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Troll's Blog

Troll's Blog

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Bird flu could become major economic disaster if spread among humans.

SINGAPORE (AFP) - The economic damage caused by bird flu in Asia is now largely confined to poor farming communities but it could turn into a multi-billion-dollar disaster if the virus spreads directly among humans, experts warned.


Ten countries have now been confirmed hit by the virus, which has killed at least eight people and led to the culling or deaths of millions of chickens in a region still recovering economically from last year's SARS epidemic.

Health and economic experts fear bird flu has the potential to be more devastating than Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed about 800 people and infected some 8,000 others worldwide in the first half of 2003.

SARS, spread by human contact, was concentrated in cities like Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore and Beijing, as well as densely-populated Guangdong province in southern China, causing heavy losses to tourism and related industries.

Bird flu by comparison is ravaging farming villages across a wider swath of territory but is so far suspected of being spread only by infected poultry.

But even highly urbanized Singapore is taking no chances. The city-state, which imports most of its food, has warned the public to stay away from seven poultry farms in the suburbs and stepped up checks on imported chickens from Malaysia, where no signs of the virus have been reported.

The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) offered to help countries combat the growing threat posed by the outbreak.

Its assistant chief economist, Jean-Pierre Verbiest, said that at least initially, the rural poor will be hardest hit by the outbreak.

"But if the flu creates a major travel scare as was the case with SARS, tourism and other economic losses could reach tens of billions of dollars," he said in a statement.

Paul Coughlin, credit watchdog agency Standard and Poor's managing director for corporate and government ratings in the Asia-Pacific region, said that in itself, "a problem of the chicken industry won't herald a recession."

"Unless bird flu develops the same characteristic of human to human contagion, then we wouldn't expect bird flu to have the same impact as SARS," he told journalists in Singapore.

South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Laos and China have confirmed outbreaks of bird flu.

Singapore's DBS Bank said in the short term, countries with large numbers of people employed in the farm sector and highly dependent on tourism are likely to suffer the most economically, singling out Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

If the virus starts mutating across large sections of the population in Asia, there could be an overall slowing of economic growth. However, thanks to Asia's experience in dealing with SARS, it is likely that containment this time around will be quicker, DBS said.

In Manila, the Philippines' Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said that since most of its poultry imports come from Western countries, the risks of an outbreak "are very minimal," and "there is no reason to be overly concerned."

The government has banned all imports of live birds as well as poultry-related products from other Asian countries.

Poultry supply and fastfood sales in affected countries have already been affected.

American fast-food giant KFC said it will not serve any more of its famous chicken in its nine restaurants in Vietnam. A company executive said it was working on a menu including fish and other new products.
Fresh chicken, a staple of Thailand's famous cuisine, has disappeared from food markets in Bangkok, with frustrated vendors unable to convince a fearful public their poultry is safe.

There has been no sign of an outbreak in Malaysia, which exports chickens to Singapore and shares a border with Thailand.

Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir has warned Malaysia's media to be cautious when reporting on the bird flu as it could affect the country's economy and tourism, the Bernama news agency said.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Arazi Upsets Philippoussis in Australia.

MELBOURNE, Australia - Hicham Arazi, a Moroccan ranked 51st, was nearly perfect in upsetting 10th-seeded Mark Philippoussis 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 on Monday to advance to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

The stunning defeat of Philippoussis, the hero of Australia's Davis Cup victory over Spain last month, put a damper on the center court fans celebrating their country's national day.

It left former top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, who was facing second-seeded Roger Federer in a late match, as the last Australian in the tournament.

Philippoussis hit a big overhead early in the first set that bounced and hit the 30-year-old Arazi on the side of the head, knocking him down. Arazi smiled as he got up and made the crowd laugh when he briefly hid behind a linesman before the next point.

But Arazi, who beat 25th-seeded Albert Costa in his last match, blunted Philippoussis' vaunted power, breaking his serve five times. Philippoussis squandered all 10 of his break-point opportunities, including five while trying to get back into the match while Arazi was serving at 1-2 in the third set.

The left-handed Arazi then broke Philippoussis for the last time in the next game, running around his backhand to hit a forehand winner that the Australian didn't make a move on.

While both players had 34 winners, Arazi made just 10 unforced errors to 38 for Philippoussis.

"The guy was pretty much too good today," Philippoussis said. "He played a flawless match. I felt like every time he wanted to go for it, he went for it and made it. Nothing much I could do."

Arazi next faces third-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero, the French Open champion, who needed treatment on his injured leg twice in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Andrei Pavel.

"I started to feel better and better during the match, I tried to fight a lot and win — I did it very well," Ferrero said. "I was very focused and concentrated on my game and not on my injury."

Lisa Raymond followed her upset over Venus Williams with an easy victory, defeating wild-card entry Tatiana Golovin 6-2, 6-0 to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for only the second time in 45 attempts. She reached the quarters at Wimbledon in 2000.

"It would have been pretty easy for me to have the letdown after playing so well against Venus," Raymond said. "I've never really peaked at Slams. To be able to play as well as I have here, it feels great. And hopefully I've got a lot more great tennis left in me for a couple more rounds."

Her quarterfinal opponent will be Switzerland's Patty Schnyder, seeded 22nd, who beat Nathalie Dechy of France 6-2, 6-4.

The 354th-ranked Golovin, who celebrated her 16th birthday Sunday, had only one win on the WTA Tour before arriving at Melbourne Park. She said she was tired after going further than she expected.

Second-seeded Kim Clijsters beat Silvia Farina Elia of Italy 6-3, 6-3 and will play sixth-seeded Anastasia Myskina of Russia, who rallied for a 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2 win over ninth-seeded American Chanda Rubin.

Myskina also beat Rubin in the fourth round at the Australian Open last year before losing to Clijsters in the quarterfinals.

Clijsters showed no signs of her sprained ankle, at one point sprinting in from behind the baseline to flick a drop volley just over Farina Elia's head. While she was happy with her form, she said the ankle is still bothering her.

Eighth-seeded David Nalbandian will play the winner of the Federer-Hewitt match after his fourth-round 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 win over fellow Argentine Guillermo Canas. Canas looked sluggish after consecutive five-setters, including an almost five-hour win over 11th-seeded Tim Henman in his last match.

Nalbandian, who lost the 2002 Wimbledon final to Hewitt, hasn't dropped a set in four matches. He beat top-ranked Andy Roddick and defending champion Andre Agassi, who both advanced on Sunday, in a warmup tournament in Melbourne.

Ferrero said he had a groin injury, but didn't expect it to trouble him much. He hit 53 winners and had Pavel chasing balls over the court in his victory.
Fashion in bloom.

The red carpet blossomed with spring colors as stars donned ladylike gowns for Sunday's Golden Globe Awards, with one glittery exception: Nicole Kidman in a backless, cut-down-to-there gold sequin dress.

The "Cold Mountain" ' star stood out among the pretty pastel dresses and safe black gowns at the 61st annual awards show in Beverly Hills.

Kidman's gold sequin bodice, with a neckline that plunged to her waist, was held together with nude fabric and paired with a flowing, pale chiffon skirt. Her loose curls were held back with a gold headband.

"I need a coat, though," ' Kidman told Joan Rivers on E! Entertainment Television. "I sort of like that it" s got a sort of slight Salome feel to it.''

Kidman's gown, designed by Tom Ford in his last collection for Yves Saint Laurent, will likely be the most-talked-about dress of the evening, said Kevin Lennox, associate fashion editor for Glamour magazine.

"I like her for wearing what she" s wearing,'' Lennox said. "She" s like 6 feet tall or something and 10 pounds. It's great that she takes chances and doesn't just do the run-of-the-mill.''

The other surprise of the evening was presenter Jennifer Lopez, who wasn't expected to appear on the red carpet. Days after her breakup with fiance Ben Affleck was announced, Lopez strolled by fans appearing effortlessly chic in a tangerine goddess gown with silver straps, her hair pulled up in a loose ponytail.

"It looked very pretty on her. Sometimes she doesn" t play up the pretty softer side of her, she wears harsher things,'' Lennox said.

Goddess gowns also gave a romantic flair to Kim Cattrall of HBO's "Sex and the City" ' in vintage Valentino and "Lost in Translation" ' director Sofia Coppola in Azzedine Alaia.

"It" s just very cool,'' Lennox said of Coppola's black vintage gown. "I think it looks great, but looks great from a different perspective." '

Most stars played it safe in gowns that revealed just enough to be sexy but not enough to steal the spotlight.

Lennox loved Uma Thurman's satin lavender gown and Charlize Theron's ultrafeminine, pale yellow ruffled gown.

"She is my favorite for the night," ' he said of Theron, who transformed herself to look like serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film "Monster." ' "Especially because you have the contrast of her in that movie and the way she looks tonight." '

Youthful, fresh looks were plentiful on the red carpet, like the nude-colored corset gown worn by 19-year-old "Lost in Translation" ' star Scarlett Johansson, a fashion enthusiast who sang a song as part of Cynthia Rowley's spring runway show in September in New York.

"Joan of Arcadia" ' star Amber Tamblyn, 20, wore a pale apricot corset gown with handkerchief train by designer Reem Acra. Evan Rachel Wood, 16, of "thirteen" ' wore a simple metallic gray spaghetti strap gown, with minimal, radiant makeup and loosely pulled up hair.

Elisha Cuthbert, 21, of Fox's "24" ' wore a 1950s inspired, ladylike look with a strapless, pale pink organza cocktail dress by Monique Lhuillier, accessorized with a small bouquet of roses at the waist.

"It" s a little prom queen but I love it,'' Cuthbert told Melissa Rivers on E! "I wanted to do simple, I didn" t want to do too crazy.''

Carson Kressley, the fashion guru on Bravo's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," ' got into the spring spirit, wearing a pink jacket.

But what about the fashion disasters? Lennox or Glamour magazine said the "don" ts'' were in short supply.

"I love Diane Lane but I did not love her dress tonight. It" s not like a huge 'don't' but it's like, eh,'' Lennox said of Lane's floral print strapless gown, one of the few patterned dresses of the evening. "It" s sort of disappointing when you know how much amazing stuff is out there.''

Gwen Stefani's mod, cap- sleeved white gown was anoth<-> er disappointment, Lennox said.

"It was hard to distinguish her hair from her dress," ' Lennox said of the platinum-blond singer's outfit. "But that" s kind of her role, she's the rocker chick coming into this.''

Diane Keaton wore all white in a funky getup with gloves, boots and a jacket buttoned high on her neck. Wearing all black was Sharon Stone, whose spiky platinum hairdo Lennox called a "don" t.'' But that's not always a bad thing, he said.

"As Lara Flynn Boyle demon strated spectacularly last year, sometimes when you" re a bit of a 'don't' you get more atten tion if you're a 'do,' '' Lennox said.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Doctors Remove 175-Pound Tumor from Woman.

A team of Romanian and U.S. doctors said Wednesday they had successfully removed a tumor weighing 175 pounds from a patient in an operation lasting 10 hours.

Lucica Bunghez, 47, had been largely confined to bed because of the tumor, which weighed almost double her body weight and covered her back, waist and hips.

"She is very well, the lack of the tumor really suits her," Ion Lascar, head of the plastic surgery department of Floreasca Hospital in Bucharest, told reporters.

Lascar headed the medical team together with a U.S. surgeon who successfully removed a 200-pound tumor from an American woman in 1998.

Bunghez's family said they had long tried unsuccessfully to raise money for the operation, which was eventually paid for by the Washington-based Discovery Channel in exchange for film rights.

The tumor, which initially appeared as a small lump when Bunghez was 22, was removed when it had reached 33 pounds but then reappeared and grew still bigger.

Other doctors had been afraid to operate on Bunghez because the area has many blood vessels and they lacked the experience and equipment to stop the bleeding.

According to the Guinness World Records, the largest tumor ever removed intact weighed 302 pounds. It was removed in 1991 and the woman patient made a full recovery.
Most Iran VPs, Ministers Quit in Protest .

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's worst political crisis in years deepened Wednesday, with the government saying most of its ministers and vice presidents have submitted resignations to protest the barring of thousands of would-be candidates from upcoming elections.

Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi warned that unless the candidates are reinstated, "the country will face many problems, both at home and abroad."

"Such disqualifications of prospective candidates is against democracy," Abtahi said after a Cabinet meeting. "The 1979 Islamic revolution was based on democracy, and such methods damage our Islamic democracy and turn elections into sham elections."

Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told The Associated Press that most of Iran's six vice presidents and 24 ministers have handed letters of resignation to President Mohammad Khatami. He didn't identify them.

The officials accuse conservatives of trying to skew the Feb. 20 parliamentary elections in their favor. Hard-liners control the Guardian Council, the powerful unelected body that disqualified more than a third of the 8,200 people who applied to be candidates.

State media controlled by hard-liners say those disqualified failed to meet the legal criteria for candidacy. They include 80 liberal members of parliament, who have been holding sit-ins and dawn-to-dusk fasts to protest the decision.

The council on Tuesday reinstated 200 of the disqualified candidates and said it would reconsider the rest.

But reformists said the reinstatements were not enough. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari presented a report during Wednesday's Cabinet session saying the hard-liners want to secure at least 180 seats in the 290-seat parliament.

"A number of Cabinet ministers and a number of vice presidents have resigned," Abtahi said. "Naturally, they are waiting to see how things go. The Cabinet ministers are very serious in their resignation."

Khatami, a leading reformer, must approve the resignations for them to take effect.

Khatami has threatened to resign if the disqualifications are not reversed. On Wednesday, however, he refused to take that step.

"Because of my position, I have the responsibility to show that I serve the people," he said in an interview with SF DRS public television in Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Forum. "I intend to continue in my job and to serve the people. I intend to fulfill my duty."

Abtahi said a presidential committee has been trying to resolve the crisis but has made little progress. When asked if he too had offered his resignation, Abtahi smiled but did not respond.
In Germany, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for free elections.

"We follow very closely the developments in Iran," Annan said. "I hope they will be able to find a way to resolve their differences, so that one can have free and fair elections with participation of all the parties."

Political analyst Reza Mahmoudi said most Iranians don't expect the officials to follow through on their resignation threat.

"The resignations are apparently intended to raise hopes and get a disappointed young nation back to the ballot boxes," he said. "Although the fight is now very serious, people will realize this only if reformers boycott the polls altogether."

Political activist Hasan Zarezadeh said the tactics will have no effect on the hard-liners.

"This is the final battle for survival," he said. "Hard-liners don't want reformers in power and are determined to take control of parliament at any cost. Reformers need to boycott polls or stand up firmly if they want to have any future."
Prison wares may be rip-off.

SACRAMENTO -- State agencies are forced to buy office furniture and supplies at prices sharply higher than retail under a program that officials say is certain to face intense scrutiny as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks for ways to trim spending.

The Prison Industry Authority generates $150 million in revenue by paying prison inmates 40 cents an hour to manufacture 1,800 items, including notebooks and desks. It also may buy items and mark up the prices before making deliveries to state agencies.

A comparison of the authority's Internet catalog and Web sites of various office-products retailers shows the state pays up to 135 percent of retail for some items -- such as $2.35 for an inch-thick notebook binder available at Staples for 99 cents -- and more than 60 percent for others, including a $770 desk available from BuyOnlineNow.com for $462.

"The (governor's) California Performance Review, I believe, will make this an issue for review as part of the administration's analysis and recommendation on how to do things differently," said Fred Aguiar, the governor's secretary for state and consumer services, who oversees procurement. The California Performance Review is the governor's plan to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of all state expenditures.

Prison officials defend the prison program, saying the money that state agencies spend for products also lowers prison violence and reduces recidivism by providing inmates with job skills they can use when they are paroled.

But critics say this practice obscures what state taxpayers actually spend on prisons and might not be a cost-efficient way to accomplish the job-training goals. Administration sources say this could be a perfect example of Schwarzenegger's comments during the recall campaign when he said no one really knows how much money state government is spending -- and on what.

The Department of Corrections has endured a barrage of attacks in recent years due, in part, to huge cost overruns that have become typical even though the annual budget has grown in the face of a declining inmate population. The department has been criticized for a large pay raise that the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards union, secured in the midst of the state's massive deficits.

This week, state Senate hearings revealed code-of-silence allegations against prison guards, and last year hearings focused on corruption among investigators who function as the Department of Corrections' version of internal affairs officers.

California law requires all state agencies to purchase office furniture and supplies from the Prison Industry Authority, which manufactures products and provides services for resale to all government agencies, including offices run by legislators and the governor.

Critics are dubious of the authority's cost-effectiveness in part because more than 50 percent of its revenues fund expenses related to guards -- for supervision, administration and transportation of inmate workers -- and because the law permits the authority to purchase wholesale and resell products and services when prison factories or inmate personnel cannot meet demand. These resales account for 3 percent of the authority's annual earnings.

"What you have here is another government bureaucracy that operates as inefficiently as government bureaucracies tend to operate," said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, a longtime critic of government waste.

Without the Prison Industry Authority, officials argue, the Department of Corrections would have to allocate about $14 million annually to fund an alternate program that addresses recidivism and prison violence -- or at least keeps inmates occupied -- and to replace other benefits. They said the benefits include victim-restitution payments that inmates are required to pay out of prison earnings and incarceration costs now saved by giving the employed inmates time off their sentence for every day worked.

Up to 30 percent of an inmate's earnings is deducted for court-ordered restitution and fines, and the money is deposited into a restitution fund. In fiscal year 2002-03, inmates employed by the program paid more than $430,000 into the fund, adding to a total topping $4.6 million since 1992-93, according to the authority.

"There are a number of security issues that add to the cost of doing business," Prison Industry Authority spokesman Frank Losco said.

Criticism of the Prison Industry Authority surfaces about every four years, officials say. In 1998, the Bureau of State Audits revealed that the authority up until then had purchased finished goods 656 times and lost $208,000 on their resale. The loss was blamed on poor inventory planning and procurement methods.

The authority was established under the Department of Corrections in 1983 and employs 6,000 inmates in about 60 agricultural, manufacturing and service industries at 22 prisons. In addition to office furniture and supplies, the authority manufactures clothing, food products, shoes, signs, eyewear, gloves and license plates.

Lawmakers face a deficit of $14 billion in 2004-05 and an as-yet undetermined shortfall in 2005-06. Schwarzenegger has vowed to scour government programs for waste and inefficiency, and he might focus on the Prison Industry Authority because it provides many goods and services that could be contracted out to private-sector firms for a cost savings to taxpayers.

'It's just another example of why the governor's goals and policies and mission to review and reorganize the way state government procures goods and services and contracts for goods and services is extremely important," Aguiar said.

McClintock is preparing legislation that, if passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature and signed by the governor, would allow the state to contract out more goods and services with private-sector firms. McClintock believes the state prison system generally has priced itself out of the market and costs taxpayers far more than it should.

While that might be true of corrections generally, Prison Industry Authority officials argue that the agency gives taxpayers their money's worth.

"The question comes up, and I understand the question. That's why typically I invite people out to see how we operate," Losco said.
Prison wares may be rip-off.

SACRAMENTO -- State agencies are forced to buy office furniture and supplies at prices sharply higher than retail under a program that officials say is certain to face intense scrutiny as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks for ways to trim spending.

The Prison Industry Authority generates $150 million in revenue by paying prison inmates 40 cents an hour to manufacture 1,800 items, including notebooks and desks. It also may buy items and mark up the prices before making deliveries to state agencies.

A comparison of the authority's Internet catalog and Web sites of various office-products retailers shows the state pays up to 135 percent of retail for some items -- such as $2.35 for an inch-thick notebook binder available at Staples for 99 cents -- and more than 60 percent for others, including a $770 desk available from BuyOnlineNow.com for $462.

"The (governor's) California Performance Review, I believe, will make this an issue for review as part of the administration's analysis and recommendation on how to do things differently," said Fred Aguiar, the governor's secretary for state and consumer services, who oversees procurement. The California Performance Review is the governor's plan to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of all state expenditures.

Prison officials defend the prison program, saying the money that state agencies spend for products also lowers prison violence and reduces recidivism by providing inmates with job skills they can use when they are paroled.

But critics say this practice obscures what state taxpayers actually spend on prisons and might not be a cost-efficient way to accomplish the job-training goals. Administration sources say this could be a perfect example of Schwarzenegger's comments during the recall campaign when he said no one really knows how much money state government is spending -- and on what.

The Department of Corrections has endured a barrage of attacks in recent years due, in part, to huge cost overruns that have become typical even though the annual budget has grown in the face of a declining inmate population. The department has been criticized for a large pay raise that the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards union, secured in the midst of the state's massive deficits.

This week, state Senate hearings revealed code-of-silence allegations against prison guards, and last year hearings focused on corruption among investigators who function as the Department of Corrections' version of internal affairs officers.

California law requires all state agencies to purchase office furniture and supplies from the Prison Industry Authority, which manufactures products and provides services for resale to all government agencies, including offices run by legislators and the governor.

Critics are dubious of the authority's cost-effectiveness in part because more than 50 percent of its revenues fund expenses related to guards -- for supervision, administration and transportation of inmate workers -- and because the law permits the authority to purchase wholesale and resell products and services when prison factories or inmate personnel cannot meet demand. These resales account for 3 percent of the authority's annual earnings.

"What you have here is another government bureaucracy that operates as inefficiently as government bureaucracies tend to operate," said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, a longtime critic of government waste.

Without the Prison Industry Authority, officials argue, the Department of Corrections would have to allocate about $14 million annually to fund an alternate program that addresses recidivism and prison violence -- or at least keeps inmates occupied -- and to replace other benefits. They said the benefits include victim-restitution payments that inmates are required to pay out of prison earnings and incarceration costs now saved by giving the employed inmates time off their sentence for every day worked.

Up to 30 percent of an inmate's earnings is deducted for court-ordered restitution and fines, and the money is deposited into a restitution fund. In fiscal year 2002-03, inmates employed by the program paid more than $430,000 into the fund, adding to a total topping $4.6 million since 1992-93, according to the authority.

"There are a number of security issues that add to the cost of doing business," Prison Industry Authority spokesman Frank Losco said.

Criticism of the Prison Industry Authority surfaces about every four years, officials say. In 1998, the Bureau of State Audits revealed that the authority up until then had purchased finished goods 656 times and lost $208,000 on their resale. The loss was blamed on poor inventory planning and procurement methods.

The authority was established under the Department of Corrections in 1983 and employs 6,000 inmates in about 60 agricultural, manufacturing and service industries at 22 prisons. In addition to office furniture and supplies, the authority manufactures clothing, food products, shoes, signs, eyewear, gloves and license plates.

Lawmakers face a deficit of $14 billion in 2004-05 and an as-yet undetermined shortfall in 2005-06. Schwarzenegger has vowed to scour government programs for waste and inefficiency, and he might focus on the Prison Industry Authority because it provides many goods and services that could be contracted out to private-sector firms for a cost savings to taxpayers.

'It's just another example of why the governor's goals and policies and mission to review and reorganize the way state government procures goods and services and contracts for goods and services is extremely important," Aguiar said.

McClintock is preparing legislation that, if passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature and signed by the governor, would allow the state to contract out more goods and services with private-sector firms. McClintock believes the state prison system generally has priced itself out of the market and costs taxpayers far more than it should.

While that might be true of corrections generally, Prison Industry Authority officials argue that the agency gives taxpayers their money's worth.

"The question comes up, and I understand the question. That's why typically I invite people out to see how we operate," Losco said.
Prison wares may be rip-off.

SACRAMENTO -- State agencies are forced to buy office furniture and supplies at prices sharply higher than retail under a program that officials say is certain to face intense scrutiny as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger looks for ways to trim spending.

The Prison Industry Authority generates $150 million in revenue by paying prison inmates 40 cents an hour to manufacture 1,800 items, including notebooks and desks. It also may buy items and mark up the prices before making deliveries to state agencies.

A comparison of the authority's Internet catalog and Web sites of various office-products retailers shows the state pays up to 135 percent of retail for some items -- such as $2.35 for an inch-thick notebook binder available at Staples for 99 cents -- and more than 60 percent for others, including a $770 desk available from BuyOnlineNow.com for $462.

"The (governor's) California Performance Review, I believe, will make this an issue for review as part of the administration's analysis and recommendation on how to do things differently," said Fred Aguiar, the governor's secretary for state and consumer services, who oversees procurement. The California Performance Review is the governor's plan to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of all state expenditures.

Prison officials defend the prison program, saying the money that state agencies spend for products also lowers prison violence and reduces recidivism by providing inmates with job skills they can use when they are paroled.

But critics say this practice obscures what state taxpayers actually spend on prisons and might not be a cost-efficient way to accomplish the job-training goals. Administration sources say this could be a perfect example of Schwarzenegger's comments during the recall campaign when he said no one really knows how much money state government is spending -- and on what.

The Department of Corrections has endured a barrage of attacks in recent years due, in part, to huge cost overruns that have become typical even though the annual budget has grown in the face of a declining inmate population. The department has been criticized for a large pay raise that the powerful California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the prison guards union, secured in the midst of the state's massive deficits.

This week, state Senate hearings revealed code-of-silence allegations against prison guards, and last year hearings focused on corruption among investigators who function as the Department of Corrections' version of internal affairs officers.

California law requires all state agencies to purchase office furniture and supplies from the Prison Industry Authority, which manufactures products and provides services for resale to all government agencies, including offices run by legislators and the governor.

Critics are dubious of the authority's cost-effectiveness in part because more than 50 percent of its revenues fund expenses related to guards -- for supervision, administration and transportation of inmate workers -- and because the law permits the authority to purchase wholesale and resell products and services when prison factories or inmate personnel cannot meet demand. These resales account for 3 percent of the authority's annual earnings.

"What you have here is another government bureaucracy that operates as inefficiently as government bureaucracies tend to operate," said state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, a longtime critic of government waste.

Without the Prison Industry Authority, officials argue, the Department of Corrections would have to allocate about $14 million annually to fund an alternate program that addresses recidivism and prison violence -- or at least keeps inmates occupied -- and to replace other benefits. They said the benefits include victim-restitution payments that inmates are required to pay out of prison earnings and incarceration costs now saved by giving the employed inmates time off their sentence for every day worked.

Up to 30 percent of an inmate's earnings is deducted for court-ordered restitution and fines, and the money is deposited into a restitution fund. In fiscal year 2002-03, inmates employed by the program paid more than $430,000 into the fund, adding to a total topping $4.6 million since 1992-93, according to the authority.

"There are a number of security issues that add to the cost of doing business," Prison Industry Authority spokesman Frank Losco said.

Criticism of the Prison Industry Authority surfaces about every four years, officials say. In 1998, the Bureau of State Audits revealed that the authority up until then had purchased finished goods 656 times and lost $208,000 on their resale. The loss was blamed on poor inventory planning and procurement methods.

The authority was established under the Department of Corrections in 1983 and employs 6,000 inmates in about 60 agricultural, manufacturing and service industries at 22 prisons. In addition to office furniture and supplies, the authority manufactures clothing, food products, shoes, signs, eyewear, gloves and license plates.

Lawmakers face a deficit of $14 billion in 2004-05 and an as-yet undetermined shortfall in 2005-06. Schwarzenegger has vowed to scour government programs for waste and inefficiency, and he might focus on the Prison Industry Authority because it provides many goods and services that could be contracted out to private-sector firms for a cost savings to taxpayers.

'It's just another example of why the governor's goals and policies and mission to review and reorganize the way state government procures goods and services and contracts for goods and services is extremely important," Aguiar said.

McClintock is preparing legislation that, if passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature and signed by the governor, would allow the state to contract out more goods and services with private-sector firms. McClintock believes the state prison system generally has priced itself out of the market and costs taxpayers far more than it should.

While that might be true of corrections generally, Prison Industry Authority officials argue that the agency gives taxpayers their money's worth.

"The question comes up, and I understand the question. That's why typically I invite people out to see how we operate," Losco said.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Has anybody been following what is happening to the Iraqi dinar the last couple of weeks?

It seems someone stuck the dinar on a Helium filled balloon and let it loose, the dinar keeps getting stronger and stronger; the foreign exchange market in Harthiya is in total shock. If things keep going the way they are the dinar will be worth twice as much as it was a month ago.

At new year�s the exchange rate was around 1750 dinars for a dollar, today it is 1150 for a dollar. No other subject is being discussed at the barber�s (yes Raed and I finally got a haircut). Last night during the late night news it said the dollar was selling for 1300, and today at 1150, tsk tsk tsk. The rise and rise of the Iraqi dinar. [Insert phallic or silly Viagra joke here].

Government employees being paid in dinar feel now that their money is worth much more. My Barber while snip-snapping at the little hair I have on my head; decided to stop the grumblers in his shop by announcing that there is nothing better than having a strong currency you are proud of �by Allah all those Iraqis working abroad should come back, now that working so hard abroad doesn�t pay off as much as it used to let them come work here in their country��.yep, I have a wise barber.
Morning News Roundup

If you hadn't heard, the Iowa caucuses were last night, as reported by the AP, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. Today Howard Dean, John Kerry, and John Edwards move on to New Hampshire for next week's primary, while the Los Angeles Times reports that Congressman Dick Gephardt is likely to withdraw from the race.

Speaking last night in Des Moines, Dean told supporters, "You worked hard, you got our ticket punched to New Hampshire!" The Los Angeles Times reports that Dean was "reinvigorated" by the results:
"We will not give up!" he declared, his gravelly voice barely audible over the din of applause . . . "We will not quit, now or ever! We want our country back!" He then declared that the best of his campaign was yet to come, encouraging volunteers to move on -- not just to New Hampshire and South Carolina, but to half a dozen other primary
states.

Reuters reports on Dean's middle-of-the-night return to New Hampshire, where hundreds of supporters turned out to rally:He cited . . . Bill Clinton, who won the presidency after losing Iowa[...] "Guess what, let's go get 'em," the former Vermont governor said. "We have hardly begun to fight.""I used to be the front-runner when I went out to Iowa but I'm not the front-runner anymore," Dean said. "New Hampshire has a great tradition of supporting the underdog."

In today's other big story, the AP outlines George W. Bush's plans for tonight's State of the Union address, while
Paul Krugman gives a preview of what we can expect :According to advance reports, George Bush will use tonight's State of the Union speech to portray himself as a visionary leader who stands above the political fray. But that act is losing its effectiveness. Mr. Bush's relentless partisanship has depleted much of the immense good will he enjoyed after 9/11. He is still adored by his base, but he is deeply distrusted by much of the nation [...] But his political handlers seem to have decided on a go-for-broke strategy: confuse the middle one last time, energize the base and grab enough power that the consequences don't matter.

What do I mean by confusing the middle? The striking thing about the "visionary" proposals floated in advance of the State of the Union is their transparent cynicism and lack of realism. Mr. Bush has, of course, literally promised us the Moon � and Mars, too. And the ever-deferential media have managed to keep a straight face.

But that's just the most dramatic example of an array of policy proposals that don't withstand even minimal scrutiny. Mr. Bush has already pushed through an expensive new Medicare benefit � without any visible source of financing. Reports say that tonight he'll propose additional, and even more expensive, new initiatives, like partial Social Security privatization � which all by itself would require at least $1 trillion in extra funds over the next decade. Where is all this money going to come from?

Judging from the latest CBS/New York Times Poll, these promises of something for nothing aren't likely to convince many people. It's not just that the bounce from Saddam's capture has already gone away. Unfavorable views of Mr. Bush as a person have reached record levels for his presidency. It seems fair to say that many Americans, like most of the rest of the world, simply don't trust him anymore.

So there it is--the next day of your campaign. Let's fight against the "confusing" of the middle. Write a letter to a voter, contribute, or come join the hundreds of volunteers and canvass in New Hampshire now.

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