Supreme Court unanimously confirms a lower court's decision to allow the girl to terminate her pregnancy. According to the BBC an estimated 500,000 illegal abortions occur in Argentina every year.

Mar 14  At today's news conference President Obama says, "Assad will leave power. It's not a question of if – but when." The President also claims that military intervention would lead to even more killing and possibly a "civil war" – words recorded here for future evaluation.

Mar 15  Reporters Without Borders adds Bahrain and Belarus to its list of nations that restrict internet access, filter content and imprison bloggers. The others: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam. Reporters Without Borders accuses China and Syria of having agents flood the sites of dissidents with messages supporting the government.

Mar 16   The economist Nouriel Roubini describes the rise in gas prices as the result of fear rather than an increase in demand oil supplies being plentiful and demand in the US and Europe down. The fear involves conflict with Iran. Roubini estimates that oil prices could rise to $200 per barrel if Iran is engaged in a protracted military conflict.

Mar 16  Actor George Clooney is arrested at a protest in front of Sudan's embassy in Washington DC. Clooney has been criticizing Sudan's military assaults against the Nuba people in the south of what is internationally recognized as territory of Sudan.

Mar 17  In the US, indiscriminate use of a webcam and tweeting results in a guilty verdict for a Rutgers University freshman, Dharun Ravi. He is to be sentenced on May 21 for a hate crime (bias intimidation) and invasion of privacy. Ravi's student room-mate, Tyler Clementi, killed himself shortly after the incident, in September, 2010. Some consider Ravi's punishment a lesson about growing up with responsible use of hi-tech.

Mar 17  Today, Iranians complained that a shipment of arms and ammunition from Saudi Arabia was on its way through Jordan, to be smuggled to the rebels in Syria. Two days ago Syrian security forces confiscated weapons being smuggled across the Lebanese border. (News source: Arab Monitor)

Mar 18  Yesterday and today, two car-bomb attacks are apparently aimed against Assad's intelligence services and security forces, which play a role in hunting down dissidents and deserters – one blast in Damascus the other in Aleppo. Dozens have been killed.

Mar 19  In Cuba, authorities arrest members of the protest group Ladies in White while they are on their weekly protest walk demanding the release of political prisoners – a week before a visit by the pope. The government claims that the US is paying the protesters to undermine Cuba's revolution.

Mar 20  Cuba releases the Ladies in White arrested yesterday.

Mar 20  The Australian Senate yesterday increased taxes 30% on iron ore and coal mining companies. Demand from China and India has created a "resource boom" in the country. The increase in taxes is to be accompanied by tax relief for companies not benefitting from the boom.

Mar 20  Saudi Arabia announces it will help global economic recovery by working with others to ensure oil supplies at levels that will reduce oil prices to reasonable levels.

Mar 21  Israel bans underweight models, hoping to reduce the cultural influence that creates eating disorders among youthful females.

Mar 21  The foreign minister of Syria's ally, Russia, says the Assad regime has "responded incorrectly" from the beginning, when protests were peaceful, and despite the "numerous promises" the regime has made it is still making a lot of mistakes. "Unfortunately," he adds, " this is why the conflict is so acute."

Mar 22  Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the UN Security Council for voicing united support for Kofi Annan's bid to end the violence in Syria. Today, amid the talk, the slaughter in Syria continues. Joshua M. Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, sounds less optimistic. He says the Assad regime believes "that time is on their side and that they're going to win this struggle." The Syrian military, he says, is pursuing a campaign of capture and hold while the opposition has been naïve in its enthusiasm. One might wonder about the ability of Assad's military to hold more than half the country.

Mar 23  Recently in the Republic of Mali, armed men returning from helping the Gaddafi regime in Libya formed an angry group with others within Mali's army. Yesterday the angry soldiers took power – a military coup. The coup is viewed as a setback for Mali's democracy, established in 1992. The African Union suspends Mali's membership. The UN Security Council exercises its power to talk and calls for the "immediate restoration of constitutional rule."

Mar 24  The European Union decides to step up its use of military force against Somali pirates to attacks on land as well as at sea. Pirate paraphernalia will be fair game. The government of Somalia controls little more that its capital, Mogadishu, and it has notified the UN secretary general of its collaboration with the European Union.

Mar 25  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gives Kofe Annan Russia's "full support" for his mission to Assad, saying it "may be the last chance for Syria to avoid a protracted and bloody civil war." Russia's foreign minister, Lavrov, adds that to support Annan's mission, nations must refrain from "interfering in Syria affairs or taking sides in the confrontation between the government and opponents." Nora Basha (Syrian American) tweets: "Yes, let's not arm the FSA but let's continue to let Russia & Iran supply Assad with an unlimited amount of weapons. Thank you world."

Mar 25  Click here for a video> of a crowd of heroic Syrians facing down tanks.(Video no longer available.) Will the media give attention to this as it did big-time the facing down of a tank in Beijing in 1989?

Mar 26  In a runoff election, the president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, accepts defeat. He has been in power twelve years, from before a new constitution established a two-term limit, and he believed those first years should not have limited him from running again. Voters thought otherwise. Senegal is being hailed as a model for democracy in Africa. Senagal has never had a military coup.

Mar 27  President Obama is caught by an open microphone telling Russia's president, Medvedev, "This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility." Republicans complain of Obama's duplicity. Sarah Palin says he plans to weaken the country if re-elected. A few who have supported Obama also find fault, not in his getting caught but in his style.

Mar 28  Debate in the USA. Columnist Harold Meyerson cites recent economic analysis claiming that during the recovery that followed the downturn of the early 1990s the "wealthiest 1 percent captured 45 percent of the nation's income growth" and that this time around "it's reached 93 percent." Some regret this, believing that consumers with more money to spend encourage businesses to produce and hire more – a faster recovery. Expressing an opposing vein of thought, someone responds to Meyerson: "So, blame the rich? Isn't it possible that the rich get richer because the poor get lazier?" (The Washington Post)

Mar 29  Arab leaders meet in Baghdad for more talk in support of Kofe Annan's UN-backed peace plan. Syria's opposition see Annan's plan as absurd. It specifies no timetable or sequence for a cease-fire and doesn't require Assad to stand down. Assad accepted a similar plan in November but didn't implement it. Assad, the opposition believes, is buying time by keeping people talking.

Mar 30  The US Fair Labor Association, asked by Apple to investigate working conditions at plants in China that produce Apple products, reports people working more than 60 hours per week and sometimes all seven days, with unpaid overtime and health and safety risks.

Mar 31  In Mali, Tuareg rebels (who are Berbers), have seized the towns of Kidal (40,000 inhabitants) and Gao (87,000). Captain Amadou Sanogo, leader of the military coup that took power in the capital, Bamako, on March 22, calls for help from neighboring states. His coup has been criticised by those neighbors.

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