News Day: Health care reform / MN pushes Medicare reform / Beautifying garbage / Honduras crisis continues / more

Picture 3Health care reform President Obama used the “bully pulpit” of last night’s press conference ( transcript here) to push harder on health care reform. He denounced insurance companies, saying “”Right now, at the time when everybody’s getting hammered, they’re making record profits and premiums are going up,” and said that much of the cost of the health care reform package will be paid by saving “over one hundred billion dollars in unwarranted subsidies that go to insurance companies as part of Medicare.”

Locally, UnitedHealth reported a 155 percent increase in profits for the quarter ended June 30, reported the Star Tribune, which noted that “Insurers such as UnitedHealth oppose the so-called public option, a government-run alternative to private insurance.” [corrected URL and number 10:15 a.m.]

Obama said that the costs of the present system are higher than the costs of reform:

If somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health-care costs over the next 10 years, that’s guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that. Well, that’s the status quo. That’s what we have right now. So if we don’t change, we can’t expect a different result.

MN pushes Medicare reform What can get Michelle Bachmann and Al Franken on the same page? Every single member of the MN delegation has agreed on a plea for changes to the Medicare reimbursement formula. The current formula gives Minnesota lower reimbursement rates because of the state’s higher efficiency in delivering health care, according to the letter sent to President Obama by the Congressional delegation. MPR reports:

“We need to bring down the cost of health care, and the only way you do that is to put a formula in place which rewards good outcomes and doesn’t award inefficiency,” DFL U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said in an interview this afternoon on Minnesota Public Radio News.

Beautifying garbage Should Hennepin County shovel 21 percent more garbage into the downtown Minneapolis burner? That’s the question before a city council committee on Thursday morning, reports the TC Daily Planet., with debate centering on both health and environmental concerns. But wait — Hennepin County commissioners are talking about beauty, not burning, according to MinnPost, disagreeing over the appropriateness of a planned “$2 million makeover, with around $700,000 of that going toward landscaping for the facility.”

World/National News

Obama on race and Gates arrest TPM paraphrases: “If I tried to break into the White House, I’d get shot”

Obama: “The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof they were in their own home. … Race remains a factor in the society.”

Honduras crisis continues Despite international backing from the U.N., the OAS, and governments around the world, including the United States, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya has been unable to return to his country after a June 28 military coup. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, himself a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been negotiating for Zelaya’s return, and now says he should return on Friday. BBC reports that Arias has put forward a plan with limits on presidential power, and that the country’s interim authorities have rejected the plan but also said they would allow the Honduran Congress to vote on it.

Inside Honduras, supporters and opponents of Zelaya continue to stage demonstrations. The Center for International Policy reports:

There is currently a curfew in place across the country, military roadblocks in various regions, and arrest warrants filed against leaders of unions and campesino, indigenous, and human rights movements. Security forces have killed at least three people. Social movements continue to rally in the streets and their numbers and degree of organization have increased daily as they fight for the return of President Zelaya and his right to consult the public on a constitutional assembly. It was this issue that sparked the coup, implemented by the armed forces, and conservative politicians and businessmen.

Both the European Union and the United States have suspended aid to Honduras, according to Democracy Now, but the United States continues to train Honduran military at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, known as WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Georgia. Six of the officers involved in the coup, including its leader, General Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, were trained at the School of the Americas.

For on-going coverage of the coup, bookmark the Americas blog of the Center for International Policy..

South African protests, violence More than 100 people arrested, police firing rubber bullets at demonstrators, and looting of foreign-owned businesses are reported by BBC, as protests and violence spread in townships of Johannesburg, the Western Cape and the north-eastern region of Mpumalanga. With the country in the grip of a recession:

Fifteen years after the ANC won its first election, more than one million South Africans still live in shacks, many without access to electricity or running water.

The gap between rich and poor is also wider than it was 15 years ago.

War Reports

Afghanistan The Washington Post reports that U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have hit a record high, with 31 in July so far.

The rising death toll comes as the country prepares for a presidential election next month, and could erode U.S. public support for a war that is already among the longest in U.S. history.

“This is probably the new normal,” said Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corp. and author of a new book on the U.S. military’s nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Minnesotans will protest against the “surge” in Afghanistan today.

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