New figures show the number of Americans living in poverty and lacking health insurance has reached the highest levels on record. According to the Census Bureau, 43.6 million people — about one in seven — lived below the poverty level of $22,000 for a family of four in 2009. It was the largest number since the census began keeping track fifty-one years ago, and an increase of four million people from 2008. The numbers pushed the national poverty rate to a fifteen-year high of 14.3 percent. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the number of people in poverty would have been higher by 3.3 million were it not for unemployment benefits. The number of Americans with incomes less than half the poverty line also hit a record high of nearly 20 million, or 6.3 percent of the population. More than one in five children lived in poverty — one in three for African American children. The number of uninsured Americans meanwhile grew for the first time on record, from 46.3 million people in 2008 to 50.7 million people last year. The proportion of Americans with employment health coverage reached its lowest rate in twenty years, at nearly 56 percent.
Rallies are being held nationwide today in support of the alleged military whistleblower Bradley Manning. An Army intelligence analyst, Manning is being held on charges he leaked classified documents, including a video of a US military helicopter killing a group of innocent Iraqis, as well as thousands of Afghan war logs. The website WikiLeaks published both the video and the war records earlier this year. The Bradley Manning Support Network says it will hold rallies in nineteen cities today as part of a three-day series of events to urge the US government to drop all of Manning’s charges. On Thursday, dozens of people gathered in Oakland, California, to launch the International Days of Action for Bradley Manning. The Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg addressed the crowd.
Daniel Ellsberg: "He is disloyal to the empire and to the emperor, as I have become. And without more Bradley Mannings and people like you who will support him with money in a concrete way and with your support by being here tonight — with more Bradley Mannings, there’s a chance that we will have the democratic constitutional republic we were meant to have, and may sometime be."
Israel and the Palestinian Authority have wrapped up the latest round of US-brokered peace talks after three days. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to commit to extending a partial freeze on West Bank settlement building, while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has maintained his vow to walk away from the talks if the settlement construction resumes. Although claiming it’s committed to seeing a peace deal reached, the US has refused to leverage billions of dollars in US aid to exert pressure on Israel. On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration thinks a settlement freeze would be "useful."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "It takes time. All of this is complicated. But where we sit now, it would be useful for some extension. It would be extremely useful. And I don’t think a limited extension would undermine the process going forward if there were a decision agreed to by both parties that, look, this is it, you know, this is our last effort to try to do this."
As the talks proceed, Israel is continuing military attacks inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Earlier today, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian commander of the armed wing of Hamas in the West Bank. On Thursday, Israeli fighter jets bombed two weapons storage facilities in Gaza one day after launching strikes that killed a Palestinian man and wounded three others. Israel says it carried out the Gaza attacks in response to Palestinian mortar fire from Gaza.
In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees and Lebanese citizens are marking the twenty-eighth anniversary today of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. Up to 2,000 Palestinians died on September 16 and 17, 1982, when the Israeli military allowed a Christian militia to attack the camp.
In Afghanistan, officials say Taliban militants have abducted at least nineteen officials and workers involved in Saturday’s parliamentary elections. Militant groups have vowed to launch attacks to disrupt the vote, where 249 seats are up for grabs. At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered a tempered defense of the Afghan war effort, saying it could take months before the US will be able to show it’s "moving in the right direction."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "I don’t want to mislead anybody. This is a hard fight. There are many challenges ahead. We will lose more kids. But I think General Petraeus has the feeling we’re on the right track. It’s early, and we just — we need to have confidence in and be able to demonstrate, I would say in four to six months, that we are moving in the right direction. We are moving toward the accomplishment of our goals."
Fears are growing of an outbreak of violence in the Pakistani city of Karachi following the slaying of an exiled political leader in London. Imran Farooq of the MQM was found dead on Thursday with multiple stab wounds. Farooq had been inactive in politics for two years after taking refuge in Britain in 1999. The Pakistani government has blamed the Taliban for the slaying and has warned of possible reprisals in Karachi.
In other Pakistan news, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has announced plans for a political comeback. Musharraf says he intends run in Pakistan’s 2013 elections as head of a new political party called the All Pakistan Muslim League. Musharraf resigned as Pakistani president in August 2008 under the threat of impeachment.
The United Nations is warning of what it calls a "dire" situation in war-torn Somalia. Scores of people have been killed in recent clashes between African Union-backed Somali troops and anti-government fighters. Speaking before the UN Security Council, the UN special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said the clashes in Somalia could have regional implications.
Augustine Mahiga: "I am concerned by the security situation in the country and its potential impact on the entire region. I have urged the TFG (Transitional Government) to reach out to more opposition groups, expand the political process, and focus on delivering basic services to the people."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted to advance an arms reduction treaty with Russia. The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START, calls for the US and Russia to cut their deployed arsenals to 1,550 nuclear warheads and 700 missile silos and bombers each. The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure in November.
New findings are casting doubt on a previous study that claimed oil-eating microbes have drastically reduced the amount of oil from the BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Last month, researchers at California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said the microbes appear to have multiplied in number and increased their metabolic capacity to eat up much of the oil that spilled into the Gulf. But a new study published in the journal Science says that the microbes appear to have eaten up the natural gas that spilled from the wellhead, not the oil.
The environmental whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, has filed a lawsuit seeking the full release of government documents on the size of the oil spill. PEER says it wants to uncover whether government officials deliberately withheld scientific data to lowball estimates of the amount oil that spewed into the Gulf.
And a federal appeals court has overturned the conviction of an environmental activist for her alleged role in a 2001 arson at the University of Washington. Briana Waters was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay $6 million in restitution in March 2008. But this week a three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the judge in the case had made numerous errors that undermined Waters’s right to a fair trial. Waters’s attorney has asked for her release on bail ahead of her new trial.