President Obama’s so-called bipartisan healthcare summit ended Thursday without any substantive agreement between Republicans and Democrats. Republican lawmakers remained staunchly opposed to using the federal government to regulate health insurance. As the day began, President Obama called for a civil debate.
President Obama: "I said at the State of the Union, and I’ll repeat, I didn’t take this on because I thought it was good politics. This is such a complicated issue that it’s inevitably going to be contentious. But what I’m hoping to accomplish today is for everybody to focus not just on where we differ, but focus on where we agree, because there actually is some significant agreement on a host of issues."
Obama had drawn criticism from progressive Democrats for refusing to include a government-funded public option in a proposal issued ahead of the summit. Single-payer advocates were also excluded from the meeting. We’ll have more on the healthcare summit after headlines.
In Afghanistan, at least seventeen people have been killed in a series of coordinated suicide bombings in the capital Kabul. The first attack hit Kabul’s main shopping center. Gunfire and two smaller explosions followed minutes later. Another thirty-two people were reported wounded. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, one of the deadliest to hit Kabul in the past year.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has announced plans to expand settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports Israel will build another 600 homes in the Palestinian area of Shuafat. The head of the Palestinian Authority press office, Ghassan Al-Khatib, said the Israeli move would violate international law.
Ghassan Al-Khatib: "The Israeli decision today of licensing another 600 settlement housing units in the areas between Jerusalem and Ramallah is yet another Israeli violation to the international law and another challenge to the American-led international efforts to resume a political process. It will not prevent us, the Palestinians, from continuing our efforts to build the institutions of the state in all the territories occupied in 1967 and to continue our peaceful, legal, public struggle against the Israeli settlement expansion and occupation."
Tensions meanwhile continue to mount over the Israeli government’s inclusion of two biblical tombs in Palestinian towns on a list of Israeli heritage sites. On Thursday, clashes erupted in the West Bank city of Hebron for the third time this week. Israeli troops fired stun grenades at a crowd of Palestinian and Israeli marchers. At the United Nations, Syrian ambassador Bashar Ja’afari criticized Israel on behalf of member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
Bashar Ja’afari: "The OIC group condemned this Israeli irresponsible, aggressive and provocative decision and held the Israeli government responsible for the repercussions, outcomes and results of this irresponsible act."
The Iraqi government has announced the reinstatement of some 20,000 army officers who served under Saddam Hussein. The US occupation force disbanded the Iraqi army shortly after overthrowing Hussein’s government in 2003. The de-Baathification policy was widely credited with fueling the Iraqi insurgency. The reinstatements come just one week before Iraq holds national elections. Critics have dismissed the move as an attempt to win more votes for the coalition of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Haiti has been hit with heavy rainfall ahead of a major storm forecast for this weekend. The approaching rainy season could spell a new disaster for the hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in makeshift tents since last month’s earthquake. Aid workers fear the rains could trigger landslides and outbreaks of disease. On Thursday, Haitian President René Préval said the economic cost of the quake would amount to up to half of Haiti’s gross domestic product.
In Honduras, thousands of supporters of the ousted former President Manuel Zelaya took to the streets Thursday for a march in the capital Tegucigalpa. It was the first major demonstration since the inauguration of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo last month. Protesters called for constitutional reforms, payments of back wage to teachers, and an end to attacks on Zelaya supporters. The National People’s Resistance Front says one of its supporters was shot to death this week at her home in front of her two young children. The victim, Claudia Brizuela, was the daughter of a radio host critical of the coup that ousted Zelaya last year.
In other news from Honduras, the Lobo government has filed corruption charges against Zelaya for allegedly diverting government funds during his time in office. In a statement from his exile in the Dominican Republican, Zelaya dismissed the charges as "political persecution." The Honduran government has also announced the retirement of the head of the Honduran armed forces, Army General Romeo Vasquez, who helped lead the coup against Zelaya.
Back in the United States, the Veterans Affairs Department has announced plans to review the disability claims of thousands of Gulf War veterans suffering from ailments as a result of their service in the 1991 attack on Iraq. The US government has long denied the existence of "Gulf War syndrome" despite growing evidence and claims by veterans. In 2008, a congressional-mandated report affirmed it’s a legitimate condition primarily caused by overexposure to pesticides and a drug given to troops to protect against nerve gas in the 1991 invasion. The Veterans Affairs review could open the door to disability payments to thousands of Gulf War veterans long denied medical claims.
The banking giant Citibank is under criticism for shutting down a client’s account because it ran a social networking business geared toward gay men. The company, called Fabulis, is developing a social networking website as well as phone and computer applications for gay men to interact. The company’s bank accounts were shut down without notice after a Citi compliance officer deemed their business "objectionable."
The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration is planning to leverage the government’s huge buying power to improve wages and benefits for workers at companies that receive federal contracts. Administration officials say the plan would help boost wages and working conditions at companies vying for some $500 billion in annual government contracts. Business groups and Republicans are expected to launch a major lobbying campaign in opposition.
Federal investigators have announced a probe into the role of major US firms in Greece’s financial crisis. One deal created by Goldman Sachs helped Greece obscure billions in debt from the budget overseers in Brussels. Goldman Sachs is said to be the most important of more than a dozen banks used by the Greek government to manage its national debt using derivatives.
And in California, a number of protests have been held this week at UC schools. African American students at UC San Diego led a walkout at a campus gathering held to discuss an off-campus party that mocked Black History Month. After the walkout, the students held a rally urging administrators to improve conditions and enrollment numbers for people of color. Meanwhile, at UC Irvine, seventeen people were arrested after holding a sit-in outside the office of the school’s chancellor. The protesters called for improved conditions for campus workers and increased aid to low-income and undocumented students. And at UC Berkeley, a group of students have reportedly occupied a campus building. The protest comes ahead of a statewide day of action next Thursday to protest budget cuts to education.