President Barack Obama traveled to Pennsylvania Monday to campaign for healthcare reform. In one of his most spirited speeches of his presidency, Obama intensified his attacks on health insurers, accusing the industry of placing profits ahead of patients.
President Obama: “And they will keep on doing this for as long as they can get away with it. I mean, there’s no secret. They’re telling their investors this: 'We are in the money; we are going to keep on making big profits, even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship.' So how much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance?”
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in the House are scrambling to secure enough votes to pass the Senate’s version of the healthcare reform package. Intense pressure is reportedly being placed on some Democratic lawmakers to support the party line. New York Democrat Eric Massa is claiming he was forced out of Congress by White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel because of his opposition to the bill. Massa, who has been a vocal supporter of a single-payer system, made the charge in a radio interview on Monday, just after he resigned from his seat after being accused of sexual harassment.
Rep. Eric Massa: “Rahm Emanuel is son of the devil’s spawn. He is an individual who would sell his mother to get a vote. He would strap his children to the front end of a steam locomotive. And if he doesn’t like that, he can come after me personally. He hates my guts. He’s hated me since day one, and now he wins. So he’ll get rid of me, and this bill will pass, and that’ll end — and I don’t know what we’re going to do in this country.”
Former Congressman Eric Massa speaking on Monday. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is also reportedly coming under increasing pressure to back the healthcare reform bill.
In other healthcare news, thousands of protesters are expected to rally today outside the Ritz Carlton in Washington for a meeting of the insurance industry’s lobbyist front group, American Health Insurance Plans. Organizers of the protest include Health Care for America Now and MoveOn.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Kabul on Monday in his first trip to the country since the start of President Obama’s 30,000 troop surge. Gates said recent gains had been made by NATO troops on the ground, including the push to retake the Taliban stronghold of Marjah.
Robert Gates: “There is still much fighting ahead, and there will assuredly be more dark days. But looking forward, there are grounds for optimism as our countries pursue what President Karzai has called an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned initiative to ensure peace and stability. That is a goal I share, and working together, it is one we can achieve.”
While Defense Secretary Robert Gates praised the recent offensive in Marjah, the military historian and journalist Gareth Porter reports the Pentagon may have purposely over-hyped the importance of Marjah to make it out to be a historic turning point in the war. While Marjah was described in the press as a city of 80,000, Porter reports it is not even a real town, just a few clusters of farmers’ homes and a large agricultural area covering much of the southern Helmand River Valley. Porter describes the picture of Marjah presented by military officials as one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war.
Nigerians have begun burying victims from Sunday’s attack near the city of Jos that left more than 500 people dead in the latest incident of religious violence. A group of Muslims have been blamed for massacring predominantly Christian villagers. The attack was apparently done in retaliation for the killings of some 150 Muslims in a nearby town in January. The city of Jos lies at the crossroads of Nigeria’s Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence.
Ban Ki-moon: “I’m deeply concerned that there has been more interreligious violence with appalling loss of life. I appeal to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint. Nigeria’s political and religious leaders should work together to address the underlying causes and to achieve a permanent solution to the crisis in Jos.”
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is in Washington for a four-day visit to discuss Greece’s economic problems. On Monday, Papandreou called on the United States to crack down on speculators he accused of trying to undermine his country’s struggle to overcome a severe debt crisis.
George Papandreou: “This whole affair has a horrible sense of déjà vu. The same financial institutions that were bailed out with taxpayers’ money are now making a fortune from Greece’s misfortune, while those same taxpayers are paying the price in deep cuts to their salaries and social services. So unprincipled speculators are making billions every day by betting on a Greek default. All this may sound a bit familiar to American ears. Yet, unlike the bankers, Greece isn’t asking for a bailout, let alone a bonus.”
Last month, Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke announced a probe into the role of major Wall Street firms in Greece’s financial crisis. One deal created by Goldman Sachs helped Greece obscure billions in debt from the EU budget overseers in Brussels. Goldman Sachs is said to be the most important of more than a dozen banks used by the Greek government to manage its national debt using derivatives. Meanwhile, in Greece thousands of labor unionists rallied in Athens on Monday.
Greek Protester: “We do not accept having to pay for any capitalist crisis with money coming out of the common citizens’ pockets and going into offshore companies.”
The Greek labor unions are calling on the government to rescind austerity plans, which they say will impose a heavy burden on regular working people.
Vice President Joseph Biden has opened talks with Israeli leaders ahead of the restart of indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In his first trip to Israel as vice president, Biden said Washington’s ties to Israel are “unshakable.” Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders are condemning Israel for approving 112 new units in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: “If the price that we will pay for saying yes to Mitchell will be more settlements and more incursions and more dictations, that’s a big question mark about the possibility of continuing. We condemn this Israeli action, and we call upon the United States of America to really stop such Israeli actions in order to give peace a chance.”
Tens of thousands of Burmese refugees are facing starvation in neighboring Bangladesh while living in refugee camps that have been described as open-air prisons. The group Physicians for Human Rights faulted Bangladesh authorities for “arbitrary arrests, illegal expulsion, and forced internment” of Burmese refugees.
A high-ranking United Nations official advised Monday against the deployment of full-body scanners at airports. Martin Scheinin, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism, said the scanners are more of a political response to terrorist attacks than a carefully designed security measure. Scheinin’s comments came just days after the Transportation Security Administration announced that eleven more US airports will receive body-scanning technology. Scheinin said technologies that intrude into privacy tend to be ineffective in preventing terrorism.
Martin Scheinin: “Full-body scanners are ineffective in detecting a genuine terrorist threat if they do not reveal dangerous substances in body cavities, body folds or in hand luggage. They may also give a false feeling of security and allow the real terrorists to adapt their tactics to the technology in use.”
Fifteen Midwestern towns and cities have sued the manufacturer of a popular weed killer over drinking water contamination. The weed killer atrazine, manufactured by Syngenta, is commonly used in Midwestern cornfields. The lawsuit was filed by towns and cities in Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Iowa. Atrazine has been banned in the European Union since 2004, but here in the United States about 80 million pounds of atrazine is used each year. A recent study found that the weed killers can turn male frogs into females. The chemicals in the weed killer atrazine disrupt development and make frogs develop both male and female features.
An environmental group is challenging plans by the Interior Department to classify sage grouse as merely a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act and not list the bird as threatened or endangered. The group Western Watersheds filed the complaint on Monday. Sage grouse are football-sized birds that live in the sagebrush in California, Colorado, the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and western Canada. The numbers of sage grouse have declined by 90 percent over the past century. Energy companies have hailed the Interior Department’s decision not to list the sage grouse as threatened or endangered, because it opens the way for continued development of the West’s wind energy and oil and gas industries. In Wyoming, large areas of sage grouse habitat also are prime spots for natural gas development.
The Center for Biological Diversity has criticized the Obama administration for adding just two species to the endangered list over the past thirteen months. Rob Mrowka of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “To date, the Obama administration has not improved on the Bush administration’s progress in providing protection to the nation’s most endangered species.” During his eight-year tenure, Bush protected a mere sixty-two species. This compares to 522 protected by President Bill Clinton.
And the longtime conservationist Edgar Wayburn has died at the age of 103. He was a former president of the Sierra Club and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the 1950s and 1960s he led the movement to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in and around San Francisco. In 1980 he helped win passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created millions of acres of national parkland. In his later years, Edgar Wayburn advocated for conservation on a global scale.
Edgar Wayburn: “One thing I’ve learned in the past thirty years is, no matter how much and how complete protection we may attain for areas in the United States, if we don’t go outside the United States for protection of areas of the land and the water and the air, and the people, that we’ve lost the war on the environment.”