Human Rights Issues

Are they a low priority under President Obama?
By Kenneth Jost, October 30, 2009

President Barack Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for human rights during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23. Two weeks later he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Human rights advocates are voicing disappointment with what they have seen so far of President Obama's approach to human rights issues in forming U.S. foreign policy. They applaud Obama for working to restore U.S. influence on human rights by changing President George W. Bush's policies on interrogating and detaining terrorism suspects. But they also see evidence that the Obama administration is reluctant to challenge authoritarian governments for clamping down on political dissidents or rigging elections. As one example, these critics complain that Obama should not have tried to curry favor with the Chinese government by postponing a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after the president visits China in November. Administration officials insist Obama is devoted to human rights and democratization and cite among other moves the decision to join the United Nations Human Rights Council. Conservative critics, however, say the council is a flawed institution and the United States should have stayed out.

The Issues

* Is the Obama administration deemphasizing human rights in U.S. foreign policy?
* Is the Obama administration reducing U.S. support for democratization in other countries?
* Was President Obama right to have the United States join the United Nations Human Rights Council?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Human Rights Issues" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Do conspiracy theories appeal more to the right than the left?

Below is an excerpt from the recent CQ Researcher article on "Conspiracy Theories" by Peter Katel, October 23, 2009

A long tradition among historians and political scientists links conspiracy theories with the far right. Historian Richard Hofstadter's classic 1963 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” focused exclusively on right-wing conspiracism. “The modern right wing … feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind,” he wrote. “The old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.” [Footnote 24]

Increasingly, however, conspiracy theory-watchers are concluding that conspiracism's appeal goes beyond ideology. For instance, the “truther” theories about the 9/11 attacks have attracted both left- and right-wingers. Indeed, some scholars have argued in recent years that theories once closely associated with the right have been attracting followers from the left. Anti-Semitism is the classic case, in the form of left-wing attacks on Israel that challenge its right to exist.

Shortly before the war in Iraq began in 2003, a conflict erupted in the anti-war left after Rabbi Michael Lerner of Berkeley, Calif., was blocked from speaking at a peace rally in San Francisco. Lerner had criticized one of the organizations sponsoring the event for planning to use it for anti-Israel propaganda purposes. “Fellow progressive Jews, some anxious to speak at these rallies, have urged me to keep quiet about anti-Semitism on the left,” Lerner wrote in The Wall Street Journal. [Footnote 25]

Since then, however, the furor over anti-Jewish prejudice on the left has quieted along with the anti-war movement. And some conspiracy theory opponents view the major conspiracist current of the moment as a right-wing trend. “Of all the conspiracy theorists, 90 percent are on the far right,” says Edward L. Winston, a St. Louis software engineer who runs a conspiracy-debunking Web site (

But Winston adds that the widespread and growing skepticism about government favors the expansion of conspiracism beyond what he considers its natural right-wing constituency. Media productions such as the first “Zeitgeist” movie — which mixes classical conspiracy theories about “international bankers” and new ones about Sept. 11 — may be broadening the ranks of conspiracy believers, he says. “I was surprised how popular ‘Zeitgeist’ was and how many people believed it,” he says.

Conspiracy scholar Pipes argues that linking conspiracy theories exclusively to the right is a long-standing and erroneous response. “It's as much a left phenomenon as it is right,” he says. “I would argue that the whole premise of communist ideology is a conspiracy theory — that the bosses are stealing your money.”

Vladimir I. Lenin — founder of the Soviet state — in effect confirmed the vision of those who denounced communist conspiracies, Pipes has argued. Lenin had concluded the countries that embraced capitalism took that path because the big-business class had covertly seized government power. Communists should follow that example, Lenin argued, and greet charges of conspiratorial methods as “flattering.” [Footnote 26]

The University of California's Olmsted argues that right-wing conspiracy theories tend to gain more traction, though she acknowledges that conspiracy theories appeal to the extremes on both right and left. “They feel they know the truth, yet the majority of the country votes against them,” she says. “Most people don't share their beliefs — or they think evil people in power are manipulating things.”

Still, conspiracy theories that appeal to those on the right usually become more prominent, Olmsted says, “because they're backed generally by people with more power.” Contrasting the attention that Limbaugh and other radio and TV talk-show hosts have given the “birther” theories, Olmsted notes that comparably popular supporters can't be found for the “truther” conspiracists. “Is there anyone really significant out there” among the 9/11 conspiracists “who has a real platform?” The “truther” movement generated no congressional legislation along the lines of the recent bill on birth certificates for presidential candidates.

Even so, the economic crisis may favor a resurgence of conspiracy theories that appeal to the left, says Michael Barkun, a professor of political science at Syracuse University who has studied conspiracies throughout his career. But that holds true for right-oriented theories as well, he adds. “Going well back into the 19th century, American conspiracists had almost a stylistic preference for conspiracy theories that emphasize financial power or financial manipulation,” he says. That preference applies on the left and right.

In general, conspiracy theories draw their strength from deep-seated needs and emotions, not from ideology, Barkun says. “Conspiracy theories have the psychological benefit of taking a complex reality and simplifying it. Whatever these things that bother you, they all are the result of some single cause.”

[24] Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics (2008 edition), pp. 23–24. For a view of Hofstadter as ahead of his time, see Thomas Frank, “From John Birchers to Birthers,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2009, p. A21.

[25] Michael Lerner, “The Antiwar Anti-Semites,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2003.

[26] Quoted in Daniel Pipes, Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes From (1997), p. 175.

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Conspiracy Theories" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Conspiracy Theories

Do conspiracy theories threaten democracy?
By Peter Katel, October 23, 2009

President Barack Obama is a foreign-born radical plotting to establish a dictatorship. His predecessor, George W. Bush, allowed the Sept. 11 attacks to occur in order to justify sending U.S. troops to Iraq. The federal government has plans to imprison political dissenters in detention camps in the United States. Welcome to the world of conspiracy theories. Since colonial times, conspiracies both far-fetched and plausible have been used to explain trends and events ranging from slavery to why U.S. forces were surprised at Pearl Harbor. In today's world, the communications revolution allows conspiracy theories to be spread more widely and quickly than ever before. But facts that undermine conspiracy theories move less rapidly through the Web, some experts worry. As a result, there may be growing acceptance of the notion that hidden forces control events, leading to eroding confidence in democracy, with repercussions that could lead Americans to large-scale withdrawal from civic life, or even to violence.

The Issues

* Are conspiracy theories becoming part of mainstream politics?
* Do conspiracy theories appeal more to the right than the left?
* Do conspiracy theories threaten democracy?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Conspiracy Theories" subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

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Finally, a name for my illness.

Posted by Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer, CQ Researcher

Back in the early 1990s, I was a science reporter and also suffering through some of my worst days with what has now been a more than 20-year experience with the illness dubbed “chronic fatigue syndrome.”

Among my reporting assignments were stories on the field of immunology, then the scene of battles over whether to treat “chronic fatigue” like a true illness.

I knew the disease was real. Nothing but a real disease could explain the sore throats, extreme chills, itchy patches of super-dry skin and memory and concentration difficulties that I periodically experienced along with intense tiredness and sleeplessness. Accordingly, I asked every immunologist I spoke with about his or her views on the condition – not letting on that I had it, of course. The overwhelming majority of scientists and doctors I spoke with told me flatly that the disease was, in fact, not a disease but some other phenomenon, perhaps related to depression, some other psychological condition – mainly confined to hysterical females -- or simple malingering.

One doctor, however, had launched a careful research program on chronic fatigue, and he was uncovering a list of the actual symptoms, including most of the ones I experienced, such as a constantly runny nose, night sweats, unusual and severe headaches, eye problems and sudden, unexplainable joint pains. I didn’t reveal my personal interest to that doctor either, but I was relieved to hear that his symptom list closely echoed my own experience!

Much more gratifying, then, to read earlier this month that scientists have found a retrovirus – XMRV – that is present in a large majority of chronic fatigue sufferers and, now, presumed to be a biological cause of chronic fatigue, at last recognized as not only an illness but a communicable one, to boot.

A New York Times op-ed today explains what we’ve lost in the years when much of the science, medical and public-health communities kept their minds closed to that possibility (

The illness first became news in 1984, when several hundred people living in Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, turned up with flu-like symptoms that led to neurological problems, “including severe memory loss and inability to understand conversation,” writes Hillary Johnson, author of Osler’s Web: Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic.

Doctors and scientists couldn’t figure out what was going on, and ultimately public-health investigators from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that the Nevada doctors “had worked themselves into a frenzy” over what was surely a purely psychological or behavioral phenomenon whose sufferers were “not normal Americans,” she reports. In the next few years, outbreaks continued around the country, but a panel of academic scientists asked to name the phenomenon opted to call it “chronic fatigue syndrome,” to suggest its psychological – rather than physical – nature and thus “prevent insurers from having to make ‘chronic disbursements,’ ” as one panel member joked.

Congress has appropriated funds for research over the years, though in relatively small amounts, but the CDC “has seemed unwilling to spend it productively,” says Johnson. Investigations by federal auditing agencies have revealed “that for years government scientists had been funneling millions meant for research on this disease into other pet projects.”

Meanwhile, the quickly-arrived-at and long-lasting opinion that chronic fatigue is not actually an illness has had some serious consequences. “As public health officials focused on psychiatric explanations, the virus apparently spread widely,” with as many as 10 million Americans now believed to carry the retrovirus, Johnson says.

Because the disease has gotten relatively little scientific attention, doctors still have no idea how it spreads. Among other things, that means that, though I really hope I don’t pass chronic fatigue on to you, nobody knows how I can prevent that.

Sometimes even scientists aren’t careful enough to heed what many believe to be their most hallowed professional creed: Follow all the evidence no matter where it leads, and be careful to keep an open mind.

Major Policy Shift on Cancer Screening Announced

Posted 10/21/09 by Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

The New York Times reported this morning that the American Cancer Society (ACS) is shifting its longtime stance on cancer screening, suggesting now that the benefits of screening people for some common cancers – breast and prostate cancer, in particular – has been overstated.
“We don’t want people to panic, but I’m admitting that American medicine has overpromised when it comes to screening. The advantages to screening have been exaggerated,” said ACS chief medical officer Otis Brawley. (

ACS’s new stance echoes the comments of some sources I spoke with for the CQ Researcher’s January 16, 2009, report, “Preventing Cancer.”

"It's immoral for surgeons not to tell patients that we [men] all get prostate cancer as we age," said Thomas A. Stamey, a professor emeritus of urology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Stamey, at age 76, said he hadn't been screened for several years. "Do we really want to screen 100,000 men to save 226 from dying of prostate cancer?" he asked. "It's about the same chance of my not driving home safely tonight."
"The media have taken it on ourselves to promote everybody getting screened for everything," believing that's the right public-health message, said medical journalist Shannon Brownlee, author of "Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer". In international comparisons, U.S. survival rates for some cancers — such as a 99 percent five-year survival rate for prostate cancer — "make us look like geniuses," said Brownlee. But "if you're treating a lot of things that didn't need to be treated [in the first place], of course people are going to survive."

Screening doesn't always lengthen lives. In a 2007 study of computed tomography (CT) scanning of current and former smokers, researchers from New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center found nearly three times as many lung cancers as predicted but also found that the early detection and treatment "did not lead to a corresponding decrease in advanced lung cancers or a reduction in deaths."

Medical Marijuana Industry Growing in Popularity

Posted 10/21/09 by Emily DeRuy
Editorial Intern, CQ Researcher
Senior, UC, San Diego,
Political Science/Communications

The founder and president of Med Gro Cannabis College, in Southfield, Mich., hopes to capitalize on the growing medical marijuana industry. Nick Tennant opened the trade school in September to teach state-qualified caregivers how to treat specific chronic medical conditions with cannabis.

Botanists and lawyers teach the students -- a diverse mix ranging from recent high school graduates and ministers to everyone in between -- the legal and business issues surrounding medical marijuana, including pot history, cultivation, cooking and caregiving procedures. Tennant hopes that the market for medical cannabis will continue to grow nationwide, as it has in California, where it is estimated to be a $14 billion industry. Tennant also plans to sell related supplies and services to increase revenue.

The school is advertising through alternative publications such as Metro Times, a Google Adwords campaign and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. “We're trying to do whatever we can to make a name for ourselves,” said Tennant. Since Michigan voters approved a law last November allowing the state-regulated therapeutic use of marijuana, a number of symposiums on proper medical use of cannabis have been held, and The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation has opened a clinic that pairs qualified patients with physicians.

Tennant and others in the medical marijuana business say they want to counter the stigma associated with using marijuana. “Professionalism goes a long way. Our teachers are not just some stoner off the street. These are degreed botanists and attorneys teaching classes,” Tennant says. He says he hopes the school will help educate people about the benefits and proper usage of medical marijuana, as well as provide a source of income in a steadily growing market.

Source: Shea, Bill, “Cannabis on the Syllabus: Entrepreneur Trains Caregivers on Issues of Medical Marijuana,” Crain’s Detroit Business, October 11, 2009 http://www.crains

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Legalizing Marijuana" (6/12/09) [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Is prescription-drug abuse as serious as illegal drug abuse?

Below is an excerpt from the "Overview" section of the October 9, 2009 CQ Researcher report on "Medication Abuse" by Marcia Clemmitt

The use of legitimate prescription drugs like opioid painkillers and stimulants to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has soared in the United States over the past two decades. But along with increased legitimate use of opioids like Vicodin and OxyContin and stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall has come extensive abuse.

In recent years, prescription drugs have outpaced illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine as the cause of overdose deaths, according to both federal statistics and data from many states. “The number of deaths … that involved prescription opioid analgesics increased from 2,900 in 1999 to at least 7,500 in 2004,” up “150 percent in just five years,” with painkiller deaths more numerous than heroin- and cocaine-related deaths put together, said the CDC's Paulozzi. [Footnote 8]

While the CDC has not analyzed data beyond 2004, the trend is likely to continue, said Paulozzi. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), has found that “the number of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses increased steadily through 2007,” so that “the mortality statistics through 2005 probably underestimate the present magnitude of the problem.” [Footnote 9]

Considering the high rate at which Americans consume prescription drugs, there should be little surprise in such numbers, some analysts say.

Indeed, frequently abused Vicodin is the most-prescribed drug in the United States, with 117 million prescriptions written in 2008, says David S. Kloth, a Danbury, Conn., anesthesiologist and past president of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP). By comparison, another heavily used drug, the cholesterol-lowering medicine Lipitor, was prescribed 61 million times last year, Kloth says.
Marijuana and Vicodin Are Most-Abused

Ninety-nine percent of the world's hydrocodone — Vicodin's opioid component — and 80 percent of the world's supply of narcotics, generally, are consumed in the United States, he says. “The actual, indirect societal costs [of prescription-drug abuse] are so huge that the problem can no longer be ignored,” says Kloth. “We have doctors assisting patients in abuse.”

There also has been a dramatic increase in deaths from methadone — in the wafer form prescribed as a pain medication, not the liquid form used as maintenance for former heroin addicts, says Hazelden's Seppala. “The pill is a lethal drug because it's so slow going out of one's system,” he says. But unwary people “take a whole bunch because it acts so slowly that they don't realize they're getting high,” and they end up dying from the drug's toxicity, he explains.

Today there is more abuse of prescription opiates than marijuana, says Kosten of Baylor College of Medicine. “The average first-time user is 15 years old,” and, unlike with most drug epidemics, females are as likely as males to abuse prescription medications. With illegal drugs, “boys are more likely to go out to find a dealer and get them,” but boys and girls can get prescription opiates on their own, for free, from their families' medicine chests, he says.

“Illicit drugs come and go,” but abuse of prescription drugs is likely to keep on expanding because of their availability, says Western Law School's Liang. “It's a growth industry for our kids, and addicted children become addicted adults.”

Among his students, “it's a normal thing to buy on the Internet,” Liang says. “This is the health-care system for kids today. And when you hear the justifications of college students — like, ‘I'm using [Adderall] because I'm trying to get into med school,’ followed by the admission that ‘I couldn't really cope with the test because I was so buzzed from the drug’ — you understand how serious substance-abuse-related problems can quickly grow,” he says.

Furthermore, “there's a real synergy between opioids diverted to illegal use and heroin, since many people get hooked on the diverted opioids” and then shift to illegal drugs or add them to the mix, says Robert G. Carlson, director of the Center for Interventions, Treatment and Addictions Research at Wright State University's Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio. Abuse of prescription drugs also likely brings sellers of illegal drugs like heroin into areas where illegal-drug pushers haven't previously operated. “Sellers follow the drugs,” Carlson says.

Nevertheless, some observers say that facts on the ground may not warrant the alarms some substance-abuse specialists are sounding. “I haven't seen any communication from anyone indicating we're near a crisis mode or things have gotten a lot worse … in the recent past,” said Ron Petrin, vice president of the Board of Pharmacy in New Hampshire, a state in which some analyses find a surging epidemic of prescription-drug addiction. [Footnote 10]

Just as with illegal drugs, the number of people who initially abuse prescription drugs is far higher than those who actually become dependent, says Kosten. For both kinds of drugs, “eight people try opiates and one becomes dependent,” he says. For that reason, “it's a good bet that a substantial proportion [of prescription-drug abusers] will outgrow” the habit. Nevertheless, Kosten adds, “a lot of damage can happen in the meantime,” including education setbacks, such as poor grades, that take years to overcome, he says.

Abuse of prescription “opioids hit a peak in 2006, and it's still staying there, not really on the rise, but not dropping either,” says Michael H. Lowenstein, co-director of the Waismann Institute, a detoxification center in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Still, an alarming story making the media rounds may be more legend than fact, says Hazelden's Seppala. Beginning in the early 2000s, some news reports described “pharm parties,” in which teenagers scrounge up all the prescription drugs they can find, get together, toss all the drugs into a bowl, and grab and consume random handfuls of the medications. The story reached the mainstream with a USA Today account on June 13, 2006.[Footnote 11] But while some “pharm parties” probably do occur, “I don't think it's a common phenomenon,” says Seppala, who has researched them.

Similarly, while prescription sleeping pills are addictive, “the vast, vast majority of people never have a problem with them,” says Leslie Lundt, a psychiatrist in Boise, Idaho, who is the author of Think Like a Psychiatrist: Understanding Psychiatric Medicines. “Nearly 100 percent of the people who have issues with the ‘sleepers’ have had another substance-abuse or gambling issue.”

Some aspects of prescription drugs may ultimately make them easier for society to control than illegal drugs. As compared to alcoholics and heroin addicts, for example, “We see opioid pill addicts a lot earlier” in their substance-abusing lives, says Seppala. For all opioids, including heroin, “the addiction starts more quickly” than with most other substances, but pill addicts often find it harder to get a daily supply of their drug than street-drug addicts, and so fall into the pain of withdrawal sooner, which brings them to treatment, he says.

Unlike with illegal drugs, if abuse becomes a problem with a legal medication, “we can just make less of it, or make it a lot harder to get” by limiting the places at which the drug can be dispensed, requiring buyers to fill out certain forms, or the like, says Kosten.

The Issues:
* Is prescription-drug abuse as serious as illegal drug abuse?
* Is enough being done to combat medication abuse?
* Are patients in pain suffering because doctors fear prosecution for medication abuse?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Medication Abuse" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

[8] Testimony before House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, July 12, 2007.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Quoted in Elaine Grant, “Pharmacy Board Stalls Drug Abuse Prevention Efforts, Advocates Say,” New Hampshire Public Radio, July 27, 2009,

[11] Donna Leinwand, “Prescription Drugs Find Place in Teen Culture,” USA Today, June 13, 2006, p. 1A. David Emery, “Are Pharm Parties for Real?” David Emery's Urban Legends Blog,, March 24, 2009,

Gay Rights: Lots of Noise, but No Tangible Progress

By Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

Gay-rights advocates made no tangible progress toward most of their policy goals after a weekend of high-profile events in Washington that included a major presidential speech and a national march by tens of thousands of gays and straight allies.

President Obama drew raucous cheers on Saturday night [Oct. 10] as he reiterated at the Human Rights Campaign’s $250-a-plate dinner his support for enacting a federal law to prohibit discrimination against gays in employment, repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The next day, however, Obama’s remarks drew decidedly mixed reactions from speakers who addressed the National Equality March from the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Many of the speakers and many of the march participants described themselves as Obama supporters but complained of the lack of concrete action in his speech.

Obama is “verbally committed” to gay-rights goals, said Marco Chan, co-chair of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, but there “wasn’t a particular point of action.” Chan was among a group of about two dozen Harvard students who came for the march, which began a couple of blocks from the White House and proceeded down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol for nearly four hours of speeches and entertainment.

The march drew participants from all over the country, including 40 busloads from New York City’s theater community and an eight-person delegation from Alaska. Plans for the march had divided the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. National groups were slow to endorse the march. Some local and state groups complained the event was diverting money and manpower away from state ballot measures in Maine and Washington.

With no official counts, crowd estimates varied widely. Speakers claimed “hundreds of thousands” had marched. The Washington Post used “tens of thousands.” Time magazine made what seemed to many a generous estimate of about 200,000. Whatever the number, the crowd began drifting away by late afternoon after an appearance by the event’s star entertainment attraction: the bisexual pop singing sensation, Lady Gaga.

In his speech the night before, Obama had urged gay-rights supporters to increase pressure on politicians, “including me.” But he made no reference to the march in his 25-minute address. Obama told the crowd of about 3,000 that he expected Congress to complete action as early as this week on a federal hate-crimes provision that will add penalties for offenses motivated by prejudice based on, among other categories, sexual orientation. The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die on Oct. 12, 1998.

On other issues, however, Obama was less concrete. He repeated his pledge to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prohibits service members from being openly gay or lesbian. But he did not reply to calls from some gay-rights advocates to use his power as commander in chief to suspend the policy in advance of congressional action. (For background, see Peter Katel, "Gays in the Military," CQ Researcher, Sept. 18.)

Obama also said he would work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to gay couples. But he did not comment on the Maine ballot measure, which would overturn a law recognizing gay marriage, or a measure in the state of Washington, which would overturn a law granting domestic-partner benefits to gay couples. (For background, see Kenneth Jost, "Gay Marriage Showdowns," CQ Researcher, Sept. 26, 2008.)

Many gay commentators were critical. On CNN, columnist-blogger Dan Savage remarked that Obama had said nothing that he had not already said during his 2008 presidential campaign. Hillary Rosen, a longtime gay-rights supporter and now a CNN contributor, countered by appealing for more patience from gay-rights advocates.

The rally at the Capitol featured speeches by a diverse collection of upwards of 50 gay-rights advocates, ranging from veteran activist David Mixner to several leaders of LGBT youth organizations. Toward the end, the rally featured half a dozen openly gay elected local or state officials from Virginia to Hawaii. But no member of Congress or other federal official spoke.
Many of the speakers rejected calls for patience on LGBT issues. “Good things do come,” said keynote speaker Julian Bond, head of the NAACP. “They don’t come to those who wait,” he continued. “They come to those who agitate.”

In her turn, Robin McGehee, co-chair for the march, derided Obama for the lack of concrete action. She mocked Obama’s credit-taking for inviting LGBT families to the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House law. The invitation, she said, was “just like the ticket for the back of the bus.”

“It is time to take action,” McGehee said, speaking to the absent Obama. “I want evidence that you can be a fierce advocate for the rights of my two children and the LGBT community.”

Medication Abuse

Is tighter regulation of prescription drugs needed?
By Marcia Clemmitt, October 9, 2009

Michael Jackson's shocking accidental death in June was only the latest in a string of high-profile fatalities from multiple prescription medications. Actor Heath Ledger and the model and sex symbol Anna Nicole Smith died recently in comparable circumstances. But celebrities aren't the only abusers of painkillers, sedatives and stimulants. Prescription drug abuse has become a growing problem in the United States, even as illegal drug use has gradually declined. In 2005, for example, more people ages 45 to 54 died from drug overdoses — mostly prescription painkillers — than in car crashes. Many people believe prescription drugs are safer than illegal drugs, so changing public attitudes is a challenge. Also, many prescription narcotics are being diverted to dangerous, recreational use, but doctors, dentists and nurses are poorly informed about the potential for abuse. Meanwhile, government drug-education programs focus on illegal drugs while largely ignoring the risks of prescription abuse.

The Issues:
* Is prescription-drug abuse as serious as illegal drug abuse?
* Is enough being done to combat medication abuse?
* Are patients in pain suffering because doctors fear prosecution for medication abuse?

An excerpt from this article can be found on the CQ Researcher Blog.

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Medication Abuse" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Rescuing Children, a report from the CQ Global Researcher

Is the global community doing enough?
Robert Kiener, CQ Global Researcher, October 2009

The numbers are grim: Every day more than 25,000 children under age 5 — the equivalent of 125 jetliners full of youngsters — die from hunger, poverty or easily preventable illnesses, such as diarrhea and malaria. Millions of others are abandoned, trafficked into prostitution, forced into armed conflict or used as child laborers — mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

While governments and nongovernmental organizations struggle to help, aid cutbacks due to the world economic crisis could trigger 200,000–400,000 additional child deaths each year. Meanwhile, experts and policy makers disagree over how best to combat AIDS among children, and whether more foreign aid would do more harm than good. Others question whether the United States should ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States is the only nation besides Somalia that hasn't adopted the treaty.

The Issues:
* Are rich nations giving enough aid to help children in poor countries?
* Should the United States ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child?
* Should AIDS prevention be emphasized more than treatment?

For more information see the CQ Global Researcher report on "Rescuing Children" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Global Researcher PDF

Executing an Innocent Man

By Steve Weinberg, freelance writer

Those who read the CQ Researcher of April 17, 2009 ("Wrongful Convictions"), already understand the wrongful conviction conundrum across the United States. Far too many innocent men and women are incarcerated for crimes they never committed. In many instances, the actual murderers, rapists and burglars remain at liberty to murder, rape and burgle again.

The discussion about wrongful convictions becomes extra emotional when the death penalty is involved. Various prosecutors, judges, law professors, governors and legislators state vehemently that no innocent defendant has ever been put to death by any state government or the federal government during the entire history of the United States. That statement is both statistically unlikely, and is especially naive given the number of documented wrongful convictions since the advent of DNA testing three decades ago, as well as a better understanding of why wrongful convictions occur in cases without testable DNA evidence.

Perhaps the most irresponsible spokesperson for the rose-colored-glasses view of "no innocents ever executed" is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. A summary of his so-called reasoning can be found in the April 17, 2009, issue of CQ Researcher. I'm not the only critic of Scalia on this matter--among others, four of his eight Supreme Court colleagues fault his thinking.

In the past two months, a debate from earlier in the decade has resurfaced about the 2004 Texas execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. To any dispassionate examiner, the arson murder conviction of Willingham has been discredited. He never should have been imprisoned, much less executed. Yet those too heavily invested in the rightness of the criminal justice system continue to deny the holes in the Willingham case. Those deniers need to awake, before they become complicit in future miscarriages of justice.

If you want to join my open discussion wrongful convictions, please visit

An excerpt of the report on "Wrongful Convictions" can be found here on the CQ Researcher blog.

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Wrongful Convictions" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Researcher PDF

Saudi Arabia to Aid Pakistan's Displaced

By John Felton, freelancer

Saudi Arabia has pledged more than $100 million to provide food, shelter, medical supplies and other aid to more than 2 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Pakistan. The IDPs fled their homes in northern Pakistan in May when the government's offensive against Islamist militants in the restive North West Frontier Province heated up.

The displacement was one of the largest in recent memory. Another 550,000-plus Pakistanis had fled their homes during earlier rounds of fighting, as described in my March CQ Global Researcher report, "Aiding Refugees."

The Saudi pledge is the largest so far for the Pakistan situation, according to Martin Mogwanja, the U.N.'s Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan. Before the Saudi pledge, the U.N. had raised little more than one-half of the $680 million needed for its Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan.

More than a million displaced Pakistanis have returned to their homes since July, leaving about 1 million people still displaced. Most are living with "host" families, some of which have themselves run out of money. The rest of the IDPs are living in 19 camps. And many who have returned home need aid because they spent or lost all of their own resources while displaced, the U.N. said.

Besides its own IDPs, Pakistan still hosts nearly $1.8 million Afghan refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – some of whom have been there since fleeing their country after the 1979 Soviet invasion.

For more information see the CQ Global Researcher report on "Aiding Refugees" [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Global Researcher PDF

G20 Pass the Baton to Emerging Economies

Peter Behr, CQ Global Researcher author, October 5, 2009

China, Brazil and others emerging economies will have an increasingly stronger role in shaping global investment and capital flows, trading rules and consumer cultures, according to the leaders of the world’s largest economies, who met in Pittsburgh recently to discuss how to reform the world's financial and economic systems.

“The baton is being passed,” said columnist Hamish McRae in Britain’s Independent, following the summit’s close. “If you wanted to pick a day when the developed world accepted that economic power was shifting to the emerging nations, last Friday is as good as any.” This larger, more diverse group of nations will confront not just economic policy disputes, but issues of climate change, nuclear non-proliferation, open trade and vast disparities between the world’s riches and poorest societies, commentators said.

The Pittsburgh meeting was designed to plan a path to help the world recover from the wrenching global recession and guard against future economic crises. “We have achieved a level of tangible, global economic cooperation that we’ve never seen before,” said President Barack Obama, after the meeting of the Group of 20 – the informal body consisting of the United States, Japan, Europe and the emerging developing economies of China, India and Brazil

The Sept. 25 summit communiqué [“Leaders’ Statement," Sept. 24-25, 2009, ] called for a crucial rebalancing of old and new-guard economic systems. It would require the United States to reduce debt and raise saving levels -- thus buying less from abroad -- and for China and other export-dominated countries to boost their domestic spending. [] Imbalances of the past decade helped fuel the speculative housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crash.

As experts predicted in the July CQ Global Researcher that I wrote, "Fixing Capitalism," the G20 leaders stopped far short of agreeing on how to make good on this commitment, but they assigned the International Monetary Fund to serve as an umpire to report on whether or not each of the countries was meeting its goals — a “naming and shaming” role. Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling expressed the reality behind the agreement, saying, “This does not mean we are in a new world order where we have a G20 that tells everyone what to do. It is up to each country to decide what is best for them.”

The summit also produced a large list of financial regulatory goals to be phased in between 2010 and 2012 -- a tight schedule that will test the G20 leaders’ resolve. The reforms include higher capital reserves for banks, limits on executive compensation in financial firms, effective regulation of derivatives and other complex over-the-counter financial instruments and ways to close endangered financial firms that had become “too big to fail.”

“The G20 leaders will need to develop an enforcement mechanism to make this credible,” said professor Eswar Prasad of Cornell University. [Chris Giles, “Sniping mars spirit of co-operation,” The Financial Times, Sept. 25, 2009.

A strengthened international Financial Stability Board will be in charge of the executive bonus issue, even though it has divided France and other European countries (who favor tight restrictions) from the United States and Britain, where tight bonus restrictions are considered unworkable. Financial Stability Board.

For all its yet unfulfilled commitments, the G20 summit officially launched a new chapter for the global economy that recognizes the rising power of the developing world. The summit agreed to increase the voting rights of the emerging economies in the IMF – in recognition that China, Brazil and others of this group will play an increasingly stronger hand in shaping global investment and capital flows, trading rules and consumer cultures.

For more information, read the CQ Global Researcher report [subscription required] or purchase the CQ Global Researcher PDF on "Fixing Capitalism"

Excerpt from the report on "Nuclear Disarmament"

By Jennifer Weeks, October 2, 2009


Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 23, President Barack Obama pledged his administration would work with other nations to strengthen world peace and prosperity.

“First, we must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them,” Obama said. “If we fail to act, we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine.”

It is an ambitious goal, especially for the United States. Nuclear weapons have been integral to U.S. defense policy since the end of World War II. Even today, nearly 20 years after the Cold War ended, the United States still spends more than $50 billion every year on nuclear armaments and related programs, including weapons systems, missile defenses and environmental and health costs from past nuclear weapons production.

Many civilian and military experts say abolishing nuclear weapons is impossible. Moreover, they argue, doing so would make the world less safe, because rogue states and terrorists would feel freer to threaten other countries.

But in 2007, four men who had shaped U.S. national security policy for decades – both Democrats and Republicans – warned that relying on nuclear weapons to keep the peace was “becoming increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.” The problem, said former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn, was that countries like India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran were seeking the bomb, and a global black market in nuclear materials was expanding. Instead, they argued, the best way to reduce nuclear dangers was to work toward completely eliminating nuclear weapons.

President Obama agrees. His proposed fiscal 2010 budget eliminates funds for designing new nuclear warheads, which his predecessor, George W. Bush, had argued were needed to replace older weapons in the U.S. arsenal. On April 5, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Obama laid out a broad agenda for moving toward nuclear abolition. First, he said, the U.S. would reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its own security strategy by:

* Negotiating new strategic (long-range) arms reductions with Russia;

* Ratifying a treaty ending nuclear weapons testing; and

* Seeking a new international treaty to end production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

Obama also proposed strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which 188 nations have pledged not to seek nuclear weapons, by:

* Giving international inspectors more authority;

* Agreeing on consequences when nations break the rules; and

* Creating an international nuclear-fuel bank so countries with nuclear power reactors would not need nuclear technology to produce their own fuel.

Finally, Obama announced new actions to keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists, including measures to secure vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide and stronger programs to detect nuclear smuggling.

“I’m not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime,” Obama said. “But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.”

Obama took another important step in mid-September, canceling Bush administration plans to deploy antimissile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. The installations were intended to defend Europe against missile strikes from Iran. But Russian leaders saw them as a provocative intrusion into Eastern Europe and argued that the system might be expanded and reconfigured to threaten Russia. Instead, the Obama administration said it would field shorter-range interceptors, initially based on ships, which could be targeted more easily against Iranian threats.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Obama’s move a “correct and brave decision.” But conservatives said Obama was undermining U.S. security commitments to European allies. “Given the serious and growing threats posed by Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, now is the time when we should look to strengthen our defenses, and those of our allies,” said Republican senator and former presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona. “I believe the decision to abandon [the land-based system] unilaterally is seriously misguided.”

On Sept. 24 the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution urging all countries to work toward nuclear reductions and disarmament and to put tighter controls on nuclear technologies and materials. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon welcomed the council’s new resolve and urged states to follow through on the resolution. “Together we have dreamed about a nuclear-weapon-free world. Now we must act to achieve it,” he said.

Other heads of state who had long supported faster nuclear reductions echoed the secretary-general. “While we sleep, death is awake. Death keeps watch from the warehouses that store more than 23,000 nuclear warheads, like 23,000 eyes open and waiting for a moment of carelessness,” said Oscar Arias Sanchez, president of Costa Rica.

The world has lived with nuclear threats for more than 60 years, but today’s challenges differ dramatically from those during the Cold War, when the greatest global security risk was war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Under the doctrine of “mutual assured destruction,” each country fielded tens of thousands of nuclear weapons to ensure that it could survive a first strike and still inflict catastrophic damage on its enemy. The policy kept the peace, advocates argued, by making each side afraid to start a war.

But accidents and misread signals nearly caused nuclear explosions more than once, when nations came close to nuclear exchanges or troops mishandled their own nuclear weapons. Many experts still worry that too many nuclear weapons are on high alert, and that U.S. or Russian leaders might misinterpret an accidental launch as a planned strike and respond by launching more missiles and killing millions of people.

Now the threat of terrorism has compounded the danger. “The greatest threat to our security is that al Qaeda will acquire a nuclear weapon from Pakistan’s or Russia’s arsenal, or the material to build one from any of a dozen countries that don’t guard their material adequately,” says Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which supports efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. “Another risk is that nuclear weapons could be used in a regional war – for example, between India and Pakistan.”

The United States and Soviet Union (succeeded by Russia) have always possessed nearly all the nuclear weapons in the world. Together they have about 24,500 nuclear weapons today, down from a peak of roughly 64,000 in 1986. More than half of these weapons are held as spares, in reserve, or are awaiting dismantlement. But advocates say the U.S. and Russia should make further cuts, both to reduce the risk of a nuclear exchange and to build support for strong, global nonproliferation policies.

“The NPT requires the nuclear powers to move toward disarmament,” says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the nonprofit Arms Control Association. “If we don’t, other countries will be less willing to support tough controls on nuclear bomb material and sanctions on countries that try to develop nuclear weapons. Treading water is not a feasible option. And nuclear weapons aren’t practical tools to deal with terrorist threats or conventional conflicts. Their only defensible purpose is to deter use of nuclear weapons by another country, and only Russia has an arsenal as big as ours.”

Most advocates agree the U.S. should maintain a strong deterrent force as long as other countries have nuclear weapons. Earlier this year, a congressionally appointed bipartisan commission concluded the United States could make more nuclear reductions jointly with Russia, but it recommended retaining bombers, land-based missiles and submarines to deliver them. The report also left open an option for developing new warheads, and commission members disagreed over ending U.S. nuclear testing.

Defense hawks argue that treaties constrain the U.S. but do nothing to reduce threats from countries determined to acquire nuclear weapons. One of their prime examples, Iran, made headlines less than 24 hours after the Security Council’s disarmament resolution, when it was revealed that Iran was building a secret underground plant to enrich uranium.

Obama and his British and French counterparts accused Iran – a member of the NPT – of flouting its non-nuclear pledges. Obama warned that if Iran did not disclose all of its nuclear activities immediately, it would face “sanctions that bite.” But critics said negotiations would not curb Iran’s alleged bomb program.

“In the bitter decades of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that the only countries that abide by disarmament treaties are those that want to be disarmed,” The Wall Street Journal argued in an editorial.

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Nuclear Disarmament

Will President Obama’s efforts make the U.S. safer?
By Jennifer Weeks, October 2, 2009

Peace activists have sought to eliminate nuclear weapons for decades, but now they have a new ally. President Barack Obama has pledged to negotiate new U.S.-Russian arms reductions, end U.S. nuclear testing and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national defense policy. Obama argues that these steps, plus new measures to combat nuclear smuggling and theft, will make the United States safer. But critics say further nuclear cuts will embolden rogue countries like North Korea and Iran, which are widely thought to be seeking nuclear capabilities. Although the U.S. and Russia have drastically shrunk their Cold War arsenals, the United States still spends at least $52 billion annually on nuclear-related programs. Liberals and conservatives sharply disagree about addressing post-Cold War security threats with nuclear arms. But some experts warn that new, regional nuclear arms races could break out if the U.S. fails to rebuild global support for nuclear reductions.

The Issues:
* Can all nuclear weapons be eliminated?
* Should the United States end nuclear testing?
* Does the United States need new nuclear weapons?

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Do Tell

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hasn't said if he personally favors lifting the military ban on open gays and lesbians serving in the military. The decision is up to Congress, Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have said. But they sure aren't muzzling service members who urge ending the prohibition.
That much is clear from the latest edition of Joint Force Quarterly, for which the Joint Chiefs boss is ultimately reponsible. "It is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather, it is time for the administration to examine how to implement repeal of the ban," wrote U.S. Air Force Col. Om Prakash. He researched the issue while a student at the National Defense University.
Prakash's work won him the "2009 Secretary of Defense National Security Essay Competition."
As Mullen and Gates might have expected, major newspapers learned of the essay. The Boston Globe and The New York Times published pieces pointing to Prakash's piece as a possible indicator of opinion about the ban in the highest reaches of the Pentagon.
The evidence that led Prakash to his conclusion will be familiar to readers of my recently published "Gays in the Military" report. Prakash argues, as did some experts who spoke to me, that a generational shift in attitudes about homosexuality renders opposition to lifting the ban obsolete.
That opposition hasn't vanished, of course. Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, told The Times that Prakash's essay was "one-sided." Donnelly and other supporters of the ban argue that allowing open homosexuals into the service would produce serious disruptions in military life.