Confirmation hearings began Monday for Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court. During her opening statement, Sotomayor vowed a commitment to "impartial justice."
Judge Sonia Sotomayor: "Throughout my seventeen years on the bench, I have witnessed the human consequences of my decisions. Those decisions have not been made to serve the interest of any one litigant, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice. In the past month, many senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. Simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make law; it is to apply the law."
If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will become the nation’s first Latino justice and only the third female justice.
President Obama has nominated a rural Alabama physician to become the next Surgeon General. Dr. Regina Benjamin is founder of a Gulf Coast medical clinic that’s been rebuilt twice following hurricanes, most recently Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She is known for treating patients even if they can’t pay their bills. Benjamin appeared with Obama Monday at the White House.
Dr. Regina Benjamin: "For years, I have worked to find resources to sustain a doctor’s office that treats patients without health insurance or the ability to pay out of their pockets. It should not be this hard for doctors and other healthcare providers to care for their patients. It shouldn’t be this expensive for Americans to get healthcare in this country. And Mr. President, thank you for putting healthcare reform at the top of your domestic agenda. My hope, if confirmed as Surgeon General, is to be America’s doctor, America’s family physician."
House Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to unveil healthcare reform legislation later today. On Monday, President Obama reportedly told Senate leaders he expects their version of a bill before the end of the week. Speaking at the White House, Obama vowed to pursue his healthcare agenda.
President Obama: "We are going to get this done. Inaction is not an option. And for those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don’t bet against us. We are going to make this thing happen."
Obama is hoping to pass a healthcare bill before the congressional recess next month.
In Afghanistan, a helicopter carrying military contractors has been shot down in Helmand province. At least six contractors died in the crash. The Taliban is claiming responsibility for the attack, which comes amidst a massive US military assault in the area. Two US Marines were also killed in Helmand on Monday.
The satellite network Al Jazeera is meanwhile reporting of a previously unknown so-called "friendly fire" attack in Afghanistan. According to Al Jazeera, three American soldiers were killed two months ago in a US bombing in Kunar province. The soldiers’ commanders had called in the attack on their outpost after it was overran and seized by Taliban fighters. But US warplanes failed to distinguish between their own forces and the Taliban.
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya is threatening to end mediation talks with the coup government that overthrew him unless he’s reinstated by the end of the week. Zelaya and the installed Honduran president Roberto Micheletti both visited Costa Rica for talks last Thursday. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said he hopes to hold further meetings in the next eight days. Speaking from Nicaragua, Zelaya issued an ultimatum calling on the coup regime to step down after the next round of talks.
Meanwhile, new details are being revealed about American lobbyists that have been hired to support the coup. The New York Times reports the coup government has hired a public relations specialist with ties to former President Bill Clinton. The specialist, Bennet Ratcliff, was part of the delegation that met in Costa Rica last Thursday. According to the New York Times, the delegation, including the installed Honduran president Roberto Micheletti, "rarely made a move without consulting" Ratcliff. An official close to the talks said Ratcliff wrote or approved every proposal that was submitted at the meeting. Meanwhile, the Honduran branch of an influential Latin American business group has hired Lanny Davis, the former White House special counsel to President Clinton. Davis is leading a lobbying effort to muster up support for the coup on Capitol Hill.
The British government has suspended five arms export licenses to Israel following a review of how the Israeli military used British-supplied equipment during its three-week assault on the Gaza Strip. The licenses were revoked under British rules banning arms exports that could be used for "external aggression or internal repression." The licenses reportedly involve shipments to the Israeli navy, which has killed Palestinian civilians in attacks off Gaza’s shores. In a letter to the Israeli government, the British embassy stressed it is not imposing an arms embargo on Israel and that the license suspensions resulted greatly from pressure by lawmakers and human rights groups. Another 177 British arms-export licenses remain in place. The suspensions mark the first by a foreign government against Israel over the Gaza attack. The Bush administration provided the decisive weaponry for the assault on Gaza, and the Obama administration has refused to take any punitive action.
In other news from Britain, a public inquiry has begun into the 2003 torture of ten Iraqi civilians, one of whom died from beatings by British forces. The slain victim, Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa, suffered ninety-three injuries to his body. Mousa was twenty-six and the father of two children. His wife had died just two months earlier of a brain tumor. On Monday, lawyers for Mousa’s family showed footage documenting the first hours of the Iraqis’ imprisonment. The footage shows the prisoners blindfolded as they’re yelled at by British soldiers. Phil Shiner, an attorney for Mousa’s family, called the previously unreleased video "disgraceful."
Phil Shiner: "This is a disgraceful and, I think, a shocking video account of a snippet of what these men had to endure, but what’s even more disgraceful is the cover up behind it. You’ve known about this for three years, and you weren’t able to show it. I’ve seen it hundreds of times, but I’ve never been able to release it, because I was under a strict undertaking."
The British government has already paid just under $6 million to settle the case and issued an official apology. But six soldiers were acquitted of any wrongdoing, and one soldier was sentenced to just one year in prison.
Back in the United States, the federal deficit has topped one trillion dollars for the first time. On Monday, the Treasury Department said the deficit passed $94 billion last month. The Obama administration has said it expects the deficit to reach over $1.8 trillion by the end of the year.
The Financial Times is reporting the investment bank Goldman Sachs sold nearly $700 million in company stock right after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September. The sales continued even as Goldman began receiving billions of dollars in government aid. The news comes as Goldman Sachs is expected to report today soaring profits of an estimated $2 billion. Goldman’s stock value has soared 68 percent this year, and analysts predict it will pay a total of $18 billion in compensation and benefits.
And here in New York, a group of activists rallied outside the Mexican consulate Monday to protest the latest in the case of the slain American journalist Brad Will. Will was shot and killed on October 27, 2006, while covering the popular uprising in the Mexican province of Oaxaca. His own camera captured his shooting. Will’s family and friends have criticized the Mexican government for charging a Oaxaca activist with Will’s murder instead of state police forces. Last week, a Mexican judge reportedly ruled that the activist, Juan Moreno, can be held indefinitely and that hearsay evidence can be used against him. Mark Read, a friend of Brad Will, criticized Moreno’s prosecution.
Mark Read: "Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno, the man falsely accused of Brad’s murder, is also a part of this movement, also a man of principle. That Brad’s murder is being used to railroad a fellow political activist is the most profound insult to his memory. And it is not the first time that his death has been used in such a way."