Bridgend, The South Wales Axis Of Suicide

Caroline Davies
Bridgend, the south Wales town thrust into the spotlight after 13 of its young people killed themselves in the past year, is part of a Welsh valleys axis with higher than average levels of suicide, particularly among young men, it has emerged.

Statistics show that Merthyr Tydfil and the Rhondda, Cynon and Taff valleys are also battling with a problem that has, so far, defeated experts. And as police review the spate of recent deaths in Bridgend, The Observer can reveal that far from being an isolated pocket, the rash of suicides has been a concern in the area for some time.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 20 people - the vast majority of them young men - took their lives in the Bridgend area in 2006, while Merthyr Tydfil had 10 suicides and the Rhondda, Cynon and Taff 18. The latest available figures show that the combined area has 9.3 suicides per 100,000 people per year, compared with 8.3 for the rest of Wales.

As detectives look at possible links between the 13 deaths, the most recent being that of a 17-year-old girl, Natasha Randall, found hanged at her home in Blaengarw 10 days ago, a special task force of local agencies, including the police, is questioning speculation that the deaths may be linked to internet social networking sites.

The area falls under the jurisdiction of Bridgend and Glamorgan Valleys coroner Philip Walters. He said: 'I think people are looking for something that isn't there. As far as I can see there is no internet link. But, bear in mind I have concluded only four of the 13 inquests. There are nine still outstanding where I am waiting for toxicology reports.

'The thing that bothers me most about all of these suicides is that you look at each one as an individual, and you cannot get to the bottom of why. The vast majority are men under 30,' he said. 'I really do think we need a national suicide strategy.'

Walters has been so concerned about the increasing number that last year he issued a statement admitting that it was 'quite a high percentage and it seems to be higher in the south Wales valleys than in other parts of Wales'.

Bridgend's Labour MP, Madeleine Moon, said: 'I've been concerned about this for four years. I don't think it can be laid at the door of social deprivation. In all honesty Bridgend is not socially deprived. Perhaps one of the problems is young people need to raise their levels of aspiration.

'I've got two towns and lots of villages. They are very close communities in which everyone knows everyone else. People don't like to move 500 yards to the next village because their whole identity is around the village their families grew up in.

'But there is a downside. I was speaking to a group of girls recently and they were saying it could be claustrophobic. Everything that happens to you, everyone else knows about it, so it can be harder to deal with. You feel much more exposed. So, if you have a relationship break-up it's the gossip of the village. If something happens in your life, everyone knows about it. So there is pressure there.

'I don't know that the internet sites have had any major impact on what's been happening. What concerns me much more is that you have got a situation where all of these suicides have affected lots of young people. They know about them. And young people communicate differently, with texting and emails. That is not how you deal with emotional problems. I think many young people are not used to communicating emotions, actually talking one-to-one about them.'

Dr Jonathan Scourfield, senior lecturer at Cardiff University's school for social sciences, who has conducted research relating to suicides in Wales, said: 'Most suicides are complex. I think cultural and social beliefs are very influential factors. By that I mean if a relationship breaks down, or there is loss of employment, or terrible debts, suicide only becomes an appropriate response because it makes social sense. They have probably heard of other cases where people have killed themselves in those circumstances, so they think "well, that's what you do".

'That's where the copycat theory does have relevance - not that young people are goading each other on via websites - but in a broader sense. The more stories that appear about young people having killed themselves in your area, the more it might appear to you to be a reasonable response to a particular kind of crisis. It's about the culture of suicide.'

A police spokesman said: 'To date there is no evidence of a suicide pact and that theory did not come from the police. At this stage, we have not established any link that is common to all.'

Sphere: Related Content

Bill Clinton Faces Sharp Scrutiny For Role In Hillary's Campaign

Bill Clinton's role in his wife's presidential campaign faced sharp scrutiny today, after it seemed to backfire as Barack Obama romped to a huge win in South Carolina.

Hillary Clinton was forced into a staunch defence of her husband after yesterday's lopsided vote, and admitted he probably went too far in castigating the Illinois Democrat and the media in a bare knuckle state campaign.

The ex-president's finger-wagging revived a question at the core of the Clinton candidacy - how to leverage his popularity with Democrats, while ensuring he does not morph into a sideshow.

His fiery showing in South Carolina garnered a crop of tabloid headlines in his wife's home state of New York, as front-pages blared "Wild Bill" "Shoot from the lip Bill Clinton, "Calm Down" and "Bigmouth of the South".

But Senator Clinton's camp dismissed reports the ex-president will step back from the campaign frontlines, even as critics argue he may have offered ammunition for her rivals, and hurt his wife's credibility as a leader in her own right.

"President Clinton is an enormous asset and incredibly popular in the Democratic Party," said Jay Carson, a Clinton spokesman, adding the former president would continue to forcefully make the case.

Senator Clinton has dismissed suggestions of a co-presidency, by saying she would send the ex-leader off on global goodwill missions, in a role his Scottish friends have dubbed 'first laddie'".

"It is my candidacy, I am the one asking the people of America to support me. I believe I stand on my own merits," Senator Clinton said in Tennessee yesterday.

But Bill Clinton's red faced anger in South Carolina, has rivals suggesting he would be a meddlesome power behind the throne in a Clinton restoration carrying all the baggage of his turbulent presidency.

"I frankly can't wait because the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I can't imagine - the American people can't imagine," said Mitt Romney, a leading Republican candidate last week.

So, the Clintons, who have always operated as a formidable political tag-team, must walk a delicate line.

"The question is, is this campaign about Hillary or Billary?" said Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, Iowa.

"If it is going to be Billary, it is going to be tough for them to pull off."

The South Carolina primary could be interpreted as a stunning rebuke to Bill Clinton, as African-American voters went overwhelmingly for Senator Obama, despite entreaties from the man once dubbed 'the first black president'.

Some exit polling also suggested Bill Clinton's attacks on Senator Obama's record may have pushed wavering voters towards her rival.

"I was for Hillary, until Bill started to get involved against Obama," said Beth Rickenbacker, from Orangeburg, South Carolina, a one-time Clinton backer who switched in the dying hours of the primary campaign.

As the Democratic race goes nationwide, risks loom for the Clintons should they launch a full bore attack which could succeed, but be seen to snuff out the inspirational promise of her rival.

Such a tack could boost Senator Obama's campaign rationale, that the Clintons are emblematic of a discredited style of partisanship which has poisoned politics.

Clinton aides are seething that Senator Obama is ripping the legacy of the only Democrat to win two White House terms since World War II, and branded him less transformational than Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

"President Clinton challenged conventional wisdom in every conceivable way, and I think that was an indelible part of the presidency," said top Clinton aide Mark Penn.

Senator Obama must also be careful, analysts said, as he criticises a presidency which many working class Democrats - who have yet to warm to him - still remember fondly.

"It is going to be especially difficult and tough to do, running against the Clinton era," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Sphere: Related Content

Heath Ledger Didn't Mind Dying After Daughter's Birth

Heath Ledger recently said he felt good about dying, now that he was a parent, because he was alive in his daughter Matilda.

But at the same time, the Australian actor, who died in New York today, said he wanted to be around for the rest of the two-year-old's life.

Asked about being a parent he said: "I guess you're forced into kind of respecting yourself more, you learn more about yourself through your child, I guess," he told WJW FOX in Cleveland, Ohio.

"You also look at death differently. It's like a catch 22. I feel good about dying now because I feel like I'm alive in her.

"But at the same time, you don't want to die because you want to be around for the rest of her life."

Ledger said fatherhood gave his performances a greater depth

The 28-year-old actor was often seen pushing Matilda around New York in a pram.

Ledger was intensely private but soon after the birth of his child with American actor Michelle Williams, with whom he later split, he told of the joys of parenting.

"It's going great," he said soon after Matilda's birth in October 2005.

"It's exhausting, but its a pleasure waking up to your daughter. My duties in life are that I wake up, cook breakfast, clean the dishes, prepare lunch, clean those dishes, go to the market, get fresh produce, cook dinner, clean those dishes and then sleep if I can," he said when Matilda was just four weeks old.

"And I love it. I actually adore it."

Matilda's birth was widely seen by many to have mellowed the actor.

And he said he was very good at switching off after leaving the set and focusing on his family.
"I kind of save the living for the time between action and cut," Ledger said.

"I'm pretty good at dropping a character once it's over for the day. Certainly once the film is over, I throw it all away. Your life is what matters."

In November last year, Ledger told Chicago's Sun-Times newspaper that he saw acting as a kind of therapy.

"I'm lucky in a sense because I have a job where I get to scream and cry," he said.

"I get to purge myself in ways that don't really affect me personally. When the director yells cut, I just walk out the door and I'm back into my regular life."

He said fatherhood gave his acting a new depth.

"It definitely changes the person that you are. I think your personal evolution runs hand in hand with your professional evolution.

"So fatherhood has changed me as an artist because I feel things on a deeper level. I think my performances will grow simultaneously."

Sphere: Related Content

A Moroccan diplomat's Son Turned Al Qaeda Propagandalist Convicted In Britain

A computer nerd from Shepherd's Bush became al Qaeda's top internet agent, it can be revealed today.

Younes Tsouli, 23, an IT student at a London college, used his top-floor flat in W12 to help Islamist extremists wage a propaganda war against the West.

Under the name Irhabi 007 — combining the James Bond reference with the Arabic for terrorist — he worked with al Qaeda leaders in Iraq and came up with a way to convert often gruesome videos into a form that could be put onto the Web.

Videos he posted included messages from Osama bin Laden and images of the kidnapping and murder of hostages in Iraq such as American Nick Berg.

His capture led to the arrest of several Islamic terrorists around the world, including 17 men in Canada and two in the US.

Associates linked to Tsouli in the UK have also now been detained. His 10-year jail sentence was increased to 16 years last month.

At first intelligence operatives who came across his activities dismissed him as a joke. It was only when anti-terrorist detectives began trawling through files on his computer after his arrest that they realised his true significance.

When he was seized, forensic science officers found that Tsouli had been creating a website called YOUBOMBIT.

At his trial at Woolwich crown court a jury heard how the Met trawled through a “hugely gigantic'' amount of material — computers, CDs and memory sticks — to bring Tsouli and two other men to justice.

Detectives found literature urging Muslims to take up the fight against other religions. It was the first time anyone in Britain had been prosecuted for inciting terrorist murder purely based on the internet, the court heard.

Tsouli, who set up and ran several sites over the summer of 2005, was described as the most prominent of the three on trial. The other two were also jailed. One intelligence source said: “In a network structure, if you get the right guy the whole thing goes down.”

Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, the head of the Met's counterterrorism operations, said: “It was the first virtual conspiracy to murder that we have seen.”

Tsouli arrived in London in 2001 with his father, a Moroccan diplomat. He studied IT at a college in central London and was quickly radicalised by images of the war in Iraq posted on the internet.

By 2003 he had already begun posting his own material including a manual on computer hacking and a year later had moved on to publishing extremist images and al Qaeda propaganda on the web.

It is claimed al Qaeda leaders in Iraq spotted Tsouli's work and took the decision to recruit him, using his expertise to post their own extremist videos to a wider audience.

In 2005, Tsouli became administrator for the web forum al-Ansat, used by 4,500 extremists to communicate with each other, sharing such practical information as how to make explosives and how to get to Iraq to become a suicide bomber.

But the enterprise had become so huge, it began to attract the attention of cyber-trackers who monitor the internet for extremists, leading to Tsouli's arrest.

Sphere: Related Content

French President, Nicolas Sarkozy Has A Monkey's Face On His Knees

Nicolas Sarkozy, 52, began dating Bruni, 40, just one month after his divorce from Cecilia following a 12-year marriage and his election last May as France's new president. But what is on his knees?

Sphere: Related Content

EVEREST Conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary Dies At 88.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the news today, saying the death of New Zealand's greatest hero was a profound loss.

"Sir Ed described himself as an average New Zealander with modest abilities. In reality, he was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only ‘knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility, and generosity," Miss Clark said.

Sir Ed's health had been in decline since April when he suffered a fall while in Nepal.

Sir Ed was the first man to climb Everest with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

They never repeated the feat and in an interview with Reuters in early 2007, Sir Ed said the pair had discussed the possibility of climbing Everest again, but he felt there was little virtue in climbing it many times.

Sir Ed is survived by his wife Lady June Hillary and two children Peter and Sarah.


Miss Clark said the legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist would be deeply mourned.

His Everest ascent brought him worldwide fame which he used to support development for the Sherpa people of the Himalayas.

"Sir Ed was not one to bask idly in celebrity. He drew on his international prestige to highlight issues and values which he held dear. His enduring commitment to and respect for the Sherpa people reflects the best of what we as New Zealanders can contribute, from our small developed nation helping another less privileged one," Miss Clark said.

He established the Himalayan Trust in the early 1960s and worked tirelessly until his death to raise funds and build schools and hospitals in the mountains.

Over 40 years, Sir Ed raised funds to build 30 schools, two hospitals, many medical clinics and a number of bridges.

"The legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary will live on. His exploits continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century already," Miss Clark said.

Early days

Sir Ed's early days were spent in south Auckland and his first encounter with a mountain was as a 16-year-old on a school trip to Mount Ruapehu in the central North Island.

By his own admission, Sir Ed was a great reader and dreamer, with a gift for understatement.

From the summit of Everest, Norgay and the former beekeeper and World War II Catalina flying boat navigator were catapulted to stardom; their climb was hailed as a Coronation Day present for the Queen.

But it was the 15 minutes they spent on the mountaintop that was to shape the rest of their lives.

Always the adventurer, Sir Ed again skated on thin ice when he led a fleet of farm tractors across the Antarctic. They kept going, all the way to the South Pole, after Sir Ed defied the orders of expedition head, Sir Vivian Fuchs.

But there was more to come for the boy from Tuakau - he led a jetboat expedition up the Ganges River from the sea to the mountains.

But the adventures were to take a toll on the Hillary family - Sir Ed's first wife Louise and daughter Belinda were killed in a plane crash in Kathmandu in 1975.

This was while the family was deeply involved in charity work in Nepal.

Sir Ed, accompanied by his second wife June, the widow of climber Peter Mulgrew, who died in the Erebus air crash in Antarctica, returned to Nepal for the 50th anniversary of the conquest of Everest.

On that occasion he was treated like a God, and given Nepalese citizenship.

But New Zealanders, and the rest of the world, will remember him as the man who, literally, stood on top of the world.

He left a message for them all – “I think we have to become peaceful people. Do good jobs, but be rather peaceful about it.”

Sphere: Related Content

Gerry McCann and Kate McCann Remain Prime Suspects

Gerry and Kate McCann's hope of being cleared over their daughter's disappearance appeared crushed today after they were reportedly named as prime suspects in a new police dossier.

There had been hopes that the couple's status as official suspects could be lifted in coming days. But they may now remain under suspicion for years, after Portuguese detectives submitted an interim report to prosecutors.
Police are keeping to their theory that the McCanns could have accidentally killed three-year-old Madeleine and then disposed of her body.

Under new Portuguese laws - still largely untested - there had been a suggestion that files on the case could be made public today on the eight month anniversary of Madeleine's disappearance. The deadline prompted hopes the official suspects - or arguido - status could then be removed.

Robert Murat

Robert Murat's lawyer has said it would be 'cruelty' if he is not cleared over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann

But according to Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha, the Policia Judiciaria will hand over an interim report in which the McCanns remain at the centre of inquiries.

The dossier will also include the possibility Madeleine was abducted from the holiday apartment in Praia da Luz on 3 May - adding to confusion in the case and reinforcing the view that Portuguese police have no real idea what actually happened to the girl.

The insistence on naming the parents comes despite growing concern that forensic evidence from their apartment and hire car is flawed. Portuguese police sources had suggested the evidence was far from conclusive. The McCanns, both 39, maintain their innocence.

The only other official suspect, Robert Murat, had also hoped he would be cleared in the next few days, but this hope appeared to be dashed by the report's contention that Madeleine might have been abducted.

Correio da Manha added that the police report would contain a request to reinterview the McCanns and their friends - known as the Tapas Nine - in Britain in coming weeks. After those interviews the McCanns' lawyers are expected to apply for arguido status to be removed.

The dossier has been dismissed by the McCanns' advisers as "pure speculation".

Edward Smethurst, the lawyer conducting the McCanns' defence, said: "We have received no information to suggest that the court file is going to be opened today and indeed we believe it's likely that it will be some time before the court file is made available."

Referring to media coverage of the police dossier, he added: "Any report about the leaked document we believe is completely without substance. We think it arises out of pure speculation on the part of the Portuguese press."

The McCanns' spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, said: "If this interim police report exists it appears to say nothing new. It apparently maintains the position that Kate and Gerry remain arguidos. I also note that it says the exact same thing about Mr Murat.

"More importantly it says that abduction is a possibility as well, as we have maintained all along.

"All we will say is that this appears to be nothing new and the police appear to be restating their current position.

"We hope that once the police realise there is no case against Kate and Gerry that they will lift their arguido status."

Mr Murat's lawyer, Francisco Pagarete, said he had not received notification today of the court file's publication.

He said: "I have had no letter from the public prosecutor. I don't know if they are going to ask for a postponement of the secrecy law or not.

"When the prosecutor arrives at a decision, he writes it down and sends me a letter telling me of the decision. The postman has been and left me no letter."

The McCanns have been told by their lawyers they may have to go to the European Court of Human Rights to have their arguido status lifted.

The prospect of the case dragging on for years was reinforced today by the president of the National Union of Portuguese Judges.

Antonio Martins said: "The problem is that no-one knows what type of crime was committed. If it was homicide the investigation can only be shelved after 20 years, if it was kidnap 15 years."

It emerged today the McCanns have hired a detective who investigated a 7/7 suicide bomber. Noel Hogan is conductinga "cold case" review.

The former Met detective superintendent, who runs the agency Hogan International, in Farnham said: "I have been reinterviewing witnesses that were out in Portugal at the time."

It is understood these include friends of the McCanns.

Hogan International was investigating Jermaine Lindsay in the run-up to the 7 July attacks in London in 2005 after a bank became alarmed by his spending patterns.

Sphere: Related Content

Kate and Gerry McCann Hires British Cold-Case Detective Noel Hogan

Kate and Gerry McCann have hired a former Met Police officer to carry out a "cold case" review into Madeleine's disappearance.

Noel Hogan, a former CID detective, has spent hundreds of hours interviewing British witnesses in the case.

He has also gone through each witness's existing statements line by line. Among those he has interviewed include the socalled "Tapas seven" who were on holiday with the McCanns in Praia da Luz last May.

He is also thought to have taken Kate and Gerry McCann through their own statements in minute detail.

Mr Hogan spent eight years in the Met where he reached the rank of detective superintendent.

Since 1986 he has run his own detective agency in Surrey, Hogan International, which claims to have extensive experience dealing with missing-person cases.

Mr Hogan had been investigating one of the 7/7 suicide bombers before the terror attacks in 2005 after the man's bank became suspicious of his spending patterns.

When contacted by the Daily Mail, Mr Hogan confirmed that he had spoken to many of the holidaymakers now back in Britain.

He said: "I have been reinterviewing a number of the witnesses that were out in Portugal at the time."

He added that his investigation would tie in with the enquiry being conducted by the Spanish detective agency Metodo 3 in Barcelona.

Since four-year- old Madeleine's disappearance, well-wishers have contributed over £1million to the fund to help find her.

The McCanns have spent much of this money on Metodo 3, which is being paid £50,000 a month to lead the search for their daughter.

However, the couple are understood to have become increasingly disillusioned with the firm, after its head detective Francisco Marco made a series of wild public statements.

Mr Marco claimed to know for a fact that the missing toddler was being kept in North Africa and would be home by Christmas.

But yesterday a source close to the family said that Kate and Gerry were keeping faith with Metodo 3 in spite of their concerns.

But the source confirmed that they have also authorised the employment of Mr Hogan to coordinate the UK end of the investigation.

The McCanns' official spokesman, Clarence Mitchell, declined to comment.

Metodo 3 are currently trying to re-interview an Irish family who said they saw a man carrying away a child on the night Madeleine disappeared.

Martin Smith and his family-from Drogheda in Co. Louth, told police about the sighting - which is strikingly similar to one by a friend of the McCanns, Jane Tanner.

They described a barefoot child and a man wearing beige trousers walking towards the beach in Praia da Luz, about 400yards from the McCanns' holiday apartment.

However, they said that the man was definitely not official suspect Robert Murat, whom they had met before and would have recognised.

Mr Smith even flew back to Portugal to give evidence but said he had not been contacted by police since making a statement in May.

Sphere: Related Content

Niger Delta Vigilante Movement Attack Hotel, Killing 13 In Nigeria

Armed militants attacked targets in Nigeria's main oil industry centre of Port Harcourt on Tuesday, leaving 13 people dead, a military spokesman said.

Bands of armed men invaded the city in the morning, attacking two police stations and raiding the lobby of a major hotel. Four policemen, three civilians and six attackers were killed, said Lt Col Sagir Musa, spokesman of the military task force in charge of security in Nigeria's troubled oil region.

The Niger Delta Vigilante Movement, led by militia leader Ateke Tom, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group spokesman Richard Akinaka told a news agency by telephone.

The group's strongholds in the creeks surrounding Port Harcourt have come under military bombardment in recent days. On Sunday, military planes bombed suspected training camps thought to be run by the militia group in mangrove swamps and creeks in the Okirika district, south of the city.

Tom later threatened reprisal attacks on the oil hub, where major Western oil companies have their operational bases.

The group is one of several armed movements active in the southern Niger Delta oil-producing region. Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer, and fifth-biggest source of US oil imports.

The attacks have cut the country's oil exports of 2.5 million daily by more than 20 per cent in the last two years, and have added to the upward pressure on global oil prices.

Sphere: Related Content

IOWA Polls: Is Barack Obama Really Ahead Of Hillary Clinton?

Jane Hamsher
There has been much gnashing of the new DMR poll that puts Obama at 32%, Hillary Clinton at 25% and Edwards at 24%. Everyone has an opinion but most people who voice problems with the poll do so based on the fact that they estimate 60% of the caucus goers will be first timers. It's summed up well by desmoinesdem at th Iowa Independent:

ARG had Clinton up by 14, DMR has Obama up by 7.

At least one of those is an outlier, and probably both are, given the number of other polls showing all three candidates within the margin of error.

Two things jumped out at me regarding the DMR poll. One, it predicts that 60 percent of Democratic caucus-goers will be first-timers. I find that simply impossible to believe. I've been working my precinct, where we had 175 at the 2004 caucus. I have found very, very few people who attended in 2004 and do not plan to caucus again.

If 60 percent of the caucus-goers are new, that would suggest a turnout in my precinct of at least 300 people. Seems impossible.

Also, the DMR projects that 40 percent of Democratic caucus-goers will be independents who changed their registration and 5 percent will be Republicans who changed their registration. In 2004 those numbers were 19 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

Obama's lead comes entirely from an assumed unprecedented turnout of first-time caucus-goers, independents and Republicans. I am not buying it, but we'll all find out on Thursday night.

Big Tent Democrat does the math and concludes that if Obama truly if the DMR model is correct and Obama is truly ahead, the majority of his support is not from Democrats. Which is probably one of the reasons he feels at liberty to engage in wink-wink, nudge-nudge derision of them in an appeal to more conservative voters.

Obama gets some help today when Kucinich tells his supporters to vote for Obama on the second ballot.

Meanwhile, Mark Ambinder explains why the importance of John Edwards' lead as a second-choice among likely caucus goers is important.

Tonight's big event will be the Huck'n'Chuck, when Huckabee trots out Chuck Norris to stump for him. Not to be outdone, Edwards has just announced that tomorrow night John Cougar-Mellencamp will appear at a "This Is Our Country" rally at the Val Air Ballroom.

Sphere: Related Content

Mike Huckabee & John McCain Tag-Team To Stop Mitt Romney?

The Republican presidential race may look like a cluttered and chaotic mess, but it’s actually become fairly simple: Mitt Romney will win the nomination unless Mike Huckabee and John McCain can stop him.

Mr. Romney, unlike from every other G.O.P. candidate, is positioned to contest every state on the primary calendar. He has unlimited money, an enviable campaign organization and a message and style tailored to draw in Republicans of varying ideological stripes—or at least to get them to throw up their hands and say “good enough." If Mr. Romney is to be stopped, it must happen now. And that’s where Mr. Huckabee, the only candidate who can possibly beat Mr. Romney in Iowa, and Mr. McCain, the lone non-Romney hope in New Hampshire, come in.

Both men, severely underfunded and viewed with something between suspicion and scorn by influential components of the G.O.P. interest group establishment, plainly recognize their status as brothers in arms. Their strategy: Team up to make Mr. Romney himself an issue in the closing days of the campaign.

In a Sunday morning interview of ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. McCain sought to use Mr. Romney’s latest batch of New Hampshire attacks ads—which criticize Mr. McCain for advocating an immigration plan that Mr. Romney himself only two years ago described as “reasonable”—to raise questions about his opponent’s character and to give Mr. Huckabee some cover in Iowa.

“He’s attacking Huckabee in Iowa, who’s a good man,” Mr. McCain said. “And that shows that they’re worried, and that’s been his history—of spending lots of money attacking his opponents when they get close.”

Mr. Huckabee returned the favor minutes later on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Asked about Mr. Romney’s aggressive attacks against him in Iowa, Mr. Huckabee said that his opponent has run “a very desperate and very dishonest campaign” and noted that Mr. McCain in New Hampshire is a victim of the same ugly politics.

“Senator McCain is an honorable man, and I believe he's an honest man,” Mr. Huckabee said. “I believe he's a man of conviction. And I felt like that, when Mitt Romney went after the integrity of John McCain, he stepped across a line. John McCain's a hero in this country. He's a hero to me.”

He added: “If you aren't being honest in obtaining a job, can we trust you to be honest if you get the job?”

The McCain/Huckabee line of attack just may work, mainly because it highlights Mr. Romney’s chief vulnerability—the perception that he is a slippery beguiler -- while also drawing attention to the character attributes that underlie Mr. McCain’s and Mr. Huckabee’s personal appeal.

Mr. Romney is in such an advantageous spot right now because he’s methodically thrown a career’s worth of positions and rhetoric out the window and remade himself into a candidate who just so happens to embrace every attitude that polls well among Republican voters—a jarring transformation that he’s pulled off by projecting sincerity whenever he’s been questioned about it.

For three of the four years he held the post, he was an absentee governor in Massachusetts, racking up no meaningful accomplishments (other than jetting back home to claim credit for a health insurance plan that was drawn up by the state Legislature and that has thus far failed to come close to its goal of universal coverage) and alienating so many voters that a re-election campaign was out of the question.

Doubts about his trustworthiness remain, thanks to the paper trail he’s left and his own tendency to embellish—like his claim of being a lifelong hunter, or of having marched through Detroit with Martin Luther King.

Mr. Romney has poured tens of millions of dollars into savaging Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee for their various departures from conservative orthodoxy, whether on immigration, taxes, or torture, and it has worked well enough. Because Mr. Romney knows and is willing to say exactly what Republican audiences like to hear on these subjects, Mr. McCain and Mr. Huckabee can’t defeat him by arguing about these issues.

What they can do is draw on their own reputations for integrity -- Mr. Huckabee is a Bible-quoting Baptist preacher and Mr. McCain is a former P.O.W. who has paid dearly in politics for his willingness to take unpopular stands—to raise questions about Mr. Romney’s.

And so the G.O.P. race has come down to this: Will Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans go for a charmer with a knack for hitting the exact right ideological note whenever he speaks—someone who exhibited the same trait in liberal Massachusetts? Or will they ask themselves whether such a candidate might just a little too good to be true?

Sphere: Related Content

2007: A Year of Freezes, Hurricanes, and Deadly Tornadoes

Andrew Rosenthal
WeatherBug Meteorologist

From hurricanes to tornadoes, freezes to lake-effect snow, the world of weather in 2007 brought plenty of surprises. Here's a look back at some of the noteworthy weather events of the past year.

Devastating Freeze: 2007 got off to a frosty start, as a strong blast of arctic air dropped into southern California in January. Snow levels dropped to their lowest levels in decades, and snowflakes were even reported falling in the beach community of Malibu. Downtown Los Angeles recorded a low of 36 degrees on January 17, while inland Lancaster, Calif., dropped to 3 degrees above zero the same night. The freeze also devastated the farming communities of the San Joaquin Valley, destroying 75 percent of the citrus crop, with an estimated loss of more than $1 billion.

Incredible Snowfall: The Tug Hill Plateau in is known for recording among the highest seasonal snowfall totals in the United States, preparing residents of the north-central New York region well for monstrous snow amounts. Lake-effect snows off Lake Ontario can bring well over 100 inches of snow to the region over the course of a season. However, a single lake-effect storm in early February would bring this much snow and more to the winter-hardy communities of the Tug Hill Plateau.

A blast of cold, arctic air moved across the Great Lakes on February 1, firing up the lake-effect machine along Lake Ontario, and over the next eleven days, the snow continued to fall. Redfield, N.Y. in the heart of the Tug Hill Plateau recorded an incredible 141 inches of the white stuff, with nearby Parish coming in just behind, at 121 inches. The snow was so deep in spots that single-story buildings were buried to their roofs.

Small Tornado with a Punch: Even as the nation turned its attention toward the Groundhog, Central Florida was the site for a small but very powerful tornado on February 2. Forming from a series of strong thunderstorms marching their way across the Florida Peninsula before sunrise, the twister killed twenty-one from Lake County to Volusia County. The storm was estimated to be 450 yards wide, and the estimated $270 million damage was described by survivors as "much more devastating than the hurricanes" that devastated the region in 2004 and 2005. The first tornado to be rated under the new "Enhanced Fujita" scale, which started only one day before, the twister weighed in as an EF-3 tornado.

Killer Outbreak: The beginning of March saw the first major tornado outbreak of the season, with 57 tornadoes forming from the Central Plains into the Southeast from February 28 to March 2. The worst twisters occurred on March 1, when a single storm devastated the town of Enterprise, Ala. An EF-4 tornado with winds estimated at greater than 200 mph hit Enterprise High School, causing massive damage. Eight students were killed when walls collapsed at the school. School buses were on site to dismiss students, and it is believed that had the buses been filled, the death toll would have been much higher. In all, twenty fatalities were reported from the outbreak, with damage reports in excess of $500 million.

Devastation in Kansas: On May 4, the strongest tornado of the season occurred, devastating the town of Greensburg, Kan. One of 91 tornadoes to form across the Plains that day, the twister that hit Greensburg was a top-of-the-scale EF-5 tornado, with winds up to 300 mph. The storm was estimated to be 1.7 miles wide, and destroyed 95 percent of the town, causing devastation similar to that seen in other top-of-the scale storms. The previous extreme tornado, which slammed Moore, Okla., in 1999, wrapped pickup trucks around metal poles, and wiped houses and buildings clear from the ground. In Greensburg, crop silos were leveled, and to make matters worse, chemicals leaked from a nearby train, hampering rescue efforts more difficult. Even the city's Greensburg Meteorite was buried for a week before being recovered. Thirteen people were killed in Greensburg that day, with damage estimates of more than $150 million.

Record Hurricanes
No year would be complete without memorable hurricanes, and 2007 was no exception. This year saw two hurricanes make landfall as top-of-the-scale Category 5 storms, the first time that had ever happened.

Hurricane Dean formed in mid-August, moving through the southern Lesser Antilles. It brushed Jamaica on August 20, killing three and causing near $5 billion in damage there. It then grew into a 160-mph monster, slamming into a lightly-populated part of Mexico`s Yucatan Peninsula on August 21. The storm weakened as it crossed the peninsula, and made landfall on the Mexican mainland as a weak hurricane. The fact that Dean hit an area with low population probably limited the damage caused by the storm, as less than $1 billion damage was reported in Mexico.

The other Category 5 storm, Hurricane Felix formed at the very end of August just east of the Lesser Antilles. Felix moved south of Dean`s path, a few hundred miles north of the "ABC Islands" of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao off the South American coast. After strengthening to 165 mph, Felix set its target on the Central American coast, hitting along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. Similar to Dean, Felix made landfall in a lightly-populated area, lowering the death toll from the storm. However, the 15 to 25 inches of rain that the hurricane produced caused significant flooding and massive mudslides, killing 133 people in the region, including 25 fishermen who were killed when their boat was swept away in the storm.

Parched in the Southeast
Throughout 2007, the Southeast U.S. dug deeper into a drought as the region saw little rainfall. Across the Carolinas, western Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, many cities were ten to fifteen inches below a normal year`s rainfall. Reservoirs in the region, such as Georgia`s Lake Lanier, began to reach dry lake bed when replenishing rains did not come.

Under the threat of the lakes drying completely by the spring of 2008, states sought other means to replenish their water supply. In one case, a solution between states was worked out to redistribute water from the rivers to the reservoirs. Another instance involved a statewide prayer for rainfall. However, without significant rainfall in early 2008, the drought will continue to stress the region`s water supply well into the 2008.

California in Flames
Another drought in southern California led to a significant wildfire in late October. This year was the driest on record in the Los Angeles and San Diego area, setting the stage for a major fire. On October 20, a strong, dry Santa Ana wind developed. Complete with winds approaching 100 mph and temperatures in the middle 90s, wildfires rapidly developed throughout the region`s mountains. The largest U.S. evacuation since Hurricane Katrina was mobilized in the San Diego area, as almost 1 million people were moved into schools, stadiums and other buildings in safer locations. By the time the fires wound down in early November, 500,000 acres of land burned from Santa Barbara County to the Mexican border, a span of more than 200 miles. Fourteen people were killed by the fires. Although damage may take years to be fully calculated, it is expected to be well into the billions.

October Outbreak
Proving that severe storms are not limited to the spring, 2007 provided a late-season outbreak across the Plains and Deep South. The largest October tornado outbreak ever produced 52 tornadoes from Oklahoma to Missouri and Florida to Michigan from October 17 to 19. In Tulsa, Okla., a street festival received significant damage from a severe thunderstorm with winds estimated at 80 mph, although no one was killed. Others in Kentucky weren`t so lucky as tornadoes in the outbreak killed five people.

Autumn Floods Around the World
Hurricane Noel formed in late October in the northern Caribbean, moving along the east coast of Cuba before stalling over the island. While the storm spun over Cuba, it dropped ten to twenty inches of rain on the neighboring island of Hispaniola, causing massive flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm started moving again on October 30, racing up the East Coast, bringing rain and strong winds to Eastern New England. However, in the Caribbean, more than 100 people were killed by the floods and mudslides.

Around the same time, massive flooding also occurred in Mexico as the Rio Grijalva in the state of Tabasco was overwhelmed by heavy rains on October 30. By November 3, flood waters had impacted as much as 80 percent of the state, displacing as many as 1 million people and virtually wiping out Mexico`s cocoa crop.

In November, a tropical storm in the northern Indian Ocean strengthened into a Category 4 cyclone. With winds of 135 mph, Cyclone Sidr slammed into the low-lying nation of Bangladesh on November 15, dropping more than a foot of rain and causing tidal waves in excess of 16 feet. Early damage estimates of $450 million are expected to rise significantly, as the country`s rice crop was completely devastated by the cyclone`s flood. Already, almost 3,500 people have been reported dead from the cyclone, with several thousand still missing. Many relief groups estimate that the Sidr`s death toll could rise as high as 10,000 once everyone is accounted for.

Icy Plains
In early December, the central and southern Plains were greeted by a major ice storm. Starting on December 8, rain fell onto a sub-freezing central U.S., creating a massive ice storm across Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.

All of this ice knocked out power and caused numerous accidents. Twenty-three people were killed during the storm, largely from car accidents as ice-covered roads caused massive pile-ups. At the height of the storm, nearly one million people were without power, mostly in Oklahoma and Missouri.

Ottawa, Okla. received the most ice during the storm, with reports of more than two inches of ice accumulating on roads, power lines, and trees. Widespread reports of ice accumulations of more than an inch were reported from central Oklahoma across the Ozarks, and from northeastern Kansas to southern Illinois. Many people were still without power more than a week later, with damage likely to reach into the billions.

Tropical December
The tropics decided to go overtime in 2007, providing us with an extra storm after the traditional season-ending on November 30. The fifteenth named storm of the season, Olga, formed as a hybrid subtropical storm on December 11 just north of Puerto Rico.

It moved westward into the Dominican Republic, becoming a tropical storm just before landfall. Forty people were killed by the storm, of which 20 of the deaths occurred when floodgates were opened on the Yaque del Norte River in the Dominican Republic. The dam then released a 66-foot high wave of water on towns below without warning. The storm then tracked across the Dominican Republic and Haiti, before weakening south of Cuba.

Sphere: Related Content

US Department of Transportation Ban Loose Lithium Batteries In Checked Baggage

Effective January 1, 2008, the Department of Transportation (DOT) through the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) will no longer allow loose lithium batteries in checked baggage. These batteries may continue to be packed in carry-on baggage.

Under the new DOT rule, lithium batteries are allowed in checked baggage under one of the following conditions:

  • The batteries must be in their original containers.
  • The battery terminals must not exposed (for example placing tape over the ends of the batteries).
  • The batteries are installed in a device.
  • The batteries are enclosed by themselves in a plastic bag.

Loose lithium batteries found in checked baggage may be removed.

Some Tips for Safe Travel With Batteries
* Keep batteries and equipment with you, or in carry-on baggage - not in your checked baggage! In the cabin, flight crew can better monitor conditions, and have access to the batteries or device if a fire does occur.
* Buy batteries from reputable sources and only use batteries approved for your device – avoid counterfeits! A counterfeit battery is more likely to cause a fire in your equipment – costing you more in the long run, and compromising safety.
* Look for the mark of an independent testing or standards organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
* Do not carry recalled or damaged batteries on aircraft. Check battery recall information at the manufacturer's website, or at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
* Only charge batteries which you are sure are rechargeable! Non-rechargeable batteries are not designed for recharging, and become hazardous if placed in a battery charger. A non-rechargeable battery placed in a charger may overheat or cause damage later.
* Only use a charger compatible with your rechargeable battery – don’t mix and match!
* If original packaging is not available for spare batteries, effectively insulate battery terminals by isolating the batteries from contact with other batteries and metal. Do not permit a loose battery to come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys, or jewelry.
* Place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package, or place tape across the battery's contacts to isolate terminals. Isolating terminals prevents short-circuiting.
* Take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting a high degree of pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short-circuit, resulting in overheating.
* If you must carry a battery-powered device in any baggage, package it to prevent inadvertent activation. For instance, you should pack a cordless power tool in a protective case, with a trigger lock engaged. If there is an on-off switch or a safety switch, tape it in the "off" position.

Lithium Batteries: Safety and Security
Image of a lithium ion battery.Lithium-ion batteries, often found in laptop computers, differ from primary lithium batteries, which are often used in cameras. Some newer AA-size batteries are also primary lithium.

While there is no explosion hazard associated with either kind of battery, the Federal Aviation Administration has studied fire hazards associated with both primary and lithium-ion cells, and their extensive research is publicly available. As a result of this research, the FAA no longer allows large, palletized shipments of these batteries to be transported as cargo on passenger aircraft.

The research also shows that an explosion will not result from shorting or damaging either lithium-ion or primary lithium batteries. Both are, however, extremely flammable. Primary lithium batteries cannot be extinguished with firefighting agents normally carried on aircraft, whereas lithium-ion batteries are easily extinguished by most common extinguishing agents, including those carried on board commercial aircraft.

TSA has and will continue to work closely with the FAA on potential aviation safety and security issues, and TSA security officers are thoroughly and continually trained to find explosive threats. TSA does not have plans to change security regulations for electronic devices powered by lithium batteries.

Sphere: Related Content