White House officials are predicting House Democrats will secure enough votes to pass the healthcare reform bill later this week. White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday.
David Axelrod: “I think there is a determination on the part of members of Congress, after a yearlong debate in which Republican ideas and Democratic ideas were incorporated into this legislation, the best thinking of both parties, that it’s time to bring this to a close.”
David Gregory: “And you’re going to get it passed?”
David Axelrod: “I’m confident.”
Despite David Axelrod’s optimistic statement, House Majority Whip James Clyburn cautioned that the Democrats have not yet found the 216 votes needed to win approval of the healthcare bill. Some progressive Democrats are disappointed about the lack of a public insurance option, while conservative Democrats object to abortion-related language in the bill. Over the weekend, a group representing Catholic hospitals came out in support of the healthcare bill in a move that could help persuade anti-choice lawmakers to provide critical votes in the House for the overhaul.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has reportedly said US-Israeli relations are facing their worst crisis in thirty-five years. Oren’s comments come one week after Israel announced it would build 1,600 news homes in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo. Israel made the announcement just as Vice President Joseph Biden arrived in the country for talks. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the announcement harmed the “the bilateral relationship” between the two countries. In an interview on Meet the Press, Clinton described Israel’s actions as insulting.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “It was not just an unfortunate incident of timing, but the substance was something that is not needed as we are attempting to move toward the resumption of negotiations… It was insulting. And it was insulting not just to the Vice President, who certainly didn’t deserve that. He was there with a very clear message of commitment to the peace process, solidarity with the Israeli people, but it was an insult to the United States.”
White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod described Israel’s actions as very destructive.
David Axelrod: “This was an affront. It was an insult. But most importantly, it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region. We just now have started proximity talks, that is, shuttle diplomacy between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and for this announcement to come at that time was very, very destructive.”
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret over the announcement of the Jewish settlement plan, but he did not give any sign that Israel would cancel the construction project. Meanwhile, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has condemned the recent statements by the Obama White House.
The Pentagon has launched a criminal investigation of a Defense Department official who set up a network of private contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan to help track and kill suspected militants. The New York Times reports the official, Michael Furlong, has been accused of running an off-the-books spy operation with the help of private contractors who gathered intelligence on the whereabouts of suspected militants and the location of insurgent camps. It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Two of the contractors hired by the military were the writer Robert Young Pelton and Eason Jordan, the former chief news executive for CNN. Pelton said he and Jordan were hired by the military to run a public website to help the government gain a better understanding of the region but that their reporting was then used to kill people.
In other news from Afghanistan, at least thirty-five people died on Saturday after dozens of explosions rocked the city of Kandahar. The blasts destroyed forty-two homes and injured thirty-five people.
In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, a US consular employee and her husband were shot dead on Saturday while driving in their SUV. Their one-year-old baby was found unharmed in the back seat. In a separate incident nearby, the husband of a Mexican employee at the US consulate was shot dead. The shootings are believed to be the first deadly attacks on US officials and their families by Mexico’s powerful drug organizations. The State Department has authorized government employees at six US consulates in northern Mexico to send their family members out of the area because of concerns about rising drug-related violence. Overall, nearly fifty people died over the weekend in Mexico in drug-gang violence.
The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to unveil its ambitious ten-year plan to establish high-speed internet as the country’s dominant communication network. As part of the plan, the FCC is recommending a subsidy for internet providers to wire rural parts of the country now without access as well as the freeing up of some of the TV broadcast spectrum for wireless devices.
In economic news, the Labor Department has announced the unemployment rate for young war veterans has reached 21.1 percent, nearly five percentage points higher than for other young workers.
The wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has launched a tea-party-linked lobbying group named Liberty Central. Virginia Thomas says her organization will organize activism around a set of conservative core principles and will be funded in part by corporate donations. During a recent panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Thomas said, “I adore all the new citizen patriots who are rising up across this country.” Legal experts say the new organization could pose conflicts of interest for Justice Thomas, particularly those involving donors to his wife’s nonprofit.
Conservatives on the Texas Board of Education have approved a series of major changes to the state’s social studies curriculum. The new curriculum stresses the superiority of American capitalism, questions the separation of church and state, and presents Republican political philosophies in a more positive light. One plank in the new curriculum ensures that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.” In economic classes, free market advocates Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek will be mandatory reading. Meanwhile, attempts by Hispanic board members to include more Latino figures as role models in the curriculum were defeated even though half of the state’s four million students are Hispanic. The legendary farmworker organizer Dolores Huerta was removed from the curriculum, as was the Mexican American painter Santa Barraza. Board member Mary Helen Berlanga stormed out of one meeting, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist. They are going overboard. They are not experts, they are not historians. They are rewriting history, not only of Texas, but of the United States and the world.”
In other education news, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled the New York City Department of Education discriminated against the founding principal of an Arabic-language school in Brooklyn by forcing her to resign in 2007. In a non-binding ruling, the commission said the city had discriminated against the principal Debbie Almontaser “on account of her race, religion and national origin.” Almontaser is a Muslim of Yemeni descent. Almontaser was forced to resign from the Khalil Gibran International Academy after a campaign by right-wing activists and media outlets. Almontaser has fought to be be reinstated to her post for the past three years. In 2008 she appeared on Democracy Now!
Debbie Almontaser: “I’m not just standing up for my own rights, but I’m standing for the rights of Arabs and Muslims across the country. As you can clearly see, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment that is going around this country is quite startling. And, you know, the fact that we’re living in a new McCarthy era is quite, you know, fearful for many people. So I hope that my case will certainly set national and international precedents that Arabs and Muslims cannot be treated in this way.”
A new study from the University of Michigan has found middle-school students who regularly eat lunch provided by their schools are more likely to be overweight and have higher levels of cholesterol than those who eat meals brought from home. Researchers said only six percent of school-supplied meals meet the nutritional requirements set by the US Agriculture Department.
And in South Dakota, a female Air Force sergeant has been discharged from the military under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, after local police officers told Air Force officials that she was married to a woman. Police learned Jene Newsome was a lesbian after an officer saw an Iowa marriage certificate in her home. The department then called the Air Force base to out the sergeant. Newsome and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed a complaint against the western South Dakota police department. Robert Doody, executive director of ACLU South Dakota, said, “This information was intentionally turned over because of ’don’t ask, don’t tell’ and to out Jene so that she would lose her military status.”