Santorum Campaign Rises with 3-State Victory

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has surged in the Republican presidential contest with wins in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, as well as a nonbinding primary in Missouri. Santorum claimed nearly 45 percent of the vote in Minnesota, with Ron Paul coming in second at about 27 percent, and Romney taking third with about 17 percent. In Colorado, Santorum beat Romney by about five percentage points. At the end of the night, Santorum addressed supporters in Missouri.

Rick Santorum: "Wow! Conservatism is alive and well in Missouri and Minnesota. I hope you have been listening to our message, because if you listen to our message and you found out that on those issues—healthcare, the environment, cap and trade, and on the Wall Street bailouts—Mitt Romney has the same positions as Barack Obama and in fact would not be the best person to come up and fight for your voices for freedom in America."

The wins are expected to revive Santorum’s floundering campaign and pose a new challenge to Republican front-runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Speaking in Denver, Romney congratulated Santorum but vowed to win the race.

Mitt Romney: "This was a good night for Rick Santorum. I want to congratulate Senator Santorum, wish him the very best. We’ll keep on campaigning down the road. But I expect to become our nominee with your help. So, I want to congratulate all of my fellow Republicans, particularly Senator Santorum, and I look forward to the contest to come."

The Republican contest shifts to Maine this weekend before Arizona and Michigan later this month and the Super Tuesday contests in early March.

Court Overturns California Same-Sex Marriage Ban

A U.S. appeals court has ruled California’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. California outlawed same-sex marriage in 2008, when voters passed the ban known as Proposition 8. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel struck down the ban in a two-to-one decision. Writing for the majority, Judge Stephen Reinhardt stated: "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationship and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples." Outside the courtroom, co-plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandy Stier hailed the ruling.

Kris Perry: "We can see a place where freedom and respect come more easily and where protection from harm is what our government does for us and not to us."

Sandy Stier: "Today our court sends a powerful message to us and to our children and our children’s children, and that is that we are all equal, we all deserve the same rights, and we all matter."

The ruling overturning Proposition 8 will not take effect for another two weeks. The case is expected to ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Komen Exec Behind Planned Parenthood Defunding Resigns

A senior executive at the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure has resigned one week after reportedly engineering the controversial decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. Karen Handel stepped down as Komen’s vice president for public policy on Tuesday, just days after Komen reversed a decision to stop supporting Planned Parenthood’s education and breast care for low-income women. A staunchly anti-abortion Republican, Handel has been identified as the leading official behind Komen’s initial move to stop supporting Planned Parenthood.

Drone Attack Kills 10 in Pakistan

An apparent U.S. drone strike has killed at least 10 people in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region. Pakistani officials say the attack targeted a compound believed to be holding anti-government fighters. The Obama administration has resumed drone strikes in Pakistan following a brief lull after the mistaken killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year.

U.S. May Cut Iraqi Embassy Staff by Half

The New York Times is reporting the United States may cut its presence in Iraq by as much as half due to security concerns and Iraqi resistance. Nearly 16,000 people — most of them contractors — are employed at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which costs $6 billion annually and is the largest of its kind in the world.

CIA to Keep Massive Covert Presence in Iraq, Afghanistan

The Washington Post is reporting the CIA will maintain a large covert presence in Iraq and Afghanistan after troops depart. U.S. officials say the CIA’s paramilitary forces could be used in Afghanistan, in part to maintain airstrips used by CIA drones operating in Pakistan. The CIA missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to be the agency’s largest in the world.

Syria: Dozens Killed as Homs Siege Continues

Syrian forces are continuing their deadly assault on the flashpoint city of Homs in a bid to crush a center of resistance to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Witnesses say dozens of people were killed overnight in continued shelling and rocket attacks from Syrian tanks. In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland chided Syrian allies Russia and China for backing Assad.

Victoria Nuland: "Well, we’ve made absolutely clear how we feel, both bilaterally and publicly, about regimes that continue to trade arms with the Syrian government: they’re simply fueling the violence. If in fact Assad supports the end of violence, he knows what he can do today, which he has neglected to do for these 11 months: he can stop the attacks by his forces on innocents in cities across Syria. And the violence continues in Homs, in Hama, around the outskirts of Damascus, etc., as so many of you are now able to report."

The assault on Homs comes amidst a visit to Syria by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On Tuesday, Lavrov said Assad is ready to end the violence despite the ongoing bloodshed in Homs.

Hezbollah Leader Urges Talks for Assad, Syrian Opposition

Meanwhile, in Syria’s neighboring country of Lebanon, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah spoke out on the Syria crisis on Tuesday in a speech to supporters in Beirut. Nasrallah called for dialogue between Assad and the Syrian opposition.

Hassan Nasrallah: "Those who are afraid for the people of Syria and the future of Syria do not say it’s too late, and set conditions for dialogue: either the president stands down or no dialogue. Those who care about Syria should go to dialogue. In every crisis in Lebanon, when the Arabs came to resolve the crisis, they called us to a dialogue and said, 'No conditions.' So now why in Syria do they call for dialogue with preconditions?’’

UNICEF: 400 Children Killed in Syria

The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is now warning at least 400 children have been killed in the 11 months since the violence in Syria began. UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said children are among the victims of the assault on Homs.

Marixie Mercado: "Nearly 11 months of violence in Syria have led to the deaths and injuries of hundreds of children. There are reports of children being arbitrarily arrested, tortured and sexually abused while in detention. Over the past few days, reported heavy shelling by government forces of civilian neighborhoods in the city of Homs is undoubtedly causing further suffering for more children."

Study: Homegrown Muslim Extremists Pose "Miniscule Threat"

A new study has found homegrown terror plots from Muslim extremists pose little threat to the United States when compared to other groups. The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security found that 20 Muslim Americans were charged in violent plots or attacks in 2011, down from 26 in 2010 and 47 in 2009. Of the 14,000 murders committed in the United States last year, none resulted from Islamic extremism. The author of the report, Charles Kurzman, said terrorism by Muslim Americans is a "minuscule threat to public safety." The report’s findings come amidst an ongoing controversy in New York City area over the heightened surveillance of Arab and Muslim communities by the New York City Police Department.

South Carolina Sues Justice Dept. to Uphold Voter ID Law

South Carolina has gone ahead with a lawsuit against the federal government for blocking a recent law requiring voters to show photo IDs at the polls. The U.S. Department of Justice declared in December the law violates the Voting Rights Act, citing data showing minority voters were about 20 percent more likely to lack acceptable photo ID required at polling places. It was the first such law overruled by the Justice Department in nearly two decades. On Tuesday, South Carolina filed suit, rejecting the government’s claim that the law will disenfranchise voters.

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