Obama to Sign Healthcare Bill; GOP Prepares Repeal Bid
President Obama is expected to sign the healthcare reform bill today just two days after its passage by the House. The White House signing ceremony comes ahead of a new round of votes in the Senate, where Republicans will attempt to derail a separate package of amendments to House-backed legislation. Republicans are also planning challenges from the state level to repeal the bill. Eleven Republican state attorneys general are preparing lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the bill for mandating people to buy health insurance.
Senate Banking Committee Backs Dodd Bill
In other news from Washington, the Senate Banking Committee has advanced Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd’s measure to overhaul financial regulation. Critics have faulted Dodd’s proposal for giving new power to the Federal Reserve while gutting the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency and housing it inside the Fed. But the measure also includes new protections and incentives for Wall Street whistleblowers and the establishment of an oversight body for credit rating agencies. The measure now goes before the full Senate.
Report: US Mulls Bagram as Next Gitmo
The Los Angeles Times is reporting the Obama administration is considering a plan to jail foreign prisoners at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan instead of at Guantanamo Bay. Using Bagram would allow the administration to meet its pledge to close Guantanamo while still denying prisoners the right to challenge their detentions in US courts. The plan would also help the White House evade scrutiny for the torture and mistreatment of prisoners because they would remain jailed off US soil. The Los Angeles Times also reports US officials decided to kill a foreign suspect in Somalia last year in part due to uncertainty over where he would be jailed if captured. The suspect, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, was killed in a US air strike after US officials decided they wouldn’t know where to imprison him.
Judge Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoner
A federal judge has ordered the release of a Guantánamo Bay prisoner who’s claimed to have suffered extensive torture and abuse during nearly eight years in US captivity. Mohamedou Slahi arrived at Guantánamo in August 2002 after turning himself in the year before in his native Mauritania. Under "special interrogation techniques" authorized by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Slahi was subjected to sleep deprivation, extreme heat and cold, death threats, and told that his mother would be jailed if he didn’t cooperate. Slahi is the thirty-fourth Guantánamo prisoner ordered released since the Supreme Court ruled they can challenge their imprisonment in US courts.
Netanyahu Rejects US Call for Settlement Freeze
President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today in their first meeting since Israel’s announcement of a major settlement expansion in East Jerusalem. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference that the US commitment to Israel is "rock-solid." But Clinton did criticize Israel for continuing to build settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need. And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America’s unique ability to play a role, an essential role, in the peace process."
In a defiant speech hours after Clinton’s address, Netanyahu rejected US criticism and vowed to continue building settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago, and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It’s our capital. Everyone knows — everyone, Americans, Europeans, Israelis certainly, Palestinians — everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. And therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."
Karzai Meets with Afghan Militant Group
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai held talks Monday with representatives of the Islamic Party, one of the largest militant groups fighting Afghan and NATO forces. Karzai is planning a peace jirga, or assembly, next month with several militant groups.
US Halts Poppy Eradication in Afghan Areas
The US military, meanwhile, has confirmed it’s ended poppy eradication in several areas of Afghanistan. US forces have previously targeted Afghan farmers responsible for poppy crops that produce large quantities of opium and heroin. But the US says it’s ended the eradications in a bid to win over Afghan support. A US military official said, "We don’t trample the livelihood of those we’re trying to win over."
Iraqi Election Commission Rejects Recount Call
Iraq’s election commission has rejected a call from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a recount of this month’s parliamentary elections. Maliki’s coalition is in a tight race with an alliance headed by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Full results are expected on Friday.
Haitians Protest Bush, Clinton in Port-au-Prince
Former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton visited Haiti on Monday in their roles as co-chairs of the US relief effort there. Dozens of Haitians took part in a protest in the capital Port-au-Prince to denounce the former presidents’ policies toward Haiti while in office. Bush cut off desperately needed aid to Haiti and backed the overthrow of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, supported the first coup against Aristide in 1991. Clinton, meanwhile, helped restore Aristide, but only on condition that he accept harsh neoliberal reforms. Protester Elizabeth Pierre singled out Bush, who was making his first-ever visit to Haiti.
Elizabeth Pierre: "I hear that former President George Bush is here. I am asking President Clinton to excuse himself so I can talk to George Bush, because George Bush is President Aristide’s kidnapper."
On Monday, Clinton said he and Bush discussed Haiti’s reconstruction needs and pledged to seek congressional backing for a law granting trade preferences to Haitian products.
Bill Clinton: "We spent most of our time talking today about what needs to be done now so that the economic plan and the donor conference to be held at the end of this month has a chance to work. So we pledged to do what we could to get the changes adopted by Congress that would enable you to make maximum use of this law, and I think could create more than 100,000 jobs in Haiti in short order."
Bolivia Proposes Declaring Potable Water a Universal Right
The United Nations marked World Water Day on Monday with a warning that unsafe water kills more people than wars and all other forms of violence combined. According to the World Health Organization, 1.5 million people under the age of five die every year from water-related diseases. Also marking World Water Day, Bolivian President Evo Morales called on the UN to declare access to safe water a universal human right.
Bolivian President Evo Morales: "The United Nations, in its sixty-fifth session, should approve the following: declare access to potable water and basic sanitation a universal human right so that states and the UN move forward in respect to this right and use progressive national and international measures to universally apply it."
Google Closes Search Engine in China
The internet giant Google has closed its online search engine in China just two months after threatening to leave over censorship and cyber attacks from local hackers. Google is now directing Chinese users to an uncensored search engine based in Hong Kong. Most other Google operations will continue to operate in China.
ACORN to Cease Existence as National Organization
The anti-poverty group ACORN has announced it’s shutting down as a national organization. ACORN says a sharp decline in funding will force its remaining local chapters to close their doors at the end of the month. ACORN has been embroiled in legal and financial difficulty since last year’s release of videos appearing to show staffers offering advice to two right-wing activists posing as a pimp and a prostitute. The videos helped fuel a new right-wing campaign against ACORN, which has long been targeted for its work helping low-income Americans with voter registration, tax problems and foreclosures. Congress vote to defund ACORN last year, only to have the move ruled unconstitutional. A number of large chapters, including ACORN New York and California, have already broken off from the national group. Another offshoot formerly known as ACORN Housing will continue its work advising low-income homeowners under the name of Affordable Housing Centers of America.
NYT Admits Errors in Reporting on ACORN Controversy
The New York Times, meanwhile, has admitted to making errors in its reporting on the ACORN scandal. Public Editor Clark Hoyt says the New York Times mistakenly reinforced some of the falsehoods of the right-wing activists who tried to discredit ACORN with the undercover video. Hoyt says the right-wing activists falsely gave the impression they were dressed in outlandish costumes when they visited ACORN offices. He also said video transcripts contradict claims that ACORN staffers appeared to endorse talk of using underage girls as prostitutes. Instead, ACORN staffers appeared to believe they were discussing a plan to protect the girls from an abusive pimp. Hoyt issued his findings in response to a complaint from the group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Report: Fmr. Blackwater Execs Face Weapons Charges
The Associated Press is reporting prosecutors are considering filing weapons charges against former top executives of the private military firm Blackwater. Former Blackwater president Gary Jackson and former Blackwater lawyer Andrew Howell have been named as possible suspects in a case alleging the company illegally stockpiled automatic weapons at its North Carolina headquarters.
KBR, Halliburton Withdraw Challenge to Rape Suit
The military contractors Halliburton and KBR have withdrawn an appeal asking the Supreme Court to block a lawsuit by a former employee who says she was raped by co-workers in Iraq. Jamie Leigh Jones sued Halliburton and its former subsidiary KBR over claims she was drugged and gang-raped by co-workers in Baghdad. Jones also accused the company of keeping her in a shipping container without food or water for at least twenty-four hours after the alleged crime took place. Halliburton and KBR had long maintained Jones’ contract requires claims to be settled through arbitration, not trial. But the companies now say they’ve withdrawn their appeal to avoid violating a recent congressional measure protecting employees who bring cases similar to Jones’.
Malcolm X Assassin Granted Parole
And the lone person to confess to killing Malcolm X has been granted parole forty-five years after the murder. Thomas Hagan has been jailed since February 21st, 1965, when he and several others shot Malcolm X as he spoke before a packed audience in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. Hagan has been on work release for over twenty years, but has still been required to spend two days a week in a Manhattan prison.