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News Wrap: Pro-Assad Rally Marks Anniversary of Syria’s Uprising

March 15, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Large crowds rallied in the capital of Syria today. This time, it was a show of support for the government, on the first anniversary of the uprising.

We have a report narrated by Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: In Damascus today, thousands of people were waving the Syrian flag. One year on, and thanks to a mix of loyalty, fear and violence, President Assad has survived, while the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have not.

Moscow and Beijing have blocked U.N. action against Syria’s leader. But in a sign of a leak from within the president’s inner circle, The Guardian has published emails it claims are from the in-boxes of President Assad and his wife, Asma.

The president uses the pseudonym Sam. His wife is known as A.K. And they paint a picture of lives lived in a bubble, rarely punctured by reality. At the end of December, while tanks were on the streets of Homs, the president sent an adviser this YouTube video of a toy car with a gun shooting at a pile of biscuits. The video is a joke at the expense of Arab League monitors visiting Homs that week who failed to stop the violence.

Two days after the bombardment of Homs intensified last month, Assad sent his wife an iTunes file of a country and western song called “God Gave Me You.”

Yet Syria’s economy is crippled by isolation and by an insurgency so widespread, it can’t be easily stamped out. In the north, the regime has won back some ground, but not these protesters, still filming themselves today and using social media to spread the word. The U.N. reckons over 8,000 have died this past year.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Amid the ongoing violence, officials in Turkey reported more than 1,000 Syrians crossed the border seeking refuge in just the last 24 hours.

Wall Street rallied again on the latest encouraging news about the economy. First-time jobless claims fell back to a four-year low and inflation at the wholesale level remained under control. In response, the Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 58 points to close at 13,252. The Nasdaq rose more than 15 points to close at 3,056.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed above 1,400 for the first time since June of 2008.

The U.S. Agriculture Department will let schools opt out of using a ground beef filler dubbed pink slime by its critics. The move was announced today. The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat. It is heated to remove most of the fat, and exposed to an ammonia gas treatment to kill bacteria. The filler has been widely used for years. But a growing social media campaign has demanded it be taken out of school lunches.

The fight over gas prices and energy policy heated up today in the presidential campaign. In Largo, M.D., President Obama ridiculed, but didn’t name the Republicans vying for his job. He said they have dismissed alternative energy sources and refused to face reality.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’ve heard this kind of thinking before. Let me tell you something. If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail. . .

(LAUGHTER)

BARACK OBAMA: They must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society. They would not have believed that the world was round.

(LAUGHTER)

HARI SREENIVASAN: Hours later, Republican Newt Gingrich rejected the criticism. Gingrich said again the president is far too optimistic about the potential of alternative energy to replace fossil fuels any time soon.

He spoke in Carpentersville, Ill.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): I don’t ridicule biofuels. I support biofuels. First of all, I have supported ethanol, for example, which is a biofuel. I have supported cellulosic, which is a biofuel. I have friends at Texas A&M who are working on algae. The idea that algae is a solution this summer is a fantasy. And he knows it’s a fantasy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, the price of gas rose again today. The American Automobile Association, AAA, said it topped $3.80 a gallon. That’s 51 cents higher than a month ago.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich headed to federal prison today to begin a 14-year term for corruption. He left his home in Chicago early this morning surrounded by a throng of media. By day’s end, he had reported to a minimum-security facility in Englewood, Colo., outside Denver. Blagojevich was convicted on charges that, as governor, he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.