Polls have opened in New Hampshire, the site of the nation’s first presidential primary. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is widely expected to win even though he is coming under increasing scrutiny over his record heading up the private equity firm Bain Capital. On Monday, Romney made an offhand remark about how he enjoys firing people. Romney made the comment as he touted his health policy as a means to increase competition among health insurers.
Mitt Romney: “I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means that if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman responded to Romney’s statement by saying, “Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.” Huntsman, who did not campaign in Iowa, has been surging in the New Hampshire polls and has received endorsements from two key newspapers: the Concord Monitor and the Boston Globe. Some analysts say Huntsman could place as high as second.
Nine ballots were cast in New Hampshire’s Dixville Notch just after midnight. Local resident Tom Tillotson announced Romney and Huntsman tied for first with two votes each.
Tom Tillotson: “So, now we have two, Romney and—you know, maybe they’ll be on the same ticket together. Who knows? But it was—you know, Huntsman, I think everybody was expecting Romney to win here and Huntsman to maybe get a vote. He had my vote going in so somebody else—somebody else agreed with me.”
Coming in second in Dixville Notch with one vote apiece were Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
While the nation has been focused on the New Hampshire primary, Texas Governor Rick Perry spent Monday campaigning in South Carolina.
Gov. Rick Perry: “I’ll just ask you for one thing. Early voting starts today. I’d appreciate your support. And if you wait until the 21st, let’s just put it this way: between now and the 21st, you have my back in South Carolina, the next four years I’ll have your back in Washington, D.C.”
In a major shakeup inside the Obama administration, White House Chief of Staff William Daley announced his resignation Monday just over a year after taking the position. He will be replaced by Jack Lew, head of the Office of Management and Budget. President Obama praised Jack Lew’s public service.
President Obama: “Jack’s economic advice has been invaluable, and he has my complete trust, both because of his mastery of the numbers, but because of the values behind those numbers. Ever since he began his career in public service as a top aide to Speaker Tip O’Neill, Jack has fought for an America where hard work and responsibility pay off, a place where everybody gets a fair shot, everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same rules. And that belief is reflected in every decision that Jack makes.”
After serving as budget director in the Clinton administration, Lew became chief operating officer of Citigroup Alternative Investments in 2008. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee criticized Obama for selecting Lew because his unit at Citigroup heavily invested in a hedge fund that bet on the housing market to collapse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed Iran’s claim that it has begun enriching uranium in an underground bunker in a mountain near the city of Qom. The IAEA said all of the nuclear material in the facility remains under the agency’s surveillance. The United States criticized Iran’s move which comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two nations. On Monday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called on Iran to suspend its enrichment activities.
Victoria Nuland: “But obviously, if they are enriching at Fardo to 20 percent, this is a further escalation of their ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations, including the legally binding U.N. Security Council resolution. So, obviously, we call on Iran, once again, to suspend enrichment activities, cooperate fully with the IAEA and immediately comply with all Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions.”
In his first public address since June, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad blamed a foreign conspiracy and terrorists for the 10-month-old popular uprising that has threatened his rule. Assad denied there was a government policy to shoot demonstrators, but he vowed to strike “terrorists with an iron fist.” Over the past 10 months, Syrian security forces have killed more than 5,000 civilians.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: “We do not close the door for the solutions or suggestions, and we do not close the door for any Arab initiative, as they respect Syrian sovereignty and the freedom of our decision and care for the unity of our nation.”
Meanwhile, new video was posted online Monday purportedly from the Syrian city of Homs. It shows protesters being dispersed by gunfire as they escort a car carrying Arab League monitors.
In Nigeria, a nationwide strike against soaring fuel costs has entered its second day, shutting down banks, schools and government buildings. On Monday, police shot dead at least three protesters and wounded more than two dozen after firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrations in Lagos and the largest northern city of Kano. The musician Femi Kuti, the son of the late Fela Kuti, took part in the strike in Lagos.
Femi Kuti: “If it is government of the people, by the people, no need to copy America. Let everybody bring their salary to the minimum wage of 18,000 naira [$110 U.S. dollars].’’
A Mexican magazine has revealed the Mexican government allowed a group of undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and their Colombian informant to launder millions in cash for a powerful Mexican drug trafficker and his Colombian cocaine supplier. According to the magazine Emeequis, the group of officials conducted at least 15 wire transfers to banks in the United States, Canada and China and smuggled and laundered about $2.5 million in the United States. They lost track of much of that money.
Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has confirmed that she will run for a parliamentary seat in April. The Nobel Peace Prize winner will seek a seat in suburban Yangon, Burma’s largest city and her hometown. She was under house arrest during the most recent elections in November 2010, which were boycotted by her National League for Democracy Party, in part because she was barred from participating.
The Obama administration is urging a federal court to throw out a lawsuit filed by a group of Guatemalans who had been unknowingly exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases by U.S. researchers in the 1940s. In a filing by the Justice Department, the administration described the experiments as unethical and a “terrible wrong.” But the administration argued sovereign immunity protects federal health officials from litigation stemming from the study. Guatemalan officials said last month that they have found 2,082 people were involved in the experiments conducted from 1946 to 1948.
In environmental news, the Obama administration has banned new uranium mining claims around the Grand Canyon for the next 20 years. The decision will protect one million acres of public lands from any new hard-rock mining. Existing mining operations would continue.
In news from California, 14 tractors and several trailers were destroyed in a large fire Sunday at the Harris Farms cattle operation, California’s largest beef processor. Investigators say they believe arson is suspected in a blaze. A message posted on the website DirectAction.info claimed the fire was set to protest factory farming.
The artist and activist Dara Greenwald has died at the age of 40 from cancer. She was a member of the Just Seeds artist collective and the co-editor of the book “Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures, 1960s to Now.”