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July 31st, 2009
11:55 PM ET

Situation in Darfur still dire

The U.S. is reviewing its relations with Sudan and  its president, Omar al-Bashir.

The U.S. is reviewing its relations with Sudan and its president, Omar al-Bashir.

Charley Keyes
CNN Senior Producer

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday that there had been no decision whether to remove Sudan from a list of terrorism-sponsoring countries.

Sudan is hoping to improve diplomatic ties with the United States. The U.S. is now reviewing how best to deal with the government of Sudan and the crisis in Darfur where an estimated 300-thousand people have been killed and more than two million forced to fell their homes.

“We have made no decision to lift the listing on the terrorist list of Sudan,” Clinton said at the State Department Friday during a picture-taking session. “As you know there is a very intensive review going on within the Administration concerning our policy toward Sudan, but no decisions have been made.”

Clinton’s comments came one day after the Obama Administration’s special envoy to Sudan made headlines saying there is no evidence to keep Sudan on the terror-sponsor list. Envoy Scott Gration told a Senate hearing the terrorism designation was hindering his work, calling it “a political decision.” He said lifting sanctions against Sudan would allow heavy equipment and other assistance to flow more easily to people desperately in need.

FULL POST


Filed under: Darfur • Hillary Clinton • Terrorism
July 31st, 2009
10:10 PM ET

Dem leader: Reform too good to pass up

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, left, thinks the U.S. cannot afford to fail on health care.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, left, thinks the U.S. cannot afford to fail on health care.

Steny Hoyer
Special to CNN

History shows that the chance to reform the American health care system is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. So reform is absolutely worth the time it takes to get it right.

That's why Democrats are subjecting their plan to bring affordable health care to all Americans to intense scrutiny, and that's why we're going home to hear from our constituents, adding to the more than 550 health care town hall meetings and public events that have already taken place this year.

But there is also a distinct urgency to our work - an urgency fired by an understanding that the most disastrous health plan is a simple extension of the status quo.

If reform splutters, we'll be left with a broken, unsustainable system, with health costs set to double over the next 10 years, and millions of more Americans projected to lose their coverage. As rising costs and rapidly-consolidating insurance giants strip coverage from more middle-class families, the costs of inaction will mount every year.

Keep reading...


Filed under: Democrats • Health Care
July 31st, 2009
10:04 PM ET

GOP leader: Health bill is bad for business

House Minority Leader John Boehner thinks a government health care plan will hurt small businesses.

House Minority Leader John Boehner thinks a government health care plan will hurt small businesses.

John Boehner
Special to CNN

Before I was elected to Congress, I ran a small plastics packaging business in Cincinnati, Ohio, providing products and services, creating jobs and meeting payroll.

Thanks to the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which shields employers who offer benefits to their employees from being pummeled by laws that vary from state to state, I was also able to offer health care and pension benefits to my employees.

As every small-business owner knows, this can be quite a balancing act, but I count it as one of the most rewarding times of my life - a time that led to my service in Congress.

Whenever I cast a major vote in the House, I find myself thinking back to those days and how the policies we are debating will affect small businesses like mine. After all, I first decided to run for elective office because government - at all levels - was too often an impediment to my firm's success.

Keep reading...


Filed under: Health Care • Republicans
July 31st, 2009
09:45 PM ET

Live Blog from the Anchor Desk 07/31/09

There are stunning new allegations in the murder of a Florida couple. Were Byrd and Melanie Billings the victims of a murder for hire plot? Plus, the spotlight isn't just on Dr. Conrad Murray in the Jackson death investigation.

Want to know what else we're covering? Read EVENING BUZZ

Scroll down to join the live chat during the program. It's your chance to share your thoughts on tonight's headlines. Keep in mind, you have a better chance of having your comment get past our moderators if you follow our rules.

Here are some of them:

1) Keep it short (we don't have time to read a "book")
2) Don't write in ALL CAPS (there's no need to yell)
3) Use your real name (first name only is fine)
4) No links
5) Watch your language (keep it G-rated; PG at worst - and that includes $#&*)


Filed under: Live Blog • T1
July 31st, 2009
09:38 PM ET
July 31st, 2009
05:32 PM ET

Beat 360º 7/31/09

Ready for today's Beat 360°? Everyday we post a picture – and you provide the caption and our staff will join in too. Tune in tonight at 10pm to see if you are our favorite! Here is the 'Beat 360°' pic:

An activist who wears a mock bottom and a hospital gown holds signs on Capitol Hill after a rally on healthcare. Activists gathered to rally lawmakers on the Hill for a single payer model healthcare reform and celebrate the 44th birthday of Medicare. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Have fun with it. We're looking forward to your captions! Make sure to include your name, city, state (or country) so we can post your comment.

UPDATE – BEAT 360º WINNERS

Staff:

Joey Gardner

We need health care reform. No ifs, ands or butts.

Viewer:

Kathy, Ottawa, Canada

Just like the Beer Summit…..bottoms up! Yes, we can!

__________________________________________________________________________________ Beat 360° Challenge


Filed under: Beat 360° • T1
July 31st, 2009
05:26 PM ET

Evening Buzz: Murder for Hire?

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is believed to be the organizer of Byrd and Melanie Billings' deaths.

Leonard Patrick Gonzalez Jr., 35, is believed to be the organizer of Byrd and Melanie Billings' deaths.

Maureen Miller
AC360° Writer

We have new developments in the Florida murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings, who adopted 13 children with special needs. A source with knowledge to the investigation tells CNN the state attorney's office believes it was a contracted hit, with robbery as the prime motive. Eight suspects are in custody in the case, including a 16 year old boy. We'll have the latest tonight on 360°.

In the Michael Jackson death investigation, Randi Kaye is digging deeper on the search warrants. She'll share what she's uncovered. There's a doctor's name that caught her eye. It's not Dr. Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson when he died. It's another doctor.

Is the economy finally rebounding? A new report out today is getting a lot of attention. Ali Velshi has the details on your money, your future.

And, pythons on the loose in one state. Massive pythons. One that was more than 17 feet long was caught this week. We'll tell you where and meet the python hunter who's tracking down the reptiles.

Join us for these stories and much more at 10pm ET. Hope to see you then and have a great weekend!


Filed under: Maureen Miller • The Buzz
July 31st, 2009
03:56 PM ET

Authorities suspect contracted hit in couple's slaying, source says

Five masked men entered the Billingses' home on Thursday and left within 10 minutes, police say.

Five masked men entered the Billingses' home on Thursday and left within 10 minutes, police say.

Ross Levitt and Susan Candiotti
CNN

A source with knowledge of the investigation tells CNN the state attorney's office believes there were two motives in the home invasion murder of Florida couple Byrd and Melanie Billings - robbery and a contracted hit.

The Escambia County Sheriff's Office has long said that it believed robbery was the prime motive, but that it would explore all avenues.

The source said the state attorney's office is currently working under the belief that most of the suspects in the case thought they were there for a robbery, but that Leonard Gonzalez Jr., who authorities have described as the organizer of the crime, and other yet-unnamed suspects were plotting a hit on the couple.

The source said that from "Gonzalez down" it was a robbery and that from "Gonzalez up" it was a hit. The source was not sure of the exact motive behind the hit.

The office of State Attorney Bill Eddins declined comment.

FULL POST


Filed under: 360° Radar • 360º Follow • Crime & Punishment
July 31st, 2009
03:40 PM ET
July 31st, 2009
03:10 PM ET

Missing student safe and well, father says






____________________________________________________________________

Michael Harrie, 29, a veterinary student at Auburn University, was reported missing by his family but is now safe and well in Thailand, according to his father.

Michael Harrie, 29, a veterinary student at Auburn University, was reported missing by his family but is now safe and well in Thailand, according to his father.

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

Michael Griffin Harrie, the 29-year-old Auburn University student whose family had reported him missing in Asia, is safe and well in Thailand, his father told CNN Friday. Harrie called his father from the U.S. Embassy in Thailand.

"My God, you can't imagine. It's just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders," Paul Harrie told CNN. "We are so happy. We are just so pleased.

Boy, we were so worried. It's terrific. I've had two nights of no sleep."

The younger Harrie, a veterinary student on a study abroad program, apparently was unaware that his family had reported him missing, his father said. "He went to Malaysia and stayed there for two days. And when he got back (to Thailand), a lady said, 'Listen, you're all over the Internet and the news.'"

He then got in touch with the embassy.

Harrie had sent a message to his family to let them know that he would be staying in Thailand longer than originally planned, and thought the message had gone through, his father said. "He thought everyone know where he was."

Harrie will be returning to the United States and "will probably come back to L.A. to see us," his father said. The family lives in Los Angeles, California.

"I think he will take that time to regroup and deal a little with the questions. We've been through an emotional roller-coaster."

In an interview Thursday, Paul Harrie had raised questions about his son's actions and suggested his son may have lied about his travel plans.

"We don't know what the story is. ... We can't fathom the behavior. It is so atypical of him," Harrie said at the time.

Michael Griffin Harrie was enrolled in a study program at a school in Japan over the summer. He informed one of his professors that he was leaving on July 7 for a one-week vacation with friends in Bangkok, Thailand. He was expected back on July 14. But Harrie did not return on that date.

On July 16, he failed to show up for a planned meeting with his parents in Tokyo. They soon reported him missing.

His parents flew back to their home in California and worked with Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, to try to track down their son.

Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Paul Harrie said he believed his son went to Thailand by himself, and called the story about going with friends a "ruse."

The family hired a private investigator to help find their son, and was "wondering what the heck is going on," he said.

On Friday, Thai police said Harrie had crossed the border from Thailand into Malaysia on Wednesday, apparently on his own free will.

The family said Harrie is an experienced traveler. Paul Harrie said he considered it unlikely that Michael would have a connection to narcotics or other illegal activity. "He's never been one to do drugs," Harrie insisted. "I can't imagine he would have the mindset to smuggle or drug deal or anything like that. I suspect he needs a break, or something is profoundly disturbing him," he said Thursday.

After getting the good news Friday, Harrie described himself as being in "a strange, sleepless, happy state."

"We were just ecstatic because you just worry so much. I had all these terrible scenarios through my mind. And now they just go away. A simple mistake, that's all. Not communicating, and he should have made sure to get through. He said communications in Thailand are pretty difficult."

The relieved father added, "Oh man, it's wonderful."

CNN's Kocha Olarn in Bangkok contributed to this report.

For more crime coverage go to cnn.com/crime.


Filed under: 360º Follow • Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
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