Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced the Senate healthcare reform bill will include a public health insurance plan that states can choose to opt out of.
Sen. Harry Reid: “As we’ve gone through this process, I’ve concluded — with the support of the White House, Senators Dodd and Baucus — that the best way to move forward is to include a public option with the opt-out provision for states. Under this concept, states will be able to determine whether the public option works well for them and will have the ability to opt out, if they so choose. I believe that a public option can achieve the goal of bringing meaningful reform to our broken system. It will protect consumers, keep insurers honest, and ensure competition. And that’s why we intend to include it in the bill that we submitted — that will be submitted to the Senate.”
The Washington Post reports the opt-out provision was engineered by New York Senator Charles Schumer as a compromise between moderates who want a smaller government role and liberals who prefer a single-payer system. The Democratic leadership must now scramble to secure the sixty votes needed to pass the measure. While details of how states could opt out of the system are unclear, it likely means that millions of Americans may never have a chance to enroll in a government-run health insurance plan because of Republican opposition. A combined total of 154 million people, or 51 percent of the population, live in states where Republicans control the governor’s mansion or the state legislature.
In West Virginia, Massey Energy has begun blasting operations on Coal River Mountain despite deep opposition from environmental groups and critics of mountaintop removal mining. Coal River Mountain is the last intact mountain on the historic Coal River Mountain range. All of the other mountains have been blown up by coal companies.
Jeff Biggers, author of the book The United States of Appalachia: “Residents in the Coal River Valley in West Virginia were shocked last Friday to hear the rattle of explosives and see plumes of smoke rise above Coal River Mountain. According to news reports on Monday, Massey Energy has clearcut the lush forest and blasted part of the historic ridge in the first leg of a 6,000-acre mountaintop removal mine. For advocates across Appalachia and citizens group across the nation, the impending mountaintop removal operation on Coal River Mountain amounts to a final showdown between out-of-state coal companies and the state of coalfield residents.”
Activists had proposed to save the mountaintop and turn it into a wind farm, a proposal which was seen by many as a model for sustainable green economic development. Anti-mountaintop removal activists are now calling on President Obama to halt the mining operation and save Coal River Mountain.
The former top American civilian working in the Zabul province of Afghanistan has resigned from the Foreign Service to protest the Afghan war. Matthew Hoh said he quit because he had come to believe the war was simply fueling the insurgency and that the United States is asking its troops to die for what is essentially a far-off civil war. In his resignation letter, Hoh wrote, “I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.” Hoh is a thirty-six-year-old former Marine who fought in the Iraq war. He is the first US official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war.
Meanwhile, President Obama said Monday he will not rush his decision about whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, where fourteen Americans died yesterday in the deadliest day for US forces in more than four years.
The New York Times reports that former AIG CEO Maurice Greenberg is quietly building up a family of insurance companies that could compete with his former company. To fill the ranks of his venture, C.V. Starr & Company, Greenberg has been hiring some people he once employed. One insurance executive said, “Basically, he’s just starting ‘A.I.G. Two’ and raiding people out of ‘A.I.G. One.'” People who work in the industry said Greenberg may soon be siphoning off AIG's business and, therefore, its means to repay its debt to the government. AIG was the recipient of the biggest taxpayer bailout in history.
In other financial news, protests are continuing in Chicago outside the American Bankers Association convention. Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, spoke to both the protesters and bankers on Monday. At a rally before thousands of activists, Bair voiced support for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.
Sheila Bair: “By regulating the non-bank shadow sector for the first time, this new agency can help prevent future abuses. I hope we see other measures taken that will create a more resilient, transparent and better regulated financial system, including an end to the 'too big to fail' doctrine. Yes, no more bailouts. No more bailouts.”
During a stop in Seattle, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the US Senate to pass a bill limiting carbon emissions. Moon said such a bill will encourage other nations to act to fight climate change.
Janos Pasztor, the director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team: “There are reports of a new poll in the United States that indicates that interest and support for action on climate change may actually be declining. The Secretary-General sees US engagement as vital for a climate change deal, a point he made in an op-ed today and in interviews since Seattle. He stated that we cannot afford another period where the US stands on the sidelines.”
In Canada, about 200 young people staged a protest inside the House of Commons Monday forcing lawmakers to shut down the question period. The activists were calling on the Canadian Parliament to pass a bill setting out deep cuts in carbon emissions. Six people were reportedly detained, and the police beat at least one protester.
Amnesty International has accused the Israeli government of preventing Palestinians from receiving enough water in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel controls much of the West Bank’s water supplies, pumping from an aquifer that bridges Israel and the territory. Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera called on Israel to distribute the region’s water resources in a fair manner.
Donatella Rovera: “Palestinians are having access to four times less water than Israelis, and for some Palestinian communities it’s ten times less water for the Palestinians than the Israelis. To put an end to the situation where Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, which are unlawful under international law, have swimming pools and green lawns and irrigated fields, and the Palestinians do not have enough water even for drinking and for basic domestic needs.”
Senior US officials will travel to Honduras this week to press ousted President Manuel Zelaya and the country’s coup leaders to break a stalemate in a four-month-old political crisis. This marks the first time since the coup that the Obama administration has taken a leading role in pressuring the leaders of the de facto government to restore democratic order in Honduras. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with both Zelaya and Honduras’s de facto leader, Roberto Micheletti. Officials said Clinton told the two leaders that there was “increasing frustration” over the deteriorating situation in Honduras. Clinton is said to have reserved her toughest comments for Micheletti, because the United States believes he has been “the most difficult.”
In other news from the region, Fidel and Raul Castro’s sister has admitted she spied on her brothers for the CIA in the 1960s. Juanita Castro disclosed her role as a spy in a new memoir. Juanita initially hailed the Cuban revolution but later became disillusioned by the actions of her brothers.
The US Chamber of Commerce has sued the Yes Men, after the political pranksters impersonated the organization. The Yes Men staged a fake press conference at the National Press Club last week to announce that the Chamber was changing its stance on climate change and supporting capping greenhouse gas emissions. Several news outlets, including Reuters, CNBC and Fox Business Channel, reported the policy change as fact before issuing corrections. The Chamber is suing the Yes Men for misappropriating its logo and violating a host of related copyrights.
And the International Peace Operations Association is holding its annual conference in Washington this week. The trade association represents mercenary groups and private military contractors, including DynCorp and Triple Canopy. A coalition of activist groups, including CODEPINK, Africa Action and the Hip Hop Caucus, are planning to hold a protest and forum today to counter the mercenary conference.
Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill: “While these merchants of death are meeting in Washington, DC, human rights activists and other concerned people are going to be gathering to protest these mercenaries. And we’re not only going to be addressing the use of mercenaries in Afghanistan and Iraq, which we know well is continuing unabated, but also the use of mercenary forces on the African continent, which is a story that basically never makes it into the corporate media. There are mercenaries that, once again, are operating in the Congo, in Somalia, in the conflict in Ethiopia and Eritrea. And so, we’re gathering to try to shut down this whole privatized war apparatus and to raise awareness of this Bush administration policy that the Obama administration is continuing and escalating.”