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August 18, 2009

By United Press International   |   Aug. 18, 2009 at 8:45 AM   |   Comments

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Obama hosts Mubarak:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in Washington and is set to meet Tuesday with President Obama, who is trying to move his Middle East peace initiative forward.

Mubarak is also expected to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Director James Jones.

The administration is urging Arab nations to make confidence-building gestures toward Israel -- establishing trade offices, cultural ties and allowing El Al planes to fly through their airspace -- to move the peace process forward.

Mubarak is expected to turn the proposal down as has Saudi Arabia. The Arab position is that Israel should make the first move by freezing any further settlement growth. They also want peace negotiations to focus on a comprehensive settlement that would deal with the issues of final borders, the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Egypt is also likely to urge that Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, be allowed some role in any peace discussions.

Mubarak met with representatives of several Jewish groups during the weekend. He told them that an attack on Iran to delay its nuclear program would be counterproductive.

"There is a rift within the Iranian leadership, and the best way (to deal with its nuclear program) is to wait. An attack would only rally the Iranians around their leadership," he said.


Public health option blowback:

Liberal Democrats in Congress and in the country are reacting strongly to the suggestion that a public option -- a government-run insurance program similar to Medicare -- is not essential for healthcare reform.

Faced with growing public disapproval of government-run healthcare, the administration seemed to back away from it during the weekend. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that consumer-run regional health cooperatives might be an acceptable alternative.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said a public option would be part of whatever legislation is passed by the House. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., warned the suggestion could lose as much as a 100 Democratic votes in the House.

Liberal grassroots response was even more emphatic. Democracy in America, a group launched by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, told its supporters: "A healthcare bill without a public option is D.O.A. in the House. Period." Dean himself said, "You can't have reform without a public option."

Democrats in the Senate are more divided. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the public option a "must." But Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., a promoter of the health cooperative idea, told Fox News on Sunday: "The fact of the matter is, there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option. There never have been."


Afghan election corruption:

Campaigning has ended in the Afghan presidential elections. The vote will be held Thursday. Facing 30 opponents Afghan President Hamid Karzai has 44 percent of the vote according to polls that are probably not very reliable. He needs 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

In a controversial move he allowed Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum to return to Afghanistan from exile in Turkey. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, held a rally in his home region Monday and has pledged support to Karzai. Uzbeks make up 9 percent of the population.

Dostum has been accused of responsibility for the killing of as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners as the Northern Alliance fought against the Taliban regime. He fled to Turkey to escape an investigation into the matter. The U.S. embassy in Kabul objected to his return. If Karzai wins Dostum could wield power as a kingmaker.

Meanwhile the BBC reports evidence of extensive corruption in the run-up to the election. Voting cards are being sold on the streets of Kabul and candidates have been offering bribes to voters.

Militants have promised to disrupt the elections. A car bomb in Kabul has killed five people while rocket attacks Monday targeted the presidential palace and other official buildings but did little damage. The Taliban have threatened to cut off the fingers of villagers in remote areas if they vote Thursday.

President Obama Monday told a Veterans of Foreign Wars gathering in Phoenix U.S. involvement in Afghanistan would not be quick or easy but that it was a "war of necessity."


Huge credit card theft:

A Miami man has been charged in New Jersey with stealing information on 130 million credit and debit cards. Albert Gonzalez, 28, was accused of hacking into the computer systems of large retail chains and inserting malware that allowed him to download data from the sites.

Gonzalez had previously been a U.S. Secret Service informant helping with cases similar to his own. But he used the position to pass on information on ongoing investigations to other hackers.

He is thought to have planned to sell the data he had gathered from the penetrated sites. One cybersecurity expert commented a completely secure retail site would be completely unusable.

Gonzalez was charged along with two unnamed Russian co-conspirators. If convicted he faces as many as 20 years in jail where he currently resides on a previous conviction.

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