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President Obama is heading to Tucson, Arizona, today to attend a memorial service for the victims of Saturday’s shooting attack that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded, six dead and 13 others wounded. On Monday, the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, appeared in a Phoenix court for his arraignment. Police officials also released a mugshot of Loughner that shows the 22-year-old man smiling into the camera.
A moment of silence was observed Monday across the country as well aboard the International Space Station. The commander of the space station is Scott Kelly, Giffords’ brother-in-law. He sent this message from space.
Commander Scott Kelly: "As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not. These days we’re constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words."
It was revealed yesterday that less than 24 hours before she was shot, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wrote a letter to a prominent Kentucky Republican expressing a desire to find ways to tone down rhetoric and partisanship.
The Tucson shooting has renewed a national debate about gun control. Democrats Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey said they plan to introduce legislation targeting the high-capacity ammunition clip used by accused shooter Jared Lee Loughner in the attack. McCarthy ran for Congress after her husband was gunned down and her son seriously injured in a shooting in 1993 on a Long Island commuter train.
In other news, a Colorado man appeared in court Monday on charges of threatening the staff of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado. According to the arrest affidavit, John Troy Davis called Bennet’s office last week and threatened to set fire to the perimeter of the office and to shoot all of the Senator’s staff. The 44-year-old Davis was reportedly complaining about his Social Security benefits.
Former U.S. House of Representatives majority leader Tom DeLay has been sentenced to three years in prison for illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to Republican legislative candidates in Texas. After the sentencing, DeLay was released, pending an appeal. In addition, DeLay will be forced to serve 10 years of community service for a separate felony conviction of money laundering.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said today North Korea is becoming a "direct threat" to the United States and could develop an inter-continental ballistic missile that could hit Alaska or the West Coast within five years. Gates made the comment during a visit to Beijing. The New York Times described Gates’ remarks as a significant shift for the Obama administration, which until now has viewed Pyongyang as a proliferation threat. The Times reports the assessment may fuel a movement to expand a military base at Fort Greely, Alaska, armed with interceptor missiles designed to stop a North Korean missile before it hits the United States.
On a surprise trip to Afghanistan, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said today that the United States may keep troops in Afghanistan after 2014 if requested by the Afghan government. "We’re not leaving if you don’t want us to leave," Biden said. Up until now, the Obama administration has been publicly saying that the United States will transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces in 2014.
The outgoing head of the Israeli spy agency Mossad is facing criticism after he admitted Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program does not pose an imminent threat to Israel. On his last day as the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan said last week that he does not believe Iran will have nuclear weapons capability before 2015 following a series of failures that have set Iran’s nuclear program back by several years. Dagan’s comments have received little attention in the United States, but caused a stir in Israel. Sever Plocker, senior editor of the Israeli paper Yediot, has described Dagan’s assertion as “one of the most historically important statements to have been made in the past 10 years in the State of Israel.” A post on Fox News accused Dagan of sabotaging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to build a firm international coalition against Iran.
Israel is coming under international criticism for bulldozing the Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem to make way for 20 new homes for Jewish families. The hotel was built in the 1930s for Muslim Grand Mufti Haj Amin Husseini. In 2009, Israel’s city hall approved plans to replace the hotel with apartments despite the United States raising concerns with Israel’s ambassador in the United States. At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying that Jews have a right to live anywhere in Jerusalem. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton condemned the project, saying it would undermine peace efforts to achieve the two-state solution. U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky also criticized Israel’s move.
Martin Nesirky: "The Secretary-General deplores yesterday’s destruction of the Shepherd’s Hotel in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for new settlement units in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, which only serves to heighten tensions. It is deeply regrettable that growing international concern at unilateral expansion of illegal Israeli settlements is not being heeded. Such actions seriously prejudice the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Secretary-General once again calls on the government of Israel to take whatever steps are necessary to freeze settlement activity anywhere in occupied territory."
In Tunisia, at least 35 people have died in recent days as a result of clashes with police during protests. The International Federation for Human Rights says the death toll may be as high as 50. On Monday, the Tunisian Education Ministry closed the country’s schools and universities indefinitely. Youth unemployment has been a motivating factor in the protests, as well as government censorship. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has described the protests as “terrorist acts,” has promised to create 300,000 jobs. Critics of Ben Ali remain skeptical, however, suggesting that the president is making empty promises.
In Australia, at least 10 people have died and 78 people remain missing after unprecedented flash floods tore through southern Queensland. The dead include a four-year-old boy who drowned after falling out of a rescue boat.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard: "The nation does need to brace itself for the fact that the death toll, as a result of yesterday’s flash flooding and walls of water, is likely to rise."
The floods are now threatening Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city.
In news from Peru, the American activist Lori Berenson was back in court yesterday requesting that she be allowed to remain free on parole. Last year, she was released after serving nearly 15 years of her 20-year sentence. Berenson told the court she wished to devote her life to her 20-month-old son, Salvador.
Lori Berenson: "I don’t believe I am a danger to society. I recognize my responsibility for the crime I committed, and I am sorry for it. Now that I am living in society, I am completely dedicating my time to my son. I am responsible for him. It is my right and duty. It is a beautiful right, and I hope I won’t lose it."
If Berenson’s request is denied, it could mean separation from her son, as children are not allowed to stay with their mothers in prison past the age of three in Peru. Berenson was convicted in 1996 by hooded Peruvian military judges of collaborating with the rebel group MRTA.
The Guardian newspaper has revealed new details about how a British police officer spent seven years infiltrating the highest levels of the environmental protest movement in Britain and around Europe. The officer, Mark Kennedy, reportedly “took part in almost every major environmental protest in the U.K. from 2003,” and his involvement ran so deep that he is now being accused of crossing the line from undercover cop to agent provocateur. In 2009, Kennedy’s cover was blown when activists found his passport. Kennedy is now offering to help activists he once spied on, including activists who were charged with conspiring to shut down a coal-fired power station in 2009. Once Kennedy began assisting their defense team, prosecutors dropped the charges.
In business news, Duke Energy has acquired Progress Energy in a nearly $14 billion deal, creating the nation’s largest utility company. The joint company will also become the third largest provider of nuclear power in the country. Analysts say the merger may help Duke expand its nuclear capacity in an attempt to build new reactors. Jim Warren of the North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network said, "Duke’s purchase of Progress is being seen largely as an effort to power up financially to build nuclear plants."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a London court today as his lawyers attempt to fight his extradition to Sweden for questioning about alleged sex crimes. A full two-day extradition hearing has been set for February 7.
Anti-torture activists are planning to march from the White House to the U.S. Department of Justice this morning to protest the ninth anniversary of the opening of the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The protest organizers, Witness Against Torture, say the march will be led by 173 people wearing hoods and jumpsuits to represent the 173 men still detained at Guantánamo.