The 113th United States Congress was sworn into office in Washington, D.C. The new Congress features the most women and racial minorities of any Congress in history, with 43 African Americans (8 percent of the total number of representatives), 32 Hispanics (6 percent), 12 Asian Americans (2 percent), and 101 women (19 percent), as well as the first Buddhist, the first Hindu, and the first openly bisexual legislator. The Democratic Party formed the first caucus in which white men were not the majority, and the Republican Party welcomed the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. John Boehner (R., Ohio) was re-elected Speaker of the House, defeating Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who was criticized after her office edited four absent congresswomen into a photograph, taken on the steps of the Capitol Building, of female members of the House Democratic Caucus. “It’s an accurate historical record,” said Pelosi, “that it was freezing cold.” Vice President Joe Biden posed for photos with senators during ceremonial reenactments of their swearings-in. “Spread your legs,” he said to the husband of a North Dakota senator. “You’re going to be frisked!” The House of Representatives passed a Senate-brokered deal to avert the “fiscal cliff,” President Barack Obama signed the deal by autopen after returning to his vacation in Hawaii, and Lake Superior State University placed the phrase “fiscal cliff” on its List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness. Obama nominated former Republican senator Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense and his chief counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, for director of the CIA. Vladimir Putin signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to French actor Gérard Depardieu, who was seeking refuge from high taxes on the wealthy in his country, and actress Brigitte Bardot threatened to join Depardieu in response to the planned euthanasia of two tubercular French circus elephants. “I have decided to request Russian nationality,” she said, “in order to escape a country which has become nothing more than an animal cemetery.”
In Syria, where more than 60,000 people were found to have been killed and half a million to have fled since the start of the country’s civil war, President Bashar al-Assad gave a speech in which he called his opponents “murderous criminals” and refused to step down from office. “The enemies of the people are the enemies of God,” he said, “and the enemies of God will burn in hell.” In Aurora, Colorado, where preliminary hearings began in the trial of mass murderer James Eagan Holmes, four people were killed in a home shootout. Shooting victim and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords visited Newtown, Connecticut, the site of a recent elementary-school shooting, and businesses in nearby Southington, Connecticut, were offering gift certificates in exchange for violent video games. A referendum in Gyomro, Hungary, to stop the naming of a park after the country’s former Nazi-allied leader Miklos Horthy failed because of low turnout; a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman invited Egyptian Jews to return from Israel in order to make room for Palestinians; and the boyfriend of an Indian woman who died after being gang-raped on a bus alleged that police spent 20 minutes arguing over jurisdiction after finding the couple naked and beaten in the road, before transporting them to hospital. Thirteen people died in a stampede in Angola on New Year’s Eve, and 60 died in a stampede in Ivory Coast on New Year’s Day. Russian beer was reclassified from food to alcohol. “We are used to smoking, drinking, eating a poor diet and doing little sport and then falling ill,” said a Russian parliamentarian. “That’s got to stop.” An earthquake triggered a six-inch tsunami off the coast of Alaska, a cold snap sealed 1,000 Chinese ships in ice, and an Icelandair crew duct-taped a man to his seat after he began screaming, spitting, and hitting people on a flight to New York.
In Orange County, Florida, a sandwich-shop employee was fired for threatening to kill a customer who had requested ketchup on his cheesesteak, and in San Jose, California, a man seen waving an assault rifle outside a home on Ezie Street confronted police naked and brandishing a samurai sword. A California appeals court overturned the sentence of a man who had been convicted of raping a woman by sneaking into her bed and impersonating her boyfriend. “Has the man committed rape?” asked the court in its ruling. “The answer is no, even though, if the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband, the answer would be yes.” The Indonesian city of Lhokseumawe began requiring women to sit side-saddle on motorbikes, the Church of England voted to allow celibate gay men to become bishops, and an Illinois priest was reportedly put on leave after being found gagged and handcuffed in his church’s rectory. “I was playing with them,” said the priest of the handcuffs during a 911 call, “and I need some help getting out.” Afro-Cuban priests prescribed Santería rituals for Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who is hospitalized with a severe lung infection. Honduras’s ambassador to Colombia resigned amid reports that prostitutes his bodyguard allegedly invited to an embassy Christmas party stole computers and defecated on two desks, and a cat was caught transporting drill parts, saw blades, and other supplies to inmates in preparation for a prison break in Alagoas, Brazil. “It’s tough to find out who’s responsible,” said a prison official, “as the cat doesn’t speak.”
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