As the Senate moves closer to passing its healthcare reform bill, President Obama is distancing himself from supporters of the creation of a government-run health insurance program. Senate Democrats recently removed the public option from the healthcare bill in order to gain enough votes to break a Republican filibuster. On Tuesday, President Obama told the Washington Post he never campaigned on the public option.
President Obama: “It is true that the Senate version does not have a public option, and that has been — become, I think, a source of ideological contention between the left and the right, but I didn’t campaign on a public option. I think it is a good idea, but as I said in that speech on September 9th, it just one small element of a broader reform effort.”
As a presidential candidate, Senator Obama touted the benefits of a public option. On his own campaign website, Obama promised that under his health plan, “any American will have the opportunity to enroll in [a] new public plan.” As President Obama said in his weekly address that any plan that he signs must include a public option.
Physicians for a National Health Program is calling on the Senate to reject the current version of the healthcare bill and move toward considering a single-payer approach. In an open letter, the organization writes, “Congress’ capitulation to insurers — along with concessions to the pharmaceutical industry — fatally undermines the economic viability of reform.” The group has criticized numerous aspects of the bill, including the individual mandate requiring that people buy private insurance policies, large government subsidies to private insurers, new restrictions on abortion, and cuts of $43 billion in Medicare payments to safety-net hospitals. Physicians for a National Health Program estimated that at least 23 million people will remain uninsured when the plan finally takes effect.
Swedish Environment Minister Andreas Carlgren said Tuesday that the Copenhagen climate accord was a disaster that needed rescuing. Carlgren blamed the United States and China for hijacking the meeting and agreeing to a deal without the support of the rest of the world.
Andreas Carlgren: “The great powers, they are always able to live without an international system. That goes also to the answer — that’s also answering your question about what we expect from the United States and China and others. We expect them also to make sure that we can create an international common system with common rules and common tools to fight climate change.”
The Danish police have released two young German journalists after holding them for nine days. The journalists, both twenty-three years old, were arrested while covering a protest in Copenhagen during the climate talks. At the time of their arrest, the journalists were reporting for the German Association of Free Radio.
The New York Times is reporting the Obama administration now believes it will be unlikely to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay until 2011 at the earliest, a far slower time line than the President outlined a year ago. Plans are still on to move some of the prisoners to a prison in rural Illinois, but officials estimate it could take eight to ten months to install new fencing, towers, cameras and other security upgrades. Funding the move has also become an issue. Democratic leaders in the House refused a White House request to include $200 million for the project in the 2010 spending bill which was approved last week.
A parliamentary probe in Lithuania has determined the CIA ran two secret prisons inside the country. In addition, the probe found that five CIA-linked planes had landed in Lithuania and that domestic intelligence officials prevented customs and border guards from inspecting them. Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said that the report’s findings were a matter of “great concern.” Last week the head of Lithuania’s secret service unexpectedly resigned, citing personal reasons. Arvydas Anusauskas led the parliamentary investigation on the secret prisons.
Arvydas Anusauskas: “The main issue and the main question was, was [the prison] there, or was it not? Regarding this, I can say that there were premises, there were possibilities to cross the border, there were planes, which were linked to the CIA. The next most important conclusion is that the state’s leaders were not informed about it, or information was superficial.”
The Nation magazine is reporting the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is holding undocumented immigrants in secret sites across the United States. In addition to its publicly listed field offices and detention sites, ICE is confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices. Many of the offices are in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants. In Los Angeles, ICE is holding immigrants in a barely converted storage space tucked away in a large downtown federal building. During a conference last year, an ICE official, James Pendergraph, openly talked about ICE’s ability to disappear people. Pendergraph said, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Meanwhile, The Nation magazine is also reporting ICE agents regularly impersonate civilians and rely on other illegal tricks in order to arrest longtime US residents who have no criminal history. ICE agents have posed as Occupational Safety and Health inspectors, insurance agents and even religious workers.
In Mexico, suspected drug gang hitmen have shot dead the grieving mother, brother and sister of an elite Mexican marine who died last week after taking part in a raid that killed top drug lord, Arturo Beltran Leyva, one of the most wanted drug lords in Mexico and the United States. The marine, Melquisedet Angulo was lauded as a hero by the Mexican government, but this made his family an identifiable target. Hours after Angulo was honored at a memorial service on Monday, gunmen burst into the family’s home killing four of his relatives.
In news from Colombia, the kidnapped governor of the southern province of Caqueta has been found dead. Luis Francisco Cuellar is the most high-profile politician abducted in Colombia since President Alvaro Uribe came to power in 2002. No group has taken responsibility for the murder, but Colombian officials blamed guerrillas from the left-wing group FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
In news from Michigan, the Wayne County medical examiner’s office is refusing to release its autopsy report for a local Muslim imam who was shot dead by the FBI in October. Luqman Ameen Abdullah headed a Sunni Muslim group called the Ummah. He was shot dead during an FBI raid shortly after he was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit federal crimes. Local Muslim leaders have questioned if authorities are trying to cover up facts surrounding his death.
A new report by the Congressional Research Service has determined the anti-poverty group ACORN hasn’t violated any federal regulations in the last five years and that recently enacted federal legislation to prohibit funding to ACORN raises significant constitutional concerns. Earlier this year, Congress voted to strip ACORN of all federal funding after conservative activists released videos of an undercover sting operation that allegedly showed ACORN workers offering advice to a pimp and prostitute. ACORN has long been a target of right-wing scorn for its work helping poor people fight foreclosures, fix tax problems, and register to vote. For years Republicans have claimed that ACORN helps Democrats steal elections by fraudulently registering voters. But the new Congressional Research Service report also dispels this myth. The report found there were no instances of individuals who were registered to vote improperly by ACORN who attempted to vote at the polls.