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In Washington, the new 112th U.S. Congress convenes today at noon with Republicans set to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. With a 242-to-193 majority, Republicans are expected to elect John Boehner of Ohio to be the new Speaker of the House, replacing Nancy Pelosi. House Republicans have already called for a vote next week to repeal President Obama’s healthcare legislation. Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Democrats, who hold a 53-to-47-seat edge, are proposing rule changes to curb filibusters.
In Pakistan, funeral services were held today for Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province. On Tuesday, he was shot 29 times by one of his own guards. Taseer was a leading moderate Pakistani politician who publicly spoke out against the country’s blasphemy laws. Taseer’s assassin has been praised by many in Pakistan for his actions. Some conservative Pakistani religious scholars issued a joint statement today asking people to refrain from leading funeral prayers or expressing regrets over Taseer’s assassination because of his opposition to the blasphemy laws. Taseer has been described as the most prominent Pakistani political figure to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was killed three years ago.
Newly released classified U.S. diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks reveal that Israeli officials openly told U.S. diplomats that the aim of the blockade of Gaza was to keep Gaza’s economy on the brink of collapse. According to a November 2008 cable, Israel wanted Gaza’s economy to be "functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis." In addition, the WikiLeaks cables reveal the United States offered to transfer $70 million to Gaza in November 2008 in an attempt to ease the economic situation. However, Israeli Major General Amos Gilad refused to allow the transfer, saying that the Palestinians should not receive anything. The cables were first reported by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.
A Texas man wrongfully convicted of rape and robbery has been released from prison after being exonerated by DNA evidence. Cornelius Dupree, Jr. had served 30 years in prison. On Tuesday, Dallas County Judge Don Adams freed Dupree, saying, "You’re free to go. Thank you very much. Sorry for everything." After his release, Dupree briefly spoke with reporters.
Cornelius Dupree, Jr.: "Well, I’m kind of having a bit of mixed emotions. I’m kind of — I’m happy, and I’m kind of feeling mixed emotions. You know, after 30 years, that’s a hard — that’s a hard walk. I just want to say that I feel that words really won’t make up for what I done lost. You know, I lost both my parents. I just feel that, you know, the system needs to be fixed, by whatever means, you know, so that it just won’t happen to anyone else. That’s about all I have to say."
Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, served as one of Dupree’s attorneys.
Barry Scheck: "This is the twentieth post-conviction DNA exoneration in Dallas, more than any other city in the United States. It’s the 40th post-conviction DNA exoneration in the state of Texas, more than any other state in the country. Cornelius Dupree served 30 years in jail, in prison, for a crime he didn’t commit, which is the largest number of years anyone has ever served in the state of Texas for a crime he didn’t commit, exonerated by DNA. And this is just extraordinary when you think about it."
Kaiser Health News is reporting the CEOs of at least nine healthcare trade associations made at least $1 million in 2009. Billy Tauzin, the CEO of PhRMA, earned a base pay of $2.1 million plus a $2.3 million bonus. Scott Serota, CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, earned $856,000 plus a $1.6 million bonus. Chip Kahn, CEO of the Federation of American Hospitals, received a base salary of $900,000 and a bonus of $315,000.
A state commission in Texas has approved new rules that would allow 36 other states to ship low-level radioactive waste to a private storage site owned by a prominent Republican fundraiser in western Texas. Many environmental groups oppose the project because part of the nuclear waste dump may be on top of the massive Ogallala Aquifer that provides drinking water to nearly two million people and supplies water for more than a quarter of the country’s irrigated land.
The U.S. official who was in charge of relief efforts following Haiti’s devastating earthquake has accused a major contractor of shortchanging him for his assistance in securing more than $20 million in reconstruction deals after he left his post. The Associated Press reports Lewis Lucke claims the Haiti Recovery Group owes him $500,000 for consulting services that included hooking the contractor up with powerful people and helping to navigate government bureaucracy. The Haiti Recovery Group company was formed by the Florida-based contractor AshBritt, Inc. and the GB Group, a conglomerate run by one of Haiti’s wealthiest men, Gilbert Bigio. Lucke is a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Agency for International Development who began consulting for private companies two months after he left Haiti.
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is under threat after massive flooding has poured debris, sediment and pesticides into the ocean. Researcher Michelle Devlin said, "This is a really massive event. It has the potential to shift the food web, it has the potential to shift how the reef operates." The floods have cut off access to 22 towns and forced Australia to close 75 percent of its coal mines.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a public appeal for the Obama administration to release Jonathan Pollard, an American who spied for Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu: "Mr. President, in the name of the nation of Israel, I request from you to pardon Jonathan Pollard, who at the time of his arrest was acting as an agent of the Israeli government. Even though Israel was in no way directing its intelligence efforts against the United States, its actions were wrong and wholly unacceptable. Both Mr. Pollard and the Israeli government have many times expressed regret over these actions. Israel will continue to abide by its commitment that such actions will never be repeated."
In Washington, U.S. Department of State spokesperson P.J. Crowley said Netanyahu’s request would be reviewed.
P.J. Crowley: "We are reviewing the letter, full stop. You know, this is an issue that has come up, you know, from time to time in our discussions with Israeli leaders, this one and others, and we’ll review the letter."
As a diplomatic standoff between the United States and Venezuela continues, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez offered some suggestions Tuesday on whom President Obama should pick to be his ambassador in Caracas, instead of Larry Palmer, a diplomat who has openly criticized Chávez.
Hugo Chávez: "The naming of Palmer is dead, it has expired, and now they’re going to look for another candidate. I hope they name Oliver Stone. I’d suggest that as a candidate: Oliver Stone. Or who else? Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, or [Noam] Chomsky. We have a lot of friends there. Bill Clinton!"
The youngest son of the late shah of Iran took his own life on Tuesday in Boston. Alireza Pahlavi was once second in line to the throne. The shah’s youngest daughter, Leila Pahlavi, was found dead in a London hotel in 2001 after a drug overdose.
In New York, a judge has sentenced a Puerto Rican nationalist who hijacked a plane from New York to Cuba in 1968 to 15 years in prison. Luis Peña Soltren, 67, remained in Cuba until 2009, when he returned home to plead guilty. His attorney James Neuman criticized the length of the sentence.
James Neuman: "There was about, I think, 18 or more hijackings to Cuba in the year 1968, and while it was a dangerous crime obviously, it was not considered in the same manner that we do today in 9/11 as an apocalyptic crime."
The longtime West Virginia environmentalist Julia "Judy" Bonds has died at the age of 58 from cancer. Born into a family of coal miners, Bonds became a leading voice in the resistance to stop mountaintop coal mining. She appeared on Democracy Now! in 2009.
Judy Bonds: "Coal mining has greatly affected West Virginia. Right now, there’s almost 400,000 acres of mountains that have been lowered, the tops blasted off. They’re using three-and-a-half million pounds of explosives a day just in West Virginia to blow the tops off our mountains, and it’s blasting our homes, it’s poisoning our air, and it’s poisoning our water. So, basically, the people who live where I do, in coal extraction areas, literally are living in terror and are being poisoned by the coal extraction process here."
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