Letter From the Editor Our Who's Next issue always builds off the power A-list, but rarely includes quite so many pioneers. Ségolène Royal , an unmarried mother with four kids, has so seduced France she appears likely to be its president. Li Keqiang , though still a provincial leader, is the name most cited as China's next paramount ruler. Daniel Ortega , the firebrand tossed out by Nicaraguan voters and kept out for two decades, is now back as, of all things, the moderate face of Latin populism. And in America, it looks like the next president could well be the first woman ( Hillary Clinton ) or the first black person ( Barack Obama ) to hold that office. It's an exciting time that makes one wonder: are the pioneers rising, or are the barriers falling? Tony Emerson, Managing Editor

It was built by the tsars as Russia's window on the West. But come 2008, St. Petersburg will be a symbol of something else--the rise of a center of power and money to rival Moscow. That's when a 300-meter tower built for the national gas giant Gazprom opposite the landmark Smolny Cathedral goes up. It's the first of a host of Kremlin-connected companies moving all or part of their operations to the northern capital. Transnefteprodukt, Russia's giant pipeline monopoly, will soon make the move, as will at least part of the Sovcomflot shipping company and the Vneshtorgbank foreign-trade bank.

Why St. Petersburg? One reason is that Gov. Valentina Matviyenko, a close Putin ally, has launched a drive to attract major Russian companies and seems willing to offer almost anything, from tax breaks to free buildings. The $2.5 billion corncob-shaped Gazprom tower, for instance, will be built at the city's expense. In return, Gazprom's oil subsidiary, Gazprom Neft, will shift its operations to St. Petersburg, which hopes to recoup the cost of the tower from the company's taxes within five years, says a spokesperson for Mikhail Oseyevsky, dep-uty governor of St. Petersburg in charge of economic development.

But that's not the whole story; in Russia, there's no big business without big politics. Many of the companies moving are headed by top Kremlin bureaucrats, who have an eye to the end of Vladimir Putin's final term of office in 2008. Gazprom, for one, is headed by two old Putin allies with strong St. Petersburg connections, Dmitry Medvedyev and Aleksei Miller. Putin himself, it has been widely rumored, may even take a top role in Gazprom after his retirement. Transnefteprodukt's board includes Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the presidential administration. The big idea? Building up St. Petersburg, home city to Putin and many of his Kremlin team, as an alter-native power center "is an insurance policy for when the next [Kremlin] team takes over," says the head of one Gazprom-owned media company. "If they are pushed out of power in Moscow, they will have comfortable jobs waiting for them."

Just weeks after Al-Jazeera's debut in English, the French have released their own news channel en anglais . Named France 24--but dubbed "CNN à la Française" by the French press--President Jacques Chirac's pet project finally made its debut this month in Paris, launching live from the Tuileries Gardens on Dec. 6. The idea first gathered momentum during the buildup to the Iraq war in 2003, when American stations like CNN and Fox dominated the international airwaves. The French hoped to carve out their niche as the competition.

It looks like their effort might be a case of too little, too late. While the media groups France Televisions and TF1 were scrambling to get France 24 up and running, Al-Jazeera English was already making its impact around the world. So far, the Arab network has proved to be far edgier--even though France 24 is founded in part on "the notion of contradiction," according to Gérard Saint-Paul, the channel's managing director for news and programming. Consider this example, though: while France 24 took its viewers to the Arab Street with a report on Egyptian Census takers, Al-Jazeera English managed a special report on the women of Hizbullah.

Like Al-Jazeera English, France 24 hopes to put the spotlight on the developing world. But the bottom line is this: Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English may always have the edge--it's primed with gulf-grade funding, while France 24 receives €80 million a year. In addition, Al-Jazeera will always have the advantage of being based in the Arab world. "I think people in these places are tired of seeing their regions through the eyes of foreigners," boasts Nigel Parsons, managing director of Al-Jazeera English.

Translation software is notoriously spotty. When NEWSWEEK plugged the phrase "This translation does not make sense" into one popular program, it produced a Russian phrase that, translated back, stated: "This transfer does not make the feeling."

But a new technique developed by Google may prompt an industry sea change. Instead of preprogramming set rules of grammar and vocabulary, Google's software, which launched earlier this year, teaches itself to translate by analyzing Web pages that already exist in multiple languages. The result, according to a study by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, is output that is significantly more fluent. Though the study wasn't designed as a product review, its results are striking: of 40 programs, Google's ranked in the top three in every category.

Still, human translators probably won't be out of work any time soon. Subjected to the NEWSWEEK test, translating to and from Korean, Google's software announced: "This translation does not understand."

It should be the start of peak ski season, but many European and North American mountains are still green. Is this a glimpse of the future of winter sports?


4 - Number of years out of the last decade in which the Alps have seen record warmth

90 - Percentage of Alpine ski areas that typically get enough snow to operate at least 100 days per year

30 - Percentage able to do so if average annual temperatures rise 4 degrees

60 - Percentage of Germany's ski resorts that would be at risk if temperatures rose only 1 degree

Saudi Arabia first warned Washington that a U.S. attack on Iraq could lead to chaos when Vice President Dick Cheney met with the then Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on the eve of invasion, says a Saudi diplomat in Washington. Now Abdullah is king, and his aides fear Iraq will become a "Bosnia-like conflict" or a regional cold war, pitting Shiite Iran against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states, says the diplomat, who demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. He says Riyadh has made clear to Washington that if the United States withdraws and Iraq collapses, the Saudis would be "forced" to protect Sunnis from persecution, leading to the "de facto partition" of Iraq, with Iran controlling the other half.

It's not clear how widely held this view is in Saudi circles. The resignation of Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal last week raised speculation about a split over how to deal with the United States in Iraq. U.S. analysts say Saudi intervention would likely be financial, working with Sunni neighbors Jordan and Egypt to provide weapons and training. Not that they're spoiling for war. "The Saudis are terrified and want us to stay there as long as possible, to keep the lid on the kettle," says Wayne White, a former deputy director of the State Department's Near Eastern intelligence office.

World AIDS Day rarely holds truly big surprises. This is a WHO event, after all. But the AIDS day that fell on Dec. 1 debunked one of the more widely held myths about the deadly epidemic.

Fiction: AIDS is by far most threatening in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, where 6.8 percent of the population carries HIV.

Fact: UNICEF officials focused this year not on Africa, or even Asia, another infamous AIDS hot zone. They focused on Eastern Europe, especially Ukraine. The size of Ukraine's infected population has more than doubled since 2000--to some 400,000 cases. About 1.5percent of the population carries the virus--a relatively low rate compared with that of sub-Saharan Africa--but the speed of the disease's advance, accelerated by rampant drug use and prostitution, is raising alarms. "If we don't bring it under control soon, it will spiral out of control," says Jeremy Hartley of UNICEF in Ukraine.