How Jaycee Lee Dugard became 'Allissa', the the girl with a smile for her captor's clients

Miss Dugard not only worked in Garrido's printing business in the squalid backyard enclosure where she lived since being snatched, aged 11 - but also met and dealt with customers.

She was in routine email contact with Garrido's clients, chatting on the phone and greeting them in person to hand over boxes of business cards, fliers and brochures produced at the home where she was taken after her abduction.

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Secret world where Jaycee Lee Dugard was a captive

In their minds she was "Allissa", the polite, smiling eldest daughter of the soft-spoken man regarded as likeable but an increasingly zealous religious nut.

She was, according to Deepal Karunaratne, an estate agent in Antioch who made dozens of orders from Garrido over the past 10 years, "very good at her job", while the firm's prices were attractively cheap.

"She was very professional, and handled the graphics and design and was very knowledgeable, while he was more on the business side of things," he told The Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Karunaratne said he communicated with her too many times to count and last saw her six weeks ago. "We spoke and she told me to pick up the work. She was happy to see me, said, 'Hi how are you?' Everything seemed fine, as usual."

The estate agent wrote to her at an email address under Garrido's name that was used for business purposes, as did Ben Daughdrill, another local businessman who told the New York Times that Miss Dugard was the "genius" in the operation, handling all the art work and generally making the firm, Printing 4 Less, tick along.

The authorities don't yet know if she ever tried to escape from the seedy tents and outhouses where she and her two children by Garrido lived in a concealed plot at the back of the property.

But a question facing police, psychologists, and most poignantly, Miss Dugard herself, is why did she never use the lines of communication she had gradually been allowed by Garrido to reveal her true identity and plead for help?

They will be asking how Garrido's control over a terrified 11-year-old girl gradually moulded her into an outwardly normal, computer-literate young woman - probably with access to the internet - ready to live by another name and keep her secret from the world.

From the little known of her thoughts since being reunited with her mother on Wednesday, the torment of dealing with that issue began immediately her secret was revealed.

Carl Probyn, her step-father, said that in conversations with her mother Terry Probyn at a hotel in the San Francisco Bay area Miss Dugard, who is now 29, had "expressed some regret, like guilt, that she hadn't escaped".

"She is feeling guilt for having bonded with this guy the way she did," he added. "She really feels it's almost like a marriage."

In the view of psychologists the Dugard case betrays classic signs of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which captives develop some kind of a union with their captor as a way of coping with their ordeal.

"She had to at least pretend to make friends with the perpetrator so that she would be fed and able to survive... [causing] her to feel like she belongs there in some unhealthy way," said Alison Walls, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of the Rockies.

Experts warned that her recovery would probably take years. James McCracken, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, said: "One can't overestimate the impact of the loss of her whole family."

Being taken at such a young age, Miss Dugard would probably have felt "as if her entire family has died", he said, although she may also have found "little islands of remembrance to retain hope".

In 2002, by which time Miss Dugard was 21 and had two children by Garrido, he felt confident enough in his manipulation of her to allow her to meet Mr Karunaratne. Indeed she helped save his account for Garrido, noticeably improving the quality of the work when the estate agent had begun to complain.

All that is known of her life between the kidnapping and this later stage is the squalor of her living conditions and that Miss Dugard and the children were never taken to a doctor or to school. It appears she and her daughters were home-schooled by Garrido and his wife and co-accused Nancy, something that is common in the US, especially among the religious.

"I asked who taught the girls and he said he and his wife did," said Mr Karunaratne. "He said he didn't trust public [state] schools."

The estate agent and his wife had the impression that the Garridos lived a normal family life. A few months ago Garrido asked him to pick them all up after their car broke down in Concord, a town 15 miles away. On another occasion his wife bumped into Nancy Garrido, Allissa and the two young girls in the local supermarket.

"Sometimes I would ring and he would say his wife had taken the girls out to the movies or shopping and so on," he said, adding that from the photograph of the 11-year-old Jaycee he can "see her face, her eyes, her smile".

There have been many more sightings by neighbours and acquaintances of the two younger girls, aged 11 and 15, as Garrido increasingly exposed them to the outside world under his vigilant eye.

As recently as Tuesday, he took his children to a "sweet sixteen" birthday party for the daughter of a nearby client. He referred to them as Starlite and Angel, said Cheyvonne Molino, who was taken aback because Garrido had never mentioned having children before. He left quickly, saying "this was not something we do".

It was the girls' "robotic" behaviour and pallid appearance that aroused the suspicion of police at the University of California and finally led to the end of the Garridos' 18-year evasion of justice.

"There were some things about him and the kids that were really alarming, that just didn't settle right with me," said Lisa Campbell, a Berkeley campus police officer who encountered the two children when Garrido sought permission to hold a meeting for his organisation, God's Desire.

She checked and discovered his history as a sex offender before he returned next day.

Her colleague Ally Jacobs who joined that meeting said that when the younger daughter stared at her, "It was almost like she was looking into my soul... her eyes were so penetrating, and she had this smile on her face. I just got a weird, uneasy feeling."

Asked about their schooling the girls said they were in fourth and ninth grade - both wrong by a year - and said they had a 29-year-old sister at home.

The alert Berkeley police then called Garrido's parole officers, who had thought he had no children and immediately summoned him for an interview. He arrived with his wife, the girls and Miss Dugard on Wednesday morning.

Contrary to early reports that she walked into a police station out of the blue to reveal her identity, she introduced herself as "Allissa". From accounts so far, it was Garrido who revealed, under questioning, her true background.

Phillip Garrido, kidnapping suspect in Jaycee Lee Dugard case, admitted to drug-fueled sex fantasies

The monster who kept a California girl as his sex slave for 18 years once told a detective he needed to dominate women to satisfy his sexual urges.

Phillip Garrido made the creepy admission after he was busted in 1976 for kidnapping and raping a Nevada casino worker.

"I asked him after he confessed why he did it, and he said it was the only way he could get sexual satisfaction," retired Reno detective Dan DeMaranville, 74, told The Associated Press. "I think he had to use force to get sexual satisfaction."

DeMaranville said Garrido - some 15 years before he kidnapped and held captive Jaycee Lee Dugard - appeared surprisingly sharp despite a heavy drug habit.

The sicko drifted through much of the 70s high on acid, pot and cocaine.

"He gave the impression he was remorseful, but I don't know whether it was a put-on or not," DeMaranville said.

Garrido was charged with kidnapping then 25-year-old Katherine Callaway, handcuffing her, and then raping her inside a storage unit authorities described as a "sex palace."

It was equipped with various sex aids, pornography, stage lights and wine. Garrido allegedly took four hits of acid before the assault.

He was suprisingly candid when asked where he got the handcuffs used to shackle Callaway.

"He said it was a present from his wife," DeMaranville said.

The twisted sex fiend was sentenced to 50 years for the kidnapping conviction and life for the rape conviction but was inexplicably granted parole in 1988.

Garrido and his second wife Nancy remained behind bars yesterday on charges of kidnapping and raping 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard.

Garrido is also being investigated as a possible suspect in the murders of several local prostitutes.

Dugard, now 29, vanished after getting pulled into a truck at a South Lake Tahoe bus stop in 1991, prompting a frantic search.

It turns out Garrido kept Dugard and the daughters he fathered with her captive in a secret compound behind his home in Antioch, Calif..

Local cops acknowledged they missed an opportunity to save the girls three years when a neighbor told police the man known as "Creepy Phil" had sexual addictions and kept little girls in his backyard.

The deputy dispatched to Garrido's home left without even stepping foot in the registered sex offender's backyard.

The mystery of Dugard's abduction began unraveling Monday when Garrido showed up at the University of California, Berkeley, seeking permission to pass out religious tracts and was told to come back the next day.

Alerted by a suspicious staffer, campus cop Allison Jacobs ran a background check on Garrido and learned he was a registered sex offender on lifetime federal parole for a 1971 kidnapping and rape.

When Garrido arrived the next day with his daughters, Jacobs sat in on the meeting and noted that the girls "had this weird look in their eyes like brainwashed zombies."

She described the girls' appearance as "'Little House on the Prairie' meets robots."

Jacobs later called Garrido's parole officer, who told her he wasn't aware the accused kidnapper had any daughters - and sounded the alarm.

President Obama, other leaders honor Sen. Edward Kennedy at Boston funeral Mass

President Obama led a majestic farewell to Sen. Ted Kennedy Saturday, saluting the last son of a storied clan as a peerless legislator who transcended tragedy in his own life to become "more alive to the plight and suffering of others."

"Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections," an emotional Obama, the nation's first black President, told the packed Boston basilica where Kennedy was eulogized. "It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding."

"He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not," added Obama, referring to Kennedy's martyred older brothers, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Robert Kennedy. "And he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow."

Obama's eulogy was the capstone of a funeral Mass that was classically Kennedy - one filled with epic pageantry and pain, but also dashes of bravado, hearty humor and good cheer.

There were images that will live on forever, right next to the saluting John F. Kennedy Jr. at the 1963 funeral of his father: the grief-stricken procession of Kennedy family members, the throngs of well-wishers who lined Boston's rain-soaked streets to say goodbye, the three living ex-Presidents who joined in the mourning.

But it was Obama, whose life and election was in many ways built upon a foundation laid by Kennedy and his brothers, who was tasked with summing up the remarkable life of a man known as the Lion of the Senate, "the soul of the Democratic Party" - or to his family, "The Grand Fromage," or "The Big Cheese," Obama joked.

Mixing personal recollections with some of Kennedy's own words, Obama remembered Kennedy as "the baby of the family who became its patriarch, the restless dreamer who became its rock."

"He was the sunny, joyful child, who bore the brunt of his brothers' teasing, but learned quickly how to brush it off," said Obama before recounting the litany of sorrow that would soon descend upon the youngest brother.

"He lost two siblings by the age of 16. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. He said goodbye to his beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his own life. He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.

"It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man," Obama added. "But that was not Ted Kennedy."

Royal Marine killed in Afghan explosion as Gordon Brown visits country

A Royal Marine has died in an explosion in Afghanistan on the day that Gordon Brown, the Prime MInister, visited the country. The marine is the 208th member of British forces to die since the involvement in Afghanistan began in 2001.

An MoD spokesman said: "It is with great sadness that the Ministry of Defence confirms that a Royal Marine has died following an explosion whilst on a foot patrol near Gereshk in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in the early hours of this morning." Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, a spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said: "This Marine gave his life for his country and the freedom of the Afghan people; there is no greater sacrifice than this. Our deepest and heartfelt sympathies go to his family and loved ones."

Next of kin have been informed.

During his visit to Afghanistan, Mr Brown praised the work of British troops in the country and promised more help for them to overcome the threat of roadside bombs planted by the Taliban.

He announced new kit and personnel to deal with the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have killed and wounded so many British soldiers.

He visited troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand province and thanked them for their efforts in fighting the insurgents ahead of the recent presidential election

Doc: I 'got rid of' patient after Katrina

NEW ORLEANS -- Louisiana's top prosecutor said Friday he will not reopen a probe into allegations of euthanasia at a hospital crippled by Hurricane Katrina, despite new statements from a doctor that he drugged a terminal patient to "get rid of her faster."

Dr. Ewing Cook said that as staff at Memorial Medical Center desperately tried to care for and evacuate patients, making spot assessments of which ones might survive, he scribbled "pronounced dead at" on the patient's chart, intending to fill in time and other details later.

"I gave her medicine so I could get rid of her faster, get the nurses off the floor," Cook told ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative organization, in a report to be published Sunday in The New York Times Magazine.

"There's no question I hastened her demise," he said.

Cook, who was a senior physician at the hospital when the storm hit, said state investigators who previously looked into the Memorial deaths never interviewed him.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said Friday he would not reopen a probe launched by his predecessor, Charles Foti, in which another doctor and two nurses were arrested on charges of second-degree homicide. A grand jury declined to indict them.

Any new charges, Caldwell said, would be up to New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who said Friday he had not seen Cook's statements.

"If new evidence comes forward we would consider it," Cannizzaro said. "But the crux of the matter is intent. To prove murder we must be able to prove intent."

The hospital lost power and was surrounded by floodwater for days following the Aug. 29, 2005 storm. Temperatures inside soared above 100 degrees, and 34 patients died. Medical examiners concluded many of them would have died regardless of the hospital staff's actions.

On Friday, Cook defended his decision to increase the morphine drip to Jannie Burgess, 79, who was dying of uterine cancer and kidney failure.

"It was hot, over 100 degrees, four nurses were trapped on the floor caring for her, and we could not get her down," he told The Associated Press.

If the hurricane had not hit, Cook said the dosage still might have been increased.

"People who get the drugs we are talking about frequently build up a tolerance, so you have to increase the dose," Cook said. "But when you do that every doctor knows what will happen."

Cancer surgeon Anna Pou and the nurses have denied Foti's allegations that they killed patients with overdoses of a a "lethal cocktail" of sedative-painkiller mix, and Cook scoffed at Foti's term.

"It's not something that was mixed up on the spot," Cook said to the AP. "It's always given with the intent of providing ease. The nagging side effect is that it shortens life, but you're talking about people who are terminally ill already. They are not going to get better."

Foti did not immediately return a message left by the AP on Friday afternoon at his law office.

Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino said a doctor's intent when administering the drug would be a key factor in determining whether the act was criminal.

"It becomes murder if specific intent was to kill," Ciolino said. "If the drug was administered to ease pain and death is a side effect, it's is not murder."

Battle to contain California wildfires

LOS ANGELES - A growing wildfire sending massive billows of smoke into the sky north of Los Angeles nearly tripled in size today, injuring three residents, knocking out power to homes and prompting evacuations in a number of mountain communities.

Mandatory evacuations were extended Saturday into neighborhoods in the canyons on the northwestern edge of Altadena, Glendale, La Crescenta and Big Tujunga Canyon, Forest Service spokesman Bruce Quintelier said. It was unclear how many residents were ordered to leave.

The flames burned increasingly lower down the slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains, threatening more than 2,000 homes in the La Canada Flintridge area. Fire burned right up to houses, but no structures were destroyed. At least 150 homes were under mandatory evacuation orders there.

An evacuation centre was set up at La Canada High School and Jackson Elementary School in Altadena.

Flames knocked out power to at least 164 residences in La Canada Flintridge Saturday afternoon, according to Southern California Edison. Repair crews were ordered to stay out of the area because of fire danger.

More than 31 square miles of dry forest was scorched by the fire, which continued to move out in all directions, the most active flanks to the north, deeper into the forest, and east, Quintelier said. The blaze was only 5 per cent contained.

At least three residents of Big Tujunga Canyon were burned and airlifted to local hospitals, Quintelier said. The details of their injuries were unknown.

Air crews waged a fierce late afternoon battle against the southeast corner of the fire, burning dangerously close to canyon homes. Spotter planes with tankers on their tails dove well below ridge lines to lay bright orange retardant, and giant sky crane helicopters swooped in to unleash showers on the biggest flareups.

The amount of smoke was hampering air operations in some areas, officials said.

"It's difficult for water-dropping aircraft to get in there, but they're still trying," Forest Service spokeswoman Jessica Luna said.

The fire was burning in steep wooded hills adjacent to Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in northern Pasadena. Nearby, Dawn James, 39, a physical therapist, and friend Leah Evans, 39, watched flames roil on the mountainsides from an equestrian park where they had brought two horses from their stables. James lives in the area and her husband stayed up at the house while she watched the horses.

Japan's ruling LDP enters elections as underdog

TOKYO -- Japanese cast ballots Sunday in hotly contested parliamentary elections in which the ruling conservative party, battered by a laggard economy and voter desire for change after more than half a century of virtual one-party rule, was expected to suffer an overwhelming defeat.

The Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed Japan for all but 11 months since 1955, went into the elections with all major polls projecting they would lose control of the lower house of parliament.

That would likely mean the fall of Prime Minister Taro Aso and his Cabinet and the creation of a new government headed by centrist Democratic Party of Japan chief Yukio Hatoyama - who would become the first prime minister not backed by the LDP since 1994.

The vote is widely seen as a barometer of two related issues - voter frustrations over the ailing economy, which is in one of its worst slumps since World War II, and a loss of confidence in the Liberal Democrats' ability to tackle tough problems such as the rising national debt and rapidly aging population.

But even with severe challenges pressing the nation, many analysts said the vote may not be about the issues so much as voters' general desire for something new after nearly 54 years under the Liberal Democrats.

They also note that although the Democrats promise to change Japan's approach on the economy and make Tokyo's diplomacy less U.S.-centric, their founders are both defectors from the Liberal Democrats and are not likely to present too radical a departure from Japan's current path.

"The election is more about emotions than policies," Tokyo University political science professor Takashi Mikuriya said in a televised interview. "Most voters are making the decision not about policies but about whether they are fed up with the ruling party."

Polls opened Sunday at 7 a.m. (2200 GMT Saturday). Japanese media predict a high voter turnout.

The Yomiuri, the country's largest newspaper, reported Saturday that analysts and most political parties are expecting turnout to be higher than the 67.5 percent in the previous lower house elections in 2005, and could go as high as 70 percent.

Trying to cut the ruling party's losses, Aso - whose own support ratings have recently sagged to a dismal 20 percent - called on voters in a final pitch Saturday to stick with his party, saying the Democrats are untested and unable to lead.

"Can you trust these people? It's a problem if you feel uneasy whether they can really run this country," Aso told a crowd outside Tokyo.

Aso said more time is needed for economic reforms aimed at pulling the country out of its economic doldrums and asked for support "so our government can accomplish our economic measures."

New Mexico governor urges U.S., Cuba to improve ties

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- The United States and Cuba should show some flexibility and take steps to improve relations, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said Friday during a weeklong trade mission to the island nation. "There is a good atmosphere [between the two countries]," he said at a news conference in Havana on Friday. "It is the best atmosphere I've seen in many years."

Richardson called for "concrete steps from both sides," but noted a "lack of flexibility in their positions" and reciprocity from the Cuban government.

He also called on the United States to "pay more attention to the Cuba issue, though acknowledged more urgent U.S. priorities like health-care reform have drawn attention away from normalizing relations.

In his first trip to Cuba in 13 years, when he negotiated the release of three political prisoners in 1996, Richardson said he is not in Cuba as a special U.S. envoy.

"My main objective is trade and to improve commercial ties with Cuba," he said, though he acknowledged plans to report recommendations to the Obama administration early next week. Despite the near half-century trade embargo, the U.S. Treasury Department allows U.S. states to sell agricultural, medical and IT products in Cuba on a cash basis. The governor also called on the Obama administration to ease restrictions of biotechnology products, allow Cubans to travel to the United States for academic and cultural exchanges, and implement the changes to Cuban-American travel and remittances announced in April. He mentioned a proposal to allow diplomats in either country to move more freely and offered to broker a dialogue between the Cuban government and Cuban-Americans.

"If there's going to be a solution for the normalization of relationship between Cuba and the United States, Cuban-Americans must play a role," he said, noting that any such dialogue would not substitute government-to-government talks.

Richardson -- known for his diplomatic resume, including high-level talks with North Korea, Sudan and Iraq -- met with Cuba's National Assembly president, Ricardo Alarcon, and received a personal letter from former President Fidel Castro.

"It was a positive message that I got," he said of the letter.

The former presidential candidate was nominated for Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration, but withdrew amid an investigation over whether CDR Financial Products inappropriately won $1.4 million in state work for New Mexico.

Reports: North Korea releases South Korean fishing boat

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- A South Korean fishing boat and its four crew members were heading home Saturday after being held for a month in North Korea, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. The Yeonan-ho and its crew were handed over to a South Korean patrol boat waiting at the sea border Saturday evening, Yonhap reported, citing South Korean maritime police.

North Korean officials captured the vessel and its crew July 30 after the boat strayed deep into North Korean territorial waters, North's Korean Central News Agency reported at the time.

South Korea's Defense and Unification Ministry said the 29-ton vessel had been returning from its fishing operations and mistakenly crossed seven miles into North Korean waters in the process, according to Yonhap.

South and North Korea have remained in conflict since the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953. The war ended in a truce but no formal peace treaty was ever signed.

Rapprochement talks between the two sides hit a wall after conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008. He had a tougher stance toward the North than his liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-Hyun. Tensions between the two were heightened in July when North Korea launched seven short-range missiles toward the Sea of Japan. The launches came after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on May 25 and threatened the United States and South Korean ships near its territorial waters.

Several steps in the past week have hinted at a thaw in relations, however. Last week, the two sides had the first high-level, cross-border contact in nearly two years.

On Friday, the countries reached an agreement on future reunions for families separated for decades by the Korean War.

Recovery a clunker: Cash for Clunkers program gave economy small boost, but spending was flat Read more:

Worries over high unemployment pushed consumer confidence to a four-month low in August, while spending modestly improved in July - indicating the economy's recovery from the lengthy recession would be modest at best.

The now-ended Cash for Clunkers program helped lift consumer spending 0.2% last month and is expected to deliver a bigger boost in August. Without that program, consumer spending was flat.

Any economic rebound likely would falter if shoppers lack the income to spend more in the long run.

The government said sales of autos and parts jumped 6.4% in July, but sales of nondurable items such as clothing and shoes fell.

Ford said Friday it expects overall auto sales to show a gain in August for the first time in more that two years. Also, GM said it expects the industry's sales to rise to 12.1 million next year. But analysts say the rest of this year could show declines since the buying incentives have ended.

Also, household income remains essentially stagnant, raising doubts about whether consumers already hurt by job losses and dwindling retirement accounts can sustain an economic recovery. They are essential to any recovery since consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the nation's economic activity.

Retailers already are paying the price for flat income growth and weak consumer spending.

A survey of big retail chains showed that shoppers remained tightfisted in July. That raised fears not just about back-to-school sales but also about the make-or-break holiday shopping season.

"Consumers just don't have the financial firepower to go out and spend more," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "Unless businesses curtail their job cuts, the recovery could very well peter out."

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Obamas Arrive in Martha's Vineyard for Summer Vacation

CHILMARK, Mass. -- The first family settled in Sunday for their vacation on Martha's Vineyard not long after Hurricane Bill scampered away, leaving behind big waves and heavy rip currents for the Obamas.

A tropical storm warning was lifted just hours before President Barack Obama began his first vacation since taking office. The hurricane forced him to delay his departure from Andrews Air Force Base by a few hours.

During the flight from Washington to Cape Cod, White House spokesman Bill Burton conveyed a message from Obama, who boarded Air Force One in khakis and without jacket or tie, to the reporters traveling with him.

"He wants you to relax and have a good time. Take some walks on the beaches. Nobody's looking to make any news," Burton told reporters.

The Obama then flew by helicopter from the Coast Guard station at Otis Air Base to Martha's Vineyard, and took a motorcade from the airport to their vacation home. Along the route, several people help signs, including ones that said, "Aloha Obama Family" and "Hope, Obama."

Some Obama friends, including White House adviser Valerie Jarrett and Chicago physician Eric Whitaker, joined the family, as did Obama's sister, Maya, and her husband. The president has no official events scheduled in the week ahead.

"You can bet there's going to be some golf playing. Maybe a little bit swimming," Burton said.

There are the likely trips for ice cream and salt water taffy, possibly a bike ride and plenty of quiet time at a secluded 28-acre private estate that rents for $35,000 a week. The Obamas are paying for their share of the vacation home; taxpayers are picking up the tab for security and White House staff, which is customary for all presidents.

Ahead of the trip, Obama and his aides asked for privacy for his daughters, 8-year-old Sasha and 11-year-old Malia.

The White House said there are no plans for Obama to visit ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy at his vacation home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. A visit with Kennedy, who has brain cancer, could provide a rallying point for Democrats as Obama seeks to achieve one of Kennedy's career goals: overhauling the nation's health insurance system to provide near-universal coverage.

Vendors on Martha's Vineyard are selling T-shirts with the first family's pictures and even promoting Bo. The first dog who flew with the Obama on Air Force One and wandered through the press cabin during the flight. There are cupcakes and ice creams named for the Obamas and cardboard cutouts of the president in storefront windows.

The Vineyard is just 23 miles long with a year-round population of about 15,000. Any motorcade is certain to draw attention on an island already crowded with summer visitors.

The playground for the rich was a vacation spot for President Bill Clinton and President Ulysses S. Grant. Obama has visited twice before. More typically he has vacationed in Hawaii, where he was born and spent time as a child.

Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton were island regulars through the highs and lows of Clinton's presidency. On their first presidential vacation there in 1993, they were photographed happily sailing, golfing and exploring the island's restaurants and scenery together.

Five years later, it was a different story. The Clintons headed for the island just hours after the president publicly confessed to an inappropriate relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Obama vows not to forget lessons of Katrina

OAK BLUFFS, Mass.—President Barack Obama promised Saturday that his administration would not forget what he called a tragic response to Hurricane Katrina. He said he would visit the still-recovering New Orleans before the end of the year.

Obama has already dispatched 11 members of the Cabinet to the region to inspect progress and to hear directly local ideas on how to speed up repairs to a region destroyed by flooding four years ago this weekend.

"None of us can forget how we felt when those winds battered the shore, the floodwaters began to rise and Americans were stranded on rooftops and in stadiums," Obama said during his weekly radio and Internet address, released while he is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.

"Whole neighborhoods of a great American city were left in ruins. Communities across the Gulf Coast were forever changed. And many Americans questioned whether government could fulfill its responsibility to respond in a crisis."

Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005, killing more than 1,600 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and leaving behind more than $40 billion in property damage. Hurricane Rita followed almost a month later, with billions of dollars in additional damage and at least 11 more deaths.

Obama acknowledged that recovery has not come at an acceptable pace despite recent moves to speed up the process.

"I have also made it clear that we will not tolerate red tape that stands in the way of progress or the waste that can drive up the bill," said Obama. "Government must be a partner -- not an opponent -- in getting things done."

Obama's FEMA chief, Craig Fugate, has been cited by Gulf Coast officials and Obama administration officials alike for breaking through the gridlock that has delayed recovery.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., recently said he had a lot of respect for Fugate and his team. "There is a sense of momentum and a desire to get things done," he said of the career emergency official.

In half a year, Obama's team says it has cleared at least 75 projects that were in dispute, including libraries, schools and university buildings.

Even so, many towns remain broken, littered with boarded-up houses and overgrown vacant lots. Hundreds of projects -- including critical needs such as sewer lines, fire stations and a hospital -- are entangled in the bureaucracy or federal-local disputes over who should pick up the tab.

"No more turf wars," Obama said. "All of us need to move forward together, because there is much more work to be done," he said.

Japan elections: voters expected to sweep ruling party out of office

Campaigning continued until the last moment ahead of the general election, but there seemed little to stop the electorate ousting the unpopular LDP.

According to a Kyodo News poll released late on Thursday, 35.9 per cent of voters plan to back the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DJP), up 3.3 per cent from a week ago.The ruling LDP's support had also risen, but they are floundering on 17.9 per cent.

The minor parties will take another 15 per cent or so between them.

While there are a large number of voters who say they have not made up their mind yet, research indicates that most of these are also likely to back the DPJ.

Even a last, desperate move by the the LDP to court the youth vote by enlisting the support of SMAP, a hugely popular boy-band, appears to have failed.

The belated appeal to young voters came in the form of a flier wrapped around editions of the Right-wing Sankei newspaper this week, but the campaign has apparently had little impact as the latest public opinion polls show that the distance between the opposition and the government has widened further.

"SMAP have never been involved in a political campaign before and it is a surprise that they have apparently come to the aid of the LDP as that ship is very clearly sinking," said Steven Reed, a professor of Japanese politics at Chuo University.

"This is another sign of the desperation in the party," he said, pointing to the negative campaigning that the LDP has been forced to adopt in recent days.

The government led by Taro Aso had portrayed his opponent, Yukio Hatoyama, as being inexperienced and trying to win over voters with promises that will be impossible to keep.

There is some merit in the LDP pointing out that the DPJ is promising to spend big and rapidly fix Japan's problems, but being vague on where the money to achieve that will come from. The voters are, however, too tired of the LDP's own broken promises, controversial economic reforms, and overseeing the financial collapse of the country to pay their protestations much heed.

"When the economy is good, prime ministers are popular. But in difficult times, that popularity fades," SMAP stated in the advert, titled "How to build a happy nation."

"But these are people that we have elected, so let's make some allowances and continue to support them."

It is unclear whether the comments are genuinely those of the five stars of the band, or their agents.

But even a group that has dominated the domestic music scene appears unlikely to be influential enough to reverse the defeat that the LDP is almost certain to suffer on Sunday.

The trials of election monitoring

The complaints emerging about fraud in the Afghan presidential and provincial elections have thrust the role of international election monitors into the spotlight.

What do they do? How do they go about doing it? Can they be trusted?

Election monitoring has become a big undertaking in the past couple of decades. It developed rapidly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the spread of democratic institutions in the former communist republics.

Coupled with democratic development elsewhere, especially in Latin America and Africa, a situation rapidly emerged in which a respectable election could not really be held without international monitoring.

Four main groups

There are four main international monitoring bodies. They are the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Carter Center set up by former US President Jimmy Carter, and an American group called the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

The criteria we use to judge countries are the same, but the expectation of those countries meeting them can be different
Dr David Carroll
Democracy programme, Carter Center

The United Nations does not itself monitor elections any more, but it does provide advice and expertise to governments that ask for it.

In addition, there are local monitoring groups, which are often far larger.

In the case of Afghanistan, the local group is the Free and Fair Election Foundation and it picked up on complaints first.

The main international monitors have come from the EU and the NDI. The NDI is funded by the US government and has links to the US Democratic Party. The UN has given expert advice to the Afghan government.

Afghan assessments

The EU mission has attracted some questions after it headlined its preliminary report two days after the election: "Afghan elections take place in a reasonably well-organised manner amid widespread violence and intimidation."

This was regarded by some as an endorsement of the election process well in advance of any assessment by the Afghan election commission itself.

However, the detailed EU mission statement was actually more nuanced and held back from reaching any conclusion.

The mission head, retired French General Phillipe Morillon, made it clear that a conclusion would have to wait and he acknowledged that "there are a lot complaints" about voting fraud.

The NDI also held off from reaching any conclusion at this stage.


Dr David Carroll, director of the democracy programme at the Carter Center, explained how his missions work. The Center has observed more than 70 elections in 30 countries over the past 15 years.

Jimmy Carter in Liberia (2005)
The Carter Center has observed more than 70 elections in 30 countries

"Two or three times a year we look ahead and choose our priorities, especially among countries facing transition toward democracy.

"We only go if invited and then we set up a team months in advance. We have already been in Sudan for a year and elections there are not due for another six months.

"We co-ordinate with the other monitoring agencies and check on key issues such as electoral law, media access, the voting process and the counting.

"By election day we will have extra monitors on the ground and will watch at polling stations and we always try to get access to the counting procedure. Ideally we want to be able to take sample statistics from various areas.

"A report is issued in due course giving our findings and making recommendations."

I asked him about the role of the domestic monitoring groups. "We need to reassure ourselves that they are independent," he said. "Sometimes, these groups are seen as having a preference for one side. And we work on a case by case basis.

"Overall, monitoring is important in helping to ensure that there is a credible and impartial check."

Check lists

The OSCE operates in a similar way. Thomas Rymer, spokesman for the OSCE election team which is based in Warsaw, said: "We have core, expert staff who are sent in a month or two early to monitor different aspects of the election such as the law, registration and gender participation.

OSCE monitors in Azerbaijan (October 2008)
The OSCE likes to monitor the elections of all its 56 member states

"Well before election day we send in several hundred observers, mainly drawn from the civil services of our member states. We have check lists and we work our way down them.

"The principle is to ensure that the election is being held in accordance with the commitments that the government holding the election will have given us."

The OSCE likes to monitor all its 56 member states. It has looked at the US and the UK and is currently preparing for a mission to Germany.

However, in 2008 it pulled out of the Russian presidential election because it said that Russia was imposing too many restrictions.


There have been comments that these bodies tend to turn a blind eye to fraud in some Western countries and to give new and Western-friendly governments an easier time.

It doesn't matter who votes, it matters who observes the votes
Mark Almond, historian

In 2006, British historian Mark Almond complained that protests about fraud in Mexico were discounted by the EU mission, which called the election "fair".

The EU mission was led, Almond pointed out, by a Spanish member of the European Parliament whose party was an ally of the winning candidate's own party.

Almond said: "It doesn't matter who votes, it matters who observes the votes."

Dr Carroll of the Carter Center said: "The criteria we use to judge countries are the same. But the expectation of those countries meeting them can be different. We understand that it can be hard for a country coming out of a 20- or 30-year civil war but we look at the same core issues."


And there is a huge gap in that elections in countries which reject Western monitoring, such as Iran, cannot be checked.

Iranians complain about fraud after June's presidential election
Claims of electoral fraud in Iran were impossible to verify without monitors

The absence of international monitors in Iran left the media and outside governments scrambling to understand what had happened.

The claims of the losing candidates that there had been fraud were impossible to verify and were taken seriously only because of the widespread protests (which indicated internal unrest at the results) and an analysis that statistically President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had done almost impossibly well.

But unrest and statistical analysis are not substitutes for on-the-spot inspection and monitoring.

Weakened Tropical Storm Danny remains a soggy, blustery concern for Northeast

Ragged and weakened, Tropical Storm Danny meandered toward North Carolina's Outer Banks on Friday -- with large, dangerous seas its most serious threat to the Northeast coast.

The National Hurricane Center left a tropical storm watch in place for the Carolina coast, but forecasters didn't expect the storm to grow much and it's strongest eastern side was expected to remain offshore.

At 5 p.m., Danny held on to minimal tropical storm strength with winds of 40 mph. After stalling much of the day, it began creeping north at 6 mph.

With the storm so disorganized, there was some uncertainity about its path, but forecasters expected it to parallel the coast, crossing close to the Outer Banks over night, then brushing New England late Saturday and the Canadian Maritimes by Sunday.

Though it wasn't expected to reach hurricane strength, Danny could still bring gale-force gusts to the coast. It also had churned up large swells that could create hazardous surf and rip tides.

The center was also closely watching a tropical wave about 900 miles west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands. With favorable conditions in its path, forecasters gave it a medium chance of becoming the next named storm, Erika.

Health care foes compete to frame Kennedy's legacy

WASHINGTON — Liberals and conservatives, at odds over health care, are competing to use the legacy of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy to further their goals.

The left claims the Senate's liberal champion would have settled for nothing less than universal care and a new government-run insurance option. Republican foes of those ideas say the Democrats should take a lesson from Kennedy's gift for cutting a pragmatic deal and sacrifice some of their priorities in the interest of a bargain the GOP could support.

The White House appears intent on staying out of an unseemly political debate that's unfolding even before Kennedy is laid to rest, saying that President Barack Obama has no intention of refereeing disputes over the Massachusetts Democrat's memory.

"There will be a time when it's appropriate to have discussions on different ramifications, but I don't think anybody thinks that now is it," Bill Burton, a White House spokesman, said this week.

But even Obama's secretary of health and human services got into the act on Friday, telling seniors at a wellness center in a former theater named for Kennedy's family that the driving question on health care should be: "What would Teddy do?"

It's a question that defies a clear or obvious answer, and it may hold little relevance at a time when the health overhaul — and with it a major piece of Obama's own legacy — is teetering. But Kennedy's memory has become a kind of Rorschach test in the debate, with both sides seeing what they want to see in his example.

"There is going to be a battle over his legacy on health care," said Roger Hickey of the liberal Campaign for America's Future. Despite Republican contentions that honoring Kennedy means compromise, he said, "No one wants to pass a half-measure in tribute to Ted Kennedy. ... There will be a stronger push to pass comprehensive health care reform because of (his) passing."

Kennedy's friend, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has suggested naming the health overhaul legislation after Kennedy, and a liberal political action committee, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC, has launched a Web site,, to press for passage of legislation that reads like a Democratic wish-list and is anathema to GOP lawmakers. The group has gathered 40,000 signatures on a petition to be delivered to Capitol Hill Monday that urges senators to name the measure, which passed the Senate health committee last month, "The Kennedy Bill," and pass it — "and nothing less."

Such calls have drawn loud protests from some on the right, where conservative commentators are accusing Democrats of a crass effort to use Kennedy's death to further their political fortunes.

"They're going to turn this into the biggest political rally you've ever seen. They can't help themselves," said radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Conservatives have also tried to use Kennedy's death after a long illness to score their own points in the health care debate. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Thursday on his radio show that it would be absurd to enact a far-reaching health overhaul in Kennedy's name when he "gave us the most shining example of why this particular bill is so bad."

Huckabee suggested that Democrats "would devalue older people's lives, or encourage them to accept less care to save money" and noted that Kennedy by contrast chose a costly operation and painful follow-up treatments in the face of his own terminal diagnosis. Democrats dispute that the elderly would be denied appropriate terminal care under their proposals.

Among Senate Republicans, some see Kennedy's death as a different kind of rallying cry — one for reviving a spirit of compromise that might prompt Democrats to put aside their favorite — but more politically difficult — ideas to attract GOP support.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, an ideological adversary of Kennedy's who nonetheless had frequently teamed with him to cut deals on tough issues, said the colleague he knew would have at least been willing to consider tempering his party's demands if it meant a broad health care bargain.

"If (Kennedy) was there, even though he would want a single payer system and always wanted it, he would listen. I'll put it that way," Hatch said.

Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., said the two parties would be much closer to a deal had Kennedy not been ill and absent during most of the year's contentious debate. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., said there would probably have been an agreement by now.

Some conservative analysts were even more certain.

"Ted Kennedy would have been willing to jettison the public plan. He would have been willing to jettison more controversial aspects of the health care bill to get it passed," said Brian Darling of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Immediately after Kennedy died, Obama aides began worrying privately that the left flank of their party might try to use his passing as a call to action for a health care overhaul more to their liking. They were concerned such a push could produce a backlash and alienate Republicans the administration is desperately courting.

It's not at all certain that Kennedy's death will have an impact on the health care debate.

After all, he's been absent from the high-stakes negotiations over its key elements virtually all year. While his staff has been deeply involved in the talks, it's been clear since Kennedy's diagnosis last year with a serious form of brain cancer that he would not be a broker as he was on many previous debates on health care, education and immigration.

"This whole year has in essence been the post-Kennedy era," said Joseph Antos, a health policy analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "This isn't a matter of guessing what a great man would have done; this is a matter of solving real problems now."

Still, Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., a key player on the measure in Kennedy's absence, said his death should cool some of the heated rhetoric surrounding the issue.

"My hope is that this will maybe cause people to take a breath, step back and start talking with each other again in more civil tones about what needs to be done," Dodd said, "because that's what Teddy would do."

Michael Jackson's death officially ruled a homicide

The Los Angeles County coroner has ruled Michael Jackson's death a homicide, finding that he was poisoned by an overdose of surgical anaesthetic propofol.

In a brief statement to news media today, the coroner's office said Jackson died of "acute propofol intoxication". Also contributing to his death were lorazepam and Valium.

The widely anticipated finding could lead to criminal prosecution of one or more of the several physicians who treated Jackson toward the end of his life and who investigators believe provided Jackson with drugs.

The coroner also found in his body the stimulant ephedrine and local anaesthetic lidocaine, reportedly used to mask the pain of the propofol injections. In the US, homicide can refer to murder or to negligent or accidental manslaughter, but the finding need not trigger criminal charges.

In an affidavit filed in the death investigation, a Los Angeles detective said that Jackson's personal physician Conrad Murray admitted to giving the 50-year-old singer a veritable cocktail of drugs to help him sleep the night and morning before he died. Those included propofol, which Jackson referred to as his "milk", and lorazepam.

Jackson reportedly begged for an injection of propofol in the hours before his death, and Murray told police he feared Jackson was addicted. Murray has not been named as an official suspect but court records have identified the 51-year-old physician as the subject of a manslaughter investigation.

In addition to Murray, Los Angeles investigators have subpoenaed medical records from Jackson's dermatologist Arnold Klein, plastic surgeon Larry Koplin, anaesthesiologists David Adams and Randy Rosen, and general practitioner Alan Metzger, who had all recently treated Jackson.

The final coroner's report was withheld by request of the Los Angeles police. Police say Jackson obtained drugs through a variety of sources using several aliases including Omar Arnold, Josephine Baker and Jack London.

Murray has spoken with investigators, but has been in hiding since Jackson's death on 25 June. In his only public statement, he said in a video posted on YouTube that he had told the truth and "the truth will prevail".

Ted Kennedy dies: Chappaquiddick was the fatal flaw that haunted Kennedy's career

For more than 40 years, Edward Kennedy was the keeper of the flame, the last of a dynasty of Kennedy brothers who enjoyed an almost mystical status in the American political scene.
Four decades after assassins bullets claimed two of his elder brothers, 77-year-old Edward Moore Kennedy, the patriarch of what many still regard as America’s first family, has died.

The senior senator from Massachusetts is one of only six men in American history to have served 40 years in the upper house of the US legislature. Over his career he has won the respect of friend and foe alike for his uncompromising liberal views, coupled with his willingness to reach across the aisle to cut deals with political foes like President George W. Bush.

The first president Bush even gave him an award for public service in 2003, saying: “There were times when we were at each other’s political throats, but at the end of the day, we are Americans who love our country and want the very best for it.”

But there was a darker side. It was not just that the images of the three Kennedy brothers together in the 1960s, from a glamorous golden age when America was more confident of its greatness, morphed into pictures of the stolid, white-haired heavyweight (in all senses) that he became.

His senate career, in which he rose to be majority whip and chairman of the judiciary committee, has been partly an act of redemption, an attempt to ensure that when his obituaries are written, his name is not primarily associated with the word “Chappaquiddick”.

It was there, in the millionaires’ playground off Cape Cod, near the Kennedy family compound where Mr Kennedy was taken ill yesterday , that the 37-year-old drove his car off a bridge after a late night part in July 1969. His companion Mary Jo Kopechne drowned, critics have always maintained, because Mr Kennedy panicked and left her in the sinking car. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two year suspended sentence.

Nor was it the first sign of fecklessness. “Ted”, the youngest of the nine Kennedy children, was expelled from Harvard University in 1951 for cheating in a Spanish exam.

That did not prevent his election in 1962 to the seat in the Senate vacated by his brother, John, when he became president - which had been kept warm by a family friend until Ted reached the minimum age of 30 required by senate rules.

But Chappaquiddick stalked his life, almost certainly deterring him from running for president in either 1972 or 1976, the latter of which was probably his best chance to win.

His run for White House in 1980 was marred not only by a revival of questions about his behaviour at Chappaquiddick but also by his failure to fully explain why he wanted the job.

There was more than a sense that he felt his status as a Kennedy was qualification enough for the office that his brother Jack had held and his brother Bobby seemed on the cusp of attaining when he was gunned down in 1968.

The shadow of John and Bobby was long. “I think about my brothers every day,” he admitted. Another quotation revealed even more: “I don’t mind not being president, I just mind that someone else is.”

That 1980 campaign had parallels with the current contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Mr Kennedy’s battle with sitting president Jimmy Carter was just as bitter and even more prolonged.

It was Mr Kennedy who played the Hillary Clinton role, fighting on with dwindling hopes even when all seemed lost, all the way to the Democratic convention. Perhaps it was that experience which persuaded him to endorse Obama this year.

But perhaps, too, he saw something of himself in the candidate who has made oratory fashionable again. Mr Kennedy may have lost in 1980 but he gave, at the convention, a speech which is hailed to this day as one of the most powerful in recent US political history.

His peroration concluded with the line: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

The dream may not be dead, and the Kennedy family still enjoys a unique place in American public life. But the time for someone else to carry the flame has arrived.

Germany arrests suspect in plot to attack U.S. targets

BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- German federal prosecutors said Friday they have arrested a man suspected of helping a terrorist cell that allegedly plotted attacks against U.S. troops in Germany. The prosecutor's office identified the man only as "Kadir T.," and said he is a German of Turkish origin.

He is suspected of acquiring a video camera and night-vision equipment for the Islamic Jihad Union group, prosecutors said. The items were allegedly shipped to Waziristan in Pakistan, prosecutors added.

Four men trained by the Islamic Jihad Union are currently on trial in Germany for allegedly plotting attacks against U.S installations in Germany. They are known as the "Sauerland Group."

Three of the men -- two Germans and a Turk -- were arrested in September 2007. They were mixing a massive amount of explosive materials that could have resulted in a strong blast, bigger than the attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, authorities said.

Fritz Gelowicz, Martin Schneider, and Adem Yilmaz are charged with membership in foreign and domestic terrorist groups, preparation of explosives, plotting to murder and plotting to commit a crime using explosives, the court said.

Schneider is also accused of attempted murder, the court said. The fourth person, identified in German media reports as Attila Selek, is a German citizen of Turkish descent.

U.S. interests in Germany were among the targets of the group's plot, Michael Chertoff, who was the U.S. homeland security secretary, said at the time.

Gelowicz and Schneider are Germans who converted to Islam. Gelowicz was a leading member of a radical Islamist center in Ulm in southern Germany, and was well known to German authorities, officials said.

The Islamic Jihad Union is a little-known Uzbek militant group that claimed responsibility for the plot days after the arrests. It said the intention was to target U.S. and Uzbek targets, a German Interior Ministry spokesman said.

German authorities have said the three men trained at the group's camps in northern Pakistan.

The group said it wanted to target the Ramstein Air Base and other United States and Uzbek military and diplomatic installations in Germany, the spokesman said.

The group also wanted to force Germany to stop using an air base in Uzbekistan as a stopover point for moving equipment and personnel in and out of northern Afghanistan, the spokesman said.

The Islamic Jihad Union was unknown until April 2004, when it conducted a series of suicide bombings in Uzbekistan, killing 47 people, according to the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. The nonprofit organization is funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

Ahmadinejad urges stiff punishment for election dissenters

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday urged stiff punishment for those who "orchestrated and provoked" the "painful" unrest after the June 12 presidential election, according to Iran's state-run Press TV. "I call upon security and judicial officials to decisively and mercilessly act with those who committed inhumane acts in the guise of the friends (of the establishment) since they inflicted damage on people and tarnished the image of the establishment, security and police forces," said Ahmadinejad, who made the remarks in a pre-sermon speech to Friday prayers.

The government declared Ahmadinejad the overwhelming winner in the disputed June 12 election.

The protests sparked a government crackdown that led to thousands of arrests, scores of injuries and at least 30 deaths. Judiciary officials say most of those arrested were released, though several dozen face charges as part of the mass trials.

In his remarks Friday, Ahmadinejad said there has been no evidence found that would undermine the election results and he criticized Western nations for interfering in Iran's internal affairs before and after the election.
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Koreas reach deal to reunite families

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North and South Korea reached an agreement Friday on reunions for families separated for decades by the Korean War, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Reunions will be held from September 26 to October 1, Yonhap said.

The agreement comes after three days of talks between the two sides in North Korea.

The talks, which were held at the Mt. Keumgang resort, were the first on the subject in almost two years. They were mediated by the Red Cross, according to Yonhap.

Under the agreement, reunions would be held at Mt. Keumgang, Yonhap said.

Rapprochement talks between the two sides have hit a wall since conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in early 2008 with a tougher stance toward the North than his liberal predecessor, Roh Moo-Hyun.

The two Koreas have remained in conflict since the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953, which ended in a truce, but no formal peace treaty was ever signed. Last week, both sides had the first high-level, cross-border contact in nearly two years.

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek met with North Korean unity leader Kim Yang Gon. The meetings between officials of the two Koreas are in stark contrast to the tense public statements they made about each other earlier this year.

Tensions between the two were heightened in July when North Korea launched seven short-range missiles toward the Sea of Japan. The launches came after North Korea conducted a nuclear test on May 25 and threatened the United States and South Korean ships near its territorial waters.

Analysis: Health overhaul tactics need overhaul

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama still may push through an overhaul of the American health care system, but political indicators point to a needed overhaul of his own tactics for selling reform.

Barely eight months in office, Obama is trapped between the jaws of a tightening vise. On one side, Republicans refuse to countenance further government involvement in health care; on the other, liberal Democrats insist Obama keep his campaign pledge to make sure the estimated 50 million Americans who are without coverage can afford health insurance.

"The people don't have sufficient information, and I'm surprised the administration and others backing reform haven't done much more to educate the public," said Robin Lauermann, professor of politics at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa.

As he struggles against a powerful wave of opposition to reforming the system, his poll numbers are slipping significantly.

A Washington Post-ABC News survey found that fewer than half of Americans -- 49 percent -- say they believe the president will make the right decisions for the country. That's down from 60 percent at the 100-day mark in his presidency.

The poll shows Obama's overall approval is 57 percent, 12 points lower than it was at its peak in April. Fifty-three percent disapprove of the way he's handling the budget deficit and his approval on health care continues to deteriorate.

A look at other bare numbers -- significant Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate -- doesn't explain the overwhelming complexity of bringing the United States in line with the world's other wealthy democracies that guarantee health care to everyone.

Mixed into that equation are the so-called Blue Dog Democrats -- a conservative wing of the party that in many ways shares reform reservations with Republicans. The Blue Dogs oppose Obama's call for a government-run insurance option. Their votes against the Obama plan could negate the overall Democratic majority.

The president argues that a public option would embrace those now without coverage, give others a choice beyond private insurance and, in theory, bring down the cost for everyone through competition from a nonprofit government program.

As the health care argument swirls during the August congressional recess, Americans have witnessed ugly and offensive attacks on the motives of Obama and those who support changing the system, even though it is held responsible for a majority of private bankruptcies in the world's No. 1 economy.

Obama has allowed Congress to write the specifics of new health care legislation with minimal demands from the White House. He has said he wants assurances that any plan does not increase the soaring national debt. What's more, the president said he prefers a public option, although recent remarks by administration officials suggest he might back away from that preference.

The White House explains it took the more hands-off approach after studying former President Bill Clinton's failure to push through a health care package. He sent Congress a fully written plan and saw his fellow Democrats, the majority, revolt because they had no role in shaping policy changes.

Leaving the specifics to Congress has allowed debate to drag on, with three potential bills heading this fall to the House floor. In the Senate, the finance committee has been trying to write a bill but has left the negotiating to six members -- three Republicans and three Democrats. In today's highly charged and deeply partisan climate, there is little chance Obama will get what he wants from the Senate process.

The lack of one specific piece of legislation for the president to sell has opened the door for opponents inside and outside government to heap unfounded allegations on the reform process. Some have been outrageous, including an assertion by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, last year's Republican vice presidential nominee, who said the plan would include "death panels."

She appears to have created that scare tactic out of a now-abandoned portion of House legislation that would have required Medicare payments for consultation with a physician about a patient's wishes for treatment at the end of life. Such consultation would have been voluntary and dealt with questions such as the creation of a living will.

Such attacks on efforts to refashion health care have put Obama on the defensive, forced to debunk untrue claims and apparently losing ground in rethinking a system that has avoided a major overhaul for decades.

'The September Issue': Vogue's Anna Wintour is the big chiller

n "The September Issue," director R.J. Cutler aims to address one of the burning questions of our time: Is Vogue editor Anna Wintour really the Devil in Prada-designed disguise?

To his credit, Cutler evades an easy answer. Hate her? You'll find plenty to fault in this portrait, which was shot in 2007 as ­Wintour and her staff planned the magazine's all-important fall fashion ­issue. Love her? Expect to walk out wondering why the personalities of male executives are so rarely dissected in such an unsparing way.

Really, the more curious question is this: Why would Wintour have ­allowed Cutler's cameras into her office in the first place?

Though unapologetic about her management style—to understate, she does not suffer fools gladly—she would seem to have little to gain by exposing herself to the masses.

Like any unusually successful ­businessperson, she is perfectionistic and demanding to an extreme degree. But that alone can't fill a movie; there are only so many times we can watch employees cower in her imperious presence.

Fortunately, Cutler found an ideal contrast in gifted stylist Grace Coddington. Funny, frowsy and ­unashamedly outspoken, Coddington is outraged by Wintour's coolly practical mentality. Freed from the burden of a bottom line, she's able to focus entirely on the art of fashion, as we see in the exquisite photo spreads she arranges—and, often as not, Wintour dismisses.

Their tense push-pull ­between creativity and commerce is the most interesting aspect of the film, though Vogue readers will love the—other behind-the-scenes details, ­including a ­hilarious takedown of cover girl Sienna Miller.

But when it's all over, we still don't know who Wintour really is. Do the bangs and sunglasses serve to hide any worries or insecurities? Does she care about her public persona? Is she happy, or just driven?

We get a few warm moments with her daughter, when she softens into a typically proud parent. But for the most part, she keeps Cutler—and us—at a frosty distance. Maybe there honestly isn't anything else there. Or maybe she used those cameras to perpetuate an image that has served her so well she sees no reason to reveal anything more.

Push for Kennedy Successor Stirs Political Storm

BOSTON -- A Democratic push to appoint a successor to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy is sparking a political tempest in Massachusetts, infuriating Republicans and dividing Democrats who only five years ago passed a law requiring that voters decide on Senate vacancies.

On a day when members of both parties paid their respects to Mr. Kennedy, a Democratic icon who died this week of brain cancer, Republicans accused Democrats of hypocrisy. In 2004, the state's Democrat-controlled legislature changed the law to prevent the governor from appointing an interim successor after a U.S. Senate seat becomes vacant. Instead, the new law requires that a special election be held between 145 and 165 days after the position becomes vacant.

At the time, Democratic Sen. John Kerry was running for president and Massachusetts had a Republican governor, Mitt Romney. Proponents of changing the law argued that a gubernatorial appointment was undemocratic and that only voters should decide on a replacement. Democrats also feared Mr. Romney would appoint a Republican.

Now, with Mr. Kennedy dying three years before his term was up, some Massachusetts Democrats are reversing course, calling for Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint an interim replacement to hold office until the special election can be held. They now argue the state shouldn't be without full Senate representation for months, especially with pressing issues such as health care before Congress.

The Massachusetts situation is the latest to erupt over filling vacant U.S. Senate seats, following particularly messy appointments in New York and Illinois.

Away from the political infighting, mourners lamented Massachusetts's loss of clout in the U.S. Senate. "Whoever goes in will not have remotely close to the influence he had," said Ted Glynn of Boston. "That's a big concern."

The question of how to fill Mr. Kennedy's seat is vexing Democrats. In 2004, Mr. Kennedy supported a special election rather than a gubernatorial appointment. Yet more recently, he wrote to Mr. Patrick and legislative leaders, urging that Massachusetts give the governor the power to appoint an interim successor.

Continue reading at The Wall Street Journal

US seen easing Israeli settlement demands

WASHINGTON—The Obama administration appears to be backing down on its insistence that Israel halt all settlement activity as a condition for restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.

While U.S. officials insist their position on the matter has not changed, they are now hinting that a less blanket moratorium would be acceptable provided the Palestinians and Arab states agree.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday that the U.S. "position in these discussions remains unchanged," but he added that the U.S. would be flexible on pre-negotiation conditions for all the parties involved.

"We put forward our ideas, publicly and privately, about what it will take for negotiations to be restarted, but ultimately it'll be up to the parties themselves, with our help, to determine whether that threshold has been met," Crowley said.

"Ultimately," he added, "this is not a process by which the United States will impose conditions on Israel, on the Palestinian Authority, on other countries," he added.

The White House said Thursday it had nothing to add to Crowley's comments.

The administration's special Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, has been pressing Israel, the Palestinians and neighboring Arab nations to take specific confidence-building measures to lay the groundwork for a resumption in peace negotiations. The administration wants to have President Barack Obama announce a breakthrough in the third week of September at or on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Getting Arab buy-in on such a deal will be difficult, particularly since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to resume negotiations with Israel until there is a full freeze on settlements. U.S. officials said Thursday that they will continue to press Israel for as broad a suspension as possible.

But they also acknowledged that a compromise from the previous hard stance on settlements laid out by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton may be necessary due to the equally firm line taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent talks with Mitchell.

Clinton said in May that Israel needed to apply a freeze on all new settlement construction, including so-called "natural growth" in existing projects in the West Bank. It would also apply to activity in east Jerusalem, notably the eviction of Palestinian families and demolition of Palestinian homes.

Mitchell met Netanyahu in London on Wednesday for talks that both sides said made unspecified "good progress" but did not produce an agreement on a freeze. Mitchell will hold follow-up talks next week with an Israeli delegation in the United States, although officials downplayed chances for a breakthrough.

Crowley and other U.S. officials denied Israeli media reports that Mitchell had agreed to leave East Jerusalem out of the agreement and settle for a nine- to 12-month freeze in the West Bank only that would also allow the completion of projects already under construction.

However, diplomats familiar with talks say that the administration has signaled it might be able to accept an "understanding" on East Jerusalem that would entail an Israeli promise not to take "any provocative actions" there.

More fires, homes evacuated

LOS ANGELES - WILDFIRES erupted up and down California as a late summer siege of heat and low humidity levels made conditions ripe for conflagrations.

Structures could be seen burning on Thursday in the wealthy communities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula south of Los Angeles, while suburbs on the foothills to the north of the city were threatened by a slumbering fire that suddenly roared to life in the evening hours.

Dozens of homes were evacuated in Rancho Palos Verdes, Los Angeles County fire Inspector Steve Zermeno said.

TV news footage showed structures on fire and at least one entirely engulfed in flames. Fire officials could not confirm if any structures or homes had been damaged or destroyed.

In Monterey County, in the central coastal region of the state, 100 homes were evacuated about four miles (6 1/2 kilometres) from the community of Soledad, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection Capt James Dellamonica said.

The other major battles in Southern California were in the San Gabriel Mountains as firefighters struggled to keep flames from topping ridges and surging into a wider area of the sprawling Angeles National Forest northeast of downtown Los Angeles, where the temperature hit 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 Celsius) before noon. -- AP

Binyamin Netanyahu seeks deal on settlements

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will come under concerted pressure to fall into line with Barack Obama’s plans for bringing peace to the Middle East when he meets with Washington’s special envoy in London today.

Better relations with Arab neighbours and a tougher line on Iran are the lures that George Mitchell will hold out to Mr Netanyahu in a bid to force a compromise over continued settlement activity.

American officials confirmed earlier this month that their new peace plan would be unveiled within weeks, possibly as soon as next month’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

The threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions has brought a new momentum to the process with Arab states more ready than ever to make concessions to Israel over issues like recognition in return for global co-operation against the regime in Tehran.
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What remains to be seen is how far Israel is prepared to go to meet the US on demands for a halt in settlement activity which the Palestinians have made a precondition for talks.

Mr Netanyahu said yesterday he would seek a compromise allowing some limited expansion to continue and exclude Jerusalem from the deal.

At a press conference with Gordon Brown following their meeting at Downing Street, Mr Netanyahu said: “What we're seeking to achieve with the United States in the talks we've conducted, and will conduct tomorrow and will conduct after tomorrow is to find a bridging formula that will enable us to at once launch a process but enable those to continue living normal lives.”

“Normal lives” is the phrase Israeli representatives use to refer to construction that allows for the growth of settler families among the West Bank communities, where 300,000 Jewish Israelis live on occupied Palestinian land.

Mr Brown said he had made it clear to Mr Netanyahu that settlement activity was a barrier to Middle East peace. But he added that he was “more optimistic than before” about the chances for the peace process. Mr Netanyahu is under pressure from right wing allies at home not to be seen to be caving to international pressure over the settlements.

Geologists assess Yosemite hotel rockfall risk

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK -- Scientists worked Thursday to determine if a boulder avalanche that forced the closure of a landmark Yosemite lodge was a one-time event or a precursor of more rockslides to come.

The Ahwahnee Hotel remained closed following a series of landslides Wednesday that peppered the storied building's parking lot with boulders - one the size of two SUVs.

There were no injuries but three cars were damaged and the area was covered in a thick layer of gray dust, after the rocks tumbled from Royal Arches, a popular climbing route that towers 1,600 feet above the majestic retreat.

The hotel's 300 guests were immediately evacuated but escorted back to their rooms Wednesday night to collect their belongings, before being put up in hotels outside the park.

"We realize now that the first one may not be the only one. We want to err on the side of safety," said park spokeswoman Kari Cobb.

A park geologist has been studying the stability of the granite face cut by glaciers and erosion to resemble the arches for which it was named, hoping to determine by Friday afternoon if the hotel can reopen or if the avalanche was a prelude to other rockfalls.

"Yosemite is a wild place," Cobb said.

Park scientists say rockfalls seem to have accelerated in recent years and are the most significant force affecting the Yosemite Valley - a spectacular natural wonder that receives more than 3 million visitors a year.

Since 1857, at least 535 rockfalls have killed 14 people and injured 62, more than at any other national park. Only in the last few years has the park hired a full-time geologist to assess risk.

Still the park was caught off guard last year when rocks hit 17 cabins in Curry Village and sent 150 youngsters running for their lives. A month later park officials permanently closed the 233 cabins closest to the base of Glacier Point.

Park policy is to treat rockfalls as part of a potentially larger series of events.

"We know now that we can never predict rockfall," said Cobb. "We can only learn from what we've done in the past and move forward. Even though some visitors will be upset, we can only say that safety is our No. 1 concern."

Is True Health-Care Reform Doomed?

One of the good things about spending vacation time away from the computer and second-by-second news is that it's easier to see the big picture. And one thing that came into focus during my recent beach time -- and is even more clear today -- is that the health-care "reform" making its way through Congress has disaster written all over it unless there's a clear, understandable and affordable public option in the final versioEven with a public option, it may be a disaster unless it's carefully thought out. Alas, care and thought don't seem to have much sway these days with all the shrieking about "death panels" and getting "the rich" to pick up the tab for everyone.

My problem has nothing to do with the supposed socialization of medicine and the various other horrors invoked by opponents. My problem is that any piece of legislation that runs more than 1,000 pages -- the House version weighs in at 1,017 -- is certain to contain enough ambiguities, contradictions and just plain mistakes to ensure years of lucrative employment for countless lawyers, lobbyists and experts who will pick away at it.

I'm profoundly unimpressed by people who wave around pieces of the legislation to "prove" this or that. That's because something as long and complex as this has plenty of provisions that allow you to show whatever you want to show. A Rorschach test, as it were. It's like citing verses from the Bible or the Koran to "prove" philosophies ranging from universal love to a sacred duty to destroy unbelievers in the name of God.

I'm no fan of our existing health-care system, even though it's been working fine for me because I'm well insured, have access to family and friends who are doctors, can afford out-of-network specialists, and have generally managed to end-run the hideous insurance company bureaucracies that drive more and more medical decisions.

With all due respect, the idea that there is a "free market" for health-care consumers is nonsense. A free market assumes that participants are knowledgeable and understand the choices they're being asked to make. That's not the case with health care, as anyone who has tried to analyze Medicare-supplement plans or pick among insurance options offered by his employer can tell you. Should you find yourself in a rural area far from home with a mysterious and troubling pain, you're not exactly in a position to bargain with the local walk-in clinic or hospital emergency room. The health-care status quo isn't going to work over the long term. For one thing, absent a huge change, the cost of Medicare threatens to financially cripple the country. Plus, we already have non-medical forces determining how care works. Insurance companies increasingly try to tell doctors and hospitals and medical-device makers what procedures to perform, what to charge for them and what drugs to prescribe.

Talk to any doctor in a practice that's part of an insurance network, and you'll probably find there's at least one form-filler-outer for each physician. Medicare, which covers about 45 million people, isn't any fun for doctors -- some of the reimbursement levels are ludicrously low -- but at least they know when they'll get paid and what's covered and what isn't. Insurance companies are far less consistent in what they cover and what and when they pay.

For the most part, the only ones who actually pay -- or try to pay -- the full stated price of hospitalization and prescription drugs are uninsured or underinsured people, who frequently go broke trying to cover their bills. People with good medical insurance and prescription-drug plans benefit from the steep discounts that insurers negotiate.

Had the Obama administration tried simply to expand Medicare, with all its imperfections, I'd be a lot more confident about health-care reform achieving something useful. If there were a simple, clear public option providing benchmarks against which to measure insurance company performance, that might work. But no public option and a 1,017-page bill designed to fix our medical system? Good luck on that, fans. Even at the beach, there will be no escape.