More than 26,000 people gathered at the University of Arizona last night to mourn the victims of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and 20 wounded, including Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition. Hours after visiting Giffords in the hospital, President Obama told the crowd that she had opened her eyes for the first time.
President Obama: "Gabby opened her eyes. So I can tell you she knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her."
According to those present in the hospital, Giffords opened her eyes a total of five times and reached for her husband’s hand, touching his wedding ring.
It was revealed yesterday that Tucson police had stopped the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, just before the attack at the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords event. Loughner was pulled over for running a red light.
The U.S. House of Representatives reconvened for the first time since the shooting yesterday to pass a measure condemning the attack and honor the victims. House Speaker John Boehner delivered a tearful address.
House Speaker John Boehner: "Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not. This is a time for the House to lock arms in prayer for the fallen and the wounded and then resolve to carry on a dialogue of democracy. We may not yet have all the final answers, but we already have the answer that matters most: That we’re Americans, and we’ll make it through this difficult period. We will have the last word."
Former Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin meanwhile has released a controversial statement on the Arizona shooting. In a videotaped speech, Palin condemned the attack but went on to harshly criticize those who have mentioned her scathing remarks about Democrats. Congressmember Giffords was included on a controversial map issued by Palin that included crosshairs on various districts. In a tweet at the time, Palin urged supporters: "Don’t Retreat–RELOAD!" In her statement, Palin suggested that mention of her previous comments is "blood libel."
Sarah Palin: "Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible. There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical, criminal, and they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those calm days when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols?"
Victims’ families meanwhile continue to speak out about their loved ones. The step-daughters of 76-year-old Dorwan Stoddard, who died trying to shield his wife from the bullets, said their mother believes Stoddard saved her life.
Penny Nelson: "Absolutely, she did feel that way. He heard the shots and covered my mom with his own body and protected her and saved her. Yes, Mom definitely felt that way."
Angela Robinson: "I think, further of that is because as Dad lay dying, Mom didn’t know she’d been hurt. She thought that she was holding him, and her leg started hurting. And it wasn’t until they got to the hospital that she even realized that she had been shot. It was a beautiful way to say goodbye and go home."
Arizona lawmakers meanwhile have approved a measure to bar a controversial church from picketing the funerals of the attack victims. The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church has said it will protest outside Christina Taylor Green’s funeral because it believes the attack was God’s punishment for "idolatrous America." The church has previously demonstrated outside military funerals to promote their view that military deaths are God’s punishment for homosexuality in the United States.
A California man has been arrested for threatening to kill Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington. The suspect, Charles Turner Habermann of Palm Springs, is charged with threatening a federal official. Police say Habermann made two expletive-laced phone calls to McDermott’s office last month denouncing the lawmaker’s opposition to tax cuts for the rich and threatening to "blow his brains out."
The Haitian government has increased its estimate of the number of people killed in the devastating earthquake one year ago. On Wednesday, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said more than 316,000 people died, up from a previous estimate of 250,000. The revision was announced on the earthquake’s one-year anniversary. Haitian President René Préval led a ceremony at the site that once housed Haiti’s tax office before it crumbled to the ground.
Haitian President René Préval: "In each of the cities where there were grave consequences, we will build a place to remember this major, historic event that concerns everyone collectively who suffered a loss in their families. We have to construct a place or a symbol to remember and not forget what happened with the earthquake."
Haitians across Port-au-Prince and other areas took part in ceremonies dressed in white, as is custom for Haitian mourners.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, now the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, addressed recent criticism of the recovery commission, which he co-chairs.
Bill Clinton: "I don’t blame people for being mad and frustrated. If I were still living in a camp like that after a year, I would go crazy, I think. And our objective is not to have any particular person in office, but to see the people of Haiti believe in their constitution, believe in their democracy, and accept the results, whatever the are, of this process in a way that is peaceful and positive, so we can continue to do our work."
In New York City, a group of Haitians led a ceremony to honor the earthquake victims. Carline Burton, a U.S. resident of Haitian descent, criticized the international response to the earthquake.
Carline Burton: "I’m here today because, first of all, I’m Haitian, and I am so tired of the devastation in Haiti and the money of the international community not being released to support the Haitians that are still sleeping on the street, not having clean water or sanitation to use in Haiti. I am so tired and I have many family and friends and loved ones that are still living under those conditions."
Lebanon’s political discord has intensified with the collapse of its national unity government. On Wednesday, ministers with the Hezbollah-led political bloc pulled out of the Lebanese cabinet, toppling Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s ruling coalition. The resignations came after Hariri rejected Hezbollah’s calls for the convening of a meeting to address concerns over a U.N. probe into the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. There have been rumors the U.N. tribunal is preparing to indict Hezbollah members for Hariri’s death. Hezbollah has denied involvement in the assassination and denounced the U.N. probe as a tool of the United States.
In Mexico, funeral services have been held for a prominent women’s rights activist and poet brutally murdered in the border city of Ciudad Juárez earlier this month. Thirty-six-year-old Susana Chavez was an outspoken advocate for justice in the scores of unsolved killings of women in Ciudad Juárez. She was killed last week after being beaten and asphyxiated, her body found lying in a street. Mexican writer and activist Armina Arjona paid tribute to Chavez.
Armina Arjona: "It’s still the time of femicides, and the irony is that she died in a violent way, she who was always outspoken about violence in the city. She also took part in many marches. She wrote and raised her voice in favor of women, above all."
Chavez helped popularize the slogan "Not One More Death" in leading protests against hundreds of unsolved killings and rapes of Mexican women. She belonged to a group founded by relatives and friends of the dead.
In environmental news, new figures show last year tied 2005 as the warmest on record. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that figure means that the previous decade included nine of the 10 hottest years ever recorded.
A new study shows that the number of homeless individuals and homeless families has increased since the start of the economic recession. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the homeless rate for families increased at a higher rate of 4 percent compared to 3 percent for homeless individuals. Overall, 31 states and the District of Columbia saw their homeless rate increase.
There are major new developments in the case of the peace activists targeted by FBI raids last September. Lawyers for the activists in Minnesota and St. Paul have learned a government agent infiltrated their group and conducted extensive spying. Going by the name "Karen Sullivan," the agent began attending organizing meetings of the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention. Sullivan then took an active role in the group, chairing meetings, handling bookkeeping, and communicating with dozens of other organizations. Anti-War Committee activist Jess Sundin spoke to Democracy Now! on Wednesday.
Jess Sundin: "Karen came to weekly meetings. We’re all volunteers, and so we make decisions together at those meetings, and she participated in those discussions, sometimes even chairing the meetings. Karen had a key to our office, a key which she later used — or the FBI used — to raid the office on September 24th and let themselves in. And she also at times assisted with our bookkeeping and had full access to our financial records, our membership lists and everything else we’re involved in."
Sullivan even accompanied two activists when they tried to visit the Occupied Territories in 2009. But upon landing in Israel, Israeli agents were already aware of their trip and refused to grant them entry. The activists’ attorneys have also learned prosecutors are focusing on a small donation the two activists wanted to give to their host in the Occupied Territories, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees. The group is not listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and is a registered NGO with the Palestinian Authority. Sullivan left the Twin Cities last fall, shortly before the raids of September 24th.