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An estimated 79 million adults in the United States are now having problems paying medical bills or are paying off medical debt. This according to a new report by the Commonwealth Fund. Declining insurance coverage and rising healthcare costs are also contributing to the sick skimping on needed care. 45 percent of adults reported that the high costs of healthcare prevented them from getting needed care in 2007. Karen Davis, the president of the Commonwealth Fund said, “These findings provide further evidence that the health system is falling short of where it needs to be to ensure health and economic security. We need a new administration to make universal and affordable health insurance available.” It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of all adults in the country —- or 116 million people -— were either uninsured for a time during the past year, were underinsured, reported a problem paying medical bills, or said they did not get needed healthcare because of cost. Of the major presidential candidates, only two — independent Ralph Nader and Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney — are calling for a single-payer healthcare system.
The New York Times reports the Justice Department may soon allow FBI agents to open an investigation of anyone, conduct surveillance, pry into private records and take other investigative steps without any clear basis for suspicion. According to a letter signed by a group of senators briefed on the issue, the plan might permit an innocent person to be subjected to such intrusive surveillance based in part on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion or on protected First Amendment activities.
In Pakistan, nearly forty people died earlier today after suicide bombers blew themselves up outside Pakistan’s main arms and ammunition factory. The explosion occurred as workers were leaving at the end of their shift.
Iraqi and US negotiators have reportedly completed a draft security agreement that would allow US troops to stay in Iraq after the United Nations mandate expires in December. Under the deal, the US would reduce its presence in Iraq by pulling its troops from Iraqi cities by mid-2009. But the draft reportedly does not set an overall timetable for withdrawal of US forces, and it is unclear if US troops will become subject to Iraqi law. Earlier today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Baghdad for an unannounced visit.
In campaign news, the presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has taken his first lead over Democratic Senator Barack Obama in the Reuters/Zogby national poll. 44 percent of voters polled backed McCain; 39 percent backed Obama. Libertarian candidate Bob Barr polled at three percent, and independent candidate Ralph Nader was at two percent. Pollster John Zogby said Obama’s support among Democrats fell by nine percent over the past month.
John Zogby: “What’s happened, number one, young people, liberals, a solid core of Obama’s base just raising some questions about him. For liberals, maybe the perception that he’s flip-flopped on some key issues like FISA and a sense that for young people, I think, especially, that maybe he’s not the unique different sort of political persona that they expected.”
In other campaign news, Senator Obama has released a new ad slamming John McCain’s ties to Ralph Reed, an associate of convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Sen. Barack Obama: “I’m Barack Obama, and I approved this message.”
Text of Obama ad: “It was one of Washington’s biggest scandals, and the Republican power broker Ralph Reed was in the middle of it, in deep with convicted felon and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But when the Senate investigated, the senator in charge never even called Reed to testify. That senator? John McCain. And who is now raising money for McCain’s campaign? Ralph Reed. For twenty-six years in Washington, John McCain has played the same old games. We just can’t afford more of the same.”
For at least the second time this year, Senator John McCain has suggested he might support the reinstatement of a military draft. During a town hall meeting this week, McCain said he agreed with a supporter’s concern that a draft might be needed in order to hunt down Osama bin Laden.
Audience Member: “If we don’t reenact the draft, I don’t think we’ll have anyone to chase bin Laden to the gates of Hell.”
Sen. John McCain: “Ma’am, let me say that I don’t disagree with anything you said.”
Last September, during a campaign event in New Hampshire, McCain also discussed the draft.
Sen. John McCain: “One, this is the best military we’ve ever had, and it’s just not big enough. Two, there has never been a draft that I have ever heard of since World War II that was fair. What we’ve done is we find rich people find a way out and lower income people are the ones that serve. So the thing — if you could design — I might consider it. I don’t think it’s necessary. I might consider it, if you could design a draft where everybody equally would serve.”
House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers has sent letters of inquiry to Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis Scooter Libby and other former officials. Conyers is investigating a report in Ron Suskind’s new book that the White House ordered the CIA in 2003 to forge a letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam Hussein in an attempt to portray a false link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. In his letter to Libby, Conyers wrote to Libby, “I have become very concerned with the possibility that this Administration may have violated federal law by using the resources of our intelligence agencies to influence domestic policy processes or opinion.”
The French newspaper Le Monde reports friendly fire from a NATO aircraft might have been responsible for the killing of ten French soldiers earlier this week in Afghanistan. French soldiers told the paper that after they had been ambushed by Taliban fighters, they called for backup. After a four-hour wait, NATO planes arrived, but they accidentally missed their target and hit the French troops. A NATO official said on Wednesday, “We are aware of the media reports, and therefore we have to look into it.”
In China, two elderly women could face a year of reeducation in a labor camp, because they applied for permits to demonstrate during the Olympics. The Washington Post reports the two women went to Chinese police five times this month to seek approval to protest against officials who evicted them from their homes in 2001. During their fourth attempt to get a protest permit, the women were told they might be ordered to serve a year of time in a reeducation camp for disturbing the public order. Since the start of the Olympics, the Chinese government has yet to permit a single demonstration in any of the three official protest zones in Beijing.
A top United Nations agriculture official has warned that the race by food-importing countries to secure farmland overseas to improve their food security risks creating a “neo-colonial” system. The Financial Times reports the warning by Jacques Diouf comes as countries from Saudi Arabia to China plan to lease vast tracts of land in Africa and Asia to grow crops and ship them back to their markets. Diouf said, “The risk is of creating a neo-colonial pact.”
A federal appeals court in California has ruled airline passengers can challenge their inclusion on the government’s secret no-fly list. The decision was made in the case of a former Stanford University student who was detained and handcuffed in 2005 as she attempted to fly home to Malaysia.
In Spain, more than 150 people were killed Wednesday when a Spanair plane swerved off the end of a runway at Madrid’s airport, crashed and burst into flames. It was the worst European air disaster in two decades.
In Peru, indigenous rights groups called off more than a week of protests at two key Peruvian energy sites after congressional leaders moved to throw out a controversial land law. The law would have made it easier for mining and energy companies to buy communally owned land. Indigenous groups were concerned this would have led to a foreign land grab, especially in the Amazon rain forest.
In Indonesia, prosecutors formally charged a former top intelligence official with the murder of a prominent human rights activist who died of arsenic poisoning during a flight to the Netherlands in 2004. Prosecutors said Muchdi Purwoprandjono, the former deputy chief of Indonesia’s National Intelligence Agency, had assigned an agent to poison Munir Thalib, an outspoken critic of the country’s military. The prosecutor said Munir was killed because he unveiled the kidnapping of thirteen rights activists by an army special force team in 1997 and 1998 when Suharto was in power.
And Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones has died after suffering a brain hemorrhage. She was fifty-eight years old. In 1998 she became the first African American woman to represent Ohio in Congress. She was a leader in the fight against predatory lending practices and advocated for broadening healthcare coverage for low- and middle-income people. In January 2005, she led the fight in the House against certification of President Bush’s re-election, citing voting irregularities in Ohio.
Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones: “I’m duty-bound to follow the law and apply to the law to the facts as I find them, and it is on behalf of those millions of Americans who believe in and value our democratic process and the right to vote, that I put forth this objection today. If they are willing to stand at polls for countless hours in the rain, as many did in Ohio, then I should surely stand up for them here in the halls of Congress. This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning the victory of the President, but it is a necessary, timely and appropriate opportunity to review and remedy the most precious process in our democracy. I raise this objection neither to put the nation in the turmoil of a proposed overturned election, nor to provide cannon fodder or partisan demagoguery for my fellow members of Congress. I raise this objection because I am convinced that we, as a body, must conduct a formal and legitimate debate about election irregularities. I raise this objection to debate the process and protect the integrity of the true will of the people.”
Former Chinese leader Hua Guofeng has died at the age of eighty-seven. He took charge of China in 1976 following the death of Mao Zedong. Hua immediately arranged for the arrest of Mao’s most loyal supporters, the Gang of Four, bringing an end to the Cultural Revolution. Hua ruled China for only two years.