Saturday, May 8, 2010

Obama says health care law already helps millions

Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The new health care law already is helping millions of people through tax breaks for small businesses and assistance for families with young adults, President Barack Obama said Saturday.In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama promoted his top domestic priority, which passed Congress with no Republican votes and continues to stir strong emotions nationwide. He acknowledged that many provisions will not take effect for years. But he said others are doing some families good now.Some 4 million small-business owners and organizations have been told of a possible health care tax cut this year, Obama said. On June 15, some older people with high prescription drug costs will receive $250 to help fill a gap in Medicare's pharmaceutical benefits."Already we are seeing a health care system that holds insurance companies more accountable and gives consumers more control," the president said.Obama said Anthem Blue Cross dropped a proposed 39 percent premium increase on Californians after his administration demanded an explanation. He said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote to all states "urging them to investigate other rate hikes and stop insurance companies from gaming the system."A new federal agency will provide grants to states with the best oversight programs, Obama said.His administration also is drafting a "patients' bill of rights" to give consumers information about their health care choices and rights, he said.As of September, Obama said, "the new health care law prohibits insurance companies from dropping people's coverage when they get sick and need it most."He said his administration will urge large employers to follow several insurance companies' example of allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents' employer-provided health insurance plans starting this summer, rather than having to wait until September or later."Ultimately, we'll have a system that provides more control for consumers, more accountability for insurance companies and more affordable choices for uninsured Americans," Obama said.Republicans continue to attack the new law as too costly and ineffective. They vow to make it a major issue in the November congressional elections.A new Gallup poll found that the law's enactment has not lessened Americans' concerns about health care costs. The poll found that 61 percent worry about the costs of a serious illness or accident and 48 percent worry about normal health care costs.

Afghan police beatings well-known, panel told

OTTAWA -- Afghan authorities routinely beat people "in the street and elsewhere" and most Canadian soldiers know about it, a military board of inquiry has found.The results of a five-week investigation, released Friday, found troops in Kandahar had lingering concerns about the local police force.
"The practice of corporal punishment being meted out on an apparent whim in the street and elsewhere was common and was observed and commented upon by most Canadian Forces members," the report says.The findings came in a report into a June 2006 detainee transfer that resulted in a man being beaten by local authorities.In that incident, Canadian soldiers on patrol stopped a "suspicious" vehicle and pulled aside one of the men inside for a closer look.The Canadians asked a group of Afghan police to take the man to their headquarters in Zhari district for further questioning.A now-retired warrant officer told the board a local interpreter working for the Canadians had a funny feeling about what the Afghan cops might do to the captive.The soldier said the Afghan police "became very excited" around the prisoner and the interpreter "had a 'feeling' that something might not be right."A commander, who wasn't at the scene, later told the board that particular unit of Afghan cops had "recently suffered casualties in the region, including the mutilation of some of their fallen by the Taliban."The Canadians were told to take photos of the captive before turning him over to the Afghans. This was done as the Canadians' way of "impressing upon ANP No. 5 that (blank) was expected to arrive at (blank) unchanged from his present condition," the report says."He wanted to have a record of (blank) appearance just in case something untoward happened."The report says the section commander never saw the Afghan police abusing detainees, though he had heard rumours to that effect.Another soldier offered this blunt assessment of the Afghan police unit: "Oh yes, those wing nuts. They were (blank's) little pet unit. They were garbage. We had a lot of run-ins with them."The Canadians saw the Afghan cops start to beat their captive as their truck sped away.They chased down the truck and took back the prisoner. He was treated for minor scrapes and bruises and turned over to another group of Afghan police.
The board concluded the Canadian soldiers did nothing wrong by not reporting the incident to superiors because they were confused by the policy in place.The probe made no recommendations because it found the military now has a clearly defined process of documenting and reporting detainees.

Pakistan tests 2 missiles, wants nuke recognition

Pakistan successfully test-fired two ballistic missiles Saturday capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the military said, as the Islamic nation's leader urged the world to recognize it as a legitimate nuclear power.The Shaheen-1 missile has a range of about 400 miles (650 kilometers), while the second Ghaznavi missile could hit targets at a distance of 180 miles (290 kilometers), an army statement said. Both can carry conventional and nuclear warheads.Pakistan's missiles are mostly intended for any confrontation with archrival India, and the range of the Shaheen-1 would include the Indian capital of New Delhi. Saturday's tests — which featured the rare launch of two missiles — are unlikely to aggravate tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, since they both routinely conduct missile tests.The latest Pakistani missile test came more than a week after the leaders of two sides met in Bhutan on the sidelines of a regional conference, hoping to improve relations that have been strained since the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior army and civil officials witnessed the launches at an undisclosed location, and the missiles "successfully hit the target areas," the statement said.
Gilani also urged world powers "to recognize Pakistan as a dejure nuclear power with equal rights and responsibilities," the army statement said. The prime minister called for cooperation on civilian nuclear power, which would help relieve Pakistan's chronic energy shortages.Pakistan has refused to sign nonproliferation accords and faces a nuclear trade ban.
"Energy is a vital economic security need of Pakistan and nuclear energy is a clean way forward," the statement said.
Pakistan became a declared nuclear power in 1998 by conducting nuclear tests in response to those carried out by India. Islamabad test-fired its first missile that same year.
The safety of its nuclear arsenals has been a matter of concern since 2004 when the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, confessed to spreading sensitive technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. Pakistan has since set up strict controls to prevent any such repeat and the retired Khan is living under virtual house arrest.
But a recent report, commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and released by Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, found that Pakistan faces formidable risks in safeguarding its nuclear warheads. Danger persists from "nuclear insiders with extremist sympathies, al-Qaida or Taliban outsider attacks, and a weak state."

An FBI team arrives in Pakistan to probe ties of N.Y. bomber

An FBI team arrived in Pakistan on Friday as the international probe into the failed Times Square bombing heated up and investigators focused on whether foreign terrorist money helped finance the operation, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
The FBI investigators landed in Islamabad, where the FBI has a legal attache office that works with Pakistani law enforcement and intelligence officers, Pakistani officials said. Pakistani cooperation is considered crucial in nailing down the radical ties of Faisal Shahzad, the U.S. citizen charged in the attempted bombing.
Inside the United States, investigators were interviewing people who might have ties to Shahzad, but "no one is subject to imminent arrest," said a senior U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is still unfolding.
Here and abroad, a key focus was the money trail. Investigators were tracking a money courier who may have helped funnel cash to Shahzad from overseas, but they cautioned that any links were uncertain. Shahzad also may have obtained money to fund the Times Square operation from a hawala, an informal money-transfer network popular in South Asia and the Middle East, according to a former U.S. official briefed on the investigation. Hawalas have been linked to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
"There is a lot of money,'' said the senior law enforcement official, who noted that Shahzad brought $80,000 in cash into the United States when he returned from trips overseas between 1999 and 2008, and is thought to have had additional sources of funds. "To get that kind of money, the theory is you have someone help you move it," the official said.
Several days after his arrest, Shahzad continued to cooperate with interrogators, to the point where they keep returning to ask follow-up questions, officials said. One issue complicating the probe: Shahzad had multiple e-mail addresses. Investigators are having to unravel thousands of messages, which in turn lead to more e-mails and Web sites, officials said.
Investigators continue to believe that elements of the Pakistani Taliban trained Shahzad, but they are uncertain about his claims to interrogators that he met higher-ups within the group, including Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, U.S. officials said. A senior Pakistani official said Friday that no evidence has emerged of ties between Shahzad and Mehsud, but there are "strong indications" that Shahzad, during his trips to Pakistan, was in touch with Jaish-i-Muhammad -- an al-Qaeda-linked group that is part of a mosaic of extremist organizations in the country.
A federal law enforcement official said Friday that Shahzad had listened to speeches by radical Islamic clerics in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among those Shahzad has cited as inspiring him is Anwar al-Aulaqi, the American-born cleric in Yemen who has been tied to the suspect in the attempted Christmas bombing on a Detroit-bound plane as well as the man charged in last year's fatal shootings at Fort Hood, Tex. Shahzad himself does not appear to have communicated with Aulaqi.
In Pakistan, authorities have detained numerous militants, some of whom they think might be connected to Shahzad, as well as the fathers of both Shahzad and his wife. A Pakistani official said the government is engaged in a "hectic probe" to nail down any ties Shahzad may have had to militant groups in that country.

Clinton warns Pakistan of 'consequences' over extremism

WASHINGTON — Pakistan faces "very severe consequences" if a terror plot like the failed Times Square bombing was traced to that country, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in remarks made public on Saturday.However Clinton also acknowledged Pakistan's increased cooperation in the war on terror, but said the United States expected more.
"We've made it very clear that if -- heaven-forbid-- an attack like this that we can trace back to Pakistan were to have been successful, there would be very severe consequences," Clinton told CBS's "60 Minutes" program, according to excerpts released by the TV network.
The interview is scheduled to be broadcast Sunday.
Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-born US citizen whose large but poorly made bomb failed to detonate in New Tork's Times Square a week ago, has been grilled since he was arrested Monday aboard a plane as it prepared to take off for Dubai.
The 30-year-old son of a retired Pakistani Air Force officer is facing five terror charges.Shahzad's family knew at least two key Pakistani militants who were involved in terrorist activities, The Los Angeles Times reported late Friday.Clinton said Pakistan's attitude toward fighting Islamic terrorists had changed remarkably."We've gotten more cooperation and it's been a real sea change in the commitment we've seen from the Pakistan government," she said."We want more. We expect more," she added.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported Saturday that a Federal Bureau of Investigation team arrived in Pakistan on Friday, with investigators focusing on whether foreign terrorist money helped finance the operation.