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News Wrap: Bernanke Says Interest Rates Should Stay Low

February 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In other news, Wall Street posted gains Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told lawmakers that interest rates should remain low. Also, demonstrators clashed with police in Athens after another strike by workers aimed at government plans to freeze wages to solve the budget crisis.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street racked up gains today, after the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke, said interest rates need to stay low. The Dow Jones industrial average gained more than 91 points to close at 10374. The Nasdaq rose 22 points to close near 2236.

Public and private sector workers walked off the job across Greece today. It was the second 24-hour strike in the last two weeks aimed at a government austerity plan. Demonstrators clashed with police in Athens after a peaceful march had ended. They were protesting plans to cut government spending because of a debt crisis. Greece has announced wage freezes, bonus cuts, and pension reform over the last month to save almost $7 billion.

The U.S. House has stepped up the pressure on health insurance companies. It came a day before the president’s bipartisan summit on health care reform.

Health correspondent Betty Ann Bowser has the story.

REP. BART STUPAK, D-Mich.: This meeting will come to order.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The target at a House hearing today was WellPoint, the parent company of California’s Anthem Blue Cross.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN, D-Calif.: Corporate executives at WellPoint are thriving, but its policy-holders are paying the price.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: California Democrat Henry Waxman zeroed in on Anthem’s proposal to raise rates up to 39 percent. Some 700,000 individual policy-holders would be affected.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: WellPoint says that its rate increases have nothing to do with increasing company profits. We have learned that, in 2008, WellPoint paid 39 senior executives over a million dollars cash, each, and the company spent tens of millions of dollars more on expensive corporate retreats.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: WellPoint’s chief executive, Angela Braly, defended her company’s actions. She said insurers are not the source of the problem.

ANGELA BRALY, CEO, WellPoint: The rise in health care costs and healthy people opting out of the system when other issues arise, such as the tough economic times we are experiencing today, these factors led to the rate increases you have seen from our company and others in California.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Later, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced she’s calling in leaders of five major health insurance firms to explain their rising premiums.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The full House voted today to repeal the health insurance industry’s exemption from federal antitrust laws. The move may have little practical effect, since states already regulate the companies.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was released from a Washington hospital today. He suffered a mild heart attack earlier this week. But a spokesman said today Mr. Cheney is feeling good and plans to resume his normal schedule soon. The former vice president is 69 years old. He has had five heart attacks in his life.

In Afghanistan, U.S. Marines and Afghan troops worked to clear the last significant pocket of Taliban fighters in Marjah. And the Afghan Human Rights Commission reported 28 civilians have been killed in the offensive. NATO has confirmed 16 civilian deaths.

Also today, intelligence officials in Pakistan said a U.S. drone attack in North Waziristan killed eight militants from an Afghan Taliban faction. The Pakistanis also announced they will hand over the Afghan Taliban’s number-two leader to Afghan authorities. He was captured in recent weeks.

A court in Milan, Italy, has convicted three Google executives of violating the privacy of a boy with autism. It was the first criminal trial of its kind. Footage of the boy being bullied by teenagers was posted on Google Video’s Web site in 2006. The company argued it took down the video immediately after being notified. But prosecutors said viewers had flagged it much earlier.

A top Google executive promised an appeal.

BILL ECHIKSON, spokesman, Google Inc.: None of these three employees had anything to do with this video. They didn’t upload it. They didn’t film it. They didn’t review it. And yet they have been found guilty. And, so, if this is let to stand, we believe that it would threaten the very freedom that the Internet has brought about.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The executives are not based in Italy. They were convicted in absentia, and their jail time has been suspended.

At the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, there was more action on the ice in the quarterfinals for men’s hockey, with the U.S. facing Switzerland. The Americans won 2-0 nothing to advance. And Sweden took gold in the men’s cross-country ski relay.

Those are some of the day’s main stories. I will be back at the end of the program with a preview of what you will find tonight on the “NewsHour”‘s Web site — but, for now, back to Margaret.