Sunday, April 6, 2008

8 Last-Minute Ways to Save for Your Vacation

In a perfect world, we'd all have fully funded vacation accounts to pay for our annual family getaways. The reality: Most of us are just now starting to think about this summer's vacation. Here are some fast-track ways to save for your big trip.

1. Start with a spending plan

Decide upfront how much you'll spend on your vacation. Get specific.

Along with plane tickets (or gas, if you're driving) and hotel prices, guesstimate costs for meals, souvenirs, and park or museum admissions. Total it all up. If the number sends you into shock, cut back on costs -- now, on paper -- until you feel comfortable with what you're spending. If money is really tight, consider a couple of long weekend trips instead of one "dream" vacation this summer.

2. Sacrifice now for fun later

Do you belong to a health club or subscribe to a service (such as cable or satellite TV, a cell phone plan, etc.) that you no longer use, or could easily downgrade?

"Drop the service now and stash the money away for your family's summer vacation," says Kim Danger, founder of Also consider cutting back for a few months on nonessentials like kids' dance lessons, your weekly Pilates classes, your husband's trips to the batting cage or your family's monthly movie-rental service.

Remember: You're just trading today's fun for the fun you'll have during your vacation. Move what you normally would have spent on these items into your vacation fund. Ideally, that would be a special savings account or an easy-to-track category within your larger savings account.

3. Build cash with a 'Pantry Week'

For one week each month, from now until your trip, stay out of the grocery store and eat only what you have in your house. Mary Hunt, founder and editor of and author of "Live Your Life for Half the Price," calls this quick money-raising challenge the "Pantry Week."

Make it fun by pretending you're on a deserted island and can only eat what you have in the pantry. What unusual meals can the kids suggest? "Most families have more staples in their cupboards than they realize," says Hunt. And guess what? It's actually OK to eat peanut butter and jelly for dinner one night.

4. Eat out less, save big

A typical family with kids younger than age 6 spends an average of $239 each month on restaurant meals, according to the National Restaurant Association. That's money that could easily be diverted to your vacation fund.

Some ways to cut back without going cold turkey: Check local restaurants for "kids eat free" nights (often Monday or Tuesday nights), watch newspaper coupon inserts for buy one entrée, get one free dining deals or buy discounted coupons (usually $25 certificates for $10) at

Frozen dinners or ready-made grocery deli items are much cheaper than restaurant food if all you really need is a cooking break. You could also eat dinner inexpensively at home, then treat the family to a modest dessert out.

5. Make a savings wall chart

Kids are more likely to get excited, and you'll stay on track more easily, if you make your savings goal visual. Chart a graph on a large poster board. Track your weekly or monthly progress toward your trip savings with colorful markers and stickers.

Set some milestones along the way: For instance, once you've saved one-quarter of your trip costs, celebrate with a special movie-at-home night or go out for ice cream. Celebrating your success makes the savings process fun.

6. Sell your stuff

A garage sale is a great way to earn vacation cash from your castoffs. To attract a crowd, run an ad in your local newspaper and post easy-to-read signs around your neighborhood. Check local regulations about posting notices, of course, and write signs in crayon if it looks like rain.

Sales tips: Kids' clothes sell well at yard sales, adult clothes don't -- try a consignment shop instead. List kids' clothing sizes and brand names, if you have them, in your ad. Some parents make special trips to garage sales featuring labels like BabyGap and Gymboree, says Danger.

If your kids are old enough to help, let them pick some of their older toys to sell, suggests Dave Ramsey, author of "The Total Money Makeover." A special kids' table with a sign like, "All proceeds go to purchase of our Disneyland souvenirs," is often a big hit -- and it's a great way to teach your kids about money.

7. Use your tax refund -- now

Do you usually get an IRS refund in April? If so, too much tax money is being withheld from your paycheck. Fill out a new W-4 form with your employer right away. Adjust your tax withholding so that it's fairly close to what you will owe in April.

Your next paycheck should be substantially bigger. Start transferring the extra money into your dedicated vacation savings account or category. If you still get a refund this spring, sock it away, too. Heather Larson of Tacoma, Wash., puts her family's refunds into short-term certificates of deposit that expire right before their vacation. That way, they don't spend the money on anything else.

8. Let credit cards pay you back

In the months prior to your vacation, use a credit card that accumulates "rewards"(points or cash rebates) for everything you can: gas, groceries -- even day-care tuition.

Let rewards pile up, then use them toward plane tickets (if you've been banking points/dollars for a while), hotel or rental car discount, or gift cards for chain restaurants you'll visit on your trip. You can locate and compare rewards cards at The key, of course, is to pay off your balance in full every month. Vacation debt is not the kind of souvenir you want to collect.

Copyrighted, All rights reserved.

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3 Reasons to Welcome a Recession

Recession. It's a word that strikes fear into the heart of chief executives, economists, and everyday Americans alike.

And for good reason -- recessions bring job losses, falling stock prices, and general economic gloom and doom. But while almost no one is enthusiastic about the thought of a recession knocking on the front door, there are a few good aspects of these periodic downturns.

1. Recessions correct economic imbalances
Like it or not, our economy is not built to go on growing indefinitely without hitting any bumps in the road. Over time, excesses tend to build up in our markets, and these excesses have to be worked out for the economy to get back to a healthy, realistic, and sustainable rate of growth.

In the late 1990s, one area of excess was in the stock market, as shares of technology companies were pushed higher and higher despite underlying fundamentals that didn't justify these new valuations. More recently, the excesses have been in the housing market, fueled by low rate cuts in the early part of the decade and by lenders overextending themselves to make loans to underqualified buyers.

Periods of economic contraction eliminate these sorts of unsustainable bubbles and get the economy back on solid ground. Like a visit to the dentist, recessions can be painful, and they can't be over soon enough, but in the end, they're for your own good.

A stronger and more sound economy will rise from the dust of our present downturn.

2. Stock market drops that accompany recessions provide new opportunities
Since the stock market is one of the primary indicators of the health of the economy, recessionary periods are frequently accompanied by meaningful drops in our stock market. Though most people panic when they see the market heading into the red, what they don't realize is that market downturns constitute a giant fire sale.

During periods of market panic, both good and bad stocks get dragged down for the count. This means that oodles of stocks with great long-term prospects are now available at a discount. Everyone knows that financial stocks have really taken a beating, but other corners of the market are offering fresh, new opportunities.

For example, tech stocks have been relatively oversold in recent weeks, and many companies with incredible long-term growth prospects are now trading at a fraction of their former prices.

Check out former highfliers such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), which are down more than 25% year to date. Other big names such as Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL), and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) have fallen anywhere from 9% to 18% so far this year. All of these names possess significant competitive advantages in their niches and represent compelling long-term tech plays. They're also all cheaper than they were a few months ago.

3. It won't last forever
It's true. Recessions don't last forever. The economy has lived through 10 recessions since World War II, and it has rebounded every single time. And although it may seem that there's always another piece of bad news being trumpeted in the media, the average post-WWII recession has lasted a mere 10 months.

In almost all of these cases, the stock market headed down in advance of the onset of a recession and rebounded ahead of the recession's end. This makes sense when you remember that the stock market is a forward-looking device. But this also means that even if we are in for many more months of sour economic news, we may not have to endure as many months of falling stock prices.

Position yourself to profit
Recessions can humble even the most confident investor. When the market is going up and everyone is making money, most folks think they can go it alone. But when things get rough, many formerly steel-willed investors turn to the experts for help.

If you want the latest insights on how some of the smartest investing minds and money managers are putting their money to work during these difficult times, check out our Motley Fool Champion Funds investing service. We scour the universe to bring you the best mutual fund ideas each and every month, and you can take a look at all of our fund picks with a free 30-day trial today.

So while the news in the media will likely be of the doom-and-gloom variety for quite awhile, try not to get caught up in the hype. There's almost always a silver lining -- even in something as dark and menacing as a recession.

Amanda Kish heads up the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service. At the time of publication, she did not own any of the companies mentioned herein. Apple and Dell are Stock Advisor recommendations. Dell and Microsoft are Inside Value picks. Click here to find out more about the Fool's disclosure policy.

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Locked up for smacking my son ... How a slap brought police and social services in to tear a family apart

There was nothing ominous about the knock at the door, but when I pulled it open I was confronted by four police officers and our street was thick with panda cars.

This is not a scene you see too often in our home village of Great Malvern, not even if there has been a rare burglary in the respectable part of Worcestershire where we live happily among other decent, law-abiding families.

But the police were not coming to our aid. Instead they were coming to arrest me and my husband Folke for child abuse.

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Before the nightmare: Susan Pope and her three children photographed with an entertainer during a Christmas trip to Harrods in London in 2006. The faces of Guy and Harriet have been obscured to protect their identity

Looking me straight in the eye the officer said: "We are about to arrest you for cruelty and neglect to Guy Pope."

Guy is our 11-year-old son. And my crime? Smacking him once after he had ignored my warnings to stop his temper tantrum and repeated swearing.

He and his 16-year-old brother, Oliver, had then concocted a tissue of lies claiming we had starved and beaten them and - far worse in their eyes - refused to let them have their games consoles.

But rather than examining my well-fed younger son and his unmarked, if rebellious brother, the police had called in social services and arrested us.

Folke and I were about to be thrown in police cells for the next 32 hours, interrogated by detectives and warned we would be facing charges.

Worst of all, we would see our children placed on the child protection register by social workers who believe an isolated smack is child abuse.

Nearly a year later I've lost my job at a private school - and my unblemished career with it - and my family is still subject to the whims of the social services because, I believe, we had the temerity to fight our corner.

Susan Pope

Resolute: Despite her ordeal, Susan Pope says parents must have the right to punish children

For all the heartache, however, I can appreciate a certain bitter irony in finding myself in this position.

I worked with children throughout my 25-year career as a nurse - first in paediatrics and A&E, and latterly at Malvern St James, a local all-girls private school.

I am aware of the boundaries when it comes to discipline inside and outside the home, but if society needs boundaries to avoid anarchy, then so do children.

My husband and I moved to Worcestershire in 1987. Folke is a chartered surveyor and we have three children: Oliver, now 17, is at a sixth-form college, Guy is at the local comprehensive and Harriet, nine, attends Malvern St James.

I had just picked up Guy and Harriet from school on the Thursday before the bank holiday weekend last May when they began to bicker.

Guy was in a foul mood when we reached home and my patience was wearing thin because, despite repeated warnings, he began to swear at me rather than calm down.

"Guy, enough is enough," I said. "I will not have you swearing at me.

"You have already been warned about this. If you don't stop you will get a smack."

He stormed out of the house and went off in search of Oliver.

When they returned, there was more trouble. Guy said "F*** off, you cow" to me once too often, so I smacked him once on the backside, firmly but not hard.

Smacking is a last resort, but Folke and I believe it is our right as parents to administer this punishment if absolutely necessary.

Guy and Oliver stormed off. Folke went to fetch them - we had a good idea where they'd be.

Oliver had fallen in with a local family who to me represent many of the problems in society: the children (who have different fathers) are able to do as they please without any parental control.

Oliver had been playing truant and would sometimes stay with this family at night. As much as we disapproved, at least he was safe.

When Folke arrived at this family's house he was met by the police.

An officer said: "Serious allegations of physical and mental abuse have been made against you by your children and you are not allowed to go near them."

The allegations were, of course, completely untrue. Oliver subsequently admitted he had provoked Guy before calling the police himself and making the claims on Guy's behalf.

Folke returned home furious but also in a state of shock.

Then two policemen arrived at our house and said they wanted to check Harriet was safe.

Incredibly, we were also told Guy was going to stay with this other family despite the fact that they had not been subject to any Criminal Record Bureau checks and had no foster-parenting experience.

There was not even any Emergency Protection Order (EPO) in place - required before your children can be subject to local authority care.

I felt our family was fragmenting before our eyes.

Knowing you cannot go near your child and have lost all sense of control is agony. But I was determined to hold it together.

Both boys stayed the night with this family and the next morning I tried frantically to contact Social Services.

Eventually a social worker called us and said: "You're not allowed to see Guy this weekend. We will be reviewing the situation after the bank holiday."

With the benefit of hindsight we should have called a solicitor immediately, but we were in shock.

So Folke spent the weekend sanding floorboards while I tried to keep Harriet entertained.

Since Oliver was 16 at the time, there was little we could do but let him fend for himself.

On Tuesday, we went to our solicitor Nick Turner and began to kick up merry hell with Social Services.

We warned them that because they had no EPO they had no right to dictate where Guy went and we would see them in court.

Rather than apologise, they told us: "We will be interviewing your children whether you like it or not.

"You are under investigation for child abuse. Stay away from Guy."

Just as we were about to leave to go to court, the police arrived and placed us under arrest on suspicion of child abuse.

Folke had to text his father and brother asking them to attend the court in our absence.

At Worcester police station, I was ordered to remove my hair grip and pins and had to place my Kurt Geiger shoes next to a pair of trainers belonging to a tramp.

We spent the next 32 hours in freezing cells furnished with a plastic mattress, threadbare pillow and a filthy lavatory.

I had to ring for lavatory paper - supplied four sheets at a time.

Eventually, on Friday evening, I was led into a tiny interview room where two stern-faced female detectives lay in wait.

Initially I felt scared but then an overwhelming sense of outrage swept over me.

"Why did you smack Guy's bottom?" demanded one of the officers.

"Surely you know this is abuse? Why have you not fed him properly?"

"This is ridiculous," I said. "My son is not emaciated and smacking is only used as a last resort.

"As far as I know, reasonable chastisement is still legal in this country."

Later that night we were released on bail but warned we faced further investigation.

Indeed, as we walked away from the police station, a social worker appeared and warned us we still could not see Guy except under supervision for two hours a week.

In the meantime they were going to assess us as parents. That was the first time I had ever heard my husband tell someone to "F*** off".

By the time we arrived home we were dishevelled, filthy and on the edge of hysteria.

But thankfully there was some good news: the judge had thrown out Social Services' case because officials did not have a leg to stand on.

My brother-in-law had contacted them after the ruling and said: "We are collecting Guy and there is nothing you can do about it."

Guy had been away from our house for seven nights and was getting very concerned.

The enormity of what he and Oliver had done had long since sunk in.

Meanwhile, Folke and I had yet more meetings to attend.

First was a child protection meeting in Worcester.

Moments before we went in, the supposedly independent chairman told me Rosalind Hayes, the headteacher at Malvern St James, was going to be there and that he had already told her I should be suspended due to the seriousness of the allegations.

Over the next three hours, Folke and I faced a barrage of accusations.

"Why does Guy have no furniture in his bedroom?" we were asked.

This was easy enough to explain. It was obvious, even from a cursory examination, that we were in the middle of refurbishing our Victorian house. The floorboards were being stripped, ready to be varnished.

But the accusations became more and more ridiculous.

"Why are you starving them and depriving them of toys?"

We explained that both allegations were nonsense. The "starvation" claim stemmed from the fact that Guy had been putting on too much weight, so when he demanded snacks between meals I'd sometimes say no.

As for depriving the boys of toys, Oliver and Guy have a Nintendo DS, a Sony PlayStation and a computer.

Like many parents, however, I would not let them vegetate in front of a screen all day.

Our explanations to the panel made not the slightest difference - we were told Harriet and Guy would be placed on the Child Protection Register.

We were horrified and humiliated but determined not to give in and refused to sign any paperwork.

Two days later I received a letter from Malvern St James confirming my suspension, although I was assured the school would support me.

Then came another knock at the door. It was four social workers, demanding that we sign a child protection plan so that they could assess our suitability as parents.

When I read it I noticed the names on the form were not ours. When I pointed this out, the senior social worker said he would cut and paste our names in.

Eventually we did sign a replacement-document because it seemed the only way to get Guy back home.

When we finally went to pick Guy up from my brother-in-law's home, he was deeply upset. "I just want to go home," he said. "Please, Mum."

We gave him a big hug and reassured him that we loved him.

Since then, we have been trying to piece our family back together again.

The police dropped the case against us but the assessment period imposed by Social Services, which was meant to be completed within 35 days, has still not expired and we have no idea when it will stop.

If the children were at risk then surely they would be the subject of court proceedings?

Being on the register means we must inform social services if we travel abroad.

And if we are in another part of the UK, we must tell the child protection team in that area.

But there is little chance of us going on holiday because I have lost my job.

In January, I attended a disciplinary hearing with my Royal College of Nursing rep, the school bursar Denis Smith and human resources manager Angela Hensher.

After a short preamble, I was told I was sacked - the end of an impeccable career, just like that.

Apparently, the school was worried about its reputation because my children were on the at-risk register.

A month later Mr Smith was convicted at Worcester Crown Court of dangerous driving and failing to provide a breath specimen - he had rammed a police car during an 80mph chase.

He was banned from driving for three years and given a suspended eight-month jail term - but he wasn't sacked by the school.

I am now taking the school to an employment tribunal, suing police for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment and pursuing more than a dozen complaints against Worcestershire Social Services.

Harriet is still haunted by the whole experience and finds it very difficult to sleep at night.

Guy has been trying to block out the whole affair.

Oliver has also finally shown some remorse.

"Look, I am really sorry," he told us. "I realise I made a terrible mistake and I am going to make it up to you."

He then went on his own to our solicitor's firm and made a statement withdrawing all the allegations.

Of course, we don't blame the children - they can't possibly have known what was going to happen.

But we are determined to take action against the police and Social Services, not just for ourselves, but on behalf of other parents who are being hounded in a similar fashion.

Parents need to have the power to set boundaries for their children.

Without discipline in the home, children grow up with no sense of right and wrong.

Folke and I adore our children and try to avoid smacking at all costs. But we would not hesitate to do the same again.

If our battle helps to restore the power of discipline to parents - not to mention teachers and police on the beat - then some good will have emerged from this terrible ordeal.

• When The Mail on Sunday approached Malvern St James, the school announced it had now accepted the resignation of Denis Smith on the grounds of ill-health. Police and Social Services refused to comment.

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Pa. couple says Google 'Street View' pictures violated privacy

A western Pennsylvania couple sued Google Inc., saying pictures of their home that appear on the Web site's "Street View" feature violated their privacy, devalued their property and caused them mental suffering.

Aaron and Christine Boring bought the home in Franklin Park, a Pittsburgh suburb, in October 2006 for a "considerable sum of money," according to their 10-page lawsuit filed Wednesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

"A major component of their purchase decision was a desire for privacy," the lawsuit said.

The suit targets the Mountain View, Calif., company over images on its Web site, which allows users to find street-level photos by clicking on a map. To gather the photos, Google uses vehicles with mounted digital cameras to take pictures up and down the streets of major metropolitan areas.

The Borings say the images of their home on the Google site had to be taken from their long driveway, labeled "Private Road," and that violated their privacy.

"There's no merit to this action," Google spokesman Larry Yu said. "It is unfortunate litigation was chosen to address the concern because we have visible tools, such as a YouTube video, to help people learn about imagery removal and an easy-to-use process to facilitate image removal."

He said Google has links on the Web site that let property owners request that such images be removed if they cite a good reason and can confirm they own the property depicted.

"We absolutely respect that people may not be comfortable with some of the imagery on the site," Yu said. "We actually make it pretty easy for people to submit a request to us to remove the imagery."

Yu also said that if the Borings made such a request to Google, especially arguing that the images show a view from their private driveway, he is confident that the image would be removed.

The couple's attorney, Dennis Moskal, said that's not the point. He said the Borings' privacy was invaded when the Google vehicle allegedly drove onto their property. Removing the image doesn't undo that damage — nor will it deter the company from doing the same thing in the future, he said.

"Isn't litigation the only way to change a big business' conduct with the public?" Moskal said. "What happened to their accountability?"

Google, however, is not the only Web site with a photo of the Borings' property.

The Allegheny County real estate Web site has a photo, plus a detailed description of the home and the couple's name. The site contains similar information, including pictures, of nearly every property in the county.

Moskal said the county's image appeared to have been taken from a public street.

"The county's not trespassing," Moskal said.

Moskal said his clients did not wish to speak to the media. The Associated Press could not find a listed phone number for them.

The Borings paid $163,000 for the property, according to the county Web site. The county describes the home as a single-family, four-room bungalow with a full basement. The one-story frame home was built in 1916 and sits on a property that's a little less than 2 acres.

The home is 984 square feet with a fireplace and central heat and county assessors graded it as being in "Fair" condition. The county Web site does not mention the property's two detached garages and swimming pool, which are visible in the Google pictures and are mentioned in the couple's lawsuit.

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Clashes along Olympic torch route

Protester tries to grab torch from Konnie Huq
Ex-Blue Peter presenter Konnie Huq surrounded by security

Thirty-seven arrests have been made after clashes between pro-Tibet protesters and police as the Olympic torch made its way through London.

Protests over China's human rights record began soon after the relay began at Wembley, and prompted an increasing police presence through the city.

One protester tried to snatch the torch from former Blue Peter host Konnie Huq.

After an unpublicised change to the route, the Chinese ambassador carried the torch through Chinatown.

It later made an unscheduled move onto a bus.

A protective ring of 10 Chinese flame attendants and fluorescent-jacketed police officers surrounded the torchbearers at all times, with additional uniformed officers joining at potential flashpoints along the route.

Police decided the torch should travel along Fleet Street to St Paul's Cathedral by bus, rather than held by a runner, after it was surrounded by a large group of protesters.

Chaotic scenes

A contingent of pro-China supporters also tried to make their voices heard along the route, waving Chinese and Olympic flags and calling for "one China".

I always said my taking part in the procession doesn't mean I condone China in any way
Konnie Huq

Outside Downing Street there were chaotic scenes as former Olympic heptathlon gold medallist Denise Lewis took the flame to No 10.

Gordon Brown greeted the torch outside Number 10 despite coming under pressure to boycott the parade and the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. However he did not hold it.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the prime minister's involvement was "wholly inappropriate" until China opened talks with the Dalai Lama.

People cannot just come in and cause havoc with what's being done...and officers have stopped them
Jo Kaye
Metropolitan Police Commander

Police said about there were about 500 people in Whitehall and about 2,000 gathered near the British Museum.

Several small scuffles broke out as police tackled some of the protesters.

Beijing Olympic torch relay spokesman Qu Yingpu told the BBC: "This is not the right time, the right platform, for any people to voice their political views.

Human rights

"So we are very grateful and very thankful to the people in London, the police and the organisers, for their efforts trying to keep order."

Pictures of the London relay were broadcast on China's state-controlled TV, but not of the protests and disruption.

Metropolitan Police Commander Jo Kaye denied officers had been heavy-handed with some protesters.

"Our duty is to see that that torch is taken safely and securely to the end of its route. We're doing that. We're on schedule. The convoy has kept going according to schedule all the way," he said.

"People cannot just come in and cause havoc with what's being done there and the officers have stopped them. They know quite well that they shouldn't be trying to get in at the torch and they've been stopped."

At the start of the relay, three protesters were taken away by police after trying to board the open-top bus taking the torch from Wembley.

Police also stepped in when a protester later tried to snatch the torch from Ms Huq.

Olympic values

She told BBC News 24 she was "a bit bashed about" but not seriously hurt.

"I always said my taking part in the procession doesn't mean I condone China in any way," she added.

"I believe in the Olympic values, the Olympic ideals... it's just unfortunate that China has such a terrible track record when it comes to human rights and they are the host nation."

Those taking part in the relay include 10 Olympic champions, 18 schoolchildren and public figures such as news reader Sir Trevor McDonald and musician Vanessa Mae.

Double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes ran the last stage of the route to complete the relay and lit the Olympic cauldron in front of 5,000 spectators.

The flame will complete the London leg of its journey with a finale event at the O2 Arena. It will then leave for Paris.

Girl band The Sugababes withdrew from the finale at the last minute, saying singer Amelle Berrabah had been diagnosed with laryngitis. They had earlier carried the torch on an open top bus down Oxford Street.

The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece, last week and will go through 20 countries before being carried into the Beijing Games opening ceremony on 8 August.

1: Wembley 1030BST
2: Ladbroke Grove 1100
3: British Museum 1220
4: China Town 1230
5: Trafalgar Square 1250
6: Southbank Centre 1330
7: Somerset House 1415
8: St Paul's Cathedral 1430
9: Potter's Fields 1500
10: Whitechapel Road 1530
11: Stratford 1600
12: Canary Wharf 1700
13: North Greenwich 1800
Source: Mayor of London

Original here

IOC head says Beijing was "wise choice"

By Melanie Lee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee has no regrets about its "wise choice" of Beijing to host the Olympics, its president said on Saturday.

Jacques Rogge said the IOC did not see a "real momentum" towards any form of boycott of the Games by governments.

China, which won the right to host the Olympics in 2001, faced a public relations crisis last month after it rigorously clamped down on monk-led marches in Tibet.

Rogge said the opportunity to bring the Games to the world's most populous nation meant the IOC had made the right choice.

"IOC considers that it made a wise choice in awarding the games to Beijing and we have no regrets," Rogge told a news conference in response to a question about China's human rights record.

"We have the tremendous added value of bringing sports and the Olympics to one fifth of mankind."

The Buddhist monk-led marches in Tibet turned into an anti-Chinese riot in Lhasa and touched off a rash of demonstrations throughout the region.

China blames the Dalai Lama, whom it labels a separatist, and his followers for stirring up the Lhasa violence to try to discredit the Olympics. The 72-year-old Buddhist leader has repeatedly expressed support for the Beijing Games.

The crackdown and China's jailing of a Buddhist Chinese dissident who spoke out over Tibet and other sensitive topics have angered non-governmental organizations who condemn China's behavior and accuse the IOC of staying silent.


IOC has vigorously defended its policy of non-involvement in politics. The issue of protests and possible boycotts will be addressed next week at a meeting of the IOC executive board, Rogge said.

"We are definitely not happy with protests but we respect them as long as they are not violent," he said.

France's Human Rights minister Rama Yade said on Saturday that President Nicolas Sarkozy would not attend the Games' opening ceremony unless China opened talks with the Dalai Lama.

Rogge said Beijing's poor air quality might affect athletes' performance.

"The health of the athletes is absolutely not in danger. There is no danger to their health, (although) it might be that some of them may have a slightly reduced performance," Rogge told students at a dialogue session.

Marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie, an asthma sufferer, said last month he would not compete in the event because of the poor air quality.

Beijing, one of the most polluted cities in the world, plans to take about half of its 3.5 million cars off the roads and partially shut down industry in the capital and five surrounding provinces for two months for the Olympics.

(Reporting by Melanie Lee; Editing by Robert Woodward)

Original here

The War's Expiration Date

A crucial yet overlooked deadline looms over the Iraq debate: Unless further action is taken, the war will become illegal on Jan. 1, 2009.

Despite protestations to the contrary, Congress clearly understood that it was authorizing the president to intervene militarily when it passed its joint resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq in October 2002. But it did not give him a blank check. It allowed for the use of force only under two conditions.

The first has long since lapsed. It permitted the president to "defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq." This threat came to an end with the destruction of Saddam Hussein's government. It makes no sense to say that it continues today, or that our "national security" is "threatened by" the Iraqi government headed by Nouri al-Maliki.

Instead, U.S. military intervention is authorized under the second prong of the 2002 resolution. This authorizes the president to "enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq." This has allowed the Bush administration to satisfy American law by obtaining a series of resolutions authorizing the United States to serve as the head of the multinational force in Iraq.

But here's the rub. The most recent U.N. resolution expires on Dec. 31, and the administration has announced that it will not seek one for 2009. Instead, it is now negotiating a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi government to replace the U.N. mandate.

Whatever this agreement contains, it will not fill the legal vacuum. That's because the administration is not planning to submit this new agreement to Congress for its explicit approval. Since the Constitution gives the power to "declare war" to Congress, the president can't ignore the conditions imposed on him in 2002 without returning for a new grant of authority. He cannot substitute the consent of the Iraqi government for the consent of the U.S. Congress.

This simple point hasn't yet gained the attention it deserves. While the presidential candidates debate whether we should be in Iraq for the next two years or the next 100, nobody is focusing on the next few months.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to support its unilateral expansion of war aims with inadequate arguments. At a recent congressional hearing, David Satterfield, the administration's coordinator for Iraq, claimed that the 2002 resolution authorized the continuing use of force against al-Qaeda in Iraq. But al-Qaeda only came into Iraq as a result of U.S. intervention. Congress only authorized the use of force to defend against the "continuing threat" posed by Iraq, not all threats that might someday exist in Iraq.

Other administration arguments are worse. It has suggested that Congress's "war on terror" resolution, passed a week after 9/11, provides sufficient legal support for continuing the war in 2009. But this claims far too much. If that were true, then President Bush could have unilaterally invaded Iraq in 2002 without any further congressional decision. Only the most extreme presidentialist would go this far.

The administration has also suggested that Congress has legally sanctioned the war by continuing to appropriate funds for it. But approving funds is not sufficient to authorize military action. If it were, the president could start any fight he pleased, and then force Congress to choose between exercising its constitutional powers and supporting the troops.

There's a simple solution to all these problems: Extend the U.N. mandate for 2009. That would put the use of U.S. armed forces on firm international and domestic legal footing. And it would allow the next president and Congress time to consider the future in a deliberate way.

Reps. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have proposed legislation to do just that. This initiative deserves bipartisan support. It represents the only practical way to confront the lawless unilateralism that the administration plans for New Year's Day.

Bruce Ackerman and Oona Hathaway are professors of law at Yale.

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