At the United Nations, Russia is refusing to back a U.S.-supported Security Council resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to a deputy. According to the Associated Press, the draft resolution insists there will be no use of foreign forces in the country. Russia has accused Western and Arab nations of putting Syria on the "path to civil war." Russia and China have also accused the United States and other Western nations of misusing a U.N. mandate to depose Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi. At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed the crisis in Syria.
Jay Carney: "It’s important to look at where this process is headed. Assad’s fall is inevitable. And so, as governments make decisions about where they stand on this issue and what further steps need to be taken with regards to the brutality of the Assad regime, it’s important to calculate into your considerations the fact that he will go. The regime has lost control of the country and will eventually fall."
Meanwhile, this week is shaping up to be one of the most violent since the Assad regime began cracking down on anti-government protesters 10 months ago. Activists said that 53 people were killed Monday, including 35 civilians.
Voting has begun in the closely watched Florida Republican primary. Polls suggest former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will easily win today’s vote, securing the state’s 50 delegates in the winner-take-all primary. On Monday, Romney continued to attack his chief rival, Newt Gingrich.
Mitt Romney: "I think the real reason he hasn’t done so well connecting with the people of Florida is that people actually saw him in those debates and listened to his background and his experience, and they learned, for instance, that he was paid $1.6 million to be a lobbyist for Freddie Mac. And they said, ’That’s not what we want in the White House.’ I—what was that back there? 'Send him to the moon,' he says. Well, the idea of the moon as the 51st state is not what would have come to my mind as a campaign basis for here in Florida."
Some analysts have linked Mitt Romney’s surging popularity in Florida to the influx of pro-Romney TV spots airing in the state. According to Politico, Romney and pro-Romney super PACs have paid for almost 13,000 television ads, as of last week. Newt Gingrich and pro-Gingrich super PACs have only aired about 200 spots. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul did not air any ads in the expensive Florida TV markets. This comes as a new study by the Wesleyan Media Project has found that outside group spending on political ads is up 1,600 percent in the Republican primary compared to four years ago. Nearly half of the ads on the airwaves this cycle were paid for by super PACs, which can receive unlimited donations.
On the campaign trail Monday, Newt Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of airing misleading TV ads.
Newt Gingrich: "I’m very excited. I could feel it, over the last three days, that it’s beginning to close again. Just as we had in South Carolina, there was this huge wave of dishonest Romney ads. For a little bit, people backed up and went, 'Wow, boy, if that' — I mean, frankly, if that all stuff was true, I wouldn’t vote for myself."
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich accused Romney on Monday of disregarding the religious rights of Americans.
Newt Gingrich: "Now, I think we need to have a government that respects our religions. I’m a little bit tired of being lectured about respecting every other religion on the planet. I’d like them to respect our religion."
President Obama defended his administration’s unprecedented use of armed drones on Monday during a "virtual interview" that was conducted via Google+ and YouTube. He also acknowledged the United States was carrying out drone strikes inside Pakistan. Obama made the comment after he was asked how he feels about the large number of civilians killed by drones since he took office.
President Obama: "I want to make sure the people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part, they have been very precise precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied. So I think that there’s this perception somehow that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly. This is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases and so on. It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash."
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in August that U.S. drones strikes had killed between about 400 and 800 civilians, including 175 children. The Bureau put the total number of people killed by drones as high as 3,000.
U.S. drones are suspected of carrying out a series of strikes in Yemen, killing 13 people. One tribal leader told Reuters at least four of the dead were local al-Qaeda leaders.
Several members of Congress are opposing a decision by the Obama administration to sell Bahrain some military equipment despite the country’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The opposition is being led by two Democrats: Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they write: "In the case of Bahrain, any military equipment is a big reward and will be viewed as such by other governments and the people of Bahrain. The incentives are simply wrong." On Monday, police in Bahrain fired tear gas at mourners attending the funeral of a teenager who died last week in police custody.
A Haitian judge announced Monday former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier will face trial for corruption, but will not face any charges for the murders, disappearances, torture and other rights abuses committed during his 15-year rule. The judge said the statute of limitations had run out, a claim disputed by several human rights attorneys. Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch said, "Those who were tortured under Duvalier, those whose loved ones were killed or simply disappeared, deserve better than this." Duvalier took power in Haiti in 1971 following the death of his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. He ruled until 1986.
Protesters at Occupy D.C. have vowed to remain in two parks near the White House, despite an eviction order to stop camping on federal land. The National Park Service set a noon deadline on Monday, but protesters refused to leave.
Michael Acosto: "I am not breaking the law. I am practicing my First Amendment right. And for someone to come and take the things that I need to survive, I think that is wrong. And, you know, badge or not, that is breaking the law, and I will not allow someone to confiscate my things."
Several Occupy D.C. protesters warned that some residents of the encampment had nowhere else to go.
"Captain," Occupy D.C. protester from Vermont: "I would like to see us be able to stay here and continue camping, and Park Police to get scared enough not to come in and try to enforce it. That would be great, because I know, for a lot of people, this is the only place that they can go. There aren’t shelters where they can go. They don’t have homes, warm places to live, so... And this has become such a huge family that it’s—no one wants to leave. It’s a great community."
Belgian workers staged the country’s first general strike in almost two decades Monday to protest a European Union meeting in Brussels. The strike shut down Belgium’s trains, buses, schools and the factories of many major companies including Audi, Volvo and Coca-Cola.
Marc Leemans, president of Belgium’s Christian Trade Union: "They impose a politics of austerity, and this is not creating a good perspective for Europe, because this is spreading, in fact, poverty in Europe. What we need is a policy that creates growth, that creates jobs. And if we don’t have that policy, then we will always have a very difficult situation, and we will get poorer and poorer. And that’s not the Europe we want."
At the European Union meeting in Brussels, 25 out of 27 E.U. states agreed to a German-inspired pact for stricter budget discipline and enshrining balanced budget rules in national law. Only Britain and the Czech Republic refused to sign the deal.
More protests are expected today in the African nation of Senegal following President Abdoulaye Wade’s decision to run for a third term. The country’s constitution limits the presidency to two terms, but a constitutional council has cleared the way for Wade to run. At least two people—one a 17-year-old, the other a 60-year-old—were shot dead by security forces during a rally on Monday. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland has urged the 85-year-old president to cede power to the next generation. Meanwhile, musician Youssou N’Dour, whose own bid for candidacy was rejected, has accused the president of carrying out a "constitutional coup d’état."
Youssou N’Dour: "History is being made today here in Senegal. We are not going to accept anything else but our constitution, which is very clear. He (Wade) doesn’t have the right to run once more. It’s my final word on this. It’s clear, and we are ready."
In environmental news, the oil giant Chevron is facing a possible $11 billion lawsuit in Brazil following an offshore oil spill in November. A Brazilian prosecutor has announced plans to file criminal charges against Chevron and some of its local managers within weeks. Transocean, whose rig was used in the operation, is also expected to be charged.
Senate Republicans have announced plans to introduce legislation allowing Congress to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite President Obama’s rejection of the controversial project. An analysis by the Public Campaign Action Fund and 350.org found that the bill’s 44 co-sponsors have received a combined $22.3 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry since 1989. One Democrat has joined the Republican effort: Joe Manchin of West Virginia. TransCanada, the company behind the $7 billion pipeline, spent $1.33 million on lobbying last year.
A drought in Mexico has left two million people without water and crippled nearly half of the country’s agricultural lands. The government has authorized over $2.6 billion in aid, but some of the rural areas hardest hit are difficult to reach. One official said nearly 7 percent of the country’s croplands have been completely lost, and the conditions have been worsened by a cold spell.
In Texas, tanker trucks laden with water arrived in the town of Spicewood, Texas, Monday after the town nearly ran out of water during a historic drought. An official said it may be necessary to truck water into the town at a cost of $200 per truckload for the the next several weeks or even months. Nearly the entire state of Texas has been suffering from drought conditions for more than a year.
A police chief in East Haven, Connecticut, has announced he plans to retire following the arrest last week of four officers in his department on charges of racial profiling and harassing Latinos. While Police Chief Len Gallo has not been charged in the federal investigation into civil rights violations, he was reportedly cited in the indictment as a "co-conspirator." His resignation takes effect on Friday. A Latino group has also called upon East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo, Jr. to resign after he said last week that he would eat tacos in order to ease relations between Latinos and police.
The Transgender Law Center has criticized a Republican state lawmaker from Tennessee for threatening violence toward transgender people. Tennessee State Rep. Richard Floyd recently described what he would do if a transgender person entered a dressing room while his wife or daughters were trying on clothes. Floyd said, "I don’t care if he thinks he’s a woman and tries on clothes with them in there — I’d just try to stomp a mudhole in him and then stomp him dry." Masen Davis of the Transgender Law Center said, “Representative Floyd’s threats send the message that it is okay to attack innocent people based on their gender identity and expression."