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The five leading Republican candidates debated in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, last night ahead of the state’s closely watched primary on Saturday. Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum repeatedly attacked front-runner Mitt Romney’s record in business and government. Texas Gov. Rick Perry pushed Romney to open up his tax records.
Gov. Rick Perry: “Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money.”
Mitt Romney: “And what’s happened in history is people have released them about April of the coming year, and that’s probably what I’d do.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich defended his sharp criticism of Romney.
Newt Gingrich: “We need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way. And I think that’s part of his responsibility as a candidate, and I think that’s part of what a campaign is about, is to raise questions and see whether or not your competitor can answer them effectively before you get to a general election, where you know those questions are going to be asked.”
During the South Carolina Republican debate, Mitt Romney criticized President Obama for seeking to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Mitt Romney: “The right course for America is not to negotiate with the Taliban while the Taliban are killing our soldiers. The right course is to recognize they are the enemy of the United States. It’s the Vice President who said they’re not the enemy of the United States. The Vice President is wrong. They are the enemy. They’re killing American soldiers. We don’t negotiate from a position of weakness as we’re pulling our troops out. The right course for us is to strengthen the Afghan military force so they can reject the Taliban.”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul reiterated his call to end the war in Afghanistan and bring the troops home.
Rep. Ron Paul: “This idea that we can’t debate foreign policy, then all we have to do is start another war. I mean, it’s war mongering. They’re building up for another war against Iran, and people can’t wait to get in another war. This country doesn’t need another war; we need to quit the ones we’re in. We need to save the money and bring our troops home.”
Hours before the Republican debate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman dropped out of the presidential race and endorsed Mitt Romney.
In other campaign news, a group of more than 100 leaders of the Christian right met in Texas this weekend and voted to back former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum as their preferred candidate. Attendees of the meeting included Family Research Council president Gary Bauer, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and Family Research president Tony Perkins. Meanwhile, Wyoming billionaire Foster Friess has pledged to donate a half-million dollars to a pro-Santorum super PAC.
Immigration rights groups are criticizing Mitt Romney for embracing an endorsement from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach helped draft anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and Alabama. Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez condemned Romney for working with Kobach, whom he described as the “dark lord of the anti-immigration movement.”
Newly released government documents have revealed the Department of Homeland Security hired the military contractor General Dynamics to monitor postings of U.S. citizens on dozens of websites. Sites monitored included Facebook and Twitter, as well as several news sites including the New York Times, Wired and The Huffington Post. General Dynamics was asked to collect reports that dealt with government agencies including the CIA, FEMA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said the documents show the Department of Homeland Security was “monitoring political dissent online.”
The Wall Street Journal reports U.S. military leaders are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to attack Iran over apparent U.S. objections. According to the Journal, President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top officials have delivered a string of private messages to Israeli leaders warning about the dire consequences of a strike. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey is set to visit Israel this week. The United States has also stepped up contingency planning to safeguard U.S. facilities in the region in case of an Israeli attack. Meanwhile, the United States and Israel have postponed what had been described as the largest joint military exercise ever carried out by the two nations.
Foreign Policy magazine is reporting Israeli Mossad agents have posed as American spies to recruit members of the Pakistani militant group Jundallah to carry out covert operations against Iran. According to the report, the CIA learned about the so-called false flag operation several years ago. It is unclear if the program continues. The magazine report was published just days after Iran accused Israel of assassinating one of its nuclear scientists.
Twelve people were killed on Monday in Syria despite the presence of Arab League monitors inside the country. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the bloodshed to end.
Ban Ki-moon: “Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your own people.”
Mohamed ElBaradei has pulled out of the race for the Egyptian presidency. The former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency said “the previous regime” was still running the country and that he could not run for office unless it was within a real democratic system.
The Nigerian government has announced a partial cut in gas prices following nine days of strikes and protests backed by many of Nigeria’s largest trade unions. On Monday, the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress called for the strike to end, but a third organization, the Joint Action Front, said the protests should continue.
Abdulwaheed Omar, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress: “In the last 24 hours, the labor movement and its allies, who had the historic responsibility of coordinating these mass actions, had cause to review the various actions and decided that in order to save lives and in the interest of national survival, these mass actions be suspended.”
In other news from Nigeria, two oil workers are missing after an offshore oil rig owned by Chevron caught fire on Monday.
Retired military general Otto Pérez Molina has been sworn in as Guatemala’s new president. Pérez is the first former military official to win the Guatemalan presidency since the end of the military dictatorship in 1986.
Otto Pérez Molina: “Everyone rise and fly the blue and white flag in our hearts and work for change. We will have security, if we all work for it. We will have development, if we all make an effort. We will have peace, if everyone does their part, because Guatemala belongs to all of us, regardless of social or economic conditions.”
Otto Pérez Molina ran for office in Guatemala largely on a platform of using “an iron fist” to crack down on drug cartels. On his first day in office, Pérez called on the military to help “neutralize” organized crime in Guatemala. Pérez, who was trained at the U.S. military school formerly known as the School of the Americas, is also seeking an end to a U.S. ban on military aid to Guatemala. Human rights groups have accused Pérez of being directly involved in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide in Guatemala in the 1980s.
Jennifer Harbury, human rights attorney appearing on Democracy Now! last year: “Well, we’re all extremely concerned, given his background in human rights violations in Guatemala. He’s always declared that he was not involved in the genocidal campaign of 1982 in the Quiché Highlands, but in fact a video showing [journalist] Allan Nairn interviewing him, precisely as he stands over several battered corpses, has been making the rounds in Guatemala. He was a major at the time. And this, of course, was the year when 70 to 90 percent of the villages in the Ixil Triangle were razed.”
El Salvador’s President Mauricio Funes apologized Monday for the 1981 El Mozote massacre, when U.S.-trained Salvadoran forces killed nearly 1,000 civilians. Funes described it as “the worst massacre of civilians in contemporary Latin American history.”
President Mauricio Funes: “As the president of the republic and the commander of the armed forces, I ask forgiveness from the victims and the neighboring communities. Hundreds of Salvadorans, both men and women, form part of a long list of disappeared people while others emigrated and lost everything in order to save their own lives.”
Twenty-nine people remain missing after an Italian cruise ship ran aground on Friday killing six and forcing thousands to flee the sinking ship. The ship was owned by a subsidiary of the Florida-based Carnival Corporation. Italy’s environment minister has warned of an ecological crisis if oil from the cruise ship spills off the island of Giglio, part of a protected sanctuary for dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Opponents of Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker say they will submit the signatures of more than 700,000 voters today seeking a recall of Walker and his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch. The signature drive gathered far more than the 540,000 signatures needed to force a recall. Signatures have also been gathered to force recalls of the Wisconsin senate majority leader and three other Republican senators. They were all backers of a bill signed into law last year effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
In news from Arizona, Tucson school district officials have released an initial list of books to be banned from the school system following last week’s vote to suspend the district’s acclaimed Mexican American Studies program due to a state ban on the teaching of ethnic studies. The banned books include “Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years,” edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson; Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”; “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire; “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña; and “Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement” by F. Arturo Rosales. Salon.com reported teachers have also been informed to stay away from any books where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes.”
Occupy Wall Street protesters held a number of actions across the country this weekend to mark Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Here in New York City, several protesters were arrested when they refused to leave the lobby of Bank of America. Among those arrested was Occupy for Jobs organizer Larry Holmes. He said he was participating in civil disobedience to honor King’s legacy.
Larry Holmes: “In his latter years, meaning the years before he was assassinated, he became convinced that while the ability to sit in a formerly segregated restaurant was absolutely important, if you didn’t have money to buy the food, then you only had gone halfway. And his hope was to launch a new civil rights struggle for the right to a job. And that’s absolutely relevant to the depression-level unemployment and underemployment that we have in this city and this country.”
Six members of Occupy Baltimore and the Algebra Project were arrested Monday for trying to occupy the site of a proposed juvenile detention center.
In Michigan, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. John Conyers and religious leaders held a protest on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day outside the home of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. They were protesting Michigan’s increasing use of the state appointing unelected emergency financial managers to take over management of predominantly cities and school districts that have large African-American populations.