Celebrations have erupted across Chile following the rescue of all thirty-three miners trapped underground for over two months. On Wednesday, the last and thirty-third miner, Luis Urzua, was pulled out of the earth in a capsule from 2,050 feet below ground.
Luis Urzua: "We had the strength. We had the spirit. We had the courage to fight, to fight for our lives, to fight for our families. That was what was most magnificent."
Each miner was pulled up individually during the twenty-two-hour operation. They had spent the previous sixty-nine days trapped under the collapsed copper mine, the longest anyone has survived underground. They have all been hospitalized, but none are suffering from serious ailments. Shortly after the rescue’s completion, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said the event had changed his country.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera: "The miners are not the same miners who got trapped on August 5th. They have come out strengthened, and they have given us a lesson. But Chile is not the same either. I think that Chile today is more united and strong than ever. And I think that Chile today is more valued and respected in the entire world."
Speaking from the White House earlier in the day, President Obama paid tribute to the miners’ ordeal.
President Obama: "Last night the whole world watched the scene at Camp Esperanza as the first miner was lifted out from under more than 2,000 feet of rock and then embraced by his young son and family. And the tears they shed after so much time apart expressed not only their own relief, not only their own joy, but the joy of people everywhere."
Attorneys general from all fifty states have launched a joint probe into alleged fraud by the nation’s biggest lenders in forcing thousands of people out of their homes. The investigation will center on allegations mortgage companies made misleading or fraudulent statements and signed off on documents without proper review to approve scores of foreclosures. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller will oversee the joint effort. Also Wednesday, regulators at the Federal Housing Finance Agency ruled out a national moratorium on foreclosures, instead backing a voluntary review by lenders of their own practices. Criticizing the move, Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota said the plan "seems to only require that servicers conduct an internal review — the very same servicers that brought us this mess." The banking giant JPMorgan Chase, meanwhile, said it has expanded a review of its mortgages in twenty-three states to forty-one states. The developments come as new figures show foreclosures have hit record highs in recent months. According to RealtyTrac, banks seized over 100,000 homes in September for the first time. Over 288,000 homes were seized in the July to September quarter, the highest-ever total for a three-month period on record.
In Afghanistan, the US appears to be taking new steps in backing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The New York Times reports US-led forces have allowed the movement of senior Taliban leaders to attend negotiations in the Afghan capital of Kabul. A NATO official said top Taliban leaders have recently made overtures to senior Afghan officials.
The talks come as six US soldiers were killed in various attacks around Afghanistan on Wednesday. Four Italian troops also lost their lives. The UN Security Council meanwhile voted Wednesday to extend NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan for another year.
In other news from Afghanistan, The Guardian of London is reporting the number of Afghan civilians wounded during a US-led NATO offensive in Kandahar has doubled over the last year. According to the Red Cross, a local hospital treated over 1,000 new patients for weapons injuries and saw a "drastic increase" in amputations in August and September.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Lebanon on the first-ever state visit there by an Iranian president. On Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah welcomed Ahmadinejad with a mass rally.
Hassan Nasrallah: '’There are sides that are always promoting the notion that Iran is a source of strife and that it seeks to divide and tear the ranks. And here we have to say the truth, that the Islamic Republic is one of the most important guarantees today in our Islamic world and in the whole world for stopping strife and preventing war and helping the helpless.'’
Ahmadinejad is visiting Lebanon’s southern region bordering Israel today.
Back in the United States, federal prosecutors have charged forty-four people in what’s being called the single largest Medicare fraud scam to date. The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said the multi-state scheme was carried out by an Armenian American crime syndicate.
Preet Bharara: "According to the first indictment, this criminal organization opened more than 118 bogus medical clinics in twenty-five different states. What’s more, these clinics billed Medicare for over $100 million in false claims, even though most of the clinics existed only on paper. Most were nothing more than shams, shells and storefronts. The organization allegedly stole the identities of real doctors, stole the identities of real Medicare beneficiaries, and then submitted bill after bill for treatments that no doctor ever performed and that no patient ever received."
And the Obama administration has announced it will allow insurance companies to charge higher rates to cover children with medical problems. Earlier this year, insurers stopped offering child-only policies, arguing they wouldn’t be profitable under the new healthcare law. On Wednesday, the White House said insurers can charge higher rates based on children’s preexisting conditions until at least 2014. In a statement, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius called the insurers’ stance "extremely disappointing" but said the government can’t force them to stop denying coverage to sick children.