Obama: Discharged Gays Should Re-enlist

By Kenneth Jost
Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

President Obama has signed into law legislation to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, promising that the measure will be quickly implemented and calling on discharged gay service members to re-enlist.

“No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder in order to serve the country that they love,” Obama said as he presided over a bill-signing ceremony Wednesday morning [Dec. 22] in a packed auditorium at the Interior Department headquarters in Washington.

The legislation calling for repealing the 17-year-old policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military cleared the final congressional hurdle on Saturday [Dec. 18] with a 65-31 Senate vote approving the measure. The House of Representatives had approved the stand-alone measure earlier [Dec. 15] by a vote of 250-175.

In signing the bill, Obama stressed that the current policy remains on the books until he, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that repeal is consistent with military readiness. Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had supported repeal.

Mullen was among the dignitaries on the platform for the ceremony and received a standing ovation from the crowd as Obama thanked him for his support. Two of the individual service chiefs _ Gen. James Amos of the Marines and Gen. George Casey of the Army _ had urged Congress not to repeal the policy with U.S. forces currently engaged in Afghanistan.

Despite their previous opposition, Obama said he had spoken with each of the service chiefs on putting the new policy into effect. “They are all committed to implementing this change swiftly and efficiently,” Obama said.

About 13,000 service members have been discharged under “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was enacted into law in 1993 as an ostensible compromise to President Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful effort to end restrictions against military service by gay men or lesbians. “I hope those soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen who’ve been discharged under this discriminatory policy will seek to re-enlist once the repeal is implemented,” Obama said.

The bill-signing came after a week of legislative successes for Obama, achieved in the face of what he acknowledged as a “shellacking” in the midterm congressional elections in November. On Friday [Dec. 17] Obama had signed into law what the White House called the “middle class tax cut framework” that Vice President Joe Biden had helped negotiate with Senate Republicans. The bill extends for two more years the Bush-era tax cuts that had been set to expire on Jan. 1.

Obama achieved another signal victory on Tuesday [Dec. 21] when the Senate voted 67-28 to limit debate on a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia. The vote sets the stage for the Senate to ratify the treaty, by the constitutionally required two-thirds majority, later this week. Despite opposition by the Senate’s top Republicans, 11 GOP senators joined all Democrats in voting to cut off debate.

On the same day, the House cleared for Obama’s signature a food-safety bill strongly pushed by the administration. The bill, approved by a 215-144 vote, gives the Food and Drug Administration strengthened powers to prevent contamination in whole and processed foods other than meat, poultry and eggs. Those foodstuffs are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Gay rights advocates were out in force for the bill-signing Wednesday, both in the audience and on the platform. Along with congressional leaders, two gay ex-service members stood behind Obama as he signed the measure: Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who received a medical discharge after a landmine explosion in Iraq cost him one of his legs; and Navy Commander Zoe Dunning, who retired in 2007 after having won a legal battle to stay in the service following her public acknowledgment of her sexual orientation in 1993 while in the Navy Reserve.

For background, see Peter Katel, “Gays in the Military,” CQ Researcher [subscription needed], Sept. 18, 2009; updated, Oct. 15, 2010. See also Peter Katel, “Food Safety,” CQ Researcher [subscription needed], Dec. 17, 2010.

Congress Passes Food-Safety Bill

By Peter Katel

Congress has finally passed the first major overhaul of food safety law since the regulatory system was established in 1906. As this week’s CQ Researcher [subscription required] reports, a last-minute technical hitch and growing political opposition nearly doomed the legislation for this congressional session. The bill’s prospects in the next Congress seemed dim.

President Obama has indicated he will sign the legislation, which applies to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, overseer of 80 percent of the country’s food supply. Most notably, the FDA will be empowered to order food recalls, which have been voluntary up to now.

The legislation grew out of a strange-bedfellows alliance between consumer advocates and major sectors of the food industry. Members of both were alarmed by a series of major food-poisoning outbreaks that began in the early 1990s. These claimed dozens of lives, and gravely sickened hundreds of people, many left permanently disabled.

The remaining 20 percent of the national food supply – most meat and poultry – is regulated by the U.S. Agriculture Department. That agency wasn’t affected by the new legislation, but some food safety experts are advocating a new law to toughen oversight of meat production.

Suicides by Indian Microfinance Borrowers

By Sarah Glazer

Politicians are blaming as many as 80 suicides in the last few months in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on poor borrowers' inability to repay their microfinance loans, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal and the BBC.

This is not the first time that suicides by poor borrowers have been linked to the high-interest microloans pioneered by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, as I pointed out in my April 2010 CQ Global Researcher report, "Evaluating Microfinance." [subscription required] It is always hard to know for sure the reason for such suicides, but this time the government of Andhra Pradesh seems to be laying the blame directly at the feet of aggressive lenders. Politicians there have been urging borrowers not to repay their loans, and the state's parliament has passed a law under which lenders can be penalized for arm-twisting collection methods, a crackdown that appears to be spreading to Bangladesh, where Yunus first pioneered microloans.

According to AFP reporting, the new Andhra Pradesh law obliges recovery agents to collect debts at district government offices rather than at home in a bid to stop coercion and also stipulates that debts can be collected only once a month rather than weekly.

"The new system of collecting loans (at designated centres) will make it tougher for borrowers to repay loans as they do not have an organised saving pattern," Santosh Singh, a financial analyst at Execution Noble, was quoted by AFP. The law contains penalties of up to three years in jail for using coercive recovery tactics and insists that all microlenders be registered. It says annual renewal of their registration will depend on their track record.

As I pointed out in my CQ Global Researcher report, some experts have long worried that the multiple loans taken out by poor borrowers with limited ability to repay could trigger a crash similar to the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States. So far, the high repayment rates of up to 98 percent reported by microfinance lenders have assuaged many lenders' and investors' fears. But because the centralized system of credit bureau checks typical of U.S. loans is generally lacking for microloans to villagers in developing countries, some experts worry that lenders are not always aware of the numerous loans borrowers have from other creditors and the precariousness of their ability to repay.

Recent suicides have occurred among borrowers with as many as three loans from separate microfinance lenders, according to the BBC. The crisis in Andrha Pradesh could be a sign of an inherent flaw in the way the industry conducts its business, or it could be a regional blip in an area where too many lenders have urged too many loans on poor people who have too few resources to repay them.

Would new legislation make the food supply safer?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Food Safety" by Peter Katel on December 17, 2010


Questions about the adequacy of federal food-safety regulation have dominated news coverage of food-borne illness outbreaks over the past 20 years. Doubts grew even more insistent following the two most recent major outbreaks.

In this year's egg contamination case, federal and congressional investigations showed that health issues were nothing new for the DeCosters' Wright County Egg operation. The farm had been declared a “habitual violator” of environmental laws by the state of Iowa as far back as 2001 and paid $219,000 in fines. [Footnote 12]

Since 2008, state inspectors had found 426 positive test results for salmonella, including 73 potential indicators of the precise strain that sickened at least 1,600 people. [Footnote 13]

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Pa., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, and Sharfstein, the FDA official, used the September hearing as a forum to urge Congress to finish work on the food-safety legislation. Both the House bill and the similar measure the Senate passed on Nov. 30 would require the FDA to order food recalls if a company refuses to do so. They would also require all producers and processors to maintain food-safety plans covering every step of their operations. Whistleblowers in food facilities would get legal protection for disclosing information about safety violations. And imports would be subjected to the same requirements as domestically produced food. [Footnote 14]

Sharfstein argued that mandatory recall authority, as well as steady funding from fees imposed on food producers, would ensure more extensive oversight. “Here's my bottom line,” he said. “We need this bill. We need this bill to protect the safety of the food supply. We need this bill to help us prevent another egg outbreak just like the one that we've experienced.” [Footnote 15]

Changes in the food system make the legislation essential, says Marler. “If you look at the last several years, the overriding problem has been the fact that the food industry has gotten so complex, with all these inputs from a variety of places — small and larger farms — that industry was only as strong as its weakest link,” he says. “What the bill is trying to accomplish is to deal with all of it, so that industry is not taken down for the bad practices of one part of the puzzle.”

That overall benefit aside, Marler says the single most crucial part of the legislation is often overlooked in the political debate over regulatory authority. The provision (contained in both Senate and House versions) would order FDA to develop methods to rapidly track raw fruits and vegetables, enabling quick identification of the source of a contamination outbreak. [Footnote 16] “Right now, there are some states that do a great job of surveillance, like Minnesota, and others — mostly in the South — that do an incredibly crappy job of surveillance,” Marler says. The project, he says, would lead to “a more unified and efficient system for food-borne illness surveillance.”

Nevertheless, some argue that beefing up the FDA would defeat the purpose of instilling more efficiency in the food-safety process. Even the legislation's proposed requirement of a food-safety methodology known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, or HACCP — in which each step in a process where contamination can occur is rigorously monitored — would become less effective if the legislation were enacted, argues Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a pro-business research and advocacy organization.

“When you get a regulatory agency involved, in order to make it at all practicable for them, you've got to make it uniform, so that regulators understand what they're looking at and how to go about enforcement and inspection,” Conko says. “Instead of allowing the plan to be highly flexible, it ends up instilling rigidities that eliminate the benefits you might otherwise have gotten.”

And mandatory recall authority likely would make the response to contamination outbreaks less effective, Conko says. “The benefit of the current situation is that when the FDA identifies a potential problem, they've actually got to go explain to the manufacturer, ‘Here's why we think the problem is in your food, and here's why we think you should engage in a recall of these lots,’” he argues. “Recalls, when they happen, are more targeted and precise. If FDA can order recalls with no pushback from industry, then political incentives will force it to order lots of recalls, even where there is limited evidence that a problem exists in a particular lot or product line.”

But advocates of the legislation maintain that the voluntary-recall system has outlived its usefulness. They point to this year's contaminated egg scandal as an example. “Having that many eggs going out to as many states as they were going to, you can't contain an outbreak” without more intensive regulation, says Elizabeth Hitchcock, public health advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), a consumer advocacy organization. “It's a problem that we can address by requiring more frequent inspections and by giving the FDA authority to order the recall rather than spending time negotiating back and forth, which slows down the process of getting unsafe food off store shelves and out of pantries.”

Outbreaks would still occur if FDA power were expanded, Hitchcock acknowledges. “But we can curb the spread of an outbreak and get food off shelves more quickly,” she says. “When people buy a can of whatever it is — ravioli, say — they ought to have some assurance that the food was grown safely, packed safely, and, if there is a problem, that the problem can be resolved quickly.”

But “the FDA has a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later,” argues Kennedy, of the the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. “For a big firm, recalling product is written off as a cost of doing business, but with small firms, just one recall can put them out of business. Giving the FDA this recall power poses risk to firms who might, in instances where there is no case of illness, still be ordered to recall a product.”

Moreover, despite evidence that the egg producers this year tolerated health hazards, Kennedy asserts that the FDA doesn't need recall authority. “If a firm thinks its products have made people ill, they're going to get them off the market ASAP,” he says. “They're looking at tremendous civil liability damages they could have to pay. The firm has an incentive to act.”

The Issues:
* Would new legislation make the food supply safer?
* Are imports a bigger problem than domestically produced food?
* Are genetic modification, livestock hormones and plastic packaging as dangerous as salmonella?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Food Safety" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.


[12] Clark Kauffman, “Supreme Court gives DeCoster partial win,” Des Moines Register, April 26, 2001, p. B6.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Adjoa Adolfo and Melissa Attias, “S 510,” CQ bill Analysis, Nov. 25, 2009; Lyndsey Layton, “Food safety bill,” (sidebar), The Washington Post, Nov. 1, 2010, p. A11.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “S. 510,” U.S. Senate, March 3, 2009, p. 74, http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=111_cong_bills&docid=f:s510is.txt.pdf.

Release of new Census data marks important milestone

By Thomas J. Billitteri

In the past decade, the Census Bureau made an important change in the way it collects and disseminates demographic, housing and economic data. That change has been bearing fruit since the middle of the past decade, but today the bureau is releasing the first full roll out of the new data sets.

As the CQ Researcher noted in its report last spring on the 2010 Census, to help improve response rates to the decennial count, the bureau eliminated the detailed “long form” survey for the 2010 enumeration and replaced it with a short 10-question form. To gather detailed information about the American population, the bureau launched a survey early in the 2000s called the American Community Survey (ACS) designed to produce a steady flow of “rolling” socioeconomic data that will be released in yearly, three-year and five-year estimates. The bureau has been releasing major results from that survey since 2005, producing more detailed tables as the rolling samples accumulated. Today the first ACS five-year data are being published for “small areas,” such as census tracts, or small governmental jurisdictions.

Researchers have been awaiting the information with perhaps a mix of anticipation and a bit of trepidation. Anticipation because the data will provide a richly detailed portrait of the American population. Trepidation because the “rolling” method of collecting the information is new, forcing researchers to grapple with data that are different than the 10-year figures from the traditional long-form questionnaires.

For background on the technical, policy and political dimensions of the 2010 Census, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Census Controversy,” CQ Researcher [subscription needed], May 14, 2010. And for a new, comprehensive guide to understanding and using the American Community Survey by CQ Press, see acsguide.cqpress.com.

Health Care Law Struck Down

By Kenneth Jost
CQ Press Supreme Court Editor

President Obama has suffered the first legal blow to his health-care reform law with a ruling by a federal judge in Virginia striking down the act’s central provision requiring all Americans to have health insurance.

In a 42-page ruling released Monday (Dec. 13), U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson in Alexandria said that the individual health insurance mandate—also called the “minimum essential coverage provision”—went beyond Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

“Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market,” Hudson wrote in Virginia ex rel Cuccinelli v. Sebelius. “In doing so, enactment of the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision exceeds the Commerce Clause powers vested in Congress under Article I [of the Constitution].”

Hudson left the other parts of the law intact, but Republican opponents of the ruling hailed the ruling and called on the Obama administration to join in asking for an expedited appeal to the Supreme Court. From the opposite side, supporters of the law said the ruling would undermine other provisions of the act imposing new requirements on health insurers and ultimately raise insurance rates across the board.

In a posting on the White House blog, presidential assistant Stephanie Cutter said the administration “disagrees” with what she called Hudson’s “narrow” ruling. She also predicted that the challenges would ultimately fail. “In the end,” Cutter wrote, the “Affordable Care Act will prevail and the American people will enjoy the benefits of reform.”

The ruling, in a suit by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, represented the Obama administration’s first setback in defending the health care law, formally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Federal judges in Detroit and Lynchburg, Va., had earlier rejected similar challenges to the individual insurance mandate; a dozen other suits had been dismissed on technical legal grounds.

Hudson, a former Republican prosecutor appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush, had clearly signaled his doubts about the individual insurance mandate in August by refusing to dismiss Cuccinelli’s suit. A separate suit brought by Florida and the National Federation of Independent Businesses has also survived a preliminary motion to dismiss. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson, a Republican appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, is scheduled to hear arguments on Thursday (Dec. 16) in that case, Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Hudson’s ruling would normally be appealed to the intermediate level Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But Cuccinelli, a Republican elected as Virginia’s top law enforcement officer in November 2009, said he would seek to bypass the Fourth Circuit and move the appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican slated to become House Majority Leader after the GOP gains control in January, called on the Obama administration to join in seeking an expedited high court ruling. He also vowed to press Republican efforts to pass what he called “a clean repeal of Obamacare” in the next Congress.

Supporters of the law denounced Hudson’s ruling. In a conference call with reporters, Neera Tanden, chief operating officer of the liberal Center for American Progress, said the decision could force health insurers to raise rates. “Without a minimum-coverage provision, rates will increase because people will wait until they’re sick to get insurance,” Tanden said.

Tim Jost (no relation), a health law expert at Washington and Lee University Law School in Lexington, Va., and a supporter of the law, said it was “very unlikely” that the Supreme Court would agree to the unusual procedure of hearing the appeal directly from a district court. He noted that under the law, the health insurance mandate is not scheduled to take effect until 2014.

Under a normal schedule, the high court would likely get the case sometime during the term that begins in October 2011. A ruling would then be likely in June 2012, in the midst of a presidential election year.

For background, see these CQ Researcher reports (subscription needed): Kenneth Jost, “States and Federalism,” Oct. 15, 2010; Marcia Clemmitt, “Health-Care Reform,” June 11, 2010.

Weekly Roundup 12/13/2010

Class Struggle
Jay Mathews/Valerie Strauss, Washington Post blogs, Dec. 10, 2010

Synopsis: Does funding the KIPP charter schools and the Teach for America program -- which sends recent graduates of elite colleges out for a teaching stint, often of only a few years' duration -- help improve American schools? In this debate between two Post education bloggers -- plus the excellent readers' comment section that follows -- the implications of TFA, and, to a lesser extent, KIPP are pretty thoroughly explored. I'd call this blog ands accompanying comments a must-read if you're interested in the fate of U.S. education.

Takeaway: As Strauss writes: "Can you get a great teacher by plopping anybody -- from Teach for America, or similar programs -- into a classroom after five or so weeks of training? Sure, but outliers don’t make good policy. I won’t mention how insulting it is to professional teachers with traditional training. Look, Jay, there’s no guarantee anybody will be a great teacher. The key is to get rid of the lousy teachers -- and yes, there are way too many -- and help the teachers we do have to improve while attracting people with real commitments to teaching."

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama
Ishmael Reed

Synopsis: Novelist Reed’s short, readable and thought-provoking essay offers a surprising explanation for why President Obama is “the coolest man in the room.”

Takeaway: If Obama listened to the progressives and those who say he should “man up” and be tougher, he’d be committing political suicide, Reed says.

Tom Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


Dirty Coal, Clean Future
James Fallows, The Atlantic, Dec. 2010

One of the country’s most influential journalists, who has a bent for science- and engineering-related themes, argues in a long, detailed piece that hopes for replacing coal as a major fuel source are futile. Wind power? He cites a calculation that if wind turbines occupied the windiest 10 percent of Britain, their daily output would equal only one-half the power that Britons consume simply by driving their cars. Some environmentalists already are reacting angrily to Fallows’ reasoning. But he writes that if any hope exists for reducing the global-warming effects of coal consumption, it lies in clean-coal technology. The pioneer in this field? China.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


Bin Laden’s Lonely Crusade
Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, Jan. 2011

Synopsis: Terrorism expert Peter Bergen, who conducted the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997, says the 9/11 attacks on the United States amounted to “a strategic blunder” for bin Laden and that al Qaeda has actually weakened in the decade since.

Takeaway: “Keeping the threat in perspective,” Bergen says, “is the best way to prevail.”

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

Should bullying resulting in suicide be a criminal offense?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Preventing Bullying" by Thomas J. Billitteri on December 10, 2010

The suicides of Phoebe Prince and Tyler Clementi have placed front and center the question of how far prosecutors can and should go in holding alleged bullies accountable for tragic outcomes.

In the Prince case, six teens were charged, five with civil rights violations resulting in bodily injury. Two also were charged with stalking and two with statutory rape. Prosecutors allege that Prince was harassed in school, struck with a can, disparaged online and called “an Irish whore” and “Irish slut.” On the day she died one defendant allegedly used an obscenity to list Prince on a library sign-up sheet. Others were accused of taunting her as she went home in tears. [Footnote 35]

In the Clementi case, the roommate of the Rutgers freshman and another student who allegedly watched the dorm-room encounter were charged under New Jersey privacy law, and prosecutors have been evaluating whether hate-crime law might apply in the case. The students' lawyers say the pair did not record or transmit images of the encounter and that what they saw was tame. [Footnote 36]

These and other suicide cases raise the broad question of whether adolescents who engage in bullying and cyberbullying should be open to criminal charges when the outcome is tragic. Facts and circumstances of the cases matter, of course, but experts say issues of psychology, legal philosophy and science — specifically dealing with adolescent brain development and maturity — also have a role.

“What's the appropriate punishment for these kids?” says the ACLU's Walczak. “I think these issues are going to be percolating in the courts for many years to come.”

In the Rasmussen poll, 69 percent of adult respondents said harassing someone over the Internet should be a punishable crime. [Footnote 37]

Bullying experts point out that when victims harm themselves, their acts often result from a mix of factors, such as problems at home, clinical depression, drug or alcohol abuse and overall feelings of alienation, making it difficult to attribute a suicide solely to harassment inflicted by classmates.

The prevalence of teen suicide also makes the issue of culpability difficult to untangle. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, accounting for 12.2 percent of deaths among adolescents and young adults annually. In 2009, nearly 14 percent of U.S. high school students reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the preceding year, and more than 6 percent said they had made at least one attempt. [Footnote 38]

Still, numerous studies have shown a link between adolescent suicidal thoughts and behavior and peer victimization. [Footnote 39] Hinduja and Patchin, for example, found in a study of 2,000 randomly selected middle school students that a fifth of respondents reported seriously thinking about attempting suicide — a behavior called “ideation” — and nearly a fifth reported attempting suicide.

“Youth who experienced traditional bullying or cyberbullying, as either an offender or a victim, scored higher on our suicidal ideation scale than those who had not experienced those two forms of peer aggression,” they wrote. And victims appeared more inclined toward suicidal thoughts and acts than perpetrators of bullying and cyberbullying. [Footnote 40]

Nonetheless, Patchin says the “hue and cry” to criminalize cyberbullying is “misguided.” Following Clementi's death, Patchin wrote that “the vast majority of cyberbullying incidents can and should be handled informally: with parents, schools and others working together to address the problem before it rises to the level of a violation of criminal law.” [Footnote 41]

If bullying results in a suicide, he says in an interview, “probably somebody should be held to a higher sanction.” But, he adds, “we already have existing statutes that would do. We certainly shouldn't pass a new law saying that if you cyberbully somebody and they commit suicide, you're going to get life without parole. That would be a mistake.”

Limber, the Clemson scholar, cautions, too, that assigning criminal culpability to youthful bullies and cyberbullies is a “tricky question” whose answer must take into account developmental psychology. In the brains of many adolescents, she notes, “the prefrontal cortexes aren't fully developed,” undermining their ability “to plan and to see the consequences of their behaviors.”

Writing in The New York Times about Clementi's death, Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and now an associate dean and law professor at George Washington University, argued that suicide is a “rare response” to bullying and that few of the millions of children who are bullied take their own lives.

“Bullies ‘cause’ suicides in the same way that a man ‘causes’ the suicide of a lover he spurns,” Butler wrote. “The criminal law typically does not hold people responsible for outcomes that are idiosyncratic or unpredictable.”

Butler also argued that “when people are punished, it should be for the harm they intend to do. If a bully crosses the line between freedom of speech, and invasion of privacy, or harassment, those are the crimes he should be charged with.” [Footnote 42]

But a number of readers rebuked Butler. One criticized his analogy between a spurned lover and a bullied child, saying: “As a human in this society, you have no obligation to continue loving someone; you do have an obligation not to intentionally inflict harm.” Others blasted Butler's argument that punishment should hinge on intent. “Does this include the drunk driver who didn't intend to kill the people he hit?” a reader wrote.

In a follow-up posting, Butler defended his remarks, saying that “unintentional killers are sometimes prosecuted for negligent homicide, but most such laws require that there be a ‘substantial’ risk that the defendant's conduct would cause the death. Because suicide is a rare response to bullying, it would be difficult for a prosecutor to prove ‘substantial risk’ beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Issues:
* Are new laws needed to fight bullying?
* Should school officials regulate off-campus electronic bullying?
* Should bullying resulting in suicide be a criminal offense?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Preventing Bullying" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.


[35] Stephanie Reitz, “Teen Charged in Mass. bullying case heads to trial,” The Associated Press, Oct. 26, 2010, www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2010/10/26/teen_charged_in_mass_bullying_case_heads_to_trial/.

[36] The Associated Press, “Rutgers Suicide Case Poses Test For NJ Privacy Law,” NPR, Nov. 4, 2010, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=131075785.

[37] Rasmussen Reports, op. cit.

[38] “Suicide: Facts at a Glance,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, summer 2010, www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/Suicide_DataSheet-a.pdf.

[39] See for example, Jennifer Wyatt Kaminski and Xiangming Fang, “Victimization by Peers and Adolescent Suicide in Three U.S. Samples,” The Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 155, Issue 5, November 2009.

[40] Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, “Cyberbullying Research Summary: Cyberbullying and Suicide,” www.cyberbullying.us/cyberbullying_and_suicide_research_fact_sheet.pdf.

[41] Justin Patchin, “Most Cases Aren't Criminal,” “Room for Debate: Cyberbullying and a Student's Suicide,” The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2010, www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/09/30/cyberbullying-and-a-students-suicide/most-bullying-cases-arent-criminal.

[42] Paul Butler, “Not Every Tragedy Should Lead to Prison,” “Room for Debate: Cyberbullying and a Student's Suicide,” The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2010, www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/09/30/cyberbullying-and-a-students-suicide/most-bullying-cases-arent-criminal.

Weekly Roundup 12/6/2010

Where’s the American empire when we need it?
Robert D. Kaplan, The Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2010

Synopsis: The longtime national correspondent for The Atlantic and specialist in international relations and foreign policy forecasts a period of global uncertainty in the wake of what he sees as the United States’ diminished ability “to bring a modicum of order to the world.” China, he believes, may help promote order in some regions, but will not fill “the moral void” left by the decline of U.S. power.

Takeaway: Despite the downcast predictions, Kaplan says the U.S. must stay the course. “Lessening our engagement with the world,” he concludes, “would have devastating consequences for humanity.” (For background, see Peter Katel, “Emerging China,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 11, 2005.)

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


Deadly Medicine
Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, Vanity Fair, January 2011

Synopsis: Many, perhaps most, clinical trials for drugs being developed for potential sale in the United States now take place in developing countries. As a result, trial participants -- often illiterate -- may not understand enough about the process to give proper informed consent, and their diets and lifestyles likely differ so much from that of the average American that it's not clear that they metabolize the drugs the same way Americans would.

Takeaway: As drug trials increasingly move to the developing world, their ethics and even their science are called into question.

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


Throw the WikiBook at them
Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, Dec. 3, 2010

How the WikiLeaks Scandal Actually Helped the United States
Leslie H. Gelb, The Dallas Morning News, Dec. 3, 2010

The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange
David Samuels, TheAtlantic.com, Dec. 3, 2010

Synopsis: With news organizations and others continuing to plumb the Wikileaks trove of U.S. diplomatic reports for information and tidbits, official reaction and most – but not all -- commentary has been sharply negative about the disclosures. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer reflects the dominant view that the leaks have been harmful and that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange ought to be prosecuted for his actions. Leslie H. Gelb, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is critical of the leak but says the documents show U.S. diplomats are “doing what they are supposed to be doing: ferreting out critical information from foreign leaders, searching for paths to common action and struggling with the right amount of pressure to apply on allies and adversaries.” Against the prevailing opinion, David Samuels, a regular contributor to The Atlantic, writes a full-throated defense of Assange along with a sharp attack on the government’s plan to prosecute him and what he calls the “shameful” reaction of journalists who feel scooped by the Wikileaks disclosures.

For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Government Secrecy,” CQ Researcher, Dec. 2, 2005.

Posted by the Editors, CQ Researcher

Does the death penalty deter capital crimes?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Death Penalty Debates" by Kenneth Jost on November 19, 2010

Three decades after casting the pivotal vote in the 1976 decision to uphold revised death penalty laws, Justice John Paul Stevens in 2008 urged the Supreme Court and state legislatures to reconsider the issue. Among his reasons, Stevens cited what he called the lack of “reliable statistical evidence” that capital punishment deters potential offenders. Without such evidence, Stevens wrote, “deterrence cannot serve as a sufficient penological justification for this uniquely severe and irrevocable punishment.”

Stevens' opinion — a separate concurrence in a decision that upheld the procedures for lethal injection executions — prompted a tart response from conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. He accused Stevens of ignoring what two scholars had called “the significant body” of evidence pointing to a possible deterrent effect. Regardless of the evidence, Scalia concluded, the Supreme Court has no right “to demand that state legislatures support their criminal sanctions with foolproof empirical studies, rather than commonsense predictions about human behavior.” [Footnote 5]

The question of deterrence has divided supporters and opponents of the death penalty in the United States at least since the early 19th century, according to legal historian Stuart Banner. In those days, the UCLA law professor writes, there was “a virtual absence of any attempt by either side to back up its claims with numbers.”[Footnote 6] Today, by contrast, the debate is densely statistical. Even so, more than three decades of research by economists and law professors published in two dozen or more academic articles have failed to resolve the debate.[Footnote 7]

The modern debate dates from an article published in 1975 in the American Economic Review by Isaac Ehrlich, now chairman of the economics department at the University of Buffalo and also a distinguished professor at the State University of New York. Ehrlich used data from the period 1933–1969 to conclude that each execution served on average to prevent eight murders through deterrence of other killings. As Banner relates, the article drew unaccustomed attention for a statistically technical study — followed by “intense criticism” of Ehrlich's methodology and conclusion.[Footnote 8]

Many more studies followed. By the early 2000s, supporters of capital punishment counted a total of 14 that found evidence of a deterrent effect from the death penalty. In an influential study published in 2003, Emory University economists Hashem Dezhbakhsh and Paul H. Rubin and Emory law professor Joanna Shepherd used data from before and after then-recent death penalty moratoriums to conclude that each execution prevented on average 18 murders.

Their conclusion was challenged in turn in a 2005 article by Yale law professor John Donohoe and economist Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. They called the evidence for deterrence “surprisingly fragile,” noting that minor changes in methodology resulted in completely different results. In a condensed version that appeared along with an exchange with the Emory authors, Donohoe and Wolfers wrote: “The view that the death penalty deters is still the product of belief, not evidence.”[Footnote 9]

Today, the economists remain in disagreement while appearing to acknowledge the impossibility of a definitive conclusion. “There are ways to do the analyses to find deterrence and ways to do it to find no deterrence,” says Rubin. For his part, Wolfers says the presence or absence of deterrence “is difficult to tell no matter whatever angle you look at it.”

With the economists in disagreement, pro- and anti-death penalty advocates tend to side with the view that supports their position. “I think the literature as a whole still shows deterrence,” says Scheidegger with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. “And I think the evidence will grow stronger over time.” From the other side, Cornell's Blume says flatly, “There's no credible evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent.”

Even while supporting the death penalty, many in the law enforcement community voice doubts that killers actually weigh the potential consequences of their crimes before committing them. “Do people in emotional circumstance contemplate” the potential punishment? asks Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “Probably not.”

The search for evidence of deterrence is difficult in part because of the relative infrequency of executions in the United States. “In 99 percent of the murders, there are not going to be executions, not even a death sentence,” says Dieter with the Death Penalty Information Center.

“It's certainly an enormous waste of money in terms of deterrence,” says Streib, the Ohio Northern University professor. “There are so many other things we could do with that money.”

The Issues:
* Does the death penalty deter capital crimes?
* Does capital punishment cost more to administer than it is worth?
* Do capital defendants have adequate legal representation in court and after sentencing?

For more information see the CQ Researcher report on "Death Penalty Debates" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF

[5] The decision is Baze v. Rees, 553 U.S. 535 (2008), www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-5439.pdf.

[6] Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History (2002), p. 114.

[7] For a good journalistic overview of the scholarship, see Adam Liptak, “Does Death Penalty Save Lives? A New Debate,” The New York Times, Nov. 18, 2007, sec. 1, p. 1, www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/us/18deter.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=does%20the%20death%20penalty%20save%20lives&st=cse&scp=1. The website version includes hyperlinks to several of the major articles. Some background drawn from article.

[8] Banner, op. cit., pp. 279–281.

[9] John Donohue and Justin J. Wolfers, “The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence,” in Joseph E. Stiglitz, et al. (eds.), The Economists' Voice: Top Economists Take On Today's Problems (2008), p. 255.

Weekly Roundup 11/29/2010

On the Death Sentence
John Paul Stevens, The New York Review of Books, Dec. 23, 2010 (post-dated)

Synposis: The former Supreme Court justice favorably reviews the new book, Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University. Without taking a position on capital punishment himself, Garland says the death penalty no longer serves either of the two legitimate legal purposes: deterrence or retribution. Instead, he says the death penalty, where imposed, largely amounts to a political and cultural statement: a rejection of liberal humanism and the Supreme Court’s briefly imposed moratorium on the practice.

Takeaway: Stevens believes Garland’s exposition dictates the conclusion that the justice himself reached two years ago: the death penalty represents “the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes.”

For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Death Penalty Controversies,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 19, 2010.

Posted by Kenneth Jost, Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press; Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


Take This 1931 8th Grade Test (You Will Probably Flunk)
Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet blog, The Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2010

Synopsis: In 1931, when 8th grade was the final year of schooling for many Americans, getting yourself certified as a bona fide 8th grade graduate must have been pretty hard, based on a geography test from West Virginia. Teachers didn't "teach the test," and students had to rely on the general knowledge they'd accumulated over the course of their schooling to answer questions about topics like how the United States had managed to rise so quickly to become a wealthy world power, what are the principal industries of my home county, and why it rains!

Takeaway: I'd feel a great sense of satisfaction if I could compose cogent answers to each of the questions on this test! Does it suggest that we're teaching and learning in a more superficial way today, or not?

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

Weekly Roundup 11/22/2010

Why are the Marines the military's biggest backers of 'don't ask, don't tell'?
Tammy S. Schultz, The Washington Post, Nov. 21, 2010

Synopsis: An openly lesbian professor at the U.S. Marine Corps War College traces the opposition among Marines to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the Corps’ distinctive ethos (“Once a Marine, always a Marine”). But she notes that the opposition voiced by Marine leadership is not shared in the ranks: a majority of Marines apparently do not see a risk in allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the Corps.

Takeaway: Schultz believes don’t ask, don’t tell will eventually be repealed. The Marine Corps can adapt, she says, if the Marine leadership leads the way in accepting gays and lesbians in the ranks.

Posted by Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


So…Whaddya Know?
Joseph Knippenberg, First Things blog, Nov. 20, 2010

Synopsis: In the Pew Charitable Trusts' ongoing survey series on Americans' knowledge of current events, results continue on the dark side. The class average was 42 percent -- five of 12 answers correct; college graduates managed a 57 percent average, still below failing last time I looked. Perhaps most alarming, to me, the youngest group -- ages 18 to 29 -- did worst, averaging only 4 correct answers out of 12. Under 2 percent of those surveyed got 11 or 12 answers correct. A link takes you to Pew's site where you can try the quiz yourself.

[Sad] Takeaway: "I’m tempted to argue that with these low levels of awareness regarding the most important questions and issues of public life, it’s not clear that republican self-government is (in the currently fashionable term) sustainable. Do we really know enough to govern ourselves?"

Posted by Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Reporter, CQ Researcher


Serial killings study prompts police to launch investigations
Thomas Hargrove, Scripps Howard News Service

Synopsis: Law enforcement authorities in Indiana and Ohio have launched investigations into suspected serial killings after a Scripps Howard News Service study of FBI computer files found many clusters of unsolved homicides of women across the nation. Many of the suspected serial killings detected in the study have never before been disclosed to the public.

Takeaway: The study reflects the increasing use of computers to crunch vast amounts of data, and the usefulness of the Freedom of Information Act. The study was based on computer records provided by the FBI of 525,742 homicides committed from 1980 to 2008. But Scripps also used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain detailed records of 15,322 killings that local police never disclosed.

For background, see the following CQ Researcher reports: Kenneth Jost, "Examining Forensics," July 17, 2009, and Sarah Glazer, "Serial Killers," Oct. 31, 2003.

Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


How Sarah Barracuda Becomes President

John Heilemann, New York Magazine, Oct. 24, 2010

This is one of the most intriguing entries in the seemingly endless outpouring of articles about Sarah Palin. With Palin feeding speculation that she will enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination, a veteran political journalist argues that she could become president. A series of events including the third-party candidacy of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would set the stage for her rise to the White House. These events are possible but not probable. Still, Heilemann’s speculation may be enough to give pause to Democrats who hope Palin will run on the grounds that she couldn’t win.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

Weekly Roundup 11/16/2010

Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news
Ted Koppel, The Washington Post, Nov. 14, 2010

Synopsis: The former longtime host of ABC’s “Nightline” regrets the contemporary cable news universe, where unrestrained partisanship reigns on two channels: Fox News and MSNBC, each of them commercially successful by appealing to a politically defined “niche” audience. He longingly recalls the era relatively unbiased reporting from the legends of TV news: Huntley, Brinkley, Cronkite, Reynolds, Smith.

Takeaway: The need for clear objective reporting remains, Koppel argues, but the model seems unlikely to re-emerge. “That’s the way it is,” he says, recalling (for those too young to recognize) Walter Cronkite’s famous daily sign-off.

Postscript: Olbermann responded in an extended commentary on Monday night: A false promise of “objectivity,” he says, proves that “truth” is superior to “fact.”

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

Seven Classic Bad Calls in Business Journalism
Charles Wallace, Daily Finance (AOL), Nov. 6, 2010

Synopsis: You know how they say that the individual investor can't time the market? Business journalists can't do it either, based on this kind of alarming summary of journalistic pronouncements on investments that turned out to be so so wrong -- and often pretty quickly, too. "Paul Montgomery, CEO of Montgomery Capital Management in Newport News, Va., is a stock market aficionado who has studied this pattern. According to Montgomery, within a year of a Time or Newsweek financial cover story appearing on newsstands, the market moves in the opposite direction 80% of the time."

Takeaway: When it comes to finance, maybe betting AGAINST journalism's current predictions is better than a coin flip!

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


On the Trail of the Mumbai Terrorists
Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica, Nov. 13, 2010

Synopsis: A riveting two-part series on the horrific Mumbai Massacre in 2008 appeared on the front page of The Washington Post on Sunday and Monday. The in-depth report focused on the search for Sajid Mir, who allegedly led the bloody rampage that left 166 dead and has eluded police on four continents. Of special journalistic note, the series was produced by a team from Pro Publica, an independent, nonprofit investigative journalism operation.

Takeaway: The report provides a breathtaking, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of anti-terrorism intelligence. It also offers hope to those who worry that solid, investigative journalism will go the way of the dodo bird because major, for-profit media can no longer afford it.

Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


Long Time Coming
Alec Wilkinson, The New Yorker, Nov. 15, 2010

Most of America only found out about her when she sang at President Obama’s inaugural. But Bettye Lavette can trace her career back to the time in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, when the mixture of blues, gospel, jazz and country music that was dubbed “rhythm and blues,” and later, “soul music,” was breaking into the national market. Lavette didn’t hit the big time back then, for a series of reasons that New Yorker staff writer Wilkinson explores, but she kept on singing in her own category-breaking style. Her personality doesn’t find any molds either, this fascinating profile makes plain.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


The Battle of Rio
Brett Forrest, The Atlantic, Dec. 2010

Synopsis: With Rio de Janeiro preparing to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, police are waging a dangerous and daunting battle against drugs, arms trading and other crime in the Brazilian city’s lawless shanty towns, or “favelas.”

Takeaway: Rio’s reputation as a fun-loving vacation paradise belies the existence of a grim underbelly of poverty and crime that could shake the city’s image as the games approach.

For background, see Eliza Barclay, “Crime in Latin America,” CQ Global Researcher, September 2010.

Thomas J. Billitteri, Assistant Managing Editor, CQ Researcher

Weekend Reading Roundup 11/8/2010

At CQ Researcher World Headquarters in Washington, D.C., writers and editors gather 'round the pot-bellied stove every Monday morning to chat about football and interesting books and articles that we read over the weekend. Here’s a sampling. Enjoy.

Learning in Dorm, Because Class Is on the Web
Trip Gabriel, The New York Times, Nov. 5, 2010

Synopsis: Online learning is now advancing on college and university campuses, including the University of Florida-Gainesville, where the most popular economics course is taught online because no lecture hall can accommodate the 1,500 students enrolled. Cost and other concerns mean that “dozens” of other courses at UF are also being taught online despite concerns among some professors, students and parents that the format diminishes the educational experience.

Takeaway: “We see this as the future of higher education,” said Joe Glover, the university provost.

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

A Taste for Wormwood and Gaul: The Masochism of John Stuart Mill,”
Anthony Daniels, The New Criterion, November 2010

Synopsis: English philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote powerfully of the moral law that he believed should govern the powerful: Back off forcing others to do what you think is best for them; people should determine that for themselves. "Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest," he wrote in his famous 1859 treatise, “On Liberty.” Mill knew whereof he spoke, having had his childhood crushed by an overbearing father who banned childhood friendships for his genius son so he could devote himself to studies from age 3 on. Ironically, as an adult, Mill chose to continue his slavery, attaching himself for life to an overbearing beauty, Harriet Taylor.

Takeaway: Sadly, when it comes to overcoming a bad personal history, philosophy may not be enough. What Mill learned in his unlucky life has been enough to inspire others, though.

Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer

“While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales,”

By Michael Moss, New York Times, Nov. 7, 2010

Synopsis: At the same time that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been warning consumers about saturated fats and obesity, a marketing arm of the same agency has been trying to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primary through cheese.

Takeaway: In addition to pushing Dominos and other pizza makers to add more cheese, the agency, Dairy Management Inc., also has pushed to increase the use of cheese in processed foods and home cooking.

For background, see Barbara Mantel, “Preventing Obesity,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 1, 2010

Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher

John le Carré, Our Kind of Traitor (2010).

The author who has done more than anyone to establish espionage as a theme for serious literature has focused anew on Russia – the enemy empire of his Cold War novels. Post-Soviet Russia, le Carré’s latest novel suggests, is as successful in exporting its criminal enterprises as the Soviet Union had been in exporting revolution – in both cases finding plenty of allies in the British ruling classes. Le Carré, himself a former intelligence officer, is merciless in his depiction of bureaucrats and politicians who are forced to confront issues they’d rather evade.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

Can governments control media coverage?

To follow is an excerpt from the November 2010 issue of the CQ Global Researcher entitled "Press Freedom" by Jennifer Koons.

Journalists and press-freedom advocates spent the summer battling the creation of a proposed media tribunal in South Africa, which currently enjoys one of Africa's freest press climates. Warning the tribunal would restrict press coverage, Raymond Louw, chairman of South Africa's Press Council, said the country is headed toward becoming “the kind of state where we want to criminalize information and … put editors behind bars.” [Footnote 17]

Louw and fellow South African journalists have launched a campaign against what they say amounts to reinstating apartheid-era press laws. During the apartheid era, the now-ruling African National Congress (ANC) strongly defended media freedom. But after 16 years in power, it has lobbied for creation of the tribunal. [Footnote 18]

“We need stronger measures where … people have been defamed, where … malicious intents have driven reporting by media houses or reporters,” ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu told reporters in August. [Footnote 19]

South Africa's proposed tribunal and Yemen's new special press and publications court both represent overt government attempts to influence media coverage. And the persistent threat of prosecution in one of those media courts triggers self-censorship.

“Governments are becoming increasingly more sophisticated at dictating the terms and the content of media coverage,” says Byron Scott, a professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. And governments are aided in those efforts by such journalistic practices as “professional laziness, the blurring of the line between significant news and entertaining and, in many nations under stress, the most important of all, self-censorship.”

Self-censorship often reaches its peak during wartime. Prominent American media outlets self-censored their reporting during the first year and a half of the Iraq War, largely due to concerns about public reaction to graphic images and content, according to a 2005 survey of more than 200 journalists by American University's School of Communications. [Footnote 20]

The growing popularity of social media websites has changed how journalists work in the countries with repressive regimes, such as Malaysia, which falls near the bottom of most international rankings on press freedom. While the government-controlled mainstream media previously screened out criticism in newspapers and on TV and radio programs, opposing views increasingly are appearing on blogs and mobile phone messages.

“All our reporters have BlackBerrys and use them to follow these tweets. The social media [have] changed the way journalists work in fundamental ways,” said Premesh Chandran, founder of the online news source Malaysiakini. [Footnote 21] The prevalence of real-time updates from critics and opposition sources inhibited officials from controlling the flow of information, he said.

In fact, legislators today “are forced to engage and debate their counterparts across the aisle in social media like Twitter and Facebook, allowing us to report on the opposition and avoid much censorship,” said a veteran reporter at one of Malaysia's leading newspapers, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Although the restrictions and controls are still in place, it's become much harder to censor what the opposition or rights groups say in the media.” [Footnote 22]

In 2009, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF) — a Paris-based group that promotes press freedom around the world — ranked Malaysia 131st out of 175 countries on press freedoms. [Footnote 23] The low ranking reflected Malaysia's implementation in 2009 of a publishing-permit system that made it easier to censor publications, according to RSF. [Footnote 24]

Still, the situation is better than it used to be. To promote its information-technology sector, Malaysian officials pledged in 1996 to limit online censorship, which has significantly opened up the country's reporting landscape.

RSF regional correspondent Patrice Victor said Malaysia's experience could be recreated in other nations where authoritarian regimes allow reasonable Internet access. [Footnote 25]

“We are seeing social media free the way journalists report in this region, and the trend in Malaysia can also be seen happening in Singapore, Thailand and Burma,” she said. “Governments here are slowly realizing that it is very hard to censor and restrict information once people have access to the Net, and this trend of using social media to break down censorship looks like it is here to stay.” [Footnote 26]

The Issues
*Can Governments control the press in
*Will new government cyber controls effectively censor journalists?
*Is press freedom a prerequisite for economic development?

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

[17] Andrew Geoghegan, “Journalists Fear Return to Apartheid-Era Laws,” ABC News Online, Aug. 18, 2010.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] M. J. Bear and Jane Hall, “Media coverage of the War in Iraq,” American University School of Communication, March 17, 2005.
[21] “Malaysians Use Social Media to Bypass Censorship,” Agence France-Presse, Aug. 18, 2010.
[22] Ibid.
[23] “Press Freedom Index 2009,” Reporters Without Borders.
[24] “Authoritarianism Prevents Press Freedom Progress in Much of Asia,” Reporters Without Borders, Oct. 20, 2009.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.

Weekend Roundup 11/1/2010

Angry America: Barack Obama and the United States are both doing a little better than Americans seem to believe
The Economist, Oct. 30, 2010

Synopsis: The eve-of-the-election editorial analysis from the respected, far-from-liberal British newsweekly says the “rage” against President Obama is “overdone.” Obama “got some big things right” (economic stimulus, health care, Iraq, Afghanistan), the editors say, but he has been hurt by “a series of smaller things” and by an inability “to perceive, let alone respond to, the grievances of Middle America.”

Takeaway: “Despite its problems, America has far more going for it than its current mood suggests,” the editors conclude. “And it still has a talented president who can surely do better than he has thus far.”

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


Land Mines Are War Crimes
Paul Salopek, Foreign Policy, Oct. 27, 2010

A few words in defense of land mines
Thomas Ricks, The Best Defense (blog, Foreign Policy site), Oct. 28, 2010

Two Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondents learned different lessons from their considerable combat experience. Paul Salopek, a former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, writes with controlled fury to condemn land mines, noting that the United States is one of a minority of countries (others include Iran, Russia, China and Burma) that refuse to sign on to a global ban. Acknowledging the U.S. argument that mines might be needed in events such as a North Korean invasion of South Korea, Salopek argues that the harm they do to civilians, including children, far outweighs any potential military benefit. His departure point for the piece is the near-fatal injury in October of celebrated war photographer Joao Silva, who has lost parts of both legs to a mine in Afghanistan, where he was working for the New York Times. Salopek got some immediate pushback from Thomas E. Ricks, former military correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. He argued, in abbreviated fashion, that mines built to fall apart shortly after deployment can serve a useful purpose – such as defending a Pakistani nuclear facility from potential takeover by terrorists.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


We Have Ways of Making You Think: Parasites on the Brain, All in the Mind
ABC Radio National (Australia), Oct. 9, 2010

Synopsis: Tiny parasites living in the brains of animals like insects and fish change the way the animals behave -- and think. Some French crickets, for example, have been taking suicidal night-time leaps into neighborhood swimming pools, apparently under the mental strain of a parasite infestation. What might parasites be doing to your brain … hmmm? (In the spooky spirit of Halloween, I offer this gem from one of my favorite news sites, Australia's fabulous ABC Radio National. Check 'em out. They're one of the few journalism outlets in the world -- besides The CQ Researcher -- that offer extensive bibliographies and footnotes to many of their stories!

Takeaway: "Half of us are infected perhaps, and if you were to ask yourself, if I am infected and I could cure myself to get rid of my toxoplasma which is my co-inhabitant, would I want to do that or am I happy with the personality I'm sharing with my parasite?"

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


Why Twitter’s C.E.O. Demoted Himself
Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2010

Synopsis: Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, 38, last month announced he was giving up his post as CEO of the digital phenomenon, which now boasts 175 million registered users. He has been widely described as a brilliant innovator who understands what Internet users want, but not a detail-oriented manager.

Takeaway: Know your limits, and your strengths.

Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher

Weekend Roundup 10/25/2010

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
(2010). A Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for The New York Times, Wilkerson spent about 20 years interviewing and archive-diving to put a human face on a massive population shift of African-Americans from south to north that – as the book makes plain – transformed the nation. Wilkerson tells the tale through three main characters, supplemented by recollections of others, including her own mother. Among the book’s conclusions is that southern blacks were to all intents and purposes immigrants in the north, even though they were born full-fledged citizens. The wealth of detail about the struggles and determination of ordinary people make the book irresistible and unforgettable. One point little known today – decades after slavery ended, untold numbers of black people, effectively held in bondage had to leave the south clandestinely.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


Are You Part of the New Elite?
The Washington Post, Oct. 24, 2010

Synopsis: Tea Party activists charge that a “new elite,” raised in affluent suburbs, educated in prestigious universities and marrying among themselves, is out of touch with mainstream America and ignorant of how “ordinary” folks live, argues conservative scholar Charles Murray. He buttresses his claim with a 10-question quiz. “Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis or Rotary club? Do you know who replaced Bob Barker as host of ‘The Price is Right’? Can you identify a field of soybeans?” and so on.

Takeaway: Whether Murray's argument holds water or not, it’s a reminder that thought leaders inside the Beltway Bubble -- Congress, the national media and policy wonks among them – who ignore the views of “ordinary” Americans and see themselves as some sort of ruling class do so at their own peril.

Thomas J. Billitteri, Assistant Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


N.F.L.’s Crackdown Tests the Boundaries of Mayhem
Judy Battista, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

Choosing Bearhugs Over Big Hit
William C. Rhoden, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

The N.F.L.’s Head Cases

Nate Jackson, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

Should You Watch?
Michael Sokolove, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2010

Synopsis: On “any given Sunday,” tens of millions of Americans are jammed into stadiums or glued to their TV sets watching professional football. Over the past few years, medical research and player activism have focused attention on the risks to player health and safety from the game, especially severe brain injuries from helmet-to-helmet hits. The issue gained wide public attention after a number of violent hits during the games of Oct. 17.

The New York Times’ coverage a week later included an overview by sports reporter Judy Battista that explored players’ and coaches’ reactions to the National Football League’s announcement that it would impose harsh discipline for prohibited hits to the head. Sports columnist William Rhoden approves, but former Denver Bronco tight end Nate Jackson (on the op-ed page) disagrees. Meanwhile, Michael Sokolove, a journalist-author who writes often about the culture and sociology of sports, asks the ultimate question: If injuries are inherent in pro football as played today, is it morally defensible to watch?

Takeaway: “The players understand the risks,” Jackson writes, “and the fans enjoy watching them take those risks.” Is he right?

For our report on player-safety and other issues, see “Professional Football,” Jan. 29, 2010.

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


The Calling
Bill Donahue, Washington Post Magazine, Oct 24. 2010

Synopsis: If you're still a bit uncertain who the Tea Partiers are, and what they stand for, take a bus road trip to a Washington rally with a group of Tea Party members from Ohio. Embraced by the group as "a shaggy dog cousin from the Left Coast," reporter Bill Donahue transforms them from political buzz words to flesh-and-blood people -- Middle Americans to be sure.

Takeaway: The lives of these conservative Americans -- both personal and political -- rest on deeply held Christian beliefs.

Tom Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


What a Scientist Didn't Tell the New York Times on Honeybee Deaths
Katherine Eban, Fortune, Oct. 8, 2010

Synopsis: Early this month I -- and the writer of this Fortune article, apparently -- did a double take when a front-page New York Times headline declared that scientists had found the sole answer to the honeybee die-offs that have been occurring over the past few years. The die-offs jeopardize both the environment and farms’ food production, since so many plants, including food crops, depend on pollination by the bees. Previously, I had heard that the die-offs were a complicated phenomenon and that some human-made factors, such as pesticides, were probably involved. But the Times headline and front-page placement strongly suggested that a fungus and virus are now considered the prime suspects and that the mystery has largely been resolved. Turns out, though, according to Fortune, that the study's lead author has a longtime funding relationship with Bayer Crop Science, a company whose pesticides have come under suspicion as bee-death-related in some other research. The scientist involved apparently never disclosed this relationship to the Times reporter.

Takeaway: Beware of headlines that may overstate scientific findings and scientists who don’t make full disclosure of their funding sources.

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

Do animals think?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report on "Animal Intelligence" by Marcia Clemmitt, October 22, 2010.

Just a few decades ago, the jury was still out on animal intelligence. But agreement now is virtually universal among scientists that animals of all kinds perform remarkable feats of mind — including actual reasoning. However, while some argue that several species perform very high-level cognitive activities including “metacognition” — loosely defined as “thinking about thinking” — others contend that studies of such complex thought are prone to experimental designs that tempt researchers to overinterpret.

“Abstract concepts are extremely widespread in the animal kingdom, all the way down to bees,” says Peter Carruthers, a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park. Studies in which bees navigate a maze demonstrate that the insects grasp the concepts “same” and “different” because they can learn and follow a navigational plan that requires them to turn right, for example, when they spot a design that's the same as one they previously saw but turn left when the picture is different, he explains.
Just How Smart Are They?

Furthermore, “Bees have a cognitive map and can find their way home even if they've never flown that way before,” Carruthers says.

Some animals, such as monkeys, show a fairly sophisticated ability to form “representations” of things in their minds, rather than being able to reason only about real-life objects that they can see in front of them at the present time, says Herbert S. Terrace, a professor of psychology at Columbia University in New York City.

For example, a monkey can memorize an arbitrary sequence of photographs, and then, when later shown only two pictures from the sequence, arrange them in the order of the original sequence, even though the picture sequence isn't in view, Terrace says. To do this, the animals must consult mental “representations” of what they've seen — evidence of an ability to “think without language,” Terrace says.

Recently, wild crows in a New Zealand laboratory experiment showed an especially remarkable cognitive feat — “insight” — the ability to devise a correct solution to a novel problem without doing any trial-and-error manipulation in the real world, says Carruthers. Confronted with a situation that required the birds to use one stick to retrieve a second longer stick, which they could then use to retrieve a food reward, one bird “looked at the setup for about a minute, and then accomplished it on the first try,” he says. [Footnote 12]

“What would a human do to arrive at the answer? Go through possibilities” mentally, waiting for an “insight.” It's hard to escape the conclusion that the crow did something similar, Carruthers says.

Recently many studies have examined whether some animals show forms of “higher” thinking traditionally considered the sole province of humans, such as a “theory of mind” — awareness that other animals or humans have thoughts going on inside them, just as one does oneself — and metacognition. Unlike humans, animals can't tell us what's going on in their minds, so to examine metacognition researchers set up experiments that give animals a way to demonstrate through their behavior that they recognize that they're in a certain mental state — such as being uncertain about which of two test answers is correct.

In a typical experiment, an animal is offered a test with two possible answers — such as that one musical tone is higher or lower than another — and has correct choices reinforced with a substantial food reward. Once the animal knows what constitutes a correct answer, the task is made harder — the tones get closer together, for example. At this point, the animal gets a third response option — usually the choice to opt out of choosing either of the other answers — for which there is a guaranteed, but relatively small reward.

Opting for this less rewarding “uncertainty” response demonstrates that the animal recognizes its own mental state — i.e., that it's uncertain which of the two other choices will yield the big reward that's reserved for getting the right answer, says J. David Smith, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. When macaque monkeys and humans take the same test, they choose the “I'm uncertain” response at the same rate. That's evidence, he says, that, like the human test subjects, the monkeys recognize their own mental feeling of uncertainty — a mark of “metacognition.”

In a similar experiment by Columbia's Terrace, a monkey was presented with two “confidence icons” just after the animal had given its answer on a perception-based test similar to the musical tones test. “One icon signified high confidence; the other, low confidence” in the answer the monkey has just given, Terrace explains. [Footnote 13]

“Choosing the high-confidence icon was a ‘risky’ bet.” If the monkey chose that icon after it had given the right answer on the test, it won three tokens, but if the monkey chose the “high confidence” response after a wrong answer, it lost three tokens, “and they really don't like that,” Terrace says. Choosing the “low-confidence” icon always got a reward of one token.

Monkeys chose the high-confidence icon more often after they had given correct answers and the low-confidence icon more often after they had given incorrect answers, the exact same response one gets from humans — who can not only feel a mental state like “uncertainty” at the moment we experience it but can also remember the feeling. The experiment shows that a monkey “can monitor its accuracy on perceptual tasks and transfer that ability to monitoring its memory” — i.e., it can consult an after-the-fact “mental representation” of the feeling of uncertainty it previously experienced. This activity indicates some level of metacognition — an ability to think about mental states — wrote Terrace and his fellow researchers. [Footnote 14]

But other scholars say that so far no experiments show that animals can use abstract concepts to reason about their own minds, or about anything else except concrete objects, a clear limitation to their thinking.

“To some extent, this is a verbal confusion,” says Carruthers. Experiments do show that some animal species — just like humans — are aware of their feelings of uncertainty, but that awareness alone doesn't meet the standard definition of “metacognition,” as it's used in human psychology. True metacognition requires actual “thinking about thinking” — reasoning based on one's awareness of the state — and that hasn't been proven, Carruthers argues.

Evidence has shown that many animals form abstract concepts based on sensory perceptions, but no evidence actually shows that they can form concepts about things that they cannot see or touch, like mental states, says Daniel J. Povinelli, a professor of biology at the University of Louisiana, at Lafayette.

“The question is whether the experiments as designed have the power to” produce these more far-reaching conclusions — such as that “monkeys and parrots are interpreting their own mental states” or “that crows think about the principles of physics.” While it's possible the animals do these things, “there is simply no evidence that they do,” Povinelli says.

For example, after observing many individual instances of fellow chimpanzees pursing their lips and bristling their fur just before hitting or charging them, chimps certainly form a catch-all concept — like “threat display; better look out!” — to reference such occasions. [Footnote 15] There is no evidence, however, that a chimp goes beyond this concrete representation to form a concept about some state existing within the pursing, bristling chimp that motivates the behavior — as a human would do by positing “anger” or “aggressiveness,” for example, says Povinelli.

From experience with lifting things, both a chimp and a human can develop the concept of “heavy” and sort objects by whether they're “heavy” or “light,” for example, he says. But humans routinely take abstraction much farther, generalizing beyond concrete objects to things we can't see or touch, for example, by applying the concept of “heavy” even to nonphysical things like sadness, as when we have a “heavy heart,” and by immediately realizing that an object from the “heavy” pile is the one to choose, if the goal is to knock another object over, he says.

“We haven't seen any evidence” that chimps or other animals can handle these levels of abstraction, Povinelli says.

The Issues:

* Do animals think?
* Do animals use language?
* Are animal and human minds more similar than once thought?

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

[12] For background, see Alex H. Taylor, Douglas Elliffe, Gavin R. Hunt and Russell D. Gray, “Complex Cognition and Behavioral Innovation in New Caledonian Crows,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, April 21, 2010.
[13] Nate Kornell, Lis K. Son and Herbert S. Terrace, “Transfer of Metacognitive Skills and Hint Seeking in Monkeys,” Psychological Science, January 2007, p. 64, .
[14] Ibid.
[15] For background, see Daniel J. Povinelli and Jennifer Vonk, “Chimpanzee Minds: Suspiciously Human?” TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, April 2003, p. 157,.