Tiny Tonga sends troops to Afghanistan

The tiny Pacific kingdom of Tonga has agreed to send troops to Afghanistan, saying “it looks safer than Iraq” and that fighting the Taliban will provide much needed jobs.A contingent of 55 Tongan soldiers is expected to begin service in Afghanistan in November, the first of 275 soldiers committed over a two-year period following a request from Britain to get involved.”It looks safer than Iraq. Our soldiers will not be doing street patrols where there have been a lot of deaths,” Tongan Defence Services commander, Brigadier Tauaika ‘Uta’atu, said.”This is an invitation from the British army who saw our soldiers work in Iraq and the then prime minister Gordon Brown wrote to our Prime Minister and asked for support.”This is something we think is an honour to be a part of.”Tonga, which has suffered negative economic growth for the past two years, sees a continuing role in UN peacekeeping missions as a way to build up defence force numbers.But ‘Etuate Lavulavu, one of the few popularly elected legislators in Tonga’s semi-feudal political system, expressed misgivings about the government’s stated advantage of the deployment providing jobs.”If it is to find employment, the unemployed can get jobs if they are given skilled training, rather then sending them out to the battlefield to get killed,” he said.He was also not happy a soldier would only be paid £30 (83 Tongan pa’anga, or $52) a day, which he said was not enough “considering he is risking his life and I earn 50 pa’anga an hour and I am not at risk”.However, Brigadier ‘Uta’atu said he was happy with the decision made by parliament which voted 22-0 in favour of the deployment.”The British government will pay £2.6 million to cover all the costs over the first year,” he said.”This will include the uniforms, stores, ammunition, accommodation, travel expenses and a stipend of £30 a day for each soldier every day in Afghanistan.”Brigadier ‘Uta’atu has already been to Afghanistan to look over the camp where the Tongans will be based with about 20,000 British troops and US Marines.”We will be doing force protection and security on the boundaries of a camp, which is in the desert,” he said.Tongan soldiers served in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, and again from 2007 to December 2008.AFP
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Beautician accused of smuggling night scopes from US to Moscow

Just weeks after breaking up a Russian spy ring that included a 28-year-old woman, federal authorities have charged a Dallas-area woman of a similar age with trying to smuggle three night-vision rifle sights to Russia.A federal court affidavit filed in New York accuses 24-year-old Anna Fermanova of suburban Plano of trying to move the scopes in March without the proper export licences.The devices were seized as Fermanova was boarding a plane for Moscow at JFK International Airport, according to the document.She was allowed to complete the trip but was arrested after her return on a charge of attempting to export US munitions.She was arrested at her parents’ home in Plano on July 15. She was released to home detention after posting $US50,000 ($56,000) bail.The case, first disclosed on the website thesmokinggun南京夜网, offers a mix of glamour and international intrigue similar to that of Anna Chapman, who pleaded guilty on July 8 to being a Russian spy.Like Chapman, Fermanova has a Facebook page that includes provocative photos of herself. Chapman lived in New York, where she appeared to work in real estate.But Fermanova’s lawyer, Scott Palmer, said Fermanova’s case does not involve spying. He said Fermanova bought the rifle sights online for a friend of her husband, who lives in Moscow, and that they were to be used for hunting.”There’s no terrorism, no spying, nothing that remotely touches these recent concerns,” he said. “She’s one woman who bought something on the internet, put it in her luggage and this apparently violates federal law.”Palmer said Fermanova was a US citizen who was born in Latvia and raised in the Dallas area. She splits her time between Dallas and Russia, where her husband has a job in the country’s financial industry, he said.The federal affidavit states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel are investigating Fermanova and others for attempting to export US military commodities to Russia without the proper licences.The affidavit details how agents found the scopes in Fermanova’s luggage on March 1. Some identification markings on the devices were covered with black marker pen, according to the document.Fermanova told the agents she covered the markings “so they would be less noticeable” when she tried to take them overseas without a licence, the affidavit states.Palmer said Fermanova has been studying to become a cosmetologist. She has a Texas cosmetologist’s licence that expires next year, according to the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulation.AP
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Motorists failing to heed speed warning

CHRISTMAS motorists aren’t drinking, but they sure are driving fast.
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Motorists are taking no notice to speed warnings being issued by police, despite double demerit points during ‘Operation Safe Arrival’.

Police in the Chifley area command have charged 169 drivers so far with speeding offences and this is an increase on the total of 143 from last year.

While general offences are down over the Christmas period, drivers are still exceeding recommended speeds issued on regional roads.

Highway Patrol Sergeant Bob Moulden said police are still being vigilant in targeting holiday motorists.

“Police are still sending out the warning that Operation Safe Arrival is still in full swing so motorists should slow down when they are taking to the roads,” he said.

“Speeding is of particular concern to police at the moment because of the volume of traffic over the holidays.”

Full story in the Western AdvocateCHRISTMAS motorists aren’t drinking, but they sure are driving fast.

Motorists are taking no notice to speed warnings being issued by police, despite double demerit points during ‘Operation Safe Arrival’.

Police in the Chifley area command have charged 169 drivers so far with speeding offences and this is an increase on the total of 143 from last year.

While general offences are down over the Christmas period, drivers are still exceeding recommended speeds issued on regional roads.

Highway Patrol Sergeant Bob Moulden said police are still being vigilant in targeting holiday motorists.

“Police are still sending out the warning that Operation Safe Arrival is still in full swing so motorists should slow down when they are taking to the roads,” he said.

“Speeding is of particular concern to police at the moment because of the volume of traffic over the holidays.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Can we afford to keep people alive?

WHEN my 79-year-old mother died peacefully in St Vincent’s Hospice, we were thankful we were with her. At home until just a few days earlier, she remained in control as much as anyone dying from cancer could. In the hospice, the morphine made the last few days bearable – and killed her. This is what ethicists call double effect: the intention is good but it has a foreseeable bad outcome.Hospices help people die with dignity. My mother was lucky she was not in hospital – they are not designed to help people die but to keep them alive.The earliest hospitals treated injured soldiers in Roman times. Perhaps this is why we like military metaphors in health so much. We fight diseases and lose the battle against them when we die. Until recently – the past 50 years – most people died in the company of family, friends, priests or faith healers. Today, if we die in hospital, we are more likely to die alone or in the company of strangers.In the 19th century, people were expected to live for half as long as they do now. Most families would mourn the death of at least one child, sometimes more. Medical advances and a better standard of living mean we are no longer reminded of death each day.Hospitals with advanced technology and medical specialisation still fight diseases and frequently win. But there is one fight they cannot win: the one with death.Hospitals are filled with elderly patients at the end of their lives. People over 65 make up an eighth of the population but comprised about 37 per cent of all patients in public hospitals last year. Twenty per cent were over 75 and about 5 per cent over 80.Doctors always include age in an oral summary of a patient but other factors are also important, such as lifestyle, psycho-social factors and a capacity for relationships. Some people in their 70s are fitter and healthier than those in their 50s.I was at a public lecture last month when a 95-year-old woman spoke wise words from the front row. She was as sharp as a tack. If she got sick, she should have all the medical care needed to get her well – but only if she understood the risks and was able to state a preference. A person’s capacity to enjoy life and make decisions is what counts.Because hospitals are designed to treat and save patients, healthcare professionals follow protocols designed to maintain and sustain life, often without considering the patient’s circumstances. The sanctity of life underpins the ethics of hospitals. They use expensive, often invasive, treatments when basic, humane medical and nursing care is more appropriate.The full range of interventions – heart monitors, ventilation machines and other vastly expensive technologies – are given to patients admitted to intensive care units. Expensive imaging equipment, such as MRI machines, can range in cost from $1 million to $3 million, with each scan costing between $500 and $3500.Whether a patient wants any of this is frequently unknown. Patients may be unconscious when admitted, or deteriorate suddenly. The miracles of medicine allow life to be maintained even in the frailest humans. Many die during treatment and the lucky ones have palliative care for their remaining days. Many who recover are incapable of interacting with others and unable to say what they would like to happen. They are incapable of enjoying life or relationships. Is this how we want to die?While affordability is a big consideration, my arguments for limiting treatments for the elderly at the end of their lives are based on the potential for harm from those treatments and avoiding unnecessary suffering – be it for weeks, days or hours.If an elderly patient’s heart or lungs stop working, they will usually be given cardiopulmonary resuscitation by an ”arrest team”, regardless of how likely they are to survive. This is the default treatment. Only patients who have expressed a preference and had it recorded in their medical records are not given the treatment.Many doctors and nurses who are critical on ethical grounds of the requirement to revive elderly patients will go through the motions of CPR. Others give it their best and keep the patient alive, only to wonder later if they did the right thing.The fallback position of extending life seems proper but is, in fact, tragic. Until the mid-1990s, patients in NSW had red or blue codes inserted into their records to show whether were to be resuscitated. Often, neither those patients nor their relatives knew which colour applied to them. They didn’t know that doctors had already decided not to resuscitate. Such information should be shared with patients and carers – a necessity for both them and clinicians.Confusion about policy regarding treatment of the elderly in hospitals means many terminally ill patients are kept alive unnaturally and suffer unnecessarily. It allows the personal biases of doctors to dictate treatment. Some doctors may act on their own moral and religious convictions and try to save every life. Others will not offer treatments when they should on the basis of the patient’s chronological age alone.Why are we reluctant to talk about caring for the dying? Some patients worry that if they refuse high-tech treatment, they will be left without any care. Some doctors see little that’s heroic in caring for the dying – their skills lie, and are better used, elsewhere. Patients need a warm hand and comfort rather than a scalpel.Notwithstanding the clinical complexities of treating the elderly, who often have multiple problems, surely the goal of treatment is to relieve pain and reduce symptoms while not over-treating or causing undue suffering by prolonging life.Palliative care clinicians should be discussing the options with patients and carers to determine what is best for them. Sadly, they are often called only after more invasive treatments have failed – perhaps because palliative care is not well understood by the community.In 2006, for instance, the government report Community Attitudes Towards Palliative Care found it was raised by just 1 per cent as a health issue. While hospices are the alternative to hospitals, palliative care is the alternative to life-saving treatments. A palliative approach treats the whole person by focusing on their quality of life, not just treating the disease. Yet it was not specifically mentioned in the health and ageing budget statements for this financial year. The government did allocate $500 million for more sub-acute care services, which enable many older people to leave hospital earlier. But we need to keep them out of hospital in the first place. Hospitals can be dangerous for the frail elderly, who are at risk of over-treatment, infection and adverse events. If a family member wants ”everything done”, doctors are likely to agree – the fear of litigation ensures that. Doctors respond to family demands, even when the patient will suffer.Yet the cost of treating the elderly in hospital is enormous. This year, $64 billion was allocated to public hospitals and reducing pressure on emergency departments. A disproportionate amount of that money will be spent on those in the last few months of life. This money could be better spent on patients who would benefit and on health prevention.In a NSW hospital, one bed costs about $450,000 a year – $1233 a day. The average cost nationally for each admission to a public hospital is about $4500. Older patients generally stay longer than younger ones – 7.3 days compared with 4.5 for the rest. Apart from toddlers under the age of one, patients over 75 stay longest. Most elderly patients are admitted to hospital for circulation problems, then cancers and tumours.Coronary heart disease and stroke account for 30 per cent of deaths of those over 65. Surgery and general anaesthetic are too much for some. About 10 per cent of aged patients are transferred from hospital to a residential care facility, including those who were admitted with only a broken bone.Where should the elderly go when dying if not to hospital? If a person cannot die at home, the next best place is a hospice.We arranged for my mother’s admission to the hospice when she had difficulty breathing and strong pain. There are too few hospices; of the 78,000 elderly people now in nursing homes, a significant number are transferred to hospital for symptoms similar to those experienced by my mother. Yet the average cost of an aged-care bed is about $100 a day – less than a tenth of the cost of a hospital bed. The cost of a hospice bed is also significantly less than a hospital bed.Keeping the dying out of hospital is better for family, friends and the patient. It’s much easier to have meaningful conversations in a hospice.In the past half-century, we have handed over responsibility for dying to doctors – and we’ve incurred the costs. Accepting death as natural is necessary for imposing limits on treatment. We need more discussion on how we die, how we care for those approaching death and on whether the goal of medical treatment for the dying is to relieve suffering or extend life.This problem is not one of medicine’s making; it is a conceptual one about how we use medicine on the inevitable journey to death.Merrilyn Walton is professor of public health at the University of Sydney.
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Can politicians develop policy before engaging their mouths?

THE lead up to this election campaign did not follow the usual script. Sure, everything that came out of Julia Gillard’s and Tony Abbott’s mouths was scripted and, most likely, focus group-tested as well. But when it comes to the content of the campaign – the policy, the things they promise to do – there seems to have been almost no script. It seemed as though our leaders were ad libbing, or at least making stuff up in a hurry.Gillard and Abbott may have been forced into an extraordinary level of political improvisation because of the unusual tumult of this political term.Labor knifed one leader and the Coalition two in the space of one parliament, during which the policy agenda was consumed with the tumult of the economic crisis. Both leaders came to their jobs late in the term.Because of what Labor did to manage that crisis, Labor and Liberal entered an election campaign with restrictions on how much money they can spend. Everything they spend has to be cut from somewhere else, which may come as a shock after the past few elections.The aftermath of the economic crisis casts uncertainty over the economic outlook.In normal political cycles, the weeks before an election are full of demands that the alternative government reveal its policies. These are rebuffed on the grounds that the alternative government has not yet seen the final budget figures and will release its policies when it is good and ready and when it is sure the voters are listening.But this year, the final weeks before the campaign were consumed by the Labor leadership change and demands that the government explain its policies, devised on the hop by the new Prime Minister to try to neutralise political problems inherited from her predecessor.First, Gillard pulled off a ”deal” to end the war with the mining companies over the resource super profits tax. It emerged with a new name, slightly smaller revenue projections and three big mining companies mysteriously happy. We now know forecasts of higher commodity prices have driven this outcome. The government is delighted Abbott is locked into opposition to a tax supported by the companies set to pay more than 80 per cent of it.Second, she unveiled a new asylum policy – a regional processing centre in East Timor – which unravelled almost as soon as she announced it because of East Timor’s grave reservations. The East Timor solution was preferable to John Howard’s Pacific Solution, she said, because unlike Nauru, Timor was a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. When Nauru said it was not only keen to reopen its processing centre, but would also consider signing the convention, the policy reasons for shunning it became less clear.And third, Gillard worked up policies on climate change to make up for the fact she was sticking with Kevin Rudd’s decision to delay Labor’s central climate change policy – the emissions trading scheme – even though Labor still believes a carbon market is the cheapest way to bring emissions down.Abbott got to the election starting line having released very few policies at all. And most of those also had a seat-of-the-pants quality to them.He announced a generous paid parental leave policy, which he didn’t take to the shadow cabinet or the opposition party room despite his promises to his colleagues and in contradiction to his attacks on the former prime minister Kevin Rudd for disregarding normal decision-making processes.He once said such a scheme would be implemented ”over my dead body”, but by May he was so convinced it was necessary he was prepared to introduce a ”temporary” levy on big business of 1.7 per cent to pay for it. Then he said the levy would be permanent, but might one day be offset by a cut in company tax which would leave small business even further ahead.He said the paid parental leave would be followed by a generous policy for stay-at-home mothers – like the policy he laid out in Battlelines, and the one he unsuccessfully proposed for inclusion in his budget-in-reply speech, before he was rolled by his shadow cabinet. The Coalition said such a scheme could not yet be afforded.He also released a ”direct action” climate change plan, proposing to reduce greenhouse emissions through government grants and regulation.Most of the emission reductions are supposed to come from storing carbon in the soil. The only major planned industrial emission reductions come from paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the dirtiest brown-coal-fired power stations, to subsidise their owners to replace the stations with gas-fired ones and to subsidise the power produced so the prices don’t rise.Another promise is for a 15,000-strong ”green army” to tackle feral animals and weeds. Initially it was estimated to cost $750 million a year. Now it is costed at $400 million over four years, with the ”army” more likely to total about 3000 workers.Both parties had policy processes under way – the Liberals’ chaired by Andrew Robb and Labor’s – until her ascent to the leadership – by the then deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard. So possibly, the policies we will get in rest of the campaign will be a little less rough and ready.As fascinating as the presidential-style personality race between Gillard and Abbott will be, as fulsomely as it will fill media sound grabs, both sides owe the voters some ideas that are fully costed, and fully thought through.Lenore Taylor is the Herald’s national affairs correspondent.
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