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The 22-year-old man accused of trying to assassinate Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is scheduled to be arraigned today on a number of charges including attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Giffords remains in critical condition after being shot in the head at point-blank range on Saturday while she was meeting with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. Police say Jared Lee Loughner shot Giffords and then fired at the crowd, killing six and injuring 13 others. The dead included John Roll, the chief federal judge for Arizona; Gabriel Zimmerman, an aide to the congresswoman; and nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, a third-grader who was recently elected to the student council at her elementary school. President Obama has called for a moment of silence today at 11:00 a.m. EST for the victims of Saturday’s shooting. The House of Representatives’ entire legislative agenda has been postponed for the week. Two days before the shooting, Congresswoman Giffords took to the House floor and read the First Amendment.
Rep. Giffords: "First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
The FBI has revealed it has discovered evidence that the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was a premeditated assassination. During a search of the home of Jared Lee Loughner’s parents, the FBI found an envelope on which he wrote the phrases: "I planned ahead," "My assassination" and "Giffords."
On Sunday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested Jared Lee Loughner may have been influenced by right-wing political rhetoric.
Sheriff Clarence Dupnik: "When the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates, and to try to inflame the public on a daily business, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with."
Some postal workers in Washington, D.C. were evacuated on Friday after an incendiary device ignited inside a package addressed to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. The Baltimore Sun reported the package was similar in design and shape to packages received Thursday in Maryland, addressed to the state’s Democratic governor Martin O’Malley and the state’s transportation secretary. In Maryland, the incendiary devices flared up and singed the fingers of Maryland employees handling mail at state government buildings.
The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed the internet company Twitter for personal information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and four other people tied to WikiLeaks, including Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament. The subpoena asks Twitter for all records and correspondence relating to their accounts, including apparently private direct messages sent through Twitter. The subpoena was issued on December 14. Twitter was under a gag order until last week. It is unclear if Facebook or any other internet company received similar subpoenas. The government of Iceland has summoned the U.S. ambassador to discuss the subpoena. Icelandic Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson said, "[It is] very serious that a foreign state, the United States, demands such personal information of an Icelandic person, an elected official."
In Mississippi, two African American sisters were freed Friday from life sentences in jail for an $11 armed robbery. The sisters, Gladys and Jamie Scott, had spent 16 years in prison. The NAACP and other civil rights groups had campaigned for years for their freedom. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour suspended their sentences on condition that Gladys donate a kidney to her sister, who is on dialysis.
Gladys Scott: "You know, I’m praying to God that I am a match, because I don’t want her to have nobody else’s kidney. I want her to have mine. Whether I was, you know, released because I had to give her a kidney, I was going to give it to her anyway if I had to give it to her in prison. Didn’t nobody had to release me, because if they would have let me give it to her when her kidney first failed, I would have gave it to her without a shadow of a doubt. I love my sister."
Jamie Scott, 36, reflected on Friday about how much the world has changed since they were sent to prison in 1994.
Jamie Scott: "Last night, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I see pictures of stuff in magazines, different things, as the world is changing and everything — cell phones, up-to-date cell phones and all these things. And today, I’ve done used mostly everybody’s cell phone that’s with me. I just wanted to touch them, and I’ve been playing with them and everything. And it’s so amazing, you know, how the world has changed since 1994. And up to today, it is so amazing, and I’m still trying to soak it all in."
In economic news, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the nation’s official unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent in December. It is the lowest rate since May 2009. But the Center for Economic Policy and Research points out that the drop is largely due to a decrease in number of people seeking to be employed. According to the Center, 260,000 adults dropped out of the labor force in December and are no longer counted as unemployed by the government. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke admitted last week that it could take four to five more years for the job market to normalize fully.
Wells Fargo and U.S. Bancorp have lost a major court case in Massachusetts that could have profound effects on how foreclosure cases proceed nationwide. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts voided the seizure of two homes by the banks because the banks had “failed to make the required showing that they were the holders of the mortgages at the time of foreclosure.” Associate Justice Robert Cordy declared that the banks demonstrated “utter carelessness” in documenting their rights to the properties. The short-term effects of the decision are that Mark and Tammy LaRace will be able to stay in their home, despite the fact that it was foreclosed upon in 2007, and Antonio Ibanez will have the title of his home returned to him. If the bank will not allow him to retake possession of the home, then it will have to pay him for his deed. The decision was applied retroactively, meaning thousands of homeowners could seek recovery for homes that were wrongfully foreclosed upon. Analysts worry, however, about the economic costs of the decision, suggesting that it could make selling homes more difficult.
In Algeria, three people are dead, hundreds more have been injured, and close to 1,000 have been arrested in protests that have engulfed the nation. The protests were triggered by a sudden hike in food prices. Staple items such as flour, sugar and cooking oil increased in price by an average of 30 percent in recent days. The protesters, predominantly young Algerians, have also complained of housing shortages, failed economic policies, corruption and a growing inequality gap. Attempting to quell the violence, the Algerian government has declared that it will cut food prices by 14 percent and it will increase the amount of soft wheat it supplies to local markets. The rise in food prices in Algeria is consistent with the rise in food prices globally, which are currently at an all-time high. In an effort to forestall similar protests, the Indonesian government has eliminated tariffs on imports of wheat, soy beans and cattle feed.
In Tunisia, at least 23 people have died as protests over the economy have spread across the country. Opposition groups accused the Tunisian army of firing into crowds of demonstrators.
At least 23 people have died in clashes near Sudan’s north-south border. The violence comes one day after polls opened in Southern Sudan for a week-long referendum on Southern independence. Southerners are expected to vote to split from the mostly Muslim north. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been monitoring the elections in Sudan.
Kofi Annan: “They have seen enough wars, and they are tired, and we should have positive expectation and encourage them. War and conflict is not the only option. There is enough in history to tell us that enmity between peoples need not last forever, and bitter enemies have made peace and today, in many parts of the world, live peacefully together. And it can and should happen here also in Sudan.”
In other news from Iran, the prominent Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 11 years in jail and banned for 20 years from working as an attorney and leaving the country. Her conviction follows the arrests and sentencing of several other high-profile lawyers, several of whom also had worked for or with Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.
The Basque separatist group ETA has reportedly declared a permanent ceasefire, ending a decades-long armed struggle.
It’s been another bloody weekend in Mexico. At least 51 people were killed in drug-related violence. In the resort city of Acapulco, 15 decapitated bodies were found. It marked the single largest group of decapitation victims ever found in Mexico.
A former CIA operative who is accused of killing 73 people in a 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner is going on trial today in Texas. But instead of terrorism charges, Luis Posada Carriles is facing charges of perjury. The 82-year-old Cuban exile is accused of lying to an immigration judge about how he entered the United States and his role in a series of bombings in Havana in 1997. He has also been charged with several charges of immigration fraud and obstruction of a proceeding.
In Egypt, millions of Coptic Christians celebrated Christmas on Friday as the community continues to reel from the New Year’s Day church bombing that killed 21 people and injured dozens more. In a sign of solidarity, thousands of Muslims gathered on Thursday night to protect Egyptian Copts as they celebrated Christmas Eve. Acting as human shields, the Muslims surrounded churches in an attempt to prevent any more attacks. The Muslims organized under the slogan: “We either live together, or we die together."