The new U.S. Congress convenes today with Republicans in control of both houses for the first time in eight years. Republicans now have 246 seats in the House, their largest majority in nearly 70 years. The new Congress is also more diverse than ever before, with a record 104 women, including Utah Representative-elect Mia Love, the first black Republican woman in Congress. Women still make up only 20 percent of lawmakers, while people of color make up only about 18 percent. At the top of the Republican agenda is a push to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, with lawmakers in both houses expected to file measures in favor of the project today.
In the Central African nation of Burundi, more than 100 rebels have reportedly been killed following days of heavy clashes with the army. The military says the rebels entered the country from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The news comes as United Nations and Congolese forces say they have launched strikes against a Burundian rebel group based in the eastern Congolese borderlands.
In Guatemala, the trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on genocide charges has been delayed shortly after it resumed following a two-year pause. In 2013, the former U.S.-backed military dictator was sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity for the mass killing of Ixil Mayans in the 1980s. But a court annulled the verdict less than two weeks later. Ríos Montt, who is 88, appeared in court Monday on a stretcher covered with a blanket after he lost a bid to be excused on medical grounds. The retrial was postponed after his attorneys accused one of the judges of bias. (Click here to watch Democracy Now! coverage of the trial.)
Tens of thousands of people have rallied against racism across Germany amidst a rise in anti-Muslim protests. On Monday, the latest rally by the anti-immigrant group Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or Pegida, drew a record 18,000 people in Dresden. The city’s landmark Cologne Cathedral shut off its lights, leaving the surrounding square in darkness, in an bid to deter the protesters.
Same-sex couples are getting married across Florida today after a state judge lifted a temporary ban on the unions. After lifting the ban, Judge Sarah Zabel presided over two same-sex weddings, including one between plaintiffs Cathy Pareto and Karla Arguello.
Karla Arguello: “We’ve been together for 15 years, and it just means now that our family is recognized like every other family, that our love is just as good enough as everybody else’s, and that our son is finally going to have a family that’s not a second-class citizen, that he has a family like everybody else that deserves the same respect and deserves the same dignity as everybody else.”
As many as 14 counties in Florida have reportedly opted to end all courthouse weddings rather than comply with the ruling and provide weddings for same-sex couples. Florida is now the 36th state to allow same-sex marriage.
New York Times investigative reporter James Risen has appeared in court and refused to answer questions about an alleged source. Monday’s hearing in Virginia took place ahead of the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of giving Risen classified information which revealed a botched CIA plot to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. Risen has waged a seven-year legal battle against the Obama administration’s attempts to subpoena him and force him to reveal his source. It is unclear if Risen will be forced to testify at Sterling’s trial. Risen’s hearing comes as the administration has backed off on a threat to subpoena another journalist, 60 Minutes producer Richard Bonin, at a trial over bombings by al-Qaeda. The New York Times reports the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, has withdrawn his recommendation to subpoena Bonin over his interactions with al-Qaeda’s press office in 1998.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has been sworn in for an unprecedented fourth term with a sweeping plan to address climate change. In his inaugural speech, Brown said California must lead the way if the world is to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.
Gov. Jerry Brown: “I propose three ambitious goals to be accomplished within the next 15 years: first, increase from one-third to 50 percent our electricity derived from renewable sources; two, and even more difficult, reduce today’s petroleum use in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent; three, double the efficiency of existing buildings and make heating fuels cleaner.”
U.S. oil prices have briefly dropped below $50 a barrel for the first time in nearly six years. The drop in prices comes amidst a boom in oil production inside the United States spurred by the rise of the drilling process known as fracking, which environmentalists say raises dire health and safety concerns.
In New York City, two police officers have been shot and wounded while pursuing suspects in an armed robbery in the Bronx. The shooting comes as New York City police have continued their apparent work stoppage following the fatal shootings of two officers last month. According to The New York Times, over the past week arrests are down by half while parking and traffic tickets dropped more than 90 percent over the same period the previous year. The police are protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s comments on police brutality and racial profiling. On Monday, Mayor de Blasio addressed the decision by hundreds of police officers to turn their backs to him at the funerals for their slain colleagues. He called the actions “disrespectful.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “They were disrespectful to the families involved, that’s the bottom line. They were disrespectful to the families who had lost their loved one. And I can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing in a context like that. I think it just defies a lot of what we all feel is the right and decent thing to do when you’re dealing with a family in pain. I also think they were disrespectful to the people of this city, who in fact honor the work of the NYPD.”
A judge in New York has agreed to consider unsealing documents from the secret grand jury that decided not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for the chokehold killing of unarmed African American Eric Garner. Garner’s family, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Public Advocate Letitia James and the New York Post have all pushed for the records’ release. New York State Supreme Court Justice William Garnett agreed to hear their arguments on January 29. Demonstrators have also vowed to resume weekly protests over Garner’s death after a pause following the murder of two New York City police officers last month.
In Missouri, a member of the grand jury that declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed African American Michael Brown is suing for the right to speak publicly about the case. The lawsuit accuses Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch of presenting possible charges to the grand jury in a “muddled and untimely manner,” and notes the case had a “stronger focus on the victim” — Michael Brown — than in other cases. It also challenges “the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges” against Wilson. The juror is challenging a lifetime ban preventing grand jury members from discussing cases.
A new undercover investigation has revealed inhumane and potentially illegal treatment of chickens at a slaughter plant in Butterfield, Minnesota. The undercover video filmed at Butterfield Foods marks the first-ever exposé at a slaughter plant for so-called “spent” hens — egg-laying chickens who are sent to be killed once they are no longer deemed profitable. Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, described the group’s findings in a phone call with reporters.
Paul Shapiro: “What we found and documented on video at Butterfield is truly sickening. Perhaps most horrifying is that many birds at Butterfield are scalded alive, killed by drowning while fully conscious in tanks of scorching hot water. These hens are called cadavers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and they’re called 'red birds' by the industry because the color of their skin turns red from blood rushing to the surface because their hearts are still beating when they’re submerged in these tanks.”
A petition to ban so-called conversion therapy for transgender people has received nearly 300,000 signatures on Change.org following the suicide late last month of Leelah Alcorn. Alcorn was a 17-year-old transgender woman who walked into traffic after leaving a suicide note describing how she suffered from conversion therapy and attempts by her Christian parents to change her. She wrote, “My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. … Fix society. Please.”
The inspector general of the CIA, David Buckley, who presided over a probe into how the agency hacked the computers of Senate staffers investigating the torture program, will resign at the end of the month. The CIA said Buckley would leave his post after more than four years to take a job in the private sector.
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