Economist 1/26/15

  1. Some 386 jails in America—about 12% of the total—offer “video visits”.The option of a video visit might be useful for loved ones who live far away, so long as in-person visits are also allowed. But many prisons offer screen time instead of face time, arguing that prisoners do not need the latter since they can have the former. What is more, kiosks for calls are in public spaces, meaning that inmates have to be careful what they say. And calls are costly: $29.95 for 20 minutes of talk in Wisconsin’s Racine County, for example. Securus, a large firm providing communications services to 2,200 lockups, typically charges a dollar a minute for a video call . Five of the seven main companies that run video chats, including Securus, require a chunk of time to be bought in advance of a scheduled call—irritating if glitches ruin a session, as they often do.in-person visits ought to be encouraged: just one can reduce the likelihood of an inmate reoffending by 13%, according to a study in 2011. Incredibly, 74% of jails have banned visitors from seeing inmates after introducing video services. Securus has even demanded it.
  2. In Thailand, anyone who “defames, insults or threatens” the King, his heir, the Queen or a regent risks between three and 15 years in jail due to the lèse-majesté laws. For decades, the number of cases averaged around ten a year, but since 2004, they have soared to several hundred each year, as friction between Thailand’s populist governments and its traditional ruling establishment has erupted into conflict.Anyone can report an offence, and it is not only speech that breaks the rules. In 2011 a 61-year-old received a 20-year sentence for sending four offensive text messages; he denied the charges and died in prison the following year. People who fail to stand for the royal anthem, still played before most film screenings, or deface banknotes, which bear the King’s image, have fallen foul of the law. Foreigners who break the lèse-majesté law are often swiftly deported, but in recent years more of them have served jail terms.The palace regularly issues pardons, particularly if cases are well-publicised and miscreants apologetic, but the volume of prosecutions is moving upwards, all the same.
  3. With separatist forces again on the offensive, eastern Ukraine is taking ever darker turns. Nine months of battle and 5,000 deaths have only fueled the spread of cynicism and hate.Convoys carrying humanitarian aid, including medicine, to Donetsk and Luhansk have been blocked by Ukrainian battalions, drawing condemnation from Amnesty International.he West has found itself in a corner of its own: inaction now would amount to capitulation, while action means engaging in a fight few want. A “deeply concerned” President Obama has promised to consider all measures “short of military confrontation”. New sanctions seem likely, though America will have to cajole an already hesitant European Union.And with the Donbas rumbling, Russia’s other neighbours are taking note. Belarus’s newest military doctrine warns of little green men; Lithuania recently issued its citizens a Russian invasion survival manual.
  4. CATALAN independence, if it ever happens, has been pushed back at least seven months after the region’s president, Artur Mas, decided not to call a snap election but to opt instead for September 27th. The election is still being promoted as a plebiscite on independence, but not in the way Mr Mas once hoped. His original plan for a single list uniting all the separatist parties has been dropped at the insistence of his rivals from the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). In last-minute horse-trading, he accepted that ERC would stand separately from his own Convergence and Union (CiU) coalition, in exchange for its support for this year’s budget, which his minority government could not pass alone.
  5. FOR all their fans’ passion, Italian football clubs struggle to make profits. In the 1990s Italy’s Serie A was the most glamorous and high-profile of Europe’s five main football leagues; it has since fallen, in revenue terms, from second to fourth place. Italy’s league fell behind its peers partly because of the complacency of clubs’ owners. Tycoons treated them as trophy assets more than businesses. For those seeking to turn around a club’s finances, one of the most important tasks is to boost match-day takings, which account for 11% of total revenues in Serie A, compared with 23% in both the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga. That means improving the match-day experience.There is plenty of money coming in from television: the amount that broadcasters pay to show Italian football matches is second only to that in England.Italian businesspeople tend to take clients to dinner or the opera; and to persuade them to start bringing them to football matches, the facilities at grounds would need to be improved.
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