Joan Smith: Make no mistake: sex trafficking is real

The debate is between those stuck in the 1960s and those of us with a modern view of rights

Earlier this week, the FBI released the results of a nationwide operation against child sex traffickers. After identifying children who were being sold for sex on the internet, in casinos, on the streets and at truck stops, they arrested 642 people and rescued 47 victims. The operation was carried out over three days last week, just as British journalists, academics and cheerleaders for legalised prostitution were arguing that sex trafficking in this country is mostly a myth.

"Inquiry fails to find single trafficker who forced anybody into prostitution," declared one headline. I wondered where it looked, given that British prisons are now home to such notorious traffickers as Luan Plakici and Viktoras Larcenko. In the debate that followed, I was struck by the nasty personal tone of much of the rhetoric, which dismissed campaigners against sex trafficking as evangelical Christians and ill-intentioned feminists. There was little mention of the international context – mainly, I suspect, because so many unimpeachable organisations are on the other side of the argument.

Since 2003, the FBI has rescued 886 child victims of sex traffickers and secured 510 convictions. According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the US is a trafficking destination for victims from other countries but "many US citizens are trafficked, usually run-away teenage girls, who are preyed on by pimps and trafficked for prostitution". Task forces identified 3,336 potential victims of human trafficking (for domestic labour as well as prostitution) by June last year.

Hillary Clinton launched the State Department annual report on human trafficking this year, and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) produced its own assessment. It said that more than 21,400 victims were identified in 111 countries in 2006, but the number of convictions for trafficking was not proportionate to the extent of the problem. Two out of five countries covered by the report had not recorded a single conviction, leading UNODC's executive director, Antonio Maria Costa, to a blunt conclusion: "Either they are blind to the problem, or they are ill-equipped to deal with it."

According to the UK Human Trafficking Centre, there were 105 convictions for trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation between 1 May 2004 (when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 came into force) and 26 March 2009. Low conviction figures are being used to bolster claims that the extent of sex trafficking in the UK has been hugely exaggerated, and to discredit organisations and individuals who believe that conviction rates do not show the full picture. That's certainly the view of the Poppy Project, which runs a refuge for trafficking victims; it has received more than 1,300 referrals of women from 80 countries since 2003.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee has identified numerous reasons for the low conviction rate, including the brutality of traffickers – many victims are too frightened to testify – and the difficulty of proving trafficking offences; the authorities sometimes press alternative charges such as money laundering or false documentation. The MPs argue that "the comparatively low rate of prosecutions for trafficking ... adds to the confusion about the incidence of trafficking" and "may lead some authorities to underestimate the severity of the problem".

Here is an example of how confusion arises. Three years ago, West Midlands police trumpeted the success of an operation against alleged sex-traffickers in Birmingham, even taking Sky TV with them to film it; a police spokesman said the women had been tricked into the sex industry and were locked into a massage parlour called Cuddles each evening. Thirteen women who had EU passports were held in cells for two nights before being released; the remaining six – from Albania, Moldova, Romania and Thailand, all well-known countries of origin for trafficking – were taken to Yarl's Wood detention centre. Lawyers managed to stay their deportation and a representative of the Poppy Project was allowed to meet four of the women. Finally, 12 days after the raid, two were identified as sex-trafficking victims.

Just about everything went wrong with this operation, which is hardly surprising given that it was conducted under intense media scrutiny. The Poppy Project was not told about the raid in advance and the women were not interviewed in compliance with guidance on vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. A Birmingham man, Carl Pritchett, was jailed for two years for running a brothel and in August this year he was ordered to pay back £2m under the Proceeds of Crime Act, but specific charges of sex trafficking were never brought. The Government has now ratified the Council of Europe convention which gives suspected trafficking victims more rights, but existing figures for convictions cover a period when many potential witnesses were quickly deported.

Of course, this isn't really an argument about statistics. It's about a clause in the Policing and Crime Bill, currently being considered by the House of Lords, which would make it an offence to buy sex from anyone who is controlled for gain. Campaigners for legalised prostitution fear the testimonies of trafficking victims because they explode the notion that selling sex is a pleasant job, made risky only by its illegal status. When I hear about the "dignified living conditions" of women in the sex industry, I know the argument is more to do with ideology than figures. It's a clash between people clinging to antiquated ideas from the 1960s – that men are entitled to sex whenever they want it – and those of us with a modern view of the rights of women and children.

The vilification we're experiencing is a tactic which the great anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce, would have recognised. His critics claimed on different occasions (depending on the sympathies of their audience) that slavery was a necessary evil, slaves were not badly treated and abolitionists were just a bunch of religious bigots: "pious divines, tender-hearted poetesses, and short-sighted politicians" according to one polemic published in 1789. Three years later, a pamphlet claimed that each slave family had "a snug little house and garden, and plenty of pigs and poultry". Wilberforce didn't believe a word of it. And when I'm told sex trafficking isn't really a problem in this country, neither do I.

Bush's first stand on a new podium


FORT WORTH -- After nine months of being nearly invisible -- a big outing has been to a Dallas hardware store for flashlights -- George W. Bush made his debut Monday in his latest incarnation: motivational speaker.

Nearly 15,000 people heard the former president, known more for mangling the English language than for his eloquence, reminisce about his White House days. Bush, who is writing a book about the dozen toughest decisions he had to make, used much of his 28 minutes onstage to talk about lighter topics such as picking out a rug design for the Oval Office that reflected his "optimism."

Perhaps in a nod to his dismal 22 percent approval ratings when he left office, Bush noted that "popularity is fleeting. . . . It's not real."

He beamed at the standing ovations from the friendly hometown crowd -- he now lives in nearby Dallas.

Looking younger than his 63 years and relaxed, Bush did not appear to have an overarching theme, but strung anecdotes and jokes together and frequently mentioned his faith in God.

"I don't see how you can be president without relying on the Almighty. Now when I was 21, I wouldn't have told you that, but at age 63, I can tell you that one of the most amazing surprises of the presidency was the fact that people's prayers affected me. I can't prove it to you. But I can tell you some days were great, some days not so great. But every day was joyous." That, he attributed, to the prayers of others.

His speech came after the crowd at the "GET MOTIVATED!" seminar stood up and danced to the Beach Boys' song "Surfin' USA" and batted around beach balls tossed into the audience.

The well-publicized event appears to mark the beginning of a higher profile for Bush.

Just last week he gave three speeches in Canada, and he has joined the Washington Speakers Bureau. He is scheduled to give another motivational speech next month in San Antonio. Former presidential adviser Karen Hughes said he has "quite a few speeches planned" during the fall.

Along with his book, due out next year, Bush is planning his new presidential library and policy institute at Southern Methodist University -- the alma mater of Laura Bush. He also has been spotted riding his mountain bike on local trails.

Many people interviewed afterward said they liked Bush, perhaps even because he wasn't the best speaker of the day. He could have said a thesaurus was a big scaly creature that roamed the planet millions of years ago and they would have applauded.

His most memorable story, one after another said, was about Barney, his Scottie:

Mindful of his new neighbors, who have had to endure as many as 650 people a day gawking at his new house in a cul-de-sac, Bush said he took Barney for a neighborhood stroll with "plastic bag on his hand" to scoop poop. That was a moment, he said, when he realized "Man, my life has changed!"

"He is just a normal guy! He wasn't the best speaker. But I was happy to see him!" said Lubbock salesman Patrick Kruger, 50.

Anthony Champagne, a professor of politics at the University of Texas at Dallas, said many presidents go underground for a period after they leave the White House, but then "even Richard Nixon came back in the public eye."

He said approval ratings of presidents often rise the longer they are out of office.

Along with Bush, former secretary of state Colin Powell, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired football great Terry Bradshaw and a host of professional speakers spoke on a stage decorated with red-white-and-blue signs that said "Motivate!" and "Achieve!"

Sparklers, rock music and a perky master of ceremonies ever-complimentary of Fort Worth kept the crowd on its feet.

"Cut the word 'impossible' out of your vocabulary!" thundered the Rev. Robert Schuller, televangelist and author. After telling the sad story about his daughter getting her leg amputated after a motorcycle accident, he came back big with an account of her playing baseball, trying for home runs so she wouldn't have to run: "Never look at what you have lost. Look at what you have left."

Powell, speaking after a drawing for a door prize of a high-definition flat-screen TV, told the audience to celebrate America's freedom. "We must never be afraid of some clown hiding in a cave," Powell said. Then moving on from Osama bin Laden, he talked about the Chinese: "The only fight we have with them is they want more shelf space at Wal-Mart!"

All this face time -- on giant screens for those in the rafters -- cost $4.95 for most people. The VIP seats in the front rows went for $89.

Tamara Lowe, co-founder of the motivational speakers series, which did a brisk business selling workbooks and other materials, said she was contractually bound not to reveal how much Bush was paid. His spokesman also declined to comment on published reports that estimated his fee at $100,000.

In Britain, where Bush remains wildly unpopular, the media have been reporting his return to public speaking with incredulity. Some commentators recalled his famous flubs: "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."

A Telegraph news article noted that the Republican former president -- whose policies inspired millions of Americans to vote Democratic in the 2008 election -- was now managing to draw crowds and "may yet have the last laugh."

"I kept looking for a teleprompter, but I didn't see one," said Joanne Ryan, 35, a financial adviser in the audience who noted, "I know the media makes him out to be an idiot," but he seemed genuine and "down-home."

Ryan said Bush seemed more comfortable speaking now than he did as president.

In the crowd of real estate agents in suits, housewives in jeans, students and senior citizens, Chris Clarke, 25, a salesman from Dallas, stood at the back. Like many people, he said that other speakers were better -- Colin Powell was his favorite -- but he thought Bush was good. In fact, he said, it could turn out that Bush may be more suited to motivational speaking than being president. He said when Bush misspeaks, it sounds "incompetent if you are president. But here it can be inspiring. It makes him seem like a regular guy, no better than me."

US declares swine flu 'emergency'

Baby vaccinated in Fairfax, Virginia
The young have been particularly badly hit by H1N1
US President Barack Obama has declared swine flu a national emergency.
The White House said the president signed the proclamation concerning the 2009 H1N1 outbreak on Friday evening.
It increases the ability of treatment facilities to handle a surge in H1N1 patients by easing the implementation of emergency plans.
Last week US officials said swine flu activity was widespread in 46 states. More that 1,000 deaths have been linked to the virus.
Health officials say the infections are already comparable to peak season flu levels.
Vaccine warning
US officials said the president's declaration was similar to ones issued before hurricanes make landfall.

Human body with internal organs
Typical symptoms: sudden fever (38C or above) and sudden cough
1. Other symptoms include: Tiredness and chills
2. Headache, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing
3. Stomach upset, loss of appetite, diarrhoea
4. Aching muscles, limb or joint pain
Source: UK NHS
It allows authorities to bypass certain federal requirements in order to deal more effectively with emergencies.
The aim of the directive is to remove bureaucratic hurdles, allowing sick patients to receive treatment more quickly and giving health-care providers more flexibility in providing it.
Paperwork on patients can be reduced and additional health centres set up outside hospitals to care for the sick.
In his proclamation statement, Mr Obama says the 2009 H1N1 pandemic "continues to evolve".
"The rates of illness continue to rise rapidly within many communities across the nation, and the potential exists for the pandemic to overburden health care resources in some localities."
He said the US had already taken "proactive steps" by implementing public health measures and developing an effective swine flu vaccine.
However, the government has admitted there are delays in the delivery of vaccines.
It had hoped to roll out 120 million doses by mid-October.
It now hopes for about 50 million by mid-November and 150 million in December.
Dr Thomas Frieden, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Friday: "We are nowhere near where we thought we'd be by now."
Given the shortfall, New York State on Friday stayed a directive ordering health care staff to be inoculated or risk losing their jobs.
The CDC says widespread influenza activity in 46 states is "unprecedented during seasonal flu".
It said the hospitalisation rates for laboratory-confirmed swine flu were still climbing.
Although figures are hard to verify, it is thought H1N1 has hospitalised about 20,000 people in the US.
Visits to the doctor for influenza-like illnesses were also much higher than expected for the time of year, the CDC said.
The seasonal flu peak is usually between late November and early March.
Children and young adults have been among the hardest hit by H1N1. Almost 100 of the deaths have been children.


Flu viruses in different species
Flu viruses mutate over time causing small changes to proteins on their surface called antigens. If the immune system has met a particular strain of the virus before, it is likely to have some immunity; but if the antigens are new to the immune system, it will be weakened.

Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe

The internet has matured into a world of its own, and like the real world, it obeys certain immutable laws. Here are 10 of the most important.
The Shepard Fairey Barack Obama image with added swastika and Hitler moustache. Internet rules and laws: the top 10, from Godwin to Poe
Godwin's Law in action Photo: AP - SHEPARD FAIREY
Any internet user will know that the web, like the outside world (or “meatspace”), follows certain rules.
We take a look at 10, with the most well-known and widely used towards the top and some of the lesser lights lower down. If you know any more, let us know below.
Equally, of course, if you have formulated one yourself, do likewise – but you might want to include your real name, not just a web pseudonym. Otherwise it will be known forever as Gherkin555’s Law, or whatever, and you will miss your shot at posterity.
We should state that we are not endorsing these laws or the views they imply, merely reporting them.
1. Godwin’s Law
The most famous of all the internet laws, formed by Mike Godwin in 1990. As originally stated, it said: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." It has now been expanded to include all web discussions.
It is closely related to the logical fallacy “reductio ad Hitlerum”, which says “Hitler (or the Nazis) liked X, so X is bad”, frequently used to denigrate vegetarians and atheists.
Common Godwin's Law appearances include describing women's rights campaigners as “feminazis”, comparing the former US President George W Bush to Hitler, or saying Barack Obama's proposed healthcare reforms are the new Holocaust.
In its broader sense it can be used to describe any situation where a poster loses all sense of proportion, for example describing New Labour as “Zanu-Labour” after Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwean political party Zanu-PF.
As well as the descriptive form, it can be used prescriptively: so if any poster does mention the Nazis in a discussion thread, Godwin’s Law can be invoked, they instantly lose the argument and the thread can be ended.
If this is done deliberately to end the argument, however, it does not apply. This codicil is known as “Quirk’s Exception”.
2. Poe’s Law
Not to be confused with the law of poetry enshrined by Edgar Allen Poe, the internet Poe’s Law states: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.”
It was originally formulated by Nathan Poe in 2005 during a debate on about evolution, and referred to creationism rather than all fundamentalism, but has since been expanded.
Poe’s Law also has an inverse meaning, stating that non-fundamentalists will often mistake sincere expressions of fundamentalist beliefs for parody.
Examples abound – one particularly difficult-to-judge site claims that “Heliocentrism [the belief that the Earth orbits the Sun, rather than the other way around] is an Atheist Doctrine”.
One that must, surely, be a parody is (WARNING: link contains adult material), a site that offers Christians advice on the rights and wrongs of such activities as threesomes and pubic shaving, among much more.
However, it is hard to be entirely certain, given the existence of (WARNING: link contains adult material), an apparently entirely serious site.
Here is an example of a parody site that embodies both Godwin's and Poe's Laws.
3. Rule 34

States: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” See also Rule 35: “If no such porn exists, it will be made.” Generally held to refer to fictional characters and cartoons, although some formulations insist there are "no exceptions" even for abstract ideas like non-Euclidean geometry, or puzzlement.
For obvious reasons it is not appropriate for lengthy discussion in a family newspaper, but the recent appearance of Marge Simpson on the cover of Playboy, pictured above, was a (very mild) example of the law in action, and going mainstream.
The spread of fanfic, slash fiction and hentai around the internet, as well as the rise of furries, are making this law more and more accurate every day.
The other 33 rules change frequently, except one and two, which are “Do not talk about /b/” and “Do NOT talk about /b/”, respectively, referring to a message board on the website.
4. Skitt’s Law
Expressed as "any post correcting an error in another post will contain at least one error itself" or "the likelihood of an error in a post is directly proportional to the embarrassment it will cause the poster."
It is an online version of the proofreading truism Muphry’s Law, also known as Hartman's Law of Prescriptivist Retaliation: "any article or statement about correct grammar, punctuation, or spelling is bound to contain at least one eror".
Language Log quotes the following example, from Paul Ordoveza’s How Now, Brownpau? blog:
"For too long, we linguistic pedants have cringed, watching this phrase used, misused, and abused, again, and again, and again. 'This begs the question...' [we hear], and we must brace ourselves as the ignoramii of modern society literally ask a question after the phrase."
While Mr Ordoveza’s point is entirely valid (“begging the question” is a logical fallacy, meaning to "beggar the question", or assume your conclusion in your premise – not to raise the question), the plural of ignoramus is ignoramuses.
It was apparently first stated by G Bryan Lord, referring to a user named Skitt, on Usenet in 1998.
5. Scopie’s Law
States: “In any discussion involving science or medicine, citing as a credible source loses the argument immediately, and gets you laughed out of the room.” First formulated by Rich Scopie on the forum.
This law makes little sense without a background knowledge of, a conspiracy theory site which includes such items as the complete text of the anti-Semitic hoax Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as claims that Aids is caused by vaccination programmes, and that Auschwitz never happened.
It has been expanded by posters on to include any use of Answers in Genesis in an argument about creationism and evolution.
6. Danth’s Law (also known as Parker’s Law)
States: “If you have to insist that you've won an internet argument, you've probably lost badly.” Named after a user on the role-playing gamers’ forum
Danth’s Law was most famously declared in “The Lenski Affair”, between microbiologist Richard Lenski and the editor of, Andrew Schlafly, who cast doubt upon Prof Lenski’s elegant experimental demonstration of evolution.
After what is widely held to be one of the greatest and most comprehensive put-downs in scientific argument from Prof Lenski, Mr Schlafly declared himself the winner.
7. Pommer’s Law
Proposed by Rob Pommer on in 2007, this states: “A person's mind can be changed by reading information on the internet. The nature of this change will be from having no opinion to having a wrong opinion.”
8. DeMyer's Laws
Named for Ken DeMyer, a moderator on There are four: the Zeroth, First, Second and Third Laws.
The Second Law states: “Anyone who posts an argument on the internet which is largely quotations can be very safely ignored, and is deemed to have lost the argument before it has begun.”
The Zeroth, First and Third Laws cannot be very generally applied and will be glossed over here.
9. Cohen’s Law
Proposed by Brian Cohen in 2007, states that: “Whoever resorts to the argument that ‘whoever resorts to the argument that... …has automatically lost the debate’ has automatically lost the debate.”
Has also been stated in the much longer version, "Whoever resorts to the argument that 'whoever resorts to the argument that... 'whoever resorts to the argument that... 'whoever resorts to the argument that... 'whoever resorts to the argument that ... 'whoever resorts to the argument that... ...has automatically lost the debate' ...has automatically lost the debate' ...has automatically lost the debate' ...has automatically lost the debate' ...has automatically lost the debate' has automatically lost the debate."
10. The Law of Exclamation
First recorded in an article by Lori Robertson at in 2008, this states: "The more exclamation points used in an email (or other posting), the more likely it is a complete lie. This is also true for excessive capital letters."
It is reminiscent of the claim in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels that the more exclamation marks someone uses in writing, the more likely they are to be mentally unbalanced.
According to Pratchett, five exclamation marks is an indicator of "someone who wears their underwear on the outside".

Barack Obama sees worst poll rating drop in 50 years

The decline in Barack Obama's popularity since July has been the steepest of any president at the same stage of his first term for more than 50 years.
Barack Obama's popularity has fallen steeply since being elected last year
Barack Obama's popularity has fallen steeply since being elected last year Photo: AFP
Gallup recorded an average daily approval rating of 53 per cent for Mr Obama for the third quarter of the year, a sharp drop from the 62 per cent he recorded from April.
His current approval rating – hovering just above the level that would make re-election an uphill struggle – is close to the bottom for newly-elected president. Mr Obama entered the White House with a soaring 78 per cent approval rating.
The bad polling news came as Mr Obama returned to the campaign trail to prevent his Democratic party losing two governorships next month in states in which he defeated Senator John McCain in last November's election.
Jeffrey Jones of Gallup explained: "The dominant political focus for Obama in the third quarter was the push for health care reform, including his nationally televised address to Congress in early September.
"Obama hoped that Congress would vote on health care legislation before its August recess, but that goal was missed, and some members of Congress faced angry constituents at town hall meetings to discuss health care reform. Meanwhile, unemployment continued to climb near 10 per cent."
Governor Jon Corzine of New Jersey is in severe danger of defeat while Democrats are fast losing hope that Creigh Deeds can beat his Republican opponent in Virginia. Twin Democratic losses would be a major blow to Mr Obama's prestige.
Campaigning for Mr Corzine in Hackensack on Wednesday night, Mr Obama delivered a plea that almost seemed as much for himself as the local candidate: "I'm here today to urge you to cast aside the cynics and the sceptics, and prove to all Americans that leaders who do what's right and who do what's hard will be rewarded and not rejected."
Mr Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive and multi-millionaire, is currently running even in New Jersey, which is normally comfortably Democratic, while Mr Deeds is trailing badly in Virginia, a swing state that was key to Mr Obama's 2008 victory.
Mr Obama is also facing widespread criticism for his drawn-out decision-making process over what to do next in Afghanistan.
Republicans sense Mr Obama is in a vulnerable position and this week saw the return to the public stage of his perhaps most vehement opponent – Vice-President Dick Cheney.
In a blistering speech on Wednesday night, he accused Mr Obama of failing to give Americans troops on the ground a clear mission or defined goals and of being seemingly "afraid to make a decision" about Afghanistan "The White House must stop dithering while America's armed forces are in danger," Cheney said at the Center for Security Policy in Washington.
"Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries."
He hit out at Obama aides who suggested that the Bush administration had failed to weigh up conditions in Afghanistan properly before committing troops.
"Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It's time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity."

Internet spawns virtual subculture for prostitution


WASHINGTON - Internet is not only a major tool in all businesses, it has also given rise to a virtual subculture for “johns” who share information electronically about prostitution, potentially making them harder to catch, according to a new study co-authored by a Michigan State University criminologist.

Led by Thomas Holt and Kristie Blevins of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, the study challenges the common perception that sex customers act alone and do not interact for fear of reprisal or scorn.
Holt said that today’s Web-savvy johns use the Internet to solicit prostitutes and to provide each other with warnings of prostitution hot zones and stings, which can hamper the efforts of law enforcement officials.
But the more police become familiar the johns’ Web activities, the more it can help them zero in on the perpetrators, he added.
“The growth of these deviant subcultures has made it more difficult for law enforcement,” said Holt, who has helped police devise prostitution stings. “On the other hand, it gives us a new opportunity to use the way the offenders communicate to better target their activities,” he said.
The study analyzed prostitution Web forums in 10 U.S. cities with the highest rates of prostitution arrests- Atlanta; Baltimore; Chicago; Dayton, Ohio; Elizabeth, N.J.; Forth Worth, Texas; Hartford, Conn.; Inglewood, Calif.; Las Vegas; and Memphis, Tenn.
In the Web forums, the johns provide detailed information on the location of sexual services on the streets and indoors, as well as ways to identify specific providers, information on costs and personal experiences with providers.
Owing to the open nature of the forums, the johns could carefully disguise their discussions with a unique language, or argot, based largely on code and acronyms.
This argot may help johns and sex workers to avoid legal sanctions and any social stigma associated with participating in the sex trade, said the researchers.
The study also said the johns place significant value on the notion that paid sexual encounters are normal and nondeviant.
“These Internet communities help these individuals justify their behavior,” said Holt.
In addition, the study found that the johns, in their Internet exchanges, generally perceive prostitutes as commodities rather than people.
The study appears in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.

UN human rights investigator spars with Myanmar

An independent U.N. investigator clashed with Myanmar's representative over the nation's human rights record Thursday and called for the release of all 2,000 political prisoners before national elections in 2010.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, who was appointed the U.N.'s special rapporteur for Myanmar in March 2008 by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, said he saw "a pattern of widespread and systematic violations" of human rights during two trips to Myanmar this year. Those ranged from forced labor to political prisoners to abuses of women and children in a nation that has been ruled by the military since 1962.

Quintana also described a "starvation situation" in many parts of the country, including Kayin, North Rakhine, Chin, North Shan and East Shan states, compounded by dire living conditions.

"The situation of human rights in Myanmar remains alarming," he told the U.N. General Assembly's committee for social and humanitarian issues. "There is a pattern of widespread and systematic violations which in many conflict areas results result in serious abuses of civilian rights and integrity."

Quintana, a lawyer from Argentina, said the judiciary delivered harsh sentences against prisoners of conscience - most notably Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - and that a culture of "prevailing impunity" under the military government allows abuses to continue unchecked. Next month he plans his third visit this year.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, recently has allowed Suu Kyi, the detailed democracy leader, some contact with Western diplomats as the United States has launched a new policy of trying to engage the country's leaders.

But a recent court ruling upheld her August conviction for breaking the terms of her house arrest by briefly sheltering an uninvited American at her home earlier this year. She was sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest, meaning she cannot participate in elections scheduled for next year, the first in Myanmar in two decades.

Myanmar diplomat U Thaung Tun hotly disputed Quintana's assessment as "less than objective" but said the ruling military junta is ready to cooperate with him.

"It is regretable that allegations of human rights violations from exiled groups have found their way into the report. These allegations should be taken with a grain of salt," U Thaung Tun said. "We find it perturbing, troubling that the report focuses principally on selected individuals and groups, instead of engagement with the Myanmar authorities to grow cooperation."

U Thaung Tun sought, in particular, to deflect widespread concern about the scheduled 2010 elections next year in Myanmar.

"We are deeply disappointed that the special rapporteur casts doubts on the elections and the judicial system. ... Let there be no doubt that the government's determination is to hold them and that they will be free and fair," he said.

New York Times to cut 100 newsroom jobs


NEW YORK - The New York Times plans to eliminate 100 newsroom jobs - about 8 percent of the total - by year’s end, offering buyouts to union and non-union employees and resorting to layoffs if it cannot get enough people to leave voluntarily.

The programme mirrors one carried out in the spring of 2008, when the paper erased 100 positions in its newsroom, though other jobs were created, so the net reduction was smaller, the leading US daily said Monday announcing the job cuts.

That round of cuts included some layoffs of journalists - about 15 to 20, though The Times would not disclose the actual figure - which was the first time in memory that had happened.

The paper has made much deeper reductions in other, non-newsroom departments, where layoffs have occurred several times. But the advertising drop that has pummelled the industry has forced cuts in the news operation as well, the Times said.

The newsroom already has lowered its budgets for freelancers and trimmed other expenses, and employees took a 5 percent pay cut for most of this year.

The Times’s news department peaked at more than 1,330 employees before the last round of cuts. The current headcount is about 1,250; no other American newspaper has more than about 750.

The Times will mail buyout packages to the entire newsroom staff Thursday. The employees have 45 days to decide whether to apply for the buyout.

Times executives said this year that they did not anticipate the news staff shrinking in 2009, except through attrition, but that nothing was certain. In fact, the 5 percent pay cut was meant to forestall any staff reductions.

Women fighting fires in see-through uniforms

Firefighter Maryann Berndt demonstrates the see-through effect. Picture: Adam Ward.
  • Firefighters' uniforms see-through
  • Women say they feel like sex objects
  • Wet T-shirt look while fighting fires
A WET T-shirt controversy has broken out among female firefighters who have complained their new Rural Fire Service shirts become see-through when wet.
More than 600 volunteers joined a Facebook petition to object to the issuing of the bright yellow shirts to replace existing navy blue ones.

Women complained that when they sweat, handle leaking hoses, wash or fill their trucks and even when it rains, their male colleagues can see through their new shirts, The Daily Telegraph reports.

"Most women aren't too happy about it. We're not doing the job to be glamorous. We're not sex objects," Sydney volunteer Maryann Berndt, 34, said yesterday.

"You can get quite wet on the fire ground, you always get wet from leaking hoses or filling up the trucks."

In an email forwarded to Opposition emergency services spokeswoman Melinda Pavey, another female firefighter wrote: "I do not like the yellow long sleeved T-shirts for the fact that after you have rolled a few wet hoses or ended up with water all over you they become completely see-through.

"This isn't much of an issue for the guys but not so flattering for the girlies."

Ms Pavey said the shirts were issued to firefighters without consultation.

"It is demeaning there is no thought for women volunteers and what may happen if the shirts get wet. It shows a lack of respect for what women do in the RFS," Ms Pavey said.

There were dozens of posts on the Facebook petition site to save the blue drill shirts, including firefighters comparing the new all yellow look to the yellow member of the The Wiggles.

"RFS Wiggles," one member wrote.

Another wrote: "Hope this petition works. The yellow life saver shirts are bloody ugly."

An RFS spokesman said the shirts would be issued to volunteers free, unlike the navy ones which members have to pay for and which will remain for sale.

He added that while first yellow shirts issued were of thinner fabric, the next ones due to be issued would have pockets over the chest and would not be see through when wet.

"The colour yellow has been used due to its high visibility. Also, during independent testing in Alberta, Canada, it has been identified that the blue coloured clothing absorbs more heat," he said.

Scientists announce planet bounty

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Gliese 667C (ESO/L. Cal├žada)
Artist's impression: Astronomers are finding smaller and smaller planets

Astronomers have announced a haul of planets found beyond our Solar System.
The 32 "exoplanets" ranged in size from five times the mass of Earth to 5-10 times the mass of Jupiter, the researchers said.
They were found using a very sensitive instrument on a 3.6m telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla facility in Chile.
The discovery is exciting because it suggests that low-mass planets could be numerous in our galaxy.
"From [our] results, we know now that at least 40% of solar-type stars have low-mass planets. This is really important because it means that low-mass planets are everywhere, basically," explained Stephane Udry from Geneva University, Switzerland.
"What's very interesting is that models are predicting them, and we are finding them; and furthermore the models are predicting even more lower-mass planets like the Earth."
Size selection
The discovery now takes the number of known exoplanets - planets outside our Solar System - to more than 400.
These have been identified using a range of astronomical techniques and telescopes, but this latest group was spotted as a result of observations made with the Harps spectrometer at La Silla.
The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher instrument employs what is sometimes called the "wobble technique".
This is an indirect method of detection that infers the existence of orbiting planets from the way their gravity makes a parent star appear to twitch in its motion across the sky.
Astronomy is working right at the limits of the current technology capable of detecting exoplanets and most of those found so far are Jupiter-scale and bigger.
Harps, however, has focussed its efforts on small, relatively cool stars - so-called M-class stars - in the hope of finding low-mass planets, ones most likely to resemble the rocky planets in our own Solar System.
Of the 28 planets known with masses below 20 Earth-masses, Harps has now identified 24 of them - and six of those are in the newly announced group.
"We have two candidates at five Earth-masses and two at six Earth-masses," Professor Udry told BBC News.
Combined approach
Harps has previously identified an object which is only twice as massive as the Earth (announced in April).
Scientists are confident this planet harbours no life, though, because it orbits so close to its parent star that surface temperatures would be scorching.
In revealing the new collection of planets on Monday, the Harps team-members said they expected to confirm the existence of another batch, similar in number, during the coming six months.
The ultimate goal is to find a rocky planet in a star's "habitable zone", an orbit where temperatures are in a range that would support the presence of liquid water.
Scientists believe the introduction of newer, more sensitive technologies will allow them to identify such an object within just a few years from now.
The US space agency (Nasa) recently launched its Kepler telescope.
This hopes to find Earth-size planets by looking for the tiny dip in light coming from a star as an object crosses its face as viewed from Earth.
To properly characterise a planet, different observing techniques are required. The Kepler "transit" method reveals the diameter of an object, but a Harps-like measurement is needed to resolve the mass.

An Inconvenient Truth Teller

From health-care reform to Afghanistan, Joe Biden has bucked Obama—as only a good Veep can.

A Day In the Life Of Joe Biden
From health care to Afghanistan, the vice president isn't shy to express his opinions or exert his influence. Spending a day with Joe Biden.
Photos: Biden's Remarkable Road to the Political Pinnacle

Joe Biden had a question. During a long Sunday meeting with President Obama and top national-security advisers on Sept. 13, the VP interjected, "Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?" Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. "And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?" The White House Situation Room fell silent. But the questions had their desired effect: those gathered began putting more thought into Pakistan as the key theater in the region.

Back in March, Biden stood alone. When Obama announced that he was launching a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan—to develop the country and make its civilians safe from the Taliban—Biden was the only one of the president's top advisers to seriously question the wisdom of this course. The vice president even authored a short paper, called "Counterterrorism-Plus," outlining his case for a better-defined, more limited mission. The president listened but promised to review his policy again only after the Afghan election in August. Biden "didn't get a lot of traction internally," says a White House staffer familiar with the debate who did not want to be named discussing internal deliberations.
In the early days of the administration, Biden was a bit of a joke in some quarters of the White House. He was never the buffoonish character portrayed by late-night comics, but his off-message blurts were the source of eye-rolling and some irritation among the president's men and women. None of the gaffes was particularly damaging, but aides who'd been with Obama through the campaign knew that the president valued very tight control. Biden himself seemed wounded by the sniggering. Asked about his gaffes by a NEWSWEEK reporter last spring, he responded a little defensively, "A gaffe in Washington is someone telling the truth, and telling the truth has never hurt me."
Biden can still be irrepressible and long-winded. But in the Oval Office he has learned to be more disciplined without losing his edge. His persistence and truth telling have paid off, and he's found a role for himself. On Afghanistan in particular, the vice president's once lonesome position now has high-level support. The president himself seems to be looking for a middle way—not pulling out of Afghanistan, but at the same time not sending in the more than 40,000 troops requested by the U.S. ground commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Biden has also played the gadfly on health care. He hasn't advocated a particular course of action, but rather has challenged the assumptions of others. "He says the things that others at the table don't want to talk about, or which they find uncomfortable," says White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

Across the board, Biden's real value to the president is not really his specific advice. It's his ability to stir things up. Senior government officials who have participated in small meetings with the president and vice president have noticed Obama and Biden engaged in a duet. "The president will lean over, and they will quietly talk to each other. Biden will then question someone, make comments, and the president just leans back and seems to be taking it all in before he speaks," Attorney General Eric Holder tells NEWSWEEK. Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff, describes the interaction like this: "President Obama is one of the world's greatest listeners; you can't tell what he is thinking. He's able to watch the VP ask tough questions and doesn't have to do that himself. [In that way] he doesn't have to reveal what he's thinking. That's very valuable."

After the election, Obama spoke of wanting a "team of rivals" in the White House. That sounds very Lincolnesque, but in the wired world of cable and bloggers, rivals (or, more typically, their staffers) can quickly become leakers and troublemakers. Presidents can soon come to feel embattled and besieged; the natural inclination is to surround the presidency with yes men and true believers. Biden is a truth teller, almost congenitally so, but he is no backstabber. There is an appealing, slightly vulnerable quality about his eagerness to please. He may run off at the mouth, but he is known for his loyalty. "If there were no gaffes, there'd be no Joe. He's someone you can't help but like," says Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. It is significant that when Biden dissented on Afghanistan policy in the spring, he did not go running to the press with his opinions, and he quickly got on board with administration policy.
Biden and Obama did not instantly bond. As a junior senator, Obama was not an intimate of Biden, a six-term veteran and committee chairman. The two men were rivals for the Democratic nomination until Biden dropped out in the early primaries, and Obama chose Biden as his running mate partly because he was a safe political choice, reassuring to Joe Six-Pack voters who might find Obama a little haughty. But Obama knew that Biden could be a shrewd and pointed questioner, particularly on foreign policy. In the spring of 2008, when candidate Obama was regarded as a greenhorn on foreign policy, he surprised and impressed the pundits by deftly probing Gen. David Petraeus on Iraq policy at a congressional hearing. No one but Obama knew at the time that Biden had advised him on his line of questioning.

Offered the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket that August, Biden hesitated before saying yes. He was well aware of the professional dangers of the office—from the pronouncement of John Nance Garner, FDR's first vice president, that the job was "not worth a bucket of warm piss" to Dick Cheney's attempts to run a kind of shadow presidency. Neither prospect beckoned to Biden.
That fall he told The New Yorker that his model was Lyndon Johnson, who wanted to help the young John F. Kennedy navigate the shoals of Congress. It was an odd choice: LBJ was miserable, mocked by the Kennedys as "Uncle Cornpone," and Biden risked repeating his fate with the ambitious, smart guys around Obama. More wisely, Biden consulted Walter Mondale, the former senator who became Jimmy Carter's veep and was the first to insist on an office inside the White House, near the Oval Office. Mondale advised Biden to stake out his claim, to decide what he really wanted.
The answer was access. Biden did not want an agenda or an assigned policy task or a big staff. But he did want to be in the room when the decisions were made. Obama agreed and told him he wanted Biden's "unvarnished opinion." Recounting this moment to a NEWSWEEK reporter, Biden opened his arms wide and mock-bellowed, "You've got it!"
At first Obama may have felt that he'd gotten more than he bargained for. The two men are Mutt and Jeff, warm and a little verbose versus precise and a little too cool. After serving as a committee chairman, wielding his own gavel, Biden had trouble adjusting to the bureaucratic strictures of the vice presidency. "This is the first time I've had a boss in 37 years," he told NEWSWEEK in May. To his staff, he would sometimes confess that he had talked too long or said the wrong thing at a meeting with the president—that he had to sharpen his approach.
Less than a month into the Obama presidency, Biden forthrightly, if unwisely, declared that the new administration's economic plan had a "30 percent chance" of failure. Asked about this at a press conference, Obama smiled thinly and answered, "You know, I don't remember what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly." Obama's staffers, who were lined up along the back wall at the presser, snickered along with the press.

Biden felt insulted. Through staffers, Obama apologized, protesting that he had meant no disrespect. But at one of their regularly scheduled weekly lunches, Biden directly raised the incident with the president. The veep said he was trying to be more disciplined about his own remarks, but he asked that in return the president refrain from making fun (and require his staff to do likewise). He made the point that even the impression that the president was dissing him was not only bad for Biden, but bad for the administration. The conversation cleared the air, according to White House aides who did not want to be identified discussing a private -conversation.
To demonstrate their palship (and dampen the rumors of disaffection between them), the president and vice president were photographed at one point, sleeves rolled up, eating hamburgers together. Biden worked on discretion. Asked by NEWSWEEK as he flew on Air Force Two in the spring if he could describe any moments when he had influenced the president's thinking, Biden stared down at his hands for a few seconds. "I think I should let him tell you that," he finally said. "Good answer!" exclaimed his relieved communications director, Jay Carney.
Biden can get carried away gushing on about all the time he spends with the president ("Four hours a day!") and his close relations in the administration. ("Hillary Clinton!" Biden exclaims, throwing an arm in the air. "We've been friends for 20 years! Confidants!") But in fact his many friendships forged over the years are highly useful to Obama, who had spent just four years in Washington before becoming president, and half of that on the road campaigning. Biden "knows all the players," says Emanuel. On a trip to Europe and the Middle East this summer, Biden joked and guffawed with political leaders across two continents. He was also able to privately deliver bad news and the occasional scolding in a way the president never could. With the Russians in particular, the president and vice president played good cop–bad cop. Obama publicly declared that he wanted to establish a new era of good feeling with the Kremlin while Biden reminded the Russians that Washington was watching their territorial ambitions and human-rights record.

Biden is especially useful with his former colleagues in the Senate, where he showed an unusual willingness to reach across the aisle. He is still a regular in the Senate gym and dining room. "I've seen him so much, it's like he never left," says Sen. Arlen Specter, Democrat of Pennsylvania. Though Biden initially suggested that Obama might not want to try for health-care reform in his first year in office, the veep has been conscientiously rounding up votes for months. He also brought a dose of reality to the internal discussions over how far the administration could go. "He's been asking, 'What are the trade-offs here?'" says Emanuel. "Early on in the administration everyone thinks you can do everything everywhere. He was the one saying you need to make choices—choices within the health-care system and choices between that and other initiatives. By stating the uncomfortable—or stating the obvious if you've spent time in Congress—he helped people see with better clarity what the choices were, and the consequences of those choices." Emanuel likes to say that government is often a choice between bad and worse, and suggests Biden understands that as well as anyone in the administration.
That description perfectly captures the president's options on Afghanistan. In March, when Obama made his decision to back a counterinsurgency strategy, there was not a searching examination in the White House over the potential cost—in bodies, money, or political capital—or the real prospects for success. During the presidential campaign, Obama had declared that Afghanistan, not Iraq, was the right war, and so the assumption at the White House was that the president would have to make good on his words. He had a request for at least 30,000 more troops on his desk, and he wanted to get enough of them to Afghanistan in time to be of use for the August election. (He ultimately approved a troop increase of 21,000, to a total of 68,000.) Only Biden vigorously questioned whether America would have the patience or resources for a full-scale counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan over the long run. Obama said he'd review the situation again after the election.
In June, Obama appointed General McChrystal commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan (relieving Gen. David McKiernan, who was deemed to be insufficiently creative and forward-leaning by the Pentagon high command). The general was given 60 days to make a recommendation on how to implement the counterinsurgency strategy. McChrystal wrote a classified 66-page report (later leaked to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post) calling for more than 40,000 additional troops and a rigorous attempt to cut down on civilian casualties. McChrystal warned that the situation was "deteriorating" and that, without reinforcements, "failure" was a real possibility.
In Washington, Biden "appeared to grow uncomfortable with the administration rushing to double down without thinking it through," says Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served both Presidents Bush. Haass, who had opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, had written an op-ed in The New York Times on Aug. 20 arguing that Afghanistan was a "war of choice," not a "war of necessity"—refuting Obama's characterization in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars that same week. Biden called Haass and began quizzing him, later inviting him down to dinner in Washington. "By late August, early September," says Haass, "Biden was pressing his case with the president and the other principals."
Biden has been incorrectly characterized as a dove who wants to pull out of Afghanistan. In fact, according to his "Counterterrorism-Plus" paper, he wants to maintain a large troop presence. He also favors a greater emphasis on training Afghan troops—and defending Kabul and Kandahar—than on chasing the Taliban around the countryside, and he wants more diplomatic efforts to try to peel away those Taliban who can be bought with money or other inducements (like political power). He is leery of massive attempts at nation building and more hopeful that the United States can work with local warlords than with the corrupt and inept central government in Kabul. On a grander strategic level, he wants to tilt the administration's efforts more toward Pakistan (to "make the problem PakAf, not AfPak"), reasoning that Al Qaeda—the real threat to the United States—is hiding out not in Afghanistan but in nuclear-armed -Pakistan.

Biden was once a liberal interventionist. During the 1990s he pushed to use force in the Balkans to stop Serb territorial aggression and genocide. But he has always been a member of the Vietnam generation, and, unlike some younger members of the administration, including the president, he has a firsthand memory of American defeat. "There are a lot of differences [between Vietnam and Afghanistan]," says Chuck Hagel, the former Republican senator from Nebraska and a Vietnam vet who often talks to Biden, "but one of the similarities is how easily and quickly a nation can get bogged down in a very dangerous part of the world. It's easy to get into but not easy to get out. The more troops you throw in places, the more difficult it is to work it out because you have an investment to protect."
Long Washington experience has made Biden a political realist, if not a bit of a cynic. Shortly after 9/11, he described to NEWSWEEK's Michael Hirsh how he had been summoned to the White House for a heart-to-heart with George W. Bush. Bush reassured him that the United States would not abandon Afghanistan after routing Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Bush 43 even indirectly criticized Bush 41, who had turned away from the Afghans in 1989—after the United States had covertly helped the mujahedin rout the Soviet invaders. Biden warned Bush that the commitment would cost billions and take years and a large multinational force, but he was encouraged by the president's enthusiasm. As Biden was leaving the White House, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer asked him to stop outside at the press stakeout to show that Bush's policies had bipartisan support. Biden agreed, but then Fleischer hesitated. "You're not going to say anything about 'nation building,' are you?" he asked. Biden dryly retorted, "You mean, what the president talked about for the last hour?" For Biden, the story encapsulated all the "phoniness" of the endless debate of America's role overseas. The Republicans had slammed Bill Clinton for years over nation building, but now that they were engaging in some of it themselves, they wanted to do it by another name.
On trips to Afghanistan with congressional delegations, Biden gradually grew disillusioned with President Hamid Karzai, who had seemed like such a heroic and hopeful figure in 2002. At a dinner Biden attended with Karzai and several other senators in early 2008, Karzai obstinately refused to concede that his government was riddled with corruption. Exasperated, Biden threw down his napkin and walked out.

Obama also had doubts, dating back to when he met Karzai during the campaign. But this August, as it appeared that Karzai or his followers had committed vast fraud in the election, other Obama administration officials also began to seriously doubt whether Karzai was worth the candle. Biden's earlier warnings began to take on more resonance in the White House war councils.
Biden, it should be noted, has not always showed the most clear-eyed judgment. In 1990 he voted against American involvement in the first Gulf war, which turned out to be a relatively low-cost success, whereas he voted for the invasion of Iraq, which turned into a near fiasco. He opposed the 2007 Iraq surge, which rescued the American effort from near defeat.
The president relies on Biden's judgment, but he may be more interested in having his veep play the devil's advocate. One senses, from both his track record and his recent remarks, that Obama is comfortable with having Biden push from one side and General McChrystal push from the other. Last week the president told congressional leaders that he did not plan on drawing down troops in Afghanistan, but by the same token he was rethinking the full-scale counterinsurgency strategy proposed by McChrystal. Obama has shown a penchant for splitting the difference, for finding the middle way on tough policy issues.
Some administration officials, led by Biden, appear to hope that American forces can rely more on counterterrorism operations—attacks by Predator drones and small elite units on terrorist hiding places—to hold Afghanistan together and defeat Al Qaeda. But critics call this "splitting the baby" and say it'll never work. As a senior civilian Pentagon official points out, "No one has more experience with counterterrorism than McChrystal," who ran black ops in Iraq and Afghanistan for five years. "If there was an easier, better way, he'd be pushing for it," says this official, who would not be quoted discussing internal deliberations. Opinions within the intelligence community are split, according to current and former operatives. Some back McChrystal's view that the only way to obtain the intelligence necessary to conduct counterterror operations is by a counterinsurgency campaign that protects civilians. Yet a significant minority of intelligence officials, at the CIA and elsewhere, doubt that more troops will make much difference; some think the additional forces could be counterproductive.
Senior military officials backing Mc-Chrystal have not given up hope that Obama will fully support the general, not Biden, and order tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan. It is impossible to know with certainty where Obama will come out on this; the strategy meetings will go on until atleast next week. But the presidentwill have confidence that whatever he decides, he will have challenged all assumptions and thrashed out all views. He can also be confident that he won't be second-guessed by his vice president. Biden is determined to be a "team player," says a close friend who asked for anonymity while commenting on Biden's motivations. "He wants to help the president. Joe is someone who is probably not going to run again. This is the apex of his career, and there is no separate agenda. There are people close to the president who are driven crazy by Joe's candor," says the friend. "But that's what you get with Joe."

Why Joe Biden Should Resign

Joe Biden met with CENTCOM chief Gen. David Petraeus this morning to talk about Afghanistan -- an issue that has pushed the vice president into the spotlight, landing him on the cover of the latest Newsweek.
I have an idea for how he can capitalize on all the attention, and do what generations to come will always be grateful for: resign.
The centerpiece of Newsweek's story is how Biden has become the chief White House skeptic on escalating the war in Afghanistan, specifically arguing against Gen. McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy there.
The piece, by Holly Bailey and Evan Thomas, opens with details of a September 13th national security meeting at the White House. Biden speaks up:
"Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?" Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. "And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?" The White House Situation Room fell silent.
Being Greek, I'm partial to Biden's classic use of the Socratic method -- skillfully eliciting facts in a way that lets people connect the dots that show how misguided our involvement in Afghanistan has become.
It's been known for a while that Biden has been on the other side of McChrystal's desire for a big escalation of our forces there -- the New York Times reported last month that he has "deep reservations" about it. So if the president does decide to escalate, Biden, for the good of the country, should escalate his willingness to act on those reservations.
What he must not do is follow the same weak and worn-out pattern of "opposition" we've become all-too-accustomed to, first with Vietnam and then with Iraq. You know the drill: after the dust settles, and the country begins to look back and not-so-charitably wonder, "what were they thinking?" the mea-culpa-laden books start to come out. On page after regret-filled page, we suddenly hear how forceful this or that official was behind closed doors, arguing against the war, taking a principled stand, expressing "strong concern" and, yes, "deep reservations" to the president, and then going home each night distraught at the unnecessary loss of life.
Well, how about making the mea culpa unnecessary? Instead of saving it for the book, how about future author Biden unfetter his conscience in real time -- when it can actually do some good? If Biden truly believes that what we're doing in Afghanistan is not in the best interests of our national security -- and what issue is more important than that? -- it's simply not enough to claim retroactive righteousness in his memoirs.
Though it would be a crowning moment in a distinguished career, such an act of courage would likely be only the beginning. Biden would then become the natural leader of the movement to wind down this disastrous war and focus on the real dangers in Pakistan.
The number of those on both sides of the political spectrum who share Biden's skepticism is growing. In August, George Will called for the U.S. to pull out of Afghanistan and "do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units."
Former Bush State Department official and current head of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haas argued in the New York Times that Afghanistan is not, as Obama insists, a war of necessity. "If Afghanistan were a war of necessity, it would justify any level of effort," writes Haas. "It is not and does not. It is not certain that doing more will achieve more. And no one should forget that doing more in Afghanistan lessens our ability to act elsewhere."
In Rethink Afghanistan, Robert Greenwald's powerful look at the war (and a film Joe Biden should see right away), Robert Baer, a former CIA field operative says, "The notion that we're in Afghanistan to make our country safer is just complete bullshit... what it's doing is causing us greater danger, no question about it. Because the more we fight in Afghanistan, the more the conflict is pushed across the border into Pakistan, the more we destabilize Pakistan, the more likely it is that a fundamentalist government will take over the army -- and we'll have Al-Qaeda like groups with nuclear weapons."
And former Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam vet and Biden confidant, told Newsweek that, while "there are a lot of differences" between Vietnam and Afghanistan, "one of the similarities is how easily and quickly a nation can get bogged down in a very dangerous part of the world. It's easy to get into but not easy to get out. The more troops you throw in places, the more difficult it is to work it out because you have an investment to protect."
And doing so, as we've seen, usually means losing more and more of that "investment": each of the last six years of the Afghanistan war has been more deadly than the one before.
Both sides of the Afghanistan debate were represented on this Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopoulos.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered up a few rationales for why Obama should rubber stamp Gen. McChrystal's wishes. First, she said, "there has to be a process of finding out, which of these people can we work with and which can we not." Really? Seven years in and we still haven't checked that one off our to-do list?
Feinstein then broke out the latest trendy, new-for-fall reason why we need to up the ante in Afghanistan -- it's all about the women. " I particularly worry about women in Afghanistan," Feinstein said, "acid in the face of children, girl children who go to school, women who can't work when they're widowed, huddled on the streets, begging, women beaten and shot in stadiums, you know, Sharia law with all of its violence."
This is indeed very tragic, and I share her concern. But missing from the discussion was the fact that "Sharia law with all of its violence" has just been made the law of the land by President Karzai -- you know, our man in Kabul. The Sharia Personal Status Law, signed by Karzai, became operational in July. Among its provisions: custody rights are granted to fathers and grandfathers, women can work only with the permission of their husbands, and husbands can withhold food from wives who don't want to have sex with them. On the plus side, if a man rapes a mentally ill woman or child, he must pay a fine.
Of course, even with America standing guard, only 4 percent of girls in Afghanistan make it to the 10th grade, and up to 80 percent of Afghani women are subjected to domestic violence. As one of the Afghan women interviewed in Rethink Afghanistan sums up the current situation: "The cases of violence against women are more now than in the Taliban time."
So can we please put to rest the nonsensical rationalization that we're there for women's rights? And don't be surprised if that reason is soon replaced by another -- those pushing for escalation in Afghanistan seem to have learned the Bush administration's old tactic of constantly moving the goal posts. Don't like this reason? Fine, here's another one.
Countering Feinstein on Stephanopoulos was Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, who has taken the lead on this issue in Congress, introducing a bill calling for an exit strategy in Afghanistan.
"I think adding more American forces to Afghanistan would be a mistake," he said. "I think it would be counterproductive. And I think there's a strong case to be made that the larger our military footprint, the more difficult it is to achieve reconciliation."
McGovern then amplified Biden's concern that the real threat is elsewhere:
When I voted to use force to go to war after 9/11, I think I and everyone else in Congress voted to go after Al Qaida. That was our enemy. And Al Qaida has now moved to a different neighborhood, in Pakistan, where, quite frankly, they're more protected. And we're told by Gen. Jones that there are less than 100, if that, members of Al Qaida left in Afghanistan... So we're now saying we should have 100,000 American forces to go after less than 100 members of Al Qaida in Afghanistan? I think we need to re-evaluate our policy.
Or, as Biden put it, "does that make strategic sense?"
In June, Gen. Jones, the president's National Security Advisor, was at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, meeting with U.S. commanders there. This was shortly after the arrival of the 21,000 additional troops President Obama had sent over. Jones raised the question of what the president's reaction would be if he were asked for even more troops. Well, Jones said, answering his own question, if that happened, the president would probably have a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." In other words, wtf?
Well, Obama has gotten that request, but it wasn't a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment" for him after all. Sadly, Newsweek reports that Obama is typically "looking for a middle way." But this isn't a negotiation for a used car, where you split the difference. It's either in our national security interest to be there or it isn't. It's either a necessary war or it isn't.
Newsweek's profile makes much of Joe Biden's loyalty. He's a "team player," one close friend says. And after he dissented on Afghanistan this spring he "quickly got on board."
I have no doubt that Joe Biden is a loyal guy -- the question is who deserves his loyalty most? His "team" isn't the White House, but the whole country. And if it becomes clear in the coming days that his loyalty to these two teams is in conflict, he should do the right thing. And quit.
Obama may be no drama, but Biden loves drama. And what could more dramatic than resigning the vice presidency on principle? And what principle could be more honorable than refusing to go along with a policy of unnecessarily risking American blood and treasure -- and America's national security? Now that would be a Whisky Tango Foxtrot moment for the McChrystal crowd -- one that would be a lot more significant than some lame, after-the-fact apology delivered in a too-late-to-matter book.

Anti-prostitution group files lawsuit in Mexico to keep Garcia Marquez book off the big screen

Group sues in Mexico to stop Garcia Marquez movie

MEXICO CITY — Efforts to film Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s latest novel are meeting resistance in Mexico, where an anti-prostitution group is seeking to block production, charging the movie will promote child prostitution.

“Memories of My Melancholy Whores” tells the story of a bachelor who for his 90th birthday decides to give himself the gift of a night of “wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

The Regional Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean filed a criminal complaint with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office on Monday. The complaint does not specifically name Garcia Marquez, but instead “whoever is responsible for acts that could be constituted as the crime of condoning child prostitution.”

Coalition director Teresa Ulloa told The Associated Press that a movie adaptation of the Colombian author’s novel would promote pedophilia and be accessible to a wider audience.

“As a book, it does not have access to the most vulnerable people in society,” she said. “Once they make the movie, it will be in movie theaters and later it will surely be on television.”

The Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for information on the lawsuit.

The film’s co-director and producer, Ricardo del Rio, told Mexico’s Reforma newspaper in an interview published Tuesday the lawsuit’s claims were inaccurate and unfair.

“They are censoring a film before it’s been made, without knowing either the script or the vision of the director,” he said.

He told Reforma that filming, scheduled to begin in late October, had been postponed because government officials in the Mexican state of Puebla had decided to withdraw funding for the movie in light of the lawsuit.

Puebla’s government said in a statement released Tuesday would not help fund the $8 million film.

Del Rio said producers had picked a 21-year-old actress, Ana de Armas, for the movie part, and that the character’s age would not be dealt with in the film.

“Here they have simply killed our adaptation. They have dealt us a fatal blow because we can’t film without all the resources,” he said.

Representatives of Memorias del Sabio Producciones, listed as the producer of the movie on a Mexican government Web site, said filming has been delayed but did not provide further reactions to the lawsuit.

“We are actively working to make this film project … We know it is a film that will awaken an interesting debate, just as it will make us grow as a society,” producer Raquel Guajardo said in a statement.

Ulloa said stopping the adaptation was her organization’s goal.

“We don’t want them to put Garcia Marquez in jail,” Ulloa said. “What we want is for them not to film the movie.”

She said the governments of Denmark and Spain were providing funding for the film. The coalition also plans to send letters to those governments asking them to reconsider their participation, she said.

“Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” published in Spanish in 2004, is the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s most recent book. When the novel came out in Mexico, publishers described it as a “hymn to life.”

Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City and Edmundo Velazquez in Puebla, Mexico contributed to this report.

Sonic warfare: U.S. police admit they trained a 'spotlight of sound' louder than a jet engine on G20 rioters

Critics have slammed American police officers after they trained an ear-splitting 'spotlight of sound' on G20 protesters in Pittsburgh last week.
The device can beam 'unbearable' alarm tones and voice commands to nearly two miles away. To a person standing three feet in front of it, it is louder than a jet engine.
The device, called a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), concentrates sound in a 30- or 60-degree cone.
Can you hear me now: Riot police in Pittsburgh with their Long-Range Acoustic Device beaming a 'spotlight of sound' on protesters last Thursday
Can you hear me now: Riot police in Pittsburgh with their Long-Range Acoustic Device beaming a 'spotlight of sound' on protesters last Thursday
It is about two feet square and mounted on a swivel such that one person can point it where it is needed.

The volume measures 140-150 decibels three feet away - louder than a jet engine - but dissipates with distance.
Robert Putnam, spokesman for the manufacturer, San Diego-based American Technology Corp., said it's 'like a big spotlight of sound that you can shine on people.'
'It's not a sonic cannon. It's not the death ray or anything like that,' Putnam insisted. 'It's about long-range communications being heard intelligibly.'
During the Pittsburgh protests, police used the device to order demonstrators to disperse and to play a high-pitched 'deterrent tone' designed to drive people away.
Enlarge   'Unbearable': An unidentified protester blocks his ears as police drive by using the device. Critics have slammed it as 'excessive force'
'Unbearable': An unidentified protester blocks his ears as police drive by using the device. Critics have slammed it as 'excessive force'
It was the first time the device was used in a riot-control situation on U.S. soil, according to American Technology and police.
Those who heard it said authorities' voice commands were clear and sounded as if they were coming from everywhere all at once. They described the 'deterrent tone' as unbearable.
Joel Kupferman, who was at Thursday's march as a legal observer for the National Lawyer's Guild, said he was overwhelmed by the tone and called it 'overkill.'
'When people were moving and they still continued to use it, it was an excessive use of weaponry,' Kupferman said.
Can you hear me now: Riot police in Pittsburgh with their Long-Range Acoustic Device beaming a 'spotlight of sound' on protesters last Thursday
The device has also been used by SWAT teams and to warn pirates that they have been spotted
Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania, said the device is a military weapon capable of producing permanent hearing loss.
Catherine Palmer, director of audiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said 140 decibels can cause immediate hearing loss.

But there's no way to know if anyone was exposed to sounds that loud without knowing how far away they were, she said.
Putnam and public safety officials said the complaints prove the device worked as designed.
'You have to put your hands over your ears and cover them, and it's difficult to throw stuff,' said Ray DeMichiei, deputy director of the city's emergency management agency.
Police said they used the device last Thursday to issue pre-recorded warnings when hundreds of demonstrators, including self-described anarchists, without a protest permit held a march that threatened to turn violent.
Aware of concerns about the volume, police were careful to use it about 12 feet off the ground mounted on a tactical vehicle, so no individual would be directly in its path or too close to it, Assistant Chief William Bochter said.
'The only way anybody gets hurt is if the deterrent is on full blast and they stand directly in front of it,' Putnam said.
A regional counterterror task force bought four of the devices from American Technology using $101,000 in federal Homeland Security funds, DeMichiei said.

Such devices also have military and commercial applications. Putnam said the primary purpose is to transmit specific orders loudly and clearly.
They have been used against protesters overseas, and police in New York threatened to use one during demonstrations near the Republican National Convention in 2004.
He said the city of San Diego uses them to instruct people to leave large sections of beach after festivals. It has also been used in SWAT operations.
Response: Police in riot gear redeploy after confrontations with protestors near the Strip District
Response: Police in riot gear redeploy after confrontations with protestors near the Strip District in Pittsburgh last Thursday. The 'sonic warfare' device can be seen in the background
Defiant: Demonstrators march during a protest prior to the start of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh
Defiant: Demonstrators march during a protest prior to the start of the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh
In military applications, it allows ships to hail approaching vessels and determine their intent, the company says.

Cargo ships use them to tell pirates that they had been spotted. When the pirates know they have lost the element of surprise, they will not attack, Putnam said.
Putnam said those complaining about the device have probably exposed themselves to sounds nearly as loud at rock concerts, and for longer periods of time. Walczak, the ACLU attorney, isn't buying the analogy.
'People don't flee the front row of a rock concert. Why would they be fleeing here?' Walczak asked. 'Because it's loud, it's painfully loud.'
Hear the device as it was used during the G20 protests here

Former Prosecutor: I Lied In Polanski Documentary

LOS ANGELES — A former prosecutor said Wednesday he lied when he told a documentary film crew that he advised a judge handling Roman Polanski's sex case that he should send the director to prison.

The statement later became part of the basis for a move by Polanski's attorneys to dismiss the case against the fugitive director who was arrested in Switzerland on Saturday.

"They interviewed me in the Malibu courthouse when I was still a DA, and I embellished a story," David F. Wells said in an interview with The Associated Press about his statements to the makers of "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired."

"I'm a guy who cuts to the chase – I lied. It embarrasses the hell of me." he said.

Wells, 71, did not handle Polanski's case but was assigned to the courtroom where it was heard and had frequent interactions with the judge.

Wells said he was sorry about making the comments for the documentary.

"I cost the DA's office a lot of money and aggravation over this," said Wells, who retired as a prosecutor more than two years ago.

Polanski was accused of plying a 13-year-old girl with champagne and part of a Quaalude during a modeling shoot in 1977 and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.

The director pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse; in exchange, the remaining charges were dropped, and the judge agreed to send Polanski to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. But Polanski was released after 42 days and fled the country on the eve of his Feb. 1, 1978, sentencing after the judge reportedly told lawyers he planned to add more prison time.

Polanski's attorneys later argued in a motion to dismiss the case that the communications between the judge and Wells were clear misconduct and violated Polanski's constitutional rights.

That motion was dismissed because Polanski was a fugitive at the time, though the judge acknowledged "substantial misconduct" in the original case. The matter is now in the hands of an appeals court.

One of Polanski's attorneys, Chad Hummel, declined to comment on Wells' comments. District Attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the office also had no comment.

Marina Zenovich, who directed the film, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Wells said he overstated his actions to the filmmakers because he was told the documentary would air in France, not the United States. The documentary aired on HBO.

In the documentary, Wells is depicted as conferring with the now-deceased trial judge Laurence J. Rittenband about Polanski's case. Wells says in the film the judge took his advice in deciding to renege on a plea bargain and give Polanski additional prison time.

"I made that up to make the stuff look better," Wells said. His admission was first reported in a story by former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark on the Web site The Daily Beast.

Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago identified herself, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal. She testified at the time that Polanski forced himself on her – which he acknowledged in his guilty plea – but has said she forgives him and wants the ordeal to be over.

Wells said he would testify in court that he lied and has offered to give a sworn declaration to prosecutors about his actions, in case they need it. No one from the district attorney's office has contacted him since he made the offer several months ago, he said.

Wells said he showed Rittenband a copy of a newspaper that pictured Polanski with girls at an Oktoberfest event. Wells said he never talked about potential sentences and the judge would have seen the paper anyway.

Wells said he still believes Polanski should receive a much stiffer sentence.