Thirteen people have been killed and another thirty wounded at a US military base in Texas in what’s believed to be the worst mass killing of its kind in the nation’s history. Military officials have identified an Army psychiatrist named Major Nidal Malik Hasan as the suspected shooter in the attack at Fort Hood. Hasan was originally reported to have been shot dead, but officials now say he is hospitalized in stable condition. A relative told reporters Hasan had complained of being harassed for being a Muslim and had tried to leave the military.
On Capitol Hill, the House is expected to vote tomorrow on a Democratic health reform measure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s stripped an amendment from Congress member Dennis Kucinich that would allow states to enact a single-payer healthcare system. Speaking to the Huffington Post, Pelosi also said she’s undecided on allowing a vote on a separate amendment from Congress member Anthony Weiner to replace the proposed reforms with national single payer. If allowed, it would mark the first-ever vote on single payer to reach the House floor.
In advance of the vote, thousands of right-wing activists gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday to rally against the proposed healthcare bill. With chants of “kill the bill,” some demonstrators carried signs comparing the measure to the Nazi Holocaust and President Obama to Chairman Mao.
The rally came as the American Association of Retired Persons, the nation’s largest retiree advocacy group, announced its endorsement of the healthcare bill. The move coincided with a similar announcement from the American Medical Association to endorse the bill if it alters rules on doctor payments under Medicare. At the White House, President Obama hailed the endorsements as a major step.
President Obama: “We are closer to passing this reform than ever before. And now that the doctors and medical professionals of America are standing with us, now that the organizations charged with looking out for the interests of seniors are standing with us, we are even closer.”
In other healthcare news, nine people were arrested Thursday at the offices of independent Senator Joseph Lieberman. The action was organized by the group Mobilization for Health Care for All. It came just over a week after Lieberman said he would back a Republican filibuster if the public option is included in a final healthcare reform bill.
Kai Newkirk of Mobilization for Health Care for All: “We’re waiting to talk to somebody from Joseph Lieberman’s staff. We’re waiting to talk to the senator, because we want to ask him to take a public pledge now that he’s not going take any more money from insurance companies. We want to ask him, is he the senator for Connecticut or the senator for Aetna? We’re not going to go anywhere. Is that right, everybody? Because we’re serious about this. We’re serious about this. People are dying ever day. Forty-five thousand people die in our country every year 'cause they can't get the healthcare they need.”
Lieberman refused to meet the protesters, who were then carried away by police.
Protester: “People, not profits! Healthcare for all! Lieberman is shameful. Shame on Lieberman for threatening to filibuster the hopes of the American people!”
Mobilization for Health Care for All says four of the activists are now refusing to cooperate with police and vowing to remain in prison until Lieberman agrees to stop accepting insurance industry donations.
In other news from Washington, the House has voted to approve an additional $24 billion in benefits for the unemployed. The measure would extend unemployment insurance in addition to renewing a tax credit for first-time home buyers. President Obama is expected to sign the bill later today.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Environment and Public Works Committee has become the first Senate panel to approve a measure that would impose mandatory cuts on emissions of greenhouse gases. With Republicans continuing a boycott in protest, Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana cast the lone opposing vote.
In Afghanistan, nine civilians have been reportedly killed in a NATO air strike. Local residents say the Helmand province attack struck a group of Afghans working in cornfields, including three children. Hours later, hundreds of residents paraded the bodies of the dead victims through the streets of the Helmand capital, Lashkar Gah.
Helmand resident: “This incident happened last night at 7:25 p.m., when the airplane started bombing. Nine people were martyred in the bombing. Only one person survived.”
The US-led NATO occupation force says it’s investigating the attack.
In other news from Afghanistan, the United Nations mission has announced it’s relocating hundreds of staff members, including many outside the country. The move follows last week’s attack that killed five UN staffers in Kabul.
In Honduras, the ousted President Manuel Zelaya says a deal that would have restored him to office has collapsed. The US-backed accord had imposed a Thursday night deadline for a unity government. But a group of Honduran lawmakers delayed a critical vote, saying they first needed the opinion of the Honduran Supreme Court.
The United Nations General Assembly has voted to endorse a UN inquiry that found Israel committed war crimes in its assault on the Gaza Strip. Headed by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, the inquiry also accused Hamas of war crimes and urged both sides to investigate the charges or face international prosecution. The non-binding measure to back the inquiry was approved Thursday with a vote of 114-to-18. Deputy US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff explained the US vote against the resolution.
Deputy US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff: “We believe that the Goldstone report is deeply flawed, including its unbalanced focus on Israel, its sweeping conclusions of law, the excessively negative inferences it draws about Israel’s intentions and actions, its failure to deal adequately with the asymmetrical nature of the Gaza conflict, its failure to assign appropriate responsibility to Hamas for its decision to base itself and its operations in heavily civilian-populated urban areas, and its many overreaching recommendations.”
Over 1,300 Palestinians were killed during the three-week assault, compared to thirteen Israelis, four by so-called “friendly fire.” The Palestinian representative to the UN, Riyad Mansour, welcomed the vote.
Riyad Mansour: “Tonight is a very important night in the history of the General Assembly. It is a very important night in the history of fighting against impunity and seeking accountability.”
Meanwhile in Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced he won’t seek re-election early next year. Speaking in Ramallah, Abbas said he had grown frustrated by Israel’s refusal to halt settlement building and said his retirement is “not up for debate.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “I have told our brethren in the PLO’s executive committee and Fatah central committee that I have no intent of running in the upcoming presidential election, and this decision is not up for debate or bargaining at all. I hope they understand this position of mine, taking note that there are other steps that I will take.”
Abbas has recently faced widespread Palestinian criticism for negotiating with Israel, despite ongoing settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and agreeing to delay a vote on the findings of the UN’s inquiry into the Gaza assault. In Gaza, Hamas leader Sami Abu Zuhri said Abbas had relied too heavily on US and Israeli backing.
Sami Abu Zuhri: “Mahmoud Abbas’s speech expresses the crisis he is in after being abandoned by his friends, the Americans and the Israelis, who just used him like a tool. He’s trying to hide this by attacking Hamas and holding it responsible for his crisis.”
Back in the United States, voters in Washington State have approved a measure to expand rights for gay couples. The so-called “everything but marriage” law grants registered domestic partners rights previously given only to married couples. Gay rights advocates say the vote marks the first time a gay equality measure has been approved on a state ballot.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik has pleaded guilty under a plea bargain to avoid three criminal trials. On Thursday, Kerik pleaded guilty to lying to the White House when he was nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security and said he would also admit to tax crimes. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of up to thirty-three months in prison.
In Massachusetts, the town of Amherst has passed a measure that would welcome up to two Guantanamo Bay prisoners if they’re cleared for release into the United States. It was the first such action by a US municipality.
And calls are growing for an investigation into why health officials have handed out swine flu vaccines to some of Wall Street’s leading financial firms while they’re unavailable to most Americans. More than a dozen companies were given the vaccines, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase. The Center for Disease Control says the companies met several criteria, including having a large number of employees and their own medical staff. But critics say the CDC has violated its own calls to distribute the vaccine only to those at highest risk. In a statement, Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said, “Although CREW has been unable to uncover the demographic makeup of [these companies], it seems safe to assume the vast majority of their employees are not pregnant women, infants and children, young adults up to 24 years old, and healthcare workers.”