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Shunning Single Payer, Obama Hosts Healthcare Summit

President Obama hosted a White House summit Thursday on reforming healthcare. Participants included doctors, health insurance companies, lawmakers and patients. Obama vowed to make passing healthcare reform a priority this year. Attendees included several lawmakers and lobbyists who successfully defeated former President Bill Clinton’s attempts to partially reform healthcare in the 1990s. The summit has raised controversy over the administration’s apparent attempt to initially exclude any voices for single-payer healthcare.

US Invites Iran to Afghan Conference

The Obama administration has announced its first formal public overture to Iran. Speaking at a NATO summit in Brussels, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US will invite Iran to a meeting on Afghanistan set for later this month.

NATO Resumes Russia Ties

NATO, meanwhile, has also announced plans to resume formal contact with Russia for the first time since Russia’s conflict with Georgia last summer. Clinton said US disagreements with Russia endure.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "NATO today agreed to restart the NATO-Russia Council as a mechanism for dialogue on issues both where we disagree, such as in Georgia, as the Secretary-General noted, and a platform for cooperation that is in our interests, like transit to Afghanistan or nonproliferation."

Clinton also appeared to voice support for continuing the Bush administration’s missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "We happen to believe in the United States that those threats in the future are more likely to come from regimes and terrorist networks than from nation states in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, we want to help Europe be prepared, and that’s why what Poland and the Czech Republic have done sets the stage for what will be strategic decisions going forward."

House OKs Mortgage Assistance Bill

The House has approved a measure that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of troubled home mortgages. Judges would have discretion to modify interest rates, reduce the principal, and extend the terms of a mortgage. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than 11 percent of home mortgages are now in some form of distress. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it faces a tougher path to approval. The measure is a key part of the Obama administration’s $75 billion foreclosure prevention plan officially launched this week. The White House estimates the plan will assist up to one in nine homeowners. The program offers financial incentives to mortgage-servicing companies that let troubled homeowners modify their terms. And it calls for the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to refinance loans for those who don’t owe more than 105% of their home’s value. According to Moody’s Economy.com, an estimated 13.6 million borrowers owed more than their home’s worth at the end of last year.

Senate Delays Omnibus Vote

Meanwhile, the Senate has delayed a vote on a $410 billion appropriations bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’s one vote short of closing debate and sending the bill for President Obama’s signature. The bill has come under opposition from senators opposed to what they call unnecessary earmarks and a provision easing US travel restrictions to Cuba.

GM Warns of Collapse Without Further Gov. Aid

The auto giant General Motors is warning it could go under within the next month unless it’s given another taxpayer-funded rescue. The warning came after one of GM’s auditors raised major doubts about the company’s prospects for survival. GM is seeking another $15 billion in government loans on top of the $15 billion it’s already received.

California Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Gay Marriage Ban

In California, the state Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a case seeking the reversal of a voter-approved gay marriage ban. Proposition 8 amended California’s constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman, overturning an earlier court declaring the right of gays and lesbians to marry. During a three-hour hearing, gay marriage advocates questioned the constitutionality of the amendment.

Attorney: "Petitioners’ position is that Proposition 8 took away the fundamental right to marry from same-sex couples."

Judge: "The right to marry or the right to get married?"

Attorney: "Took away the fundamental freedom to marry, which includes the choice, the constitutionally protected choice, about whether and whom to marry and the ability to continue in that relationship."

The former Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr represented backers of the gay marriage ban. During one exchange, Starr asserted that voters have the authority to overturn constitutional rights, including free speech.

Senate Panel to Probe Treatment of CIA Prisoners

The Senate Intelligence Committee has agreed to establish a review of the CIA’s treatment of prisoners in the so-called war on terror. The probe will focus on the imprisonment and interrogation of 100 prisoners in overseas jails. Most of the panel’s work will be held in secret, and it’s not expected to recommend filing any criminal charges.

US Mulls Joining International Criminal Court

The Obama administration says it’s launched a review of its policy toward Sudan in light of this week’s International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. White House officials say the review will include reconsidering the Bush administration’s rejection of joining the international court.

Bashir Warrant Spurs Calls for Bush Prosecution

Talk of potential US admission to the Hague-based tribunal comes as the Bashir warrant is fueling talk of a similar action against former President George W. Bush. David Crane, a former prosecutor in the special tribunal that indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor, says the same principles that led to Bashir’s indictment could be used against Bush on the issue of torture. Others have called for prosecuting Bush for the illegal invasion of Iraq that led to some one million deaths.

Army: Up to 18 Soldier Suicides in February

In military news, the Army says soldier suicides continue to follow a record trend. Up to eighteen soldiers took their lives last month. That’s down from the twenty-four soldiers who took their lives in January, but still in line with the most number of suicides since record-keeping began. As many as 143 soldiers reportedly took their own lives last year.

US Officer Accused of Stealing Iraq, Afghan Aid

A US military officer has been charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars intended for relief and reconstruction projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon says Michael Dung Nguyen stole more than $690,000 while stationed in Iraq between April 2007 up until last month.

Gupta Withdraws Candidacy for US Surgeon General

And the CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta has withdrawn his candidacy to become the next US Surgeon General. Gupta’s nomination had been rumored for the past two months. Gupta says he made the decision based on wanting to spend more time with his family. His potential candidacy had come under increasing opposition from groups opposed to his reporting that panned government-run healthcare.

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