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July 24th, 2009
04:13 PM ET

You’re David, and they’re Goliath

When you argue with your health insurance company, you’re up against some tough opposition. In this week’s “Empower Me Friday” ,CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has tips to help you win the fight.

Filed under: Elizabeth Cohen • Empower Me Friday
July 24th, 2009
03:13 PM ET

Music As A Universal Language

Kyra's passionate about culture and and fascinated by the way we share it.

When she saw this story by freelance journalist Seema Mathur she wanted to make sure you saw it too.

Here's Seema's story:

The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music has been held in Fez, Morocco since 1994.

It was inspired after the first Gulf War.

Festival organizers hoped to use music as a tool to unite people.

Musicians from all over the world annually perform in Fez, a city with a history for open dialogue.

In the 9th century Al- Karaouine University was built.

It's considered the oldest university in the Islamic world.

It was a place where Islamic and Jewish studies occurred

Today festival organizers say that spirit of tolerance lives in the annual festival.

For musicians like Yuval Ron, who is highlighted in the video piece, it's a platform to express his message.

Vance Holmes: Photographer
Rob Davis: Audio
Jon Lincycomb: Editor
Fernando Dubove: Executive Producer

The Yuval Ron Ensemble performs in LA on July 26th

Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

Filed under: Kyra Phillips
July 24th, 2009
03:00 PM ET

What's next for Palin?

Just shy of a year ago, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin burst onto the national scene when Senator John McCain picked her as his Vice Presidential running mate.  It would be an understatement to say that life for Palin and her family has been controversial since the announcement.  Wardrobe payments, new babies, interview flubs, feuds with late night talk show hosts, ethics complaints…

Palin says she thought she would stop being a “lightning rod” when she returned to Alaska.  But at a news conference earlier this month she announced her resignation as governor and it becomes effective Sunday afternoon. The question now is:  Will she drop off the radar as quickly as she appeared? Or is she set for a place on the national stage?

Palin has not given many details about her future plans or motivations for stepping down, except for saying she resigned because of the “tremendous pressure, time and financial burden of a litany of ethics complaints in the past several months.” 

What do you think Sarah Palin should do next?

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Filed under: CNN Newsroom
July 24th, 2009
08:53 AM ET

Gates' Arrest

What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding Henry Louis Gates’ arrest? Post your comments here.

Filed under: Heidi Collins
July 24th, 2009
07:24 AM ET

Pre-Existing Conditions: What if you're already sick?

As part of our series on health care reform, we invited a breast cancer survivor and a representative from the health insurance industry about pre-existing conditions.

Filed under: Tony Harris
July 24th, 2009
06:56 AM ET

More troops, but what about contractors?

by Suzanne Simons
CNN Executive Producer and Author, Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War

As the missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan continue to evolve, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expanding the U.S. military by some 22,000 troops, in part, to give relief to those who have already been through lengthy rotations.

But with overall plans to reduce the numbers of troops in Iraq by a whopping 80,000 in the coming year, (there are 140,000 there now) what will that mean for contractors, who already outnumber troops in Iraq performing duties that range from driving supplies to cooking breakfast?

The Congressionally-appointed Commission on Wartime Contracting reported last month that more than 240,000 contractors work for the Department of Defense in Iraq and Afghanistan. That doesn’t include those working for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Department of Defense says their overall plans will likely lead to a reduction of contractors, though it won’t happen as quickly as the troop reduction, in part because someone needs to stay behind to do the work.

“The decrease will not directly parallel the withdrawal of U.S. troops as there are a number of residual missions that contractors will continue to perform as U.S. forces drawdown” says Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

The Commission reported just last month that, while private contractors executed many of their support tasks well, the contracting system was still greatly flawed some six years after it was instituted in precedent-setting numbers following the Iraq war.

While the U.S. missions are critically dependent on contractors, there is still no complete accounting of all of the contracted support the DoD relies on according to the Commission. In one of the most notorious contractor incidents of the Iraq war, a group of Blackwater contractors fired their weapons in a Baghdad traffic circle killing between 14-17 Iraqis. U.S. Prosecutors have brought charges against the contractors, who say they were only responding to hostile fire.

The incident prompted a political firestorm when the Iraqi government demanded the company’s ouster, and the U.S. State Department negotiated for the company it deemed critical to its ability to function in Iraq, to stay. But in one of the most shocking highlights of the communication problems that existed between contractors and the military - the U.S. Col. in charge of the sector that day, J.B. Burton, wasn’t even told that the contractors would be moving through his area. The glaring absence of communication highlights the inherent problems of a contracting system thrown together far too quickly.

The Commission is the closest that the U.S. has come to addressing those serious concerns that also include weaknesses in the oversight and contracting process, which have created opportunities over the years for fraud and abuse on a number of levels.

Filed under: Tony Harris