World News Sunday

Congress' to-do list when it's back from August recess

When it reconvenes Sept. 8, healthcare reform is likely to dominate most of the fall. But don't forget climate change, financial services regulation, appropriations and defense policy.

August 9, 2009

What's on Congress' to-do list

The Senate left town Friday for its August recess, a week after the House. Both chambers are scheduled to reconvene Sept. 8. When the lawmakers return, a proposed overhaul of the nation's healthcare system will be just one of the weighty matters on their agenda. Here is a look at the status of several measures before Congress.

Healthcare reform

President Obama's effort to expand and improve insurance coverage is likely to dominate Capitol Hill for most of the fall. The House, where three committees have drafted legislation, is aiming to bring a blended version of the bill to the floor soon after lawmakers return to Washington. In the Senate, where the pivotal Finance Committee has not yet agreed on a bill, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is working toward a Sept. 15 deadline imposed by Democrats for coming to terms on the panel's version of the legislation. Obama and congressional leaders hope for final action before the end   of this year.

Obama fights back as bid to reform US healthcare stalls

• President's approval ratings plummet as Republican campaign threatens to inflict devastating political defeat
• Debate fuelled by Sarah Palin's remarks that new legislation would force her child to go before a 'death panel'

Paul Harris in New York

The Observer, Sunday 9 August 2009

President Barack Obama has become mired in a frenzied fight over US healthcare reform as Republicans scent a devastating political victory that could hobble his presidency.

Obama yesterday lashed out at critics of his ailing push to provide coverage for America's 46 million uninsured people by saying that his critics were resorting to "outlandish rumours" and "misleading information" to scupper his plans.

But Sarah Palin, the Republican's former vice-presidential candidate, raised the temperature in the debate by declaring Obama's plans "downright evil" and accusing him of introducing a care rationing system that could threaten her own mentally handicapped child.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down's syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide… whether they are worthy of healthcare," she wrote on her Facebook page.



Cash for clunkers: Good deal or a lemon?

To hear car dealers and some in Congress tell it, the U.S. government’s "cash for clunkers" program is the best thing to hit the auto business since air conditioning and zero-percent loans.

Congress appropriated an additional $2 billion this week to keep the rebate program from running out of money. But at least one industry analyst argues that the government is getting less bang for its stimulus buck than it appears by stealing sales from future months. And, he says, the program will result in higher car prices for everyone else.

There’s no doubt that buyers who turn in tired, old clunkers and get rebates of up to $4,500 for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles are getting good deals.

But a lot of those people would have bought a new vehicle soon anyway, says Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of the influential auto-buying advice Web site.

Paulson’s Calls to Goldman Tested Ethics

Published: August 8, 2009

Before he became President George W. Bush’s Treasury secretary in 2006, Henry M. Paulson Jr. agreed to hold himself to a higher ethical standard than his predecessors. He not only sold all his holdings inGoldman Sachs, the investment bank he had run, but also specifically said that he would avoid any substantive interaction with Goldman executives for his entire term unless he first obtained an ethics waiver from the government.

But today, seven months after Mr. Paulson left office, questions are still being asked about his part in decisions last fall to prop up the teetering financial system with tens of billions of taxpayer dollars, including aid that directly benefited his former firm. Testifying on Capitol Hill last month, he was grilled about his relationship with Goldman.

“Is it possible that there’s so much conflict of interest here that all you folks don’t even realize that you’re helping people that you’re associated with?” Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, asked Mr. Paulson at the July 16 hearing.



Irish village goes gay for a day

Tiny coastal community in Co Sligo to stage gay pride event

June Caldwell

The Observer,  Sunday 9 August 2009

A village in Ireland is going gay for a day in what is thought to be the smallest gay pride event in the world. Today the tiny coastal hamlet of Easkey in Co Sligo, which has just two shops, two pubs, two butchers and a post office, is urging heterosexual residents to "go gay" as an act of solidarity. "We are hoping to attract around 80 people out of a population of just 250," says Denise Clarke, a 48-year-old interior designer and artist who has lived in Easkey for 10 years.

"There is a trend now in Ireland where gay people are leaving the big cities and returning to their rural roots," she said. "It is no longer a necessity to run off to Dublin or London or Manchester to 'come out'. As a society we have moved on and are more broadminded and accepting."

Denise admitted that when she first moved to Easkey 10 years ago, she was ostracised. "People were afraid of the new lesbian in town" she said. "One woman even rang around the local farmers to warn them that their wives could be in danger.


August 9, 2009

ETA claims responsibility for car bomb attacks

Times Online

ETA has claimed responsibility for the recent attacks in Spain including a car bomb that killed two Civil Guard officers and a separate attack on the tourist island of Majorca.

In the statement released to the pro-independence Basque daily Gara, a regular channel for ETA communications, the Basque separatist group said it was responsible for the July 30 car bomb attack outside a police barracks in Majorca that killed two members of the Civil Guards paramilitary police

It also carried out the June 19 car bomb attack in the Basque town of Arrigorriaga that killed a police inspector the group denounced as a 'torturer'.

The statement said 49-year-old inspector Eduardo Puelles Garcia was "the chief of police operations against numerous leftist independence activists and against pro-independence youths for the past decade, and the coordinator of different operations against ETA."



August 9, 2009

Embassy official ‘confesses’ UK role in riots

Jon Swain

BRITAIN’S fraught relations with Iran suffered a further setback yesterday when a local member of its embassy staff on trial in Tehran “confessed” to espionage. He said Britain had provided financial assistance to Iran’s reformists to undermine the hardline clerical regime during June’s disputed presidential elections.

Hossein Rassam, a political analyst with the embassy, said a budget of £300,000 had been allocated by the embassy to establish contacts with political groups, individuals and activists.

He said he had personally made contact before the election with the campaign headquarters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform candidate who claims he was robbed of victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“My main responsibility was to gather information from Tehran and other cities by setting up contacts with individuals and other influential parties and political groups and send reports to London,” he said.


Trial of protesters seems only to hurt Iran, analysts say

The televised proceedings fail to silence the opposition or quell protests, and appear to be damaging the international credibility of the Iranian judiciary and political systems, observers say.

By Borzou Daragahi 
August 9, 2009

Reporting from Beirut -- The alleged French spy stood at the lectern Saturday in Tehran and described her dastardly act of collusion. 

Clotilde Reiss, a pale, soft-spoken 24-year-old who had been teaching French in the central Iranian city of Esfahan when she was arrested, confessed to sending a single e-mail to a colleague in the capital.

In it, she described the unrest unfolding in Esfahan after taking part in a couple of peaceful protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

"I apologize to the Iranian nation and the court, and hope they will pardon me," the aspiring scholar was quoted as saying, appearing in court after spending five weeks in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison.

As a prosecutor sketched a vast foreign conspiracy against Iran at the second session of an extraordinary trial of alleged ringleaders of the unrest, experts were struggling to figure out the intent of the televised proceedings. More than 100 people were paraded before the cameras a week ago, followed by dozens more Saturday.



Power Struggle Ensues After Taliban Chief's Apparent Death

Potential Successors Trade Words, Fire

Washington Post Foreign Service 
Sunday, August 9, 2009

KABUL, Aug. 8 -- In the power vacuum created by the apparent death of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, a gun battle broke out Saturday between Taliban leaders vying to seize his mantle in the tribal borderlands, Pakistani officials said, the first indications of a struggle that could prompt fighters to move across the border into Afghanistan.

The effect of the apparent death of Mehsud, who deployed his fighters mainly against Pakistani targets, "could be to free up militants to come into Afghanistan," said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in that country.




Malagasy leaders agree transition

The leaders at the centre of Madagascar's political crisis have reached agreement on a power-sharing government, the UN special envoy says.

The BBC Sunday, 9 August 2009

The accord would see a transitional period of 15 months, during which legislative and presidential elections would be held, Tiebile Drame said.

Ousted President Marc Ravalomanana said he would return to Madagascar but not personally take part in the process.

The deal follows days of negotiations in the Mozambican capital, Maputo.

Mediators hope it will bring an end to the months of crisis which culminated in the opposition leader, Andry Rajoelina, forcing Mr Ravalomanana to resign as president on 17 March and flee.

Mr Rajoelina and his allies, who accused the president of being a tyrant who misspent public money, were accused by the African Union of taking power through a coup and foreign aid was frozen.





In Ciudad Juarez, young women are vanishing

Amid the drug war's bloodshed, the Mexican border city has been shaken by the disappearances of at least two dozen teenage girls and young women. Officials have few leads.

By Ken Ellingwood 
9:24 AM PDT, August 8, 2009

Reporting from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico -- The streets of Juarez are swallowing the young and pretty.

Monica Alanis, an 18-year-old college freshman, never came home from her exams. That was more than four months ago.

Across town, 17-year-old Brenda Ponce didn't return from a job-hunting trip downtown. That was a year ago.

Hilda Rivas, 16, was also last spotted downtown. That was 17 months ago.

Two dozen teenage girls and young women have gone missing in this violent border city in the last year and half, stirring dark memories of the killings of hundreds of women that made Ciudad Juarez infamous a decade ago.

The disappearances, which include two university students and girls as young as 13, have some crime-novel touches: mysterious dropped calls, messages left by third parties and unsubstantiated reports of the women being kept at a house.