Wednesday, January 03, 2007

America, You Are Beautiful

Kamala Sarup
January 3, 2007

At present I am talking about freedom which never ends or ceases. Freedom should not burn like acigarette. Freedom should be like the moon which symbolizes light in the dark night - a symbol of regard .

Your freedom means, existence of earth, stars, the moon and to the moment by heart, soul and mind.

Today, I wish you a Happy New Year as well as a prosperous year.

I know, freedom is the supreme truth.

I believe in freedom, like the sun iscovered. Whenever you will be in the extreme feel of freedom, the pain and sorrow will be wiped out. This is the foundation of your freedom America.

I am fully experienced now, what is to be taken positively. To unite in feeling is the ultimate thing in this world. I hope you will do your best with patience, activeness, experience, responsibility to achieve the current goal. I am confident that you will take everything with honors and respect.

After my meeting with you, every second, minute and hour is memorable to me. To be very frank, you have become the part of my heart.

Sometime we need to fight to achieve the goal of freedom. I believe, strong feeling keeps the freedom strong.

There must be strength in our determination. Freedom ultimately provides satisfaction. This is the life activeness.

Your beauty America, carrying the flower of faith and confidence. It is heart that should be taller and greater than our life, freedom cannot be sold. By stitching our heart ,we can share our tears !

Outside, the moon is beautiful. I think is that freedom should be like a moon which stares at the earth without a click. This age , the moment of internet has helped me to be the happiest creature of this world. The cool breeze is blowing outside . I can see the long ribbon like road to the south of my rented -room. The road is busy. It has become my duty to look up the busy road, the road is road . It does not loose its track like the heart . This might be the prime feature of road . The vehicles and crowd make the road busy . The road never hesitates.There is no cold outside .

The environment is attractive. I stop to watch the crowd and the kids on the road. The streets are busy and the people in thestreet are more busy. So now, I believe in deepfreedom and love which I think must be delicateas well . It is my assumption that freedomshould be as delicate as flower.

If we accept this principle we will be one stepforward in the field of freedom and we candedicate our self for the immortality of humanityand love.

When I feel love for you, the moment becomes the most important moment. Let's keep your freedom continuously.

Nepali Journalist and Story Writer Kamala Sarupis an editor of She isspecialising in in-depth reporting and writing onPeace, Anti War, Women, Terrorism, Democracy, andDevelopment. Some of her publications are:Women's Empowerment (Booklet). Prevention oftrafficking in women through media,(Book) Effortsto Prevent Trafficking in for Media Activism(Media research). Two Stories collections. Herinterests include international conflictresolution, cross-cultural communication,philosophy, feminism, political, socio-economicand literature. Her current plans are to move onto humanitarian work in conflict areas in thenear future. She also is experienced inorganizational and community development.

Wal-Mart Seeks New Flexibility In Worker Shifts

By Kris Maher
The Wall Street Journal
January 3, 2007; Page A1

The nation's biggest private employer is about to revamp the way it schedules its work force, in a move that could shake up many employees' lives.

Early this year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., using a new computerized scheduling system, will start moving many of its 1.3 million workers from predictable shifts to a system based on the number of customers in stores at any given time. The move promises greater productivity and customer satisfaction for the huge retailer but could be a major headache for employees.

The change is made possible by a software system that can crunch an array of data, part of a shift toward computerized management tools that can help pare costs and boost companies' bottom lines. But it also could demand greater flexibility and availability from workers in place of reliable work shifts -- and predictable paychecks.

Wal-Mart began implementing the new system for some workers, including cashiers and accounting-office personnel, last year. As the world's largest retailer, the Bentonville, Ark., company often sets the standard for others, and many chains already are heading in the same direction.

Others that have rolled out advanced scheduling systems in the past year or are currently doing so include Payless ShoeSource Inc., RadioShack Corp. and Mervyns LLC. Payless expects to have its system in 300 of 4,000 stores by the end of January. The system, designed by Kronos Inc., tracks individual store sales, transactions, units sold and customer traffic in 15-minute increments over seven weeks, and compares data to the prior year's, before scheduling workers.

Payless hopes to "optimize our schedules to better anticipate when customers will be in our stores so that we can better engage them," says Larry Leibach, the shoe retailer's director of project management.

A company using these fine-tuned programs might start the day with a few employees on hand at many stores, bring in a bunch more during busy midday hours, and gradually pare down through the day before bulking up for the evening rush.

Staffing is the latest arena in which companies are trying to wring costs and attain new efficiencies. The latest so-called scheduling-optimization systems can integrate data ranging from the number of in-store customers at certain hours to the average time it takes to sell a television or unload a truck, and help predict how many workers will be needed at any given hour.

Companies also hope the scheduling systems will cut litigation by helping them comply with federal wage-and-hour laws, and variations at the state level on everything from the timing and frequency of breaks to how many hours minors can be scheduled. Moreover, retailers say tighter scheduling lets them better serve customers by shortening checkout lines.

"There's been a new push for labor optimization," says Nikki Baird of Forrester Research Inc. "You want to have the flexibility to more closely match ... shifts to when the demand is there."

But while the new systems are expected to benefit both retailers and customers, some experts say they can saddle workers with unpredictable schedules. In some cases, they may be asked to be "on call" to meet customer surges, or sent home because of a lull, resulting in less pay. The new systems also alert managers when a worker is approaching full-time status or overtime, which would require higher wages and benefits, so they can scale back that person's schedule.

That means workers may not know when or if they will need a babysitter or whether they will work enough hours to pay that month's bills. Rather than work three eight-hour days, someone might now be plugged into six four-hour days, mornings one week and evenings the next.

Some analysts say the new systems will result in more irregular part-time work. "The whole point is workers were a fixed cost, now they're a variable cost. Is it good for workers? Probably not," says Kenneth Dalto, a management consultant in Farmington Hills, Mich.

Unions have criticized Wal-Mart for its scheduling changes, saying the company is forcing people to be available to work more hours each week but to sacrifice a more regular schedule. Paul Blank, campaign director for, funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, says the new scheduling system has "devastating implications" for employees.

"What the computer is trying to optimize is the most number of part-time and least number of full-time workers at the lowest labor costs, with no regard for the effect that it has on workers' lives," he says.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark says the system isn't intended to schedule fewer workers, and hasn't where it has been implemented so far. The company says that in one test last year in 39 stores, 70% of customers said the checkout experience had improved. "The advantages are simple: We will benefit by improving the shopping experience by having the right number of associates to meet our customers' needs when they shop our stores," Ms. Clark said.

In the past, store managers for Wal-Mart and other huge retailers, including Sears Holdings Corp.'s Kmart, Payless and J. Crew, scheduled workers based on store promotions and weekly sales figures from the previous year. By comparison, the software systems created by workforce-management software companies such as Workbrain Inc., Kronos and CyberShift Inc. rely on real-time data feeds, such as sales rung up at the cash register and customer traffic.

The systems can boost productivity by freeing up managers. While it can take managers an entire day to create schedules for several hundred workers at a single big-box store, staffing can now be drawn up across an entire company in a few hours. Workbrain says it generates schedules for Target Corp.'s 350,000 U.S. employees at 1,500 locations in less than six hours. Target declined to comment on its scheduling system.

Store chains spent $55 million on licensing fees for work-force-management software in 2005, up from $44 million in 2004, according to AMR Research Inc. in Boston. AMR analyst Robert Garf estimates revenue for these systems grew by 15% to 20% in 2006. "We're really at this tipping point today," he says.

Wal-Mart is rolling out the new "optimizer" system from an outside vendor in all its stores and for all employees this year. Wal-Mart asks hourly employees to fill out the hours they can work on "personal availability" forms. A copy provided by WakeUpWalMart states that all full-time cashiers and customer-service workers are encouraged to consider including "if at all possible" a weekend shift every week. "Limiting your personal availability may restrict the number of hours you are scheduled," the form reads.

Some workers say the form has been used to pressure them to be open to more shifts. Tami Orth, a full-time cashier in Ludington, Mich., says she used to work a regular schedule of nearly 35 hours a week, with Mondays and Wednesdays off. In May, managers began to assign her as few as 12 hours a week, and her shifts began to fluctuate. "You can't budget anything," says Ms. Orth, who earns $9.32 an hour.

Some longtime workers also say they believe managers use the system to pressure them to quit. After working 16 years at a Wal-Mart in Hastings, Minn., Karen Nelson says managers told her she had to be open to working nights and weekends. After she refused, her hours were trimmed, though they have been restored in recent months. "The store manager said he could get two people for what he pays me," says Ms. Nelson, who earns about $14.50 an hour.

Ms. Orth and Ms. Nelson both had contacted union critics of the company in recent months.
Ms. Clark denied managers use the system to pressure people to change their availability or force out seasoned workers. She also said the new system makes schedules more consistent.

Write to Kris Maher at

This Is Your Brain on Drugs, Dad

By Mike Miles
The New York Times
January 3, 2007

WHEN releasing last week’s Monitoring the Future survey on drug use, John P. Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, boasted that “broad” declines in teenage drug use promise “enormous beneficial consequences not only for our children now, but for the rest of their lives.” Actually, anybody who has looked carefully at the report and other recent federal studies would see a dramatically different picture: skyrocketing illicit drug abuse and related deaths among teenagers and adults alike.

While Monitoring the Future, an annual study that depends on teenagers to self-report on their behavior, showed that drug use dropped sharply in the last decade, the National Center for Health Statistics has reported that teenage deaths from illicit drug abuse have tripled over the same period. This reverses 25 years of declining overdose fatalities among youths, suggesting that teenagers are now joining older generations in increased drug use.

What the Monitoring the Future report does have right is that teenagers remain the least part of America’s burgeoning drug abuse crisis. Today, after 20 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and millions of arrests and imprisonments in the war on drugs, America’s rate of drug-related deaths, hospital emergencies, crime and social ills stand at record highs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans dying from the abuse of illegal drugs has leaped by 400 percent in the last two decades, reaching a record 28,000 in 2004. The F.B.I. reported that drug arrests reached an all-time high of 1.8 million in 2005. The Drug Abuse Warning Network, a federal agency that compiles statistics on hospital emergency cases caused by illicit drug abuse, says that number rose to 940,000 in 2004 — a huge increase over the last quarter century.

Why are so few Americans aware of these troubling trends? One reason is that today’s drug abusers are simply the “wrong” group. As David Musto, a psychiatry professor at Yale and historian of drug abuse, points out, wars on drugs have traditionally depended on “linkage between a drug and a feared or rejected group within society.” Today, however, the fastest-growing population of drug abusers is white, middle-aged Americans. This is a powerful mainstream constituency, and unlike with teenagers or urban minorities, it is hard for the government or the news media to present these drug users as a grave threat to the nation.

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6 of 75 cities get top disaster rating: DHS Makes " interoperable communications" an issue

By Devlin Barrett
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - On Sept. 11, 2001, New York fire battalion chief Dennis Devlin issued an urgent plea: His men were in "a state of confusion" and needed more working radios immediately. Yet, more than five years since Devlin and 342 other members of the city's fire department perished at the World Trade Center, the government says only six U.S. cities have fully answered the late fire chief's call by adopting advanced emergency communications systems.

New York is not one of the six, according to the scorecard by the Homeland Security Department that was to be released Wednesday.

A draft portion of the report obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press gives the best ratings to the Washington, D.C., area; San Diego; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Columbus, Ohio; Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Laramie County, Wyo.

The lowest scores go to Chicago; Cleveland; Baton Rouge, La.; Mandan, N.D.; and American Samoa. The report includes large and small cities and their suburbs, along with U.S. territories.

In an overview, the report says all 75 areas surveyed have policies in place for helping their emergency workers communicate. But it also finds that "formalized governance (leadership and planning) across regions has lagged."

Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke would not comment on the report, saying only that in releasing it Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will "talk about nationwide assessments for interoperable communications."

The study is likely to add fuel to what looms as a battle in Congress this year. Democrats who take over the majority this week have promised to try fixing the problem emergency agencies have communicating with each other but have not said specifically what they will do, how much it will cost or how they will pay for it.

"Five years after 9/11, we continue to turn a deaf ear to gaps in interoperable communications," — the term used for emergency agencies' abilities to talk to each other, said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "If it didn't have such potentially devastating consequences, it would be laughable."

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, revealed major problems in how well emergency agencies were able to talk to each other during a catastrophe. Many firefighters climbing the World Trade Center towers died when they were unable to hear police radio warnings to leave the crumbling buildings.

The report says first responders in New York now have well-established systems to communicate with each other — but not the best, most advanced possible. Thirteen U.S. cities score better than New York.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, $2.9 billion in federal grant money has been distributed to state and local first responders for the improvement of their emergency communications systems.
Yet just over a year ago, Hurricane Katrina underscored communication problems when radio transmissions were hindered because the storm's winds toppled towers.

A separate report the Homeland Security Department released last month found that emergency workers from different agencies are capable of talking to each other in two-thirds of 6,800 U.S. communities surveyed.

But David Boyd, who heads the Homeland Security office that conducted the study, said in an interview that only about 10 percent of them have systems so fully developed that different agencies can communicate with each other routinely. That survey did not name the cities that provided data.

In the report to be released Wednesday, communities were judged in three categories: operating procedures in place, use of communications systems and how effectively local governments have coordinated in preparation for a disaster.

Most of the areas surveyed included cities and their surrounding communities, based on the assumption that in a major crisis emergency personnel from all local jurisdictions would respond.
The areas with the six best scores were judged advanced in all three categories. The cities with the lowest grades had reached the early implementation stage for only one category, and intermediate grades in the other two categories.

The Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications took issue with the report's methodology and findings.

"We strongly disagree with the results of this study, and feel that the parameters of the study were inconsistent and limited," the statement said. "In some instances, the scorecard evaluated urban areas or regions that contain a small number of independent jurisdictions and compared them with urban areas or regions containing significantly higher numbers of independent jurisdictions — an apples to oranges comparison across the board."

The statement said that in 2006, Chertoff described the city's Operations Center, which is responsible for communications among various agencies and jurisdictions, "as a great model for the country."

Tammy Lapp, the emergency coordinator for Mandan and Morton County, N.D., said she was not surprised by their low ranking on the scorecard.
"We knew with our limited funds, we were going to fall short," she said.
Associated Press Writer Beverley Lumpkin contributed to this report.

Bush Grants Permanent Normal Trade to Vietnam

HANOI, Jan 3 Asia Pulse - US President George W Bush on December 29 signed a proclamation whereby the US formally extended full and normal trade relations with Vietnam and cleared the way for Vietnam to qualify for US military aid.

Bush lifted the trade restrictions that have been imposed on Vietnam under the so-called Jackson-Vanik Amendment since 1974.

"The US welcomes Vietnam's progress in enacting free market reforms, and looks forward to Vietnam becoming the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation on January 11," said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

In a memo to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Bush declared that the furnishing of defence materials and services to Vietnam would strengthen the security of the US and promote world peace.

Update: Thailand Still In “Some Turmoil”

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
January 3, 2007

On Tuesday, September 19, 2006 the military leaders of Thailand, in an unexpected coup, removed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was in New York City at a United Nations meeting for heads of state.

Shinawatra left Thailand the democratically elected head of state of a free nation and flew out of New York toward London a jobless man unable to return to the land of his birth.

Thaksin Shinawatra, was democratically elected twice. A billionaire, he was no angel. In fact, he was known for corruption in government. Critics charged that his universal health care program, food subsidies to the poor and care for the elderly and others were crass ways to buy votes. His critics said, when votes in the legislature looked to be on the fence, he’s buy the votes he needed to get what he wanted. His entire party was called “the mafia” by many Thais. The opposition sat out the last election in protest.

Shinawatra was also unable to stop a Muslim insurgency that was taking a mounting toll in lives in their terror campaign in southern Thailand.

We have learned that Shinawatra now resides in Beijing, where the Chinese welcome his business acumen, his money and his connections even if they have some doubts about the man himself.

In December 2005, Thailand's monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, criticized the Prime Minister in a speech. That probably signaled that Shinawatra’s government was on borrowed time.

In Thailand, a Muslim general took over. Democracy was lost.

Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, army commander in chief and an ally of the royal palace, engineered a bloodless coup. The coup-makers wore the monarchy's traditional colors, and the king later endorsed Sonthi's transitional government.

Part of the General’s rationalization for the coup was that his predecessor was unable to put down the Muslim insurrection.

On New Year’s Eve, Bangkok was rocked by the explosion of eight small bombs. Three people were killed and scores were injured. One bomb was diffused by police and did not explode, we are told.

An Irishman, an American and two Serbs were among at least 38 injured.

We were unable to determine the identity of the lone American.

Britons Alistair Graham, aged 47, and Paul Hewitt, aged 55, were among seven tourists hurt at a shopping precinct popular with visitors.

Now the Thai police say the bombs can be traced to the political opposition of the coup makers: the allies of former Prime Minister Shinawatra. The police are blaming Shinawatra’s mafia and not the Muslim insurgents.

So what evidence do the Thai police hold?

We’ve seen next to nothing in the mainstream media but insiders in Thailand told us this: the bombs used by the Muslims in the south use a vastly different detonation system from the bombs used in the New Year’s bombing. Thai police also say the Muslims usually target rich, foreign tourists to Thailand. The New Year’s bombs killed and injured only ordinary Thai people.

Shinawatra has denied any wrongdoing or involvement and as of this writing the Thai police have made no arrests.

Outside observers at the U.N. told us that Thailand was in “some turmoil.”

All we know for sure is this: the Thai tour industry which was just recovering from the tsunami two years ago can ill afford another setback.

``There are several overseas tourists canceling their bookings to Thailand,'' Suvit Yodmani, the minister of tourism and sport, said in comments broadcast by state-controlled Channel 9 television yesterday. ``In the short term, we admit the bombs will have a significant impact.''

And the Thai generals, for all their power, have not reinstated full order in their homeland.