November 2007



The number of people in U.S. prisons has risen eight-fold since 1970, with little impact on crime but at great cost to taxpayers and society, researchers said in a report calling for a major justice-system overhaul.The report on Monday cites examples ranging from former vice-presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby to a Florida woman’s two-year sentence for throwing a cup of coffee to make its case for reducing the U.S. prison population of 2.2 million — nearly one-fourth of the world’s total.

It recommends shorter sentences and parole terms, alternative punishments, more help for released inmates and decriminalizing recreational drugs. It said the steps would cut the prison population in half, save $20 billion a year and ease social inequality without endangering the public.

But the recommendations run counter to decades of broad U.S. public and political support for getting tough on criminals through longer, harsher prison terms and to the Bush administration’s anti-drug and strict-sentencing policies.
“President (George W.) Bush was right,” in commuting Libby’s perjury sentence this year as excessive, the report said. But he should also have commuted the sentences of hundreds of thousands of other Americans, it said.

“Our contemporary laws and justice system practices exacerbate the crime problem, unnecessarily damage the lives of millions of people (and) waste tens of billions of dollars each year,” it said.

The report was produced by the JFA Institute, a Washington criminal-justice research group, and its authors included eight criminologists from major U.S. public universities. It was funded by the Rosenbaum Foundation and by financier and political activist George Soros’ Open Society Institute.

The Justice Department dismissed the recommendations and cited findings that about 25 percent of the violent-crime drop in the 1990s can be attributed to increases in imprisonment.
“The United States is experiencing a 30-year low in crime, in large part due to the tough enforcement actions we’ve taken in the last decade,” department spokesman Peter Carr said.

But there are signs of shifting attitudes on sentencing policies. Some financially strapped states are shortening sentences and Congress is moving to pass increased help for released prisoners, said Executive Director Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, which has advocated alternatives to long sentences.
“Compared to where we were in the mid-(19)90s, it’s been a very significant change,” Mauer said.

More than 1.5 million people are now in U.S. state and federal prisons, up from 196,429 in 1970, the report said. Another 750,000 people are in local jails. The U.S. incarceration rate is the world’s highest, followed by Russia, according to 2006 figures compiled by Kings College in London.

Although the U.S. crime rate began declining in the 1990s it is still about the same as in 1973, the JFA report said. But the prison population has soared because sentences have gotten longer and people who violate parole or probation, even with minor lapses, are more likely to be imprisoned.

“The system is almost feeding on itself now. It takes years and years and years to get out of this system and we do not see any positive impact on the crime rates,” JFA President James Austin, a co-author of the report, told a news conference.
The report said the prison population is projected to grow by another 192,000 in five years, at a cost of $27.5 billion to build and operate additional prisons.

At current rates, one-third of all black males, one-sixth of Latino males, and one in 17 white males will go to prison during their lives. Women represent the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, the report said.

“The massive incarceration of young males from mostly poor- and working-class neighborhoods, and the taking of women from their families and jobs, has crippled their potential for forming healthy families and achieving economic gains,” it said.

* By Randall Mikkelsen (Nov.19, 2007)



The world’s scientists have done their job. Now it’s time for world leaders, starting with President Bush, to do theirs. That is the urgent message at the core of the latest — and the most powerful — report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 2,500 scientists who collectively constitute the world’s most authoritative voice on global warming.

Released in Spain over the weekend, the report leaves no doubt that man-made emissions from the burning of fossil fuels (and, to a lesser extent, deforestation) have been responsible for the steady rise in atmospheric temperatures.


If these emissions are not brought under control, the report predicts, the consequences could be disastrous: further melting at the poles, sea levels rising high enough to submerge island nations, the elimination of one-quarter or more of the world’s species, widespread famine in places like Africa, more violent hurricanes.

And it warns that time is running out. To avoid the worst of these disasters, it says, the world must stabilize emissions of greenhouse gases by 2015, begin to reduce them shortly thereafter and largely free itself of carbon-emitting technologies by midcentury.


As Rajendra Pachauri, a scientist and economist who leads the I.P.C.C., noted: “ What we do in the next two or three years will define our future.”

Deep in all this gloom is a considerable ray of hope: significant progress toward stabilizing and reducing emissions can be achieved using known technologies.

This a hugely important message for policy makers and for those who say there’s no point in spending money on the problem because the game is already lost. The world does not have to rely on pie-in-the-sky technologies, the report insists. What it really needs is a policy structure to encourage major investments in cleaner technologies that are already at hand or within reach.


The report’s urgent warnings and its message of hope could not be more timely. Nations will gather in Bali next month to begin framing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which expires in 2012. Under normal circumstances, Bali would be the beginning of a long, contentious process; Kyoto, negotiated in 1997, did not take effect for seven years. What the I.P.C.C. is saying is that the world cannot afford to wait for another grand agreement, and certainly not for another seven years. It needs action now.

Every member of Congress should read this report. The Senate has begun hearings on legislation that would put a mandatory cap on carbon emissions. The bill is not perfect and, to some critics, not strong enough. But it is a worthy start and would move the United States toward the cleaner fuels and carbon-free technologies essential to the task of changing the way the world produces and uses energy.

Mr. Bush should also read it and order extra copies for members of his staff. After years of denial, the president now concedes that a problem exists. But he still insists on voluntary remedies and still worries about the costs to the American economy of anything more ambitious. If there is one message Mr. Bush and other world leaders must take away from the scientists, it is that the price of more delay will be far greater.

Published by Google: November 20, 2007


Beijing is seeking women presenters for medals ceremonies at the 2008 Olympics — but only those who are tall and thin need apply.Hundreds of young women will be recruited as volunteers to present medals and raise flags at ceremonies for the Games, which open on August 8, but they must meet stringent criteria.
“We have some very clear conditions and demands,” explained Zhao Dongming, director of the Cultural Activities Department at Beijing’s Organizing Committee for the Games.

“We have certain requirements for their height, since they are to present the medals to our athletes. They need to be of a height between 1.68 and 1.78 meters. That’s above average.”
There was no requirement on their weight, Zhao said, but he added: “Generally speaking, they can’t be too fat. Their figure should be good. They shouldn’t be too heavy.”
The guidance was so the women, who must be between 18 and 25 and university students, would fit into the uniforms being prepared for them, he said.

But good looks alone won’t cut it.
“It is not enough just to have a beautiful appearance. They need to be healthy and they need to have dedicated training,” Zhao said.
“They also must have a very clear understanding of the Olympic spirit and the Olympic movement.”

(Reporting by Lindsay Beck, editing by Nick Macfie and Roger Crabb)
* Tue 20 Nov 2007, BEIJING (Reuters) –



French commuters have been hard-hit by the transport strikes
Huge numbers of civil servants and students are expected to join striking transport workers as France enters a second week of industrial action. Postal workers, teachers, air traffic controllers and hospital staff around the country are preparing to protest against planned pay and job cuts. Students are also upset over plans to grant universities more autonomy.

The combined protests are the latest challenge to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to reform the economy. Transport workers are beginning the seventh day of an indefinite strike in protest at planned pension cuts. And many of the latest strikers oppose government plans to not replace half of civil servants as they retire.

The government will not be able to budge on the principles Francois FillonFrench PM Strike fever hits France
Students, some of whom have been blocking buildings at dozens of campuses across France in the past week, are now protesting over plans to allow universities more autonomy to find non-government funding.

The latest one-day walkout was planned separately from the ongoing transport workers’ strike. That was triggered by plans to scrap “special” pensions privileges enjoyed by 500,000 workers, mainly in the rail and energy sectors, as well as by 1.1 million pensioners.

Tough times On Monday the transport unions voted to extend the walkout, though the number of strikers has reportedly been dropping since the strike began last Tuesday.

‘SPECIAL’ PENSIONS SYSTEM Benefits 1.6m workers, including 1.1m retireesApplies in 16 sectors, of which rail and utilities employees make up 360,000 peopleAccount for 6% of total state pension paymentsShortfall costs state 5bn euros (£3.5bn; $6.9bn) a yearSome workers can retire on full pensions aged 50Awarded to Paris Opera House workers in 1698 by Louis XIV In pictures: French strikes Can street protests succeed? Solidarity amid French crisis

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said the job action was costing France at least $440m (£215m) a day. However, half of the country’s high-speed TGV trains are expected to operate on Tuesday, said national rail operator SNCF. Eurostar trains between Paris and London have not been affected.

But commuter trains, metro and bus services in Paris are all expected to be heavily reduced. Despite the vote by transport unions to extend their strike, there has been some movement towards negotiations. Unions have agreed to attend negotiations with the state rail company management on Wednesday.


Some are upset over plans to grant universities more autonomy
The government has somewhat relaxed its earlier stance that it would not enter talks unless strikers return to work. On Monday Prime Minister Francois Fillon said rail traffic must “progressively restart” for talks to take place. But he remained firm on the government’s commitment to overhaul the French economy.

“The government will not be able to budge on the principles because it has a mandate to move this reform forward,” Mr Fillon said. Opinion polls have so far suggested that there is broad support for Mr Sarkozy, who says France can no longer afford to let some public sector employees retire on a full pension as early as 50.

* BBC World, Nov. 2007


There is no chance of finding survivors in the Zasyadco mine in Ukraine, a senior union official has said. Rescuers are still searching for over 20 miners trapped underground after the blast that killed more than 70 others.

But raging underground fires have thwarted rescue efforts in the Zasyadko mine in the eastern Donetsk region. Sunday’s blast, caused by a build-up of methane gas, occurred more than 1,000m (3,280ft) below ground in what was one of Ukraine’s worst accidents in years. Hundreds of desperate relatives rushed to the mine after hearing the news.

There was a bang, the temperature surged, and [there was] thick dust. You could see absolutely nothing Vitali KvitkovskiZasyadko miner

As grim-faced mine officials later emerged to announce the names of the victims, many in the crowd began weeping and several fainted. The head of the Ukrainian Free Miners’ Union, Mihailo Volninets, said it was now certain that all the missing men had died, says the BBC’s Laura Sheeter, in Kiev. Local authorities have now declared three days of mourning for the blast’s victims.

Methane inhalation At least 360 of the more than 450 miners who were below ground when the explosion happened at 0300 (0100 GMT) have now been rescued, emergency officials say.


One survivor described how he had to clamber over his dead colleagues along rail tracks to escape from the mine. Some 28 miners are now being treated in hospitals, many suffering from methane inhalation. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych travelled on Sunday to the scene of the accident. He told reporters there had been a cave-in at the accident site, and that fire and smoke were also obstructing rescuers.

He also said a safety watchdog had reported that miners were working in accordance with regulations. “This accident has proven once again that a human is powerless before the nature,” Mr Yanukovych said, according to the Associated Press news agency. President Viktor Yushchenko arrived in Donetsk on Monday to chair a session of a commission investigating the disaster.

Mr Yushchenko’s office earlier quoted him as saying that the government had “made insufficient efforts to reorganise the mining sector, particularly the implementation of safe mining practices”. Poor record As fears grew, relatives gathered at the mine entrance trying to find news of their men. “I’ve come here to collect my grandson,” one woman told Reuters.

“I accompanied him to work yesterday. Now I want to take him home.” One miner, Vitali Kvitkovski, told the BBC that just before the explosion, he had checked his instruments and the methane levels seemed normal. “I was walking to the coal layer. There was a bang, the temperature surged, and [there was] thick dust.

You could see absolutely nothing,” Mr Kvitkovski said. Ukraine’s coal mines are among the most dangerous in the world, with a high number of fatal accidents.

Miners’ pay varies according to the volume of coal produced, giving them an incentive to ignore safety procedures that would slow production, one union official said. Anatoly Akimochkin told AFP most disasters were caused by concentrations of methane, which can occur suddenly. In September 2006, a gas leak at the Zasyadko coal mine, one of Ukraine’s largest, killed 13 miners and injured dozens more.

* BBC World, Nov. 2007


With Broadway theaters shutting down for the rest of the busy Thanksgiving week, and possibly longer, because of a strike, businesses around Times Square are bracing for what could be a major loss of customers and revenue during their busiest time of the year.

The city comptroller’s office estimates that lost revenue from disappearing ticket sales, shopping, dining, and other theater-related activities, is costing the city roughly $2 million a day. Those losses would climb if the strike were to last the rest of the year, prompting visitors who have not yet booked rooms or bought tickets to plan their vacations elsewhere, city officials say.

But as the strike continues, the economic fallout is also being muted, because many planning to visit New York during the busy holiday season already booked their trips in advance, and many are visiting from overseas to take advantage of the weak dollar. As much as the strike is hurting, some business owners say, the uptick in business for other reasons is helping them get by.

Definitely, our theater business is way off,” said Sandy Levine, a principal of Carnegie Deli, the landmark sandwich shop at the north end of Times Square. “But thank God we got a weak dollar. We have a lot of people coming in from overseas, especially Europe, and most of them aren’t coming in for theater — they’re coming in to shop.”

“So we’re dropping in one area of business, but seeing a lot of tourists in another,” he added.

A few blocks away, at John’s Pizzeria, another restaurant that typically draws large theater crowds, Rick Mancini, a manager, said business at the 400-seat location has dropped roughly 25 percent since the strike began. Large groups have been canceling, and the wait for a table has dropped to 15 minutes from 45 minutes on the busiest days, but business from holiday travelers may help soften the blow, he said.

“We’re coming up on one of the busiest weekends of the year, and a lot of people are coming in for Thanksgiving,” he said. City officials say that much of the economic loss so far has come from the absence of day trippers, theater-goers who come from outside Manhattan to see a show and then return home the same day. As a result, the hotels in Times Square have so far been barely affected by the strike.

“Right now, occupancy this time of year is expected to be high, and we really see no significant drop in room occupancy at any of our hotels,” said Kathleen Duffy, a spokeswoman for New York City Marriot Hotels, which operates several large hotels in Midtown and other parts of the city. “This week you’re going to see more leisure travelers because it’s a holiday, and then next week that compresses as our business travelers return.”

But that could change if the strike extends beyond six weeks. The report from the city comptroller suggested that hotels will see little impact right away, because many tourists have already booked airfares and hotels in New York for the holidays and they are unlikely to cancel their trips, even if the Broadway shows they planned to see have been shuttered. But after six weeks, said Frank Braconi, the chief economist for the comptroller’s office, the Broadway strike will “affect the vacation planning decisions of long-distance domestic and international tourists.”

The latest round of talks between the producers’ league and the stagehands’ union broke down last night, leaving no end in sight for the strike that has darkened most of Broadway for 10 days. Soon after the breakdown, the League of American Theaters and Producers announced that it was canceling performances of the 27 shows affected by the strike through Sunday.

No further talks have been scheduled. The producers of one of the shows that was expected to be particularly popular this season said today that it might reopen. The union has ordered that the picket line come down for “ Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” which is playing at the St. James Theater, said James Sanna, one of the show’s producers.

But the Jujamcyn theater chain, which owns the St. James, said that its theaters would remain dark until a settlement was reached with the stagehands.

The negotiations over the weekend between the producers’ league and the stagehands’ union — which lasted for more than 13 hours Saturday and for 11 hours yesterday — came to a halt a little after 9 p.m.

Bruce Cohen, a spokesman for the stagehands’ union, Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said in a statement that “producers informed Local 1 that what Local 1 offered was not good enough, and they left.”

Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the producers’ league, said: “We presented a comprehensive proposal that responded to the union’s concerns about loss of jobs and earnings and attempted to address our need for some flexibilities in running our business. The union rejected our effort to compromise and continues to require us to hire more people than we need.”

The producers decided to cancel the performances, she said, so that tourists coming to town for the Thanksgiving weekend could make other plans.

The breakdown in talks came as a disappointment to the actors, musicians and other theater professionals who are now living on strike pay, as well as the Broadway-dependent workers — bartenders, waiters, pedicab drivers and others — who have been coping with the shutdown since Nov. 10.

The latest round of negotiations, which took place at the Westin New York hotel on 43rd Street, was announced Wednesday, and some in the industry were optimistic that the stagehands’ strike could come to a close before Thanksgiving.

Robert W. Johnson, a senior labor relations executive from Disney, came to New York to help with the talks. Though Mr. Johnson was sitting on the side of the table with the League of American Theaters and Producers, Disney is not a member of the league, and Mr. Johnson has had a long relationship with union officials. He helped negotiate the stagehands’ contract at the Disney-owned New Amsterdam Theater 10 years ago.
Thomas C. Short, the president of Local 1’s parent union, also attended the talks.

The league and the union have been negotiating since July, when the contract expired. Producers have been trying to add some flexibility to the rules on when stagehands are needed for work, how many are needed and what tasks they performed. The union has said it is open to changes, as long as they come with benefits of equal value.

The talks over the weekend were the first since the two sides broke off negotiations on Nov. 8. But there was a sense yesterday that things were not going to turn out well.
Hundreds of Local 1 members arrived at the Westin yesterday morning for a scheduled monthly business meeting. Little was said about the progress of the talks, other than that they were tough.

About 9:20 p.m., a group of union negotiators walked out of the hotel, and shortly afterward, the negotiating team representing the theater owners and producers followed.
“It’s a big disappointment,” said Paul Libin, a producing director and part owner of the Jujamcyn theater chain.




Moscow recently hosted Rozamira ’07, an annual international modern art festival, whose name means “the rose of the world.” The Paint Moscow project, one of its most spectacular events, brought “Brazilian brightness” to the “gloomy, introverted, and workaholic” urban environment.


Dutch, Icelandic, American and Russian artists presented their works in Moscow during the Rozamira ’07 modern art festival. Their paintings are seen from afar – each painting is the size of a multi-storey house and needs to be appreciated from a distance.


The Rozamira ’07 modern art festival decorated twelve residential buildings in Moscow with murals of glowing colors.


Each mural occupies four stories of a residential house, and catches the eye from afar.


Local people were rather skeptical at the start. They thought foreign artists had come to make standard drab inscriptions on houses and transformer pillars. Spirits rose when they saw the beautiful murals.


A Russian Soyuz TMA-11 spaceship carrying members of the 16th expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), including Malaysia’s first astronaut, was launched on Wednesday.
11 oct.2007

From left, Malaysian astronaut Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson during the check of spacesuits .


Members of the expedition will carry out 48 experiments, including a study of human cardiovascular activity and sleep functions, as well as research into the growth and development of plants in the absence of gravity, earth remote sensing, and a series of biotechnological experiments.

Valentina Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937 and in 1963 was the first woman to fly in space aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft.


The USSR Pilot-Cosmonauts Heroes of the Soviet Union Yury Gagarin (left) and Valentina Tereshkova (right).


Wedding ceremony of Pilots-Cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (left) and Andriyan Nikolayev (right).


The USSR Pilot-Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova with daughter Alyonka.


The USSR Pilot-Cosmonaut Valetina Tereshkova (right) with mother Yelena (left) in Yaroslavl.