Confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor continue on Capitol Hill. If confirmed, Sotomayor will become the nation’s first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. On Tuesday, Sotomayor was asked to explain her 2001 comment that a “wise Latina” might arrive at a better legal decision than a white man.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor: “I want to state up front, unequivocally and without doubt, I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences.”
House Democrats have unveiled a long-awaited proposal on healthcare reform. Democrats say the plan would expand health insurance to 37 million people over the next decade, ensuring coverage for 97 percent of Americans by 2015. The uninsured would get insurance under an expanded Medicaid program or through federal subsidies to purchase mandatory coverage. The plan would be largely funded through a surtax on Americans earning over $350,000 a year. But the government would also pay for the plan by reducing spending on federal health programs such as Medicare, which covers the elderly and disabled. The plan has little support in the Senate, where Democratic leaders are expected to advance a different proposal without the House surtax.
President Obama, meanwhile, has announced a new plan to increase funding for community colleges by $12 billion. If approved, the American Graduation Initiative would be the largest-ever federal investment in community colleges.
The Pentagon has announced it will hold a missile test with the Israeli military in US waters later this week. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency says Israel will test its Arrow system on a US missile range in the Pacific Ocean. The test will be at least Israel’s third in US waters.
The Miami Herald has revealed details of a previously undisclosed protest by Guantanamo Bay prisoners last month. For two weeks, twenty-six prisoners staged a sit-in in an open-air exercise yard, refusing to move. The action was launched over outrage at what the prisoners called humiliating strip-searches following the suicide of Guantanamo prisoner Muhammad Salih.
In Burma, the military junta says it will grant amnesty to an unspecified number of prisoners before national elections later this year. The junta’s announcement follows a visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this month. Ban told the UN Security Council he hopes the prisoners will include the leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “You have heard the [Permanent Representative] of Myanmar saying that his government is now taking some procedures to allow some amnesty, but I’m not quite sure who will be included in this amnesty. But I have made it quite clear that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, in particular, should be released and free to participate in the election.”
The junta refused to let Moon meet with the jailed Suu Kyi during his visit.
In Spain, charges have been dropped against two of three US soldiers accused in the killing of Jose Couso. A Spanish journalist, Couso died when US troops shelled Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel in April 2003. Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk was also killed in the attack. The Spanish National Court ruling overturns an investigative judge’s decision to reinstate the case two months ago. The judge had cited new evidence contradicting US claims that its forces had come under fire from the Palestine Hotel. One year ago, former Army Sergeant Adrienne Kinne told Democracy Now! she saw the Palestine Hotel on a military target list and said she frequently intercepted calls from journalists staying there.
At The Hague, former Liberian president Charles Taylor has taken the stand as the first defense witness in his war crimes trial. Taylor faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian law in connection with alleged backing of Sierra Leonean rebels. The allegations against Taylor include support for mutilation, sexual slavery, and sending children into combat. On Tuesday, Taylor denied the charges.
Charles Taylor: “It is quite incredible that such descriptions of me would come about, very, very, very unfortunate that the prosecution, because of disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumors, would associate me with such titles or descriptions. I am none of those, have never been and will never be, whether they think so or not.”
Taylor stepped down as Liberian president in 2003 after a fourteen-year civil war that killed at least 400,000 people and displaced millions more. He’s the first African leader to be tried for war crimes.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a measure that would expand the definition of hate crimes and widen federal authority to prosecute them. The Matthew Shepard Hates Crimes Prevention Act is named for the gay Wyoming university student who was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in 1998. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held a news conference to support the measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “This bill would authorize the federal government to prosecute a hate crime when a state is unwilling or unable to do so. It would make two main changes in current law. First, the bill would add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability as protected categories under our hate crime laws. It will give state and local governments the option of asking federal authorities for help in prosecuting these heinous crimes.”
Reid appeared alongside Matthew Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard.
Judy Shepard: “This bill will send a great message of respect to the nation that the government understands that hate crimes against the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community are on the rise, they are heinous, they’re very violent. And even though they’re not in the news as much as they should be, every time they occur this bill will greatly enable the prosecution.”
In Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia swimming pool is coming under scrutiny for barring a day camp group of mostly black and Latino children following apparent complaints from white members. The Valley Club pool barred the Creative Steps camp after sixty-five child campers swam there last month. Club members reportedly made racial remarks in front of the campers, and some white parents were seen escorting their children from the pool. The Valley Club re-invited the Creative Steps camp after it came under protest, but it’s unclear if the camp wants to return.
The investment bank Goldman Sachs has posted the richest quarterly profit in its 140-year history. On Tuesday, Goldman announced it made $3.44 billion between April and June. The record profits come just one month after Goldman repaid $10 billion of TARP money to the US Treasury, freeing itself from restrictions on year-end bonuses. Last year the firm also received $13 billion as part of the bailout of the failed insurance giant AIG and $28 billion in low-interest loans. We’ll have more on Goldman Sachs later in the broadcast.
The bailed-out auto giant General Motors has announced a retirement deal for departing CEO Rick Wagoner. The Obama administration forced Wagoner to resign earlier this year under the terms of GM’s government rescue. Wagoner will receive $1.6 million annually over the next five years, along with an annual salary of over $74,000 for the rest of his life.
And the billionaire financier Bernie Madoff has begun serving his 150-year prison sentence for massive financial fraud. On Tuesday, Madoff arrived at a medium-security North Carolina prison in a blue jumpsuit, his hands and feet shackled. Madoff was sentenced last month after pleading guilty to running a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of some $50 billion.