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The Obama administration is facing renewed criticism over its refusal to push for a “public option” under healthcare reform. President Obama omitted the public option from a healthcare proposal unveiled ahead of tomorrow’s bipartisan healthcare summit. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “there isn’t enough political support” to pass a public option through Congress.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs: “I think that we have seen obviously, and I talked about this some yesterday, that though there are some that are supportive of this, there isn’t enough political support in a majority to get this through. The President wanted to find — took the Senate bill as the base and looks forward to discussing consensus ideas on Thursday.”
Twenty-three Democratic senators have publicly signed on to supporting a public option, and the White House has been criticized for not attempting to secure the fifty votes needed for simple-majority approval through budget reconciliation.
Toyota’s top US executive has acknowledged he’s unsure if his company has addressed the mechanical problems that led to the recall of millions of vehicles. Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Jim Lentz said he can’t guarantee the recall will completely address issues with unintended acceleration found in Toyota cars. Lentz also publicly apologized to Toyota customers.
Jim Lentz: “In recent months we have not lived up to our high standards our customers and the public have come to expect from Toyota. Put simply, it’s taken us too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues despite all of our good faith efforts. The problem has also been compounded by our poor communications within our company and with regulators and consumers.”
The hearing also heard from Toyota owner Rhonda Smith, whose car once sped up to 100 miles an hour even though she had applied the emergency brake. Smith criticized both Toyota and federal regulators.
Rhonda Smith: “And today I must say, shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy, and shame on you, NHTSA, for not doing your job.”
Toyota President Akio Toyoda is scheduled to testify at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee later today.
New figures show bonuses at Wall Street securities firms rose 17 percent last year to $20.3 billion. The New York State Comptroller’s office says profits at those firms are on pace to reach $55 billion for 2009, three times the previous record.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation says bank loans have seen their largest decline since the 1940s. On Tuesday, FDIC chair Sheila Bair said banks reduced lending by $587 billion, or 7.5 percent, in 2009. Bair singled out major large banks for the decline, urging them “to do a better job of stepping up to the plate.” Bair also says over 700 banks were deemed at risk of failure as of the end of 2009, more than double the number one year ago and the most since 1993.
New figures, meanwhile, show major financial firms have begun shifting campaign donations to Republicans as Democrats have pushed regulatory legislation of Wall Street. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the securities and investment industry went from giving two-to-one to Democrats at the start of 2009 to giving almost equal amounts to Republicans by year’s end.
Latin American and Caribbean nations have agreed to form a new regional body excluding the United States and Canada. On Tuesday, leaders gathered in Mexico backed calls to form an alternative to the Organization of American States. Cuban President Raul Castro said the move would aid regional integration.
Cuban President Raul Castro: “Cuba proposes that conditions are set to advance quickly the constitution of a purely Latin American and Caribbean regional organization that would be formed and would represent the thirty-three independent countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
In news from Cuba, a leading opponent of the Cuban government has died after a lengthy hunger strike. Orlando Zapata Tamayo had refused to eat for eighty-five days to protest what he called inhumane jail conditions. Amnesty International had declared him a prisoner of conscience. He had been jailed since 2003.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing today on the private military firm Blackwater’s operations in Afghanistan. On the eve of the hearing, the committee released findings showing Blackwater seized hundreds of US-supplied weapons intended for the Afghan army. A Blackwater official allegedly signed for the weapons at a US weapons bunker by using the name of a cartoon character. The weapons ended up in the hands of the four Blackwater employees who fired on an Afghan vehicle while under the influence of alcohol in May 2009. Two Afghan civilians were wounded in that attack.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the Israeli government has outraged Palestinians over a decision to include two biblical tombs in Palestinian towns on a list of Israeli heritage sites. The move sparked clashes in Hebron, where Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians protesting the Israeli decision. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned Israel’s actions could spark what he called “a religious war.” Palestinian Public Works minister Mohammed Shtayyeh also criticized Israel.
Mohammed Shtayyeh: “This government led by Netanyahu is proving to the world and to us that it’s not interested in the peace process and ethics, but it’s interested in building settlements and confiscating the Palestinian history. This is a fabrication and confiscation of history.”
In Pennsylvania, audio footage has surfaced of a computer technician discussing the software used by a suburban Philadelphia school district to switch on laptop computer cameras inside students’ homes. The Lower Merion School District issued Apple laptops with webcams to all 2,300 students at its two high schools, but students were never informed the school had the ability to remotely activate the laptop cameras. School officials say the cameras were only remotely activated to find missing or stolen laptops. In an audio recording apparently intended for other software technicians, school district employee Mike Perbix discusses how the technology works.
Mike Perbix: “As soon as the computer gets put on a network outside your home network, the heartbeat tries to come into your existing LANrev server. And once it establishes that connection, it gets told, hey, computer tracking is turned on. And then that computer will start sending back, at regular intervals, will start sending back screen shots. And if you have a built-in iSight camera, it will start sending in camera shots.”
Perbix went on to praise the software’s use in monitoring students.
Mike Perbix: “It’s an excellent feature. Yes, we have used it, and yes, it has gleaned some results for us. But it, in and of itself, is just a fantastic feature for trying to — especially when you’re in a school environment and you have a lot of laptops and you’re worried about, you know, laptops getting up and missing. I’ve actually had some laptops we thought were stolen which actually were still in a classroom, because they were misplaced, and by the time we found out they were back, I had to turn the tracking off. And I had, you know, a good twenty snapshots of the teacher and students using the machines in the classroom.”
The family of a student targeted by the monitoring has filed a federal lawsuit against the Lower Merion district. Both the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for eastern Pennsylvania say they’re investigating.
And a correction to a headline from Tuesday’s broadcast. Several media outlets reported a US death toll in Afghanistan of 1,000 based on figures from the website iCasualties.org. But the website’s tally includes fatalities from US military operations outside Afghanistan. According to iCasualties, the US death toll in Afghanistan is actually at around 926.