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Sept. 17, 2009

By
United Press International
Chariman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) speaks on health care reform at a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 16, 2009. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
Chariman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus (D-MT) speaks on health care reform at a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on September 16, 2009. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

Missile shield stopped:

U.S. President Barack Obama told Eastern European leaders the United States won't be building a defensive missile shield in the region.

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The Bush administration announced plans to put a radar station in the Czech Republic and a battery of missiles in Poland against threats from "rogue" nations, such as Iran and North Korea.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Thursday that Obama told him he decided not to proceed with the plan, which had been strongly opposed by Russia.

That decision stemmed from analysis that concluded Iran's missile capability hadn't advanced at the pace once predicted, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Announcement of the decision comes one week after Iran delivered a terse response to international nuclear watchdog group that reportedly didn't fully address concerns Tehran was aiming to build a nuclear weapon and two days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said "it is a certainty" Iran's nuclear program was designed to produce weapons.

Iran contends it nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.


Baucus on healthcare:

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus delivered his healthcare reform plan to decidedly mixed reviews, despite the blueprint's goal to keep costs less than $900 billion.

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Baucus, D-Mont., handed out his 223-page document Wednesday. The White House referred to it as an "important building block," suggesting there is much horse-trading to be done before U.S. President Barack Obama signs an actual bill. Congressional Democrats have said they would pass healthcare reform by the end of the year.

The Baucus plan would cover 30 million people currently without access to health insurance and, the Congressional Budget Office said , would result in a $50 billion reduction in the federal deficit in 10 years. It would establish "co-ops" to offer coverage along with private companies and require individuals to buy insurance or pay a fine. The plan would cost $865 billion.

Democratic opposition to the measure is based on the lack of a "public option" to compete with private health insurance companies; it remains to be seen whether that will truly be the deal-breaker some of Obama's party mates have promised. Republicans say they dislike the bill because of the overall expense and a failure to address medical malpractice tort reform.


Afghan election, violence:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai won a majority of votes in final vote totals released Wednesday but that result still needs to stand up to calls for recounts.

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The recount plea comes in the wake of fraud claims by runner-up former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and international observers, who claim widespread irregularities in voting.

Karzai won 54.6 percent of the vote in the Aug. 20 election while Abdullah ended up with nearly 28 percent, figures released by Afghan election officials showed. The result marks a counting of all ballots but the results have yet to be certified.

There are thousands of ballots in question and, if disallowed, could reduce Karzai's total to less than 50 percent and set up a runoff between the top two vote-getters.

The result was announced the day before a suicide attack on a military convoy in Kabul killed at least 10 civilians and six Italian troops assigned to the U.N. contingent in Afghanistan. An aggressive militancy, led by the Taliban, continues to carry out attacks throughout the country.


Mary Travers, folk singer:

Mary Travers, one-third of the timeless folk trio of Peter, Paul and Mary, has died at the age of 72. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2005; her death Wednesday was attributed to complications from chemotherapy.

Peter, Paul and Mary first performed in 1961 effectively mixing Travers' voice with those of Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey. They had No. 1 songs in the 1960s, including "Puff, the Magic Dragon," "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane." They were known for their progressive political activism as much as they were for the music.

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"I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career," Stookey wrote in a statement on the group's Web site.