KWAME HOLMAN: At least 51 people were killed in Iraq today when three suicide car bombers drove into checkpoints south of Baghdad. More than 180 people were wounded in the attacks near Karbala. Most were Shiite pilgrims en route there for annual ceremonies.
And, in Afghanistan, insurgent attacks killed three NATO soldiers. That raised the total so far this month to 22.
In Tunisia, government troops fired warning shots as some 2,000 protesters marched on the ruling party’s headquarters in Tunis. The demonstrations, however, were mostly peaceful. The marchers took down part of a sign bearing the party’s name and criticized the new unity government for including old-guard lawmakers. Later, the government announced it will recognize all banned political groups and grant amnesty to all political prisoners.
More than 100 people were arrested today in New York and New England in a major organized-crime bust. Federal prosecutors called it one of the largest mafia crackdowns in FBI history.
The mass arrests took place early this morning, after a multiyear investigation.
DIEGO RODRIGUEZ, special agent, FBI: State, local, everybody is participating in this major takedown.
KWAME HOLMAN: Some 800 federal agents and police swept up suspects from all five of New York’s crime families and others. The charges were brought in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Newark, N.J., and Providence, RI.
In all, 127 people were accused, including Luigi Manocchio, the reputed former mob boss for all of New England.
At a Brooklyn news conference, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the charges cover decades.
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Their alleged crimes include numerous violent and illegal acts, from murder and narcotics trafficking, to extortion, illegal gambling, arson, loan-sharking and labor racketeering.
Now, some allegations include classic mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals. Others involve truly senseless murders. In one instance, a victim was allegedly shot and killed during a botched robbery attempt.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s roundup was the latest in a series of blows that have weakened organized crime in recent years.
Shakeups at two high-tech giants dominated the day’s economic news. Google announced co-founder Larry Page will return as CEO in April. He gave up that job 10 years ago. And Hewlett-Packard said four directors are leaving. That follows a series of scandals, including the ouster of former CEO Mark Hurd last year over sexual-harassment charges.
On Wall Street, stocks had an off day. The Dow Jones industrial average lost two points to close at 11,822. The Nasdaq fell 21 points to close at 2,704.
House Republicans moved ahead today with plans to craft their own health-care overhaul. On Wednesday, they voted to repeal the health-reform law enacted by Democrats.
Today, in another mostly party-line vote, they instructed key committees to develop alternatives.
REP. ROB WOODALL (R-Ga.): We have now repealed the bill here in the House, and we have the opportunity to bring those provisions forward one by one. And I will tell you what. I’m not going to like all those provisions. And some of those provisions are going to pass the House. And that’s the way it ought to be. You shouldn’t have a one-size-fits-all, take-it-or-leave-it kind of system. You ought to be able to have that discussion on both sides of the aisle.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats called today’s action a political ploy and said the public will see that the Republican alternatives fall short.
REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-Mass.): My friends on the other side of the aisle have got up over and over and over again and said: Well, you know, we’re really with you on pre-existing conditions. We’re really with you on the doughnut hole. We’re with you on allowing parents to keep their kids on their insurance until they’re 26.
But, yet, they’re really not, because if they were, they wouldn’t have voted yesterday to repeal all those protections.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic leaders in the Senate continued to indicate they will block any repeal vote there.
There’s been more good news on the recovery of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She’s now able to stand with assistance, less than two weeks after being shot in the head. And, today, doctors in Tucson, Ariz., said Giffords also is able to scroll through an iPad, but it is not yet clear if she can speak or how well she can see.
Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, voiced optimism today. He said, “She is a fighter like nobody else that I know.”
A California woman who received a rare larynx transplant last fall had a kind of coming-out celebration today. Fifty-two-year-old Brenda Jensen underwent the 18-hour operation in October.
As this animation depicts, surgeons began by removing her damaged larynx. The new organ and thyroid then were attached to surrounding nerves, arteries and veins. Jensen now can speak for the first time in more than a decade. She was reunited with her medical team today in Sacramento.
BRENDA JENSEN, larynx-transplant patient: It’s just been amazing, because, when I talk on the phone, people don’t hang up on me no more, because I have got a real voice. They don’t think I’m a telemarketer or…
BRENDA JENSEN: … a mechanical machine.
BRENDA JENSEN: It’s just been a big, big difference.
KWAME HOLMAN: Jensen’s operation was just the second successful larynx transplant to be documented since 1998.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.