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The Senate Finance Committee is expected to vote today on its version of healthcare reform legislation. Last month, the Democratic-controlled panel rejected amendments to include a public insurance option. But the insurance industry is still attacking the measure, claiming it doesn’t do enough to force younger, healthy Americans into purchasing insurance. The industry wants harsher mandates so that Americans in poorer health don’t account for the bulk of its new customers. On Monday, the White House and leading Democrats denounced an insurance industry study warning that the Senate Finance measure would lead to increased costs for average families. Some have interpreted the study as a threat to raise costs rather than as an unbiased warning. Democratic Senator John Rockefeller of West Virginia said, "Health insurance companies have been laughing all the way to the bank for generations while people suffer. The industry stands today as the greatest impediment to real healthcare reform."
The Washington Post is reporting the size of the Obama administration’s troop increase in Afghanistan is greater than previously disclosed. The White House is sending an additional 13,000 troops on top of the 21,000 announced earlier this year. Most of the troops are said to play a support role, with positions including engineers, medical personnel, intelligence experts and military police. The buildup has left the US with more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than during the height of the Bush administration’s troop surge in Iraq.
In other news from Afghanistan, a member of a UN-backed election panel has resigned in protest of alleged foreign dominance of the panel’s activities. Maulavi Mustafa Barakzai was one of only two Afghans on the Electoral Complaints Commission, which is responsible for certifying the vote. Barakzai says the commission’s foreign members have been making all the decisions and ignoring local voices. The panel is expected to decide this week how many votes to disqualify amidst allegations of widespread fraud.
In Honduras, talks between the coup regime and representatives of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya continue today. Zelaya has imposed a Thursday deadline for a new agreement. Both sides have reportedly agreed to five of an eight-point Organization of American States proposal, but the coup regime continues to reject the basic demand of Zelaya’s restoration. On Monday, Zelaya’s foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, warned the situation on the ground is worsening by the day.
Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas: "The situation right now in Honduras, far from improving, is becoming worse each day, even in the midst of a dialog process which began last week under the auspices of the Organization of American States and is now in hiatus due to the fact that the regime is placing serious obstacles to the process of the restitution of the president."
Rodas also addressed reports of a growing number of foreign paramilitaries inside Honduras hired by the coup regime and wealthy landowners.
Honduran Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas: "The use of paramilitary forces of different nationalities has been said to be for the benefit of landowners, to protect their properties due to the escalation in violence. We believe that those are the traditional excuses used to justify the presence of mercenaries to do the dirty job that the armed forces refuse to do."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Moscow today for talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian newspaper Kommersant is reporting the US has privately agreed to stop publicly criticizing Russia’s human rights record in return for Russian cooperation on confronting Iran and so-called missile defense.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to prevent any international prosecutions of Israelis for the assault on the Gaza Strip. Speaking before the Israeli parliament, Netanyahu said a recent UN inquiry accusing Israel of war crimes "encourages terror and endangers the peace." Netanyahu also renewed Israeli demands that Palestinians explicitly recognize Israel as a Jewish state rather than just grant it normal recognition.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "I call again to our Palestinian neighbors, say yes to a Jewish state. I know this recognition is not easy for the Palestinian leadership. I know it is a step that requires courage. I call on the heads of the Palestinian Authority to tell their people the truth, that without recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, we cannot achieve peace."
The UN Security Council is expected to take up the UN report on the Gaza assault tomorrow.
In China, six people have been sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the clashes between local Han Chinese and Uyghur residents earlier this year. All of the defendants appear to be Uyghurs. At least 150 people were killed and over a thousand injured in what was described as the bloodiest ethnic violence to hit China in decades.
A US academic has become the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics. Elinor Ostrom of the University of Indiana was named co-winner of the prize Monday for her research into how communities can self-organize without state or corporate management.
Elinor Ostrom: "I’m not denigrating that officials can do something very positive, but what we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement of the people involved, as opposed to just having somebody in Washington or at a far, far distance make a rule. How does that get all the way down to management of forests, fisheries, irrigation systems, etc.? So we have to look ground up."
Ostrom also celebrated her distinction as the first woman to win the Nobel economics prize.
Elinor Ostrom: "We’re entering a new — we’ve already entered a new era, and we recognize that women have the capabilities of doing great scientific work. And yes, I appreciate that this is an honor to be the first woman, but I won’t be the last."
Military censors at Guantanamo Bay have banned a book by the MIT professor and leading political analyst Noam Chomsky from the prison library. Published in 2007, Interventions compiles a series of Chomsky’s columns. The Pentagon has refused to explain why the book has been barred. Chomsky commented, "This happens sometimes in totalitarian regimes."
The three surviving children of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have reached a private settlement in a dispute over his estate. Dexter King’s two siblings had filed a suit accusing him of improperly handling the corporation that manages their father’s legacy. The deal avoids a public jury trial that would have likely revealed extensive personal and financial details about the King estate.
And the 2009 Right Livelihood Awards have been announced with four recipients. The Canadian scientist David Suzuki will receive the Honorary Award for his lifelong environmental advocacy. The other honorees are Congo activist Rene Ngongo, who has fought for preserving the Congo’s rainforests; New Zealand anti-nuclear activist Alyn Ware; and Catherine Hamlin, an Australian doctor who has treated African women suffering from childbirth injuries for over fifty years. The Right Livelihood Awards are awarded annually and are widely known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize."