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President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress last night to push his response to the economic crisis, promise healthcare reform and vow an end to the Iraq war. In a fifty-two-minute speech, Obama touched on the banking crisis but revealed few details of how he plans to steer banks like Citigroup and Bank of America from collapse.
President Obama: "This plan will require significant resources from the federal government and, yes, probably more than we’ve already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade."
Obama called on Congress to invest in areas like energy, healthcare and education, while stressing the need to reduce the federal deficit. Without offering details, Obama also urged what his administration has called its top fiscal priority: healthcare reform.
President Obama: "I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. Once again, it will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our healthcare has weighed down our economy and our conscience long enough. So let there be no doubt: healthcare reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."
While speaking of achieving universal healthcare, the Obama administration has refused to endorse the single-payer approach favored by most Americans but opposed by the insurance industry. Obama’s pledge for healthcare reform comes as a new study warns as many as 14,000 people could be losing their health coverage every day. The Center for American Progress says an estimated four million Americans have lost their health insurance since the recession began.
Meanwhile, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said he will soon announce a plan to end the war in Iraq.
President Obama: "I am now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war."
Administration officials say Obama is preparing to order US combat troops to withdraw from Iraq by August 2010. The nineteen-month deadline would be three months longer than what Obama proposed on the campaign trail. As many as 50,000 US troops would still remain in Iraq under Obama’s plan. A "senior military officer" told the Los Angeles Times, "When President Obama said we were going to get out within 16 months, some people heard, 'get out', and everyone’s gone. But that is not going to happen."
In Iraq, an American soldier was killed Tuesday after coming under fire from Iraqi policemen. Another three US soldiers were wounded. It was the third deadly attack on US forces in two weeks in the provinces of Nineveh and Diyala. Meanwhile, four US troops have been killed in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. It was the deadliest attack on US troops in Afghanistan this year.
In Somalia, at least fifteen people were killed and more than sixty wounded Tuesday in escalating clashes between Islamist fighters and African Union troops. A Mogadishu resident lost his wife and child in the violence.
Mogadishu resident: "They were hit by a mortar that killed them. My other three children were wounded and taken to hospital. The dead woman is my wife, who was recovering after giving birth."
More than 16,000 civilians have been killed and one million displaced since US-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to oust Islamist leaders two years ago. The ongoing unrest has prompted calls for changes to US policy in the region. In a letter last week, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold urged President Obama to make what he called "a public, unequivocal statement" announcing a "clear break" from Bush administration policy in Somalia.
In France, five former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been released after a court ruled they were illegally interrogated. The prisoners had been jailed since the US returned them to France in 2004 and 2005. All say they were tortured at Guantanamo. On Tuesday, the court ruled their interrogation by French security agents was illegal, because conditions at Guantanamo Bay violate international conventions.
Defense lawyer Paul-Albert Iweins: "It is an excellent decision which recognizes the law. We have asked the court to consider the procedure as illegal, and they did, so it is a very good thing for the law in this country. We could not accept that the interrogators would question people imprisoned in a foreign territory in conditions contrary to international conventions."
The five prisoners say they plan to seek compensation from the US for their Guantanamo ordeal. The ruling came one day after the Guantanamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed returned to Britain after his release by the US.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank are appealing for international pressure to halt ever-expanding Israeli settlements. On Tuesday, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority led foreign diplomats on a tour of Palestinian areas carved up by settlement activity. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said the settlements are destroying what slim chances remain for a peaceful two-state solution.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad: "This is a project entitled ‘E1,’ which, if seen through, will destroy the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied Palestinian territory. It will separate the northern West Bank from southern West Bank and will completely isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank."
The Obama administration has yet to voice any public opposition to the expanding Israeli settlements.
Back in the United States, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke is predicting the US could come out of recession by 2010. Bernanke spoke Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke: "If actions taken by the administration, the Congress and the Federal Reserve are successful in restoring some measure of financial stability — and only if that is the case, in my view — there is a reasonable prospect that the current recession will end in 2009 and that 2010 will be a year of recovery."
News Corp. chair Rupert Murdoch has offered a limited apology for a New York Post cartoon that critics say depicts President Obama as a chimpanzee. The cartoon shows a white police officer shooting dead a chimpanzee in the street. His partner, another white officer, says, "They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill." African American leaders have called for a boycott of the New York Post and the firing of cartoonist Sean Delonas and editor-in-chief Col Allan. In a statement, Murdoch said, "Today I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted...It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such…I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community."
In other media news, the owner of the San Francisco Chronicle is warning it will sell or close the newspaper if it can’t drastically cut costs. The Hearst Corporation says the Chronicle will need to carry out significant layoffs to stay afloat. The Chronicle is the largest newspaper in Northern California. Hearst says it lost $50 million last year.
In California, a state legislator has introduced a bill to legalize the sale of marijuana. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano says the measure would generate over $1 billion amidst California’s budget woes.
The Supreme Court has dealt a setback to indigenous land claims in the US. On Tuesday, the court limited the government’s authority to hold land in trust for Native American tribes. Several states have sought the ruling to be able to impose greater control over development on indigenous lands.
A federal appeals court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s loosening of regulations over several pollutants known as fine particulates. On Tuesday, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit called the Bush rules "contrary to law and unsupported by adequately reasoned decision-making." The pollutants have been linked to lung cancer and asthma. In 2006, the Bush administration lowered the standard for long-term exposure over the recommendations of agency scientists. New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo says imposing higher standards could prevent hundreds of premature deaths in New York City every year.
And the Senate has approved Hilda Solis’s nomination as Labor Secretary by a vote of 80-to-17. The confirmation vote had been delayed amidst Republican opposition to Solis’s support for labor unions. As a Congress member, she was a key backer of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would remove barriers to unionizing workers.