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Senate Panel OKs Healthcare Reform Without Public Option

The Senate Finance Committee has become the fifth and final congressional panel to approve legislation reforming the nation’s healthcare system. The $829 billion proposal would require almost all Americans to buy insurance or pay a penalty. The bill does not include a government-backed public option to compete with private insurers, instead proposing the establishment of nonprofit cooperatives. The measure passed by a vote of 14-to-9. Maine Senator Olympia Snowe was the lone Republican to vote with the panel’s Democratic majority. At the White House, President Obama hailed the measure’s approval.

President Obama: "It reins in some of the worst practices of the insurance industry, like the denial of coverage due to preexisting conditions. It also sets up an insurance exchange that will make coverage affordable for those who don’t currently have it. And as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has certified, it will slow the growth of healthcare costs in the long term, and it will not add a penny to our deficit."

Health Rallies to Be Held at Insurers’ Offices

As the congressional debate continues, single-payer advocates are planning a national day of action tomorrow. The group Mobilization for Health Care for All says more than 700 people have signed up to risk arrest by holding sit-ins in front of insurance company offices nationwide. So far this month, over thirty people have been arrested at similar actions in cities including New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. We’ll have more on the Senate Finance vote after headlines.

Thousands Rally in DC as Immigration Bill Unveiled

In other news from Washington, thousands of people descended on Capitol Hill Tuesday to rally for immigration reform. The protest coincided with the unveiling of a new immigration reform bill from Democratic Congress member and Immigration Task Force Chair Luis Gutierrez.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez: "My bill will promote fair immigration proceedings, humane treatment of immigration detainees, and policies that respect the tenet of community policing. No more raids in our community, no more separation of our families. Now, none of this works without a strong commitment to America’s labor force. None of it works without a strong commitment. So one of the tenets of our bill will be comprehensive immigration reform, has to mean — has to mean — to protecting all workers."

Citing Democratic Congress member John Lewis, Gutierrez called immigration reform the civil rights struggle of our time.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez: "Justice for immigrants is today’s civil rights struggle, and it’s too important to lose. And that’s why we won’t stop. That’s why we won’t stop, and that’s why we cannot wait. We have work to do, and we cannot wait. We have families to save. We have mothers and children to keep together. We have a Congress to persuade. We have a president to convince. And we have justice to deliver, and we have laws to change, and we will not rest until that is accomplished."

Rallies were also held in at least twenty other cities Tuesday as part of a national day of action.

Iraq: 85,000 Deaths Since 2004

In Iraq, newly released figures show at least 85,000 people have been killed in violent attacks since 2004. The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry says more than 147,000 have been wounded over the same period. The figure does not include some 10,000 missing Iraqis. It’s also lower than varying tolls gathered by human rights groups and independent studies.

UN: 100,000 Displaced by Northern Iraq Drought

The United Nations, meanwhile, has disclosed over 100,000 people in northern Iraq have been forced to abandon their homes because of drought and excessive well-pumping since 2005. Another 36,000 are said to be on the verge of displacement.

Russia Rejects New Iran Sanctions

In Russia, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with top Russian officials Tuesday in a bid to win support for increasing pressure on Iran. US officials said Russia continued to resist calls to back a new round of sanctions before the UN Security Council. Clinton said the US will hold off on pursuing sanctions for the time being.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: "We believe that Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy but that it is not entitled to nuclear weapons. Russia agrees with us on that. At the same time that we are very vigorously pursuing this track, we are aware that we might not be as successful as we need to be, so we have always looked at the potential of sanctions in the event that we are not successful, that we cannot assure ourselves and others that Iran has decided not to pursue nuclear weapons."

Groups Warn of Civilian Toll in Congo Fighting

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a coalition of humanitarian groups is warning more than 1,000 civilians have been killed and over 900,000 displaced in fighting between Rwandan Hutu militias and Congolese forces so far this year. The groups say both sides have targeted civilians, but attacks from Rwandan Hutus are believed to account for a majority of the deaths.

Obama to Sign Pakistan Aid Bill

President Obama is expected to sign a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan later today. Obama will approve the package after Congress releases a statement intended to address Pakistani concerns that attendant conditions would violate Pakistani sovereignty. On Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Chair John Kerry defended the aid measure.

Sen. John Kerry: "There is absolutely nothing in this bill related to private security firms or drone attacks or a host of other issues that are being raised by the press. And finally, there is nothing in this bill that impinges on Pakistani sovereignty. Period. End of issue. And we have no intention of doing so."

Zelaya Delegation, Coup Regime Discuss Restoration

In Honduras, the coup regime and representatives of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya say they’ll begin discussions today on the critical point of Zelaya’s restoration. Both sides have agreed to a number of points but remain divided over the coup regime’s refusal to let Zelaya return to office. On Tuesday, Zelaya representative Juan Barahona said his delegation would never accede to denying Zelaya’s return.

Juan Barahona: "It would have been betrayal had I signed documents renouncing the assembly or renouncing President Zelaya’s return. There’s no betrayal by his supporters or by me. We prefer to retire before signing a document we don’t agree with."

Zelaya has imposed a Thursday deadline for reaching an agreement.

Honduran Drug Chief: Smugging Unimpeded Since Coup

In other news from Honduras, the head of Honduran anti-drug operations says the coup has severely weakened efforts to combat drug smuggling and trafficking. On Tuesday, Honduran drugs chief Julian Aristides said traffickers have enjoyed free reign to smuggle cocaine out of Honduras. Ten abandoned planes suspected of involvement in smuggling were found last month, more than double the number for all of last year.

Alleged Cuban Spy Re-Sentenced to 22 Years

One of the five jailed Cuban nationals known as the Cuban Five has been re-sentenced to nearly twenty-two years in prison. Antonio Guerrero was re-sentenced Tuesday by the same judge who handed him a life sentence dismissed by an appeals court last year. The new sentence was slightly higher than what prosecutors had recommended. Guerrerro’s attorney, Leonard Weinglass, said he would appeal.

Leonard Weinglass: "He has been sentenced to twenty years on a conviction, but we will continue to fight that conviction. This ends a chapter, the chapter of his sentence."

The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 for spying on the US military and Cuban exiles in southern Florida. The men say they weren’t spying on the US, but trying to monitor violent right-wing Cuban exile groups that have organized attacks on Cuba. The Cuban Five trial was the only judicial proceeding in US history condemned by the UN Human Rights Commission.

EPA Releases Email Ignored by Bush Admin

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a two-year-old email that the Bush administration refused to open because it contained a ruling calling for the regulation of greenhouse gases. The ruling cited six gases it said endangered public welfare and called for regulating their release. The Bush administration objected to the ruling and ignored it by informing the EPA the email wouldn’t be read.

Jury Selection Begins in Trial of Bear Stearns Execs

And jury selection has begun in the case against two former hedge fund managers at the investment bank Bear Stearns. Matthew Tannin and Ralph Cioffi are the first executives to face criminal charges in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis. Both are accused of fraud over two funds that collapsed last year.

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