Background on Iran

The following is from the "Background" section of the November 16, 2007 CQ Researcher report on "U.S. Policy on Iran" by Peter Katel

Modern U.S.-Iranian relations began with the CIA-engineered overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. Mossadegh, an ardent nationalist, had been at the center of a crisis that had been building since the late 1940s over the future of Britain's longstanding oil concession, which effectively controlled Iran's major natural resource. (Footnote 34)

Mossadegh had accepted the post of prime minister from the shah on condition that parliament end the concession, which it did on April 28, 1951. "The anniversary of the passing of the oil nationalization bill," writes historian Ali M. Ansari of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, "is perhaps the closest thing to an Iranian independence day." (Footnote 35)

But for the CIA — which worked closely with the British — Mossadegh's nationalization of Britain's Anglo-Iranian Oil. Co. showed him to be a threat to Western interests, and politically unreliable, in a region where the Soviet Union was a looming presence. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a coup plan. One attempt failed, leading the shah to take a sudden vacation in Rome. Then, on Aug. 19, 1953, a CIA officer directed a move against Mossadegh, who eventually surrendered. "The shah became the centerpiece of American foreign policy in the Islamic world," writes New York Times correspondent Tim Weiner in a recent history of the CIA. But, "A generation of Iranians grew up known that the CIA had installed the shah." (Footnote 36)

Although the United States poured money into Iran after the coup, it didn't buy all Iranians' friendship. Abolhasan Ebtehaj, a government official who lost his post after disputes with American officials, faulted the free-spending U.S. approach. "Not so many years ago in Iran, the United States was loved and respected as no other country, and without having given a penny of aid," he said in a 1961 speech in San Francisco. "Now, after more than $1 billion of loans and grants, America is neither loved nor respected; she is distrusted by most people and hated by many." (Footnote 37)

The John F. Kennedy administration, which came to power in 1961, pushed the shah even harder to shake up his country's social structure. Arguing that Iran's land-tenure system amounted to "feudalism," creating conditions that made Iran ripe for a communist revolution, the Americans demanded private land ownership for peasants.

But when the shah's so-called "white revolution" occurred, it brought repercussions that the Americans hadn't foreseen. Rural, land-owning aristocrats and members of the clergy, who had been instrumental in pushing out Mossadegh, opposed the change, in some cases more because it was American-imposed than because of its objectives. The shah, with U.S. encouragement, also proposed the political emancipation of women, which angered conservatives, especially religious leaders.

When a national referendum showed 99 percent approval for the "revolution," riots broke out because the election clearly had been rigged. Ruhollah Khomeini, a previously obscure clergyman, became one of the strongest voices against the shah.

For Iranians, what the shah and his American advisers called reform was something quite different. "The shah's modernization program — which created less an authentic development than a consumer society for privileged elites — quickly enriched the members of the royal family and the court, the entrepreneurs (almost all subcontractors for large Western firms), the powerful merchants, the importers of spare parts and consumer goods, the speculators," wrote French journalist Eric Rouleau in 1980. (Footnote 38)

Then the United States prompted the shah to introduce legislation granting immunity from the Iranian legal system for any American citizen accused of a crime. On the same day the bill was approved — after the shah fixed the parliamentary vote — Iranian lawmakers also approved a $200 million loan from the United States.

"The dignity of Iran has been destroyed," Khomeini declared. "They wanted a loan, and America demanded this in return." In 1964 Khomeini was sent into exile. (Footnote 39)

Shah Overthrown
The United States and the shah deepened their relationship in the 1970s. Israel, too, enjoyed close ties to the shah, whose quiet acceptance of the Jewish state enraged Arab governments — and many Iranians. By 1977, there were some 30,000 American government personnel and businesspeople in Iran, President Jimmy Carter noted during a toast to the shah on New Year's Eve in Tehran. (Footnote 40)

"Iran, because of the great leadership of the shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world," said Carter, in words that would later embarrass him. "This is a great tribute to you, your majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you." (Footnote 41)

Only weeks later, however, the monarchy's collapse began. In January, after the shah-approved publication of a defamatory newspaper article about Khomeini, well-organized street protests broke out in several cities, creating a crisis atmosphere.

To the surprise of observers, the shah and his notorious secret police, SAVAK, proved incapable of coping. In the past SAVAK had arrested, tortured or killed hundreds of thousands of genuine or alleged oppositionists. Israel had a close working relationship with SAVAK, growing out of antagonism between the shah and the Arab states. That relationship fueled popular antagonism toward the Jewish state.

A year later, on Jan. 16, 1979, the shah fled Iran. Two weeks later, Khomeini returned home from exile in Paris, turning the revolutionary process definitively toward his brand of socially conservative, politically aggressive and theocratic Shiite politics. Some secular democrats who were involved in an early provisional government were pushed aside. "At every step of the way, [Khomeini] and his supporters proved more ardent in their faith, more manipulative in their conduct and more merciless in their retaliations," writes Ray Takeyh, a historian and senior fellow at the centrist Council on Foreign Relations. (Footnote 42)

Khomeini's strategy bore fruit on Dec. 3, 1979, when Iranian voters approved a constitution that created today's Islamic Republic of Iran, directed by a religious leader who would not be accountable to the public or to elected officials. A Guardian Council, mainly clerics, would have the final word on all legislation.

The referendum passed amidst a frenzy of enthusiasm generated by a crisis that still reverberates. A month earlier, on Nov. 4, a band of student militants overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking 52 hostages, to punish the Carter administration for allowing the shah into the United States for cancer treatment.

Khomeini applauded the takeover, and the United States cut relations with Iran — which haven't been restored to this day. Khomeini's forces, meanwhile, used CIA and other U.S. documents the students found to discredit domestic enemies shown to have connections to the United States. The hostage crisis ended 444 days after it began, with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan on Jan. 20, 1981.

Besides broken diplomatic relations, U.S. sanctions against Iran imposed during the hostage crisis also have survived. The United States first imposed financial penalties on Iran during the crisis, when the Carter administration banned Iranian oil imports and froze Iranian assets in the United States. In 1987, Reagan banned imports of all Iranian goods and services, citing Iranian support for international terrorism. In 1995, Clinton banned U.S. participation in petroleum development in Iran, also citing Iranian support for terrorism as well as efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In 1997 Clinton extended the previous order by explicitly barring Americans from virtually all trade and investments involving Iran — a ban that was eased in 2000 to allow imports of Iranian dried fruits, nuts and caviar. (Footnote 43)

Israel's Tilt

During the hostage crisis, in September 1980, Saddam Hussein launched a war against Iran over its alleged violation of a bilateral treaty. But, pretext aside, Saddam wanted to crush the new republic. As a Sunni ruling a majority-Shiite populace, Saddam viewed Iran's Shiite government as a powerful threat to his predominantly Sunni regime.

Saddam also posed a serious threat to Israel, given his nuclear ambitions. Iran seemed a lesser danger, despite its anti-Israel rhetoric. But for the United States, still reeling from the hostage crisis, Iran was the main enemy. The Iran-Iraq war would see the United States helping Iraq, while Israel secretly shipped arms to Iran. These alignments later shifted — with the United States toppling Saddam and Israel coming to fear Iran. But even during the 1980s, U.S. officials at one point joined in a scheme with Israel to sell arms to Iran.

During the eight-year war, Israeli leaders occasionally acknowledged their tilt toward Iran. "For 28 of 37 years, Iran was a friend of Israel. If it could work for 28 years . . . why couldn't it [again], once this crazy idea of Shiite fundamentalism is gone?" asked Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's defense minister, in 1987. (Footnote 44)

But in addition to talking, the Jewish state was supplying arms to Iran. Both countries had reasons to keep the supply line secret, but in July 1981 an Argentine airplane carrying Israeli weapons to Iran crashed, leading to reports of a $200 million arms deal between the two countries. (Footnote 45)

A few years later, Israeli — and American — arms sales to Iran became front-page news during the so-called "Iran-Contra" scandal. In November 1986, a Beirut newspaper revealed a secret visit to Iran by President Reagan's national security adviser, Robert McFarlane. Weeks later, Reagan admitted his administration had sold weapons to Iran — violating a U.S. arms embargo — and funneled the profits to the "contra" guerrillas fighting Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government.

Further complicating an already tangled tale, the Reagan administration also acknowledged it had fed secret intelligence to Iraq from U.S. satellite photos, allowing it to assess damage from bombing strikes on Iranian targets. "Because we could see the fact that Iran at various times clearly had the upper hand, and had the manpower to continue much further than Iraq could," the American assistance was necessary, an unnamed White House official said. (Footnote 46)

By that time, the United States had another reason to help Iran's enemy. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Iran — eager for a base in the Arab countries — helped create the terrorist organization and political movement Hezbollah (Party of God). Its base was Lebanon's marginalized Shiite population, which had turned against Israel.

The following year, Hezbollah was implicated in a deadly bombing that destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon's capital, Beirut, killing 63 people. Six months later, a Hezbollah truck bomb hit the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines serving as peacekeepers.

Opinions are divided about whether Iran played a role in a terrorist attack that killed 19 airmen in 1996 at Khobar Towers, an apartment building serving as Air Force quarters near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. In December 2006, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth of Washington ruled Iran responsible in connection with a lawsuit by victims' families against the Islamic Republic. (Footnote 47)

Lamberth's decision echoed Attorney General John Ashcroft's conclusion in June 2001 that "elements of the Iranian government inspired, supported and supervised" the attack. Some experts challenge that conclusion. "There was a paucity of credible evidence," writes historian Ansari. (Footnote 48)

Rise of Repression

After Khomeini's death in 1989, Iran's clerical overseers chose conservative Ayatollah Ali Khameini as the next supreme leader. "He believes that the mission of the Islamic Republic is to uphold religious norms and resist popular attempts to alter the regime along democratic lines," writes a critic, historian Takeyh. (Footnote 49)

By the late 1990s, however, the popular call for more democracy was picking up strength. In 1997, by a landslide of nearly 70 percent, voters elected Mohammed Khatami as president. Khatami, a mid-ranking cleric who had emerged as a foe of repression, had studied Western philosophy, from which he quoted freely. And he knew Western social and political norms up close, having lived in Germany. That broader outlook and experience showed. "State authority cannot be attained through coercion and dictatorship," he had written. (Footnote 50)

In 1998, Khatami indicated a willingness not only to loosen controls on Iranians but also to enter into negotiations aimed at renewing relations with the United States. Using a 1998 interview with CNN to broadcast his views to the West, Khatami condemned terrorism "in all its forms." And speaking of the hostage crisis — still looming over U.S.-Iranian affairs — Khatami said it grew out of Iranian grievances such as the 1953 coup but also reflected the chaos of a revolutionary period — a condition that no longer applied. "Today, our new society has been institutionalized," he said, "and there is no need for unconventional methods of expression." (Footnote 51)

In his first year in office, more than 200 new newspapers and magazines and 95 political parties and organizations were permitted. The new freedom sparked public debates on topics that had been out of bounds, including Israel and the Palestinians.

In 2001 Khatami swept into office a second time, with a 77 percent victory. But even supporters admitted that political liberalization had advanced, despite continued repression, while the economy had fallen off a cliff. One-quarter of the workforce was unemployed, and 40 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. (Footnote 52)

Not surprisingly, the high hopes Khatami had inspired turned into disillusion. Economic disaster aside, Iranians who had hoped for reopening relations with the United States had experienced only disappointment. Iranian-U.S. cooperation early in the invasion of Afghanistan hadn't led to closer ties. "Before and during the war in Afghanistan, the Iranians were quite helpful to the United States," writes Kenneth Pollack, director of Persian Gulf Affairs at the National Security Council in the Clinton administration "They shared our hatred of al Qaeda and the Taliban, and they provided us with extensive assistance on intelligence, logistics, diplomacy and Afghan internal politics." (Footnote 53)

And yet, the year after the Afghanistan campaign began, Bush in his first State of the Union address called Iran a member of the "axis of evil," along with North Korea and Iraq. "Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror," Bush said, "while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom." (Footnote 54)

In 2005, Ahmadinejad, then Tehran's mayor, won a presidential-election runoff with 62 percent of the vote. A veteran of the bloody Iran-Iraq War and an engineer of working-class origins, he combined Khomeini-era rhetoric against the United States with denunciations of economic injustice.

Where reformists in Iran had hoped for eventual restoration of relations with the West, the new president and his circle looked to China, India and Russia for capital and trade links. "Our nation is continuing the path of progress and on this path has no significant need for the United States," Ahmadinejad said shortly before his election. (Footnote 55)


34. Except where otherwise indicated, this subsection is drawn from Ali M. Ansari, Hidden Iran (2006); and (for details of the CIA's role) Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007), pp. 81-92.
35. See Ansari, op. cit., pp 36-37.
36. See Weiner, op. cit., p. 92.
37. Quoted in ibid., p. 46. See also, Frances Bostock and Geoffrey Jones, Planning and Power in Iran: Ebtehaj and Economic Development Under the Shah (1989), pp. 160-161.
38. See Eric Rouleau, "Khomeini's Iran," Foreign Affairs, fall 1980.
39. Quoted in Ansari, op. cit., p. 53.
40. Unless otherwise indicated, material in this subsection and the one that follows is drawn from Ansari, op. cit.; Takeyh, op. cit.; Trita Parsi, Treacherous Alliances: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. (2007), p. 62; and Rouleau, op. cit.
41. See "Tehran, Iran, Toasts of the President and the Shah at a State Dinner," Dec. 31, 1977, The American Presidency Project,
42. See Takeyh, op. cit., p. 23. Also see Shaul Bakhash, The Reign of the Ayatollahs: Iran and the Islamic Revolution (1990).
43. See Bernard Gwertzman, "Iraq Gets Reports From U.S. for Use in War With Iran," The New York Times, Dec. 16, 1986, p. A1. U.S. Department of the Treasury, op. cit.
44. Quoted in Glenn Frankel, "Israeli Critical of U.S. Policy in Gulf War," The Washington Post, Oct. 29, 1987, p. A33.
45. See Benjamin Weiser, "Behind Israel-Iran Sales, 'Amber' Light from U.S.," The Washington Post, Aug. 16, 1987, p. A1.
46. Quoted in Gwertzman, op. cit.; See also Bob Woodward, "CIA Aiding Iraq in Gulf War," The Washington Post, Dec. 15, 1986, p. A1.
47. See Carol D. Leonnig, "Iran Held Liable in Khobar Attack," The Washington Post, Dec. 23, 2006, p. A2.
48. See Ansari, op. cit., p. 180; Ashcroft quoted in Barbara Slavin, "14 indicted in barracks bombing," USA Today, June 22, 2001, p. A6.
49. See Takeyh, op. cit. pp. 33-34. For background, see Katel, op. cit.
50. Quoted in Takeyh, op. cit., p. 44.
51. See "Iranian President Favors People to People Dialogue," CNN "Worldview," Jan. 7, 1998.
52. See John Ward Anderson, "With Stalemate Ended, Khatami Takes Oath in Iran," The Washington Post, Aug. 9, 2001, p. A12.
53. See Kenneth M. Pollack, "Don't Count on Iran to Pick Up the Pieces," The New York Times, Dec. 8, 2006, p. A35.
54. See "The President's State of the Union Address," The White House, Jan. 29, 2002,
55. Quoted in Takeyh, op. cit., p. 133.

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Rethinking Retirement

Can Americans afford to retire?
By Thomas J. Billitteri, June 19, 2009

Prospects for a secure retirement are more imperiled now than at any time since before the creation of the Social Security program in 1935. Low savings rates and credit abuse have contributed to the problem, but the recent economic crisis, which has led to massive layoffs and a collapse of the stock market, is forcing even those who have prepared and saved to rethink their retirement strategies. The entire retirement structure, including the shift away from traditional guaranteed pension plans toward 401(k) accounts, is under scrutiny, and Congress has called for greater transparency in the way such accounts are administered. Meanwhile, retirement experts are counseling workers to stay on the job longer to ensure their retirement security, and some economists are calling for reductions in Social Security benefits to shore up the entitlement system and accommodate the impending wave of retirements among the post-World War II baby-boom generation.

The Issues:
*Will most Americans be able to afford a secure retirement?
*Should Social Security benefits be cut to strengthen the system?
*Are new rules needed to foster greater private retirement savings?

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Legalizing Marijuana

Should pot be treated like alcohol and taxed?
By Peter Katel, June 12, 2009

From statehouses to the White House, attitudes toward marijuana laws are changing. California's top tax collector is endorsing proposed state legislation to legalize and tax pot, and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he'd like the idea debated. More than a dozen other states have enacted or are considering laws to permit medical-marijuana use or remove criminal penalties for possession. In Congress, Democratic Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia — a hard-nosed Marine combat veteran — wants marijuana legalization considered in a top-to-bottom review of sentencing and drug laws. Full-scale, nationwide legalization still seems distant, but the Obama administration has declared a hands-off approach toward California's medical-marijuana outlets, unless the state-sanctioned sites are determined to be trafficking operations. Opponents of marijuana legalization object on moral and health grounds, but the opposition appears to be weakening, especially in a time when the economic crisis is cutting into police and prison budgets nationwide.

The Issues:

*Should marijuana be legalized and taxed?
*Would pot legalization spur a big increase in consumption?
*Would legalizing marijuana help the criminal-justice system?

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Back in April, the Homeland Security Department (DHS) came under heavy rhetorical fire from some politicians and commentators. They were infuriated by an intelligence analysis warning that the political and economic climate could spur outbreaks of far-right extremism. As TalkingPointsMemo notes, Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minn., accused the department of defining gun-rights advocates, among others, as extremists.

Nevertheless, that DHS report may look more prescient than politically biased today, TPM and other commentators, including True/Slant's Ryan Sager, argue. Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly joins in as well. The suspect in the Wednesday killing of Stephen T. Johns, a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, is an elderly Maryland resident with a long history of anti-Jewish and anti-black activities, and an attempted hostage-taking at the Federal Reserve in 1981. The Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the leading monitors and analysts of far-right extremists, provides even more detail about the alleged killer's past.

Accused perpetrators in other recent deadly outbursts of extremist violence also seem to have been steeped in the far-right political culture. Scott Roeder, the accused killer of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kan., was reported to have belonged in the past to an anti-government "militia."

In May, a CQ Researcher report, "Hate Groups" cited other examples from recent months. The report also delved into the controversy over the DHS report, and provided a historical overview of far-right extremism in this country. It's an eventful history, and the events haven't ended.

Burhan's Death and the Somali Swamp

The recent killing of Burhan Hassan, a 17-year-old Somali-American high school student who allegedly traveled to Somalia to fight for the Shabaab militia in the country’s civil war, is a shocking and tragic coda to this Newsweek story about the potential threat to the United States from radical Islamists among Somali immigrant communities.

If there’s a lesson in Burhan’s death, it’s that despite the headlines about rampant piracy in Somalia and potential fifth-column Somali terror groups in the Twin Cities, Somalia’s civil war is still a far greater threat to Somalis than it is to the West. One of the most telling points I came across in researching this month's CQ Global Researcher ("The Troubled Horn of Africa") is that none of the analysts I interviewed could name a single successful act of international terrorism carried out by a Somali. In fact, I’d argue that the main reason Western powers have been so disengaged in Somalia since the end of Operation Restore Hope in 1995 (during which the infamous Black Hawn Down incident occurred) is precisely because the country has posed so little threat to the outside world. Somalia’s immediate neighbors — particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea, who have both been major actors in the Somali war — obviously see things differently. But so long as the main protagonists and casualties of the war are Somalis themselves, it’s hard to see President Barack Obama or any other Western leader wanting to walk into the Somali swamp.

One of the most shocking aspects of the war is that over the past two decades a new class of Somali businessmen with a vested interest in the continuing chaos has emerged to become arguably the most powerful political force in Somalia. For all the talk about the Islamists battling the new moderate transitional government, a real back-story is the treachery of the country’s business class. This group includes exporters of charcoal made from Somalia’s few remaining forests, importers of the narcotic leaf "khat" and the local militias that “tax” aid organizations wanting to bring food aid to civilians living in militia-controlled regions — not to mention businessmen who print their own local currency or deal in arms.

Like Mogadishu’s “recycling” barons who in the 1990s sold off copper wire and scrap metal looted from the vestiges of the country’s physical infrastructure or today's pirates who hold ships hostage until their owners fork over millions of dollars, Somalia's businessman thugs have a vested interest in preventing a central government from coming to power that could outlaw or tax their trade. When even the rich guys don’t want a functioning government, you know your country’s in trouble.

— Jason McLure
Bloomberg News
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Overview from the report on Student Rights

By Kenneth Jost, June 5, 2009

Savana Redding recalls it as “the most humiliating experience” of her life: the day she was forced to undress to her underwear at her school in Safford, Ariz., in what proved to be a fruitless strip-search for a prescription-strength pain reliever.

Authorities at Safford Middle School were on edge about drugs in fall 2003, partly because a year earlier a student had had a serious reaction to a prescription pill given to him by one of his schoolmates. So assistant principal Kerry Wilson reacted quickly on Oct. 8 when a student handed him what turned out to be a 400-mg ibuprofen tablet and told him the pills were being passed out for students to take at lunchtime.

The student's accusation led first to eighth-grader Marissa Glines, who was found to have several ibuprofen tablets in her wallet. Glines said she had gotten the pills from her classmate Redding. But when Wilson brought Redding to his office, she denied any knowledge of the pills.

A search of her backpack found nothing, but Wilson remained suspicious. He asked his administrative assistant Helen Romero to take Redding to the office of the school nurse, Peggy Schwallier, to look — as the school district's lawyers later put it — “for any pills that might be discreetly hidden in her clothes.”

A supporter of the group Students for a Sensible Drug Policy demonstrates at the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2007 during arguments in the case of Alaska high-school student Joseph Frederick, who was suspended for displaying his “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner during a school-sponsored event off school grounds. In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld schools' power to punish students for advocating or promoting illegal drug use.

Redding, then 13, was directed first to remove her shoes and socks and then her shirt and pants. With nothing found, she was then told to shake the band on her bra and then the elastic on her underwear. Still nothing.

Redding was never touched, but, as she recalled later, she felt “violated” by the strip-search. Romero allowed her to get dressed and return to class, but the experience was so humiliating that Savana decided to transfer to another school. She says now she developed stomach ulcers as a result.

Nearly six years after the episode, Redding, now 19, sat before the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 21 listening as they considered whether the strip-search violated her right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from “unreasonable” searches.

In years past, Redding's grievance would have gone no further than the local school board — if she or her family had complained at all. But for the past 40 years, ever since a landmark Supreme Court decision, student-rights have been a staple on the dockets of state and federal courts up to and including the nation's highest tribunal.

The student-rights era began with a 1969 decision, Tinker v. Des Moines, that upheld the right of three middle- and high-school students to wear black armbands to signal their support for a Christmastime cease-fire in the Vietnam War. “It can hardly be argued,” Justice Abe Fortas wrote, “that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

In the years since, “few realms of educational policy have escaped the courtroom,” according to Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a conservative think tank in Washington. The Supreme Court has established due process standards for student discipline and some limits on searches of students and their belongings. Today, lower courts are grappling with issues ranging from the free-speech rights of gay — and anti-gay — students and censorship of high-school newspapers to schools' efforts to police students' outside-school postings on the Internet.

Four decades after Tinker, civil liberties advocates say the decision is one to celebrate. “The Tinker decision was a watershed moment,” says Jamin Raskin, a professor at American University's Washington College of Law and editor of a book on student rights. “The Supreme Court essentially declared that education is about becoming a full-fledged citizen of democracy.”

“It seems a strange way to train children to be members of society to tell them that they have fewer rights than others,” says Catherine Crump, a staff attorney in the First Amendment Working Group at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “That doesn't seem like a good way to turn kids into adults who are fully participating members of our democratic society.”

Hess, who organized an AEI conference on education-related litigation in October 2008, agrees that recognition of student rights has had some benefits. “It's expected that adolescents will be more expressive,” he says. “Bringing some of that into the school environment seems both inevitable and constructive.”

On balance, however, Hess says the net impact of student rights has been “a substantial negative.” The movement, he says, “has significantly curtailed the ability of educational leaders and classroom teachers to set expectations, enforce discipline or aggressively shape a school culture that is conducive to teaching and learning.”

Richard Arum, a professor of sociology at New York University, agrees. “The expansion of students' legal entitlements has not only had unintended consequences on the capacity of schools to socialize youth effectively,” Arum writes, “but it has also increased the potential for student dissent in U.S. schools — whether of a political, religious or other ideological character.”

Without overruling Tinker, the Supreme Court has seemed more and more sympathetic to school administrators' concerns since the 1980s. In a pair of rulings under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the court approved random drug testing for many high school students. And under current Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the court in 2007 ruled that public schools can punish students for advocating or promoting illegal drug use.

Representing Redding before the Supreme Court, Adam Wolf, of the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project, acknowledges public concern about drug use by students. “We all want our schools to be safe and to be drug-free, but that does not give schools carte blanche to do anything they want,” Wolf says. “Some policies just clearly cross the line and unreasonably invade student privacy.”

But Matthew Wright, the Phoenix lawyer representing the school district, urged the justices to give schools flexibility in dealing with students suspected of using or distributing drugs. Schools are “in the untenable position of either facing the threat of lawsuits for their attempts to enforce a drug-free policy or for their laxity in failing to interdict potentially harmful drugs,” Wright said in a statement prior to argument.

The Issues:

*Do schools' anti-drug enforcement policies violate students' rights?
*Do schools improperly limit students' free-speech rights?
*Do schools improperly limit students' religious freedoms?

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Student Rights

Have courts gone too far or not far enough?
By Kenneth Jost, June 5, 2009

The Supreme Court introduced a new era in public education in the United States in 1969 by declaring that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Four decades later, state and federal court dockets are dotted with suits by students or parents challenging disciplinary decisions and school policies and practices. The Supreme Court, which has upheld random drug testing of students, is currently considering whether an Arizona school district violated a teenaged girl’s rights by strip-searching her because of what proved to be an unfounded accusation that she was carrying a prescription-strength pain reliever.

Student-speech cases often pose difficult issues as administrators, principals and teachers seek to reconcile students’ free-speech rights with the need to prevent disruption, maintain discipline and protect rights of teachers and other students. In recent years, judges appear to be giving more deference to schools — a trend applauded by many educators but criticized by student-rights advocates.

The Issues:

*Do schools' anti-drug enforcement policies violate students' rights?
*Do schools improperly limit students' free-speech rights?
*Do schools improperly limit students' religious freedoms?

To read an excerpt of the report click here.
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GM files for bankruptcy protection

Thomas J. Billitteri, 6/2/2009

To much fanfare but little surprise, General Motors has filed for bankruptcy reorganization, and the auto giant’s biggest shareholder—the federal government—will have a huge task in getting the company back into the hands of private investors.

The bankruptcy filing, the biggest on record for an American industrial company, is aimed at downsizing GM and putting it on a stronger footing. GM, which is $173 billion in debt, has already received $20 billion in federal loans and will get another $30 billion in help from the Treasury Department, plus aid from Canada. The federal government will take a 60 percent ownership stake in the reorganized automaker.

President Barack Obama praised GM’s restructuring plan as “credible” and “full of promise,” but said the government’s aim “is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands-off approach, and get out quickly.” That won’t be easy. The longer GM takes to recover from years of bad management and a flagging global market for new cars, the harder it will be for Washington to keep from micromanaging GM’s business decisions and shed its ownership stake.

What do you think? Should the Obama administration have pushed GM toward bankruptcy reorganization? Will GM survive in the long run?

For more background on the auto industry’s travails, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Auto Industry’s Future,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 6, 2009.

See also
>President Obama’s remarks on GM”s restructuring.
>Legal documents on the case

Posted by Thomas J. Billitteri on 6/2/2009