President Obama intensified his push for healthcare reform Wednesday with a nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress. Obama urged lawmakers to overcome partisan differences and pass long-awaited changes to the nation’s healthcare system. Obama renewed his dismissal of single-payer healthcare, which he said would constitute too radical an overhaul. Meanwhile, Obama defended proposals for a public health insurance plan, but didn’t insist upon its inclusion in final legislation. Obama also criticized the profit-driven healthcare industry, citing the congressional testimony of former CIGNA executive turned whistleblower Wendell Potter. But despite his criticism, Obama assured the insurance industry he wants to keep it in business.
President Obama: "As one former insurance executive testified before Congress, insurance companies are not only encouraged to find reasons to drop the seriously ill, they are rewarded for it. All of this is in service of meeting what this former executive called 'Wall Street's relentless profit expectations.’ Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable."
Obama was briefly interrupted by Republican jeers when he addressed right-wing misinformation about his proposals. Republican Congress member Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted "you lie" after Obama said the US won’t cover undocumented immigrants.
President Obama: "There are also those who claim that our reform efforts would insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false. The reforms — the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally."
Rep. Joe Wilson: "You lie!"
President Obama: "It’s not true."
Wilson later apologized for his outburst, calling it "inappropriate and regrettable."
The International Criminal Court has opened a series of informal probes that could implicate the US and some of its key allies. On Wednesday, the court’s chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said investigators are looking into alleged war crimes by all sides of the Afghan war, including US-led NATO forces. The probe is focusing on "massive attacks" such as deadly air strikes and the torture of Afghan prisoners. Investigators are also looking into whether the inadvertent killings of Afghan civilians constitute war crimes instead of what the US calls "collateral damage." Ocampo says investigators are also looking into alleged war crimes committed during Israel’s three-week assault on the Gaza Strip, as well as other allegations in Colombia, Georgia and Kenya.
The news of a potential war crimes probe in the Gaza Strip comes as the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem released the findings of its exhaustive report on Israel’s killings of Palestinians there. The report says well over half the nearly 1,400 Palestinians killed during Israel’s three-week assault were civilian. The civilian toll of 773 Palestinians excludes the 248 Hamas police officers also killed during the Israeli assault. B’Tselem Director Jessica Montell said the Israeli military has severely downplayed the number of Palestinian children who died in Gaza.
Jessica Montell: "The discrepancy between what the Israeli army has reported and what B’Tselem’s research has revealed is quite disturbing. The most blatant example, regarding children under the age of sixteen, the Israeli military has claimed that eighty-nine Palestinian children under sixteen were killed in Operation Cast Lead. B’Tselem visited families, took death certificates, testimonies, other information from the families on 240 Palestinian children under sixteen killed."
In Iraq, at least ninetten people were killed when a truck bombing struck a northern Kurdish village earlier today. Another thirty people were wounded.
The Obama administration has announced it believes Iran now possesses or is close to possessing enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. On Wednesday, the US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Glyn Davies, said the White House believes Iran is trying "to preserve a nuclear weapons option." The warning came as the Iranian government relayed a new offer to end the impasse over its nuclear program. Details of the offer have been kept under wraps.
Guatemala has declared a "state of public calamity" over what it calls a dire hunger and nutritional crisis. In a national address, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said Guatemala has suffered from climate change and the global economic meltdown.
Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom: "On one side, the inherited problem was worsened by the drought resulting from the climate change and those of the global economic crisis. Actions carried out by the government through pro-rural and cohesion social programs prevented the problem reaching more serious consequences. The government will not get lost in a discussion of technical issues. For us, one life has invaluable importance and value."
Guatemala has the world’s fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition and the highest in Latin America.
In Uruguay, lawmakers have voted to grant adoption rights to same-sex couples. Supporters call the legislation the first of its kind in Latin America. The measure now goes to Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez for his approval.
Back in the United States, the Supreme Court appears poised to strike down a key element of campaign finance law restricting corporate spending in elections. On Wednesday, a majority of the court appeared to side with arguments that laws against corporate electioneering violate constitutional protections for free speech. The issue is being tested in a case brought by the right-wing group Citizens United over its 2007 film Hillary: The Movie, a scathing critique of then-Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. The film was subjected to marketing and distribution restrictions because it was deemed to have violated campaign finance laws limiting corporate spending. Striking down the law would mean overturning two previous Supreme Court rulings in 1990 and 2003 that upheld the corporate electioneering restrictions.
New figures show just 12 percent of eligible homeowners have had their mortgages restructured under the Obama administration’s housing rescue program. The Treasury Department says the figure has slightly improved since July’s assistance rate of nine percent. But the Treasury says it expects "millions of foreclosures" even if the loan modification program becomes a total success.
In West Virginia, four activists have been arrested after blocking a road outside the offices of the coal company Massey Energy. The protesters are being held on $5,000 bail. It was the latest act of civil disobedience by the group Climate Ground Zero, following a recent week-long tree sit that temporarily halted work at a Massey mountaintop removal site.
And in California, a Republican state lawmaker has resigned after inadvertently broadcasting sexually explicit remarks during an Assembly hearing. Assemblyman Mike Duvall of Orange County was videotaped making the comments during an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing in July. Duvall didn’t realize he was being recorded when he privately discussed his sexual exploits with two different women, neither of them his wife. One of the women is a lobbyist for the major energy firm Sempra. Until his resignation, Duvall was vice-chair of the Assembly Utilities Committee, which deals with Sempra’s business.