Passport

Australian lager louts monitor America's borders

In an ironic twist that was bound to happen sooner or later, the job of watching the U.S.-Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants from coming to take American jobs...has been outsourced. Thanks to live streaming videos, anyone with an Internet connection can now log on and keep an eye on the Texas border and report illegal immigrants or drug smugglers to the authorities. (I watched a section of the Rio Grande for about three minutes yesterday but then I got bored. Sorry America.)

Interestingly, foreigners seem particularly taken with the project:

Anyone with an internet connection can now help to patrol the 1,254-mile frontier through a network of webcams set up to allow the public to monitor suspicious activity. Once logged in, the volunteers spend hours studying the landscape and are encouraged to email authorities when they see anyone on foot, in vehicles or aboard boats heading towards US territory from Mexico.

So far, more than 100,000 web users have signed up online to become virtual border patrol deputies, according to Don Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, which represents 20 counties where illegal crossings and drugs and weapons smuggling are rife.

"We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, 'Hey mate, we've been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia'," he said.

Since the first 15 of a planned network of 200 cameras went live in November, officials claim that emailed tips have led to the seizure of more than 2,000lb (907kg) of marijuana and 30 incidents in which "significant numbers" of would-be illegal immigrants were spotted and turned back. Some tips came from Europe, Asia and beyond, but most online watchers are based in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, three of the four US states that share a border with Mexico.

Passport

Morning Brief: Treasury's new plan

Top Story

The U.S. Treasury has unveiled its plan to relieve banks of their toxic assets. Under the plan, the government, along with subsidized private investors will spend between $500 billion and $1 trillion to purchase what they are euphemistically calling "legacy assets." The hope is that banks will be able to resume lending with the assets off their books.

In today's Wall Street Journal, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wrote that the program "is better for the taxpayer than having the government alone directly purchase the assets from banks that are still operating and assume a larger share of the losses...Simply hoping for banks to work these assets off over time risks prolonging the crisis in a repeat of the Japanese experience."

World markets rose on news of the plan, though one European trader cautioned, "Each time Timothy Geithner comes up with a plan to save the banks, the markets rise in anticipation. But when the actual details come out, the markets have fallen."

Asia

Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry is back at work.

The trial of the lone surviving gunman from the Mumbai attacks began.

Despite Wen Jiabao's worries, China says it will continue to buy U.S. treasuries.

Europe

Without conferring with its allies, Spain announced that it will soon withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Kosovo.

Hungary's prime minister became the latest national leader to fall to the financial crisis.

Macedonia's Conservative party leads after the first round of presidential voting.

Middle East

A senior Fatah official was killed in a bombing in Lebanon.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party joined Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul became the first Turkish head of state to visit Iraq in over three decades.

Africa

South Africa has barred the Dalai Lama from attending a peace conference in Johannesburg this week.

Despite the ICC warrant for his arrest, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir traveled to Eritrea for an official visit.

The pope concluded his controversial tour of Africa with a mass in Angola.

Americas

Hugo Chavez referred to Barack Obama as "ignorant" and said he has a lot to learn about Latin America before an upcoming summit. The Venezuelan president also plans to cut spending and raise taxes.

The U.S. military has suggested it may reestablish its controversial presence on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.