The Obama administration signaled Sunday that it was on the verge of abandoning plans to create a government-run insurance option as part of its program to reform the nation’s healthcare system. The move away from a pubic option is seen as a major victory for the health insurance industry. In an interview on CNN, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that a public option is “not the essential element” of healthcare overhaul.
Kathleen Sebelius: “I think the President is just continuing to say, let’s not have this be the only focus of the conversation. Coverage for all Americans, lowering the crushing cost for everyone, making sure that we have new rules for insurance companies, that they can’t dump people out of the marketplace if you get sick, that they can’t drop your coverage based on a preexisting condition, that you can’t be priced out because you’re a woman instead of a man, and gender discrimination won’t be allowed to continue anymore — those are really essential parts of the program, along with choice and competition, which I think we’ll have at the end of the day.”
Kathleen Sebelius’s comment came one day after President Obama told a healthcare forum in Colorado that “the public option, whether we have it or don’t have it, is not the entirety of healthcare reform.” Instead of a public insurance option, the Obama administration suggested it will back the formation of private-sector options such as insurance exchanges or cooperatives. Analysts say it is unlikely that the co-ops would bring healthcare prices down as significantly as the government could.
In other healthcare news, the Center for Responsive Politics reports federal lawmakers collected about $15.3 million in donations from the health sector between April and June. Pharmaceutical and health insurance companies increased their contributions by eight percent, while health professionals and hospitals maintained their rate of donations.
A top official in Honduras’s ousted government claims there was direct US involvement in the coup that deposed Manuel Zelaya. Beatriz Valle, who served as Zelaya’s deputy foreign minister, said the plane that flew Zelaya into exile stopped at Soto Cano, a Honduran military base that is home to at least 500 US troops. The Pentagon hasn’t denied the plane landed at Soto Cano. A Pentagon spokesperson said that the troops in Honduras “had no knowledge or part in the decisions made for the plane to land, refuel and take off.” It is unclear why the plane would refuel at the base since it is just sixty miles from the capital, Tegucigalpa. On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticized President Obama’s handling of the coup in Honduras and said the new US president is lost in space when it comes to dealing with Latin America.
Hugo Chavez: “I think he is lost in the Galaxy of Andromeda. President Obama, he is lost. He can’t see the horizon. He doesn’t understand. I believe that Obama is entering a terrible labyrinth. To give him the benefit of the doubt, he is confused. We are not asking you to intervene in Honduras, Obama. On the contrary, we are asking that the empire get its hands off Honduras and get its claws out of Latin America.”
One of India’s biggest movie stars, Shah Rukh Khan, was detained and questioned by immigration officials Friday at Newark Liberty International Airport. Khan is a known as the King of Bollywood in India. The actor was in the US to promote a new film, My Name Is Khan, which is about racial profiling of Muslims after the September 11 attacks. Khan was held for sixty-six minutes. He was released after Indian consular officials vouched for him. The story has been front-page news in India for days. On Sunday, angry fans burned a US flag in protest. India’s federal information minister suggested that India should adopt a similar policy toward Americans traveling to India.
One of Afghanistan’s most feared warlords, Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, has returned from exile in Turkey just days ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential election. Dostum is one of several warlords who have become allies with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai is hoping Dostum’s return will help attract ethnic Uzbek voters on election day. Dostum used to be on the CIA payroll, and his militia worked closely with US Special Forces. In 2001, he oversaw a massacre at Dasht-e-Leili that left at least 2,000 suspected Taliban POWs dead. Last month, New York Times reporter James Risen revealed the Bush administration blocked at least three federal investigations into the alleged war crimes committed by Dostum.
James Risen: “The evidence was overwhelming that something had happened and that it was the responsibility of the Bush administration to look into this or at least to push for an international investigation, because Dostum had been on the CIA payroll, was part of a US-backed alliance that was taking over Afghanistan. And what I found was, time after time, in different agencies and as far — and in the White House, Bush administration officials repeatedly ignored evidence or just decided or discouraged efforts to open investigations into the massacre.”
In other news from Afghanistan, a new law has gone into effect that allows a husband to starve his wife if she refuses to have sex. The law also prohibits women from working without their husband’s permission. Critics of the bill have accused President Karzai of selling out Afghan women for the sake of support from conservative Shiites in this week’s election. The bill also grants guardianship of children exclusively to their fathers and grandfathers, and it effectively allows a rapist to avoid prosecution by paying “blood money” to a girl who was injured when he raped her.
A new report from Human Rights Watch has found Iraqi militias are carrying out a spreading campaign of torture and murder against men suspected of homosexual conduct. Hundreds of gay Iraqis have been tortured and killed in recent months, and Iraq authorities have done nothing to stop the killings. Some people told Human Rights Watch that Iraqi security forces have colluded and joined in the killing.
Rasha Moumneh of Human Rights Watch: “What we found in Iraq was disturbing. We heard stories of murder, extra-judicial executions, brutal torture, abductions, extortions, beatings and threats. The target of this killing campaign, which was focused mainly in Baghdad but also spread to other cities in Iraq, was gay men and men who challenge social norms of masculinity. Signs which were interpreted as homosexuality, feminization or Westernization all exposed people to violence. We cannot accurately estimate the scope of this campaign. However, our conversations with human rights activists, UN workers, and doctors in hospitals have led us to believe that the killings may easily number in the hundreds.’’
Virginia Senator Jim Webb visited Burma over the weekend and secured the release of John Yettaw, the American citizen who was arrested after swimming to the house of jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Webb is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee and a prominent critic of US sanctions against Burma. He is the first member of Congress to visit Burma in more than a decade and is the first American official to ever meet with Burma’s military junta. Webb also met for an hour with Aung San Suu Kyi and called for her release.
The debate over healthcare in the United States is being closely watched around the world, especially in Britain, where the political and medical establishment have launched a spirited defense of the National Health Service in response to attacks on the system by conservative commentators in the United States. Britain’s Business Secretary Lord Mandelson described the US healthcare system as second-rate for patients who can’t afford health insurance.
Lord Mandelson: “In championing the American system, they are championing good, first-rate healthcare for those who can buy the insurance and a very poor and second-rate system for those who can’t afford the insurance. We don’t want that system in Britain.”
Many Britons were surprised to read a recent editorial in the American newspaper Investor’s Business Daily. The editorial stated, “People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” Hawking was in fact born in the UK and has lived there his whole life. The paper was forced to run a correction. Hawking said, “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS.”
Newly declassified memos reveal President Richard Nixon discussed with Brazil’s president a cooperative effort to overthrow the governments of Salvador Allende of Chile and Fidel Castro of Cuba. At a meeting in the Oval Office on December 9, 1971, Nixon said he was willing to offer Brazil the assistance, monetary or otherwise, it might need to rid South America of leftist governments. Nixon said the US and Brazil “must try and prevent new Allendes and Castros and try where possible to reverse these trends.” Twenty months later, on September 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown in a US-backed coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.
Demonstrators plan to gather at the University of California, Berkeley this afternoon to protest the return to campus of former Justice Department Attorney John Yoo, who helped write key torture memos for the Bush administration. Critics of Yoo say he should be fired, disbarred and prosecuted.
And one of President Obama’s top advisers, Valerie Jarrett, was hissed and heckled during a talk at the Netroots Nation Convention in Pittsburgh. The Huffington Post reports a protester in the audience screamed out a question about why the White House was trying to keep additional photographs of detainee abuse from becoming public. More shouts and protests followed after Jarrett defended Obama’s decision not to release the photos. Another member of the audience shouted out a question about why the private security contractor Blackwater was still being paid for work overseas.