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HeadlinesJanuary 18, 2011

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Tunisian Leader Ousted in Mass Uprising; Protesters Denounce Old Guard in New Gov’t

Jan 18, 2011

Tunisia has announced an interim national unity government days after a popular revolt ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In what’s been called the first Middle East revolution since 1979, Ben Ali fled Tunisia on Friday after a month of unprecedented protests. Thousands took to the streets to rally against unemployment, high food prices, corruption and state repression. At least 80 people were killed in a government crackdown. On Monday, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced members of opposition parties will hold government positions for the first time. But key figures of the old guard — including the former defense, foreign, interior and finance ministers — will keep their posts in the new government. Up to 1,000 protesters took to the streets on Monday in protest and called for the exclusion of all members of the Ben Ali government.

Protester: “We are not expecting anything from these criminals. Their laws are made with the blood of the Tunisians. They are liars, they are assassins, they are criminals. Can you trust a liar, the one who has been supporting a dictator? We don’t want them anymore. If they don’t understand, what language do we have to use?”

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. The self-immolation has led to apparent copycat protests in other North African states, with four men setting themselves on fire in Algeria and one each in Egypt and Mauritania.

U.S. Plans to Move Arizona Shooting Trial

Jan 18, 2011

Federal officials are reportedly preparing to hold the trial of alleged Arizona shooter Jared Loughner out of state. The Washington Post reports Loughner’s trial will be moved to San Diego, California, within several weeks. Officials have cited the sensitivity of the case and the fact that one of the slain victims was Arizona’s chief federal judge, John Roll. A funeral service was held for Roll in Tucson on Friday.

College Releases Loughner Video

Jan 18, 2011

Accused Arizona shooter Jared Loughner’s former college meanwhile has released a home video of his in which he tours Pima Community College at night. The video was first posted to YouTube in September. In these excerpts, Loughner refers to the Tucson college as a “genocide school.”

Jared Loughner: “This is my genocide school, where I’m going to be homeless because of this school. This is Pima Community College, one of the biggest scams in America. The students are so illiterate that it affects their daily lives. This is genocide in America. Thank you. This is Jared, from Pima College.”

Giffords’ Recovery Improves, Upgraded to Serious

Jan 18, 2011

Doctors treating Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords have upgraded her condition to serious from critical. Giffords is reportedly now able to smile and even gave her husband a back-rub as he sat by her hospital bed. The Washington Post meanwhile is reporting Giffords could lose her seat under a longtime Arizona regulation that mandates a special election if an elected official does not perform their duties for three months. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s office has suggested she will amend the statute to ensure Giffords retains her seat.

Shooting Victim Arrested for Threatening Tea Party Member

Jan 18, 2011

A victim wounded in the Arizona shooting was arrested this weekend for threatening a Tea Party spokesperson. The victim, James Eric Fuller, was arrested for allegedly photographing Trent Humphries and shouting, “You’re dead.” The outburst came at a town hall meeting in Tucson where Humphries had said any debate over gun control should wait until after the slain victims’ funerals. A 63-year-old disabled veteran, Fuller was shot in the knee and back during the shooting. In a Democracy Now! interview one day before his arrest, Fuller said right-wing opposition to gun control enabled the Arizona attack.

James Eric Fuller: “The first thing that I wrote down and what my reaction was to it was: 'How many other people? How many other demented people are out there? It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target. Their wish for Second Amendment activism has been fulfilled—senseless hatred leading to murder, lunatic fringe anarchism, subscribed to by John Boehner, mainstream rebels with vengeance for all.'”

House to Vote on Healthcare Repeal

Jan 18, 2011

On Capitol Hill, Republicans are moving ahead with their effort to repeal last year’s healthcare law. The measure will come to the House floor today followed by a vote on Wednesday. Democrats have already vowed to block its advancement in the Senate. On the eve of the Republican move, a new poll shows public support for repealing the healthcare law has plunged over the past week.

Poll: Support for Healthcare Repeal Drops

Jan 18, 2011

According to the Associated Press, just 30 percent of Americans say they strongly oppose the healthcare law, and only one in four back a full repeal. A poll earlier this month showed that a majority supported repealing Obama’s healthcare by a margin of 46 to 40 percent.

Study: 129 Million Americans Suffer Pre-Existing Medical Conditions

Jan 18, 2011

Among the healthcare law’s most popular features is a provision barring insurance companies from rejecting people with pre-existing medical conditions. A new government study out today estimates that as many 129 million Americans under the age of 65 have medical conditions that would trigger either rejections or price hikes from insurance companies. According to the study, one-fifth to one-half of the non-elderly in the United States have ailments that would limit their ability to obtain insurance if the law is repealed. The provision is set to take effect in 2014; a measure barring the rejection of insurance to children with pre-existing conditions came into effect last year.

56 Killed in Iraq Suicide Bombing

Jan 18, 2011

At least 60 people have been killed and another 150 wounded in a suicide attack in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit. The bomber reportedly detonated an explosive vest in a line of people applying for jobs with the police. It was the deadliest incident in Iraq since October 31, when a siege at a Baghdad church killed at least 53 people. Meanwhile, three U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on Saturday, making it one of the deadliest days for U.S. forces there in months. This weekend also marked the 20th anniversary of the first U.S. attack on Iraq in what the military named Operation Desert Storm. Estimates of the Iraqi dead reach as high as 3,600 civilians and some 35,000 soldiers.

South Sudan Referendum Expected to Back Independence

Jan 18, 2011

Election monitors in Sudan are predicting residents of Southern Sudan have overwhelmingly voted to break off from the north in a week-long referendum. The chair of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, praised the vote.

Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil: “It was a very orderly process, very peaceful, very civilized. As a matter of fact, as a matter of fact, I’ve watched a number of elections in this country, and I think this has been the most peaceful, the most orderly and the quietest. And I think it is really a great achievement.”

If approved, Southern Sudan’s seccession from Sudan would take effect in July.

Prosecutors Issue Draft Indictments in Hariri Probe

Jan 18, 2011

International prosecutors have issued draft indictments in their probe of the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The contents of the indictments remain under seal and may not emerge for another six weeks. Lebanon’s national unity government collapsed last week after Hezbollah-tied officials quit their cabinet posts in protest of the Lebanese government’s ties to the probe and the rumored indictments of Hezbollah members. Hezbollah has denied involvement in Hariri’s assassination and denounced the tribunal as a tool of the United States.

Ex-Dictator “Baby Doc” Returns to Haiti

Jan 18, 2011

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier has returned to Haiti 25 years after a popular uprising forced him into exile. Known as “Baby Doc,” Duvalier succeeded his father, François Duvalier, following the elder Duvalier’s death in 1971. Jean-Claude Duvalier oversaw the killings and torture of thousands of people, mostly at the hands of the militia known as the Tonton Macoutes. In a surprise return from exile in France, Duvalier said he had come back to assist Haiti’s “re-birth” in the aftermath of last year’s earthquake. Javier Zuniga of Amnesty International called on the Haitian government to prosecute Duvalier.

Javier Zuniga: “We are asking for him to be arrested and to be put forward a trial, because during his time extrajudicial executions, disappearances and systematic torture was just the mark of his regime. The time of the Duvaliers, it was lost years for Haiti’s development, for Haiti’s human rights progress, and therefore if something — the weakness of the state in Haiti right now comes from that time, and I think he’s also responsible for that.”

Asked about the prospect of Duvalier’s arrest, Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said only that judicial officials are looking into the case.

Jean-Max Bellerive: “I don’t know. That depends on the justice (judicial authorities) and we are looking at whatever was happening during — the fact that it’s a long time he was not in Haiti. And we are looking at that. We are not at ease.”

While Haiti’s former dictator has returned, the country’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, remains forcibly exiled. Aristide has lived in South Africa since a U.S.-backed coup in 2004. The Haitian government, under rumored U.S. pressure, has long refused to authorize his return.

Former Banker Hands Offshore Account Data to WikiLeaks

Jan 18, 2011

A former Swiss banker has handed over a trove of data on offshore banking to the online whistleblower WikiLeaks. At a news conference in London, Rudolf Elmer gave WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange two compact discs containing information on some 2,000 offshore account holders.

Rudolf Elmer: “I’m against the system. I know how the system works, and I know that from a day-to-day business. So, from that point of view, I want to let society know what I do know and how this system works, because it’s damaging our society in a way that money is moved back away, for instance, from financial institutions, multinational conglomerates, high-net-worth individuals. The money is hided [hidden] in offshore centers, so secrecy jurisdictions, technically correct.”

Elmer headed the Cayman Islands office of the bank Julius Baer until his firing in 2002. He is scheduled to go on trial in Switzerland this week on allegations of breaching bank secrecy. Assange said WikiLeaks would carefully review the material before a potential release.

Julian Assange: “We will treat this information like all other information we get. So, yes, I presume, once we’ve looked at the data, assuming it’s not anomalous, assuming it’s like everything else we receive, yes, there will be a full revelation.”

Israel to Build 1,400 New Settlement Homes

Jan 18, 2011

The Israeli government is preparing another major settlement expansion in occupied East Jerusalem. Some 1,400 new homes will be added to the Gilo settlement near the West Bank town of Bethlehem. It’s Israel’s largest known settlement expansion since unveiling plans to add 1,600 homes right during a visit from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden last March.

Israeli Gov’t to Probe Human Rights Groups

Jan 18, 2011

Thousands of people marched in Tel Aviv this weekend to protest a government probe of Israeli human rights groups. Earlier this month, the Israeli parliament formed a committee to investigate the funding of several left-leaning Israeli NGOs and activist organizations. Adam Keller of the group Gush Shalom denounced the move as a witch hunt.

Adam Keller: “There is a very big danger to Israeli democracy and to the future of this country, because we have a government where there is a very dominant presence of racists and anti-democratic people, and some of them really are outright fascists.”

Blackwater-Linked Firm Awarded U.S. Contract in West Bank

Jan 18, 2011

A firm closely tied to the private military giant Blackwater has won an $84 million U.S. government contract in the occupied West Bank. Former Blackwater affiliate International Development Solutions has been awarded a one-year deal that could be extended up to 2016. Although the contract calls for guarding U.S. personnel, there are rumors operatives will be used to train other contractors as well as the U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority security force. Blackwater now goes by the name Xe Services.

3 Arrested in MLK Day Protest at Tucson Military Base

Jan 18, 2011

Martin Luther King Day saw a number of protests and social justice actions around the country. In Arizona, three activists were arrested after marching onto the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. They attempted to hold a peace vigil against uranium bombing and armed drones before they were taken in custody. One of the three, Jean Boucher, referenced Obama’s post-shooting speech, saying, “President Obama’s mandate, when he spoke last week in Tucson, that 'we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations’ compels me to act. I do not believe that constant war lives up to the expectations of our nation’s children.”

Protesters Rally in Support of Manning, Targeted Activists

Jan 18, 2011

Peace activists also rallied outside the FBI building in Washington, D.C., Monday to protest the targeting of antiwar and Palestine solidarity activists as well as the imprisonment of alleged military whistleblower Bradley Manning. Kevin Zeese of the group Voters for Peace hailed Manning as a hero.

Kevin Zeese: “If we had real leadership in this country rather than holding Bradley Manning in confinement, solitary confinement, for the last five months, they would be standing with Bradley Manning and saying 'Bradley Manning is showing us what we're doing. We need to rejudge our policy, rethink our foreign policy. We need to move to become a country that obeys the law, not one that violates the law.’ Bradley Manning has provided the American people an opportunity to know what their country is doing.”

1,000 Protest Confederate Flag in South Carolina

Jan 18, 2011

In another Martin Luther King Day protest, an estimated 1,000 people marched on the state capitol in South Carolina to protest the ongoing use of the Confederate flag.

Maine Gov. Attends NAACP Event Following Snub

Jan 18, 2011

Meanwhile, in Maine, Republican Governor Paul LePage is under criticism for his handling of a Martin Luther King Day event invitation from the NAACP. LePage initially turned the invitation down, upsetting the group. But LePage drew even more controversy when he offered this response to the NAACP’s reaction.

Gov. Paul LePage: “Tell them to kiss my butt. If they want to play the race card, come to dinner, and my son will talk to them.”

LePage has an adopted black son. He later relented and attended the event.

Priebus Elected New RNC Chair

Jan 18, 2011

Wisconsin Republican Party chair Reince Priebus has been elected the new head of the Republican National Committee. Priebus replaces Michael Steele, who aborted his bid for a second term after falling behind in early voting last week. Priebus has set a fundraising goal of $400 million in the next two years.

Independent Journalist, Activist John Ross Dies

Jan 18, 2011

And the independent journalist, activist and poet John Ross has died. Ross covered social movements in Mexico and Latin America for nearly 50 years. He authored 10 books, including his latest El Monstruo: Dread and Redemption in Mexico City. In a Democracy Now! interview last April, Ross talked about how he first came to the Mexican capital.

John Ross: “I went to Mexico in 1957 with a number of younger Beat poets. We were much younger than the Jack Kerouacs and Allen Ginsbergs. We were about 15—well, not so much younger than Allen, but certainly than Kerouac and Burroughs. We were about 15 years younger. But we had contact with them in New York. I come from the Village. I was born in the Village, and my contact was always with poets and artists, and came to Mexico in 1957, returned in 1958. And I didn’t go on the road. I mean, all the Beats were always on the road. I came and stayed. And I lived for seven years in a small indigenous village in the mountains of Michuacán. And truly, you know, I’ve been very close to the Zapatista movement during the last 16 years. And I could have not been close to the Zapatista movement, if I hadn’t spent so many years living in an indigenous community and understanding the dynamic of indigenous life in rural Mexico.”

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