Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated just two months after returning to Pakistan from exile. She died after an apparent suicide attack in the city of Rawalpindi. She had just addressed an election rally when gunfire and an explosion occurred. Listen/Watch full segment
In other news on Pakistan, the Washington Post reports US Special Forces are expected to vastly expand their presence in Pakistan beginning in early 2008. The US troops will reportedly take part in an effort to train and support Pakistani counterinsurgency forces and clandestine counterterrorism units. While the US expands its presence in Pakistan, questions are being raised over how Pakistan has spent $5 billion in US aid sent since the Sept. 11 attacks. According to the New York Times, the money was supposed to have been spent to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But now US officials are admitting that funds were diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India, another US ally.
On Wednesday, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf met with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. Karzai said more needs to be done to stop pro-Taliban militants from Pakistan crossing into Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai: “There is reduced activity, sir, on the Afghan side, as unfortunately there is an increased activity now on the Pakistani side.”
Musharraf said Pakistan and Afghanistan need to improve intelligence sharing.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf: “The key to fighting, to enhancing our capability against terrorists and extremists is intelligence cooperation. That’s the key. The two intelligence agencies on both sides must cooperate more strongly if we are to deal with terrorists and extremists more effectively.”
In other news from Afghanistan, two European diplomats accused of making contacts with the Taliban have been forced to leave the country. The Afghan government accused the pair of posing a threat to national security. Michael Semple is the acting head of the EU mission in Afghanistan. Mervyn Patterson is a high-ranking British UN employee.
On Wednesday, President Bush signed a $555 billion spending bill that includes $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Democratic-led Congress passed the spending bill without including a time line for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Turkey has publicly praised the Bush administration for providing intelligence to help Turkey bomb Kurdish regions in northern Iraq. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said, “Things are going on well at the moment. Intelligence is being shared.” Turkey says the air strikes have targeted rebels from the PKK, or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Meanwhile, the Turkish Daily News reports Turkey will soon be using Israeli-made unmanned drones over northern Iraq. According to the paper, personnel from the state-run Israeli company Aerospace Industries will assist the Turkish army in using the Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
A new report from UNICEF has found an average of 25,000 Iraqi children per month were displaced within Iraq by violence or intimidation during 2007. An estimated 760,000 children were out of primary school in 2006, and 220,000 more displaced children had their educations interrupted in 2007. UNICEF also found that 80 percent of children outside Baghdad don’t have working sewers in their communities, limiting access to safe water.
In economic news, prices of existing single-family homes are dropping at near record levels, suggesting the housing slump is far from over. According to one study, prices of homes dropped over six percent between October 2006 and 2007. The biggest declines were in Miami and Tampa, where prices fell over 11 percent. Economist Robert Shiller said this is the biggest drop in housing prices since 1941. The Washington Times reports foreclosures and price drops are now the largest since the Great Depression.
Meanwhile, investment bankers are celebrating on Wall Street. Four of the country’s largest banks — Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns — are expected to dole out an estimated $30 billion in bonuses this year. The CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, is receiving a record $68 million bonus. Last month housing advocates called on the nation’s largest investment banks to donate their holiday bonuses to a foreclosure prevention fund that will help prevent a new wave of foreclosures. None of the banks agreed to help set up the fund.
A California family is seeking murder or manslaughter charges against the health insurance company CIGNA following the death of seventeen-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan.
On December 11, doctors at UCLA determined Sarkisyan needed a liver transplant. But CIGNA refused to pay for the transplant, saying the procedure was experimental and outside the scope of coverage. After ten days of refusing to cover the transplant, CIGNA bowed to public pressure and agreed to cover the costs of the surgery. But Nataline’s family said by then it was too late. The teenager died less than an hour after CIGNA reversed its decision. The family’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said he plans to ask the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to consider manslaughter or murder charges against CIGNA. Geragos said CIGNA signed the girl’s “death warrant” by delaying approval for a transplant.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that employers can reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they turn sixty-five and become eligible for Medicare. The ruling could affect more than ten million retirees who rely on employer-sponsored health plans as a primary source of coverage or as a supplement to Medicare. The AARP criticized the ruling. AARP attorney Christopher Mackaronis said, “This rule gives employers free rein to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating healthcare benefits for retirees sixty-five and older.”
And a group of deans from some of the most prominent journalism schools in the country are encouraging journalists to speak out against last week’s FCC ruling allowing cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcasting stations. In an opinion piece in the New York Times, the deans said the future of the profession of journalism and its public mission is at stake. The deans write, “We do not believe that the market can be absolutely trusted to provide the local news gathering that the American system needs to function at its best.” The deans warned that deregulation has led to cutbacks in newsrooms across the country. “Television and radio stations generally have smaller news staffs today than they did in the era before deregulation,” they wrote. “That represents a real loss for American democracy.”