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In Afghanistan, US forces have launched what’s being described as the largest Marine offensive since the Vietnam War. Some 4,000 Marines and hundreds of Afghan troops are targeting areas in the Helmand River Valley to wrest it from Taliban control.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, has announced a US soldier has been captured in eastern Afghanistan. Military officials say the soldier was not taking part in the Helmand offensive.
The news comes as Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the Obama administration has placed no limits on the potential number of US troops in Afghanistan. In an interview with the Washington Post, Mullen said the new US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has been told to request as many troops as thinks he needs.
Senate Democrats have unveiled a revised healthcare plan costing $600 billion, down from the $1 trillion price tag given earlier this year. The proposal from Senators Edward Kennedy and Christopher Dodd includes a government-run insurance option and a fee on employers who don’t cover their workers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the plan would lead to health coverage for 97 percent of Americans, but it’s unclear how robust that coverage would be.
The proposal was released as President Obama held a healthcare forum in Annandale, Virginia, before a handpicked audience asking questions pre-approved by the White House. An emotional moment came when Virginia resident Debby Smith described her inability to receive treatment for a recently diagnosed tumor. Obama hugged Smith after she spoke.
Debby Smith: “I cannot get Medicaid through the state of Virginia, because you have to be considered disabled through Social Security to qualify for Medicaid in the state of Virginia, because I have no dependent children at home. It’s just me. I get food stamps, but that’s it. And I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to make it in nine years until I’m qualified to get my regular Social Security, now that I have a new tumor and I have nowhere to treat it.”
President Obama: “Well, here, come on over here. First of all, we’re going to find out what — we’ll get your information, and we’ll see what we can do to help you. I don’t want you to feel all like you’re alone. You know, without knowing all the details, I’m not going to give you an answer right now about exactly how we can help. We’re going to find out what we can do within existing law. But — what was your name again?”
Debby Smith: “My name is Debby. I’m from Appalachia, Virginia.”
President Obama: “Debby. Debby is a perfect example of somebody who we should, in a country this wealthy, be able to provide coverage for her healthcare problems.”
Smith later told reporters she still hopes to get an answer on how she can obtain treatment instead of waiting nine years for her government eligibility to kick in.
As Democrats advance a proposal for some form of public healthcare, former Democrat turned independent Senator Joseph Lieberman has announced he’s likely to oppose it. In an interview with the New Haven Independent, Lieberman said he is “skeptical” of a public health option both “in substance” and in its likelihood to attract congressional support. Lieberman has been a top recipient of healthcare industry donations, taking in more than $1.8 million over his congressional career.
The Pentagon has suspended military cooperation with Honduras in response to the overthrow of the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. It’s the first major punitive action taken by the US since Zelaya was ousted last Sunday. The Obama administration has refused to legally classify Zelaya’s ouster as a coup, which would automatically trigger a suspension of aid. Meanwhile, as public outcry continues throughout Honduras, an overnight curfew has been toughened to allow the twenty-four-hour jailing of protesters without charge.
In Iraq, an Iraqi soldier has been killed and eight others wounded in a roadside bombing in Baghdad. It was the first attack on Iraqi troops since the US military pulled back from urban Iraqi areas earlier this week.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas of committing “war crimes” during Israel’s three-week attack on the Gaza Strip. In a new report, Amnesty says Israel carried out the “wanton destruction” of Gaza. Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera rejected Israeli claims that Hamas used Gaza residents as human shields, saying the evidence points only to Israeli forces committing that crime.
Donatella Rovera: “Israeli forces have very sophisticated, very precise weapons that can take out a target moving, a moving vehicle. So, you know, there is no reason to carry out such indiscriminate attack. We did not find any Palestinians who said that they had personally been used as human shields by Hamas forces. We did find some who had been used in such a manner by Israeli forces, though.”
Hamas officials have criticized Amnesty International for suggesting parity between the Israeli attack that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and the Palestinian response that led to thirteen Israeli deaths, including three civilians.
In Pakistan, a new poll shows a large majority opposes US policies in their country and in neighboring Afghanistan. According to WorldPublicOpinion.org, nearly 82 percent of Pakistanis oppose US drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people. Another 79 percent favor an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan, and 86 percent oppose Obama’s decision to more than double the size of the US occupation. The poll also shows a strong dislike of the Taliban, with 81 percent calling the group a critical threat to Pakistan.
President Obama has announced he will continue a Bush administration policy of suspending trade benefits to Bolivia. The Bush administration revoked the benefits last year, accusing Bolivian President Evo Morales of failing to cooperate in the so-called war on drugs. On Wednesday, Morales said Obama has been deceptive in promising a new era of regional cooperation. Referring to Obama’s overtures at a recent hemispheric summit, Morales said, “President Obama lied to Latin America when he told us in Trinidad and Tobago that there are not senior and junior partners.” The US has been accused of hypocrisy for targeting Bolivia. The most recent UN figures show cocaine production in Bolivia rose just five percent in 2007. Colombia, which has received billions in US aid, saw an increase of 27 percent.
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has declared a fiscal state of emergency over a more than $26 billion deficit. Schwarzenegger has ordered state offices to close for three days a month. The state controller is expected to begin issuing “IOUs” to pay off bills as early as today. Schwarzenegger has sought to reduce the deficit entirely through major cutbacks to government programs, including welfare. He meanwhile has opposed several Democratic proposals, including new taxes on oil and tobacco companies.
An attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission has revealed her superiors shunned warnings about the jailed financier Bernie Madoff. Madoff was sentenced this week to 150 years in jail for running a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of some $50 billion. The attorney, Genevievette Walker-Lightfoot, says she told SEC officials in 2005 about irregularities that later proved to be elements of Madoff’s wide-scale fraud. Walker-Lightfoot says she was told to focus on other matters not concerning Madoff. One of Walker-Lightfoot’s supervisors was Eric Swanson, who later married Madoff’s niece. The key whistleblower in the Madoff case, Harry Markopolos, has also said the SEC ignored his warnings as far back as the year 2000.
The Obama administration is being accused of relying on statements obtained through torture to justify the ongoing jailing of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal judge to throw out statements made by Afghan prisoner Mohamed Jawad. The ACLU says Jawad was abused, threatened, and deprived of sleep in US custody. Jawad’s case has received further scrutiny because it’s believed he was jailed when he was twelve years old.
A US military panel has recommended the discharge of a ten-year veteran for publicly admitting he is gay. The soldier, US Army Lieutenant Dan Choi, is a graduate of the West Point military academy and an Arabic translator. If discharged, he would be the 266th member of the armed forces removed under President Obama for violating the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bars gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. Obama has vowed to repeal the policy but hasn’t taken any steps to do so.
A federal judge has ordered a New York-based cookie factory to reinstate and pay back wages to more than 130 striking workers. The Stella D’Oro Biscuit Company employees walked off the job last August, two weeks before their contract was set to expire. Company officials had tried to force them to accept a five-dollar-an-hour wage reduction along with cuts to pension and healthcare benefits.
And newly declassified documents show former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein told FBI interrogators he let the world believe he had weapons of mass destruction to avoid appearing weak to neighboring Iran. Hussein also said he had no links to al-Qaeda and denounced Osama bin Laden as “a zealot.” Hussein was hanged in December 2006 for crimes carried out before he enjoyed critical US support up until he invaded Kuwait.