Republicans Debate Ahead of New Hampshire Primary

The Republican presidential race in New Hampshire has entered its final full day before Tuesday’s primary, the first in the nation. The leading candidates appeared in two debates over the weekend. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich accused front-runner Mitt Romney of being too moderate.

Newt Gingrich: "There’s a huge difference between a Reagan conservative and somebody who comes out of the Massachusetts culture with an essentially moderate record, who I think will have a very hard time in a debate with President Obama."

Former Senator Rick Santorum targeted Ron Paul over his record in Congress.

Rick Santorum: "The serious issue with Congressman Paul here is, you’re right, he’s never really passed anything of any import. And one of the reasons people like Congressman Paul is his economic plan. He’s never been able to accomplish any of that. He has no track record of being able to work together. He’s been out there on the margins and has really been unsuccessful in working together with anybody to do anything."

Romney Suggests Only Wealthy People Should Run for Office

During Sunday’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney, who is worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars, suggested only wealthy people should run for office. He repeated advice from his father.

Mitt Romney: "He had good advice to me. He said, 'Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage. If you find yourself in a position when you can serve, why you ought to have a responsibility to do so, if you think you can make a difference.'"

Gingrich Accuses Romney of Looting Companies

Mitt Romney’s record heading up the private equity firm Bain Capital is coming under increasing scrutiny. On Sunday, Newt Gingrich accused Romney of looting the companies bought out by Bain.

Newt Gingrich: "The article apparently outlined in detail that Bain Capital acquired a company, in essence, looted it and then laid off 1,700 people. Now, if that’s accurate, and if there are three or four or five examples like that, I think that’s troubling. I don’t think—those of us who believe in free markets and those of us who believe that in fact the whole goal of investment is entrepreneurship and job creation would find it pretty hard to justify rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company, leaving behind 1,700 families without a job."

Billionaire Casino Mogul Gives $5 Million to Pro-Gingrich Super PAC

In campaign news, the billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has given $5 million to a pro-Gingrich super PAC called Winning Our Future. While individual donors are barred from giving more than $2,500 to a candidate, they can give unlimited money to independent groups known as super PACs. Adelson had previously given more than $7 million to Gingrich’s former PAC, American Solutions for Winning the Future. Adelson is the owner of Israel’s largest daily newspaper and a close friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is worth more than $21 billion.

Unemployment Rate Drops to 8.5%, Lowest Since 2009

In economic news, the nation’s official unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 percent, its lowest level since early 2009. On Friday, the Labor Department said that employers added 200,000 jobs in December. But at least 42,000 of the so-called new jobs were courier positions hired ahead of the holiday shopping rush. President Obama hailed the jobs figures and announced a new initiative to support American business owners to shift work back home.

President Obama: "We’re heading in the right direction. And we’re not going to let up. On Wednesday the White House will host a forum called 'Insourcing American Jobs.' We’ll hear from business leaders who are bringing jobs back home and see how we can help other businesses follow their lead… Because this is a make-or-break moment for the middle class and all those working to get there, we’ve got to keep at it. We’ve got to keep creating jobs. And we’ve got to keep rebuilding our economy, so that everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules."

Rep. Giffords Attends Candlelight Vigil to Mark Anniversary of Tucson Shooting

Thousands of people gathered in Tucson, Arizona, Sunday for a candlelight vigil remembering the six people killed in last year’s deadly shooting that left Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded. The shooting occurred on Jan. 8, 2011, outside a supermarket where Giffords was meeting with constituents. On Sunday, the Arizona Democrat led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Her husband Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, also addressed the crowd.

Mark Kelly: "For the past year, we’ve had new realities to live with: the reality and pain of letting go of the past, the reality of letting go of dear friends and family members. There is also the pain of knowing that with adequate mental health intervention and treatment, that we may not be here tonight."

While memorial events were held across Tucson, the city also hosted a major gun show this weekend. The Crossroads of the West gun show was held on Saturday and Sunday at the Pima County Fairgrounds.

Iran-U.S. Tensions Escalate as Iran Sentences U.S. Citizen to Death

There have been a number of developments in the heightening tensions between Iran and the United States. Earlier today, Iran announced it had sentenced a U.S.-born man to death for allegedly spying for the CIA. The United States has denied that Arizona-born Amir Mirza Hekmati is a spy. Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is traveling to China and Japan this week in an effort to push for expanded sanctions on Iran.

Panetta Admits Iran is Not Trying to Develop a Nuclear Weapon

On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared on CBS’s "Face the Nation" to discuss Iran.

Leon Panetta: "I think the pressure of the sanctions, I think the pressure of—diplomatic pressures from everywhere—Europe, the United States, elsewhere—is working to put pressure on them, to make them understand that they cannot continue to do what they’re doing. Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that’s what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon. That’s a red line for us."

U.S. and Iran to Hold Major Military Exercises in the Persian Gulf

Iran and the United States have both announced plans to hold major military exercises in the Persian Gulf in the coming months. The U.S. exercise will be done in conjunction with Israel. Meanwhile, in defiance of the United States, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has welcomed Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Venezuela. On Friday, a State Department official said, "We are making absolutely clear to countries around the world that now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran."

Thousands in Yemen Protest Deal to Grant Immunity to Saleh

Thousands of protesters gathered in the Yemeni capital Sana’a Sunday to protest a draft law to grant immunity to outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The demonstrators called for Saleh and his relatives to face trial for killing more than 1,000 people since the uprising demanding his ouster began a year ago.

Bahrain Bars U.S.-Based Human Rights Official from Entering Country

Bahrain is refusing to allow a top official from a U.S.-based human rights organization to enter the country to observe the trial of 21 doctors and nurses who were jailed for treating injured protesters. Richard Sollom, deputy president of Physicians for Human Rights, tried to enter Bahrain on Sunday. Richard Sollom appeared on Democracy Now! last May after another trip to Bahrain.

Richard Sollom: "In my 20 years of looking at violations of medical neutrality and human rights during times of war and civil war, I personally have never seen such widespread and systematic targeting of physicians, such egregious violations of the principle of medical neutrality."

Blackwater Settles with Families of Guards Slain in Fallujah

The private security company once known as Blackwater has reached a settlement with the families of four Blackwater guards killed in a convoy ambush in Fallujah, Iraq, in March 2004. After being shot, the men’s bodies were dragged through the streets and mutilated. Two of the corpses were strung from a bridge. The victims’ families accused Blackwater of sending them into hostile territory unprepared and without sufficient protection. The Virginian Pilot reports the company, now known as Academi, agreed to a total payout of $635,000.

100,000 Displaced by Ethnic Violence in South Sudan

In South Sudan, more than 100,000 people have been displaced following an outbreak in ethnic violence in recent weeks. There are conflicting reports on the number of people killed. One local official put the death toll at 3,000, but a United Nations official said no evidence has been found of mass killings.

Andrew Jackson, World Food Programme officer in South Sudan: "We’re currently here with over 2,000 internally displaced people. They’ve had to fled their village from hunger, conflict and killings. They’ve traveled over 150 kilometers over a 10-day period, without any food or water. And this is the first chance that they’ve been able to find a safe place to stay and where we, the World Food Programme, can help the most vulnerable by giving them a one-month food ration."

Nigeria General Strike Begins over Rising Fuel Costs

More than 10,000 protesters rallied in Lagos, Nigeria, today on day one of a general strike to protest soaring fuel prices and decades of government corruption in the oil-rich country.
The strike has been backed by two major unions, as well as Occupy Nigeria. The strike has shut down schools, banks, shops and businesses in Lagos and other cities. At least one protester has been reportedly shot dead.

Texas Teen Returns Home After Being Mistakenly Deported to Colombia

A Texas teenager who was mistakenly deported to Colombia despite being a U.S. citizen has been reunited with her family. Fifteen-year-old Jakadrien Turner was deported last May after U.S. authorities mistook her to be a Colombian national. Turner’s ordeal began when she gave police a fake name when she was arrested for shoplifting. Turner was deported even though her fingerprints did not match and she spoke no Spanish.

Ray Jackson, attorney for the family: "The family is ecstatic. We’re happy to have their daughter home. We are planning to get some rest, planning to do what we can to make sure that she’s able to get back to living a normal life. Respect those wishes. We’re going to take a few days, and then we plan to make a statement and proceed forward. But we’re so happy, and we’re ready to get her home. We’re happy to have her back."

MSNBC Suspends Pat Buchanan

In media news, MSNBC has suspended the right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan following the publication of his book, "Suicide of a Superpower," and his appearance on a white nationalist radio station. ColorOfChange.org and CREDO Action launched a petition drive last year to have Buchanan fired because of what one petition described as his "xenophobia, bigotry and hate speech." In his new book, Buchanan writes that the "European and Christian core of our country is shrinking," which is damaging the nation "ethnically, culturally, morally, politically." One chapter of the book is titled "The End of White America."

Occupy Our Homes Action in New York City Enters Second Month

In New York City, an occupation of a vacant home has entered its second month. Community organizations, church groups and Occupy Wall Street protesters took over the property on December 6 during an Occupy Our Homes action to reclaim foreclosed homes from bailed-out banks. The home is located in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood, which is marked with high rates of foreclosures and abandoned property. Alfredo Carrasquillo says he hopes to inspire similar actions across the country.

Alfredo Carrasquillo: "When I was going through the shelter with my kids and their mother, and we decided we didn’t want to go through that no more, and that’s why I wounded up couch hopping, because I didn’t want to go through that experience anymore, and I didn’t want my kids to have to go through that experience anymore. So I came to this point where I jumped on this opportunity, and I wanted to make it a national movement to help all the families that are homeless and dealing with the situation I had to deal with. The next steps are to move in more families, hopefully do a large movement of multiple families into homes, which is the potential next step that we’re working towards."

"Occupy" Named 2011 Word of the Year

The word "occupy" has been chosen as the word of the year of 2011. The selection was made by linguists at the American Dialect Society.

African National Congress Celebrates 100th Anniversary

In South Africa, the African National Congress, or ANC, is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding. The once-banned ANC led the struggle that finally ended apartheid white-minority rule in 1994, when elections ushered in a multiracial democracy. Participants in the weekend festivities included the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Rev. Jesse Jackson: "So, the whole world said, 'No to apartheid.' South Africa’s greatest strength, frankly, was not its resources of gold and diamonds, but its moral authority. South Africa convinced the world to end a regime that was inhumane. And now we see South Africa on the growth curve."

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