Global climate talks here in Copenhagen have been shaken up with the news wealthy nations have drafted a secret agreement sidelining poorer countries and the United Nations. On Tuesday, The Guardian newspaper published details of a leaked agreement said to include the US, Britain, Denmark and a handful of others. The deal lacks binding emissions cuts and would allow rich countries to pollute nearly twice as much as poorer nations by 2050. After the document was revealed, dozens of African observers at the summit staged a protest inside the conference halls. Sudanese negotiator Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the chair of the Group of 77 bloc of developing nations, said the proposals are unacceptable.
Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping: “G77 member states will not walk out of these consultations or negotiations in this late hour, because we cannot afford failure of Copenhagen. And let me just actually be very blunt. Ten billion dollars will not buy developing countries’ people enough coffins.”
Senate Democrats appear to have finalized a deal on removing a government-funded public insurance option from their healthcare reform bill. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said a group of ten Democrats had reached “broad agreement” on a so-called “compromise” proposal. The plan would abandon a government-funded health plan to compete with private insurers. Instead, the federal Office of Personnel Management would hire the insurance companies to run the health plans. Uninsured Americans between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four would also be able to obtain coverage through Medicare. Reid says he’ll unveil the plan after the Congressional Budget Office analyzes its costs.
The announcement came as the Senate defeated an amendment that would have added harsh anti-abortion restrictions to the healthcare bill. The proposal from Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska mirrored language in the House bill that bars any woman who receives government health insurance subsidies from enrolling in an insurance plan covering abortion. The amendment failed by a margin of 54 to 45. After the vote, Nelson said he’s unlikely to support the final healthcare reform bill with his amendment removed.
As the Senate healthcare effort continues, single-payer advocates are planning a national day of action Thursday at Senate offices nationwide. The group Mobilization for Health Care for All says it will hold sit-ins at Senate offices in eighteen cities. The sit-ins are timed to coincide with International Human Rights Day, which marks the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration affirms “medical care” as a basic human right.
A new study of healthcare in wealthy nations, meanwhile, says the US ranks near the bottom in life expectancy despite spending more than double the average amount in healthcare costs. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says US healthcare spending averaged over $7,000 in 2007, nearly two-and-a-half times the OECD average. Life expectancy was 78.1 years, putting the US in twenty-sixth place out of thirty member nations.
The Obama administration has reached a settlement in a long-running class action lawsuit over federal mismanagement of Native American land trusts dating back to the nineteen century. On Tuesday, the Interior Department announced it would pay $3.4 billion to settle claims by more than 300,000 Native Americans for unpaid royalties on seized lands. The settlement is a fraction of the estimated $176 billion Native Americans have maintained they’re owed. On Tuesday, the lead plaintiff in the suit, Elouise Cobell of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, said it was time to reach a compromise.
Elouise Cobell: “Although we have reached a settlement totaling more than $3.4 billion, there is little doubt this is significantly less than the full accounting to which individual Indians are entitled. Yes, we could prolong our struggle and fight longer, and perhaps one day we would know, down to the penny, how much individual Indians are owed. Perhaps we could even litigate long enough to increase the settlement amount. But we are compelled to settle now by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each year, each month and every day, as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation.”
President Obama has unveiled a new round of economic stimulus proposals to address unemployment. On Tuesday, Obama called for small business tax cuts, infrastructure spending and a “cash for caulkers” program that would provide incentives for home weatherization. Obama said an anticipated lower cost of the Wall Street bailout could help fund his plan.
President Obama: ”TARP is expected to cost the taxpayers at least $200 billion less than what was anticipated just this past summer. And the assistance to banks, once thought to cost taxpayers untold billions, is on track to actually reap billions in profits for the taxpaying public. So this gives us a chance to pay down the deficit faster than we thought possible and to shift funds that would have gone to help the banks on Wall Street to help create jobs on Main Street.”
In Iraq, the death toll from Tuesday’s multiple bombings in Baghdad has reached at least 127. More than 500 people were also wounded in what was one of the worst attacks to hit Iraq this year. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombings.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “I am very shocked, and I condemn in the strongest terms possible this just unacceptable, horrendous terrorist bombing against civilians. This must be stopped.”
As Iraqi civilians continue to endure deadly attacks, the US and British prewar effort to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq is coming under new scrutiny. A British parliamentarian is now claiming the US and Britain based one of its claims about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction on the hearsay testimony of an Iraqi taxi driver. The taxi driver is said to have recounted a conservation he claimed to have overheard between Iraqi officials two years earlier. Citing British intelligence officials, the parliamentarian, Adam Holloway, says the taxi driver’s claims became the basis for US and British “intelligence” that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical or biological weapons within forty-five minutes.
The Obama administration’s two top military and civilian officials in Afghanistan appeared on Capitol Hill Tuesday to make the case for President Obama’s escalation of the Afghan occupation. It was the first congressional appearance by General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry since Obama announced the deployment of at least 30,000 additional troops last week. A protester with the group CODEPINK was removed from the hearing after holding up a sign reading “Surge, Big Mistake.” Eikenberry meanwhile addressed the controversy over his reported opposition to deploying additional troops, saying he in fact supported the escalation all along.
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry: “It was not a question of additional troops. It was the question, as we all had, about the number of troops. What would be the time lines for those troops? What would be the context that those troops would operate in?…With that, at this point in time, as I said in my opening statement, Mr. Chairman, I am unequivocally in support of this mission, and I am exactly aligned with General McChrystal here to my right in moving forward now to vigorously implement the assigned mission.”
The Obama administration has announced it will cut ties with the scandal-plagued private military firm hired to guard the US embassy in Afghanistan. The firm, ArmorGroup America, came under scrutiny this year after twelve guards made claims of unauthorized armed missions, security lapses and lewd behavior. The State Department says ArmorGroup’s contract won’t be renewed when it expires next summer.
Japan says it’s suspended talks with the Obama administration over relocating a US military airbase. The Japanese government has said it wants to move the base completely off the island of Okinawa, while the US wants to maintain a base somewhere else on the island. Tens of thousands of Okinawa residents have taken part in ongoing protests against the base.
In Honduras, the winner of last month’s controversial national elections says he wants full political amnesty for all those involved in the coup that overthrew Honduran President Manuel Zelaya last June. On Tuesday, Porfirio Lobo told reporters “there must be an amnesty for all.” His comments came as the Mercosur grouping of South American nations — Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay — issued a declaration along with Venezuela condemning Lobo’s victory as illegal. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized the US for backing off its stated commitment to restoring Zelaya to office.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: “Obama said in Trinidad that he had come to talk about the future. that he didn’t want to talk about the past. But he is supporting the past. He is supporting the past without any form of shame. And following him, sadly and unfortunately, is a group of governments from our own America.”
In Brazil, a new report says police have killed at least 11,000 people since 2003. The Human Rights Watch study focused on Brazil’s two largest metropolitan areas, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Researchers say they uncovered evidence of police covering up dozens of extrajudicial killings.
The Obama administration has asked an appeals court to dismiss a torture lawsuit against former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo. The former so-called “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla is suing Yoo for devising the legal justification for his imprisonment and torture. Padilla was jailed for forty-three months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina and is now serving a seventeen-year sentence. In a court filing, the Obama administration says federal laws prevent damage claims against lawyers who advise the president on national security.
And in Massachusetts, state attorney general Martha Coakley has won the Democratic nomination to run for the late Edward Kennedy’s Senate seat. Coakley will square off against the Republican nominee, State Senator Scott Brown, in a special election next month.