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Over 700 Killed in 8.8-Magnitude Earthquake in Chile

In Chile the death toll from Saturday’s earthquake has topped 700 and is expected to rise. As many as two million people have been left homeless. The 8.8-magnitude quake is one of the strongest in recorded history. More than 500,000 homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. Rescue workers are searching for survivors under the rubble of collapsed buildings, but a series of strong aftershocks have hampered the rescue efforts. The quake caused widespread damage to hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure. Officials said adobe homes have been most affected and that indigenous populations are most at risk. A tsunami triggered by the earthquake caused additional damage in some southern areas of Chile. The earthquake hit less than two weeks before Chilean President Michelle Bachelet leaves office. On Sunday she announced a series of emergency measures.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet: "We are facing a massive catastrophe which has caused damages that will require an enormous effort by both the public and private sectors, one of the largest (efforts) in the history of the country. This effort will be required both for now and for a period into the future. We are facing an emergency unprecedented in the history of Chile that will require an urgent and rapid response.”

US Begins Planning for Assault on Kandahar

The Washington Post reports the recent US assault on the Afghan area of Marjah is a prelude to larger military campaigns. Senior Obama administration officials say the United States has begun initial planning for a bigger, more complex offensive in Kandahar later this year. Eleven thousand US and Afghan troops fought in Marjah, making it the largest US-NATO military operation since 2001. The city of Kandahar is ten times larger than Marjah.

Obama Signs Extension of PATRIOT Act

President Barack Obama has signed a one-year extension of several provisions in the PATRIOT Act after the Senate abandoned efforts to reform the controversial law. Privacy groups had urged the Senate to rewrite Section 215 of the bill, which allows the government to secretly access a wide range of private business records without warrants. But Senate Democrats failed to muster enough votes to rewrite the law. Another contested provision that remains in the law allows the government to secretly wiretap persons without any connection to terrorists or spies under the so-called "lone wolf" provision.

Documents Reveal Pentagon Spied on Planned Parenthood

Newly released Pentagon documents reveal the US military monitored Planned Parenthood and a white supremacist group as part of the government’s security preparations for the 2002 Olympics in Utah. The documents also reveal that military intelligence spied on the antiwar group Alaskans for Peace and Justice in 2005. Other documents disclose that the military illegally intercepted civilian cellphone conversations in April 2007 during an exercise at Fort Polk in Louisiana. The documents were obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Dodd Abandons Efforts to Create Consumer Financial Protection Agency

Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd has abandoned efforts to create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. President Obama had proposed creating the agency to protect consumers against abuses in mortgages, credit cards and other forms of lending. In its place, Dodd is expected to propose the creation of a Bureau of Financial Protection inside the Treasury Department. Dodd’s proposed bureau will have far less power and would not be allowed to enforce rules on banks with less than $10 billion in holdings or enforce rules against non-bank financial operations, such as payday lenders. Dodd’s decision is seen as a victory for Republicans and many business groups who have campaigned against forming a new agency to protect consumers.

Hundreds of Thousands Lose Unemployment Benefits Due to GOP Filibuster

Unemployment benefits ended on Sunday for hundreds of thousands of Americans after Senate Republicans prevented a vote last week to fund extended benefits for people who have exhausted the basic twenty-six weeks of coverage. The Senate vote was blocked by a filibuster from Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning. Meanwhile, in the House, the Democratic leadership is struggling to get enough votes to pass a $15 billion jobs bill. Many progressive Democrats have criticized the legislation for focusing too much on tax breaks that will do little to create jobs. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, the co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said, “That’s not a jobs bill. For us to call it that and then think we’ve accomplished something is a mistake.”

David Paterson Withdraws from New York Governor’s Race

Here in New York, Governor David Paterson withdrew from the state governor’s race on Friday after being battered by questions of impropriety for his role in a domestic abuse case involving one of his top aides.

David Paterson: "Today I’m announcing that I’m ending my campaign for governor of the state of New York. It has become increasingly clear to me in the last few days that I cannot run for office and try to manage the state’s business at the same time, and right now New York state needs a leader who can devote full time to this service."

The New York Times revealed last week that Governor Paterson spoke with a woman who had accused the governor’s top aide of assault. After speaking with the governor, the woman failed to appear in court, and her case was dismissed.

Report: Two Suspects in Dubai Killing Entered United States

The Wall Street Journal reports at least two of the twenty-six suspects sought by Dubai police for the alleged assassination of a top Hamas leader appear to have entered the US shortly after his death. One of the suspects is said to have entered the US on January 21, one day after Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s body was found in a Dubai hotel room. Dubai’s police chief has said he is 99 percent certain Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is behind the killing.

UN Approves Goldstone Report Resolution on Gaza War Crimes

The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution Friday calling for Israel and the Palestinians to conduct impartial investigations into war crimes committed during Israel’s assault on Gaza last year as documented in the Goldstone report. The United States, along with Canada, Nauru, Panama, Macedonia and Micronesia, joined Israel in voting against the resolution. US Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff reiterated the US view that the Goldstone report is "deeply flawed."

Alejandro Wolff: "We have previously noted shortcomings that include its unbalanced focus on Israel, the negative inferences it draws about Israel’s intentions and actions, its failure to deal adequately with the asymmetrical nature of the Gaza conflict, and its failure to assign appropriate responsibility to Hamas for deliberately targeting civilians, and basing itself and its operations in heavily civilian-populated urban areas."

The Palestinian Authority’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, criticized Israel and called for action.

Riyad Mansour: "Acting above the law, Israel has inflicted untold suffering and devastation on the Palestinian people it has oppressed for over four decades in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and has its course gravely undermined the applicability and credibility of international law. It is high time to end and reverse this destructive, obscene pattern of behavior by Israel, and that begins with ensuring accountability by punishing those responsible for the perpetration of war crimes against innocent civilians and ensuring justice for the many victims of those crimes."

Mohamed ElBaradei Considers Presidential Run in Egypt

In news from Egypt, former nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday he hasn’t decided whether he will run for president and challenge Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981. ElBaradei has set strict conditions for any presidential bid, including a constitutional change to make it possible for independents to run and international monitoring.

Mohamed ElBaradei: "My first priority and my basic goal is to change Egypt into a democratic system. Whether I would run or not, that is a tertiary issue, in fact. And if, as I said, I would only run if people coalesce around me and think that they want me to run as president. Whether I’ll make a good president or not, well, remains to be seen, if I run and if people should judge on performance."

Flooding in Haiti Kills 11

In Haiti, massive flooding has killed at least eleven people in Les Cayes, Haiti’s third largest city. Heavy rains washed more than sixty inches of water into Les Cayes, flooding the city’s hospital and prison. The city had not been badly affected by the earthquake.

Independent Board to Review Findings of International Climate Panel

The United Nations has announced an independent board of scientists will be appointed to review the workings of the world’s top climate science panel, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC has come under fire from skeptics of global warming after some mistakes were found in its 3,000-page report from 2007. Meanwhile, Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore has responded to global warming skeptics. In an op-ed published in the New York Times, Gore wrote, "I, for one, genuinely wish that the climate crisis were an illusion. But unfortunately, the reality of the danger we are courting has not been changed by the discovery of at least two mistakes in the thousands of pages of careful scientific work over the last 22 years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

Judge Orders Anti-Coal Protesters to Stay Away from Massey Mines

In news from West Virginia, a federal judge has granted Massey Energy a preliminary injunction aimed at blocking further protests at the company’s coal mines by opponents of mountaintop-removal coal mining. Massey sued five protesters in January in an effort to stop a yearlong series of civil-disobedience actions against the company.

Van Jones to Head Think Tank’s "Green Opportunity Initiative"

And the Center for American Progress has announced former White House green jobs czar Van Jones will head the think tank’s new "Green Opportunity Initiative." Jones resigned from his White House job five months ago after becoming the target of what he described as a “vicious smear campaign." On Friday, Jones made one of his first public appearances since his resignation. He spoke at the NAACP Image Awards.

Van Jones: "And I know one thing. We have people in every community in America, right now, watching this program, who don’t have jobs, who are suffering, who are afraid, living in economic uncertainty. And I know there’s a future out there for them, where they get a chance to make the products of tomorrow. If we want the jobs of tomorrow, we must make the products of tomorrow. There’s somebody right now who’s in Detroit, and they know how to make cars. There are skilled machinists, but they’re idle. Let them make the wind turbines and the smart batteries and the solar panels to re-empower this country. Let them work. Give them hope. Give them the opportunity."

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