Jul 30, 2009

The temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia in mind

Ann told her experience and feeling in Angkor temples as well as in Siem Reap, Cambodia when she took part in an eighteen day travel through Asia with her husband.

Independent travel has been great, but after 4 months on the road all the planning and organizing was getting a bit tiresome. We booked an 18-day guided tour that would take us from Bangkok all the way through Cambodia and Vietnam with the luxury of nearly everything being planned for us.

In Bangkok we met up with our group of 11 fellow travelers, as well as our guide and a new trainee. As it turns out, everyone has been great and our group is getting along quite nicely.

The first part of our tour took us into Siem Reap, our first stop in Cambodia. Before I get any further, I’d like to go over some shocking statistics. The average age in Cambodia is 57. About 50% of the population is under the age of 18. Their literacy rate is said to be between 40-50%. And about 1/3 of their population lives on less than $1 USD per day. Another interesting fact??? 80% of all visitors to Siem Reap are either Japanese, Korean, or Chinese.

Getting from Bangkok to Siem Reap involved a 12 hour bus ride across the boarder, of which the last 160 kilometers were on a very bumpy and unmaintained gravel road. At one point our bus had to stop for repairs as we had 3 flat tires. As we crossed from Thailand to Cambodia the changes were immediate. Garbage was everywhere you looked, piled high in fields and ditches. At the boarder we had to get off the bus, walk through customs, and wait on the Cambodia side to be picked up again. Brian managed to get robbed in the first 5 minutes in Cambodia, luckily it was only his bottle of water. A young barefoot and filthy boy walked very slowly up to him, looked him in the eye for a few seconds, bent down and grabbed the bottle sitting near Brian’s feet, and ran off. Everyone in our group just watched in a combination of amusement and sadness…then clutched their belongings a little tighter.

Day two, and three, and four brought us on a guided tour of the famous Angkor Temples which were built between the 8th and 13th centuries and are spread out over about 40 miles around the village of Siem Reap. Some were in nearly complete ruin, some in the middle of restoration, and some in surprisingly great condition considering they are a tiny bit old. For you movie buffs, the Angelina Jolie movie Tomb Raider was filmed in one of the jungle temples there.

While in Siem Reap we also took a boat ride on lake Tonle Sap which is home to a floating village of houseboats, floating stores and churches, even a boat that serves as a basketball court. We did some shopping around the temples and in Siem Reap, because every few feet there are children surrounding you begging you to buy there bracelets/scarves/books /etc. We’ve also done a lot of eating - Cambodian Khmer food is very tasty.

Lots of pumpkin, coconut sauce, and fresh fruit.

So far our travels in Cambodia have surpassed our expectations. Next stop? Phnom Penh. Stay tuned…..

Author: Anne
Source: The Hallgrens’ Blog - Realtravel
They are traveling as a couple in their 30s from Belle Plaine. They decided to quit their jobs, sell their house in the suburbs, and spend time exploring the world.

Health Care to Dominate Lawmakers' Summer Recess After Quick Deal Eludes Congress

And just like that, the fast track is gone, and the push for health care reform has stepped off the bullet train.

In three days, it will be August and the start of the House's summer recess, and congressional leaders have conceded they will not approve health care reform legislation by then. President Obama says that's "OK." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it'll get done "whenever."

That's a big change from just two weeks ago, when it seemed the legislation was on autopilot, cruising through votes in three committees while the president and his allies predicted swift passage on the floor despite GOP opposition.

And although some members of a coalition of conservative Democrats announced a breakthrough in negotiations Wednesday, a final deal on the legislation could be a long way off, meaning August could stand as a key month before the potentially dramatic finale in the fall.

"I'm not afraid of August. It's a month," Pelosi said recently.

But August -- the Senate recess begins a week after the House breaks -- will be the first big gap in public debate since health care reform hit the fever pitch. To fill the gap, lawmakers and the president will keep pressing their case while on break.

Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle plan a flurry of in-person town hall meetings in their districts.

Democratic leadership aides told FOX News that their members will be hosting events across the country, while Republicans apparently are trying to match that.

Already, Republican Sens. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Barrasso of Wyoming, both doctors, are hosting an educational program called "The Senate Doctors Show" to give their take on health care reform. The senators are answering questions submitted by e-mail, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

The "Doctors Show" is heading on the road over recess, FOX News has learned.

Meanwhile, aides will spend the summer break toiling over how to marry the Senate Finance Committee bill with elements of a more partisan bill from the Health Committee before bringing it to the floor.

It's unclear whether the Finance Committee bill even will be done by that time, though. Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is trying to strike a bipartisan compromise that could produce a bill that looks substantially different from the versions that have passed out of committee. Despite signs of progress in the discussions, a Baucus aide sent a memo to staffers Wednesday saying "neither an accord nor an announcement is imminent."

Similar town halls meetings are planned for House members over August.

Under a deal announced Wednesday among the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, congressional leaders and the White House, the House will wait until September to bring the bill to the floor -- so that members can spend August combing through the massive bill and listening to the concerns of their constituents.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday there's a chance lawmakers could stay in session next week to work on a health care bill, but he called the chance "pretty slim."

"We're trying not to foreclose options," he said.

And out of the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that President Obama will continue to travel in August to hold town halls on health care and the economy.

The president won't be holding the kind of daily health care events he has held since last week, but Gibbs said he would be speaking out regularly on the topic during break.

With public opinion split over health care reform, the August encounters between lawmakers and their constituents could be critical, not only in keeping the American people on board with the reform push but also in shaping the course of debate once members return in September.

A Gallup poll out Wednesday showed 44 percent of Americans believe health care reform would improve U.S. medical care, while only 26 percent believe it would improve their own medical care.

The poll was conducted Friday and Saturday, based on interviews with 2,017 adults. It had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

FOX News' Trish Turner and Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Woman in baby cut from womb case is arraigned

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 30, 2009; 11:29 AM

CONCORD, N.H. -- A woman accused of cutting a baby girl from her mother's womb in Massachusetts has been arraigned on a fugitive from justice charge in New Hampshire and is being held on $2 million bail.

Thirty-five-year-old Julie Corey of Worcester, Mass., appeared in Concord District Court via video from the county jail Thursday morning, a day after she was arrested at a homeless shelter in Plymouth, N.H. She did not waive extradition to be brought back to Massachusetts. The judge scheduled a hearing for Aug. 30.

Police say she was arrested after acquaintances became suspicious of her claims that she had just given birth.

The body of the girl's mother, Darlene Haynes, was found Monday in her Worcester, Mass., apartment.

The baby was in good condition Thursday at a New Hampshire hospital.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A baby girl cut from her mother's womb in Massachusetts was in good condition at a New Hampshire hospital on Thursday, officials said, and a woman arrested at a homeless shelter with the infant was to appear in court.

Thirty-five-year-old Julie Corey of Worcester, Mass., was arrested Wednesday in Plymouth, N.H., where police found her and a man with the child at the shelter. Corey was charged as a fugitive from justice and was to be arraigned Thursday morning in district court in Concord.

The two used to live in the same apartment building as Darlene Haynes, the slain woman, a downstairs neighbor said. Agnes Brady said the couple moved out in the winter, before Haynes moved in.

A public records database also shows the two lived in the same building as Haynes in the past.

Brady said Corey was very friendly, and recalled her once baking a lasagna for all of the neighbors in the apartment building. Her son, Randy LaRose, said Corey had an 11-year-old son from a previous relationship who also lived in the apartment.

Corey was arrested after acquaintances became suspicious of her claims that she had just given birth, police have said.

Jackson mother 'agrees custody'

A lawyer for Michael Jackson's mother has told US TV that an agreement has been reached over the custody of the late pop star's three children.

Londell McMillan told CBS News that Katherine Jackson is to be awarded custody of Prince Michael, 12, Paris, 11 and Prince Michael II, seven.

He said Debbie Rowe, the mother of Jackson's two elder children, would have "meaningful visitation rights".

A court hearing to formalise custody is scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles.

Katherine Jackson was granted temporary custody of the children after the star's death on 25 June.

The biological mother of Prince Michael II, also known as Blanket, has never been revealed.

"It's an agreement, an agreement for the best interests of the children. This is not a money deal - this is not about money," Mr McMillan said in an interview on The Early Show.

"All of the parties are resolved - there is no situation better for these children than for them to be raised and reared in the loving care of Mrs Katherine Jackson," he said.

Custody rights

Jackson stated in his 2002 will that he wanted his mother to care for the children if he died.

Debbie Rowe gave up custody rights following her divorce from Jackson in 2000, but sought them again in 2005.

She and Jackson agreed a settlement in 2006 but the terms were never disclosed.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County coroner's office has said the release of Jackson's autopsy results have been delayed until next week.

The results were due to be revealed this week, amid speculation about the possible role prescription drugs played in the singer's death.

County coroner assistant chief Ed Winter did not discuss the reasons for the delay.

Obama's day: Hot dispute, cold beers

Good morning from The Oval. Exactly 90 years ago, federal troops were called out to respond to race riots in Chicago.

The patchy road of race relations has run throughout American history. Today marks a unique milepost: Beers at the White House between a president, an African-American college professor, and a white police officer who arrested the professor at his home.

President Obama, Henry Gates, and James Crowley meet at 6 p.m., at a picnic table behind the Oval Office. Obama is hoping for a "teachable moment."

Meanwhile, reactions to the Henry Gates-James Crowley flap have landed some public employees in big trouble. And the woman who made the initial 911 phone call has spoken out.

A few hours before the "beer summit," Obama meets with Phillipines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

We're not sure if the president will say anything about health care, but things are happening on Capitol Hill. House Democratic conservatives have struck a deal on a health care packages, but how will liberals react? And what about the public?

In the meantime, a series of reports show the economy is improving, while Obama says he is not anti-business.

The "cash for clunkers" program has cost the government $68.9 million so far. Check out our DriveOn blog, including Chris Woodyard's "Clunker of the Day."

The Oval will be here throughout the day and into the evening, reporting on White House beers and anything else that might happen. Have a good day -- and tonight, if you're inclined, celebrate America with a cold, frosty one.

(Posted by David Jackson; photo from Associated Press)

Jul 29, 2009

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Nigerian 'Taliban' offensive leaves 150 dead

Islamic group opposed to western education, Boko Haram, launches attacks across four northern provinces

Dead Nigerians are brought to a police station in the northeastern city of Bauchi after a gun battle in the early morning. Photograph: Ardo Hazzad/Reuters

A self-styled "Taliban" intent on imposing sharia law on all Nigerians widened its offensive yesterday in violence that has left 150 people dead.

Boko Haram, an Islamic group opposed to western education, has launched attacks across four northern provinces over the last two days and declared its intention to fight to the death.

Civilians were pulled from their cars and shot, their corpses then left scattered around the streets, witnesses told the BBC. Its reporter counted 100 bodies, mostly those of militants, near police headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno state. The police and army were on patrol, firing into the air, as hundreds of people fled their homes.

Witnesses said a separate gun battle raged for hours in Potiskum, Yobe state, where members of Boko Haram chanted "God is great!" as they set a police station ablaze. Two people were confirmed dead and the police made 23 arrests.

Three people were killed and more than 33 arrested in Wudil, 12 miles from Kano, the biggest city in northern Nigeria, while the town's senior police officer was wounded.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, has more than 200 ethnic groups and is roughly equally split between Christians and Muslims. The predominantly Muslim north has progressively ushered in a stricter enforcement of sharia law since 2000.

Boko Haram, which models itself on the Taliban but has no known link, began its string of attacks in the northeastern city of Bauchi on Sunday after some of its members were arrested.

Around 70 militants armed with guns and grenades targeted a police station but were driven back by officers and soliders who then raided neighbourhoods, resulting in at least 55 deaths and up to 200 arrests. The Bauchi state governor imposed a night-time curfew as a result.

Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf, leader of Boko Haram, which literally means "education is prohibited", claimed that the government had been targeting his followers and they would never surrender.

He told Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper: "What I said previously that we are going to be attacked by the authorities has manifested itself in Bauchi, where about 40 of our brothers were killed, their mosque and homes burnt down completely and several others were injured and about 100 are presently in detention. Therefore, we will not agree with this kind of humiliation, we are ready to die together with our brothers and we would never concede to non-belief in Allah."

He added: "I will not give myself up. If Allah wishes, they will arrest me; if Allah does not wish, they will never arrest me. But I will never give up myself, not after 37 of my followers are killed in Bauchi. Is it right to kill them, is it right to shoot human beings? To surrender myself means what they did is right. Therefore, we are ready to fight to die.

"Democracy and the current system of education must be changed otherwise this war that is yet to start would continue for long."

Bauchi, Yobe, Borno and Kanoare among the 12 of Nigeria's 36 states that started a stricter enforcement of Islamic law in 2000 – a decision that has alienated sizeable Christian minorities and sparked bouts of sectarian violence that has killed thousands.

Clashes in Bauchi in February killed at least 11 people and wounded dozens. A Muslim group attacked Christians and burned churches in reprisals over the burning of two mosques, which Muslims blamed on Christians.

Last November, more than 700 people were killed in two days of fighting in the central city of Jos after a disputed election triggered the worst fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs in years.

Boko Haram is not connected to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, the prominent rebel group responsible for a campaign of violence that has battered Africa's biggest energy sector, located in Nigeria, since early 2006.

Race row after arrest of professor

Have you heard the one about the president, the professor and the policeman?

The issue of race in the US is alive and kicking as the case of the arrest of a Harvard professor last week has highlighted.

Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr was arrested at his home after he was seen trying to force his way in to the house.

He was held for disorderly conduct after allegedly accusing the arresting officer, Sgt James Crowley, of racism.

President Obama used up political capital as he got involved in the case, saying that the police had acted "stupidily".

Things have now changed to such an extent that Sgt Crowley is being invited to the White House for a beer.

Buying a touring motorbike in Vietnam

Not-so-lonely creek: trifling obstacles such as rivers shouldn’t hold up your progress too much.

Ask around if you plan to go into the remote regions of the country. there's no harm in trying your luck.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 29 July 2009

When it comes to transportation, the motorbike reigns supreme in Southeast Asia, probably because it provides a speedy, inexpensive and durable platform for travel around the region


BY far, the best way to experience Vietnam is by motorbike. As is the case elsewhere in Southeast Asia, here, the motorbike is king. They are cheap to buy, easy to repair, and they can take you places the tour bus would never dare to go.

What's more, there are no restrictions on foreigners buying motorbikes. All you need is a passport and valid visa, and you'll receive a title of ownership and a deed of transfer.

Rentals will suffice for most, but if you plan on serious bike time, buying is more economical - you can even sell the bike before you leave and recoup most of the expense.

We know the traffic seems crazy. But once you get the hang of it, you'll learn there is a method to the madness. Travel by motorbike has its dangers, to be sure, and should be undertaken conscientiously. But the vast majority of foreigners come away from their motorbike trek with nothing but great experiences to talk about back home (and maybe a few tail-pipe burns to remember them by).

You can buy a bike almost anywhere, but bigger cities will have a better selection and be more comfortable selling to foreigners. Naturally, it's best to shop around. When you settle on a bike, insist on taking it for a spin - and to a mechanic for a once over.

Your two main considerations are whether to buy new or used, and how powerful a bike you need. New Japanese and Chinese models can be purchased for as little as US$400. They should be more reliable, but then again, you may be the one stuck working out all the kinks. And you'll take a bath on the resale value.

Photo by: Don Morgan and Stuart McDonald
What happens when things go wrong.

Tuning up
We recommend a used bike. This may seem a bit daunting, and it's a good idea to make friends with a trustworthy mechanic if you can swing it.

When you buy a bike, all you're really looking at is the engine, the shocks, the wheels and the frame. If nothing's leaking or broken, and it kicks up a throaty hum when it runs, you're off to a good start. Everything else on a bike can be fixed cheaply and easily - though be sure to factor such repairs into the price you plan to pay.

In terms of power, a 100 cc bike is fine throughout most of the country, depending on the weight you intend to carry. By the time you stack two people and two full packs on it, you'll struggle up the hills even in Dalat.

Consider a clutch
Northern Vietnam is notoriously hilly and requires at least a 115cc bike. Check out the bikes used by the guys who do the Easy Rider tours, and look for something similar. If you've never driven a clutch, consider learning - it quickly becomes second nature.

Even if you buy a bike that's been restored, be sure to take it to a mechanic anyway and put some more money into it. New tires, brake drums, batteries, starters and the like are all cheap and will give you that much more peace of mind. Finally, think about where you're going to put your stuff. We got a custom-made back rack for US$6.25.

When it comes to plotting a route, we suggest planning to see more of the country by seeing less of it. You can't see everything from Sapa to Vung Tau by motorbike in a month. Pick a region - north, central, or south, and focus on that. Alternately, many buses and trains will take on a motorbike as freight for the price of an extra ticket, so you can split a trip between two regions.

Don't plan an overly aggressive route. The whole point is to take in the scenery, to stop and explore along the way. We find more than 120 kilometres in any given day starts to feel rushed. Fortunately, in thin, compact Vietnam, there is always a good option for your next stop within that distance.

It's also worth mention that, while the 'open road' in Vietnam can be breathtakingly beautiful and provide an utterly authentic experience of the country, this is Vietnam, and not all roads are open.

Try your luck
Ask around if you plan to go into remote regions of the country, especially near the borders, but there's really no harm in just trying your luck. The worst that can happen is that the police will ask you to turn around.

Final note: Wear a helmet, bring rain gear and memorise the lyrics to "Born to be Wild" before you leave. You'll be needing them.

Cambodian police arrest British man on child sex charges

Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - A British man accused of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl has been arrested in the Cambodian coastal resort town of Sihanoukville, police said Wednesday. Gareth Ashley Corbett, 51, was taken into custody Tuesday by Phnom Penh police, said Keo Thea, Phnom Penh anti-trafficking police chief.

The arrest was reportedly made after an investigation into complaints by two girls that last week led to the arrest of US national Scott Alan Hecker, 41, in Phnom Penh.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed since Cambodia launched a crackdown on child sex crimes in 2003.

Germany injects over $1 mln to Cambodia, Laos for fighting against hunger

PHNOM PENH, July 29 (Xinhua) -- Fearing with the continued impact by global economic crisis, the government of Germany has provided another 1.3 million euros (approximately 1.8 million U.S. dollars) to Cambodia and Laos to fight against hunger.

In a statement released Wednesday, German embassy in Phnom Penh said of the above total amount, one million euro was destined for Cambodia which is expected to help assist about one million Cambodians in 2009.

It said the fund was donated through the United Nations agency, World Food Program for its operation in this country.

The fund will help improve immediate food security and nutritional status of the Cambodian people while enhancing social stability through interventions in three priority areas: education, health and nutrition, and disaster risk reduction.
Xinhua English
In April, the U.N. Office in Cambodia issued a statement saying the country's positive trends of its economy will be slowdown after it has enjoyed over decade of increase. And less demand from foreign markets and reducing of foreign direct investment have forced a mass of people losing their jobs, such as in garment and construction sectors.

The U.N. data also indicated some 80 percent of Cambodians are living in rural areas, and where many poor families depend upon migrant remittances as their major source of income.

It is, then, citing fear that Cambodia's rural poor might adopt "unhealthy" coping measures such as reducing their number of meals per day or eating less-nutritious foods, and cutting back on health services.

Safety nets in health, education, food, and work can help break the poverty cycle, it added in the statement.

According to the World Food Program, Cambodia might need 76.3 million U.S. dollars for three years project in curbing with people in crisis.

It said the project that began in January 2008 and which is due to last until the end of 2010 has, so far, received 33 million U.S. dollars or bout 43 percent of its appeal, and that Germany has donated 2.3 million U.S. dollars or 3.1 percent of the total donated fund.

International Groups Express Concern About Cambodian 'AIDS Colony'

Main Category: HIV / AIDS
Also Included In: Public Health

In an open letter to Cambodia's prime minister and health minister, more than 100 international HIV/AIDS advocates and human rights organizations "accused the Cambodian government of herding HIV-affected families into an 'AIDS colony' outside the capital, Phnom Penh," the Guardian reports (McCurry, 7/28).

According to CNN, the letter said the "de facto AIDS colony at Tuol Sambo ... is far away from the jobs, medical facilities and support services" residents had when they lived in the city. The human rights advocates said the HIV-positive residents were moved despite repeated appeals to the government, including from the U.N. (7/28).

The groups said they are very concerned about the "life-threatening" conditions in the settlement where 40 families live in "sheet-metal sheds without running water or proper sanitation," writes the Guardian. According to the newspaper, the Cambodian government has spent the past two months moving HIV-positive people from the Borei Keila district of Phnom Penh to Tuol Sambo, "a flood-prone area 15 miles away" (7/28). In June, 20 families with HIV-positive members were evicted from their homes and moved to make way for a Ministry of Tourism garden, according to the Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report (6/19).

Local officials acknowledged concerns about the settlement and said they were attempting to improve conditions, reports the Guardian. "We are trying to find clean water for them," said Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh's deputy governor. Chhoeun added that there are plans to distribute free medicine via the Centre of Hope mission (7/28). The open letter "acknowledged the international recognition the Cambodian government has received for treating and supporting people living with HIV," CNN reports (7/28).

This information was reprinted from globalhealth.kff.org with kind permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery at globalhealth.kff.org.

© Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.
at 7:49 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Cambodian government accused of creating 'Aids colony'
Jul 29 2009

Aids campaigners and human rights groups on Wednesday accused the Cambodian government of herding HIV-affected families into an "Aids colony" outside the capital, Phnom Penh.

In an open letter to the country's prime minister, Hun Sen, and the health minister, Mam Bunheng, more than 100 international and domestic pressure groups said they were "deeply disturbed" by "life-threatening" conditions at the settlement.

Forty families are forced to live in sheet-metal sheds, without running water or proper sanitation.

The government has spent the past two months moving people with HIV/Aids from the Borei Keila district of Phnom Penh to Tuol Sambo, a flood-prone area 25km away.

"By bundling people living with HIV together in second-rate housing, far from medical facilities, support services and jobs, the government has created a de facto Aids colony," Shiba Phurailatpam, of the Asia-Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/Aids, said.

Rebecca Schleifer, a Human Rights Watch spokesperson, said the conditions at Tuol Sambo posed "serious risks" to people already vulnerable to syndrome.

"People living with HIV have compromised immune systems and are especially vulnerable," she added. "For them, these substandard conditions can mean a death sentence or a ticket to a hospital."

According to Médecins Sans Frontières, conditions at Tuol Sambo do not meet international minimum standards for temporary housing.

The families were evicted from Borei Keila to make way for a commercial development, which was reportedly granted government approval on the understanding that the developer would place the residents, including those with HIV/Aids, into new housing.

The evictions continued despite protests from UN agencies, and the campaigners' letter said: "We have reason to fear that relocations of HIV-affected families are continuing even as we sign this letter."

Campaigners urged the government to stop moving families to Tuol Sambo, urgently improve living conditions there and ensure that people with HIV have access to antiretroviral drugs.

Local officials said they were aware of the concerns over the settlement and were trying to improve conditions.

"We are trying to find clean water for them," Phnom Penh's deputy governor, Mann Chhoeun, told the Phnom Penh Post, adding that plans had been made to distribute free medicine via the Centre of Hope mission.

In 2008, an estimated 67 200 adults and 3 800 children in Cambodia were living with HIV/Aids, according to UNAids. - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2009

Jul 28, 2009

Congress pushes for healthcare deal

President Barack Obama participates in a tele-conference town hall event on health care at the AARP in Washington July 28, 2009. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol pushed for a healthcare reform deal on Tuesday, with Senate Democrats near agreement with three Republicans on a plan unlikely to include a government-run insurance option backed by President Barack Obama.
In closed-door meetings and private negotiating sessions, members of Congress struggled to make progress on a healthcare overhaul before heading home for their August recess.

Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee heard an update from Chairman Max Baucus on bipartisan negotiations and said they were confident they were close to success -- even if the full panel does not manage to take up the bill before the break starts on August 7.

"Whether we get through markup or not I can't tell you today. But I am confident we'll have a concept we'll agree on," Senator John Kerry, a member of the panel, told reporters.

Obama has pushed for a measure that will rein in healthcare costs, improve care and cover most of the 46 million uninsured Americans, making it his top legislative priority.

The negotiations between three Democrats and three Republicans on the panel have zeroed in on a plan that would use nonprofit cooperatives to compete with insurers to drive down costs, members say, not the public plan favored by Obama and many Democrats.

The panel also is likely to back a tax on high-cost insurance policies to try to raise revenue and keep costs down.

The White House said it would wait until it sees the bill to comment on the cooperative approach, which is certain to disappoint some Democrats even if it wins over the three Republicans involved in the negotiations.


"I have done a lot of reading on the history of co-ops and it is not a nice history," Democratic Senator John Rockefeller told reporters after the closed-door meeting of Democrats.

Obama's drive for a broad overhaul of the healthcare industry has been stalled in the Senate and House of Representatives, both controlled by his fellow Democrats. It has been hit by a deluge of criticism over the cost, scope and funding of the more than $1 trillion measure.

Republicans in both chambers have slammed the plans as an expensive first step toward a government takeover of healthcare. No Republican has come out in favor of any of the plans so far, although three Senate Republicans have worked with Baucus to find agreement.

Obama, who over the past week has lobbied hard for the overhaul plan, said there was no time to lose.

"The costs of doing nothing are trillions of dollars in costs over the next couple of decades -- trillions, not billions," Obama told a town hall meeting conducted by AARP, a lobbying group for seniors.

"I understand people being scared that this is going to be way too costly," he said. "It's not too costly if we start making changes right now."

An August deadline to approve initial versions of the bill is dead in the Senate and endangered in the House, where conservative Democrats have blocked its passage in the last of three House committees that must consider the bill.

The so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats complained the cost savings are inadequate in the bill and blocked a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. They met late into the night on Monday with panel chairman Henry Waxman without agreement.

Each chamber hopes to get bills passed in the last remaining committee before heading home. The House leaves for its break on Friday.

"We're very optimistic that both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee -- that is the third of the House committees -- will finally finish working on their legislation," said Linda Douglass, a spokesman for the White House Office of Health Reform.

"That means that all five congressional committees will have put forth legislation. There will be legislation you can take a look at," she said.

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer said so far he saw no reason to hold lawmakers back from the recess for more work on the bill, but he said there were "ongoing positive discussions" with the Blue Dogs. "I think the Blue Dogs want to get there," Hoyer said.

(Additional reporting by David Alexander, Rick Cowan and Jackie Frank; Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Vicki Allen)

Lawyers Say They Are ‘Free’ To Defend

By Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington

Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua faced the court over her defamation suit with the prime minister on Friday without a lawyer. After her first attorney quit—facing defamation charges himself—she was unable to find another, she said, due to “political pressure.”

Cambodian lawyers say they are free to represent the clients they want, but Mu Sochua’s case has underscored the entanglement of politics and the court that critics say stops the judiciary from being independent.

“There is no problem as long as the client approaches us,” said Cambodian attorney Poeung Thida. “We just puck up a client we feel we want to defend. If we don’t want it, we just don’t take the case. This is our free will.”

In Mu Sochua’s case, her first attorney, Kong Sam Onn, quit after he was countersued by Prime Minister Hun Sen and was put under investigation by the country’s bar association. His case was dropped after he apologized to Hun Sen. (Kong Sam Onn declined to comment, saying he left because of a “personal issue.”)

Mu Sochua defended herself with a brief statement to the court, in a case that is to be decided on Aug. 4.

Chiv Song Hak, president of the 647-member bar association, said lawyers in the country have “enough freedom” to make their own choices.

“The law does not restrict them to only representing this client and not the other,” he said. “Our code of conduct only states that a lawyer has the right to decline a client they don’t want to represent.”

Mu Sochua, a US-Cambodian citizen and deputy secretary-general for the Sam Rainsy Party, said she did not agree.

“How can a lawyer do his job if they still feel scared?” she asked. “They still feel that they will become a victim like my lawyer, Kong Sam Onn. I see that professional lawyers are vulnerable to political pressure.”

Mu Sochua had also sought legal counsel from the Cambodian Defenders Project, but the head of the organization, Sok Sam Oeun, said his group defends the poor.

“She has enough money to hire a lawyer,” he said of Mu Sochua. “And so far as I know, there are many lawyers in the Sam Rainsy Party. To say that there is no lawyer willing to represent her is unreasonable.”

Cambodia Angkor Air plans flights to Viet Nam

PHNOM PENH — Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday cut the ribbon launching the new Cambodian national airline, Cambodia Angkor Air (CAA), a joint venture between Viet Nam and Cambodia, at Pochentong International Airport in Phnom Penh.

CAA is a joint venture between the Cambodian National Aviation Agency and the Vietnam Airlines Corporation.

CAA has two ATR-72-500 aircraft that service domestic flights from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.

It has plans to expand its operations to other regional countries, including Viet Nam and Thailand, with A-320 and A-321 aircraft.

Cambodia’s national airline, Royal Cambodge Airlines (RCA), was established in 1994, but had to close operations in 2001 due to huge losses and the use of planes that did not meet the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s standards.

Cambodian art show casts light on Khmer Rouge horrors

Sos Thy speaks in courtroom in Phnom Penh (picture released by Extraordinary Chamber in Courts of Cambodia, 27 Jul 2009)

Artist Vann Nath, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, explains a painting to villagers during an art workshop and exhibition project titled "The Art of Survival", in Kamport province, 146 km (91 miles) west of Phnom Penh, July 25, 2009.
REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

KOMPOT, Cambodia (Reuters Life!) - Cambodian artist Vann Nath only survived the Khmer Rouge's most brutal prison because its chief torturer liked his paintings of the tyrannical leader Pol Pot.

Now, the survivor of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison is using art to educate younger generations about one of the 20th century's darkest chapters through an exhibition of paintings reflecting the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.

"I come here to share my experiences as well as to remember our country's history, and ensure that it's not lost," Nath told Reuters Television.

An estimated 1.7 million people died during the Khmer Rouge's four-year "killing fields" reign of terror, which ended when Vietnamese forces invaded in 1979.

Three decades on, villagers at the exhibition reflected on the horrors of the regime with paintings of skulls, bodies lined up in a room, blindfolded prisoners and people with weapons in their hands.

The exhibition showcasing the work of about 16 Cambodian artists is the second of seven in the Cambodian countryside this year.

"It is good to have the Khmer Rouge tribunal going on because it can let the victims know what has happened then, why Pol Pot killed innocent people," said Chan Pisey, an artist and co-organiser of the exhibition.

"Of course, it cannot heal the suffering of everybody but at least 20 to 30 percent of it can be done."

The exhibition comes just weeks after Nath testified against Duch, Tuol Sleng's head jailer. He told the joint United Nations-Cambodian tribunal his experience inside the S-21 prison was like "hell".

He described the squalid conditions inside the prison and said there were times he was so hungry, he was forced to eat insects, such as grasshoppers or crickets.

"When there were insects falling from the lamp, I collected them and ate them. When the security guards saw this, they asked, 'What are you eating?' So they hit me until I spit out the grasshopper or cricket from my mouth," he told the court.

But Vann Nath is confident the people responsible for the killings will be brought to justice.

"I expect the Khmer Rouge court to point to the right killers so that we know clearly whoever committed such crime gets how much punishment," he said.

Cambodia: Respect For Suspects' Rights

Scoop New Zealand

Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission

Cambodia: Respect For Suspects' Rights Will Prevent Death In Police Custody

Five suspects in police custody are known to have died in police custody in different locations in Cambodia over the first five months of this year. There have been allegations that they suffered torture or other forms of ill-treatment. However, the police have refuted these allegations and with medical certification as proof, claimed that the suspects had committed suicide. The reference to medical certification has led to further allegations that doctors whom the authorities called in to do the autopsies were themselves under pressure not to antagonize the police and arrive at a conclusion that did not differ from what the police version. Despite the ongoing suspicion of torture or other forms of ill-treatment the authorities have refused independent investigations into the causes of those deaths.

More recently, another suspect died in police custody in Svay Rieng Province. The suspect, Thong Sary, 54, was arrested in a drunk-driving accident in which he crashed his motorcycle, killing his passenger and injuring himself. His wife, Meas Thavy, visited him and, noting the worsening of his injuries repeatedly requested the custodial officer to send her husband to hospital for treatment. The officer refused her request and instead told her to bring in a doctor to treat him in prison.

Meas Thavy could not get a doctor to treat her husband because he was a suspect and there was no letter of authorization for medical treatment from the police. Dr. Ke Ratha, deputy director of the provincial health department, and a number of his fellow doctors carried out the autopsy on Thong Sary. Dr. Ke Ratha has reportedly said that Thong Sary “died from an inflammation of the stomach or intestine caused by drinking wine without eating, his injury from the traffic accident or if someone hit him.” Dr. Ke Ratha further said that “If he was sent for treatment on time he may not have died.”

Prach Rim, the provincial police chief, has denied allegations of torture on Thong Sary; but has admitted police carelessness over the refusal to send him for medical treatment.

The Asian Human Rights Commission holds that the cause of death of this particular police custody were not due so much to the “police carelessness” as to the shortcoming of the criminal procedure pertaining to police custody. This procedure has not recognized and guaranteed the rights of suspects to medical treatment. Article 99 of the Code of Criminal procedure has left this medical treatment to the discretionary decision to the custody officer and the prosecutor. This article says, “The Royal Prosecutor or the judicial police officer may ask a doctor to examine the detained person at any time.” Furthermore, article 98 of the same code has recognized and guaranteed the rights of suspect to legal counsel only after 24 hours of arrest has expired. It says, “After a period of twenty four hours from the beginning of the police custody has expired, the detainee may request to speak with a lawyer or any other person who is selected by the detain ee, provided that the sel.

In order to avoid any future possibility of “police carelessness” and further death in police custody, the Code of Criminal procedure should be amended to recognize and guarantee the rights of suspect to medical treatment, legal counsel and communication with family. Upon the arrest, it should be mandatory for custody officer to notify suspects of all these rights. Article 98 and article 99 should be amended for the custody police officer and be supplemented as follows:

Article 98: At the beginning of that detention, the suspect has to the right to speak with a lawyer or any other person who is selected by him or her, provided that the selected person is not involved in the same offense. He or she has further the right to communicate with his or her family.

Article 99: The suspect has the right to medical treatment anytime during his or her detention.
Article 99 (a): The custody police officer shall notify the suspect of his or her rights as mentioned in article 98 and 99.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984

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A British army soldier walks past Iraqi army tanks during a training mission in Latifiyah, south of Baghdad (File)

By VOA News
Britain said it will withdraw its remaining forces in Iraq to neighboring Kuwait.

The British Embassy in Baghdad said Tuesday the move is necessary because the Iraqi parliament has failed to pass a deal allowing some British troops to stay beyond the end of July.

The deal would have allowed up to 100 British troops to remain in Iraq to help the Iraqi navy protect oil installations off the southern coast.

The embassy said the Iraqi parliament has not approved the deal due to a procedural delay. Embassy officials said the troops will be moved to Kuwait until the issue is resolved.

However, Iraq's parliament adjourned Monday for a recess.

Earlier this month, a group of Iraqi lawmakers loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr staged a protest against the proposed deal.

The politicians walked out of a parliament session, suspending consideration of the proposal.

Moqtada al-Sadr has been a vocal critic of the foreign military presence in Iraq.

Taliban Recruited Kids as Suicide Bombers


Pakistan army soldiers bring detained teenagers, faces covered with cloth, before the media in Mingora, the main town of Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley, July 26, 2009. Brig Tahir Khan, a military commander in Mingora, said they are finding youths still at school being forcefully recruited by the Taliban to become militant fighters or suicide bombers. (AP Photo/Naveed Ali)

Pakistan Officials Say Boys Were Also Trained as Soldiers; 9 Rescued, But Hundreds Likely Remain
(AP) Security forces have rescued several children forcibly recruited by the Taliban, allegedly to be used as fighters or suicide bombers, and there could be hundreds more of them, officials said Tuesday.

The claim came as a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, causing an explosion that killed two police and wounded five other security officials, authorities said.

Pakistani troops are engaged in offensives against the Taliban in various areas along the lawless border with Afghanistan, fighting militants often drawn from among the local communities.

Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmed, who heads a special support group tasked with handling the return of people displaced by three months of fighting in the Swat Valley and surrounding areas, said he had met with nine boys rescued from the Taliban.

"They have been brainwashed and trained as suicide bombers, but the nine who I met seemed willing to get back to normal life," he told Pakistani state-run television.

Ahmed's deputy, Lt. Col. Waseem Shahid, later clarified that it had not been determined whether all the boys were being trained as suicide bombers.

"What we are saying is that they are Taliban recruits. They are trained. They could have been used for any purpose," Shahid told The Associated Press.

Ahmed said on state-run TV that the children had told him there were many more, possibly hundreds, like them.

"It seems that there are some 300 to 400 such children who the Taliban had taken forcibly or who they were training," Ahmed said.

Maj. Nasir Ali, spokesman for forces in Swat, told AP that most of the several children who had been rescued were taken from a Taliban training camp in Swat after a firefight, although some had turned themselves in later. He did not say when the rescue occurred.

"The account we are getting from these boys is that there could be many more such cases, and we believe that most of them have dispersed among the public," he said. "We have appealed, and we are appealing again and again to people, to parents that if they know any of such case, they should contact us. We promise that we will do our best to rehabilitate them."

Ahmed said that a psychiatrist would examine the children to recommend how they should be reintegrated into society.

"It will be a big challenge" to reverse the indoctrination they received, he noted.

He said the boys had sometimes been lured by offers of food, but that they had been underfed and some had fallen ill.

Militant spokesmen could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the allegations.

On Sunday, authorities in Swat's main town of Mingora presented several teenagers alleged to have been forcibly recruited by the Taliban. Seven boys, their lower faces covered to prevent them being recognized, were shown to reporters.

One, a 16-year-old Shaukat Ali, said the militants abducted him while he was playing cricket. He said they told him they wanted him to be "a warrior" and offered to pay his family for his services.

Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister of North West Frontier Province where Swat is located, said that dozens of children had been rescued by security forces and ranged in age from 6 to 15.

He claimed they were being trained as suicide bombers.

"They are prepared mentally. They say that Islam is everything for them. They say they are doing it for Islam. They say they have to carry suicide attacks for the sake of Islam," Bilour told private Geo TV. "They are brainwashed to such an extreme that they are ready to kill their parents who they call infidels."

He said 15 of the children were undergoing rehabilitation at an army school in the northwestern town of Mardan.

Religious Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi on Tuesday described the recruitment of youngsters as suicide bombers to be "the most serious challenge before us," his office said in a statement.

The latest suicide attack targeted a checkpoint some two miles (three kilometers) north of Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, local government official Rehmat Ullah said.

North Waziristan is proving to be a trouble spot for the army just as it is in the initial phases of an offensive against Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in neighboring South Waziristan.

A militant leader in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, recently pulled out of a peace deal with the government, and clashes have occurred since in that region.

On Tuesday, the decapitated body of a Pakistani police constable was discovered in the Swat town of Sangota, a sign that Taliban militants have not given up the fight for the northwestern valley, despite the nearly three-month army offensive there.

Police officer Sajjad Qazi said the constable was kidnapped a week ago, apparently by militants.

Rebuilding the police is key to government efforts to regain control of Swat, especially now that hundreds of thousands of refugees are returning home.

Separately, the army said security forces killed two suspected militants and arrested another 25, including a militant commander, in separate search and clearance operations in northwest Pakistan.

They also seized large amounts of ammunition, including dozens of mortars, rocket propelled grenades, tank rounds and thousands of machine gun rounds.

Also Tuesday, Islamabad police said they had arrested a close aide to a Swat Taliban commander on the outskirts of the capital.

Police spokesman Naeem Khan would not name the arrested man or the commander. Khan said the suspect had been involved in attacks on security forces in the Swat Valley, and that explosives and weapons seized during the arrest indicated the suspect had been planning an attack.

washingtonpost.com > Nation > Wires U.S., China talk money, climate; no breakthroughs


Mr Obama said he was under 'no illusions that the United States and China will agree on every issue' Photo: REUTERS

By David Lawder and Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and China broached two touchy topics -- currencies and climate change -- in talks on Tuesday that appeared to be more about establishing positions than hammering out firm commitments.

In the first round of what will be an annual "Strategic and Economic Dialogue," the two major economic powers signed a memorandum promising greater cooperation in tackling climate change, energy and the environment, although the document was not publicly released and few specifics emerged.

The countries also "touched upon" the exchange rate between China's yuan and the U.S. dollar, but there were no detailed discussions, People's Bank of China chief Zhou Xiaochuan told reporters through an interpreter.

The United States has largely steered clear of a public appeal for China to allow its currency to rise faster, but Beijing did take a sharper tone, warning against letting the dollar slide too far.

"As a major reserve currency-issuing country in the world, the United States should properly balance and properly handle the impact of the dollar supply on the domestic economy and the world economy as a whole," Vice Premier Wang Qishan said.

The United States would like to see a stronger yuan to help correct trade imbalances, but China remains dependent on its export sector, and would stand to lose from a dollar fall that would reduce the value of its substantial dollar holdings.

The formal session of the two-day talks wrapped up near midday on Tuesday, almost entirely behind closed doors.

Press conferences were still expected from officials including U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Wang.

With the United States trying to claw its way out of the longest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s and China suffering from a steep drop in demand for exports, a key focus of the talks was on restoring economic stability.

But there were plenty of other tricky issues on the table.

Clinton co-chaired the U.S. side and was seeking Beijing's cooperation on a wide range of sensitive diplomatic issues from North Korea and climate change to infectious diseases and energy markets.


The United States is China's best customer for exports, and China is the United States' biggest creditor, holding $802 billion of U.S. Treasury securities as of May 31. Washington needs Beijing to keep buying its debt to finance a budget deficit estimated to hit $1.8 trillion this year.

On Monday, Chinese officials said they wanted to see the United States rein in its soaring budget deficit, while the U.S. side appealed to China to stimulate domestic consumption to restore balance to the global economy and trade.

The veteran Wang said China would help to ensure a recovery from the past two years of financial crisis, which he said seemed to be largely over, but pointed to concessions that China wanted.

"We will work to increase our imports from the United States," he said, adding: "We hope the U.S. will relax its controls and restrictions on exports to China of its high-tech technologies."

Geithner, just six months into his job as U.S. treasury chief, already has visited Beijing to try to reassure it that its dollar-denominated U.S. investments will keep their value and that U.S. deficits will be brought down.

China and many other global investors are keeping a wary eye on U.S. efforts to revive the economy, fearing inflation will surge if Washington waits too long to pull the plug on trillions of dollars worth of spending and lending programs.

Zhou, the head of China's central bank, said Beijing wanted to make sure the U.S. economy was well on its way to recovery before China withdrew its own stimulus spending, which has been widely credited with helping to stabilize the world economy.

"If we are confirmed that the recovery of the U.S. economy is established and stable, if we see that the United States starts to exit its expansionary fiscal and monetary policy, then China will see what it will do at that time," he said.

Clinton separately hosted senior Chinese officials at the State Department on Tuesday.

"We were very pleased by our discussions yesterday which were thorough, comprehensive, very open and candid and extremely useful," Clinton said at the start of the meeting.

In particular, Washington wants greater support from veto-wielding U.N. Security Council member China on controlling both North Korea and Iran's nuclear programs.

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Paul Eckert; Writing by Emily Kaiser and Glenn Somerville; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Police Search Home of Jackson’s Doctor

Police Search Home of Jackson's Doctor
New York Times - Steve Friess, Solomon Moore - ‎1 hour ago‎
LAS VEGAS - The police searched the home and office of Michael Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, here on Tuesday morning.
Video: Police Raid Home of MJ's Doctor CBS

Published: July 28, 2009

LAS VEGAS — The police searched the home and office of Michael Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, here on Tuesday morning.
Detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles bureau of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department served search warrant at the locations, less than one week after the authorities in Houston searched Dr. Murray’s office and storage unit in that city.

Dr. Murray, a cardiologist, is the focus of a manslaughter investigation in the death of Mr. Jackson, according to court documents filed by Los Angeles police in Texas. The physician was among the last people to see Mr. Jackson alive and attempted to resuscitate him at the singer’s Los Angeles home shortly before his death on June 25.

Toxicology reports are expected this week.

It was impossible from outside the gated community where Dr. Murray lives to see the swarm of Drug Enforcement Administration agents descending, or what they might have removed, but neighbors leaving the complex said the agents were with Las Vegas police officers. “It’s exactly as you imagine it, said a neighbor, Sherryl Stevens. “Pretty frightening.”

Agents also were seen entering Dr. Murray’s medical office in Las Vegas, Global Cardiovascular Associates. Las Vegas police source said they were looking for documents and records.

Investigators with the Los Angeles police carried away computer files, phone receipts and other evidence from Dr. Murray’s Houston office last week.

The police impounded Dr. Murray’s car shortly after Mr. Jackson’s death, and officials with the coroner’s office removed several large bags of medical equipment and prescription drugs from Mr. Jackson’s home in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles.

Dr. Murray, a native of Houston and the son of a prominent local physician, was suspended from Doctors Hospital there last year for allegedly failing to complete medical records in a timely manner.

Steve Friess reported from Las Vegas and Solomon Moore from Los Angeles.

Cash-for-clunkers auto eligibility list changed

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Washington on Monday at an event promoting the "cash-for-clunkers" car buyer incentive program.

y Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
As it prepared for its "cash-for-clunkers" program, the government rejiggered gas mileage figures on about 100 older vehicles last week in a way that changed whether they would be eligible for up to $4,500 in sales inducements.

The Environmental Protection Agency says the changes resulted from a double-check of its fuel-efficiency ratings on more than 30,000 1984 and newer vehicles in advance of the official start of the clunkers program Monday.

OFFICIAL WORD: Government website on 'cash-for-clunkers'
SEND US YOUR PHOTO: We're searching for America's worst clunker

About half the 100 suddenly did not qualify because their combined mileage rating was revised upward; others unexpectedly got in.

"As a result of the review, roughly an equal number of vehicles became eligible as those found to be not eligible," said the EPA in a statement. "Eligibility for about 100 vehicles was affected."

Car-shopping website Edmunds.com said Monday that it discovered the switcheroo because potential buyers were complaining on its discussion boards.

Some said it made them ineligible at the last minute for car deals they already had on deck.

"We had everything lined up. We had a couple car dealers that had verified our car qualified, and we were ready to purchase a new car this weekend," wrote one potential buyer, identified on the site as John1152. "But it will not happen now because at the last second the EPA updated the information at their web page for a 1993 Toyota Camry wagon ... from 18 mpg to 19 mpg."

Karl Brauer, editor in chief of Edmunds.com, said, "It's unfortunate that consumers who had been researching and planning to trade in their vehicle ... are now left in the dust."

To qualify for the $1 billion program aimed at spurring auto sales and driving gas guzzlers off the road, the clunker must have an EPA city-highway "combined" rating of 18 miles per gallon or lower.

Buyers then get a $3,500 incentive if the new car gets 4 to 9 mpg more or $4,500 for 10 mpg or more. The new car also must itself have a minimum 22 mpg combined rating. The program ends Nov. 1, or when the $1 billion runs out.

EPA gave no reason its ratings were inaccurate or why some went up. For the 2008 model year, EPA started revising mileage figures, typically downward, to better reflect real-world driving. For example, a Toyota Prius that had been rated 60 mpg in city driving fell 20% to 48 mpg.

AP source: Michael Jackson's inner sanctum chaotic


LOS ANGELES — With towering ceilings and an elaborate facade, Michael Jackson's rented Beverly Hills mansion was the epitome of opulence.

Inside, on the top floor, the scene was less elegant, according to a law enforcement official.

Clothes and other items were strewn about and handwritten notes stuck on the walls. One read: "children are sweet and innocent." And no one working in the house was allowed upstairs to clean up the mess.
The description of Jackson's private sanctum provides a glimpse into how the pop star was living in the weeks before he died. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, also told The Associated Press on Monday that Jackson's personal doctor administered a powerful anesthetic to help him sleep, and authorities believe the drug killed the pop singer.

Authorities arrived at the singer's house after his death to find a chaotic scene. The temperature upstairs was stiflingly hot, with gas fireplaces and the heating system on high because Jackson always complained of feeling cold, the official said.

The singer's bedroom was a mess, with items seemingly thrown about and some 20 handwritten notes stuck on the walls.

A porcelain girl doll wearing a dress was found on top of the covers of the bed where he slept, the official said.

The official said Jackson regularly received propofol to sleep, relying on the drug like an alarm clock. A doctor would administer it when he went to sleep, then stop the intravenous drip when he wanted to wake up. On June 25, the day Jackson died, Dr. Conrad Murray gave him the drug through an IV sometime after midnight, the official said.

Murray's lawyer, Edward Chernoff, has said the doctor "didn't prescribe or administer anything that should have killed Michael Jackson." When asked Monday about the law enforcement official's statements he said: "We will not be commenting on rumors, innuendo or unnamed sources."

In a more detailed statement posted online late Monday, Chernoff added that "things tend to shake out when all the facts are made known, and I'm sure that will happen here as well."

Toxicology reports are still pending, but investigators are working under the theory that propofol caused Jackson's heart to stop, the official said. Jackson is believed to have been using the drug for about two years and investigators are trying to determine how many other doctors administered it, the official said.

Murray, 51, has been identified in court papers as the subject of a manslaughter investigation, and authorities last week raided his office and a storage unit in Houston. Police say Murray is cooperating and have not labeled him a suspect.

Using propofol to sleep exceeds the drug's intended purpose. The drug can depress breathing and lower heart rates and blood pressure. Because of the risks, propofol is supposed to be administered only in medical settings by trained personnel.

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Lynn Elber in Tustin, Calif., Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee, and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles.

Human Impact on Critically Endangered Waterbird Beneficial

A white-shouldered ibis in Cambodia. Human impact on this critically endangered bird can be beneficial rather than destructive, and could even save it from extinction. (Credit: Hugh Wright)

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2009) — Human impact on one of the world's most threatened bird species can be beneficial rather than destructive - and could even save it from extinction - according to counterintuitive new findings by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Animal Conservation, the study by UEA conservation experts explores the exact reasons behind the decline of the critically endangered white-shouldered ibis.

The new study was carried out in Western Siem Pang Important Bird Area (IBA), northern Cambodia, where 160-200 of the birds survive – around half of the global population.

Working in partnership with BirdLife International, the researchers found that the ibis prefer to forage in open and accessible sites with low vegetation and bare soil. This is believed to be because it makes it easier to find prey, aids take-off and landing, and improves detection of approaching danger.

Traditional small-scale farming by local communities is therefore crucial to the ibis' survival because grazing livestock and burning of the forest understorey opens up these habitats making them suitable for the birds.

"Our findings show that this critically endangered species is largely dependent on the local farmers for their survival," said lead author Hugh Wright, of UEA's School of Environmental Sciences. "This is a fascinating outcome as we tend to assume that human activity always has a negative impact on the natural world."

Not all human influence is positive for the endangered ibis, however. Western Siem Pang - currently an unprotected site – is under imminent threat from large-scale development which would destroy the birds' habitats entirely, along with the local farming communities.

"The Forestry Administration in Cambodia is supportive of a proposal to make the area a protected forest and we believe that this – along with the continuation of local farming methods practiced for generation after generation – will be crucial in saving this once common species from extinction," added Hugh.

With fewer than 500 individuals remaining, mainly in Cambodia, the white-shouldered ibis has undergone the most rapid decline of all South-East Asia's large waterbirds and is now the most threatened. Once common in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, the precise causes behind the bird's continuing decline have until now been poorly understood, which has hindered conservation efforts.

This research was funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Jul 27, 2009

Suu Kyi trial enters final phase in Myanmar

FILE - In this November 8, 2007 file photo, released by China's Xinhua news agency, detained Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, is greeted by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari during their meeting, in Yangon, Myanmar. Lawyers for Myanmar's jailed pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi are scheduled to present final arguments Friday July 24, 2009 in their efforts to save her from a five-year prison term. (AP Photo/Xinhua, File)

YANGON, Myanmar — The trial of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was adjourned until Tuesday when the prosecution was to deliver its closing arguments, a government official said.

The 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home and stayed for two days. She faces a possible five years in prison.

Suu Kyi's lawyer Nyan Win said he anticipated the verdict in two to three weeks.

The prosecution, which had been expected to wrap up the case Monday, needed more time to complete its presentation so the court adjourned until Tuesday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the press.

He said the lawyer for American John W. Yettaw, 53, of Falcon, Missouri, gave his final arguments Monday. Two female companions of Suu Kyi also presented statements before the court.

Diplomats from the United States, Singapore, Australia, Japan, the Philippines and Malaysia were allowed to attend the morning session but not the key afternoon one, one of the diplomats told reporters.

However, authorities allowed U.S. Consul Colin Furst to be present in the afternoon because an American was standing trial.

Yettaw is charged with violating terms of Suu Kyi's house arrest — as an abettor — and could be sent to prison for five years. He also faces a municipal charge of swimming in a non-swimming area and is accused of immigration violations.

Yettaw's lawyer had planned to argue that the American only committed criminal trespass, since he entered the house late at night. That charge carries a maximum jail term of three months.

Yettaw has pleaded not guilty and explained in court that he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had gone to warn her.

"I will try my best to defend my client. I will argue that he did not violate the restriction order and I will try my utmost to get him lesser punishment," Khin Maung Oo, Yettaw's lawyer, said over the weekend.

Tried on the same charges as Suu Kyi are Khin Khin Win and her daughter Win Ma Ma, who have long been Suu Kyi's companions during her house arrest. Both are members of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

The trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and Suu Kyi's local supporters, who worry the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her behind bars through elections planned for next year.

At an Asia-Pacific security forum last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered Myanmar the prospect of better relations with the United States, but said that depended in part on the fate of Suu Kyi.

Myanmar state media accused Clinton and others calling for Suu Kyi's release of "interference." Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

In Dublin, human rights watchdog Amnesty International said Monday it was giving Suu Kyi its Ambassador of Conscience Award, hoping its highest honor will help deter the Myanmar regime from imposing any harsh new punishments on her.

Irish band U2 was to publicly announce the award Monday night at a Dublin concert.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Japan Opposition Unveils Campaign Pledges

The Canadian Press

DPJ Promises to Stimulate Spending, Shift Power to Lawmakers

TOKYO -- The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which looks likely to win a general election next month and form a new government, unveiled Monday an election manifesto promising to stimulate consumer spending and shift policy-making power from bureaucrats to lawmakers.

The DPJ's release of its campaign pledges comes as analysts closely watch to see how the party may govern if it wins key lower-house polls planned for Aug. 30.

Based on its campaign pledges, the costs of the economic measures would amount to ¥7.1 trillion ($74.7 billion) in the coming fiscal year starting April, expanding in subsequent years to ¥16.8 trillion in fiscal 2013.

The DPJ says it would get the funds mainly by eliminating wasteful public spending and using government reserves rather than by lifting taxes.

While many of the promises -- ranging from cash aid for families with children to free public high-school education and the abolishment of highway tolls -- may be popular with voters, their potential to heal the recession-stricken economy appears uncertain.

If the DPJ follows through with its pledges, inflation-adjusted growth in the current fiscal year could fall by 0.2 percentage point to about minus 3%, said Toshihiro Nagahama, senior economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute. That is because "the party seems to be planning to freeze part of the public works projects underway" to save money.

Still, in the next fiscal year, the DPJ measures could boost growth by 0.3 percentage point to around 1.5% by lifting consumption, he said.

Seiji Adachi, senior currency analyst at Deutsche Securities, took a more cautious tone.

He said that if the DPJ goes ahead to reduce existing tax exemptions to enable more public spending, middle-aged or older people may suffer declines in household income, even as lower-income families benefit from income redistribution.

"The overall impact would be limited or perhaps negative on a net-basis," Mr. Adachi said.

The DPJ's flagship proposal is a monthly allowance to be paid per child until he or she graduates from middle school, or the ninth grade. The allowance would start at ¥13,000 in the fiscal year beginning April 2010 and rise to ¥26,000 the following year.

Other consumer-friendly steps include: scrapping highway tolls by fiscal 2012, waiving tuition for public high schools from next fiscal year, abolishing temporary surcharges on gasoline and other road-related taxes from fiscal 2010, and reinforcing the unemployment safety net.

Measures to boost the strained social security system include plans to increase the number of doctors and build a tax-funded pension system offering a minimum of ¥70,000 every month per person.

In fiscal 2013, when all the DPJ's envisioned measures would be fully in effect, the total policy costs would reach ¥16.8 trillion, around 3.4% of last year's inflation-adjusted gross domestic product.

DPJ steps that could potentially weigh on the corporate bottom line include a 25% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels -- more ambitious than the current government's 8% reduction target.

The DPJ also wants to strengthen protection of part-time workers, while raising the average minimum hourly pay to ¥1,000 -- steps that could backfire if they discourage the hiring of temporary employees, analysts say.

Yet the party also proposes to lower the tax rate for small companies to 11% from the current 18%.

Economists worry that if the DPJ's revenue plan fails, the economy could suffer should the government sell more bonds to raise money, causing long-term interest rates to climb.

Any worsening in economic conditions in the coming months could also fuel anxiety over additional government borrowing.

Masayuki Naoshima, head of the DPJ's research committee, said at a news conference Monday that a DPJ government might sell deficit-financing securities to pay for stimulus measures if the economy deteriorates more.

Nor can the prospect of tax increases be entirely ruled out, DPJ Chief Yukio Hatoyama said at the same press conference. He said the debate could be opened on whether to raise the 5% consumption tax for the coming four years, changing his previous stance that there would be no debate.

The DPJ also laid out five principles of governance in its manifesto, vowing to demolish the deeply entrenched policy-making structure in which elite but unaccountable bureaucrats have traditionally held the upper hand over politicians.

The goal is to bring about "politics of the people, by the people, for the people," Mr. Hatoyama said at the press conference. "No more politics of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats, for the bureaucrats."

One of the manifesto's strategies is to have about 100 party legislators oversee policy-making. Another is to establish a new entity, dubbed the national strategy bureau, to outline a national budget under the prime minister's direct supervision, thus depriving the powerful finance ministry control over budget-making.

Write to Takashi Nakamichi at takashi.nakamichi@dowjones.com

First phase of Afghanistan military offensive 'is over'


By Jim Wolf
ERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates moved to reassure Israel on Monday that Washington's bid to talk Iran into giving up sensitive nuclear work was worth pursuing, despite the reticence so far from Tehran.

Obama has made fresh engagement with Iran a centerpiece of his foreign policy. Israel, which sees the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran as a mortal threat, has hinted that it could resort to preemptive strikes if it deems diplomacy a dead end.

During a visit to Israel, Gates affirmed President Barack Obama's hope for an Iranian response to the American overtures in time for the U.N. General Assembly in late September.

"I think, based on the information that's available to us, that the timetable that the president has laid out still seems to be viable and does not significantly increase the risks to anybody," Gates told reporters at a press conference with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak.

Iran says its uranium enrichment, which has bomb-making potential, is for energy needs and has rejected U.S.-led calls to curb the program. That, along with fiercely anti-Israel rhetoric from Tehran, has stirred fear of a regional war.

There is also a cost in terms of Obama's efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, as Israel has demanded that the perceived threat from the Iranians be neutralized first.

Speaking after his meeting with Gates, Barak backed the U.S. diplomatic strategy on Iran but called for a tight schedule with readiness to impose tough U.N. Security Council sanctions.

"If there is an engagement, we believe it should be short in time, well-defined in objectives, followed by sanctions, preferably (United Nations Charter) Chapter 7-type of sanctions," Barak said, speaking in English.

He also kept open the possibility that Israel, which is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, could attack the Iranians pre-emptively -- a region-rattling scenario that finds little public favor in Washington.


"We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table. This is our policy. We mean it. We recommend to others to take the same position but we cannot dictate it to anyone," Barak said.

"We are not blind to the fact that our operations or activity also affect neighbors and others, and we take this into account. But ultimately our obligation is to Israel's national security interest."