President Obama is set to propose today a sweeping plan to allow for offshore oil and natural gas drilling along much of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska. Environmental groups and many politicians from coastal states have opposed expanded offshore drilling, citing the environmental risks associated with spills. Under Obama’s plan, the environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected from drilling. The New York Times reports the proposal is intended to reduce US dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases, and help win political support for the Democrats’ comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Major questions remain over the proposal. Much of the oil and gas may not be recoverable at current prices, and it is not known how much potential fuel lies in the areas opened to exploration.
President Obama has signed into law the final installment of the healthcare reform bill approved last week. The package includes an overhaul of the college student loan program that ends federal subsidies to private lenders. Obama held the signing ceremony Tuesday at a community college in Virginia.
President Obama: “The health insurance reform bill I signed won’t fix every problem in our healthcare system in one fell swoop, but it does represent some of the toughest insurance reforms in history. It represents a major step forward toward giving Americans with insurance, and those without, a sense of security when it comes to their healthcare. It enshrines the principle that when you get sick, you’ve got a society there, a community that is going to help you get back on your feet.”
The nation’s top insurance companies, meanwhile, have pledged to comply with a provision in the new healthcare law requiring them to cover children with pre-existing medical conditions. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius had written top insurers on Monday after reports emerged the companies were mulling exploiting what they saw as a loophole that would allow them to delay compliance until 2014. On Tuesday, the trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans said insurers will “fully comply” with the new rules. The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reports America’s Health Insurance Plans and the US Chamber of Commerce have formed separate task forces to help influence the regulatory process of implementing the new healthcare law. In a letter to board members, US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donahue said the task force will “participate in the years-long process of writing the thousands of pages of federal regulations that will implement the many provisions of this legislation.” Donahue also says the Chamber plans on spending $50 million this summer and fall to help defeat vulnerable Democratic candidates who supported the healthcare bill.
In Russia, at least twelve people have died in a pair of explosions in the southern region of Dagestan near the Chechen border. One of the blasts was caused by a suicide bomber wearing a police uniform. On Monday, two female suicide bombers killed thirty-nine people in the Moscow subway.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager and wounded several others Tuesday in the Gaza Strip. The victims were taking part in a protest marking “Land Day,” which is held on the anniversary of the 1976 killing of six Palestinians protesting the Israeli confiscation of Arab land. An eyewitness said Israeli troops opened fire as the demonstrators approached the border wall separating Gaza from Israel.
Jihad Dabbagh: “We were demonstrating for Land Day. We approached the fence to hang the flags. Five (Israeli) soldiers showed up and started shooting. They shot twice. Then, when we were closer to the fence, they shot toward us.”
President Obama is calling for a new round of sanctions against Iran within the coming weeks. Obama made the comments Tuesday at a joint White House news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
President Obama: “What we said, though, was that there was going to be a time limit to it and that if we had not seen progress by the end of the year, it was time for us to move forward on that sanctions track. My hope is that we are going to get this done this spring. So I’m not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place; I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks.”
ABC News, meanwhile, is reporting an Iranian nuclear scientist has defected to the United States and is now assisting US efforts to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. The scientist, Shahram Amiri, has been reported missing in Iran since last year.
The Haitian government is set to unveil a reconstruction plan today at an international donors conference at the United Nations. Haiti is expected to seek around $4 billion in aid over the next four years. The Haitian government has received just $23 million in direct assistance since the January earthquake. Ahead of the conference, Marcel Stoessel of Oxfam International said a recent survey shows most Haitians want reconstruction aid to promote self-sufficiency inside Haiti.
Marcel Stoessel: “The survey shows that people want jobs, they want education, they want shelter, but they also want local food production, so they want all things that help them to move ahead. They don’t want charity. They’re not just waiting now for the New York conference to give them a lot of money. They are ready to move ahead themselves and to turn this into something positive.”
Former White House Deputy Karl Rove was the target of an attempted citizen’s arrest earlier this week in California. Rove was speaking in Los Angeles Monday night when members of the group CodePink stormed the stage brandishing handcuffs. CodePink co-founder Jodie Evans said Rove should be arrested for helping lead the US into the invasion of Iraq. Rove was interrupted several more times by protesters accusing him of taking part in war crimes. He eventually left the stage.
A Pennsylvania man has been ordered to pay the appeal costs of a homophobic church that held a protest at his son’s military funeral. The father, Albert Snyder, initially won a $5 million judgment against the Westboro Baptist Church, which demonstrates outside military funerals to publicize its anti-gay views. Church members believe that military deaths are God’s punishment for homosexuality in the United States. Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq in 2006. A federal appeals court overturned the $5 million penalty last year after ruling the church’s First Amendment rights were violated. Just last week, the court ordered Snyder to pay Westboro over $16,000 to cover the costs of its successful appeal.
A new report from Greenpeace has identified a privately owned US company with ties to the oil and chemical industry as the paymaster of global warming skeptics in the United States and Europe. According to Greenpeace, Koch Industries has spent nearly $48 million since 1997 to fund groups that question global warming.
In related news, a British parliamentary panel has looked into the so-called “Climategate” controversy and found no evidence to support the charge that a prominent British research center misrepresented data related to global warming. Last year hackers broke into the computer system of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and then released emails from the center’s top scientists. Deniers of global warming had claimed the stolen emails provided evidence of an effort to silence academics who have questioned or downplayed human-driven climate change.
President Obama has declared parts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island federal disaster areas after flooding and storms swept through the region. Providence, Rhode Island has recorded more than fifteen inches of rain so far this month, making it the city’s rainiest month on record. In Boston, it has been the second rainiest month since record keeping began in 1872. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, “We’ve had two fifty-year storms in the course of two or three weeks. It’s unheard of.” Many climate scientists say there is a direct link between global warming and record rainfalls. A recent study by the US Global Change Research Program found the amount of very heavy precipitation on the Eastern seaboard rose by 67 percent between 1958 and 2007.
And in an update to a story we have been closely following, Indonesia’s national news channel, TV One, canceled an appearance by investigative journalist Allan Nairn today due to pressure from the Indonesian army special forces unit Kopassus. Nairn recently revealed Kopassus had been involved in the assassination of political activists in Aceh last year. Last week the Indonesian military threatened to arrest Nairn for defiling the good name of the Indonesian armed forces. As we went to broadcast, Nairn was heading to the TV station to hold a news conference to expose the Indonesian military’s role in canceling the broadcast. [More info at “allannairn.com”:http://www.allannairn.com]