Overview of the report on "Future of Books"

By Sarah Glazer, May 29, 2009

The university bookstore ran out of the textbook assigned for your course? No problem. The young woman behind the counter can print one out in the time it takes to make an espresso.

Don’t like the way the latest episode of the novel you’re reading online has turned out? Write in a plot development of your own. (But be forewarned: Another reader may edit you out.)

Forgot to bring a book with you on the subway? You’ve got President Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father on your cell phone, right at the place you stopped reading last night on your Kindle.

The world of reading is changing before our eyes. More books are becoming available than ever before, and in many more formats. It remains to be seen whether readers will flock to these or even more futuristic ways of reading. But already the innovations have caused anxiety in the troubled publishing industry because they suggest radical changes in how books are supplied to readers, much as technological changes are threatening the very existence of the newspaper industry.

“The publishing industry is in a difficult position,” says Mike Shatzkin, CEO of the Idea Logical Co., a digital-publishing consulting firm. “We have all these new challenges to invest in, and meanwhile the old model for producing money is in trouble. So publishers are squeezed from both sides.”

Amid troubling layoffs in publishing over the past year, cutbacks in new manuscript acceptances and tough times for bookstores, digital books have entered publishing’s mainstream for the first time. In this pivotal year for e-books, Amazon.com introduced the Kindle 2.0 and the larger-format Kindle DX – which both permit the wireless download of a book in less than a minute – and Sony Reader acquired 500,000 titles from Google. Both companies’ electronic readers employ a technology that does not require backlighting, making its glare-free text easier on the eyes than a computer screen.

For years, e-book enthusiasts have said the product couldn’t really take off until the equivalent of an iPod for books was developed. It’s not clear whether we’re there yet, but the sudden popularity of reading on Apple’s iPhone took many by surprise. Over 1.7 million users have downloaded Stanza software, which permits them to read a book on their cell phone from a selection of more than 100,000 titles. The announcements in February that both Amazon and Google were making their titles available on the iPhone only added to the buzz.

“Suddenly there was a sense in 2008 that an e-book program was something a publisher couldn’t be without,” says Michael Bhaskar, digital editor at publisher Pan MacMillan in Britain. And if 2008 was about e-books, “this year is about smartphones,” says Bhaskar. His company was one of the first major publishers to make its titles available on the iPhone and the BlackBerry and now plans to bring most new titles out in electronic as well as print format.

The fact that today’s new books start out from the writer’s desk as digital files has contributed to the growth of another way of producing books – print-on-demand. Theoretically, books can remain digital files until they’re ordered by the customer, at which point they are printed on laser printers, order by order. Increasingly publishers are using this method for books about to go out of print and for scholarly or obscure books with low readership. For non-bestsellers, publishers can print out one book at a time, saving the expense of big print runs, storage and bookstore returns, while retailers can avoid holding inventory that doesn’t sell.

Yet all these innovations still account for a small percentage of what passes for reading a book. Despite rapid growth, sales revenue generated by electronic books, whether read on a laptop, Kindle or cell phone, still accounts for only about 1 percent of the $11 billion adult trade book market in the United States, estimates Michael Smith, executive director of the International Digital Publishing Forum, a trade association.

Similarly, volumes produced through print-on-demand account for less than 1 percent of the more than 3 billion books printed each year in the United States, according to David Taylor, president of Lightning Source, the leading print-on-demand company.

The Espresso Book Machine, which can deliver a bound paperback in less than five minutes, is currently installed in only a handful of bookstores in North America and England, but its manufacturers envision widespread use in college bookstores, on cruise ships and in remote areas of the world.

Former Random House editorial director Jason Epstein, co-founder of On Demand Books, which markets the machine, says the publishing model of the last 500 years – in which publishers printed large runs and then had to warehouse and ship physical books at enormous costs – is headed for extinction.

Today, “you can go directly from the digital file to the end user with nothing in between,” he points out. “That means you can store in theory every book ever written in whatever language at practically no cost. And deliver that file practically anywhere on Earth at no cost. This has a revolutionary effect on the way books are made and distributed.”

Eventually, the traditional publishing industry would have collapsed anyway because of structural obsolescence, he says. “With this recession and the arrival of digitization, the process will be hastened.”

Publishers are still trying to figure out how to appeal to young readers – who do most of their reading online – by offering free multimedia content digitally, while still making money for themselves and their authors.

“We’re moving to a post-literate culture where YouTube is a search engine and video gaming is the main form of entertainment. How does that impact storytelling?” asks Pan MacMillan’s Bhaskar.

This spring, Penguin Books won top awards at the hip SXSW (South by Southwest) interactive media festival in Austin, Texas, for its online storytelling experiment. Over a period of six weeks, readers clicking on a Penguin Web site could read a developing mystery being written by a novelist online, search for clues planted on the Internet and contribute plot suggestions to the author as the story was being written. Access to the site, “We Tell Stories,” was free even though it drew on the skills of several published authors.

Penguin’s experiment “is fascinating, but I’m not sure how it ever makes money,” comments Shatzkin of Idea Logical, expressing a widely shared worry in the industry. And he’s puzzled by those who see it as the future of fiction: “Participatory content creation makes sense, but why are we calling it books?” he asks.

But those experimenting with online forms of literature suggest our definition of “book” itself needs to be more expansive. “A book is an experience, not a chunk of paper,” Chris Meade, director of the London literary think tank if:book, recently told an audience of book club members in Oxford, England. “If you think of the experience of reading a great novel and take the novel away,” you can still have a “fantastic” experience, he maintained.

An online book about William Blake recently launched by Meade’s organization displays Blake’s poems along with gorgeous graphics and videos of an interview with a Blake expert and an actor reading Blake’s poem “ London.” Over the next few months, readers are invited to help it grow by contributing via Twitter and Blogger (a free blog-publishing tool from Google) and the Blake “netbook” itself.

The ease of publishing a book from a digital file means many more actors can get into the act. Small presses can be formed in someone’s living room or at a local bookstore. Authors who could never interest a big publisher with their family genealogy or purple-prose novel can be listed on Amazon or simply publish online.

With the cost down to a few hundred dollars to have your book published by one of the author-services companies (the new vanity presses), who needs publishers? On the defensive, publishers say they still play an aesthetic filtering role as the curators of good writing.

Yet more and more books and experimental writing are becoming available online for free without publishers’ filters. And as publishers put out more digital books, it may be easier for hackers to convert copyrighted works into pirated editions. Some publishers are reporting that piracy has surged in recent months along with rising demand for e-books, raising concerns that piracy partly accounts for declining print book sales. Pirated editions of works by children’s writer J.K. Rowling have been posted on Web sites like Scribd, and other copyrighted works are cropping up on file-sharing services like RapidShare.

Still, some authors like Wired editor Chris Anderson and novelist Cory Doctorow claim that publishing for free online is actually the way to sell more print books because of the exposure it provides.

Indeed, rather than chasing printed books into oblivion, some experts say digitization is making more books available than ever before, even if they’re in a different format. A massive digitization project by the Library of Congress allows, for the first time, anyone with a computer at home to look at the first edition of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and other 19th-century books too brittle to be handled.

The recent Google Book Search settlement among Google, authors and publishers – if approved by the court – promises to make millions of out-of-print books available online that were once limited to great university libraries. But the fact that this vast collection of 20th-century literature will be in the hands of a private company has many librarians worried as the world’s treasure trove of books – past and future – becomes increasingly digital.

The Issues:

*Will the Google Book Search settlement restrict public access to digital books?
*Will traditional print books disappear from the marketplace?
*Will literary reading and writing survive online?

To view the entire report, login to CQ Researcher Online [subscription required], or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

The Future of Books

Will traditional print books disappear?
By Sarah Glazer, May 29, 2009

The migration of books to electronic screens has been accelerating with the introduction of mobile reading on Kindles, iPhones and Sony Readers and the growing power of Google's Book Search engine. Even the book's form is mutating as innovators experiment with adding video, sound and computer graphics to text. Some fear a loss of literary writing and reading, others of the world's storehouse of knowledge if it all goes digital. A recent settlement among Google, authors and publishers would make more out-of-print books accessible online, but some worry about putting such a vast trove of literature into the hands of a private company. So far, barely 1 percent of books sold in the United States are electronic. Still, the economically strapped publishing industry is under pressure to do more marketing and publishing online as younger, screen-oriented readers replace today's core buyers — middle-aged women.

The Issues:

*Will the Google Book Search settlement restrict public access to digital books?
*Will traditional print books disappear from the marketplace?
*Will literary reading and writing survive online?

To read an excerpt of the report click here.
To view the entire report, login to CQ Researcher Online [subscription required], or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

Gay Marriage: California Court Upholds Ban

      The California Supreme Court has upheld the November 2008 ballot initiative that reinstituted a ban on same-sex marriage. But the ruling upheld the validity of the estimated 18,000 unions entered into between gay or lesbian couples under the state high court’s decision in May 2008 recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
      The 6-1 decision upholding Proposition 8 ruled that the measure defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman amounted to a “constitutional amendment” instead of a “constitutional revision” that could be adopted only after approval by the state legislature as well as voters. But the opinion stressed that the court’s earlier ruling that laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation are subject to strict constitutional scrutiny remains in place.
      What do you think? Should same-sex couples have the right to marry? Should the issue be decided by legislatures, courts or the voters? For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Gay Marriage Showdowns,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 26, 2008.

Colbert Bump?

On the Colbert Report this week, Sen. Bob Graham discusses his book "America, the Owner's Manual: Making Government Work for You" (CQ Press, 2009.)  It's a how-to guide that shows students how to work with government to affect change.   Oh yeah, and then there's that whole "he said/she said" issue with the CIA...

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
She Said, CIA Said - Bob Graham

Court: Big Tobacco 'Lied' on Health Issues

      A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., has ruled that the tobacco industry engaged in a decades-long campaign of deception regarding the health hazards of smoking. But the three-judge panel rejected most of the remedial steps sought by the government in a massive civil suit and instead ordered tobacco companies merely to issue statements correcting previous denials that smoking was addictive and dangerous to health. (Hat Tip: SCOTUSBlog).
      In its unsigned, 92-page decision, the court on May 22 refused to order the industry to conduct nationwide campaigns to discourage youth smoking or to offset past marketing tactics. The court also reaffirmed an earlier ruling in the case that it would not order the industry to disgorge profits made from the deceptive advertising and public relations campaign.
      What do you think? Should tobacco companies be held responsible for concealing health hazards of smoking? Should they do more to discourage smoking by young people? For background, see Mary H. Cooper, “Tobacco Industry,” CQ Researcher, Dec. 10, 2004.

What the Athletes Told Me

Re: Extreme Sports by Marcia Clemmitt

For my report on “Extreme Sports” (April 3) I spoke with four rockclimbers, three kayakers, two backcountry skiers, two mountain climbers, two snowboarders, two skateboarders, a world-champion freestyle skydiver, an Ironman triathlete, and a trainer for mixed martial arts (sometimes called “ultimate fighting”).

Surprisingly, I found that among athletes themselves, the title “extreme” and designation “thrillseeker” aren’t as well accepted as you’d think. Most told me that, while they’ve had plenty adrenaline-pumping moments, their real pleasure comes from mastering the rush and conquering risks with the skills and composure they’ve developed through years of training.

Frank Farley, the Temple University psychologist who coined the term “Type T personality” for “thrillseekers,” has hung out with motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel and a bevy of climbers who’ve conquered the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest, and participated in hot-air balloon races in Russia and China. “While an adrenaline rush is part of it, you can have an adrenaline rush having sex in your own bedroom,” Farley told me. What “Type Ts” really “thrive on is challenges, and they often believe they can control their own fate,” he said.

Which brings us to the avid TV-watcher of Extreme Sports. Watching so-called extreme sports events like the X Games and the Ultimate Fighting Championship from our armchairs, lots of us enjoy vicarious thrills. That’s a boon for advertisers, who use images of backflipping snowboarders and kayakers navigating Class 5 rapids to sell products from soda and energy drinks to antihistamines. Extreme sports images and tv programming are especially good for capturing advertisers’ highly sought-after “young male” demographic, who are the most likely among us to harbor pent-up desires for adrenaline-pumping thrills, marketing experts say.

-- Marcia Clemmitt

To read the Overview of  the report on Extreme Sports, click here.
To view the entire report, login to CQ Researcher Online [subscription required], or purchase a CQ Researcher PDF.

Guantanamo: Obama, Cheney Clash on Detainees

President Obama sticks to his plan to close the Guantanamo prison in a major national security address one day after a lopsided Senate vote to block the move until the White House says what will happen to the remaining 240 detainees.
In his speech, Obama says some detainees will be brought to the United States for trial and imprisonment, but promises, “We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.”
In a speech answering Obama, former Vice President Dick Cheney says Obama promised to close Guantanamo “with little deliberation and no plan” and says of the detainees: “Just don’t bring them into the United States.”
Your view: Should Guantanamo remain open? Should some detainees be brought to the United States for trial and imprisonment? For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Closing Guantanamo,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 27, 2009.

Defeat of the Tamil separatists

When CQ Global Researcher freelance reporter Brian Beary heard the momentous news about the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka this week, he sent us this message:

The recent surrender of the Tamil Tigers, the militant rebel group in Sri Lanka fighting for decades for an independent Tamil homeland, came as a bit of a shock to me. Early last year, when I was researching my article on separatist movements for the April 2008 Global Researcher, the Tigers still controlled large swathes of Sri Lankan territory and the conflict seemed deadlocked. Since then the Tigers have undergone a spectactular collapse and the Sri Lankan government is proclaiming outright military victory. Such an apparently clear-cut outcome to a separatist conflict is more the exception than the rule, I found, in charting the fate of about 25 active separatist movements across the globe, from Tibet to Kosovo to Somaliland to Bolivia.

The Sri Lankan conflict has been remarkable for its sheer bloodiness: It has the unenviable accolade of spawning that most terrifying of species, the suicide bomber. But contrary to a widespread perception, many separatist movements are peaceful -- Scotland, Quebec and Flanders being obvious examples. They only tend to turn violent when the country they are part of gives separatists no space to voice their opinions or is unwilling to contemplate granting them genuine political autonomy as an alternative to full independence. The Tamils are a case in point, as are the Uyghurs in China and the Kurds in Turkey. Military victory may be possible in such cases but it is unlikely to quell the aspirations of Tamils, Uyghurs and Kurds to preserve their culture and govern their affairs.

-- Brian Beary, freelance reporter

Reproductive Ethics

Should fertility medicine be regulated more tightly?

By Marcia Clemmitt, May 15, 2009

Nadya Suleman, an unemployed, 33-year-old, single mother from Southern California, felt her six children weren't enough. Last January, after a fertility doctor implanted six embryos she had frozen earlier, Suleman gave birth to octuplets — and was quickly dubbed “Octomom.” Many fertility experts were shocked that a doctor would depart so far from medical guidelines — which recommend implantation of only one, or at most two, embryos for a woman of Suleman's relatively young age. Although multiple births often do result from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted-reproduction technologies, the number of multiples has dropped over the past few years, they point out. Other analysts note, however, that government statistics show a large percentage of clinics frequently ignore the guidelines on embryo implantation. In response, lawmakers in several states have introduced proposals to increase regulation of fertility clinics.

The Issues:

  • Should fertility medicine be regulated more vigorously?
  • Should parents be allowed to choose their babies' characteristics, such as gender?
  • Should doctors be able to refuse assisted reproductive technologies (ART) services to gay, older or single people?

To read the Overview of the report click here.

To view the entire report, login to CQ Researcher Online [subscription required], or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

Overview of the report on "Reproductive Ethics"

By Marcia Clemmitt, May 15, 2009

After 33-year-old Nadya Suleman, a mother of six, gave birth to octuplets on Jan. 26, the California fertility specialist who treated her was summoned to appear before the Medical Board of California. The board — which can revoke physicians' licenses for egregious misconduct — is investigating whether Michael Kamrava, head of the West Coast IVF Clinic in Beverly Hills, violated accepted standards of medical practice when he implanted at least six embryos in Suleman during in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment in 2008, leading to the multiple birth. 

Suleman has told reporters that all 14 of her children were conceived using IVF — a high-tech treatment in which eggs are fertilized in the laboratory, then implanted into a woman's uterus for gestation — and that six embryos were implanted in each of her six pregnancies, although she's had only two multiple births: the octuplets and a set of twins.

But professional guidelines from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommend implanting only one or two embryos in younger women, such as Suleman, because of the high risk multiple births pose to children and mothers.

Multiple-birth babies, including twins, have a significantly higher risk for developing severe, debilitating disabilities such as chronic lung diseases or cerebral palsy, which occurs six times more often among twins and 20 times more often in triplets than it does in single babies. 

The cost to the health-care system of multiple births is enormous. “The cost of caring for the octuplets would probably cover more than a year of providing IVF for everyone in L.A. County who needed it,” says David L. Keefe, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of South Florida, in Tampa. “The likelihood that some of those kids will get cerebral palsy means they'll need a lifetime of care.”

The high-profile Suleman case has spurred calls for government regulation of fertility medicine — sometimes called assisted reproductive technologies, or ART. Like U.S. medicine generally, ART is not regulated by the federal government and only lightly supervised by state agencies. Since 1978 — when the world's first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in England — more than 3 million ART babies have been born worldwide, and some experts and ethicists fear the field's rapid expansion leaves too much room for abuses. 

Others argue that lack of insurance coverage for IVF is the biggest problem with ART in the United States. Fertility treatments can cost more than $12,000 per cycle, pushing cash-strapped would-be parents to opt for the higher-risk, multiple-embryo implantation to increase their chances of a pregnancy.

By contrast, in most European countries — where IVF procedures are paid for through universal health-care systems — doctors generally implant only one fertilized embryo at a time. In Sweden and Finland, for instance, where the procedure is covered by insurance, doctors perform single-embryo implantations 70 percent and 60 percent of the time, respectively, compared to only 3.3 percent of the time in the United States. 

In fact, some European governments prohibit multiple-embryo transfers for women under 36 and limit older women to no more than two embryos per cycle. As a result, “Triplets have virtually disappeared in Europe,” a Danish doctor told European colleagues at a 2006 fertility conference. 

Self-regulation of ART in the United States clearly isn't working, said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Genetics and Society, which advocates for responsible use of genetic technologies. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to which ART clinics must report data, 80 percent of programs do not strictly follow American Society for Reproductive Medicine guidelines, making government regulation “long overdue,” she said. 

“In reproductive matters, individuals are making decisions [that affect] not just themselves, but . . . others as well,” which makes regulation appropriate, said Johns Hopkins University scholars Franco Furger and Francis Fukuyama. Reproductive medicine is headed toward giving prospective parents “a range of . . . techniques to make specific choices about a baby's health and sex and eventually about other attributes,” said Furger, a research professor, and Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy, both at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. “It would be misguided to take a wait-and-see attitude.” 

Industrialized countries that pay for IVF through their universal health-care systems strictly regulate which services may be provided, says Susannah Baruch, director for law and policy at the Genetics & Public Policy Center, a think tank at John Hopkins funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The services typically include pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) — genetic testing of embryos. While PGD to detect serious genetic illnesses is conducted routinely, many countries strictly limit other PGD uses, such as selecting a child's gender, because they aren't considered in the public interest, she says.

However, in the United States — even though U.S. reproductive-medicine experts roundly criticize Kamrava's implantation of multiple embryos in the Suleman case — many ART experts also argue that government regulation of the industry is not necessarily a solution.

Suleman's case is much more of an outlier today than it would have been 15 years ago, when it wasn't unusual to have six embryos transferred, says Josephine Johnston, a research scholar at the Hastings Center for bioethics research in Garrison, N.Y. “I would have bet money that it was not IVF” that led to the octuplet birth, she says, but the use of ovary-stimulating drugs — a much cheaper, far less controllable method of assisted reproductive technology.

Multiple-embryo implantation is being phased out as ART technologies improve, Johnston says, and six-embryo implantation is “so far outside the guidelines it's amazing that a physician would do it.”

Such hair-raising cases are virtually always outliers and shouldn't be used to hastily enact laws, some analysts say.

For example, ever since artificial insemination was introduced sperm banks have promised would-be parents a genetic lineage of intelligence, athleticism and good looks for babies born from donor sperm, says R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin Law School. But “it hasn't undermined Western culture as we know it,” she says. “So why do we think that people are very likely to go through much more onerous PGD to choose traits?” Very few will try to use it to enhance their baby's intelligence or appearance, so there would be little point in prohibiting such behavior, she says.

A recent study by New York University's Langone Medical Center supports Charo's view somewhat. Of 999 patients who completed a survey on traits they thought warranted use of PGD screening, solid majorities named potential conditions such as mental retardation, blindness, deafness, heart disease and cancer. Only 10 percent said they might use PGD to choose a child with exceptional athletic ability and 12.6 percent, high intelligence. 

“People are after different things” in calling for ART regulation, making legislation difficult, Charo says. Some may want limits on the number of embryos implanted per cycle, but most are calling for rules to enforce “personal morality,” such as whether gay couples should become parents or whether lower-income mothers should be allowed to have very large families, Charo says. “We must then ask why we would regulate these [reproductive] personal choices differently from other personal choices.”

ART-related law would likely be based on the unusual cases that make headlines, “and bad cases make bad policy,” she says.

Opposition to regulation might drop considerably if insurance covered IVF and other artificial reproduction procedures, but today only 12 states require such coverage.

For instance, limitations on multiple-embryo implantations might be acceptable if insurance covered several single-embryo implantations for all patients who have experienced six months of proven infertility, suggests Ronald M. Green, a professor of ethics and human values at Dartmouth College.

Because of the high cost of IVF treatments, the lack of insurance coverage has deprived “the vast majority of the middle class” in America, as well as the poor, from the modern ART “revolution,” says Keefe at the University of South Florida. “Once you have the middle class covered, then I have no trouble saying, 'We're not going to pay' ” for multiple-embryo implantation.

Furthermore, the procedure doesn't have to cost $12,000 per cycle, as evidenced by the lower amounts accepted by IVF clinics when insurance companies that are required to cover the procedure negotiate lower fees, he says. “It's a lot cheaper [for society] to pay for IVF at $3,000 or $4,000 per procedure and deliver only singletons,” thus avoiding the harrowing medical problems and high costs associated with multiple births, he says.

Mandating coverage not only reduces the number of multiple births but also increases access for the middle class. “I practiced in Massachusetts and Rhode Island [which require coverage], where sheet-metal workers and heiresses from Newport” mingled at IVF clinics because insurance picked up the tab, Keefe says.

However, not all fertility doctors would opt into a fully insured system, says Dawn Gannon, director of professional outreach for RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association, which advocates that insurance companies treat infertility like any other medical condition. For example, when New Jersey mandated coverage, in 2001, “some clinics didn't take insurance at all, and some started taking it and then stopped,” she says, because “they got less money per procedure.”

If the United States enacts universal health-care coverage, advocates for the infertile hope ART will be covered as it is in other industrialized countries.

But universal coverage would still leave thorny issues unsettled, such as whether taxpayer subsidies should support ART for unmarried women or women over 40. For older women, the debate centers on whether it is appropriate for health insurance to subsidize an infertility problem that is the result of natural aging and not the result of a medical condition. Also, pregnancy is riskier for both the older mother and the child.

Earlier in IVF's history, many clinicians routinely refused ART to single women, older women, lesbians and, in some cases, poor people. A 1993 survey of Finnish ART clinics found that many doctors “preferred not to treat either lesbian or single women,” arguing that they “wanted to protect children from having inappropriate parents, primarily 'bad mothers,' ” according to Maili Malin, a medical sociologist at Finland's National Institute of Public Health. A single woman's marital status and “wish to have a child” were both “considered indications of . . . questionable mental health.” 

Whatever the outcome, the coverage debate will generate intense emotion. “So much of your life feels out of control when you want a child but find that you can't have one,” says Jan Elman Stout, a clinical psychologist in Chicago. “This is often the very first challenge that people encounter in their lives that, no matter how hard they work at it, it may not work out for them.”

The Issues:

  • Should fertility medicine be regulated more vigorously?
  • Should parents be allowed to choose their babies' characteristics, such as gender?
  • Should doctors be able to refuse assisted reproductive technologies (ART) services to gay, older or single people?

To view the entire report, login to CQ Researcher Online [subscription required], or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF.

Hate Groups

Is extremism on the rise in the United States?

By Peter Katel, May 8, 2009

National crises create opportunities for extremists. Today the global economic crisis now wreaking havoc on millions of American households is hitting while the first black president is in the White House and the national debate over illegal immigration remains unresolved. Already, some far-right extremists are proclaiming that their moment is arriving. Indeed, an annual tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows 926 hate groups operating in 2008, a 50 percent increase over the number in 2000. And the Department of Homeland Security concludes that conditions may favor far-right recruitment. But a mix of conservatives and liberal free-speech activists warn that despite concerns about extremism, the administration of Barack Obama should not be intruding on constitutionally protected political debate. Some extremism-monitoring groups say Obama’s election showed far-right power is waning, not strengthening. But that equation may change if the economic crisis deepens, the experts caution.

The Issues:

• Could the election of a black president and the nation’s economic crisis spark a resurgence of far-right political activity or violence?
• Are immigrants in danger from extremist violence?
• Is right-wing and extremist speech encouraging hate crimes?

To read the Overview of the report click here.
To view the entire report, login to CQ Researcher Online [subscription required], or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Hate Groups: Overview of the report on May 8, 2009

By Peter Katel

Two police officers drove up to a brick house in the middle-class Pittsburgh neighborhood of Stanton Heights on April 4, responding to an emergency call from a woman about her 22-year-old son. “I want him gone,” Margaret Poplawski told a 911 operator.

She also said that he had weapons, but the operator failed to share that crucial information with the police, who apparently took no special precautions in responding. Seconds after officers Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo walked into the house, Richard Poplawski opened fire, killing both men. He then shot and killed Eric Kelly, a policeman outside the house. After a four-hour standoff, Poplawski surrendered. Hours after that, the Anti-Defamation League and a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter traced a March 13 Web post by Poplawski to the neo-Nazi Web site Stormfront.

“The federal government, mainstream media and banking system in these United States are strongly under the influence of – if not completely controlled by – Zionist interest,” the post said. “An economic collapse of the financial system is inevitable, bringing with it some degree of civil unrest if not outright balkanization of the continental U.S., civil/revolutionary/racial war. . . . This collapse is likely engineered by the elite Jewish powers that be in order to make for a power and asset grab.”

Obsessions with Jewish conspiracy, racial conflict and looming collapse of the political and social order have long festered in the extreme outposts of U.S. political culture. While extremists typically become active in times of social and economic stress, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, struck in 1995 during a relatively tranquil, prosperous time.

Now, law enforcement officials warn, dire conditions throughout the country have created a perfect storm of provocations for right-wing extremists. In the midst of fighting two wars, the country is suffering an economic crisis in which more than 5 million people have lost their jobs, while the hypercharged debate over immigration – and the presence of about 12 million illegal immigrants – continues unresolved.

“This is the formula – the formula for hate,” says James Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Nashville, Tenn., division and a veteran investigator of far-right extremists. “Everything’s aligning for them for hate.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) drew a similar conclusion in early April, adding a concern over the apparent rekindling of extremist interest in recruiting disaffected military veterans.

“The consequences of a prolonged economic downturn . . . could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities,” the DHS said.

The election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president also could prompt an extremist backlash. “Obama is going to be the spark that arouses the white movement,” the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement – considered a leading neo-Nazi organization – announced on its Web site.

But the Obama effect will be negligible among hardcore, violent extremists, says an ex-FBI agent who worked undercover in right-wing terrorist cells in the early 1990s. “They’re in an alternative universe,” says Mike German, author of the 2007 book Thinking Like a Terrorist, and now a policy counselor to the American Civil Liberties Union on national-security issues. “When you believe the American government is the puppet of Israel, whether Obama is the face of the government instead of George W. Bush makes little difference.”

Indeed, says Columbia University historian Robert O. Paxton, the Obama victory demonstrated that the country’s worrisome conditions haven’t sparked widespread rejection of the political system – the classic catalyst for major upsurges of extremism. “Sure, we have a black president, but if the Right were really at the door, we wouldn’t have elected him,” says Paxton, a leading scholar of European fascism.

Still, Paxton and others caution that the sociopolitical effects of the economic crisis may take a while to hit. The Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks the Ku Klux Klan and other “hate groups,” reports activity by 926 such groups in 2008, a 50 percent increase over the number in 2000. “That is a real and a significant rise,” says Mark Potok, director of the center’s Intelligence Project. Despite the increased activity, the center says there’s nothing approaching a mass movement. Moreover, drawing connections between extremist organizations and hate crimes can be complicated.

“Most hate crimes are not committed by members of organized hate groups,” says Chip Berlet, senior analyst for Political Research Associates of Somerville, Mass., who has been writing about the far right for a quarter-century. “These groups help promote violence through their aggressive rhetoric. But you’re more likely to be victim of hate crime from a neighbor.”

For example, three young men from Staten Island, N.Y., charged with beating a 17-year-old Liberian immigrant into a coma on presidential election night last year were not accused of membership in anything more than a neighborhood gang. Their victim, who also lives on Staten Island, said his attackers, one of them Hispanic, yelled “Obama” as they set on him.

Mental health problems also may play a role in such violence, not all of which is inspired by hate rhetoric. In the single deadliest attack on immigrants in memory, Jiverly Wong is charged with killing 13 people (and then himself) at an immigrants’ service center in Binghamton, N.Y., one day before Poplawski’s alleged killings in Pittsburgh. Eleven of Wong’s victims were immigrants, like Wong, a native of Vietnam. Wong left a note in which he complained of his limited English-speaking ability and depicted himself as a victim of police persecution.

But in other recent cases in which immigrants were targeted, the alleged shooters did invoke far-right views. Keith Luke, 22, who lived with his mother in the Boston suburb of Brockton, was charged in January with killing a young woman, shooting and raping her sister and killing a 72-year-old man – all immigrants from Cape Verde. His planned next stop, police said, was a synagogue. Luke, whom one law enforcement source described as a “recluse,” allegedly told police he was “fighting extinction” of white people.

A similar motive was expressed by a 60-year-old Destin, Fla., man charged with killing two Chilean students and wounding three others, all visiting Florida as part of a cultural-exchange program. Shortly before the killings, Dannie Roy Baker had asked a neighbor, “Are you ready for the revolution?” And last summer, he had sent e-mails to Walton County Republican Party officials – who forwarded them to the sheriff’s office. One said, in part, “The Washington D.C. Dictators have already confessed to rigging elections in our States for their recruiting dictators to overthrow us with foreign illegals here.”

Some immigrant advocates say such comments indicate that extremists are exploiting resentment of immigrants in the hope of stirring up more attacks.

“It is the perfect vehicle, particularly with the decline of the economy,” says Eric Ward, national field director of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, which works with immigrants. “With American anxiety building, they hope that they can use immigrants as scapegoats to build their movement.”

“Illegals are turning America into a third-world slum,” says one of a series of leaflets distributed in the New Haven, Conn., area in early March by North-East White Pride (NEWP). “They come for welfare, or to take our jobs and bring with them drugs, crime and disease.”

The NEWP Web site carries the cryptic slogan, “Support your local 1488.” In neo-Nazi code, “88” represents “Heil Hitler,” words that begin with the eighth letter in the alphabet. And “14” stands for an infamous, 14-word racist dictum: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Its author was the late David Lane, a member of the violent neo-Nazi organization, The Order, who died in prison in 2007.

The Order, whose crimes included the murder of a Jewish radio talk-show host in Denver in 1984, sprang from the far-right milieu, as did Oklahoma City bomber McVeigh. And a source of inspiration in both cases was a novel glorifying genocide of Jews and blacks, The Turner Diaries, authored by the late William Pierce, founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, based in West Virginia.

Pierce’s death from cancer in 2002 was one of a series of developments that left a high-level leadership vacuum in the extremist movement. One of those trying to fill it is Billy Roper, 37, chairman of White Revolution, a group based in Russellville, Ark. Roper predicts that racial-ethnic tensions will explode when nonstop immigration from Latin America forces the violent breakup of the United States.

“We’re at a pre-revolutionary stage, where it’s too late to seek recompense through the political process, and too early to start shooting,” Roper says.

The Issues:

• Could the election of a black president and the nation’s economic crisis spark a resurgence of far-right political activity or violence?
• Are immigrants in danger from extremist violence?
• Is right-wing and extremist speech encouraging hate crimes?

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High-Speed Trains

Does the United States need supertrains?

By Thomas J. Billitteri, May 1, 2009

The Obama administration has designated $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed passenger rail, buoying hopes that supertrains will operate throughout the American landscape as they do in Europe and Asia. The money, most likely to be divided among multiple corridors, won't buy a single fast-rail system. But supporters say it will help traditional trains run faster and pay for planning to make true high-speed rail networks a reality. Washington's support signals a transformation in federal policy that has long favored highway and air travel, experts say. Some argue that money should be focused first on building true high-speed service in the busy Northeast Corridor. But supporters in the Midwest, Florida, California and elsewhere are expected to vie for a portion of the rail funds. So far, California appears furthest ahead in planning for fast rail, aided by a $9.95 billion bond issue. But critics say the plan's benefits are exaggerated.

The issues:

  • Do high-speed trains make economic sense?
  • Would high-speed trains relieve highway and airport congestion?
  • Is high-speed rail good for the environment?
To read the Overview of the report, click here.
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High-Speed Trains: Overview from the report on May 1, 2009

By Thomas J. Billitteri

It's the dream of grounded airline passengers and aggravated drivers everywhere: Hop a sleek, futuristic train that whisks you in living-room comfort to your destination hundreds of miles away at speeds two, three or even four times that of an auto.

Outside the United States, the idea is hardly new. “Bullet trains” first appeared in Japan 45 years ago, and countries as diverse as France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Taiwan and South Korea have high-speed systems running or under construction.

In America, supertrain development has long been stalled — but maybe not for long. President Barack Obama, seeking to make 21st-century train travel a signature issue of his administration, added $8 billion to this year's economic stimulus package for high-speed and other rail projects — the most ever allotted for rail at once. In addition, Obama's 2010 budget proposes state grants for high-speed rail totaling $5 billion over five years.

The money is aimed at two very different versions of what in the United States is defined as high-speed rail: conventional electric- or diesel-powered trains that can move at 110 miles an hour, or about 40 percent faster than most Amtrak trains travel today; and European-style high-speed trains that require special tracks and sophisticated locomotives to speed passengers at hundreds of miles an hour toward their destinations.

Right now, Amtrak's Washington-New York-Boston Acela Express counts as the closest thing to high-speed rail in the United States. It is capable of reaching 150 mph but averages roughly 80 mph on its Washington-New York route over tracks shared with freight and commuter trains.

Experts say the $8 billion in stimulus money isn't enough to pay for even one high-speed system. Much of the money, they say, will be used to improve existing tracks shared by passenger and freight trains, to help traditional passenger trains run faster in key corridors, such as one linking Chicago with other Midwest cities. But some of the money will likely be used for real bullet trains proposed in California, Florida, Texas and elsewhere. The government has identified 10 intercity corridors, plus the Northeast Corridor linking Washington and Boston, as potential recipients of federal money.

Obama said the nation requires “a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calls high-speed rail a “transformational initiative” for the economy. In April the president issued a strategic plan for high-speed rail, and by June the Transportation Department must explain how groups can seek grants. The competition for money “is going to be pretty severe,” said Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin, which is part of the Midwest high-speed rail effort.

However the stimulus money is used, rail advocates say it marks an historic shift in federal transportation policy, which for decades has favored highways and airports over trains.

“It is laying the groundwork for a high-speed rail system, and it's setting the tone that we're going to have one,” says James P. RePass, founder and CEO of the National Corridors Initiative, a group that advocates transportation-infrastructure development, with an emphasis on rail. While both government and private money will be required to develop high-speed trains, RePass says, the federal stimulus money signals “a sea change in the attitude of the national administration about rail.”

Ross B. Capon, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, calls the stimulus money “a serious beginning.”

“Eight billion dollars is not going to fulfill the dreams of people who see a [French-style 200 mph] TGV going everywhere,” he says, “but it can lay the groundwork for that if it's the first installment on a serious commitment.”

But high-speed trains face huge obstacles in the United States. Beyond massive infrastructure outlays, experts say they require a distinct set of geographic and demographic circumstances to make them worthwhile. They must serve cities within a few hundred miles of each other — otherwise it's faster for passengers to fly. Population densities along the route must be high — otherwise trains can't generate adequate revenue. Passengers must have an easy, cheap way to get from a train station to their final destination — requiring integrated public-transit systems in urban areas. And with gasoline far cheaper in the United States than in Europe, consumers must have an incentive to ditch their cars in favor of trains.

“Unlike Europe, we've been wedded to the auto in so many ways,” says Carlos Schwantes, a professor of transportation studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “Our cities are very diffuse, very spread out. Urban sprawl goes on for hundreds of miles. If we put in high-speed trains, where would we site the stations that would benefit many Americans? People don't live downtown, and they would have to secure space to park their autos. We don't have a support network of trolleys, trams and so on.”

Efforts to build true high-speed systems have faltered in the past. In Florida, where a Tampa-Orlando-Miami route has long been contemplated, voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 directing the legislature to develop a system capable of going faster than 120 mph. But Republican Gov. Jeb Bush helped quash the project. Efforts to build systems in Texas and California also failed in the past.

Today a renewed effort in California has come closest to achieving a true high-speed system. In November voters approved the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds to help pay for a 220-mph system between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim and eventually Sacramento and San Diego. However, the state — mired in a fiscal crisis — faces a challenge in raising the money.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority says the 800-mile system will cost $45 billion in government and private funds to build. Once in operation, the system will generate more than $1 billion in annual profits and need no operating subsidies, the authority claims. It also says the system will create thousands of jobs, have huge environmental benefits and draw as many as 117 million riders a year by 2030.

“By building this system, California will retain its rightful place as America's premier economic, transportation and environmental leader,” declared Quentin Kopp, chairman of the state rail authority.

But critics say California's claims are grossly exaggerated. A study by the Reason Foundation, a free-market-oriented think tank, and two other groups — Citizens Against Government Waste and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — concluded that the system would cost tens of billions more than the authority's estimate and that ridership and greenhouse-gas reductions would be much lower.

“My bottom line: It is a terrible financial loser,” says Wendell Cox, a transportation consultant and coauthor of the study.

As rail backers begin vying for federal stimulus money, a fundamental question remains: How much funding should be allocated for true high-speed systems and how much for incremental improvements in existing rail systems to make traditional trains run faster.

Joseph Vranich, coauthor of the Reason Foundation study and former president of the High Speed Rail Association, said he would “focus all this money where it's needed”: on a true high-speed rail system in the New York-Washington corridor, “by far the No. 1 market” for high-speed rail.

“Population density in the corridor is high, distances are short enough to make trains a viable alternative to airplanes, rights-of-way for new track already exist and construction of a new airport in the New York area to accommodate future travel demand would be difficult,” he says. “Once the country — public agencies and private companies — are smarter about how to build a high-speed system, then we can evaluate some other lines.”

But Capon of the rail passengers group argues that concentrating stimulus money in a single rail market would simply discourage others from moving ahead with projects that he contends are vitally needed. “If we say to 49 states, this is not your money, states may just give up.”

The Issues:

  • Do high-speed trains make economic sense?
  • Would high-speed trains relieve highway and airport congestion?
  • Is high-speed rail good for the environment?
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