A leading polling group says more than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion. The Britain-based Opinion Research Business found one-fifth of thousands of households interviewed had at least one death linked to the occupation and ensuing sectarian violence. The survey has a margin of error of 1.7 percent. The million figure could be higher, because researchers were barred from the volatile regions of Karbala and Anbar.
Meanwhile, in Iraq today, at least sixty-four people have been killed in a twin bombing in Baghdad. It was the deadliest attack the Iraqi capital has seen in months.
The Bush administration has announced it plans to seek deep cuts to Medicare and a freeze on new Medicaid spending in its budget request for fiscal 2009. Overall, the White House is trying to slash $208 billion from federal health programs over the next five years. More than 80 percent, or $170 billion, would come from Medicare. The proposed reductions are even more extensive than those in the administration’s proposals last year. Other areas will see funding increases. The White House is proposing to boost border funding by 19 percent, including $2 billion for border fencing, barriers and surveillance technology. The US deficit is expected to more than double to $400 billion with the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the administration’s tax cuts.
Sen. Barack Obama: “I don’t think the choice is between black and white or it’s about gender or religion. I don’t think it’s about young or old. I think what is at
stake right now is whether we are looking backwards or we are looking forwards. I think it is the past versus the future.”
Senator Hillary Clinton later talked about the importance of replacing a Bush presidency with another Clinton.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “And, you know, it did take a Clinton to clean after the first Bush, and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush.”
The most heated exchange came over the Iraq war, with Senator Barack Obama criticizing Clinton’s 2002 vote to authorize the invasion. Clinton said she and Obama have shared similar positions on the war since Obama came to office. But Obama said it was important to elect a candidate who opposed the war from the beginning. Clinton also defended her vote in favor of the US attack, saying it was in part justified because Saddam Hussein was a “megalomaniac, [who] would not want to compete for attention with Osama bin Laden.” At the end of the debate the candidates were asked if they would run as the other’s vice presidential nominee.
Sen. Obama: “Well, obviously there’s a big difference between those two. But, look, let me say this, and I said this at the time: I respect Senator Clinton, I think her service to this country has been extraordinary, and I’m glad that we’ve been walking on this road together and we’re still on that road. We’ve got a lot more road to travel, and so I think it’s premature for either of us to start speculating about vice presidents, etc. I think it would be premature
Sen. Clinton: “Well, I have to agree with everything Barack just said.”
In other campaign news, ABC News is reporting Hillary Clinton did not once speak up to oppose Wal-Mart’s intensive campaign against unionization during her six years on the company’s board of directors. ABC reviewed videotapes of at least four public Wal-Mart board meetings between 1986 and 1992. A former board member also said he did not recall Clinton ever voicing support for unions during at least twenty private board meetings over the same period. Clinton never denounced the efforts by fellow board member John Tate, who was fond of calling unions “blood-sucking parasites.” Clinton’s campaign biography makes no mention of her time at Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, Obama’s campaign has announced fundraising of more than $32 million last month, doubling the previous one-month record in the current election cycle. Most of the money came from small donors, including 170,000 new contributors.
On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain picked up an endorsement Thursday from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger said he decided to back McCain after his good friend Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the race.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Both of them are friends of mine, and this is why I really didn’t want to endorse anybody, because they both have been very supportive of me. They are both two men I admire very, very much, great public servants, great heroes, and so I felt like it was better for me to stay out of it, but when I saw Mayor Giuliani, my dear friend, discontinuing his campaign and endorsing Senator McCain, I felt it was also time for me to come out and endorse Senator Mccain, so that was the reason for the change.”
Appearing alongside the California governor, Senator McCain touted his record on the environment.
Sen. John McCain: “Governor Schwarzenegger, I commit to you that you and I and all of the others that are committed to the globe, not just our home states, but to this planet, to hand our children a cleaner planet than the one we have today. That’s our commitment.”
The US has come under criticism from Human Rights Watch for its support of autocratic regimes. In its annual report, Human Rights Watch also criticizes the US for running a network of secret jails and holding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay — practices it says resemble some of the world’s most openly repressive governments. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said the Bush administration’s avowed commitment to democracy is undermined by its actions.
Kenneth Roth: “The Bush administration very deliberately doesn’t promote human rights. It promotes this soft, fuzzy concept of democracy, and the reason it does that is because it’s too embarrassing to talk about human rights when it’s been responsible for so many human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism. So, it falls back on this feel-good concept.”
On the domestic front, Human Rights Watch also criticizes the US for having the highest incarceration rate in the world, with African American males jailed at more than six times the rate of whites.
In Mexico, up to 100,000 farmers and supporters marched through Mexico City Thursday to rally against the lifting of tariffs on US imports. A Mexican tax on basic crops, including corn, beans and sugar, from Canada and the US ended last month under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Critics say NAFTA has devastated Mexican farmers by forcing them to compete with government-subsidized American and Canadian goods. Farmer Armando Villegas was one of the protesters.
Armando Villegas: “The public policies of the North American Free Trade are wrong. The public policies of the NAFTA agreement have created a Frankenstein, and as it is fed with bad public policies, this is disastrous for us. The government has created a Frankenstein in the countryside with its bad public policies. If these public policies weren’t so bad, the NAFTA wouldn’t worry us.”
In Kenya, mediation talks in Kenya’s post-election crisis were suspended Thursday after the killing of another opposition politician, the second this week. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said progress was nonetheless being achieved.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: “Today, we have had very constructive and really accelerated talks, and I am very, very pleased with the progress we are making. We are determined, all of us here, to resolve these issues as quickly as possible and bring stability and peace to this country, but, first and foremost, we want to see the violence end.”
Western officials are claiming a senior member of al-Qaeda was killed in a suspected US airstrike in Pakistan earlier this week. Abu Laith al Libi was accused of masterminding several attacks on US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
And finally, in business news, the technology giant Microsoft has made a $44 billion offer to buy the internet search engine Yahoo. Microsoft’s offer of $31 a share marks a nearly 60 percent increase over Yahoo’s current stock market price.