Friday, May 16, 2008

25 Projects You Can Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

Every day, hundreds of projects are posted on Elance to build websites, write books, create custom programming applications... in fact, we showed the diversity of projects that can be outsourced in our article 100 Projects You Can Outsource. Projects are also posted every day by small business owners and individuals who need smaller, more everyday tasks taken care of.

We’ve compiled a list of 25 projects where a Virtual Assistant (VA) could help you get your work done faster. We will show you the broad range of skills available to help you get work done - letting you focus on what you do best.


1. Sales Leads
Without sales, you don't have business. But if you’re spending time meeting prospective clients and servicing existing customers, it’s hard to find new leads. A VA can find and research individuals, companies, and technologies, via blogs, websites and forums. They can prepare reports and briefs to help you determine who to contact next. With the right information in hand you can focus on developing new business relationships instead of having to spend time researching.

Find new leads – and key decision-makers
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2. Fact Checking
Blogs, podcasts, videos, and other media continue to make it easy for us to communicate. Every day, more and more people use those tools to reach out to customers, clients, and friends. To be persuasive, you need facts on your side; nothing ruins your credibility quicker than inaccurate information. A VA can double-check facts, provide statistics and backup information, and verify data to make sure you always put an accurate foot forward.

Get accurate and up-to-date information
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3. Products or Services to Buy
Not sure which car meets your needs? Looking for a home theater system but can’t make sense of all the different models and specifications? A VA can take into account your budget and preferences, sift through the options, check out reviews and recommendations, and create a short list of the prime contenders for purchase. Plus, a VA can comparison shop, find the best deals possible, and even arrange the purchase if you prefer.

Make great purchase decisions
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4. Products or Services to Sell
Say you’re interested in starting a business – any business – but with all the competition, you’re not sure where to start. A VA can perform a lot of basic research: Products already marketed that can be privately labeled, products you can buy wholesale and sell at retail, products you can license so you have the right to sell them… the possibilities are endless. If you’re already in business and are considering adding a new product or product line, let a VA handle basic research while you focus on your core business.

Find new products or services to sell
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5. Speechwriting
Say you’ve been chosen as the best man at your friend’s wedding – congratulations! But what will you say when it comes time to give the toast? Don’t spend hours struggling to find the right words. A skilled writer can turn your thoughts and ideas into a touching and humorous toast that everyone will remember – and you’ll enjoy giving. But don’t stop there – any time you need to make a speech or give a presentation, imagine how confident you’ll be knowing you’ve got the perfect script to follow.

Deliver a memorable speech
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Data Entry / Word Processing

1. Turn Business Cards into Outlook Entries
Networking is critical in most businesses. Putting information from business cards into your Outlook address book helps you stay organized and automatically organizes your phone or PDA. Who really has the time to do this? You can fax/scan the business cards you receive, or send Excel or Word contact listings to a VA who can transfer the information for you. You’ll always have the information you need at your fingertips.

Organize your contacts
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2. Website Registration
Many websites require you to register to access certain articles and information, sign up for newsletters, or post your contact information for other visitors to see. Registering can be a tedious process – so outsource it! Compose a list of websites you wish to register with, along with your contact information, and allow a VA to take care of the rest. You can also ask the VA to research other relevant sites you haven’t listed, and to sign you up there, too.

Register on industry or professional websites
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3. Collect Contact Information
Need specific information about current or prospective clients? With a little research performed by a VA you can collect all the data you need, including phone numbers, email addresses, social media links, etc. They can then enter the collected data into spreadsheets, documents, address books… whatever is most useful to you.

Get specific and detailed contact information
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4. Article Submission
Posting articles in article directories, press release directories, and other websites, can be a great way to build an audience and generate links to your website or blog. Hundreds of directories exist. Make the process easy by hiring a VA: Simply provide your articles along with a list of directories you wish to submit to (or ask the VA to create a list for you), and your words can be seen by thousands of readers worldwide.

Post your articles on directories and websites
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5. Craigslist (or another classified listing site) Posting
If you sell a product and want the maximum exposure possible, posting to online classifieds can be a great way to get the word out. But posting ads on a regular basis to a number of sites and cities can be exceptionally time-consuming. Give a VA an ad template, a list of cities, and the rest of your requirements, and your ads will appear on schedule. You can spend more time fulfilling orders instead of endlessly prospecting for new clients.

Post to online classified listing sites
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Event / Trip Planning

1. Meetings
A well-planned and executed lunch meeting with one important client could be as important to your business as a meeting with 20 or more participants. Every meeting has the potential to make or break your company – make sure they are planned flawlessly! A VA can research venues, make reservations, schedule the appointment with participants, and even follow up a few days ahead of time to make sure your plans are all set. Let a VA take care of the details so you can focus on accomplishing your goals at your meetings.

Flawlessly coordinate your meeting details
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2. Prepare Participant Bios
You’ve probably seen movies or television shows where a politician or leader has names and personal information whispered into his or her ear just before he greets another person. While a VA can’t attend the meeting with you, they can provide the next best thing: If you provide the names of people who will attend your event, or any other event for that matter, a VA can give you background information, recent news, and other tidbits that will help you make a great impression on everyone you meet. Then, instead of saying, “Nice to meet you,” imagine yourself saying, “Nice to meet you… congratulations on starting your new product line. How is that going?”

Get participant bios and make great impressions
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3. Travel Research
Planning a trip, but aren’t sure how much to budget? A VA can provide detailed research and a breakdown of potential costs including flights, accommodations, local transportation, and daily expenses (like food and entertainment, etc). If you have multiple destinations or departure dates in mind, costs can be broken down by location or season to help you make the right decisions for your business trip or vacation.

Get help researching great vacation or business trip choices
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4. Slideshows
Creating a compelling and interesting slideshow is tough. So is having the right tools and techniques to zoom, pan, and fade individual slides to keep your audience engaged and your images looking their best – while making the maximum impact possible. Whether you’re showing personal photos at an engagement party or wedding, or you’re a contractor showing off past building and construction projects, make sure your slideshow looks great and functions perfectly.

Create a compelling slideshow
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5. Wedding Planning
Many brides-to-be (not to mention their parents) say that planning a wedding feels like a daunting task. Sourcing vendors, screening proposals, and checking references and credentials can be overwhelming and incredibly time-consuming. Don’t let the planning process outweigh the excitement of your wedding. Give a VA some general guidelines like cost, number of guests, and your basic preferences, and they’ll create a short-list of venues and vendors… or even make the arrangements for you.

Have all your wedding choices outlined for you
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Social Networking

1. Blog Posting
First a caveat: If you have a distinctive writing “voice,” only talented writers will be able to mimic it and create blog posts that “sound” like you. But don’t let that stop you from hiring a VA to help with your blog posts. Virtual Assistants can collect news, keep up with trends, do research… even write rough drafts of posts that you can then shape into your “own” distinctive style. And to keep the conversation among your readers going, a VA can respond to comments left on your blog, alerting you when a comment requires your expertise to answer.

Many bloggers generate a mixture of posts. Some are simple news recaps and updates while others are more like opinion pieces. Let a VA help you make your blog more robust… while also making it easier to maintain and keep fresh.

Streamline your blog posting process
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2. Commenting and Linking
Leaving comments on blogs and social media sites is a great way to make new connections and leave backlinks to your own sites and blogs. A VA can take care of the process for you. Create a list of sites (or have the VA create it), give guidelines on comments you’d like to leave, and off you go! You can also have the VA send you links to new articles or sites that you should check out personally.

While you’re at it, a VA can respond to comments and questions left on your sites and blogs, too.

Extend your social networking presence
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3. Profiles and Accounts
Want to benefit from social networking but don’t have the know-how or the time to start? Hire a VA to create your accounts and profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, and/or other social networking sites. Once you’re all set, you can focus on creating and developing relationships.

Create social networking accounts and profiles
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4. Social Media
Social Media sites like Facebook are great ways to network and create social connections – but managing your accounts can take time away from other productive work. A VA can keep up with your friend requests, respond to messages, and keep you informed about your account activity. You can take it a step farther and hire an application developer to apply current solutions or develop a new tool to keep you on the cutting edge of social networking.

Manage your Facebook and other social media accounts
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5. Online Dating Profile Management
Online dating continues to grow in popularity, and believe it or not you can outsource the online dating process. Tim Ferris, author of the bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek, did just that. A VA did all the legwork – sifting through responses, and short-listing the people who seemed like a great match.

Streamline the online dating process
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General Administrative Assistant

1. Voicemail Management
Do you receive a lot of voicemails? Do you spend a lot of time in meetings and dread having to check your messages? A VA can check your voicemail on the schedule you set, prioritize your messages, and even email summaries to you in case you’re not in a position to receive calls. A VA can also return routine and emergency calls, saving the important or sensitive calls for you to make when you have the chance.

Stay on top of your voicemail
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2. Email Management
Even if you receive hundreds of emails each day, chances are a number of them are routine – and if they’re routine, that means a VA can respond to those emails using guidance you provide. Then all you’ll need to do is respond to unusual or out of the ordinary emails. You can take it a step further and have your VA forward emails only you can handle to a separate account; that way you’ll never see or need to deal with the hundreds of emails your VA can handle for you. If you feel like you type the same response – to different people – more than once, a VA can handle the task.

Stay on top of your email
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3. Wake Up Calls
Don’t want to miss an important meeting? Or just want to make sure you get up on time? You don’t have to trust the hotel desk clerk or your alarm clock. A VA can serve as your personal “good morning” provider, and can remind you of important meetings, appointments, or other information to ensure your day gets off to a great start.

Never miss a meeting – or a breakfast
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4. Gifts and Cards
Whether they’re our friends or our customers and clients, all of us want to remember important people at special times. Provide spending guidelines and other basic information, and your VA can track down and ship the perfect gifts, send online cards, or mail pre-signed greeting cards to everyone on your list.

Send timely greetings and gifts
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5. Thank You and Follow-Up
Many businesses send notes or make phone calls to recent purchasers. It’s a great way to say “thank you” and also to answer any questions and proactively resolve potential problems. A VA can send thank you cards or make post-purchase calls to new customers or clients, creating a memorable personal touch that can help drive repeat business and build long-term business relationships.

Follow up with new customers
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Original here

Megan Meier

MEGAN MEIER UPDATE: A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a Missouri woman for her alleged role in perpetrating a MySpace online hoax on a 13-year-old neighbor girl who committed suicide.

Lori Drew of suburban St. Louis was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress on the girl.

Drew allegedly helped create a false-identity MySpace account to contact Megan Meier, who thought she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named "Josh Evans."
Megan hanged herself at home in October 2006 after receiving cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her.

Drew has denied creating the account and sending messages to Megan. Messages seeking comment were left with Drew's attorney, Jim Briscoe, on Thursday.

In Missouri, Megan's mother, Tina Meier, told The Associated Press she believed media reports and public outrage helped move the case forward for prosecution.

"I'm thrilled that this woman is going to face charges that she has needed to face since the day we found out what was going on, and since the day she decided to be a part of this entire ridiculous stunt," she said.

Megan's father, Ron Meier, 38, said he began to cry "tears of joy" when he heard of the indictment. The parents are now separated, which Tina Meier has said stemmed from the circumstances of their daughter's death.

U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien said the federal statute on accessing protected computers has been used before to address Internet hacking, but this was the first time it has been used in a social-networking situation.

"This was a tragedy that did not have to happen," O'Brien said at a Los Angeles press conference.

Both the girl and MySpace are named as victims in the case, he said.

After the indictment, MySpace issued a statement saying it "does not tolerate cyberbullying" and was cooperating fully with the U.S. attorney.

MySpace, a social networking site, is owned by Beverly Hills-based Fox Interactive Media Inc. The indictment noted that computer servers are located in Los Angeles County.

Due to juvenile privacy rules, the indictment refers to the girl as M.T.M., the U.S. attorney's office said.

FBI agents in St. Louis and Los Angeles investigated the case, said Salvador Hernandez, assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office. He called the case heart-rending.

"The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl's weaknesses," Hernandez said.

"Whether the defendant could have foreseen the results, she's responsible for her actions," he said.

The conspiracy count carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. Each count of accessing protected computers carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in prison. In all, Drew could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

Drew will be arraigned in St. Louis and then moved to Los Angeles for trial.
The indictment said MySpace members agree to abide by terms of service that include, among other things, not promoting information they know to be false or misleading; soliciting personal information from anyone under age 18 and not using information gathered from the Web site to "harass, abuse or harm other people."

The indictment charged that Drew and others, who were not named, conspired to violate the service terms from about September 2006 to mid-October of that year.

They registered as a MySpace member under a phony name and used the MySpace account to obtain information on the girl, the grand jury alleged.

Drew and her co-conspirators "used the information obtained over the MySpace computer system to torment, harass, humiliate, and embarrass the juvenile MySpace member," the indictment charged.

The indictment contends Drew and others committed or aided in a dozen "overt acts" that were illegal, including using a photograph of a boy that was posted without his knowledge or permission.

Drew and the others used "Josh Evans" to flirt with the girl, telling her she was "sexi," the indictment charged.

Around Oct., 7, 2006, Megan was told that "Josh" was moving away, prompting the girl to write: "aww sexi josh ur so sweet if u moved back u could see me up close and personal lol."

Several days later, "Josh" urged the girl to call and added: "i love you so much."

But on or about Oct. 16, "Josh" wrote to the girl and told her "in substance, that the world would be a better place without M.T.M. in it," the indictment contended.

The girl killed herself the same day, and Drew and the others deleted the information for the account opened under the phony name, the indictment said.

Last month, 19-year-old Ashley Grills, an employee of Drew, told ABC's "Good Morning America" she created the false MySpace profile, but said Drew wrote some of the messages to Megan.

Grills also claimed Drew suggested talking to Megan via the Internet to find out what Megan was saying about her daughter, who was a former friend.

Grills also said she wrote the message to Megan about the world being a better place without her. The message was supposed to end the online relationship with "Josh" because Grills felt the joke had gone too far.

"I was trying to get her angry so she would leave him alone and I could get rid of the whole MySpace," Grills told the morning show.

Megan's death was investigated by Missouri authorities, but no state charges were filed because no laws appeared to apply to the case.


Associated Press Writers Greg Risling in Los Angeles, Betsy Taylor in St. Louis and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
Original here

Aliens Are Our Brothers,” says Vatican

mac.jpgWe don’t usually cover straight-up news as such here on the floss, but this particular item was so out there — and so geeky at the same time — I just couldn’t let it fall through the cracks. For the first time ever, Vatican astronomers have admitted the possibility — even the probability — of intelligent life on other planets. Vatican official Father Gabriel Funes, a respected astronomer in his own right, released an article titled, literally, Aliens Are My Brother, detailing various extraterrestrial scenarios as they relate to Christian theology. He compares the potential multiplicity of life forms in the universe to that here on Earth, and goes on to speculate that such alien life forms could even be “free from Original Sin … [remaining] in full friendship with their creator.” (In short, expect to hear lots more conspiracy theories about how Jesus and the angels were aliens in the near future.)

But it’s not just the Catholic Church that has aliens on the brain — also this week, the British government released years’ worth of newly-declassified documents pertaining to UFO sightings in British airspace. “The Ministry of Defence does not deny that there are strange things to see in the sky,” one internal memo explains, “but it certainly has no evidence that alien spacecraft have landed on this planet.” (Suuuure, guys.) You can check out the newly-released records here, the most hilarious bits of which, in our opinion, are the vigorous and exceedingly formal tiffs between various dukes, lords and viscounts in the British House of Lords regarding UFOs, like this one:

lords.jpgViscount Long: My Lords, if the Noble Earl is suspicious that the Ministry of Defence is covering up in any way, I can assure him … the sole interest of the MoD in UFO reports is to establish whether they reveal anything of defence interest.
Lord Wynne-Jones: My Lords, does the Answer given mean that since there has been a Conservative Government the UFOs have done a U-turn and departed?
The Earl of Kimberley: My Lords, as my noble friend said that 600 UFOs had been officially reported or acknowledged by the MoD in 1984, may I ask him how many of those sightings still remain unidentified?
Viscount Long: My Lords, we do not have the figures. They disappeared into the unknown before we got them.
Lord Hill-Norton: My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount whether or not it is true that all of the sighting reports received by the MoD before 1962 were destroyed because they were deemed “to be of no interest”? And if it is true, who was it who decided that they were of no interest?”
Viscount Long: My Lords, my reply to the noble and gallant Lord — I was wondering whether he was going to say the the Royal Navy had many times seen the Loch Ness monster — is that since 1967 all UFO reports have been preserved.

Original here

An Unnatural Disaster

In a month of horrific natural disasters—the China quake, the Burma cyclone—it's instructive to consider what one of the biggest unnatural disasters in memory looks like. That is the decline in America's position in the world from where we were when George W. Bush inherited power on Jan. 20, 2001, to what he will bequeath to the next president eight months from now.

In many articles and in book after book American "declinists" nowadays tend to portray America's reduced stature as a largely natural phenomenon. Never mind that on the eve of the Bush presidency we were still seen as the most powerful nation in the history of the world. Decadent powers always wane in influence, and it seems we've just been doing a lot of waning very quickly. As other countries around the world partook of the ideas we pressed on them in the post-cold war era—free markets, democracy—they started to prosper and catch up to us. Meanwhile we grew fatter (literally) and more spoiled. It was all very organic.

Sure, there's something to this thesis. I argued it myself in a book—“At War With Ourselves"—I published back in 2003. Some relative U.S. decline was always inevitable. But these ruminations still miss the main point. Most of what has happened over the last seven years is the result of strategic misconceptions, awful policy decisions, and botched opportunities for leadership by the major players in Washington. What happened to America wasn't natural, it was almost entirely self-inflicted.

The issue goes way beyond Bush's decision to invade Iraq in the middle of the war in Afghanistan. U.S. government literally broke down during the Bush years. The interagency process was destroyed as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld set up what was effectively a "black" alternative government (the veep's shadow national security council, and Doug Feith's Office of Special Plans at the Pentagon). The White House treated its coequal branch, Congress, like an interloper (to the annoyance of Republicans as well as Democrats). Junk science infected the policy-making apparatus on key issues of importance to our allies in Europe and Asia, like global warming. Junk legal reasoning by White House and Justice Department lawyers was used to publicly justify torture, decimating our once high moral stature around the world. Junk economics—an excess of free-market fervor—infected the Federal Reserve and other regulators, who slumbered while Wall Street ran amok selling fraudulent mortgage securities to foreign markets. Congress went to sleep while the administration ran up record deficits. (The fallout from the subprime debacle and budget imbalance has cost us as much prestige in the economic sphere as Iraq has cost us in the foreign policy arena.) The Department of Homeland Security, misconceived and oversized even at its birth, grew into an unmanageable monstrosity, leading directly to the disaster of the Hurricane Katrina response.

All this dysfunction might have been bearable had the right strategic decisions emerged from the black box that Bush's Washington became. But not surprisingly, given the absence of most checks and balances, precisely the wrong decisions emerged. Invading Iraq, of course, was the biggie—a decision that has possibly cost as much in innocent life and limb as the Burma and China disasters put together. As most countries saw it, taking on the "root cause" of Al Qaeda by targeting Arab tyranny a thousand miles away from the enemy—while the terrorist network continued to flourish in Afghanistan and Pakistan—was like holding a conference on fire safety while your house is still burning down. In any case, along with their trumped-up case on WMD, the Bushies never successfully made the argument that Al Qaeda grew out of a lack of democracy in Arabia rather than out of the anti-Soviet jihad in the mountains of Afghanistan, which was the group's real lineage. (Check the record: there was not a single scholarly or intelligence study cited for that argument.) And even if you accept that forcing the defiant Saddam to surrender his "WMD" at that historic juncture was a necessary exercise of U.S. power—we were all pretty riled up, after all—going ahead and invading after Bush had won a 15-0 Security Council vote that gave him complete inspection access to Iraq was seen abroad as an act of recklessness.

But Congress and the punditocracy never really challenged the Bush team on these seemingly simple points. Indeed, scratch a theorist of American decline today, and underneath you'll often find an Iraq war supporter. Because they are vested in justifying themselves—thinking that other presidents would have made mostly the same strategic choices Bush did—it may be easier on their consciences to conclude that our problems are more inevitable than self-made.

But what was most unnatural of all about what we Americans did to ourselves was that we missed the grand opportunity staring us in the face. September 11 was an awful day, but in strategic terms it had a silver lining. The sympathy that the rest of the world sent our way post-9/11 was not just good fellowship, it was a recognition that virtually every country around the globe faced the same kind of threat. This was an extraordinary chance for American leadership to renew itself at a time when the international community was adrift. After the cold war some pundits were questioning whether the "West" would long survive the extinction of its main enemy, Soviet communism. Foreign leaders had the usual doubts about America, but even so polls still showed a remarkable degree of global consensus in favor of a one-superpower (read: American-dominated) world. Most U.S. presidents after 9/11 would have seized the chance to reaffirm America's role in overseeing the international system by achieving a global consensus. Terrorism of the Al Qaeda variety provided a "natural bonding agent" for this system, as the Yale scholar Charles Hill (later Rudy Giuliani's presidential adviser) said.

That is why everyone was with the United States when it invaded Afghanistan and almost no one was when it turned to Iraq. Indeed, there is not a government anywhere in the world—not even the Muslim countries—that wasn't hoping we'd clean out Afghanistan, that last refuge of Al Qaeda. Imagine what the payoff in prestige it might have been had Bush brought into the international community a pariah country that had thwarted two previous imperial powers—Britain and Russia—in the last two centuries. Fixing Afghanistan was always going to be, even under the best circumstances, brutally hard. But contrary to what you might hear, it was possible, had we stayed focused. The Afghans themselves, in stark contrast to the pent-up Iraqis, were so desperately tired of 23 years of civil war that most of them welcomed us with open arms, with virtually every warlord on sale at knockdown prices. (As Ismail Qasimyar, head of the loya jirga commission, told me when I was there in 2002, war-weary Afghans saw that "a window of opportunity had been opened for them" and that Afghanistan had become "a baby of the international community.") What an exercise in the judicious use of our great power that would have been, and what a trophy to place on the shelf after Germany and Japan following World War II! America would have been widely admired.

Instead precisely the opposite happened. From the moment Rumsfeld decided to confine ISAF—the international security force—to Kabul in early 2002 after the Taliban fled, the opportunity to save Afghanistan was lost. Year by year, inattention turned Afghanistan into what Jim Dobbins, Bush's former special envoy to Kabul, told me was "the most underresourced nation-building effort in history." And rather than rallying the international system into a consensus against terror, Bush spurned it. Now every statement the president makes is an ex post facto justification of the war in Iraq, which he has enfolded into his enlarged concept of the "war on terror." In order to account for his Iraq mistake, in other words, he lumps together almost every Islamist opponent, Al Qaeda or not. Very few people around the world are fooled by this conflation of enemies. I have spoken to many foreign diplomats and officials in recent years, and I have found almost none who embrace Bush's strategic conception of Iraq as an integral part of the war on terror. Just as most reject the blame that Washington is now directing at NATO for Afghanistan. We and the rest of the world are talking past each other.

Yet our pundits are out there sagely arguing that the anti-Americanism in the world and the chaos in Afghanistan are mostly "natural" or "inevitable" phenomena too.

On the economic front there was a similar abdication of responsible governance related to deficits and the mortgage disaster. Imbued with the simplistic idea that free markets meant unregulated markets, national and state regulators paid almost no attention to the rampant selling and securitization of bad loans since 2000—chief among them the once sainted Fed chairman Alan Greenspan—despite pleas for help from the local and state officials. Now America's economy is in the process of "de-leveraging"—shrinking in borrowing power and thereby reducing its impact around the world as foreign funds pull their investments from dollars or redirect them into euros or "baskets" of several currencies. As European and Asian financiers and economic officials have come to learn the truth about the subprime debacle, they've become leery about ever trusting Wall Street's or Washington's advice again. Yet had anyone in Washington been paying serious attention, the worst of the credit crunch—and loss of prestige—could have been avoided.

This is not pipe-dreaming; it is the history that easily might have been. Had we handled things right, what is now deemed American "decline" could have played out very differently. We will never know, of course. And we won't know for a long time whether the next president can begin the titanic task of raising us up again. All is hardly lost: despite the rise of China and India, and Russia's rumblings, there is still no credible rival to superpower status. But let's not kid ourselves about the cause of our problems.

Original here

Pictured: The Chinese earthquake widower who had to strap his wife's corpse to his back to take her to morgue

Racked by horror and heartache, there was no one to help him as he struggled to give his wife some vestige of dignity in death.

But in the chaotic aftermath of the Chinese earthquake, this man was determined she should not be left abandoned in the grim mountains of rubble.

So, with loving gentleness, he carefully strapped her body to his own - and took her to the local morgue on his motorcycle.

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Tragedy: With no one to help him, a man is forced to take his wife's body to the morgue by strapping her to his back on his moped

It was a small token of humanity in a tide of devastation that has claimed 20,000 lives, according to official figures. Up to 60,000 are still missing following the quake on Monday.

Last night, China's leaders made a rare appeal for donations of rescue equipment. Up to 80,000 troops streamed into the vast affected area of Sichaun province, while helicopters made supply drops to hundreds of thousands left homeless and cut off, without food and drinking water.

The Chinese government appealed for hammers, shovels and demolition tools in an admission that the relief effort was struggling.

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Heartbroken: Parent mourn over their child who was killed by a collapsing school in Hongbai

Help on its way: Supplies are dropped for Maoxian County near the quake's epicentre

Soldiers from the People's Liberation Army dug through the rubble of Wenchuan county with their bare hands to reach those trapped.

As rescuers scrambled to pull out remaining survivors, one child, aged about four, was taken away in a sheet acting as a makeshift stretcher. Another soldier helped a rescued child take sips of milk.

Despite the rising death toll, there have been some isolated scenes to lift the spirits. In the village of Yingxiu, an 11-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble of a school 68 hours after it was destroyed.

Zhang Chunmei told how she and her classmates sang pop songs as they lay trapped and injured in the ruins.

As rescuers tried to clear the debris, she told them: "I'll just wait till you can come and save me. I'm thirsty and hungry, but happy I'm alive."

However, most of the village of 10,000 was destroyed. At the primary school, more than half its 500 students are believed to have been wiped out as they sat at their desks.

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Endless battle: Troops help injured people in Beichuan evacuate the devastated town

Shock: Residents of Beichuanservey the damage the quake caused ti a shopping street

A British group visiting a panda reserve at the epicentre of the quake were last night being cared for by UK embassy staff in Chengdu after being taken to safety by army helicopters.

The 19-strong party had become trapped following landslides. Among them were David Atkins, 64, and his wife Diane, 63, from Portchester, near Portsmouth.

Mrs Atkins was in her hotel room when the quake struck - and she mistook it for the rumbling of a train.

"Then I thought, 'It can't be a train here - this is more'," she said. "I opened the door and all the floor was moving up and my husband was running towards me panic-stricken.

"Then we looked around and everybody was running and rocks were falling. And then we looked up and the mountain just seemed to explode."

Another British survivor, Barry Jackson, said: "Suddenly we had this horrendous noise which was just ... You can't describe what it's like - it's just a huge, huge noise and the land shaking underneath you and the first thing that we all thought to do was to run."

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Trapped: Two vehicles are stranded after by landslide covering a road in Wenchuan County

Rescued: Mingyang Qixiang, three, cries from hunger after being dug out of ruins in Yingxiu

Near Shifang, where chemical plants collapsed in the earthquake, soldiers could be seen burying bodies in a mass grave.

About 50 soldiers wearing helmets and face masks were using a large mechanical shovel to dig a grave. The bodies were wrapped in white sheets.

The harrowing reports came as figures showed Monday's disaster has directly affected 10 million people in 44 counties and districts in Sichuan - equal to the population of Belgium.

North of Chengdu in Deyang, the largest town near the devastated areas of Hanwang and Mianyang, thousands of people have streamed into the city hospital since Monday, mostly with head or bone injuries.

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Defiance: Soldiers and locals walk across the damaged Zipingu dam near Dujiangyan

Struggle: A man crosses a flooded Dujiangyan bridge after rain hampered rescue efforts

Patients heavily wrapped in bandages and with cuts and bruises were huddled in canvas tents in the hospital's car park.

"Our doctors have worked continuously since Monday and people keep coming in. We have to keep strengthening our measures to keep up," said Luo Mingxuan, the Communist Party secretary of the hospital.

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Toll: Bodies of earthquake victims lie in a sportsground in Mianzhu

Laid waste: The earthquake-hit town of Yingxiu in Sichuan province

Alert by the animals

Three weeks ago, the water level in a pond 350 miles from the quake's epicentre inexplicably plunged.

Three days before disaster struck, thousands of toads appeared on the streets of Mianzhu city, where 2,000 have been reported dead. And hours before, zoo animals in Wuhan began acting bizarrely.

British tourists said moments before the quake struck the pandas they were watching at the world famous Wolong reserve became agitated.

As China deals with the aftermath, online commentators and bloggers are asking why no heed was paid to these signs. Some suggested officials could have predicted the quake earlier.

However, seismologists say it is practically impossible to predict when and where an earthquake will strike.

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Mexican police chiefs flee to U.S. for safety

By BRENDAN McKENNA / The Dallas Morning News / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Drug cartel attacks against Mexican police have become so violent and so common that some Mexican police chiefs are seeking safety in the United States.

Faced with cartel-sponsored assassinations that have claimed the lives of more than 25 officers since the start of May – including that of Edgar Millán Gómez, head of the federal police – and threats of further retaliation, some Mexican police are quitting their posts.

But three times in recent months, leaders of Mexican police have gone further, arriving at U.S. border crossings and applying for political asylum out of fear for their lives, according to Jayson Ahern, deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

"They're basically abandoned by their police officers or police departments in many cases," Mr. Ahern told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

A CBP spokesman confirmed the AP account to The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday but would not release further details.

The requests come as Congress considers whether to approve the Merida Initiative, the Bush administration's plan to provide Mexico up to $1.4 billion in military equipment, training and other resources over the next three years to help the country in its fight against drug cartels. An initial installment of $400 million is included in the emergency spending bill to pay for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 300 Mexican police officers have been killed in the last year in the ongoing drug fight and more than 3,500 people have died in drug-related violence.

The violence throughout Mexico has dominated much of Mexican President Felipe Calderón's 17 months in office. Mr. Calderón has responded by mobilizing the Mexican military, sending 30,000 troops to hot spots throughout Mexico "in an effort to recapture territories lost to drug traffickers," he said.

Ricardo Alday, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said he was only aware of one case of a police chief seeking asylum in the U.S. – that of Palomas Police Chief Emilio Pérez.

Mr. Pérez was threatened by phone after discovering two bodies, their hands tied behind their backs, at the entrance to his city, which is just across the border from Columbus, N.M. Within hours, his six remaining police officers quit their jobs, and Mr. Pérez drove across the border and asked for political asylum.

"We are concerned not only about this incident of the police officer coming across the border but also about the level of violence in certain areas of the border," Mr. Alday said.

The government, as part of a pre-existing plan to strengthen police presence along the border, responded by sending about 2,000 troops to the region.

"As the president has said from the outset ... this is the only way we can win the war on the drug lords and organized crime," he said. "He expected that more violence might come, that things might get worse before they got better."

To some in the U.S. Congress, the prospect of Mexican police seeking asylum in the United States could send an ominous message.

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, a member of the House subcommittee that oversees immigration and asylum and the leading Republican on the panel on crime terrorism and homeland security, said he was sympathetic to those fleeing violence south of the border, but only to a point.

"These are law enforcement officials that are needed in Mexico," he said. "If those who are charged with protecting Mexican citizens and enforcing the law in Mexico can't afford to stay there, then the drug lords win and the United States loses."

Mr. Gohmert said the reports fuel his existing concerns about the Merida Initiative.

"I'm concerned at turning that over to a military and police that can't protect themselves and find it necessary to flee to the United States," he said, citing reports of U.S. military equipment falling into the hands of the cartels.

But Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, said the murder and intimidation of police only underscores the need for U.S. assistance, in equipment, technology and training for Mexican efforts against the cartels.

"If Mexico seeks our help on something, like they did," he said, "we need to help them every way we can."

He added: "It's also in our interests. It's not just the interest of Mexico. If they lose that battle we will continue to lose the battle on our side of the border."

Mr. Green recognized the concerns about military equipment falling into the wrong hands

"Does that mean we're not supposed to help our neighbors try and control their own country?" he asked. "We'll just have to cross that bridge if some of that equipment gets to the dark side."

Despite the violence and threats faced by the three asylum-seeking police chiefs, there's no guarantee they'll be ruled eligible for refugee status in the United States.

The Citizenship and Immigration Services division of the Department of Homeland Security, which declined to comment on specifics of cases, said to qualify for asylum, applicants must have faced persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion," according to CIS documents.

Professor Huyen Phan, who teaches immigration law at Texas Wesleyan University, said that while a particular type of employment usually isn't protected, the police chiefs could argue that they are part of a "social group" of current and former law enforcement officials who are at risk.

"If they quit their jobs, would the drug cartels still go after them? That's one question the judge will ask," Ms. Phan said. "I don't think I'd rule out of hand that they wouldn't have an asylum claim."

In one of the latest killings, Juan Antonio Roman Garcia, second in command of the Ciudad Juárez police department, was shot more than 50 times Saturday as he parked his car outside his home.

Mr. Roman's name was first on a hit list left in January by drug traffickers who warned that the targets would face death unless they resigned their posts. Many heeded the message. Others kept working and were hunted down over the past weeks.

"Everyone who works at the Juárez police department is in mourning," Juárez police spokesman Jaime Torres said in a written statement Saturday. "But we reiterate our will and firm commitment to continue working toward maintaining order and social tranquility in our city."

However, granting the chiefs refugee status could pose an implicit insult to the Mexican government, she said, because persecution by groups other than the government is usually only grounds for asylum if the government can't or won't intervene to prevent it.

"We'd be saying we're giving asylum to your police chiefs because you're unable to control the drug cartels," she said.

exican drug war-related violence:

A look at recent Mexican drug war-related violence:

May 14 –Two police officers were shot and killed in northern Mexico as they tried to stop gunmen from kidnapping a family. State prosecutor Carlos Centeno said the attackers also threw grenades Wednesday at the officers in the city of Torreon. Torreon is in Coahuíla state, which borders Texas. In a separate attack, assailants opened fire and threw grenades at a police station in Guamuchil in the northern state of Sinalóa. No one was injured.

May 10 – The No. 2 on the Juárez police force was shot more than 50 times and killed near his home. Also. the Juárez police chief resigned.

May 9 – Four gunmen in a truck shot and killed a former commander of Mexico City's anti-kidnapping unit. The former commander was shot seven times in the head in front of his apartment. At the time he was working for the Honor and Justice Council of Mexico City's police, which is similar to the internal affairs units in U.S. police forces.

May 8 – Mexico's acting federal police chief opened the door to his Mexico City apartment and was shot nine times and killed.

May 6 – The Ciudad Juárez police captain was shot four times with an AK-47 and killed a block from his police station.

May 5 – A state police officer was shot and killed in front of her Ciudad Juárez home. A group of attackers spoke to her briefly before they shot her.

May 2 – The director of the Public Security Secretariat General staff was shot and killed as he left his Mexico City house.

May 1 – The head of the Organized Crime Department at the Public Security ministry was shot in the head by two men. The shooters ran off with the victim's car, and authorities found a .380 caliber weapon with a silencer.

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Afghan teacher shot dead after condemning suicide bombings as un-Islamic

A teacher was shot to death in northern Afghanistan after he gave a speech condemning suicide bombings, it was revealed today.

Abdul Hadi claimed the attacks were un-Islamic and un-Afghan during a speech yesterday in the Archi district of Kunduz province.

He spoke at a gathering of about 700 people, including the Kunduz governor, and was on his way home when he was killed, Khair Mohammad Subat said.

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War on words: Murdered Abdul Hadi spoke out against suicide bombings like 9/11

Kunduz police chief General Mohammad Ayub Salangi said police were investigating and that no arrests have been made so far.

In January, Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said the number of students and teachers killed in Taliban attacks spiked in the past year in a campaign to close schools and force teenage boys to join the Islamic militia.

According to UNICEF, there were 236 school-related attacks last year.

In central Logar province, meanwhile, education department director Kamaluddin Zadran said three girls schools have been set ablaze in the past three weeks.

Girls were barred from schools under the Taliban regime.

After the Taliban fell in 2001, girls were allowed to return to attend, but many conservative and uneducated Afghans still forbid their girls from going.

Arsonists regularly attack girls schools. Last year, gunmen killed two students walking outside a girls school in Logar.

Education Ministry statistics indicate only 35 per cent of students enrolled are girls.

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Investigate My Ass!

What does “Spy Gate” have in common with psycho ex- boyfriends/girlfriends and old luggage? You can’t seem to get rid of any of them.

Matt Walsh, former New England Patriot film guy turned soon to be government rat has finished spilling his guts to the NFL and now may have to spill his guts to the federal government.

Not quite the Valachi Papers or Donnie Brasco but another sports scandal distraction for us all to roll our eyes out and watch the government cash registers “chi-ching” away at all the wasted tax dollars. In what appears to be another totally absurd tax dollar swallowing senate investigation being called for by Senator Arlen Specter. All you can say is WTF!

I’m starting to suspect these federal prosecutors and elected officials get a “per subpoena” bonus… Barry Bonds perjury trial, Roger Clemens suspected perjury, Steroid Hearings… Every time I pick up the paper some grand jury or Senate Committee is being convened to spend millions of dollars in taxpayer money on issues that are absolutely trivial in the grand scheme of issues that affect our lives….

I think you can really get a feel for how ridiculous and trivial this is if it is put in some historical context. Lets take a look at some other senate investigations and their place in history as compared to a potential Sypgate investigation.

This is not all inclusive, just ones I found interesting. (The 9-11 Commission is not considered a Senate Investigation) Feel free to include your own in comments:

1. Attack on Pearl Harbor. How many people reading this know that there was a Senate Investigation into the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941 The investigations, lasting from 1941 to 1946, were published in 39 volumes of congressional hearings You can read the actual report here. There is another good article entitled “Fifty Years of Controversy”, you can read here.

2. Watergate Hearings. Another “taping” scandal. Again, hearings that even in the context of history seem a little more relevant to the human condition than the taping of football games. Not much to be said here. (video) Nixon resigns, others due prison time, G. Gordon Liddy becomes a talk show host…..

3. The Army-MacCarthy Hearings. Back in the days when the word “communist” struck more fear in the general pubic than telling someone you have herpes little known Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed to have a “secret list” of government officials and others who were communist spies and sympathizers. The hearings while not about this specific issue served to totally discredit McCarthy resulting in his censure. The word “McCarthyism” has become an everlasting moniker for unjustified persecution and witch hunts of unpopular groups and beliefs….

3. Titanic Sinking I had no idea there was a Senate Investigation on the Titanic sinking. They were called “The Titanic Disaster Hearings”. The report can be read here.

4. The Kefauver Hearings otherwise known as the hearings on Interstate Organized Crimes. Does the Mafia exist? If your like me everything you know of these hearings comes from watching the Godfather II. Is there anyone else out there who actually thought the Corleones were a real Mafia family?

As sure as I am sitting here, a year from now we are going to be reading about another moronic investigation, who will testify and whether Bill Belechick will be indicted for perjury……. Go get him guys! I did read on TMZ that Belechick was a CIA operative and is currently being questioned in the CIA tape destruction scandal. He has not been heard from in 24 hours and the rumor is circulating that he has been “renditioned” to a secret room in the basement of Eli Manning’s home for questioning….

I did hear that there is a new NBC primetime reality series starting this fall entitled: I AM THE TARGET OF A SENATE INVESTIGATION……… They are trying to locate Jimmy Hoffa to be the first guest star

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