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Rep. Giffords to be Transferred to Houston Facility

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is being transferred to a Houston rehabilitation facility today, less than two weeks after she was critically wounded in the Tucson shooting rampage. On Thursday, the chief of neurology at University Medical Center, Dr. Michael Lemole, discussed Giffords’ progress.

Dr. Michael Lemole: "Well, we can tell very simple things. I think you’ve already heard reports she’ll scroll through her iPad and look at pictures. She’ll pick out different stuffed animals. She’ll interact with Mark in ways that were personal and intimate, even preceding this. So I think that’s the best way we can tell. There is no quantifiable way we can say that she’s registered the message as to what’s happened to her, but we do think that a lot of that is getting through."

Medical staffers also report Giffords was brought outside to a hospital deck for a moment of fresh air. Ahead of the transfer to Houston, Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, called his wife "a fighter."

Mark Kelly: "So, I’m extremely hopeful that Gabby is going to make a full recovery. I’ve told her that. She recognizes it. She’s a strong person, a fighter. I mean, she is a fighter like, you know, nobody else that I know, so I am extremely confident that she’s going to be back here and back at work soon. I’ve been telling the hospital staff that they should expect to see her walking through these halls and into the ICU within a couple months. I’m sure of that. So she’ll be back."

Republican Lawmakers Call for Deeper Spending Cuts

A prominent Republican congressional group is urging party leaders to impose far greater non-military spending cuts than already proposed. On Thursday, the far-right Republican Study Committee called for an immediate cut of $100 billion from non-military programs. According to the Washington Post, meeting the demand would entail reducing funding for most federal agencies by one-third over the next seven months. The Study Committee also says the government should make even deeper non-military cuts of $2.5 trillion over the next decade. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that would mean cutting funding for most government agencies by 40 percent. With 165 members, the Study Committee represents over two-thirds of House Republicans.

Poll: Majority Support Cutting Military Spending over Medicare, Social Security

The House spending cut proposal comes as a new poll shows a large majority of Americans favor cutting the military budget over cutting Medicare or Social Security. The New York Times-CBS News survey also found that nearly two-thirds of Americans would prefer higher payroll taxes instead of reduced benefits in either of the two programs.

Obama Taps GE CEO for Economic Panel

President Obama has tapped another top corporate figure for a key White House role. On Thursday, Obama said he is naming General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to head the newly formed President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The council will replace the former Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which had been chaired by Paul Volcker, the former chair of the Federal Reserve. Volcker will step down when his panel’s mandate expires next month. Immelt’s appointment has drawn scrutiny in part because he opposed Obama’s presidential candidacy. During the 2008 elections, Immelt donated to Hillary Clinton as well as Republicans John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. His appointment follows the recent hiring of former commerce secretary and JPMorgan Chase executive William Daley as White House chief of staff.

Chinese President Hu Meets Senators in D.C.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has wrapped up a state visit to the United States. On Thursday, Hu delivered an address in Washington in which he renounced "hegemony" and "expansionism."

Chinese President Hu Jintao: "We will remain committed to the path of peaceful development, continue to strive for a peaceful international environment to develop ourselves and uphold and promote world peace through our own development. China stands for peaceful settlements of disputes and hot spot issues and follows a national defense policy that is defensive in nature. We do not engage in an arms race or pose a military threat to any country. China will never seek hegemony or pursue an expansionist policy."

Hu also held a Capitol Hill meeting with Senate leaders from both parties, including Majority Leader Harry Reid. The visit came two days after Reid gave a television interview in which he called Hu a "dictator," a remark he quickly retracted.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "I’m going back to Washington tomorrow and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator; he can do a lot of things. He, through the form of government they have — maybe I shouldn’t have said 'dictator,' but they have a different type of government than we have, and that’s an understatement."

52 Killed in Iraq Suicide Bombings

A third consecutive day of suicide bombings has seen the killings of dozens of people in Iraq. On Thursday, at least 52 people were killed and more than 150 wounded in car bombings targeting Shiite pilgrims. Meanwhile, three people were killed and at least 27 were wounded when a suicide car bomb exploded in Baquba.

Tunisia Mourns Slain Protesters; New Gov’t Approves Amnesty Law

Tunisia has begun a three-day period of mourning to honor the dozens killed in the month-long uprising that overthrew longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. An estimated 100 people were killed in the government crackdown on Tunisian protesters. Tunisia’s transitional cabinet meanwhile has lifted a ban on all blacklisted political parties and issued a general amnesty for political prisoners. The Tunisian government says some 1,800 prisoners have been freed this week. Despite successfully forcing Ben Ali into exile, Tunisian protesters have continued to rally after several members of his government were included in the new cabinet.

Self-Immolations Continue in Egypt

The protests that led to Ben Ali’s overthrow gained momentum last month after unemployed university graduate Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire. He died earlier this month. Copycat self-immolations have followed in at least four other North African states. In Egypt, 52-year-old lawyer Mohamed Farouk Hassan became the latest Egyptian protester to set himself on fire following two others. A large crowd gathered in support of Hassan outside the hospital.

Protester: "Everyone that holds a high-ranking position does nothing. They do not feel for all the starving, homeless people. These people are homeless, living in the streets. People can’t find food. People can’t find the resources they need. These people are sitting on their chairs doing nothing. Those parliamentary members feel for nobody."

Admin Confirms Opposition to Aristide Return

The Obama administration has publicly confirmed it is continuing the Bush-era policy of opposing the return of Haiti’s ousted former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Overthrown in a 2004 U.S.-backed coup, Aristide has renewed his pleas to return to Haiti following the recent re-emergence of exiled dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. In a statement issued through Twitter, U.S. Department of State spokesperson P.J. Crowley said, "We do not doubt President Aristide’s desire to help the people of Haiti. But today, Haiti needs to focus on its future, not its past." The Haitian government has refused to issue Aristide a new passport, reportedly under U.S.-led pressure.

Duvalier Faces Rumors of Financial Motive in Return

Just after his return this week, Jean-Claude Duvalier was indicted on corruption charges stemming from his embezzlement of millions in state funds before a popular uprising forced him to flee Haiti in 1986. Alleged victims of human rights abuses under his regime have also filed criminal complaints. Duvalier says he returned to assist Haiti’s rebuilding effort, but critics say he’s making a last-ditch attempt to recoup some $6 million frozen in a Swiss bank account. A Swiss law passed in response to Duvalier’s longtime effort to obtain the money goes into effect on February 1. Before the new rules kick in, Duvalier would be able to receive the money if he could prove he is not under criminal investigation in his home country. His return is seen as a gamble that he would have been able to enter Haiti and then depart without being charged, which he would then cite as proof to the Swiss he’s not under legal scrutiny.

U.S. Resumes Deportations to Haiti

The U.S. government has resumed deportations to Haiti for the first time since the devastating earthquake one year ago. On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said 27 Haitian nationals with criminal records in the United States have been deported to Haiti. Human rights groups have criticized the move amidst a cholera outbreak, election-related violence and the ongoing devastation from the earthquake. Earlier this month, a group of U.S.-based human rights groups and legal organizations filed an emergency petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to halt the roundups, detention and deportations of Haitian nationals by the U.S. government.

Report: Blackwater Founder Behind Apartheid-Linked Firm’s Somalia Bid

The founder of the private military firm Blackwater is reportedly backing another company’s bid to involve itself in Somalia’s civil war. An African Union report cited by the New York Times says Erik Prince provided the initial funding for South Africa-based Saracen International’s effort to win contracts from the Somali government. The contract would reportedly involve training Somali soldiers and militias, and combating alleged militants and pirates off the African coast. Saracen International is run by a former officer in South Africa’s Civil Cooperation Bureau, an apartheid-era force known for killing government opponents. The African Union report also describes Prince as being "at the top of [Saracen’s] management chain." The Somali government has yet to announce its decision on the company’s bid.

Probe: Mine Disaster Preventable, Massey Violated Key Regulations

A federal investigation has found last year’s West Virginia coal mine disaster was preventable and followed negligence by the mine’s owner, Massey Energy. In a preliminary report [Download pdf], the Mine Safety and Health Administration says Massey repeatedly violated federal rules on ventilation and minimizing coal dust to reduce the risk of explosion. Investigators say a small flare-up of methane gas sparked a massive coal dust blast. Their report says there is no evidence to support Massey’s claim that a burst of gas from a hole in the mine floor overwhelmed safety mechanisms. Twenty-nine workers were killed in the explosion.

FBI Arrests Dozens for Alleged Ties to Organized Crime

Dozens of organized crime suspects have been arrested in a series of raids in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the operation one of the largest ever to target alleged mafia members in the United States.

Attorney General Eric Holder: "Today more than 800 federal, state and local law enforcement officials have arrested over 110 individuals, including dozens of La Cosa Nostra individuals and associates, one in Italy. In total, 127 people have been charged in 16 indictments unsealed today in four districts in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. This is one of the largest single-day operations against the mafia in the FBI’s history, both in terms of the number of defendants arrested and charged and the scope of the criminal activity that is alleged."

Criticizing Abortion Stance, Santorum Cites Obama’s Ethnicity

Former Republican senator and rumored 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is drawing controversy for comments about President Obama’s stance on abortion. Speaking to the right-wing news site CNS News, Santorum appeared to suggest it is hypocritical for Obama to support abortion because he is African American.

Rick Santorum: "The question is — and this is what Barack Obama didn’t want to answer — is that: is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well, if that person, human life, is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'Now, we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.'"

U.S. Cancels "Virtual Fence" with Mexico

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has canceled the "virtual fence" project along the U.S. border with Mexico. The military contractor Boeing was hired to build the network of cameras, radars and fences in 2005. The project has cost more than $1 billion. U.S. officials say it was canceled because it proved to be ineffective and too costly.

Verizon Sues to Block FCC Net Neutrality Regulations

And the telecom giant Verizon is challenging the Federal Communications Commission’s recently adopted regulations for internet access and net neutrality. The rules include a provision barring internet service providers from slowing competitors’ services or websites. On Thursday, Verizon filed a federal lawsuit arguing regulators do not have authority to determine how internet companies manage their networks. The case was filed in the same court that overruled the FCC on regulating the media giant Comcast’s blocking of web traffic last year.


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