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US Congress deal averts shutdown December 16, 2011

Disagreement over payroll tax cuts is the latest impasse to hit Washington in recent months

Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress have agreed a compromise spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

The deal averts the possibility of US federal agencies shutting down because of a lack of guaranteed funding.

The House of Representatives and the Senate are both expected to vote on the controversial $1tn (£643bn) spending bill on Friday.

It is the third time this year the US government faced shutdown.

However, one of the key areas of disagreement – extending a payroll tax cut due to expire at the end of the year – remains unresolved, officials said.

“I am hopeful that the House and Senate can pass this bill tomorrow to prevent a government shutdown, fund critical programs and services for the American people and cut spending to help put the nation’s finances on a more sustainable path,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, announcing the deal.

Funding for federal programmes expires at the end of the week, but Democrats had insisted they would not pass a funding bill without solving an impasse on a payroll tax cut.

Democrats, who control the Senate, dropped demands to fund the renewed tax cut with a surcharge on millionaires.

But they object to Republicans linking the tax to an oil pipeline project.

Republicans want the government to approve the Keystone XL pipeline linking Canada with the US Gulf Coast. They say it will create jobs and boost US trade.

The Obama administration has ordered an environmental review of that project, with results not expected until 2013.

‘Partisan charade’

Rival party leaders in the Senate toned town their rhetoric on Thursday, saying that only a “few issues” remained.

Continue reading the main story

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We ought to finish our most immediate concern first”

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Mitch McConnnell
Republican Senate leader

The payroll tax cut is due to expire at the end of December, with the White House estimating that taxes would rise for about 160 million Americans if it is not renewed.

The administration says a family earning $50,000 (£32,000) would pay $1,000 more in payroll taxes next year if Congress does not act.

President Obama has been vocal about the tax issue in recent weeks, challenging Republicans who espouse a low-tax philosophy to agree with his policy.

But while the two parties have agreed over the need to renew the tax break, they have differed over how to pay for it.

Republicans have proposed cutting benefits while Democrats called for a surtax on those Americans earning over $1m (£600,000). That demand appeared to have been dropped on Wednesday.

Stop-gap

The looming deadline was the third time in 2011 that Congress had come close to failing to approve new funds to keep the government running.

The administration formally alerted government employees to the prospect of a shutdown on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.

And the White House indicated that it would prefer Congress pass a continuing resolution – essentially a short-term measure approving stop-gap funding – that would fund the government for a defined period of time.

That solution, enacted several times already this year, would avoid a shutdown but force Congress to address the issue once again in 2012.

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Troy Davis remembered by Antone De’Jaun Correia December 11, 2011

My uncle, Troy Davis, was arrested in 1989 and sentenced to death in 1991, three years before I was born. He was in jail my whole life, but I knew him very well. I visited him with my mother – his sister – on death row in the Georgia state prison every other week until his execution in September and he became a father figure to me.

Troy was wise, respectful, motivated and a great listener. He didn’t like the position he was in but said he had to learn from it, and used that experience to give me advice. He told me to pick the right friends and not to run away when things got rough; to keep my head up in school and take criticism positively. My uncle was a good family man before he went to prison. My grandma used to tell me that when he got a paycheck he’d give half to her to help pay the bills at home. He was responsible and respectful from a young age.

On 19 August 1989 a police officer called Mark MacPhail was shot dead in a car park in Savannah. My uncle was there at the time and, based on eyewitness testimony, the police decided he’d done it – but they had the wrong person from the get-go. Later we got lawyers to go through the case. They did very rigorous investigations and found there was no evidence to prove my uncle committed the crime – no DNA, no gunpowder residue, nothing at all. Most of the witnesses withdrew their original statements, and another man was implicated in the murder. We appealed, and the execution was stayed three times over the past four years, but on 21 September 2011 Troy was killed by lethal injection.

It was a tough time for my family. My grandma had died in May, so we lost two important parts of the family in the space of five months, but I think we coped pretty well. You’ve just got to learn from things and keep moving. My uncle’s death opened a big can of worms for Georgia and all the other death-row states. The case provoked a huge amount of debate in the US, and we received support from people all over the world.

What Troy did for me in my life will never be forgotten Now I’m hoping to go to Georgia Tech to study robotic engineering. With good work put in, good things come out. My uncle helped me understand that, and I really can’t thank him enough.

Since De’Jaun Correia wrote the above, his mother, Martina Davis Correia, an anti-death penalty activist, died after a long illness on 1 December, aged 44.

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US forced to leave Pakistan base as relations reach new low after NATO attack December 5, 2011


December 5, 2011

by legitgov

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US forced to leave Pakistan base as relations reach new low after NATO attack that killed 24 04 Dec 2011 US military personnel have begun leaving Shamsi air base in Pakistan, after a NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border plunged U.S.-Pakistani relations to an all time low. More than 70 US marines and CIA operatives are set to leave the base today. An official told NBC: ‘Two U.S. cargo planes reached Shamsi Airport and the loading of the equipment and other cargo items has also started.’

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Middle incomes: the American nightmare | Editorial November 28, 2011

The US economy is now almost thrice as big as in the early 1970s – and yet the typical working man finds not a dime of this transformative growth in his pay packet. At an outstanding event in London last week, the Resolution Foundation assembled experts from both sides of the Atlantic to consider the great undeclared class war which has robbed America’s workforce of the fast-growing fruits of their labour for so long. Britons would do well to familiarise themselves with this tale of the 40-year squeeze, because there are chilling signs of something similar getting under way here.

In conquering the economy, America’s rich have made occasional daylight raids – such as the Bush tax cuts, worth 100 times more to the million-a-year brigade than to the great bulk of the workforce. More often Mammon has triumphed by stealth: outsourcing labour, and with it responsibility for terms and conditions; capturing the committees that set bosses’ pay; and darting into every space vacated by the trade unions. The cumulative effects were breathtaking. While the old promise of rising prosperity was being breached for the many, the top 1% quadrupled their disposable income. Back in the 1960s it would have been assumed that such a sustained riot of the rich would incur a revolution. In the event, cheap credit, working wives and occasional targeted tax breaks combined to allow families to eke out a niggardly increase in living standards in most years. But looking ahead, the crumbs of comfort are hard to spot: feminising the workforce is a trick that can’t be pulled twice, and all that easy credit ended up crunched.

During the late 20th century, middle Britain avoided going middle America’s way. Despite inequality, most of our people, most of the time, had never had it so good. Through the 1970s and even the 80s sizable unions helped secure decent rises, at least for those lucky enough to hang on to their jobs. Then in the late 1990s came the minimum wage and Gordon Brown’s tax credits. The importance of these two interventions cannot be overstated: tax credits, in particular, accounted for the lion’s share of the total rise enjoyed by many families from the middle right the way down to the bottom of the pile. But even before the slump, progress was faltering, and there is nothing to restart it in prospect. Last week, the High Pay Commission warned that we were rocketing back towards the inequality of the Oliver Twist era. Meanwhile, official figures revealed that the pay of ordinary folk was sliding – and sliding most for the most ordinary of all.

George Osborne is not totally blind to the political problems of plutocrats partying while everyone else endures parsimony – don’t forget he laid the first populist glove on the non-doms. But he has neither the strategy nor the desire to narrow the gap systematically. In Tuesday’s autumn statement the gesture to those of modest means will be measured in pennies off at the petrol pump – while other moves could actually pick poor pockets. Before the election Nick Clegg seemed attuned to the squeezed middle’s lot, pushing tax cuts for lower earners in deliberate contrast to Mr Brown’s preoccupation with children in poverty. Now, however, his giveaways have been overwhelmed by a VAT hike and slashed tax credits.

Which leaves Ed Miliband, whose “squeezed middle” phrase has been named word of the year. He is clearly attuned to the problem, even if he has slipped towards describing the plight of “the 99%” as opposed to the “middle”. The real question is how he credibly answers the wage rage, when there is no money to spend. Tax, regulation and company law could all have a role in narrowing the gap, as part of his avowed wider wish to promote productive over predatory business. But he has yet to think through how. It is high time someone explained how cash-strapped middle Britain can be saved from going the American way.

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Demi Moore in split with Kutcher November 18, 2011

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher in happier times

Demi Moore has announced “with great sadness” the end of her six-year marriage to fellow actor Ashton Kutcher.

The Hollywood power couple’s split follows reports in recent months of Kutcher’s alleged infidelity.

Kutcher tweeted that he would “forever cherish” his time with Moore.

Moore, 49, and Kutcher, 33, were wed in September 2005. She had previously been married to actor Bruce Willis for 13 years.

No divorce papers had been filed in Los Angeles Superior Court as of Thursday afternoon, reports the Associated Press news agency.

‘Trying time’

Moore made no immediate comment on her Twitter feed – her usual method of sharing news – instead releasing a statement via her publicist.

“It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I have decided to end my six-year marriage to Ashton,” it said.

“As a woman, a mother and a wife there are certain values and vows that I hold sacred, and it is in this spirit that I have chosen to move forward with my life.

“This is a trying time for me and my family, and so I would ask for the same compassion and privacy that you would give to anyone going through a similar situation.”

Kutcher, who recently took over from Charlie Sheen in the hit TV series Two and a Half Men, tweeted minutes later: “I will forever cherish the time I spent with Demi. Marriage is one of the most difficult things in the world and unfortunately sometimes they fail. Love and Light, AK.”

Kutcher became a stepfather to Moore’s three daughters – Rumer, Scout and Tallulah Belle – from her marriage to Willis.

Moore and Willis divorced in 2000, but remained friendly.

Her acting credits include Ghost (1990), A Few Good Men (1992) and Indecent Proposal (1993).

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Poll: Clinton favored over 2012 GOP candidates October 28, 2011


October 28, 2011

by legitgov

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Poll: Clinton favored over 2012 GOP candidates 27 Oct 2011 People can’t help but wonder what might happen if Hillary Rodham Clinton ran again for president. A new Time Magazine poll shows Clinton easily defeating the major Republican candidates, were she somehow to become the 2012 Democratic nominee for president. Clinton leads Mitt Romney, 55% to 38%; Rick Perry, 58% to 32%; and Herman Cain, 56% to 34%, among likely voters in a general election.

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Lohan late for first day of community service October 21, 2011

Los Angeles (CNN) — After missing her first day of community service at the Los Angeles County morgue, actress Lindsay Lohan gets a second chance to appear on time Friday.

“Lindsay arrived at the morgue approximately 20 minutes late and will be returning for orientation tomorrow,” said her publicist Steven Honig Thursday.

Just a day earlier, a judge rebuked Lohan for similar failures, revoked her probation and forced her to post $100,000 bail.

“Her lateness was due to a combination of not knowing what entrance to go through and confusion caused by the media waiting for her arrival,” Honig said in a statement. “Lindsay spoke with the supervisors at the morgue. They showed her how to get in, and everything is all cleared up.”

Chief Coroner Craig Harvey said Lohan failed to show up on time — 10 a.m. ET Thursday — to the coroner’s office.

Though she arrived late, Lohan was turned away because there wasn’t enough time to complete her hours for the day, officials said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner ruled Wednesday that after Lohan posted $100,000 bail for her probation revocation, she had to perform two working shifts — or eight hours a day — twice a week until her probation revocation hearing November 2.

Lohan’s tardiness Thursday doesn’t mean she is turned away from the program, Harvey said. If Lohan shows up Friday on time, she will be allowed to work and perform her community service, Harvey said.

The coroner’s office will dismiss Lohan from her morgue duties only if she does something “terribly” wrong or shows misconduct, Harvey said.

Sautner revoked probation for Lohan because of her failure to comply with community service at a downtown Los Angeles women’s center.

Under Sautner’s ruling, once Lohan made bail the same day, the actress now must perform 16 hours of community service a week — over a minimum of two days a week — at the county morgue before her probation violation hearing next month.

Lohan, 25, was on probation after pleading guilty in May to stealing a necklace from a Venice, California, jewelry store. She served five weeks of home confinement ending in June for that misdemeanor theft and violation of another probation.

Lohan’s legal woes began in 2007 with two drunken driving arrests and have been compounded by her failure to attend counseling classes and her failures of alcohol and drug tests. Her current probation calls for her to perform 360 hours at the Los Angeles Downtown Women’s Center and 120 hours at the county morgue within a year.

But the judge expressed anger Wednesday at Lohan’s repeated probation failures. She said Lohan posted nine absences at the women’s center since her last court hearing July 21 — and performed, at most, only two hours of service.

Lohan’s attempt to perform community service at a nearby Red Cross facility — instead of the women’s center — was voided Wednesday because the judge said she didn’t authorize that change.

After the hearing, Lohan publicist Honig released a statement: “Lindsay is hoping this matter will be resolved on November 2 and the court will reinstate probation and allow her to continue fulfilling her community service.”

Lohan’s estranged father, Michael Lohan, told HLN’s “Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell” that his daughter needs “a very, very intensive” program of rehabilitation for substance abuse.

“What the judge did, she had to do,” he said Wednesday. But he said jail time would not be the proper remedy.

“She’s not going to be working the morgue. She’s going to wind up in a morgue if someone doesn’t do something to get her help,” he said.

At one point during this week’s hearing, Los Angeles city attorneys Lisa Houle and Melanie Chavira asked the court to revoke Lohan’s probation and impose jail time because of her failure to do community service. One of the city attorneys said Lohan “is in violation for getting herself kicked out of the women’s center, which she was ordered to do.”

But Lohan’s attorney told the court that the actress received “a glowing” probation report, which said that “Ms. Lohan has reached a turning point” in her behavior and maturity.

The judge raised several questions about the reliability of that report, however.

Sautner remarked how the probation report showed Lohan had excused absences from community service between September 9 and October 5 so that she could travel to New York, Milan, Italy, and Paris for work.

But a psychologist’s report said Lohan had perfect attendance for counseling every week, the judge observed.

“The psychologist said she appeared in person for her counseling every Tuesday,” the judge said. “I don’t know how she did that.”

“Did she go to Milan for five days and come back in time or go to Paris for five days and come back in time?” Sautner asked the defense attorney.

“If she was gone from September 9 to October 5, did she get beamed across the pond? I don’t know how that happened,” the judge said.

Lohan’s attorney, Shawn Holley, told Sautner that she didn’t know the specifics of Lohan’s psychological appointments, but the attorney said the arrangement did call for phone conferences.

Holley added that Lohan’s work in Europe was done to support her and her family — and affected her ability to carry out the community service.

“Because the work is out of the county, it did cause a disruption to her schedule” to do community service, Holley said.

Lohan’s community service at the county morgue won’t be easy, the judge noted.

“They don’t mess around and you show up and do what they tell you to do,” Sautner said.

CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.


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Foreign Aid Set to Take Hit in U.S. Budget Crisis October 11, 2011

As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.

The financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as “smart power” by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to American military power. It also would begin to reverse the increase in foreign aid that President George W. Bush supported after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as part of an effort to combat the roots of extremism and anti-American sentiment, especially in the most troubled countries.

Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.

The State Department already has scaled back plans to open more consulates in Iraq, for example. The spending trend has also constrained support for Tunisia and Egypt, where autocratic leaders were overthrown in popular uprisings. While many have called for giving aid to these countries on the scale of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild European democracies after World War II, the administration has been able to propose only relatively modest investments and loans, and even those have stalled in Congress.

“There is a democratic awakening in places that have never dreamed of democracy,” Mrs. Clinton said on Friday. “And it is unfortunate that it’s happening at a historic time when our own government is facing so many serious economic challenges, because there’s no way to have a Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa.”

With the administration and Congress facing a deadline for still deeper cuts in spending, government programs across the board face the ax, from public education to the military, but proposed cuts to the State Department and foreign aid come on top of an $8 billion reduction in April, the single largest cut to any one department under the deal that kept the government from shutting down.

Representative Kay Granger, a Republican from Texas and chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign affairs, said that the budget crisis was forcing “a fundamental change” in how foreign aid is spent. Lawmakers and officials, she said, needed to prioritize spending according to American national security interests and justify those decisions to Americans who are generally skeptical of foreign aid.

She recalled a State Department envoy’s informing her of $250 million in relief to Pakistan after last year’s devastating floods. “I said I think that’s bad policy and bad politics,” she said in an interview at her office on Capitol Hill. “What are you going to say to people in the United States who are having flooding?”

Spending on international affairs, including foreign aid and the State Department’s operating budget, reached $55 billion in the 2010 fiscal year, Mr. Obama’s first full year in office, but declined by the end of the 2011 budget to $49 billion.

The administration proposed spending $59 billion in the fiscal year that began on Saturday, including $8.7 billion in a newly created contingency account for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Those operations will expand significantly when the State Department takes over more tasks as American troops withdraw from Iraq at the end of the year and prepare for a drawdown in Afghanistan beginning next summer.

While the final budget for the year remains uncertain given the politics surrounding the special Congressional committee charged with finding more than $1 trillion in cuts over all, it is clear that foreign aid will decline for a second year.

“We’re going to have to do more with less — or less with less, depending on how you look at it,” said Deputy Secretary of State Thomas R. Nides, who oversees the department’s budget and operations.

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5 Ways for College Students to Survive Being Homesick September 29, 2011

You may have planned out everything for your time in college. You contacted your roommate early. You have all your financial aid paperwork in order. You memorized a map of campus so you wouldn’t get lost like a dork during the first week. But for all your planning, you may have not expected one major thing: homesickness.

Some students spend so long being eager to go off to school that they sometimes forget about all the things they love back home: home cooking, a quiet place to sleep, privacy, fewer responsibilities… No wonder so many students get homesick!

[Learn how parents can support homesick college students.]

While homesickness can be a challenge, getting through it can be easier than you think if you follow a few tips:

1. Get out of your room: Chances are, you’re most homesick when you’re back in your room, Skyping with your friends, family, and boyfriend/girlfriend, or talking on the phone with the ones you miss the most. While it’s OK to talk to the folks back home, it can sometimes turn into an unhealthy habit—and one that makes your homesickness worse. If you find yourself lonely and homesick in your room, make yourself go to a campus coffee shop and do your reading there. Head to a computer lab to write your paper, even if you have your own laptop. Study outside in the quad. Challenge yourself to get out of your room and be around other people.

[Read more tips on handling homesickness.]

2. Give yourself a day here and there to be sad—and then move on: If you’re really struggling one day, just let yourself be sad and miss home. After all, there are probably legitimate things about being home that anyone in your situation would miss. The key with this plan, however, is to let yourself be sad for just one day. And after that one day passes, you have to move on. Get out of your room, go to a campus event, plan a study session with some friends, join a club, and make sure to focus on all the great things your school has to offer.

3. Turn your college into your home away from home: Your college will never replace the home you left. But it can happily turn into a beloved home away from home. Think about the things that you loved most about your pre-college life, and work to re-create those at your school. Did you have great friends? Make a point of meeting 10 new people each week. Did you love your community involvement? Volunteer with a campus volunteer center, run for student government, or work for the student newspaper. Did you enjoy the social scene? Find several clubs that focus on your interests and sign up to be involved with their events.

[Get tips for finding the right extracurriculars for you.]

4. Realize that it’s never too late to connect: OK, so you missed the club fair in the quad and you don’t really know too many people several weeks into the semester. No problem! The nice thing about college is that it isn’t as clique-filled as high school. People drop in and out of clubs, student organizations, and social circles all the time. Go to the Office of Student Activities (or your campus equivalent) and ask to see a list of clubs. Drop by the radio station and see if it needs new or substitute DJs. See if you can still join the Campus Activities Board. Ask that group of smarties in your chemistry class if you can join them at their study session on Thursday. It’s never too late!

5. Know you’re not alone: You may feel like you’re the only person struggling with homesickness, but it simply isn’t true. Take the initiative to reach out to other people. Plan a “home away from home” night in your room where everyone brings a blanket and some snacks over and watches a DVD. Better yet, consider grabbing some friends and volunteering at a local homeless or women’s shelter. You’ll be reminded of just how precious family is—and how fortunate you are to be at school, too.

Do you have any tips for combating homesickness that worked especially well? Let other readers know in the comments.

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5 Questions for Students and Parents to Answer About College Finances September 28, 2011

JULIE: Hopefully you’ll begin discussing finances with your college student long before they set foot on campus. But whenever you decide to have the “money talk,” don’t forget to cover these essentials:

1. Who is paying for what? There are seemingly as many different strategies for paying for college as there are families. Money can come from the student; the parents; from scholarships, loans, or grants; or a combination of sources.

The categories for where money will be spent are just as numerous. At a minimum, you’ll be paying for tuition, fees, and books. Other expenses may include room and board, living expenses, and travel expenses.

In our family, scholarships cover most of Lindsey’s tuition. My husband and I are covering the balance of her tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Lindsey is responsible for her spending money, which covers gas; meals out; entertainment; clothing; gifts; and incidentals.

Whatever your situation, decide up front who is paying for which expense so that the expectations are clear.

2. How will we communicate about money? For some students, college represents the first time they’ll be handling money on their own. How much the parent is involved with that process will be up to the individual family.

Will there be some kind of regular budget meeting? Will the student be placed on a budget? These are good things to discuss early.

[Follow these four steps to financially prepare your student for college.]

One thing that really helped us when Lindsey left for school was that her student checking account is linked to ours at the same bank. This made it easy for us to transfer money back and forth as needed.

LINDSEY: It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of going to college and have a “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” attitude about finances. In my experience, however, it is important to establish expectations for both you and your parents early on, to avoid any awkwardness or stress when financial issues come up.

1. What if I run short on cash? This was a reality for me and many of my friends freshman year, and it is certainly something to discuss with your parents before getting that fateful bank statement.

Will your parents help you out, and, if so, will this be as a gift or just a loan? If your parents do give you money, will there be any conditions involved, such as getting a part time job or working out a budget?

[Consider these decent paying jobs for college students.]

2. Who covers the little things? My mom hit on the big expenses—tuition, books, and room and board— above, but also consider the more negligible costs that will inevitably crop up. Over the last year, my parents and I have had to divvy up expenses such as a $75 membership to an honors society, a $25 strength assessment for a class, and a $10 dance class.

Expenses like these—as well as gas, grocery items, and medications—may not be your most costly budget items, but they are important for both parents and students to keep in mind when considering the cost of school.

3. What responsibility (if any) will your parents have in your money management? Each family has different priorities about how much of a role parents need to play in their student’s finances. There’s no right or wrong decision, but it’s good to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

For instance, some of my friends are completely financially independent. They monitor their own bank accounts, control their own budgets, and are basically on their own when it comes to spending. I also have friends who are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Their parents are linked to their checking accounts, check up on their purchases, and intervene if they believe their student is mismanaging his or her funds.

There’s no perfect formula for deciding on parental involvement, but consider looking at your past money management skills to decide whether more freedom would be beneficial or detrimental to your financial situation.

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George Wright, fugitive US hijacker, caught in Portugal after 40 years

A 1970s militant who escaped from a murder sentence in New Jersey and carried out one of the most brazen hijackings in US history has been captured in Portugal after more than 40 years as a fugitive. There was a sudden break in the case only last wek when police matched his fingerprint to a resident ID card.

George Wright, 68, was arrested on Monday by Portuguese authorities in a town near Lisbon at the request of the US government, said a member of the fugitive task force that had been undertaking a renewed search since 2002.



George Wright in a 1963 mugshot taken after his arrest in New Jersey for murder. The fugitive hijacker has been arrested in Portugal after 40 years on the run. Photograph: AP

Wright was convicted of the 1962 murder of a service station owner in Wall, New Jersey. Authorities said Wright and three associates had already committed multiple armed robberies by 23 November 1962 when he and another man shot and killed Walter Patterson, a decorated second world war veteran and father of two.

Wright received a 15- to 30-year sentence and had served eight years when he and three other men escaped from the Bayside State Prison farm in Leesburg, New Jersey, on 19 August 1970.

The FBI said Wright then became affiliated with an underground militant group, the Black Liberation Army, and lived in a “communal family” with several of its members in Detroit.

On 31 July Wright, dressed as a priest and using the alias the Rev L Burgess, hijacked a Delta Air Lines flight from Detroit to Miami accompanied by three men, two women and three small children from his group. They included Wright’s companion and their two-year-old daughter, according to Associated Press reports at the time.

When the plane landed at the Miami airport the hijackers demanded a $1m ransom to free the 86 people on board. After an FBI agent delivered a 32kg (70lb) satchel of money – wearing only a pair of swimming trunks, as per the hijacker’s instructions – the passengers were released, according to AP.

The hijackers then forced the plane to Boston, where an international navigator was taken aboard. The group flew on to Algeria where they sought asylum.

They were taken in by Eldridge Cleaver, the American writer and activist, who had been permitted by Algeria’s socialist government to open an office of the Black Panther Movement in that country in 1970 after the Algerian president at the time professed sympathy for what he viewed as worldwide liberation struggles.

Algerian officials returned the plane and the money to the US at the request of the American government and briefly detained the hijackers before letting them stay. Coverage of the hijackers’ stay in Algeria said their movements were restricted. The Algerian president ignored their calls for asylum and requests to give them back the ransom money.

The group eventually made their way to France, where Wright’s associates were tracked down, arrested, tried and convicted in Paris in 1976. France refused to extradite them to the US where they would have faced much longer sentences. According to news reports at the time, the defence hailed the light sentences they were given as “a condemnation of American racism” after the jury found “extenuating circumstances” in their actions, apparently agreeing with the defence’s assertion that the hijacking had been motivated by “racial oppression in the United States“.

Wright remained at large and his case was among the top priorities when a New York-New Jersey fugitive task force was formed in 2002, according to Michael Schroeder, a spokesman for the US Marshals Service who worked with New Jersey’s FBI and other agencies on the task force.

The US corrections department brought all its old escape cases to the task force, Schroeder said, and investigators started on them afresh.

They looked at reports from the 1970s and interviewed Wright’s victims and the pilots of the plane he hijacked. They had age-enhanced sketches made and tried to track down any communication he may have made with family in the US.

The address in Portugal was one of several on a list they compiled. But Schroeder said there was nothing about it that made it seem especially promising. “It was another box to get checked, so to speak,” he said.

That changed last week when details started falling into place with the help of authorities there.

“They have a national ID registry,” Schroeder said. “They pulled that. That confirmed his print matched the prints with the DOC. The sketch matched the picture on his ID card.”

By the weekend US authorities were on a plane to Portugal. On Monday Portuguese police staking out the home had found Wright.

Schroeder said he has not been told what, if anything, Wright said when he was caught.

Wright made an initial court appearance in Portugal on Tuesday, according to US justice department Spokeswoman Laura Sweeney. He was arrested for extradition on the New Jersey murder charge and would serve the remainder of his sentence on that charge if returned to the US.

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Pakistanis Tied to 2007 Border Ambush on Americans September 27, 2011

An American major was killed and three American officers were wounded, along with their Afghan interpreter, in what fresh accounts from the Afghan and American officers who were there reveal was a complex, calculated assault by a nominal ally. The Pakistanis opened fire on the Americans, who returned fire before escaping in a blood-soaked Black Hawk helicopter.

The attack, in Teri Mangal on May 14, 2007, was kept quiet by Washington, which for much of a decade has seemed to play down or ignore signals that Pakistan would pursue its own interests, or even sometimes behave as an enemy.

The reconstruction of the attack, which several officials suggested was revenge for Afghan or Pakistani deaths at American hands, takes on new relevance given the worsening rupture in relations between Washington and Islamabad, which has often been restrained by Pakistan’s strategic importance.

The details of the ambush indicate that Americans were keenly aware of Pakistan’s sometimes duplicitous role long before Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate last week that Pakistan’s intelligence service was undermining efforts in Afghanistan and had supported insurgents who attacked the American Embassy in Kabul this month.

Though both sides kept any deeper investigations of the ambush under wraps, even at the time it was seen as a turning point by officials managing day-to-day relations with Pakistan.

Pakistani officials first attributed the attack to militants, then, when pressed to investigate, to a single rogue soldier from the Frontier Corps, the poorly controlled tribal militia that guards the border region. To this day, none of the governments have publicly clarified what happened, hoping to limit damage to relations. Both the American and Pakistani military investigations remain classified.

“The official line covered over the details in the interests of keeping the relationship with Pakistan intact,” said a former United Nations official who served in eastern Afghanistan and was briefed on the events immediately after they occurred.

“At that time in May 2007, you had a lot of analysis pointing to the role of Pakistan in destabilizing that part of Afghanistan, and here you had a case in point, and for whatever reason it was glossed over,” he said. The official did not want to be named for fear of alienating the Pakistanis, with whom he must still work.

Exactly why the Pakistanis might have chosen Teri Mangal to make a stand, and at what level the decision was made, remain unclear. Requests to the Pakistani military for information and interviews for this article were not answered. One Pakistani official who was present at the meeting indicated that the issue was too sensitive to be discussed with a journalist. Brig. Gen. Martin Schweitzer, the American commander in eastern Afghanistan at the time, whose troops were involved, also declined to be interviewed.

At first, the meeting to resolve the border dispute seemed a success. Despite some tense moments, the delegations ate lunch together, exchanged phone numbers and made plans to meet again. Then, as the Americans and Afghans prepared to leave, the Pakistanis opened fire without warning. The assault involved multiple gunmen, Pakistani intelligence agents and military officers, and an attempt to kidnap or draw away the senior American and Afghan officials.

American officials familiar with Pakistan say that the attack fit a pattern. The Pakistanis often seemed to retaliate for losses they had suffered in an accidental attack by United States forces with a deliberate assault on American troops, most probably to maintain morale among their own troops or to make a point to the Americans that they could not be pushed around, said a former American military officer who served in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Looking back, there were always these attacks that could possibly be attributed to deliberate retaliation,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because his job does not permit him to talk to journalists. Pakistani forces had suffered losses before the May 14 attack, he added.

As with so many problems with Pakistan, the case was left to fester. It has since become an enduring emblem of the distrust that has poisoned relations but that is bared only at critical junctures, like Teri Mangal, or the foray by American commandos into Pakistan in May to kill Osama bin Laden, an operation deliberately kept secret from Pakistani officials.

Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed reporting.

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US Senate to vote on spending bill

The US Senate is returning to vote on a spending bill, as Congress once again allows shutdown politics to bring the government to the brink of closing.

The Senate, which on Friday blocked a House of Representatives measure to fund the US government until November 18, will on Monday night vote on its own version of the bill.

The Senate bill includes money for victims of natural disasters – but does not include spending cuts from elsewhere, as proposed by the House. With time running out, the prospect of a government shutdown looms.

“It is embarrassing,” Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat, admitted on CNN on Sunday. Warner said: “Can we, once again, inflict on the country and the American people the spectacle of a near government shutdown?”

At issue is a small part of the almost $4tn budget intended for an infrequent purpose: federal dollars to help victims of floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters, and whether some of the expense should be offset by cuts in other government spending.

This sort of crisis management has cost Congress credibility in the eyes of the electorate, with about eight in 10 Americans disapproving of the institution’s performance after this summer’s debt crisis. A major credit agency downgraded the US bond ratings as a result, unnerving the world’s financial markets.

The uncertainty is not helping officials in Joplin, Missouri, who are desperate to rebuild homes and put people back to work after a devastating tornado in May.

“We can appreciate the efforts to get our national economy in better order, but we’re concerned about how that’s going to affect us,” Joplin mayor Mike Woolston said on Friday.

Woolston said he thinks lawmakers will come to an agreement before the Federal Emergency Management Agency runs out of money this week; Fema officials said it had just $175m in its coffers.

“But the devil’s in the detail,” Woolston said. “How long will it take, and how much disaster funding will there be?”

That depends on whether the closely divided Senate and Republican-controlled House can find reason to agree, and then do it a tall order against a history of nick-of-time accords over the budget in April and raising the debt limit in late July.

This time, even the promise of a scheduled vacation this week could not break the impasse. Lawmakers instead backed themselves into a new standoff on Friday, requiring at least the Senate to come back in session part of this week.

On Friday, the Democratic-controlled Senate blocked the House bill that would provide stop-gap federal spending, plus aid for people battered by a spate of natural disasters. The legislation also calls for $1.6bn in spending cuts to help offset the disaster costs.

The House, meanwhile, is on a week-long recess.

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GOP presidential candidates debate in Orlando September 23, 2011

Welcome to our live coverage of the GOP presidential debate tonight in Orlando, Florida, before an audience of 3,500 Republicans baying for blood – someone’s blood.

The debate itself kicks off at 9pm ET (2am BST) on Fox News – the late start time presumably so as not to get in the way of X Factor, although Project Runway fans have no such luck.

For a quick summary of what’s at stake – in the debate, not X Factor – here’s a preview I wrote earlier:

Debate fatigue may be setting in but tonight’s encounter could see more fireworks. In the previous debates this month Rick Perry found himself in the unaccustomed role of punching bag, as the other candidates took turns on assailing his positions on social security, immigration and the HPV vaccine in Texas.

Expect Perry to come out fighting this time around, as he has done when winning three bitterly-contested gubernatorial primaries in Texas. In particular he is likely to target Romney, his nearest rival in what the opinion polls show to be a two-horse race.



The Romney-Bot 2000 protocol droid greets humanoid supporters before the debate in Orlando. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

If that’s still not enough, then knock yourself out by reading our live blogging of last week’s debate in Tampa.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box below, as always.

8.01pm: Just when you think it’s safe to ignore Sarah Palin – she leaps back in, demanding attention.

The Des Moines Register reports that Palin supporters have just received teasing letters from the former Alaskan governor’s staff:

Alaska Republican Sarah Palin is “on the verge of making her decision of whether or not to run for office” – and her backers should write a check right away, a letter from her political action committee says.

The Sept 20 letter from SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford says: “It’s one of the most difficult and important decisions of her life. And I want her to know that she has our support.”

It also notes the donations could be used to support other conservative candidates. “Send your best, one-time gift to SarahPAC today,” it says.

What to make of that, I don’t know. Except that if she pops up during this debate, don’t faint. Maybe she’ll come out of the audience, like one of those pro-wrestling “surprise” matches where the arch-rival jumps into the ring wearing a suit.



Presidential hopeful Gary Johnson. Photograph: Richard Shiro/AP

8.05pm: By the way, there will be nine candidates on stage tonight. Alongside the usual suspects (Perry, Romney, Bachmann, Paul) the no-hopers (Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain), the negative-hoper (Rick Santorum), there will also be former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

Ana Marie Cox profiles Johnson as “the most plausible GOP candidate you’ve never heard of”:

As the former governor of New Mexico, he’s won state-wide office – unlike Ron Paul (or Michele Bachmann, or Herman Cain). And unlike Rick Santorum, he’s won a state-wide election more than once (he served two terms). Unlike Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, he reduced the size of the state government he oversaw.

8.14pm: Since Rick Perry has been taking all the punishment in the last 900 debates, is it time for Mitt Romney to feel some GOPain over his Romneycare health model?

Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller reads Ron Suskind’s new unfictional account of life in the Obama administration, and notes this dirty little secret from page 206:

[White House chief health care official Nancy-Ann DeParle] directed Obama’s attention to the only working model for reform in the country: Massachusetts, whose health care overhaul bill passed in 2005 under a brokered deal between then-governor Mitt Romney and the state’s Democratic legislature.

But that was the Old Mitt Romney. The New Mitt Romney hates healthcare.



Tea Party member Kay Alfonso listens to speakers during a pre-debate rally in Orlando. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

8.25pm: Wouldn’t it be awesome if Fox News was live-streaming the Republican debate? Well, they are.

Don’t be scared by the blonde lady speaking, that’s just Dana Perino and she can’t hurt you.

8.30pm: By the way, this debate is sponsored by Fox News and Google – now there’s a terrifying combination. Anyway, Google and YouTube are also live-streaming the debate. So you have choice, as befits America.

8.35pm: If you’re looking for the X Factor live-blog, close but no cigar (although this is a kind of reality TV). My magnificent colleague Hadley Freeman is blogging it live-style over here.

8.38pm: Long-shot Ron Paul is taking this nomination business very seriously. This time around he’s even running some extremely good conventional bio-ad slots, such as this one:

Proving once again that Vietnam is still not dead as a political issue in America. In any case, it’s a very different approach by the Paul campaign.

The subtext here is that Ron Paul has been getting flak for his militant non-interventionist position, which includes bring all the US troops home from everywhere.

8.50pm: Rick Perry got a big endorsement today, from former senator and current governor of Kansas, Sam Brownback:

“I have known and worked with Rick Perry for over twenty years. He is the right leader for this moment in history,” said Gov Brownback. “Now more than ever, America needs a President who knows how to create jobs and stop Washington’s runaway spending. Rick Perry balanced budgets in tough economic times, signed the largest tax cut in state history and helped Texas become the national leader in job creation. On the most important issues of our time, his record of leadership serves as a blueprint for America’s renewal.”

Brownback is firmly in the socially conservative wing of the GOP, and carries some weight.

9.01pm: Here we go – and the candidates are being introduced by Fox News’s Bret Baier.

Were there boos for Newt Gingrich? Sounded like it. Anyway, a noisy crowd tonight, all 3,500 of them. Exciting.

And the sound to alert candidates that their time is up is the Gchat “boop” – provided by Google – which might be kind of annoying. But dog owners complained that the last warning sound was a door bell, which set the dogs barking. So if your dog is on Gchat, bad luck.

9.03pm: First question, about jobs and small businesses, to Rick Perry. His answer is, basically: “Texas, woo!” Well, not much more than that:

If it’ll work in the state of Texas, it’ll work in Washington.

But tell us the details Rick Perry? asks Baier. My jobs plan is Texas, says Perry.

The gag about Rudy Giuliani was that his answer to everything was “a noun, a verb and 9/11″. Perry skips the verb and goes straight to “Texas”.

9.06pm: Romney is asked why the Wall Street Journal said his jobs plan is rubbish. Romney ignores this and complains about Obama. “My list goes on and my 59 points,” says Romney. Oh yes, the 59 points.

9.08pm: Now it’s Michele Bachmann, asked about a non-question she failed to give in the last debate, about how much people should be taxed.

Bachmann’s answer is that “If people make money it’s their money,” and wishes should could have said last time that people should keep everything they earn. Eh?

She then says that there has to be taxes … which doesn’t actually make any sense given her previous answer. So people should keep all the money they earn. Except for the taxes.

Thank you Michele Bachmann. The crowd seems puzzled.

9.10pm: Now it’s “Mr One Per Cent Poll Rating,” also known as Rick Santorum, speaking. Meh.

9.11pm: Would Newt Gingrich extend unemployment benefits? Newt says they should be signed up for a training programme. Which would obviously be free and cost the federal government nothing, right? Good luck with that.



Members of the audience at the Republican presidential debate tonight. This is a real photograph. Where do they find these people? Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

9.16pm: Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain are given their 15 seconds of non-fame. Something, something, something.

In these debates, whenever anyone says something rude about Mitt Romney, Romney starts his reply: “That’s fine…”

9.18pm: Offered an open goal on the 10th amendment (states rights), Ron Paul says that the federal government shouldn’t do anything at all. Big cheers.

Now it’s Gary Johnson, who mentions that he started as a “one-man handyman” in 1974 and grew to 1,000 employees.

“I think I vetoed more bills than any governor in the history of the United States,” says Johnson, who notes that he has only ever run for office twice: once to be governor of New Mexico and once for re-election. (What do you think you are doing now, Gary Johnson? Chopped liver?)

9.21pm: Ad break already?

Before the break the moderators show one of those new-fangled “word clouds,” about immigration. Right in the middle is one big word: illegal.

9.27pm: We’re back and it’s Rick Perry on social security – and he uses it to take a shot at Mitt Romney for something, I don’t quite follow this, about social security in Massachusetts.

Romney is saying that there’s another Rick Perry out there saying other things about social security. “You better find that Rick Perry,” says Romney.

“Speaking of books,” says Perry – and points out changes Romney made between the hardback and paperback editions of his book about his healthcare proposals, in the hardback saying that this was what America needed.

Romney says “I stand by what I said in my book.” But which book, Mitt? The Kindle edition? The Spanish audio version?

9.31pm: Another question for Romney, who is very slick. “I only spent four years in government. I didn’t inhale.”

The trouble is, he doesn’t actually say anything, other than “I believe in America.” If you thought Mitt Romney was a slippery bastard, there’s nothing he says in these debates that makes you think otherwise.

You know who else sounded good without really answering a question? Hillary Clinton.

9.34pm: Asked which government department he’d like to abolish, Herman Cain says: the Environmental Protection Agency, “it’s out of control”. Apparently it’s trying to regulate dust. Mmm.

9.35pm: “Next Thursday in Des Moines I’m going to unveil a 21st century contract for America,” says Newt Gingrich.

Next Thursday? Oh no, I’m busy next Thursday, I’m … busy.

9.37pm: Gary Johnson seems like a reasonable, nice guy, even when he says he’s going to cut the federal budget by 43% and abolish the Department of Education.

9.38pm: Rick Santorum says that parents are forced to turn over control of their children to the government.

Oh no, I got a real Gchat “boop” and thought that Newt Gingrich was blathering on too long. Now the dog’s barking.

9.40pm: Perry is now bashing Romney again, blaming him for backing Obama’s “race to the top” education programme.

“Nice try,” smirks Mitt. He really is being a prick.

The moderators come back at him, asking: “Did Governor Perry say something that wasn’t true?” “I’m not sure,” says Romney, who is fumbling a bit – but the moderators fail to go back to Perry, sadly.

This Gchat “boop” is starting to be annoying due to my Pavlovian reaction. Is it the editor pinging me or is it just Jon Huntsman going over time?

9.44pm: “By the way, everyone likes the new sound?” asks Bret Baier. No, Bret. We don’t.

9.45pm: Immigration! “I would build a wall on every yard, every foot of the border,” says Michele Bachmann. Again, that would cost nothing, right?

9.47pm: Oh god, Newt Gingrich on using electronic verification for illegal immigration. “We would be far better to outsource e-Verify to Mastercard, Visa or American Express, because they are used to dealing with fraud,” says Newt Gingrich. Yes, yes, and credit card companies never get defrauded, right?

9.49pm: Now Romney is offered another chance to smack Perry over in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants in Texas, a rare liberal (ish) policy, supported by that crazy left-winger George Bush.

According to Mitt, millions of illegal aliens are coming to America solely to get in-state tuition fees at the University of Texas.

“I feel pretty normal being criticised by these folks,” says Perry, giving a stern response:

If you say that we should not educate children that have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought here by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.

Good answer. Which will go down like a cup of cold sick with many GOP voters.

Then, Rick Santorum tries to butt in to his own question, which has to be a first. Santorum accuses Perry of being soft on immigration and American sovereignty. Santorum gets a bit shouty here, which isn’t pretty, with the shiny red face and spittle.

9.57pm: Based on that last “debate,” it says everything about the state of the Republican party today that Rick Perry is accused, with a straight face. of being a flaming liberal.

At this point, the only person pure enough to be the Republican nominee is a 10-year-old child living in Tibet. Probably not a US citizen though.

10pm: Another ad break! Did you know Rick Perry is friends with Russell Crowe? I’m not sure that’s a good thing:

Perry was serving as agriculture commissioner in the ’90s when he first met Crowe, whose brother had approached the state about an agriculture project.

“The governor met Crowe, who has a ranch in Australia, and they talked about farming and ranching, and they developed a friendship that has continued over the years,” a Perry spokeswoman told the Austin American-Statesman in 2003.

10.03pm: Next question is on Israel. This will no doubt be a balanced, scholarly debate, weighing the geo-political … no, it’s love-making to Israel time.

Hey, Herman Cain has met someone from Israel. Here’s what Cain told him: “If you mess with Israel, you’re messing with the United States of America.”

10.06pm: Rick Perry also wants to make love to India, by giving it romantic gifts of flowers and F-16s.

Ana Marie Cox notes:

Rick Perry just answered a question about foreign policy using complete sentences and with appropriate hand gestures. So he passes.

10.07pm: I’m glad Rick Santorum is still in the debates. It gives me time for a break when he’s talking.

10.09pm: “When are we going to have someone in the White House who’s going to stand up to these countries and say, you’re not getting any more of our money,” asks a questioner via YouTube. Kind of rhetorical really.

Memo to everyone: America doesn’t actually give that much money to anyone.

10.11pm: Oh, Michele Bachmann demands to answer a question about Cuba, and says that there shouldn’t be flights from Florida to Cuba because … something. Oh, Cuba’s a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now Huntsman and Santorum are having some sort of spat. Which is kind of like when two unpopular kids at school had a fight: it was entertaining but no one cared who won.

The moderators have totally lost control of the debate here.

10.16pm: Now noted non-homosexual Rick Santorum is asked by a gay member of the military if he’d rewind “Don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Naturally, someone in the audience boos the soldier. Nice. Makes a change from booing people for dying I suppose.

“What we are doing is playing social experimentation with the military,” says Santorum.

“Going forward we would reinstitute that policy if Rick Santorum was president,” says Rick Santorum, because “sex should be kept out of this”. Eh? Isn’t that the point about DADT – it makes an issue out of sexuality when there shouldn’t be one? Loser.

Ana Marie Cox has this to say:

I would respond to Rick Santorum’s egregious misreading of what it means to repeal DADT – he says it grants gay servicemembers “special privileges” – but instead I will just note that every time someone Googles “Santorum” and “gay,” an angel gets its ear pierced.

10.19pm: Oh a question about abortion. That’s a first for these debates, since it’s hard to find the most pin-dancing difference between the candidates.

Anyway, Ron Paul is asked how he can back a rape exception for an abortion ban while also seeking to ban the morning-after pill. As if that’s some huge ideological difference.

Anyway, like Perry, Paul has to defend himself against the notion that he’s running to be the president of Planned Parenthood.

10.22pm: Herman Cain says private healthcare saved his life: “We need to get bureaucrats out of the business of trying to micro-manage healthcare in this country.”

Health insurance companies have no bureaucrats working for them at all, just doctors. And nurses. It is not a Kafkaesque nightmare of paperwork. Oh no.

10.25pm: Ana Marie Cox writes:

Underdog Gary Johnson is performing well in his second debate, the first that people seem to be paying attention to – he has given answers that springboard out of his staunch fiscal libertarianism and avoiding the kind of “operators are standing by” catchphrases that some of the more desperate also-rans cling to (Herb Cain says “9-9-9″ like it is a phone sex line).

Perry and Romney only have eyes for each other; if this were a movie, they’d be headed for a romantic resolution of their testy-but-intrigued relationship. Romney can benefit from Perry’s attacks if he’s able to walk the line between showing some genuine emotion and coming across as peevish. Perry has had some trouble holding onto the equanimity of a front-runner, responding to attacks that he should probably laugh off… This is the mistake of a debate neophyte, and a reminder that Perry has managed to avoid these situations for much of his political career.

10.26pm: Michele Bachmann is asked about her ridiculous claim to have met someone after the last debate who told her that the HPV vaccine caused “mental retardation”. Oh no, says Bachmann, I was just passing on what I was told. Lame.

I’m missing Project Runway to watch this – so what would Michael Kors say about Bachmann’s outfit tonight? “She looks like a transvestite flamenco dancer at a funeral.”*

*Actual Michael Kors quote

10.29pm: Some discussion about healthcare in Texas. Perry says states should be able to come up with the best ideas about how to deliver healthcare. Or in the case of Texas, not deliver any.

10.35pm: Another Perry v Romney set-to: “I think sometimes Americans don’t know which Mitt Romney they’re dealing with,” says Perry, who struggles to explain what he means after that. “We’ll wait until tomorrow to find out which Mitt Romney we’re dealing with.”

“As I said before, nice try,” says Romney, being an arse. “I wrote a book two years ago,” he continues proudly, as if assigning homework.

To be honest, I think Obama would beat Romney in a debate. Perry is less fluent but more direct – and as Al Gore discovered with George Bush, that’s harder to deal with.

On the other hand, Perry’s garbled attack on Romney – literally, something like: “Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of, against, the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment, was it before he was before these social programmes, uh, from the standpoint he was standing” – was teeth-grindingly bad and won’t win him any supporters.

Ana Marie Cox thinks Perry has dropped the ball tonight:

It’s especially sad that Rick Perry goofed up his litany of Romney’s flipflops because if he had just waited until Romney gets back ahead in the polls, someone else will do it for him.

Seriously: Perry’s performance has underwhelmed in the extreme. It’s possible to make all criticism go away if he just repeats the word “jobs” enough, but, still, we’re seeing the weaknesses emerge when a candidate doesn’t have a history of hard campaigns.

10.42pm: It’s the traditional “America! Woo hoo!” stage of a Republican debate.

Repealing Obamacare will make America great again, according to everyone. “President Obama is the new King George the Third,” says Santorum, never knowingly under-hyperbolised.

My colleague Stuart Miller tweets:

Can we get the fact check team onto the Obama = King George III claim please

10.46pm: Gary Johnson makes a great joke!

My next-door neighbour’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this administration.

It brings the house down. “You’ve just made your next-door neighbour’s dogs famous,” says the moderator.

10.55pm: Ah, a convoluted question and answer session about which of the other candidates would each other choose as a running mate. I wrote it all down but then Gary Johnson’s neighbour’s dogs – via my computer – ate it. Bah.

Anyway, Newt Gingrich called it a “Hollywood game” and refused to play, thus being a snob. Romney got mildly embarrased when he said all the candidates would be fine as VP, only to be reminded that he called Perry “unelectable” (which he denied).

That’s it! All over, and the clear winner was … no one? Fox News’s Chris Wallace says Perry and Romney “bickered like a married couple”. A married couple who write books on policy, perhaps.

11.06pm: On Fox, in-house pollster Frank Luntz talks to his focus group of tame Republicans, and Romney seems to have won, although one person said they liked someone called “Mitt Perry”.

Luntz is doing his usual schtick, saying “This is the worst response I have ever seen,” which appears to happen every debate. The focusees all hate Rick Perry’s position on the in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, on the grounds that it “subsidising” them.

11.11pm: Just got an email from the National Swimming Pool Foundation. Sadly, it’s not connected to the debate at all.

11.16pm: Sean Hannity now interviewing Mitt Romney, who mounts a sterling defence of social security. Apparently, it’s great and is a much cherished national institution.

Now Mitt is banging on about the need to build a fence along the border with Mexico. Does anyone seriously believe that Mitt Romney wants to build an actual fence along the border? If you believe that, as the Duke of Wellington once said, you’ll believe anything.

11.21pm: On the crucial Obama = George III question, my former colleague Toby Manhire tweets all the way from New Zealand:

both Obama and George III succeeded a bloke called George who had a father called George

But then, so did Rick Perry. So Perry is … George IV?

11.40am: So what did we learn tonight? Apart from the fact that one or two members of the audience saw fit to boo a serving member of America’s armed forces, an unusual event.

We learned that Rick Perry can’t debate, and that Mitt Romney is still gliding along. With nine candidates on stage the impact of Romney versus Perry is diluted too much – what we really want to see is the two of them go at it.

The other thing is that Perry’s position on immigration – especially the matter of giving in-state tuition to the children of undocumented state residents – gets bigger and bigger. On many of the conservative blogs there’s talk of the 80/20 test – that it’s foolish to demand a candidate be 100% within the conservative tent, and that 80% is good enough. Under that criteria, does Perry meet the 80% mark? Maybe but he needs to be able to deal with the 20% better.

Other than Gary Johnson, none of the other candidates made much impression. Ron Paul seemed to disappear and get little air time compared with previous debates – cue dark muttering by Paulites about a Fox News conspiracy. Similarly, Bachmann had little to say and did it badly: her non-answer on tax rates was a Bachmannesque word salad.

Given the outrage at the execution of Troy Davis, it was very surprising that there were no questions on capital punishment. But similarly there have been no questions on gun control, gay marriage and almost nothing on abortion, because there’s such a consensus in the GOP that there’s nothing to debate.

Indeed there is so much agreement between the candidates that these debates seem so sterile. Not a word on how the US should respond to the crisis in the euro-zone, for example. But on building a fence on the border with Mexico, the only answer seems to be “How high?”

Much more of this and the debates can be boiled down to candidates giving one word answers to one word questions: Jobs? Texas. Immigration? Wall. Obamacare? Destroy. Taxes? Cut. Government? Shrink. At least that way the debates would only take about five minutes.

Good news: the next debate isn’t until 11 October. Until then, good evening and thank you for reading. ["boop"]

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