The Honduran coup regime and representatives of the ousted President Manuel Zelaya have reached an agreement that could end a four-month-old political crisis. The Organization of American States says both sides have agreed to let the Honduran Congress vote on whether Zelaya can return to office. On Thursday, the head of the coup regime, Roberto Micheletti, insisted he hadn’t agreed to Zelaya’s return.
Roberto Micheletti: "With regard to the most contentious subject in the deal, the possible restitution of Zelaya to the presidency of the republic, my government has decided to support a proposal which allows a vote by the National Congress."
The deal also reportedly calls for establishing a power-sharing government and recognition of national elections scheduled for next month. The agreement appears to be a major concession by Zelaya, who’s believed to have the support of just one-fifth of the Congress. The deal was reached just days after a team of US officials arrived in Honduras to help broker the talks. Earlier in the day, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said Zelaya’s return is central to resolving the crisis.
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon: "I would say that the question of restitution has been a central question, not just for the United States, but for the entire international community. And OAS resolutions and UN resolutions have clearly indicated that President Zelaya should be returned to office."
The deal was announced hours after Honduran police fired tear gas on a crowd of over a thousand Zelaya supporters marching near where the talks were held. Several marchers were reportedly hospitalized after suffering police beatings.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has unveiled a healthcare reform bill that includes a government-funded public insurance option and a new tax on wealthy Americans to help fund it. But the measure has been criticized for excluding provisions that would tie the public option’s rates to those paid by Medicare. Pelosi announced the measure on the Capitol steps.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "For nearly a century — it’s really over a century — leaders of all political parties, starting over a century ago with President Theodore Roosevelt, have called and fought for healthcare and health insurance reform. Today we are about to deliver on the promise of making affordable, quality healthcare available for all Americans, laying the foundation for a brighter future for generations to come."
In a statement, Congress member Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, expressed "deep disappointment" with the measure, which he said offers a weak version of the public option.
In other healthcare news, single-payer advocates continued with a campaign of sit-ins at the offices of major insurance companies Thursday. In Louisville, Kentucky, protesters occupied the entrance to the headquarters of the insurance giant Humana. Meanwhile, four people were arrested at a CareFirst/Blue Cross office in Baltimore. The group Mobilization for Health Care for All says one of the arrested demonstrators, Dr. Margaret Flowers, is refusing to give her name to police and wants to remain in jail until CareFirst executives agree to a public meeting.
Back in Washington, a newly disclosed report has revealed nearly half the members of a House committee responsible for military spending are under scrutiny by congressional ethics watchdogs. According to the Washington Post, two separate ethics offices are probing Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chair Congress member John Murtha, as well as six other lawmakers tied to the controversial lobbying firm PMA Group. The lawmakers have steered millions of dollars in federal spending to PMA clients, who have in turn donated money to their campaigns. The lawmakers are among more than thirty currently under scrutiny by House ethics probes. The Washington Post says the report was obtained after being inadvertently published on a publicly accessible computer network.
President Obama paid a visit to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base early Thursday to witness the return of bodies of American soldiers killed in the Afghan war. Obama is the first president to attend the ritual at Dover, where the bodies of dead US soldiers killed in foreign wars are brought for their final return home. Obama witnessed the delivery of eighteen bodies, all casualties of the deadliest month for the US occupation force in Afghanistan. Obama is currently weighing a decision to escalate the Afghan war on top of the estimated 34,000 additional troops he deployed earlier this year.
President Obama: "Obviously, it was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day. Not only our troops, but their families, as well. And so, Michelle and I are constantly mindful of those sacrifices. And obviously, you know, the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts, and it is something that I think about each and every day."
As Obama visited Dover, a soldier at Colorado’s Fort Carson military base shot himself in the shoulder to avoid a redeployment to Afghanistan. According to police, Sgt. Robert Murchison had been on emergency leave from Afghanistan and due to return this week. Seventeen troops based out of Fort Carson have been killed in Afghanistan this month.
A former so-called "enemy combatant" who was jailed in the US for over six years without charge has been sentenced to over eight years in prison. Ali al-Marri pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy charge earlier this year after the Obama charged him to avoid a Supreme Court hearing challenging his indefinite imprisonment. As part of his guilty plea, al-Marri admitted to attending militant training camps and traveling to the US under the direction of al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In sentencing Marri to about half the maximum fifteen-year term, US District Judge Michael Mihm appeared to give him credit for his indefinite jailing on a US Navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina. Mihm says he cut nine months from Marri’s sentence in response to the harsh conditions of his imprisonment in isolation.
New government figures show the US economy expanded by 3.5 percent in the third quarter, snapping a record streak of four straight quarterly declines. Government stimulus is believed to account for most of the growth. In other economic news, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is publicly challenging the Obama administration’s plan to regulate the practices of major financial firms. Appearing before the House Financial Services Committee, FDIC chair Sheila Bair said a proposed council of regulators "lacks sufficient authority" to prevent another financial meltdown. Bair said the council should not be headed by the Treasury secretary but by an independent chair.
In Ecuador, lawyers for Amazonian residents seeking damages from the oil giant Chevron have revealed a US resident who secretly recorded the judge in the case is a convicted drug felon. The American, Wayne Hansen, took part in a secretly recorded video that Chevron says proves Judge Juan Nunez has been guilty of judicial corruption. Judge Nunez said the videos were manipulated. The Amazonian residents’ lawyers say Hansen was convicted of drug smuggling from Colombia in 1986 and was later sued successfully by a woman who accused him of attacking her with his two pit bulls. The videos’ release has stalled the case, in which residents are suing Chevron for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into Ecuador’s rain forest. An independent court-appointed expert has recommended Chevron pay up to $27 billion in compensation.
And in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has thrown out thousands of juvenile convictions handed down by one of the two corrupt judges who took bribes in return for placing the youths in privately owned jails. Judge Mark Ciavarella and another judge are said to have received $2.6 million for ensuring that juvenile suspects were sent to private prisons. Some of the young people were jailed over the objections of their probation officers. The judges pleaded guilty to fraud earlier this year and face up to seven years in prison. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania court dismissed all of Ciavarella’s estimated 6,500 cases and said only a small number are eligible to be reheard.