The ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has agreed to a US-backed plan for talks with the coup regime that overthrew him last month. On Tuesday, Zelaya met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC. It was Zelaya’s highest-level talks with the Obama administration since the coup. Clinton said Costa Rican President Oscar Arias will mediate talks between Zelaya and the interim coup president Roberto Micheletti.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “Instead of another confrontation that might result in the loss of life, let’s try the dialogue process and see where that leads, and let’s let the parties determine all the various issues, as they should. It’s their responsibility to do that.”
Zelaya and Micheletti are set to visit Costa Rica. Zelaya maintained his return to the presidency is “non-negotiable.”
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya: “These decisions have been taken so that in the next few hours, things can stabilize, and tranquility, calm and peace will return to Honduras.”
Pro-Zelaya demonstrations continued in Honduras Tuesday, despite the threat of further police violence. Two unarmed protesters were killed Sunday when police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration.
In China, thousands of government forces have swept into a restive city in the Xinjiang region amidst the country’s worst ethnic violence in decades. Tensions have flared in the city of Urumqi between China’s ethnic Han Chinese and the ethnic Uyghurs, a Muslim minority. Some 156 people have been killed, more than 1,000 wounded, and more than 1,400 arrested so far. Both sides blame the other for the violence. Chinese President Hu Jintao has cut short a visit to Italy for the G8 summit, which opens in Italy today.
On Tuesday, at least thirty-six people were arrested at an anti-poverty protest in Rome.
Protester: “We all know that decisions are made elsewhere and this meeting is just symbolic. But even if it’s just a symbolic gesture, we’re always against the G8.”
The Obama administration has announced it may continue the indefinite jailing of foreign prisoners, even if military tribunals find them not guilty. On Tuesday, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said a prisoner’s release will depend on whether the government deems them a threat, not how they’re judged in court. The Bush administration took the same position. Johnson was speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Also at the hearing, Obama administration officials offered diverging views on whether prisoners can be prosecuted for testimony obtained through torture. Justice Department National Security Division head David Kris said federal courts might reverse convictions based on statements obtained through coercion. But Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, the Navy’s Judge Advocate General, said the admissibility of prisoners’ statements should be based on whether they’re “reliable,” not whether they were coerced or not.
President Obama has appeared to repudiate a statement by Vice President Joe Biden that the US wouldn’t prevent Israel from attacking Iran. In an interview earlier this week, Biden said Israel has the “sovereign right” to attack Iran if it decides to. But on Tuesday, Obama said Israel does not have US backing for an attack.
CNN Correspondent Ed Henry: “Are you giving Israel a green light?”
President Obama: “Absolutely not. And I think it’s very important that I’m as clear as I can be and our administration is as consistent as we can be on this issue. I think Vice President Biden stated a categorical fact, which is, we can’t dictate to other countries what their security interests are. What is also true is it is the policy of the United States to try to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels.”
In other Iran news, a group of Nobel laureates are urging the Iranian government to release all prisoners jailed in the protests against last month’s disputed presidential elections. In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the laureates call for international pressure to ensure the prisoners’ freedom. Signatories include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
Their appeal came as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a new rejection of critics who say his re-election was fixed. In his first televised address since the election, Ahmadinejad called Iran’s vote “the freest” and “healthiest” in the world.
Here in the United States, Democrat Al Franken of Minnesota has been sworn in as the newest member of the Senate. Franken was seated Tuesday following last week’s Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that ended former Republican Norm Coleman’s legal challenge to Franken’s victory in the November elections. Seating Franken gives Democrats effective control of sixty seats, enough theoretically to overcome a Republican filibuster. Franken took the oath using a Bible belonging to the family of another Democratic senator from Minnesota, the late Paul Wellstone. Within hours of his swearing in, Franken announced his first legislative action: co-sponsoring the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to vote on joining unions.
President Obama has issued a vague response to criticism his administration is backing away from its advocacy of a government-run public health insurance program. On Tuesday, Obama released a statement saying, “[I] still believe…that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals.” The statement came hours after White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal he thinks it’s more important to inject competition between insurance plans than it is to create a plan run by the government. Emanuel instead said the White House could back a plan that would “trigger” a public option only if private insurers failed to provide suitable care.
Meanwhile, new questions are being raised about the concessions won by the healthcare industry in return for making cost-cutting deals with the White House to help pay for healthcare reform. The Obama administration is set to formally unveil a deal with major hospitals to save $145 billion in payments over ten years. The pharmaceutical industry has also committed to an $80 billion fee cut over ten years. But pharmaceutical companies say Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus has promised to oppose a House Democratic proposal that would drastically lower the drug prices for Medicare recipients previously covered by Medicaid. Last week, the retail giant Wal-Mart backed proposals requiring businesses to provide employees with mandatory health insurance. But in return, Wal-Mart wants to eliminate requirements that would force employers to cover part of the cost for workers covered by Medicaid.
In South Carolina, the state Republican Party has voted to censure Republican Governor Mark Sanford, following his recent admission of having an extramarital affair. Sanford has since also admitted to other unspecified infidelities with several different women. The censure vote stops short of asking for Sanford’s resignation. The South Carolina governor had been considered among the top contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination before the scandal broke.
In Washington, DC, a city council ordinance recognizing same-sex marriages has gone into effect. The council approved the bill in May. It doesn’t legalize same-sex marriage but recognizes those performed in other states. Council members say they plan to introduce another resolution that would allow same-sex marriages in the district.
Federal regulators have announced they’re considering new curbs on speculative trading in energy markets. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission says it may impose caps on oil and gas trading to help temper drastic swings in commodity prices.
A new study says billions in government aid has failed to induce mortgage lenders to help homeowners facing foreclosure. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, only three percent of delinquent borrowers have had their loans restructured to lower monthly payments. The Obama administration has committed some $75 billion to mortgage lenders with the stated purpose of funding the restructuring loans. The study recommends that the money be given directly to the borrowers, instead of the lenders that have refused to help.
Texas Tech University has announced it’s given a teaching position to former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales beginning in the fall semester. Gonzales has struggled to find work since resigning from the White House two years ago. He played a key role in several Bush administration controversies, including the authorization of torture and the firing of nine US attorneys.
Meanwhile, former White House deputy Karl Rove has been deposed in the congressional probe into the attorney firings. Rove was questioned by House Judiciary Committee members in an all-day session on Tuesday.
In Denver, a judge has denied former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s bid to return to his old job, despite a jury’s finding he was wrongfully dismissed. Churchill sued the school after he was fired from a tenured position on charges of research misconduct. But Churchill maintains that the allegations were a pretext to remove him for his political beliefs. In April, a jury ruled in Churchill’s favor and ordered the school to pay his attorney fees. But on Tuesday, Chief Judge Larry Naves of Denver District Court said university officials are legally protected from Churchill’s bid to reverse his firing, because they were acting as judicial officers. Churchill says he plans to appeal. His lawyer, David Lane, said, “This is judicial activism in its worst form…a jury said Ward Churchill’s free speech was violated, and yet Judge Naves goes on for almost 50 pages, saying in so many words, 'Too bad.'”
The FBI has joined a probe into the death of an Islamic religious leader who was killed in a suspicious fire last month. Imam Ali Mohammed had gone to clean hate graffiti scrawled inside his family’s Yermo, California former home. His body was found inside the home after a fire broke out. Mohammed and his family had moved out of the home because they had come under anti-Muslim harassment by area residents.
Meanwhile, in Germany, an Egyptian woman has been killed by an attacker she had accused of racial discrimination. The woman, Marwa Al-Sherbini, was about to testify against the attacker in court when he stabbed her eighteen times. Al-Sherbini’s husband tried to intervene and was also stabbed, as well as shot by a police officer who mistook him for the attacker. Al-Sherbini was three months pregnant and died in front of her three-year-old son. She had brought the case after the attacker called her a terrorist because she was wearing the Muslim hijab.
And the pop artist Michael Jackson was honored Tuesday at a memorial service in Los Angeles. Jackson died last month at the age of fifty. An audience estimated in the tens of millions around the world tuned in through television, radio and the internet. The Reverend Al Sharpton spoke about Jackson’s importance in breaking barriers for African Americans.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “He put on one glove, pulled his pants up, and broke down the color curtain, where now our videos are shown and magazines put us on the cover! It was Michael Jackson that brought blacks and whites and Asians and Latinos together! It was Michael Jackson that made us sing 'We Are the World' and feed the hungry long before Live Aid! Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level, where people that felt they were separate became interconnected with his music. And it was that comfort level that kids from Japan and Ghana and France and Iowa and Pennsylvania got comfortable enough with each other to, later, it wasn’t strange to us to watch Oprah on television. It wasn’t strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those young kids grew up from being teenage comfortable fans of Michael to being forty years old and being comfortable to vote for a person of color to be the president of the United States of America.”
Other speakers included Democratic Congress member Sheila Jackson-Lee of Houston. Jackson-Lee held up a framed version of a congressional resolution she’s co-sponsored that would honor Jackson for his charity work. Republican lawmakers have said they’ll oppose the measure.