South African revolutionary Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died today at the age of 95. Mandela, often called Tata Madiba, had struggled with a reoccurring lung illness over the past two years, nearing death a number of times. Although his condition remained unstable, in September he was taken home from the hospital. He passed surrounded by his wife and other family members.
Russian Diplomats Charged with Fraud
Prosecutors for the city of New York have filed charges against 49 Russian diplomats and their families in connection with a nearly decade-long health benefits fraud. The diplomats are accused of receiving more than $1.5m in Medicaid funds for pregnancy, birth and infant care meant for low-income families. Instead the accused spent that money on vacations, luxury goods, and helicopter rides.
No arrests have been made as the diplomats have diplomatic immunity. Only 11 of the 49 are still in the United States. “Diplomacy should be about extending hands, not picking pockets in the host country,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said today in a statement. “The scam exploited a weakness in the Medicaid system, and the charges expose shameful and systemic corruption among Russian diplomats in New York.”
Fast Food Strike
Fast food workers engaged in wildcat strikes throughout the United States today, seeking better wages. Most workers in the food service industry make $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage and are living well below the poverty line. Poverty rates have continued to rise, despite a resurgent economy. Activists suggest the cause is a stagnant minimum wage, which has not kept pace with inflation nor with worker productivity.
Yemeni Defense Ministry Attacked
In what may be the worst such attack in more than a year, 52 people were killed when a suicide bomber accompanied by a number of other fighters attacked Yemen’s defense ministry, opening fire on soldiers,doctors, and nurses working at a hospital inside. At least 167 other people were wounded, according to the country’s security committee; two German and two Vietnamese doctors, and one Indian and two Filipino nurses were among the dead. While this attack appears to bear the hallmarks of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has waged a successful guerrilla campaign against the Yemeni government, Yemen is also beset by two other secessionist movements, the combined effects of which forced Ali Abdullah Saleh from the presidency in 2011.
Mujica Hopes to Legalize Pot Before Year’s End
The Uruguayan senate will vote on a bill that would make the sale of cannabis legal and government-controlled. If passed, the price of marijuana is expected to be set at around $1 a gram. President José Mujica has campaigned extensively to promote this legislation, in Uruguay and abroad. While Uruguay will be the first nation state to enact such laws, U.S. states Colorado and Washington passed similar regulations last year.
Analysts are hopeful the new laws will end years of ineffective drug policy. “Uruguay’s enactment of legal, regulated marijuana will be a watershed moment for hemispheric and global marijuana policy reform,” said WOLA drug policy expert John Walsh. “When the history of the unraveling of marijuana prohibition is written, Uruguay’s courageous pioneering role will figure prominently.”