At least sixty people have been killed in a US drone attack in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region. Pakistani officials say the bombing struck a funeral for a Taliban commander who died in an earlier attack. The missiles were reportedly launched as funeral-goers dispersed after delivering prayers. It was the deadliest of more than twenty US drone attacks so far this year.
In Iran, opposition groups have called for another major rally outside the Iranian parliament today in defiance of a government ban. The call comes after the Guardian Council rejected claims of fraud and ruled out annulling the election results. The streets of Tehran were relatively quiet Tuesday, even as the Iranian government continued to target critics. It’s established a special court for demonstrators and detained more journalists and activists. Meanwhile at the White House, President Obama issued his strongest condemnation of the Iranian government since the election took place.
President Obama: “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.”
President Obama was speaking at his fourth White House news conference. After his comments on Iran, Obama was asked about protests from insurance companies that his support for a government-run public option in healthcare reform would put them out of business.
President Obama: “Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private — if private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality healthcare, if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That’s not logical.”
Although Obama defended the public health option, he later suggested an openness to dropping it entirely. Asked if the inclusion of a government-run program in healthcare reform is “non-negotiable,” Obama initially ignored the question. When later asked to respond again, Obama refused to call the public health proposal non-negotiable and said he hasn’t “drawn lines in the sand.”
President Obama: “We are still early in this process. So, you know, we have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured. You know, those are the broad parameters that we’ve discussed.”
Obama’s comments come as the insurance industry is intensifying its lobbying against the public insurance option. On Tuesday, the nation’s largest insurance industry group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said a government-run program would bring “devastating consequences” and “dismantle employer-based coverage, significantly increase costs for those who remain in private coverage, and add additional liabilities to the federal budget.”
Meanwhile, a progressive think tank is now criticizing a Democratic proposal that would force employers to help pay the health insurance costs of low-income workers. Under the plan, employers who don’t provide health coverage would have to pay half the cost of Medicaid benefits or the full cost of subsidies for workers who opt to buy coverage through the proposed insurance exchange. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says the plan could discourage the hiring of low-income workers by essentially imposing a surcharge on their employment. Backers of a universal, single-payer healthcare system have criticized the Democratic approach in part because it makes workers and employers responsible for health insurance coverage instead of the government.
The Obama administration has rejected a UN scientific panel’s call for a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. On Tuesday, US climate envoy Todd Stern called the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s target “not necessary,” “not feasible” and “not in the cards.” Stern made the comments at international talks in Mexico ahead of the December global climate summit in Copenhagen.
US climate envoy Todd Stern: “These are hard issues, and I think that we are just — you know, we’re working through it and making progress. I do think that we will have a successful agreement in Copenhagen, but it would be — we just say, in the context of any kind of negotiation like this, it would be incredibly unusual.”
Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders have scheduled a Friday vote for a climate and emissions bill that would cut greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. It would also impose a controversial cap-and-trade system that would ostensibly cancel out emissions.
The Iraqi government is preparing to sell off large oil contracts to foreign companies for the first time since nationalizing its oil industry in 1972. An auction for developing six national oil fields is scheduled for next week. Companies taking part in the bidding include Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Russia’s Lukoil. The Wall Street Journal calls the auction “a welcome-back party for Big Oil.”
Kyrgyzstan has reversed a decision to close a US military air base vital to the occupation of Afghanistan. In February, the Kyrgyz parliament overwhelmingly approved a measure to close the Manas Air Base and order the withdrawal of US troops by August. But on Tuesday, Kyrgyz officials said they’ve reached an agreement with the US that will triple rent payments to keep the base operational. The site will also now be referred to as a “transit center” instead of a military base.
The Obama administration says it plans to return a US ambassador to Syria after a four-year absence. The Bush administration withdrew its ambassador in 2005 after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. The Syrian government has denied allegations of involvement in Hariri’s death.
The British government is facing a lawsuit over the repression of the Kenyan struggle for independence against colonial rule. On Tuesday, a group of veterans of Kenya’s resistance movement filed a suit in British court seeking compensation for human rights abuses during the Mau Mau rebellion of 1952 to 1960. More than 100,000 Kenyans are believed to have been killed in the British crackdown. Gitu Wa Kahengeri is a Mau Mau veteran and spokesperson for the case.
Gitu Wa Kahengeri: “The colonial regime in Kenya at that time had robbed all our lands, had broken almost every human right against us, and we were living at that time in our country like slaves, and therefore we rose up and say we must see that Kenya recovers its freedom and its land.”
The British government has so far refused to recognize compensation claims.
Back in the United States, thirty-one people were arrested Tuesday during an anti-coal protest at a mountaintop removal site owned by Massey Energy. The demonstrators refused to leave a road outside a coal storage silo that neighbors an elementary school. Among those arrested were NASA scientist James Hansen, actress Daryl Hannah and former Congress member Ken Hechler.
The Obama administration says it’s drafting landmark guidelines barring workplace discrimination against transgender federal employees. The provisions will be advanced alongside the previously announced benefits for same-sex domestic couples.
The Southern Baptist Convention has cut ties with a Texas church over what it calls an overly lenient stance on homosexuality. On Tuesday, delegates voted to end a 127-year relationship with Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church. The church had drawn scrutiny from opponents of gay rights over proposals to allow photographs of same-sex couples in its directory.
A new study of consumer “greenwashing” has found 98 percent of self-described natural and environmentally friendly products sold in the US are making potentially false or misleading claims. The environmental consulting firm TerraChoice also says 22 percent of products are adorned with an environmental “badge” that has no actual meaning.
In Washington, DC, federal transportation officials say transit authorities ignored recommendations to replace older subway cars before Monday’s crash that killed nine people. On Tuesday, National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Debbie Hersman said the warnings were first issued three years ago.
Debbie Hersman: “We made recommendations in 2006 about the crash-worthiness of the 1000-series cars. We recommended to WMATA to either retrofit those cars or to phase them out of the fleet. They have not been able to do that, and our recommendation was not addressed, so it has been closed and in an unacceptable status.”
And newly released documents and tapes have provided fresh revelations about President Richard Nixon’s time in office. Telephone transcripts show Nixon got the approval of the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee five days before expanding US attacks on Cambodia in April 1970. In response to Nixon’s plans to attack Cambodia, Senator John Stennis replied, “I will be with you…I commend you for what you are doing.” The newly released material also shows Nixon favored abortions in the case of interracial couples. Speaking to an aide, Nixon said, “There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape.”