News Wrap: Car Bomb at Iraqi Funeral Kills Dozens as Wave of Violence Continues
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A car bomb killed at least 48 people in Iraq today, the latest in a week of violence that has left more than 200 dead. The bomb tore through a funeral tent in a mainly Shiite section of Baghdad.
In addition to the dead, more than 120 others were wounded. The attack ignited skirmishes between Iraqi security forces and residents angry over a lack of protection. The violence has raised new concerns as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw from Iraq this year.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela is recovering from a collapsed lung and could be released from a hospital tomorrow. That word came today from a source close to Mandela quoted by Reuters. Mandela’s foundation said he was hospitalized yesterday for routine tests. Mandela is 92 years old. He has not been in public — he’s not been seen in public since last year’s soccer World Cup.
A prominent gay-rights activist in Uganda was found bludgeoned to death late Wednesday. Police said it was a robbery. David Kato’s picture, along with those of other gay men, was published last year on the front page of a tabloid newspaper. The words “Hang them” appeared next to the photos. Kato had been working against a bill that imposes the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and a number of other African nations.
The U.S. is scrapping its color-coded terror threat-level advisories. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced today the warning system will be phased out completely by the end of April. She said it’s being replaced by more targeted terror alerts over the next three months.
U.S. HOMELAND SECURTY SECRETARY JANET NAPOLITANO: We must always be on alert and be ready. When we have information about a specific, credible threat, we will issue a formal alert, providing as much information as we can. The alerts will be specific to the threat posed. They may recommend certain actions or suggest looking for specific suspicious behavior.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The Bush administration created the color-coded warning system in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
In economic news, first-time claims for jobless benefits rose last week to the highest level since October. The increase was mainly caused by snowstorms in the Southeast that shut down businesses and unemployment offices the week before.
And the listing firm RealtyTrac announced a jump in home foreclosures in 149 of the nation’s largest cities last year. The problem has now spread beyond hotbeds like Las Vegas to Seattle, Houston and Chicago.
Despite the reports, stocks held firm today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained four points to close at 11,989. The Nasdaq jumped 15 points to close at 2,755.
A powerful winter storm wreaked havoc overnight and today across much of the Northeastern U.S. It dumped a foot-and-a-half of snow in some areas and claimed the lives of at least six people.
MAN: That’s enough, you know? We have enough for this year. I hope we don’t get hit with another storm soon.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yet another fierce storm crippled the Northeast, and this morning, residents up and down the East Coast were digging out.
In Connecticut, northbound Interstate 95 shut down, stranding motorists for hours.
QUESTION: What have you been doing?
WOMAN: Napping and listening to the radio.
MAN: It’s a part of the four seasons, man. It’s part of being a New Yorker, man.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Since mid-December, snow has fallen eight times on the New York region, including the blizzard that dropped 20 inches after Christmas.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said city officials had learned from the criticism of the response to that storm.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), mayor of New York: We asked the questions of what didn’t work last time and whether there’s anything we could do differently. And we did have a lot of things different in terms of lining up private contractors. We have some more communications, as you know, directly to the trucks. There’s a whole bunch of things that we did.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Central Park has already seen 36 inches of snow this season and the most in January since the city started keeping records.
The Washington, D.C., area received almost seven inches. The wet, heavy snow began falling just before the afternoon rush hour, turning highways into parking lots. Abandoned cars still littered many roads this morning.
The storm also canceled at least 2,000 flights, disrupting air travel from the mid-Atlantic states up through New England, the nation’s busiest airspace. Crews worked to clear 10 inches of snow from the runways at Logan Airport in Boston — 1,000 flights were canceled in three New York City area airports , and nearly about 1,500 people were stuck overnight at Philadelphia’s airport. Seventeen inches fell on Philadelphia by the time the storm came through.
Senate leaders said today they have reached a deal on filibusters. As part of the new agreement, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would limit filibusters on bringing bills and nominations to the Senate floor. In exchange, Majority Leader Harry Reid promised to give Republicans more opportunities to offer amendments. The move was part of a larger effort to make the Senate more efficient and less contentious.
Jay Carney will be the next White House press secretary, replacing Robert Gibbs. Carney is Vice President Biden’s communication director and was formerly a longtime journalist with Time magazine.
Those are some of the day’s major stories.