A prominent Pakistani governor has been assassinated in the capital of Islamabad. Salmaan Taseer was reportedly shot dead earlier today by a member of his own security detail. Taseer was the governor of Punjab, which is widely considered the most politically important province of Pakistan. Taseer recently became embroiled in controversy after he spoke out against the country’s Islamic blasphemy law. In November, a Pakistani Christian woman was sentenced to death after being found guilty of defaming the Prophet Muhammad. In one of his last posts on Twitter, Taseer wrote, "I was under huge pressure to cow down before rightest pressure on blasphemy. Refused. Even if I’m the last man standing."
In news from Capitol Hill, Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) has asked the oil industry, drug manufacturers, healthcare providers and telecom firms to tell him which government regulations he should target this year as the new chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. According to Politico, Issa has sent letters to more than 150 trade associations, companies and think tanks last month requesting a list of existing and proposed regulations that would harm job growth. At least two recipients of Issa’s letter — the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association — complained about new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for greenhouse gas emissions for major polluters that went into effect Sunday.
The new House Republican leadership has announced a vote will be held a week from Wednesday to repeal the entire heathcare reform law passed last year. With 242 Republicans in the House, the measure is expected to pass, but Senate Democrats have already said they have no plans to consider the repeal. Several portions of the healthcare law took effect on Saturday, including one that provides discounts to Medicare beneficiaries for the purchase of prescription drugs. In addition, co-pays on preventive care are now prohibited and health insurers must spend a higher percentage of the cost of premiums on actual medical care.
President Obama is considering naming JPMorgan Chase executive William Daley to become his new chief of staff, replacing Rahm Emanuel who resigned last year. Daley is the brother of Chicago mayor Richard Daley. He served as commerce secretary under President Clinton and played a key role in pushing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Daley is now the Midwest chair of JPMorgan Chase and a board member of the pharmaceutical giant Merck. Meanwhile, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe, is set to replace David Axelrod as the President’s senior political adviser.
Outgoing California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming under criticism for reducing the prison term of the son of former California Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez. In 2008, Esteban Núñez was sentenced to 16 years in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon for his role in a 2008 drunken brawl that led to the death of Luis Santos. In his last day in office, Schwarzenegger shortened Esteban Núñez’s sentence to seven years.
Jerry Brown was sworn in as California’s new governor on Monday. In his inaugural speech, Brown said he would he oversee a review that could result in government workers losing some of their benefits and pensions.
Jerry Brown: "The budget I present next week will be painful, but it will be an honest budget. The items of spending will be matched with available tax revenues, and specific proposals will be offered to realign key functions that are currently spread between state and local government in ways that are complex, confusing and inefficient. My goal is to achieve greater accountability and reduce the historic shifting of responsibility back and forth from one level of government to another. The plan represents my best understanding of our real dilemmas and possibilities. It’s a tough budget for tough times."
In New York, the state’s new governor Andrew Cuomo is preparing to call for a one-year salary freeze for state workers. The moves by Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo are seen as part of a growing push across the country to limit the power of labor unions, particularly those representing government workers. The New York Times reports Republican lawmakers in Indiana, Maine, Missouri and seven other states plan to introduce legislation that would bar private-sector unions from forcing workers they represent to pay dues or fees, reducing the flow of funds into union treasuries. In Ohio, the new Republican governor John Kasich wants to ban strikes by public school teachers. Wisconsin’s new governor Scott Walker is threatening to take away government workers’ right to form unions and bargain contracts.
A new survey from CBS News’ 60 Minutes shows a vast majority of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy or cutting military spending to help balance the national budget. In the survey, 61 percent of respondents said they preferred new taxes on the rich, 20 percent backed cuts to military spending, four percent said they would cut Medicare, and just three percent said they would cut Social Security.
Iran has offered to invite representatives from Russia, China, Egypt and the European Union to visit its nuclear facilities in a move to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
Ramin Mehmanparast, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman: "The new move of inviting the ambassadors of different countries to visit our nuclear facilities has once again shown the goodwill of our country regarding cooperation and peaceful activities."
The Obama administration has dismissed Iran’s offer and called on Iran to grant greater access to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten is claiming it has come into possession of all of the classified U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks. In a report on one newly released cable, the paper reveals that Israeli Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told a U.S. congressional delegation a little over a year ago that the Israeli military is forging ahead at full speed with preparations for a new war in the Middle East. The cables quote Ashkenazi saying, “I’m preparing the Israeli army for a major war, since it is easier to scale down to a smaller operation than to do the opposite.”
ProPublica is reporting the Obama administration is planning to reject congressional efforts to limit the President’s options on Guantánamo, setting the stage for a confrontation between the President and the new Congress. The Guantánamo provisions, which include limits on where and how prisoners can be tried, were attached to a spending bill for military pay and benefits approved by Congress late last year. Some administration officials are recommending that President Obama sign the spending bill and then issue a “signing statement” challenging at least some of the Guantánamo provisions as intrusions on his constitutional authority.
In business news, Goldman Sachs has taken an ownership stake in Facebook by investing $450 million in the company. The New York Times reports the move will help Facebook stay a privately held company, thus remaining free of government regulation and from the volatility of Wall Street. The deal may be scrutinized by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Just last month, the SEC launched a probe into the surge in trading shares of privately held internet companies.
The group Psychologists for Social Responsibility has written a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates protesting the military’s treatment of Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking classified documents to the online whisteblowing website WikiLeaks. Manning has been held in solitary confinement at the U.S. Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia, since July. The group accused the military of holding Manning in needlessly brutal conditions. [See related coverage from DN]