Massachusetts lawmakers have passed a bill that would require its citizens to be provided with some form of health insurance. The bill would force individuals to buy their own health insurance, and provide subsidies for a private health plan for those who couldn’t afford the coverage on their own. Companies that don’t provide health insurance would also be forced to pay a $300-per employee penalty. While the bill drew widespread praise, some analysts questioned whether the state has committed adequate funding. According to a recent study, Massachusetts would have to spend four times the amount provided in the bill to bring health coverage to its uninsured residents. Alan Sager, a professor of health services at Boston University, told the Wall Street Journal the bill would force individuals to purchase insufficient coverage beyond their financial reach. Sager said: “This is more money for business-as-usual health care… [Lawmakers] conceived an elephant 18 months ago, but have given birth to a mouse.”
In Iraq, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is resisting a US-backed effort to bring about his resignation. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, al-Jaafari said he had been elected democratically and would not step down. Last week the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad notified Shiite politicians President Bush no longer supported al-Jaafari and wanted a new leader. Meanwhile, a key Iraqi leader is backing the US stance. In an interview with the BBC, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi said he has urged al-Jaafari to give up his position because he has lost the confidence of Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds. Abdul-Mahdi is the most senior Shiite government official to call on al-Jaafari to resign.
At least 22 people were killed in violence around Iraq on Tuesday. The deadliest incident came in Baghdad, when ten people were killed in a car bombing.
In other Iraq news, Saddam Hussein was cross-examined today for the first time since his trial began six months ago. Hussein said he had approved death sentences for Shiite opponents during the 1980s because he believed they were involved in a plot to assassinate him. Prosecutors replied by asking Hussein whether he knew many of his victims were children under 18 years old. The session came one day after Hussein was given new charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in the 1980s crackdown against the Kurds.
In Ireland, a former Sinn Fein member who spied for the British government has been murdered. The man, Denis Donaldson, admitted last year he spied on fellow Irish nationalists. Donaldson’s murder comes as the Irish and British governments are attempting to relaunch stalled peace negotiations. Both the Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army denied involvement in the killing.
In France, up to 3 million people turned out Tuesday for continued protests against a new job law that makes it easier for employers to fire young workers. In Paris, a peaceful rally attended by hundreds of thousands of students ended in violence when a small group of demonstrators clashed with police.
In the Occupied Territories, one Palestinian was killed and seven were wounded when Israeli tanks shelled areas in the Northern Gaza Strip. The wounded included a mother and her 6-month old baby. Meanwhile, two people were wounded when Israeli aircraft fired missiles at an abandoned building in the compound of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
In Nepal, the royal government has issued a new decree banning all public gatherings in the capital of Kathmandu. The ban comes ahead of a mass-pro democracy protest organized for Saturday. Nepal’s seven leading opposition parties have also called a nationwide general strike set to begin Thursday.
In Sudan, the UN’s top humanitarian official has abandoned his effort to visit the Darfur region. Jan Egeland, the UN’s Under-Secretary General For Humanitarian Affairs, says the Sudanese government is trying to hide the ethnic cleansing that is occurring in the area. UN Under-Secretary General For Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland: “Suddenly not being welcomed in South Darfur, nor in West Darfur, nor in Khartoum where they say come back in some weeks is, I think, a sign they don’t want me to see how bad it has become in Southern Darfur, where tens of thousands have had to flee from renewed attacks against vulnerable populations in villages for examples in places where I was planning to go in Gereida in Southern Darfur.”
In Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has stepped down. Thaskin’s resignation comes after months of growing protests against his rule. He will be replaced by his Deputy Prime Minister, who is a longtime close associate.
In Colombia, the UN is warning battles between government forces and rebel groups are threatening the existence of some of the world’s oldest and smallest indigenous groups. More than 1,700 people from the Wounaan indigenous group have fled their homes in the last week following the murders of two of their leaders. Meanwhile, close to 80 members of the Nukak group were recently expelled from their ancestral lands.
Back in the United States, the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security was arrested in Maryland Tuesday for trying to solicit sexual relations with a child over the internet. Brian Doyle was arrested after he made contact online with an undercover police officer posing as a 14-year old girl. Doyle has been charged with 23 counts for using his computer to seduce a child and transmitting harmful materials to a minor. According to police, he had identified himself in his communications online and given his office phone number.
On Capitol Hill, House Republicans have drafted legislation supporting Capitol police in response to a confrontation last week between an officer and Democratic Congressmember Cynthia McKinney. The incident occurred when McKinney went around a metal detector — as lawmakers are permitted to do — while not wearing her congressional lapel pin. McKinney has complained she was the victim of racial profiling.
In Ohio, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has disclosed he purchased stock from the electronic voting machine company Diebold. Blackwell is Ohio’s top election official. Both Blackwell and Diebold became synonymous with the controversy surrounding Ohio’s voting irregularies during the 2004 presidential elections. Blackwell says the stock purchase was made by a financial manager without his consent and that’s he’s divested the stock. Last year, the state of Ohio reached a multi-million dollar deal that would see it pay Diebold $2700 dollars per voting machine.
And in Wisconsin, eighteen communities approved a ballot measure Tuesday that calls on the US to immediately withdraw all troops from Iraq. Six communities voted down the measure. The issue was put on the ballot following a grassroots campaign organized by anti-war groups.