A white supremacist with a long history of anti-Semitic activity is in custody today after opening fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, killing a security guard and wounding another. The gunman, eighty-eight-year-old James W. von Brunn, was critically injured after other guards returned fire. The slain security guard, Stephen Johns, was thirty-nine years old. Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty said police believe von Brunn acted alone.
Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty: “In these days and times, you never know when someone is going to grab a gun and use it in an inappropriate way, as was done today. But we want to thank the heroism of the security guards, the Metropolitan Police Department, for being on hand very early to make an arrest. We believe we have someone who was a lone gunman, but we’re going to spend the night investigating any and all other leads.”
The attack marks at least the third recent shooting involving a gunman with ties to the white nationalist movement.
On Capitol Hill, a House subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday to consider single-payer healthcare. It was the first time a congressional panel had taken up single payer in the ongoing debate over healthcare reform. House Judiciary Chair John Conyers criticized Democratic leaders for declaring single payer “off the table.”
Rep. John Conyers: “There is some notion that universal single-payer healthcare is off the table. Well, that raises a very important question. If you take the most popular healthcare reform measure and take it off the table, heaven knows what it is, I guess, you think you’re left with. This is the most popular form, and it would be very unlike the party in the majority now to determine that the most popular system would not even be examined. I am asking for a hearing in every committee, every committee, and if they will let us into the Senate, as well.”
Conyers is the sponsor of House Resolution 676, which would grant universal healthcare to all Americans by making the government the lone provider of medical coverage.
In other healthcare news, the nation’s largest physician organization has announced it will oppose Democratic plans for a new government-sponsored insurance program that would compete with private insurers. In a statement, the American Medical Association said healthcare should be provided solely through “private markets.” The announcement comes just days before President Obama is set to travel to Chicago to address the AMA on Monday. The AMA represents around 250,000 doctors across the United States. Its position comes despite recent polls showing as many as 60 percent of doctors support the creation of a national public insurance plan.
A doctor who worked in the clinic of the slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller has announced he intends to continue performing late-term abortions in Kansas. Dr. LeRoy Carhart was one of a team of physicians to work with Tiller before his murder last month. Speaking to the Associated Press, Carhart declined to say whether the abortions would continue at Tiller’s clinic or whether he’d open a new site. His announcement comes one day after Tiller’s family announced the clinic’s permanent closure. It had been one of the only in the country to perform abortions in the third trimester.
The Obama administration is set to announce today new regulations of mountaintop removal, the controversial coal mining practice that has caused extensive environmental damage in the Appalachian region. The changes include ending fast-track approval for new mining permits and imposing a more extensive environmental review. Interviewed by the Washington Post, the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, said the administration hasn’t ruled out seeking a complete ban on mountaintop removal, with discussions still in the early stages.
The Obama administration has appointed a Washington, DC attorney to become the so-called “compensation czar” overseeing the salaries of top executives at bailed-out financial firms. Kenneth Feinberg will have authority to set the compensation for executives at seven taxpayer-rescued companies, including Citibank, Bank of America and General Motors. The White House, however, has dropped an initial pledge to cap executives at $500,000.
In Peru, lawmakers have temporarily suspended two land-use laws that led to an indigenous uprising and dozens of deaths in the ensuing police crackdown. Indigenous groups have opposed the laws that would allow an unprecedented wave of logging, oil drilling, mining and agriculture in the Amazon rainforest. On Wednesday, the Peruvian congress voted to suspend the laws, but for an unspecified time. Indigenous leader Efrain Pizango Wasy said the protests will continue until the laws are fully repealed.
Efrain Pizango Wasy: “Our reaction is not to suspend the strike, but to continue until the end. As you have heard, this measure is suspended for only ninety days. This is not convenient for us, the indigenous population. We will gather more and continue fighting until the end.”
President Alan Garcia’s government passed the land laws under “fast track” authority he had received to facilitate implementation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement.
UN Security Council members have agreed on a new round of sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear test and missile launches. The new measures include asking countries to inspect North Korean vessels carrying suspicious cargo and requiring them to deny the vessels fuel. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, praised the agreement.
UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “We tabled a draft resolution to be considered by all colleagues on the Security Council, which we think provides a very strong, very credible, very appropriate response to the provocative nuclear test that North Korea launched and its subsequent activities.”
The UN Security Council is expected to approve the sanctions in a vote on Friday.
In Pakistan, the United Nations has withdrawn most of its staff from the northwestern city of Peshawar following the killing of two officials in a massive truck bombing of a luxury hotel. The pullout is heightening concerns over the plight of the more than two million people who have fled their homes in the US-backed offensive on Taliban militants in neighboring Swat Valley. On Wednesday, the US envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, praised the offensive in Washington.
US Envoy Richard Holbrooke: “What I saw in Pakistan on this trip was the slow emergence of a consensus behind the government’s actions. Everywhere, there was a dramatic change in attitudes from my previous trips, because of the outrages of the Taliban and their supporters.”
The private military firm formerly known as Blackwater is facing a new lawsuit over the August 2007 killing of an Iraqi civilian in Hilla. The case was filed on behalf of the surviving relatives of seventy-five-year-old Husain Salih Rabea. At the time, Rabea’s relatives said he had pulled over to the side of the road to let a Blackwater convoy pass. The last vehicle in the convoy allegedly opened fire when Rabea pulled back onto the road. The suit also alleges Blackwater employees are guarding employees of the International Republican Institute in Iraq despite an Iraqi government ban.
In Oregon, five current and former Army National Guard soldiers have filed a lawsuit accusing the war contractor KBR of knowingly exposing them to a cancer-causing chemical in Iraq. A group of sixteen Indiana National Guard soldiers filed a similar suit last year. The soldiers were providing security for KBR during repairs of a water treatment plant in southern Iraq shortly after the US invasion. The National Guard members claim the site was contaminated for six months by hexavalent chromium, “one of the most potent carcinogens” on record. They allege KBR knew the plant was contaminated but concealed the danger. Attorneys for the soldiers say they expect several West Virginia National Guard members to file a similar suit.
The lawsuits follow the release of a new federal report detailing waste and abuse by war contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Commission on Wartime Contracting says auditors have questioned more than $13 billion in spending. The report also says over 240,000 contractors are employed in Iraq and Afghanistan, around 80 percent of them foreign nationals.
In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has ordered a probe into an alleged US attack that killed two people and wounded more than fifty others in Kunar Province. Afghan witnesses have accused a US soldier of throwing a grenade at a crowd that had gathered to watch US troops working to free a large military vehicle that had become stuck on a road. Local doctors say the injured included several children, some in critical condition.
A former State Department analyst and his wife have been denied bail following their arrest on allegations of being longtime spies for the Cuban government. Walter Kendall Myers and his wife Gwendolyn appeared in a Washington, DC courtroom on Wednesday after pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy, being agents of a foreign government, and wire fraud.
A newly released database shows Pentagon employees took more than 22,000 trips paid for by foreign countries, private corporations and other sources between 1998 and 2007. The Center for Public Integrity says the visits cost more than $26 million and often involved interests paying for officials who could make decisions benefiting those picking up the tab. The biggest travel funder was the medical industry, which footed the bill for more 8,700 trips worth over $10 million.
In Utah, a thirty-two-year-old man has been killed in a tasering by police. Brian Layton Cardall was confronted after running away from his vehicle near a highway road. He had recently struggled with mental health issues, and his wife had called police. When Cardall was found, a police officer used his taser weapon, causing Cardall to lose consciousness. He was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital. In a statement, Cardall’s family remembered him as “a wonderful son, brother, father, and husband who loved being with people. He was full of personality and wanted to make a difference in this world.”
Cardall’s death comes as video has emerged of a Texas police officer tasering a seventy-two-year-old woman after pulling over her vehicle. Kathryn Winkfein said she was stopped for going fifteen miles over the speed limit in a construction zone. Texas police have insisted the officer’s actions were justified.