Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

U.S. Prison Population Seeing “Unprecedented Increase” -

U.S. Prison Population Seeing “Unprecedented Increase” - 

The research wing of the U.S. Congress is warning that three decades of “historically unprecedented” build-up in the number of prisoners incarcerated in the United States have led to a level of overcrowding that is now “taking a toll on the infrastructure” of the federal prison system.

Over the past 30 years, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the federal prison population has jumped from 25,000 to 219,000 inmates, an increase of nearly 790 percent. Swollen by such figures, for years the United States has incarcerated far more people than any other country, today imprisoning some 716 people out of every 100,000. (Although CRS reports are not made public, a copy can be found here.)

“This is one of the major human rights problems within the United States, as many of the people caught up in the criminal justice system are low income, racial and ethnic minorities, often forgotten by society,” Maria McFarland, deputy director for the U.S. programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

In recent years, as a consequence of the imposition of very harsh sentencing policies, McFarland’s office has seen new patterns emerging of juveniles and very elderly people being put in prison.

“Last year, some 95,000 juveniles under 18 years of age were put in prison, and that doesn’t count those in juvenile facilities,” she noted.

“And between 2007 and 2011, the population of those over 64 grew by 94 times the rate of the regular population. Prisons clearly aren’t equipped to take care of these aging people, and you have to question what threat they pose to society – and the justification for imprisoning them.”

According to the new CRS report, a growing number of these prisoners are being put away for charges related to immigration violations and weapons possession. But the largest number is for relatively paltry drug offences – an approach that report author Nathan James, a CRS analyst in crime policy, warns may not be useful in bringing down crime statistics.

“Research suggests that while incarceration did contribute to lower violent crime rates in the 1990s, there are declining marginal returns associated with ever increasing levels of incarceration,” James notes. He suggests that one potential explanation for this could be that people have been increasingly incarcerated for crimes in which there is a “high level of replacement”.

For instance, he says, if a serial rapist is incarcerated, the judicial system has the power to prevent further sexual assaults by that offender, and it is likely that no one will take the offender’s place. “However, if a drug dealer is incarcerated, it is possible that someone will step in to take that person’s place,” James writes. “Therefore, no further crimes may be averted by incarcerating the individual.”


See Spot spoon: Half of Canadian dog owners sleep with their pet -

See Spot spoon: Half of Canadian dog owners sleep with their pet - 

Millions of Canadians are sharing a bed with more than just their spouse – and 37 per cent of them would sooner eject their spouse than the interloper for snoring.

It’s no wonder a dog’s life is so celebrated.

A new nationwide survey finds 51 per cent of canine owners sleep with their furry friends, while 61 per cent acknowledge their pup’s birthday and 85 per cent regularly include their dog in family photos. In fact, 93 per cent of Canadian dog owners say Fido makes their family feel complete.

“As more couples are retiring and people are continuing not to have kids, dogs are absorbing a lot of the affection we have,” said Jill Priest, a noted Canadian dog trainer.

“But the more people pay attention to their dogs and want what’s best for them, the more they’ll learn that they’re not little people in fur suits. They’re dogs and need to be treated as such.”

Slowly but surely, that message appears to be reaching households with dogs, which represent 35 per cent of the population.

The poll finds, for example, that just two in five dog owners say their pooch shares a last name with their family. And kids are taking more of a leadership role, as opposed to establishing themselves as litter-mates: More than half of Canadian parents said their children keep their dog active through play, while a third said their children feed and walk their dog.

“It’s great for children’s confidence,” said Priest, who lives near Barrie, Ont. “And it teaches them to think outside of themselves and their own immediate needs.”

But pet humanization remains a key industry driver, according to a 2012 report by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The trend is credited with fuelling continued growth in the dog food category, which is projected to climb 11.5 per cent – to $1.1 billion – by 2016.

Quite simply, Canadians love their four-legged companions. Fully 85 per cent of owners credit their dogs for getting the family outside together to enjoy the outdoors, while 97 per cent say having a child look after a puppy fosters cooperation and generosity.


Extraordinary Rendition Report Finds More Than 50 Nations Involved In Global Torture Scheme - INCLUDING CANADA -

Extraordinary Rendition Report Finds More Than 50 Nations Involved In Global Torture Scheme - INCLUDING CANADA - 

The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were quietly moved to secret prisons abroad and often tortured, involved the participation of more than 50 nations, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Open Society Foundations.

The OSF report, which offers the first wholesale public accounting of the top-secret program, puts the number of governments that either hosted CIA "black sites," interrogated or tortured prisoners sent by the U.S., or otherwise collaborated in the program at 54. The report also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were at some point subjected to extraordinary rendition.

The number of nations and the names of those detained provide a stark tally of a program that was expanded widely -- critics say recklessly -- by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has been heavily condemned in the years since. In December, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, condemned the CIA's detention and interrogation efforts as "terrible mistakes."

Although Bush administration officials said they never intentionally sent terrorism suspects abroad in order to be tortured, the countries where the prisoners seemed to end up -- Egypt, Libya and Syria, among others -- were known to utilize coercive interrogation techniques.

Extraordinary rendition was also a factor in one of the greatest intelligence blunders of the Bush years. Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a Libyan national and top al Qaeda operative who was detained in Pakistan in late 2001, was later sent by the U.S. to Egypt. There, under the threat of torture, he alleged that Saddam Hussein had trained al Qaeda in biological and chemical warfare. He later withdrew the claim, but not before the U.S. invaded Iraq in part based on his faulty testimony.

When he came into office, President Barack Obama pledged to end the U.S. government's use of torture and issued an executive order closing the CIA's secret prisons around the world.

But Obama did not fully end the practice of rendition, which permits the U.S. to circumvent any due process obligations for terrorism suspects. Instead, the administration said it was relying on the less certain "diplomatic assurances" of host countries that they would not torture suspects sent to them for pretrial detention.

This decision, the OSF report concludes, was tantamount to continuing the program, since in the absence of any public accounting, it was impossible to measure the accuracy of those "assurances."

Without any public government records to read, Amrit Singh, the OSF's top legal analyst for national security and counterterrorism and the new report's author, turned to news reports, the investigations of a global network of human rights organizations, and the proceedings of a handful of foreign courts that have investigated their own countries' practices.

What Singh saw was a hasty global effort, spearheaded by the United States in the months after 9/11, to bypass longstanding legal structures in order to confront the emerging threat of international terrorism.

Singh condemned the consequences of that effort in the report's introduction. "By enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law -- including, in particular, the norm against torture," she wrote.

"Responsibility for this damage does not lie solely with the United States," Singh added, "but also with the numerous foreign governments without whose participation secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations could not have been carried out."

The list of those nations includes a range of American allies (Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany) and familiar Middle Eastern partners in the messy fight against radical Islam (Jordan, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates). Their alleged levels of participation vary widely, from countries like Poland, which agreed to host CIA black-site prisons, to nations like Portugal and Finland, which merely allowed their airspace and airports to be used for rendition flights.

A few of the nations involved, such as Australia and Sweden, have begun a process of public accounting and compensation for their roles in the process. Others, including Italy and Macedonia, have recently become embroiled in trials of local officials and CIA agents in absentia over their actions.


Read the report - 

Investors put more money in during Jan. than in any month since Feb 2000 - & we all remember what happened next -

Investors put more money in during Jan. than in any month since Feb 2000 - & we all remember what happened next - 

The way to make money in the stock market is to buy cheap and sell dear. The average mutual fund investor, however, does the opposite: buying at or near market peaks, selling out near bottoms, missing most of the subsequent run-up, then buying again after the market has risen. That sounds elitist, to be sure -- but it happens to be true.
That's the lens through which I'm looking at some fascinating statistics from TrimTabs Investment Research. Last month, TrimTabs says, retail investors put a record $39.3 billion into U.S. mutual funds and exchange traded funds.
The previous one-month record, you'll be glad to know, was $34.6 billion, set in February of 2000. That was at the height of the tech-telecom stock bubble, which began to burst the following month.
It took seven years for the market to regain its 2000 highs. And guess what? That year, 2007, was the last year that investors were net purchasers of U.S. stock funds. That means they bought just in time to get whacked when stock prices began their sickening slide.


The power of TV: watching 20 hours a week halves sperm count, according to new study -

The power of TV: watching 20 hours a week halves sperm count, according to new study - 

Men who watch more than 20 hours of television a week risk halving their sperm count, researchers warn.

A sedentary lifestyle can have a major impact on a man’s ability to reproduce, the research found.

And while regular, vigorous exercise was shown to boost sperm count, excessive television-watching can counteract the positive effects of physical activity.

The study, published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at the lifestyles of 189 healthy men between the ages of 18 and 22, over a three-month period, to establish a link between environmental factors and semen quality.

It found an increasingly idle lifestyle might be a contributing factor to declining sperm levels. Other factors assessed included medical or reproductive health problems, diet, stress levels and smoking.

Men who watched more than 20 hours of television a week had a sperm count 44 per cent lower than those who watched the least, it found.

Volunteers who were most physically active, doing more than 15 hours of exercise a week, had a 73 per cent higher sperm count than the least physically active.

However, men who did regular exercise but also watched a lot of TV recorded lower sperm counts.

The study has bolstered concerns that sperm counts and quality in the Western world have deteriorated over the past few decades. In December, the world’s largest investigation into this area found quality and concentration had fallen sharply. Between 1989 and 2005, average sperm counts fell by a third according to analysis of 26,000 men.

A worldwide drop in sperm count levels has also been accompanied by a rise in testicular cancer – rates have doubled in the last 30 years – and in other male sexual disorders such as undescended testes. A separate investigation last year challenged guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which suggests smoking and drinking can have an adverse effect on sperm stocks.

The study by researchers at the University of Sheffield and Manchester compared the lifestyles of 939 men with poor sperm quality with 1,310 men with normal sperm quality. It found “little evidence” that a high BMI, excessive alcohol consumption or recreational drugs were contributing factors to sperm quality.

It also found that wearing boxer shorts rather than tighter underwear was linked to higher sperm levels.

Dr George Chavarro from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School at Public Health, senior author of the recent study, said: “In general, very little is known about what influences sperm count.”

There was even evidence that high levels of physical activity might have a detrimental effect on quality and quantity.

“I was sceptical of the results of the study on athletes because they are not representative of normal people, because of the high levels of intensity that these people achieve,” Dr Chavarro adds.

“One of the few things we do know is that obesity lowers sperm count – the idea that a more sedentary lifestyle speaks to that.”

Health tips: boost sperm count

Keep cool  Looser underwear raises body temperature so opt for boxer shorts over Y-fronts

Eat more seafood  Oysters in particular contain zinc, which plays a role in “activating” sperm

Go organic  Some pesticides found in food can stop testosterone production for up to 17 hours

Eat nuts  Studies suggest walnuts, right, improve the vitality and motility of sperm

Drink less  Excessive alcohol consumption may lower testosterone levels by up to 20 per cent

Read more -