Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Minister let slip that Gordon Brown would not want Megrahi to die in prison• Rammell told Libyans of PM's stance on bomber

• Dossier gives SNP chance to deflect criticism

By, Severin Carrell

Buried inside the 156 pages of closely-typed official correspondence, memos and minutes which detail the tortuous negotiations on the release of the Lockerbie bomber is a short paragraph which has ruined the recess for one of Gordon Brown's junior ministers.

In the minutes of a meeting between senior Scottish government officials and a delegation of Libyans are nine lines which put the prime minister at the centre of one of the most intense diplomatic rows between the UK and United States governments of recent times: was it right to free the man convicted of one of the worst terrorist attacks against US citizens?

It is the question Brown has repeatedly and studiously avoided because, according to a Libyan minister's account which then junior Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell has refused to deny, the prime minister and his justice secretary, Jack Straw, agreed that Abdelbasset al Megrahi should be sent home to die.

In March the Libyan Europe minister Abdulati Alobidi told Scottish officials that, in February, Rammell had disclosed during a visit to Tripoli that "neither the prime minister nor the foreign secretary would want Mr Megrahi to pass away in prison".

The Libyans had repeatedly warned that allowing Megrahi, his body riven by cancer, to die in Greenock prison would be "catastrophic" for UK-Libyan relations. Scottish officials were warned the Arab world would see it as a "form of death sentence" for a man many claim is innocent of the bombing.

These lines tie Brown into the most controversial act yet of any devolved government in Edinburgh: the early release of a former Libyan intelligence agent convicted of the worst terrorist attack on British soil: the deaths of 270 people in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.

The decision has been called "vile", "a disgrace" and "just horrible" by relatives of the 169 US citizens killed when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up 35,000 feet above the small Scottish market town of Lockerbie, four days before Christmas in 1988.

Caught in the centre of the maelstrom stood Kenny MacAskill, a dry and undramatic former defence lawyer and nationalist hardliner who is now Scottish justice secretary.

It was "my decision and my decision alone" he repeatedly told the Scottish parliament when it reconvened in emergency session last week to discuss the Megrahi affair.

And, he told MSPs, "I will live with the consequences."

One of the consequences was being on the receiving end of a furious call from Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state and former senator for New York. She knew the families of the 35 Syracuse university students flying home for Christmas who died in the attack.

Brown and the Labour government in London seemed to agree. They were happy to let MacAskill and Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland, stand alone to defend the most damaging decision yet taken by Scotland's first nationalist administration.

The prime minister has been repeatedly pressed by David Cameron, the Tory leader, and other opposition leaders to openly declare his view. All Brown would say was he was "repulsed" and "angered" by the jubilant celebrations which greeted Megrahi's return to Tripoli on 20 August.

It was not his place, the prime minister added, to comment on a decision taken by a devolved government in Edinburgh. Whitehall sources suggested Labour was happy to leave a Scottish National party administration reeling; others wondered whether Brown might privately agree that releasing Megrahi was correct.

The controversy has been fuelled by allegations – repeatedly denied by senior ministers – that Brown connived in Megrahi's release to further the UK's substantial economic interests in Libya. A letter leaked to the Sunday Times at the weekend appeared to confirm those suspicions.

As UK ministers were helping negotiate lucrative oil and trade deals for British firms such as BP and Shell, it appeared Straw had given in to unrelenting Libyan pressure to sign a prisoner transfer agreement (PTA) which would allow Megrahi to be repatriated, to serve the rest of his sentence in a Tripoli jail, as it was in the UK's "overwhelming" national interest. This was "terrorists for trade", said Labour's critics.

On Sunday Straw insisted again the conspiracy theories were wrong. The Libyans were aggrieved, he said, that the Scottish government wanted Megrahi to be explicitly excluded from the PTA. Tripoli said this was discriminatory; they wanted the same treaty as every other state which had signed a transfer treaty with the UK.

And, as the documents released by the UK and Scottish governments confirm, the Libyans were repeatedly told that releasing Megrahi had nothing to do with the UK government in London: it was solely and wholly a Scottish government decision.

But the Libyans did not need to be told: they knew the PTA was effectively dead as soon as it was signed. Salmond had been furious about the agreement since the day it was brokered by Tony Blair in person with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in his "deal in the desert" in 2007. It was highly improbable a Scottish nationalist leader would use Labour legislation designed to smooth the way for a UK trade deal to free their man.

Salmond's disclosure of the Megrahi papers has repaid Brown for his reluctance to talk. As they released their thick dossier of 86 documents online, SNP officials were quick to point to the memo citing Rammell's indiscretion.

This is Salmond's "get out of jail" card. Until 4pm yesterday afternoon, and the release of their dossier on Megrahi, his government had faced losing a significant vote in the Scottish parliament tomorrow on the Megrahi decision.

Opposition parties were united in condemning his release. Labour now faces having Rammell's words read back by a grinning Salmond.

Swine Flu Sends More Blacks, Hispanics to Hospital

Swine Flu Sends More Blacks, Hispanics to Hospital


Swine flu was four times more likely to send blacks and Hispanics to the hospital than whites, according to a study in Chicago that offers one of the first looks at how the virus has affected different racial groups.

The report echoes some unpublished information from Boston that found three out of four Bostonians hospitalized from swine flu were black or Hispanic.

The cause for the difference is probably not genetic, health officials said. More likely, it's because blacks and Hispanics suffer disproportionately from asthma, diabetes and other health problems that make people more vulnerable to the flu.

It's not clear if a racial or ethnic difference will hold up when more complete national data is available, one federal health official said. The findings are based on fairly small numbers of cases from the early days of the pandemic.

"We don't have anything definitive to say one group is more affected than another," said Dr. Daniel Jernigan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Chicago findings, released Thursday, are believed to be the first published study to detail a racial or ethnic breakdown of swine flu's impact.

Researchers looked at more than 1,500 lab-confirmed swine flu cases reported to the Chicago Department of Public Health from late April through late July.

Blacks with swine flu were hospitalized at a rate of 9 per 100,000, and Hispanics at a rate of 8 per 100,000. For whites, the rate was 2 per 100,000, the study found.

Earlier this month, Boston health officials released some unpublished information that found three out of four Bostonians hospitalized with swine flu were black or Hispanic.

"It's very disturbing," said Barbara Ferrer of the Boston Public Health Commission, speaking about the higher rates of minority swine flu hospitalizations.

"But intuitively it's understandable, because we have tremendous inequities in most areas of health," said Ferrer, the agency's executive director.

Also, experts noted that the Chicago and Boston data represent limited information from only two cities and only the first two or three months of the pandemic. The unpredictable manner of swine flu outbreaks means some parts of the city were hit before others - a sequence that may have little to do with race.

"I think it reflected more the neighborhoods the disease was first going through," said Jernigan, a CDC flu expert.

This fall, the government will be doing national surveys to better track swine flu trends. That should provide more reliable information about how the virus is affecting different groups of people, he said.

Top-ranked Safina puts a scare into US Open

NEW YORK — Dinara Safina overcame a long, mistake-filled display of tennis Tuesday to barely avoid becoming the first top-seeded woman to be ousted in the first round of the U.S. Open.

She defeated 167th-ranked Olivia Rogowska of Australia 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4 in a match that included 113 unforced errors, 24 double-faults and 15 service breaks over 2 hours, 35 minutes.

"I didn't break any rackets and didn't get any warnings," Safina said, when asked if there were any silver linings. "That's already positive."

She overcame a 3-0 deficit in the third set to avoid becoming the first top seed to be ousted in the first round of any Grand Slam since Martina Hingis lost 6-4, 6-2 to Ruano Pascual at Wimbledon in 2001.

Safina served out her final game at love, forcing errors on Rogowska's ground strokes during one of the top-seeded player's few sustained runs of consistency.

Most of the rest looked like it belonged at Central Park, not Arthur Ashe Stadium, and often, it was more entertaining to watch Safina's coach, Zeljko Krajan, slumping, scowling, shaking his head and watching the whole thing in disbelief from his lonely seat in the stands.

Safina moves on, but all the questions about her worthiness as the world's No. 1 player will almost certainly gather steam.

No. 2 Serena Williams has won the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. Safina doesn't yet have a career Grand Slam victory, getting blown out in all three finals she's been in.

Clunkers aid Ford, Toyota sales; GM, Chrysler fall

DETROIT — The Cash for Clunkers program boosted sales at Ford, Toyota and Honda in August as consumers snapped up their fuel-efficient offerings, but rivals Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. withstood another month of falling sales.

The program, which ended on Aug. 24, drew hordes of buyers into quiet showrooms by offering up to $4,500 toward new, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. The hefty rebates gave automakers and dealers a much-needed lift, spurring 690,114 new sales, many of them during August, at a taxpayer cost of $2.88 billion.

Other automakers are expected to release U.S. sales figures later Tuesday. Combined, the results are likely to mark the first year-over-year monthly sales gain since October 2007.

Ford Motor Co. sold 181,826 cars and light trucks compared with 155,117 in August 2008, when high gas prices and growing economic uncertainty kept people away from showrooms.

Two of Ford's vehicles — the Focus and Escape — were among the top selling cars under the clunkers program. Sales of the Focus rose 56 percent while those of the Escape crossover vehicle climbed 49 percent.

Japanese automakers Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. also posted gains year-over-year gains in August. Toyota sales rose 6.4 percent to 225,088, lifted by small cars like the Corolla, the best-selling clunkers vehicle.

Honda sales rose 9.9 percent to 161,439, also largely on the strength of its fuel-efficient offerings.

Meanwhile, low supplies of fuel-efficient vehicles at Chrysler kept the automaker from benefiting more from the clunkers program, whose rebates encouraged customers to buy gas sippers in exchange for guzzlers with gas mileage of 18 mpg or less.

Chrysler sales fell 15 percent to 93,222 units.

Going into August, five of Chrysler's most efficient vehicles were already at low inventory levels. Those vehicles — the Dodge Caliber, the Chrysler Sebring, the Jeep Patriot, the Jeep Compass and the Dodge Avenger — all qualified as Cash for Clunkers purchases.

To make up for the shortfalls, Chrysler is boosting production by 50,000 vehicles of most of its vehicles through the end of the year.

At General Motors Co., sales fell 20 percent to 245,550. GM said its inventory levels hit an all-time low of 379,000 during August.

GM vehicles like the Chevrolet Aveo subcompact, the Cobalt sedan and Equinox crossover got a lift from the clunkers program. No GM vehicles made the closely watched list of top-10 Cash for Clunkers sales, but they had the largest market share behind Japan's Toyota Motor Corp.

GM also said it was extending through the end of September its test program selling vehicles on eBay.

Consumers are expected to steer clear of dealers this autumn now that the clunker rebates are no longer available.

Former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant involved in death of Toronto cyclist

Late last night, a cyclist was killed in Toronto. "Ontario's former attorney general Michael Bryant ... will be charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death, a police source tells the Globe, after a collision left a 33-year-old cyclist dead." Accounts vary, but the sequence appears to be 1) Some collision and argument between the cyclist and the driver; 2) The cyclist grabs the driver's door and hangs on (or he may have been caught on the car accidentally) while the Saab convertible drives on; 3) The car drives into the opposite lane, across a construction zone, and the cyclist is battered against mailboxes and light posts; 4) The cyclist falls under the car's back wheels and is killed.

This map shows the path of the accident and includes links to picture and video. (What it doesn't show is how torn up by construction the area is, like much of downtown and midtown Toronto.) Witnesses describe what they saw at the scene.

The cyclist has not yet been identified to the public.

Feelings have already been running high in Toronto about the Toronto Bike Plan and what many motorists consider a War on Cars. A few weeks ago, a woman was killed by a teenager cycling on the sidewalk, but the cyclist was not charged.

Coincidentally, a study based on Toronto accident statistics was recently released, showing that 90% of bicycle-car accidents are caused by clumsy or inattentive drivers, although these results have been disputed.

And while traffic services has been cracking down on both driver and cyclist infractions this summer (and some Critical Massers seem to agree that sidewalk cycling should be cracked down on), some people think cyclists are getting treated with kid gloves, that they shouldn't be on anything but residential roads, and that no more money should be spent on cycling infrastructure. Catch a taste of non-CBC Canadian talk radio here (live streaming here.)

Meanwhile, I suspect another ghost bike is being prepared.

Newspaper publisher Freedom files for Chapter 11

SAN FRANCISCO — The owner of the Orange County Register in California and dozens of other newspapers became the latest publisher Tuesday to seek bankruptcy protection, driven into financial despair by a staggering drop in advertising revenue.

The filing was part of a prepackaged plan approved by a majority of Freedom's lenders. The consensus on the proposed restructuring should minimize that haggling that can bog down bankruptcy proceedings.

"Reaching this agreement with our lenders provides us with an orderly process to realign our balance sheet with the realities of today's media environment," said Burl Osborne, a newspaper industry veteran who became Freedom's chief executive two months ago.

Osborne said Freedom still has ample cash to finance its operations and pay its bills. The company sought to assure customers that the bankruptcy filing wouldn't affect the day-to-day business.

In a Chapter 11 petition made Tuesday in Wilmington, Del., Freedom Communications Inc. listed debts of more than $1 billion and assets of $500 million to $1 billion. Freedom's debt includes $770 million owed to a group of banks led by JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Freedom has been struggling to bring in enough money to repay its debt for the past year. It already has required workers to take unpaid leave and imposed an across-the-board 5 percent cut in wages.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company employs 8,200 people in 15 states.

In an attempt to avoid a bankruptcy filing, Freedom negotiated a reprieve from the restrictions governing its loans four months ago. But it still couldn't find relief from a recession that continued to dry the ad sales that generates most of its revenue.

It's a story that has become all too familiar for newspapers as the worst economic downturn since World War II exacerbates the trouble that the industry already was facing as both readers and advertisers increasingly shun print editions for online alternatives.

Freedom is at least the 10th newspaper publisher to file for bankruptcy protection over the past year. The other publishers still in bankruptcy proceedings include the owners of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Other newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have closed their print editions without even trying to work things out in bankruptcy court. The P-I continues as a Web-only publication.

The financial upheaval seems likely to leave more newspapers in control of lenders, who typically get large stakes in the troubled companies that use bankruptcy protection to escape their debts.

Privately held Freedom has been under family control since one-time printer's apprentice R.C. Hoiles moved from Ohio to Orange County, where he bought what was then known as The Santa Ana Register in 1935. The newspaper, then located in a largely undeveloped suburbs, would become the bully pulpit for Hoiles' libertarian views and religious principles, as well as the foundation of tremendous wealth that has been passed along to his heirs.

As Orange County turned into a large metropolitan area with Disneyland attracting millions of visitors each year, the Hoiles newspaper emerged as one of the biggest dailies in the country.

The Register's success led to an expansion of the company's holdings to include 30 daily newspapers and dozens of weeklies as well as eight television stations in New York, Texas, Florida and three other states. Besides the Orange County Register, Freedom's other newspapers include The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Odessa American in Texas.

As a flank of Freedom's family of owners became increasingly nervous about the newspaper industry's uncertain outlook, the company agreed in 2004 to a deal that sold 45 percent of the company to private equity firms Blackstone Group LP and Providence Equity Partners for about $450 million.

Freedom Communications' newspaper revenue and circulation began to crumble not long after that stake was sold, forcing the company to scramble to make ends meet while it poured more resources into its online operations.

The Register's weekday circulation averaged just under 231,000 in the six-month period ending March 31, a 23 percent drop from four years ago when the number stood at 300,694, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Among other things, Freedom Communications brought in a new chief executive, Scott Flanders, in 2006 and ushered in a new chief financial officer three months ago.

Flanders, though, left Freedom Communications in July to become CEO of another troubled publisher, Playboy Enterprises Inc. Osborne was put in charge on an interim basis. Osborne was publisher of the Dallas Morning News for more than 20 years and served as chairman of The Associated Press from 2002 to 2007.

Ex-lawmaker files bankruptcy petition

NEW ORLEANS - A former Louisiana representative convicted of corruption after federal agents found cash in his freezer has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation.

The bankruptcy petition filed last week by former representative William Jefferson and his wife, Andrea, says they owe between $1 million and $10 million to fewer than 50 creditors. The filing also lists their estimated assets as ranging between $1 million and $10 million.

In Chapter 7 liquidation, a debtor’s property is sold and proceeds are distributed to creditors. Some property may be exempted from the sale.

Jefferson was convicted Aug. 5 on 11 of 16 federal counts for using his influence to broker business deals in Africa. A jury in Virginia also ruled that Jefferson must forfeit roughly $470,000 in bribery receipts.

Jurors found Jefferson guilty of using his congressional office and staff to enrich himself and his family, offering and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to support business ventures in seven African nations.

Jefferson was convicted of bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. The verdict in US District Court in Alexandria culminated a lengthy investigation.

In 1990, Jefferson became the first black representative elected in Louisiana since Reconstruction and served as cochairman of congressional caucuses on Nigeria and African trade during tenure.

The FBI raided his Capitol Hill home in 2005 and found the $90,000 in bribe money wrapped in foil and stashed in frozen-food boxes. Prosecutors told jurors that the money was to secure the vice president of Nigeria’s help with a telecommunications venture.

Palestinian youth shot dead

Israeli soldiers have shot a Palestinian youth dead outside a West Bank refugee camp near the town of Ramallah.

Palestinian police identified the teenager as Muhammad Nayif on Tuesday.

Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Centre confirmed the youngster had died of gunshot wounds.

Medical sources at the Jalazun refugee camp, which backs on to the illegal Beit El settlement, said three youths and an ambulance driver were also injured in the incident on Monday night.

Israeli occupation forces said Nayif was shot while throwing stones and a Molotov cocktail at soldiers.

However, witnesses told police that stones were thrown only after the boy was shot.

The West Bank is controlled by Israel's military but partially ruled by the Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas, the president.

Russia: Isolating Iran no solution to nuclear issue

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov says the military option and isolation will not help diffuse tensions surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

"We see no alternative to a political-diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear problem," Lavrov said on Tuesday.

Speaking to students at the State Institute of International Relations in the Russian capital of Moscow, Lavrov said, "The best means to apply outside pressure on Iran's decision-making process lie not in isolating Tehran or threats of resorting to force, but in involving it in an important international cooperation."

"This is the only way to ensure stability and security in the region," he added.

Russia, who is to attend a meeting between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany on Wednesday, has distanced itself from the US, Israel and their European allies -- Britain, France and Germany -, which claim the Islamic Republic has military objectives in its nuclear enrichment program.

Tehran, however, says the only aim of its nuclear program is the civilian applications of the technology, adding that Iran would have no use for such weapons as it considers them 'obsolete.'

Iran on Tuesday announced that it had prepared an updated nuclear package and was ready to hold talks with world powers on its nuclear program

The package will try to 'remove common concerns [about the nuclear program] in the international arena', Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told reporters on Tuesday.

Libyans Defend Megrahi Welcome

Years of careful negotiation to repair relations between Libya and its former adversaries, Britain and the United States, have threatened to unravel because of the welcome home given to convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi. The issue was a key reason many Western dignitaries steered clear of Libyan national celebrations, this week. But, many people in Libya are baffled by the reaction.

Relatives outside Megrahi's home help unpack a truck filled with food for the many people who come here to pay their respects.

For them, there is no question that Megrahi's return is a blessing, for the simple reason that they believe he is innocent.

It is a widely held view here, but still a sensitive issue, which police officers make clear as the ex-prisoner's brother-in-law attempts to talk to VOA.

"Okay, they didn't want to make (voices of police in background) ... this is the security instruction unfortunately. They didn't like [me] to make any interview," he said.

Many still angry

The American and British governments have been furious about what many consider the hero's welcome given the former Libyan intelligence agent - the only person convicted of the 1988 bombing of a PanAm jumbo jet.

So, too, have many of the relatives of those killed. For them, it was understood that Megrahi would spend the rest of his life in prison. Some expressed shock about Scotland's decision to let the cancer patient go home to die. The feeling turned to disgust when crowd of Libyans celebrated his arrival at the airport. Westerners likened it to the joy expressed by some people in the Arab world because of the September 11 terror attacks.


Libyan officials argue that the welcome has been grossly misunderstood. Abdul Majeed el-Dursi, head of Libya's foreign media corporation, says the case against Megrahi was weak and argues that he stood trial to clear his name and that of his country, which had been slapped with sanctions because of Lockerbie.

"But he volunteered to go [to trial] and to save his country the bitterness of the sanctions, which the Libyan people paid a very, very, very high price for," said el-Dursi. "We greet him for that and we think he's a courageous man and he did the right thing. "

El-Dursi and others point to a Scottish court opinion that there may have been a miscarriage of justice in Megrahi's case. And, although Libya had a history of backing terrorists, there were other suspects. Top on the list had been Iran, still mourning the passengers on a civilian airplane shot down by the U.S. Navy, earlier that year.

Sympathy for Lockerbie victims

El-Dursi and others stress their sympathy for the victims of the Lockerbie bombing. Megrahi's father told the Asharq Al-Awsa newspaper recently that, if there was proof his son had committed so horrible a crime, he would kill him, himself.

In a small mosque in Tripoli's old city, the imam echoes the views of many when he says the return of Megrahi is a blessing.

He adds it is especially good as it coincides with celebrations of the Libyan revolution and the holy month of Ramadan.

The Scottish decision to release Megrahi on compassionate grounds, while angering many in the West, is taken at face value here in Libya - and with gratitude.

Kadhafi says Israeli superpoer responsible for everything that goes wrong in Africa

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi blasted Israel at a special African Union summit on Monday on the eve of celebrations to mark his 40-year rule, accusing the Jewish state of causing all the woes facing Africa.

Israel is "behind all of Africa's conflicts," Kadhafi told some 30 African leaders gathered under a huge tent at Tripoli airport for the summit focused on the continent's trouble spots, including Sudan's Darfur and Somalia.

He demanded the closure of all Israeli embassies across Africa, describing Israel as a "gang" and saying it uses "the protection of minorities as an excuse to launch conflicts."

Kadhafi claimed that a Darful rebel group had opened an office in Tel Aviv while its leader lives under French protection, a reference to Sudan Liberation Army chief Abdelwahid Mohammed Nur who lives in exile in Paris.

"As African brothers we must find solutions to stop the superpowers who are pillaging our continent," he said.


Is Kadhafi trying to remind us of his paranoia along with his ethnic hatred and religious bigotry, or does he really think that Israel is a superpower that can manipulate a whole continent of people who don't like them? Israel is fortunate to have such enemies. Intelligent enemies would be a bigger problem.

Marines see progress in Afghanistan

The general in charge of U.S. Marines in Afghanistan said Monday that progress was being made in wresting a key southern province from Taliban control but cautioned that the process was slow and difficult to measure.

Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland also said the Marine Corps was ready to send more troops to Afghanistan if asked by top U.S. officials. "Everything we're doing is preparing to put more forces in theater," Helland said.

The Marines' goal is to train the Afghan security forces to carry the fight to the Taliban. The training is going slowly, Helland said.

"They don't understand leadership, they don't understand noncommissioned officers," he said. "To use a Marine term, they're a herd. But once trained, they're warriors."

Helland is set to retire Friday after 41 years of military service, beginning as an Army enlisted man with the Special Forces in Vietnam. For the last two years he has been the commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Force Central Command, with authority over Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq.


But despite polls indicating that public support for the mission is slipping and signs of growing reluctance in Congress, Helland asserted that pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan is not an option until the Afghans are ready to handle the fight against the Taliban.

"As long as there is a foreign enemy that is radical, irresponsible and willing to do anything to cause instability and chaos . . . we need to keep them off-balance, to keep them from coming here," he said.

This guy sounds like a Marine general. I like this story because it is more upbeat than most stories recently. It is also more consistent with what is really happening in Helmand where the Marines are working.

Perhaps there are political reasons for all the negative assessments of the situation in Afghanistan, but can anyone name one firefight where the US troops have lost this year?

What Bernanke's Stolen Purse Identity Theft Experience Can Teach Us

It was recently reported that a thief stole the purse of Fed Chairman Ben Bernake's wife while she was at a Capitol Hill Starbucks, last August.

This thief was not your typical, petty thief, looking for a quick buck for crack, but was part of sophisticated crime ring, which used layers of deception and stolen accounts to steal money.

This identify theft did not take complicated hack attacks, it did not take hours of breaking through fire walls, in fact it didn't even take a computer keyboard.

It just took some fake ID, banks not following proper authentication policies and someone with the smarts to make it all happen.

News reports state At least one check from the Bernanke account for $900 was deposited Aug. 13, 2008, into the account of another identity theft victim at a Bank of America branch in suburban Maryland, according to an affidavit filed in D.C. Superior Court. Authorities alleged that George L. Reid, 41, of Washington, cashed checks that day amounting to at least $9,000 in a string of transactions after the fake deposits inflated the related account balances.

Does this mean that we should NOT be vigilant of our digital security? Of course not. What it means is that with all the best security in the world and most hardened computer networks we can still be victims of theft if we are not carefully and practically vigilant. And even then we are not totally safe.

Maybe your purse won't be stolen tomorrow, but maybe next week someone will see you typing your password on your computer and use that information to hack into your company's network. Maybe the USB thumb drive you filled with critical customer data, to work at home from, was stolen at the library while you were taking out some books.

Beyond digital security, ensure you and your employees are vigilant and aware of your personal obligations as part of complete security protection within and outside of the business.

Paul Tudor Jones: "Goldman Sachs Wrong on Economic Recovery"

Paul Tudor Jones is one of the very best in his field. Anyone interested in Global Macro and intermarket analysis should read our May '09 post "Paul Tudor Jones Interview at Institutional Investor".
From Bloomberg:

Paul Tudor Jones, the billionaire hedge-fund manager who outperformed peers last year, is wagering that Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley got it wrong in declaring the start of an economic recovery.

Jones’s Tudor Investment Corp., Clarium Capital Management LLC and Horseman Capital Management Ltd. are taking a bearish stand as U.S. stock and bond prices rise, saying that record government spending may be forestalling another slowdown and market selloff. The firms oversee a combined $15 billion in so- called macro funds, which seek to profit from economic trends by trading stocks, bonds, currencies and commodities.

“If we have a recovery at all, it isn’t sustainable,” Kevin Harrington, managing director at Clarium, said in an interview at the firm’s New York offices. “This is more likely a ski-jump recession, with short-term stimulus creating a bump that will ultimately lead to a more precipitous decline later.”...
...Loaded for Bear

Clarium, which oversees about $2 billion, is positioned for an equity bear market through investments in the U.S. dollar, Harrington said. Falling stock prices will strengthen the currency by forcing leveraged investors to sell equities to pay down the dollar-denominated debt they used to finance those trades, he said.

High unemployment, lower wages and potential missteps by policymakers around the globe may stifle economic growth in 2010, Tudor said. The firm, which manages $10.8 billion, is at odds with 55 economists projecting an average of 2.3 percent growth next year, according to the Bloomberg survey.

Macro managers’ pessimism is fueled in part by the U.S. government’s response to last year’s financial crisis, which they say fails to address the root cause. Banks still hold hard- to-sell assets on their balance sheets, the managers said.

Subdued Credit Growth

“Some critical initiatives have been cut short,” Tudor said. “As a result, toxic assets remain on balance sheets and credit growth is likely to be subdued for a long period.”

New NFL Policy Limits Social Media Use On Game Day

Add the National Football League to the list of sports orgs laying out specific guidelines for social media. The NFL sent a memo detaining its policy to clubs Monday afternoon and released a statement (published below) focusing on Game Day rules. Key points:

—“The use of social media by NFL game officials and officiating department personnel is prohibited at any time.”
—Players, coaches and football operations personnel can use social media or networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) up to 90 minutes before kickoff and following post-game media interviews. No use during the game or halftime; that includes any representatives using his personal social media accounts. (Interpretation: A friend or agent could tweet under his or her own name but not as the player or coach.)

The policy also lays out social media use rules for media applying “longstanding policies prohibiting play-by-play descriptions of NFL games in progress” to Twitter and the like “so that the accredited organization’s game coverage cannot be used as a substitute for, or otherwise approximate, authorized play-by-play accounts.” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, one of the league’s official tweeters (@NFLprguy), told paidContent the rules are meant to keep the focus on the game and preserve the rights of credentialed media. It’s also meant to protect competitive information during a game but it’s not as draconian as the International Tennis Association Tennis Integrity Unit’s effort to stop U.S. Open tweeting by players.

Tyron Woodley vs Zach Light fight announced for Strikeforce Challengers Sept. 25

NEW YORK (August 31, 2009) — Budding superstar and two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri, Tyron “T-Wood” Woodley (5-0) of St. Louis, will face his sternest test to date when he meets former Tito Ortiz protégé, Zach “The Lisbon Outlaw” Light (4-8) of Huntington Beach, Calif., in a welterweight (170 pounds) fight at the STRIKEFORCE Challengers event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Friday, Sept. 25.

The three-round, five-minute mixed martial arts (MMA) encounter at SpiritBank Event Center will be one of the five fights televised live on SHOWTIME.

It will be the second STRIKEFORCE start for Woodley, the 11th of 13 children raised mostly by a single mother. In an impressive debut, he registered a first round (4:20) submission (Brabo choke) of Sal Woods during the non-televised portion of the “Lawler vs. Shields” event at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri on June 6, 2009.

A popular up-and-comer, the 5-foot-9, 27-year-old Woodley has been victorious by submission in all of his outings since turning pro on February 27, 2009. His initial two starts lasted a combined 1:57 and he has yet to hear the bell for the second round.

“I’m really excited to be fighting in the Challengers series on SHOWTIME,” he said. “Any time a major organization like STRIKEFORCE calls, you’ve got to seize the opportunity. I’m trying to break down doors.”

Before turning to MMA, the talented Woodley was Missouri’s first conference wrestling champion. He went 48-0 and won a state championship during his senior year at McCluer High in St. Louis.

So, this is a young man accustomed to winning. But he had to overcome a lot, and his teenage years were definitely a struggle after his father left the family behind when “T-Wood” was 10.

“My mom deserves credit,” said Woodley, who not only persevered but also reconciled with his Dad. “I learned a lot. Having that many people in the house with limited resources made me a better person.”

While still relatively unknown outside St. Louis, the highly regarded newcomer remains one to watch. “I continue to work hard on whatever it takes that I can incorporate into my wrestling style that will make me better,” said Woodley, who credits the birth of his son, Tyron Jr., as a turning point in his life. “I just want to improve. My goal is to look completely different every fight.

“I’m an experienced wrestler, but a baby in MMA. The most important thing is to be able to go out and compete without hesitation. If I do that, I’ll win. In MMA, I get into that zone. I’m able to block things out. Hopefully, that will become routine for me. There’s a lot more at stake every fight.

“But sometimes it doesn’t matter who’s the best; it’s who wants it the most. Good people lose all the time. To go out there and take by force what’s yours is not something you get to do in every sport.”

Light was born and raised in Lisbon, Iowa. On the comeback trail, the 5-foot-8, 35-year-old also possesses a strong wrestling pedigree and has trained with one of the biggest names in the sport.

“I moved to California with nothing but a duffle bag and ended up meeting Tito,” said Light, who hopes to shine brightly in his first appearance before a paying audience since November 11, 2008. “After getting to know me, he offered me a spot on Team Punishment.”

In the main event on September 25, American military hero Tim Kennedy (10-2) of Fayetteville, North Carolina will face unbeaten Zak Cummings (10-0) of Springfield, Missouri in a middleweight (185 pounds) scrap.

In a second SHOWTIME fight, K-1 legend and six-time world kickboxing champion, Ray “Sugarfoot” Sefo (1-0) of Las Vegas takes on Alabama-born Kevin “The Shaman” Jordan (11-7) in a heavyweight match.

Amongst the Oklahomans scheduled to appear on the card are Tulsa rivals Travis “The Dark Knight” Calanoc (4-0) and Thomas Longacre (4-0), who will put their unbeaten records on the line against each.

The live SHOWTIME telecast, which will include up to five bouts, will begin at 11 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the west coast).

WND Fearmongers Over Swine Flu Vaccine

s WorldNetDaily trying to kill Americans by instilling fear of a swine flu vaccine? It seems so.

An Aug. 31 WND article touting the latest Jerome Corsi Red Alert report claims that "he White House trying to cause a panic over a possible H1N1 virus that could inflict massive illness and death on the American people." The goal,WND suggests, is "to use the pandemic panic to create enough fear that the American public will acquiesce to the passage of Obamacare."

Corsi and WND engage in more fearmongering, claiming that "a massive public relations program launched by the federal Center for Disease Control aimed possibly at creating the atmosphere in which U.S. citizens could be forced to take H1N1 vaccinations against their will" (emphasis added).WND ignores the possibility that such a campaign could possibly be aimed at saving lives.

The article also states: "Neurologists around the world have been warned to watch out for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or GBS, which was generated by a similar swine flu vaccine administered by the government by the Ford administration in 1976." In fact, the 1976 vaccine was never definitively linked to GBS, which also "may be an extremely rare reaction to any vaccination."

The article then states:

"Red Alert intends to closely watch how the H1N1 scare is handled by the White House," Corsi wrote. "With the Obama administration intent on the government taking over major sectors of the private economy, we are concerned the swine-flu pandemic scare is simply another component of that socialist agenda."

So what happens if low vaccination rates result in a swine flu epidemic? Can we hold Corsi and WND liable for causing the deaths of Americans by their fearmongering?

Duggars Pregnant Again — The Duggar Family Expecting 19th Child

Michelle Duggar is still using her vagina as a clown car. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who have 18 children and one grandchild on the way, are expecting Baby No. 19 next spring.

We are so thrilled,” says Michelle, 42, said during the family’s announcement on The TODAY Show Tuesday. “We just couldn’t believe it is happening.” Jim Bob, 44, added: “This never gets old. We are so grateful for each child. We are looking forward to our first grandbaby and our 19th child.”

The Duggars oldest son Joshua, 21, is awaiting the arrival of daughter Mackynzie Renée with his wife Anna, 21, next month.

“I love all of this, it is so fun,” Michelle said. “Anna and I will have babies five months apart. My mother and my sister were pregnant at the same time and it was really wonderful. The kids were really close and still are. I have a nephew who grew up with me, we’re just three months apart.”

The Duggar Family stars in the TLC reality hit 18 And Counting…Which we assume will be getting another name change just in time for baby.