High Court Set to Open New Term

By Kenneth Jost
Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press
      The Supreme Court opens a new term on Monday (Oct. 4) with a new justice likely to miss a third of the year’s cases and a calendar missing the most hot-button legal issues of the day.
      The justices will be hearing two politically charged cases from Arizona later this fall. One tests how far states can go in enforcing federal laws against hiring illegal aliens. Another seeks to reinstate an Arizona law that allows tax credits to be used to fund scholarships for students at religious elementary and secondary schools.
      The court’s first week, which opens on the traditional First Monday in October, features an emotional case pitting the rights of anti-gay protesters against the privacy rights of the family of a deceased U.S. service member. In another speech-related case, the state of California is hoping to uphold a state ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors after lower federal courts struck it down.
      Missing from the 51 cases granted review so far for the term, however, are such issues as abortion and gay rights, including same-sex marriage. The justices have not taken on any broad challenges to the death penalty or any major racial discrimination or affirmative action cases. And the two lawsuits by some 20 states challenging President Obama’s health care reform are each at an early stage, probably two years away from reaching the high court.
      Justice Elena Kagan, who will take her place on the bench for the first time in a formal investiture on Friday (Oct. 1), will be absent from the bench for two dozen or more cases during the term. Under established rules of judicial ethics, Kagan is recusing herself from any case in which she participated as U.S. solicitor general before President Obama nominated her for the high court in May. The government routinely participates as a party or a “friend of the court” in more than a third of the 70-plus cases the court hears during a term.
      Kagan is widely expected to align with the court’s liberal bloc, which includes three other Democratic appointees: Stephen G. Breyer and the court’s two other women, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. The court’s conservatives, all Republican appointees, include Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, also a Republican appointee, often is a pivotal vote, but overall his record is generally conservative.
      As the successor to the court’s senior liberal, John Paul Stevens, Kagan does not change the ideological orientation of the court. But her absence from many cases will make it harder for the liberals to prevail because they will need to pick up two votes from the conservative wing, not just Kennedy’s. A 4-4 tie vote leaves a lower court decision in place, but sets no precedent for future cases.
      In the First Amendment case to be heard on Wednesday (Oct. 6), Snyder v. Phelps, the family of the late Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder is seeking to reinstate a $5 million compensatory and punitive damage award against the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., for their anti-gay picketing near Snyder’s funeral in western Maryland in 2006. Phelps and members of his family have picketed military funerals with epithet-laced signs depicting the deaths as divine punishment for tolerance of homosexuality. Snyder’s family won a jury verdict for intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion, but the federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., overturned the verdict and award on free-speech grounds.
      The federal appeals court in San Francisco also invoked the First Amendment in striking down California’s ban on violent video games for minors. In Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the state is asking the justices to apply a 1968 decision that upheld the sale of sexually explicit materials to minors even if they were not legally obscene for adults. The video game industry is arguing that the obscenity standard has never been applied outside the context of sexual materials. The case is to be argued on Election Day, Nov. 2.
      The first of the two Arizona cases to be argued, Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, is the state’s effort to revive a law passed in 1997 allowing taxpayers a tax credit of $500 per year for donations to state-regulated school tuition organizations. Taxpayer challengers contend the program violates the Establishment Clause because the organizations are free to award scholarships conditioned on attendance at religious schools. The case is to be argued on Nov. 3.
      The other Arizona case, Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, pits business and civil rights groups along with the U.S. government against a 2005 state law that allows a company to be put out of business for repeat offenses of employing illegal aliens. The challengers say that the 1985 federal immigration law, which imposes lesser penalties and includes anti-discrimination safeguards, preempts the state measure.
      Research on the Web: The Supreme Court’s Web site, redesigned in March, includes docket information on the cases; the site links to an American Bar Association site for legal briefs in cases. The private, recently redesigned SCOTUSBlog maintains an exhaustive compendium of news articles, commentary, and legal filings on Supreme Court cases.

High Court to Post Arguments on Web

By Kenneth Jost
Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press
The Supreme Court is taking another step into the Internet age.
With the new term set to begin next week (Oct. 4), the court is announcing that it will now make audio recordings of arguments available on the court’s Web site by the end of each argument week.

“The public may either download the audio files or listen to the recordings on the Court’s Web site,” according to a three-paragraph press release issued Tuesday (Sept. 28). The press release was distributed to the Supreme Court press corps and later posted on the court's Web site.
The decision represents another step toward increasing access to the court’s proceedings, but is far short of the move long urged by media organizations and others to allow live audio and video coverage of the court’s arguments. The justices presumably finalized the decision at their day-long conference on Monday as they prepared for the opening of the 2010-2011 term next week on the traditional First Monday in October.

The court hears arguments three days a week in seven, two-week sessions beginning in October and ending in April. The press release notes that the court began recording arguments in 1955. The recordings have been maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, but up till now have been made publicly available only after the end of the court’s term in late June.
Beginning with the Bush v. Gore presidential election contest in 2000, the court has occasionally made audio recordings of high-profile cases available immediately after their conclusion. Radio and television news organizations have used excerpts in newscasts; C-SPAN and some public radio stations have broadcast arguments in their entirety. SCOTUSBlog reporter Lyle Denniston reported that "it is understood" that same-day releases will now be discontinued.

The justices have stoutly resisted the recurrent calls from media groups and from some members of Congress to permit live audio and video coverage of arguments or decisions. In her confirmation hearing, Justice Elena Kagan indicated she was open to televising the court’s proceedings. Five years ago, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. similarly told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would consider the move if confirmed. A year later, Roberts said he had changed his mind.

Weekend Roundup 9/20/2010

Every week, the CQR Blog will feature comments from CQ Researcher writers and editors on stories they read over the weekend and liked. We hope you’ll join in the conversation and post your favorite reads in the comment section.

Small Change
Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, Oct. 4, 2010

Synopsis: Social media are nice. They help us keep in touch with the many acquaintances and people at one or two degrees of separation that we'd otherwise lose track of or never know about. Nevertheless, we wouldn't use Facebook or Twitter if it were hard to do. And, that being the case, the "weak ties" between people that social media strengthens aren't nearly as good for fomenting serious social change as Internet evangelists would like to believe.
Takeaway: "Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice. We are a long way from the lunch counters of Greensboro." By the way, Gladwell's piece ties in nicely with my recent report on "Social Networking" (9/17/10) and "Impact of the Internet on Thinking" by Alan Greenblatt (9/24/10).

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

How the future will judge us
Kwame Anthony Appiah, The Washington Post, Sept. 26, 2010

Synopsis: A philosophy professor at Princeton University identifies four contemporary practices that future generations are likely to find deserving of condemnation: U.S. imprisonment policy; industrial farming; institutionalization and isolation of the elderly; and “the environment.”
Takeaway: “What were they thinking?” Even if we don’t have a good answer, Appiah says, we should be anticipating the question.

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

The Unconsoled: A writer’s tragedy, and a nation’s
George Packer, The New Yorker, Sept. 27, 2010

This long, intimate profile examines the life and work of David Grossman, one of Israel’s leading novelists and nonfiction authors. The longtime peace activist began his latest novel, To the End of the Land, while his middle child , Uri, was in uniform, and completed it after Uri was killed during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon. Grossman had supported the initial Israeli response to Hezbollah attacks, but urged a negotiated settlement. Grossman’s novel appears as Israel and Palestinians try again to negotiate a “two-state solution.” He is keeping his hopes alive.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher

“OP-ED AT 40: Four Decades of Argument and Illustration”

What a feast for mind and eye The New York Times gave us when it launched its artfully illustrated Op-Ed page on Sept. 21, 1970. In an 18-page special section that’s worth keeping for your children and grandchildren, the Times reprinted excerpts from memorable columns. There’s President Gerald R. Ford explaining why he pardoned Richard M. Nixon. Vietnam vet Ron Kovic, author of Born on the Fourth of July describing the moment he was shot and paralyzed. Novelist James Baldwin commenting on Black English. Charlotte’s Web author E.B White reporting on what his barnyard animals were saying about the Watergate break-in. And on and on…..Ronald Reagan, author Nora Ephron, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, Chinese dissident Liu Binyan, and yes, Mr. Nixon.
Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


The Congressional Research Service, Congress' nonpartisan research arm, has published a report on domestic jihadism, along the same lines (though at greater length) as our recent examination of the same topic. CRS' report contains more detail on individual cases.

On a related topic, the growth of anti-Muslim sentiment which - some say - spurs alienation among young Muslims, perhaps predisposing them to jihadist sympathies, is documented in a new interactive map published by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, also nonpartisan.

Going Deep on the Longings Behind the Social Net

In the wake of my report last week on “Social Networking,” I'm still grazing all things Facebook. And with the new Aaron Sorkin film on founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, "The Social Network," due out October 1, there's plenty of food for thought to be had.

So far, my favorite piece is "With Friends Like These," a darned-near poetic essay on the film and the cultural phenomenon by Newsweek culture critic Jeremy McCarter.

In my favorite part of McCarter's meditation cum movie review, he ties the Facebook phenomenon to the existential loneliness so often described by iconic American artists from Hank Williams to Edward Hopper and Bessie Smith.

New as it may be, our obsession with Facebook friends is likely only the current iteration of the long search for an antidote to that loneliness, virtually inescapable in our far-flung and fast-moving nation and century, says McCarter. But the trick, concludes McCarter, is likely not in avoiding loneliness -- as Facebook friending tempts us to struggle to do -- but in using that loneliness to build something more real than virtual friendships: satisfying lives of our own.

Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer, CQ Researcher

Weekend Roundup 9/20/2010

Worth reading...

Every week, the CQR Blog will feature comments from CQ Researcher writers and editors on stories they read over the weekend and liked. We hope you’ll join in the conversation and post your favorite reads in the comment section.


At 103, Oldest Federal Judge Has One Caveat: No Lengthy Trials
A.G. Sulzberger, The New York Times, 9/17/10

  • Synopsis: U.S. District Court Judge Wesley E. Brown, appointed by President Kennedy, is still hearing cases in semiretirement at age 103. Lawyers who appear before him are quoted in this endearing portrait as saying he is still sharp and capable.
  • Takeaway: Brown dismisses talk about his age. “I’m not interested in how old I am,” he says. “I’m interested in how good a job I can do.”
Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


The Hamster Wheel
Dean Starkman, Columbia Journalism Review, Sept./Oct. 2010

  • Synopsis: It's common wisdom that updating news minute by minute is an Internet imperative. But readers are busier than ever so "it makes no sense....to be increasing the volume of random items for these harried people to sort through." Worse, speed-journalism strengthens the truth-hiding function -- PR -- not reporting or analysis. More than ever reporters parrot business and government "spokespeople," and PR professionals now outnumber journalists nearly four to one. "The greater the need for copy, the more dependent reporters are on sources for scoops and pitiful scraps" of largely agenda-driven "information."
  • Takeaway: Maybe not all is lost? So far, nobody's made money on "hamster-wheel" journalism, and some analysts say that, as Internet users switch to mobile devices, deep reader engagement and "curated news" provided by knowledgeable people may be just the thing to capture readers' eyes and dollars.
Marcia Clemmitt, Staff writer, CQ Researcher


Touching off Debate, Missouri Tells Judges Cost of Sentences
Monica Davey, The New York Times, 9/19/10

  • Synposis: Before sentencing convicted criminals, judges in Missouri are now told how much a prison sentence would cost the state versus probation. For example, five years of intensive probation for a second-degree robber might carry a $9,000 price tag, versus $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole. Missouri is the only state that systematically provides such information.
  • Takeaway: The new policy has sparked intense debate between defense attorneys and prosecutors and fiscal conservatives and raised a fundamental question: Should justice be subject to cost-benefit analysis?
Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs
David Segal, The New York Times, 9/19/10

  • Synopsis: At age 12 Seth Priebatsch started a price-comparison shopping Web site and by eighth grade he had eight employees — six in India, two in Russia. Now, aided by venture capitalists, he is working 24/7 to grow Scvngr, the site he first pitched as a Princeton freshman.
  • Takeaway: It takes a special breed to launch a new venture – especially a Web-based venture.

Lord Bingham
The Economist, 9/18/10

  • Synopsis: Tom Bingham, a passionate defender of individual liberty and the rule of law, died Sept. 11 at age 76. He alone had held the three top legal posts in England—Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and senior law lord in the House of Lords—and was regarded “by general agreement…[as] the greatest English judge since the second world war.”
  • Takeaway: Bingham stood fast against illegal detention of terrorism suspects and the use of evidence obtained by torture, and his death on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is a striking reminder of that tragic event’s legal legacy on both sides of the Atlantic.
Thomas J. Billitteri, Assistant Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


Benedict Bites Back: How the pope tried to stem the tide of criticism
Joanna Moorehead, The Independent, 9/19/10

  • Synopsis: Before Pope Benedict set foot in the United Kingdom last week, the view in the country he was due to visit was that the first papal state visit, overshadowed by the wave of sexual abuse scandals and the pope’s conservative approach to such issues as birth control and gay marriage, would either be a flop or a PR disaster. It turned out to be neither.
  • Takeaway: But as he prepares to leave for Rome this evening …you could at least make a case for saying he’s emerged from the trip looking statesman-like, looking successful, and – most unlikely of all – looking popular.
Roland Flamini, CQ Contributor

He Reads Psychology Research So You Don't Have To

With my CQ Researcher issue on online “Social Networking” just published and my current project, on animal cognition, under way, I've been wading through quite a few psychology papers lately. It's reminded me that one of my favorite guides for navigating these usually statistics-heavy studies deserves recommending to everybody who's fascinated with how minds work but doesn't have the time to keep up with the complicated field on their own.

At Psyblog -- www.spring.org.uk -- Jeremy Dean, a doctoral student in psychology at University College London, provides neat summary packages of recent research related to hot topics and perennial interests, like the demographics of Twitter or tips for boosting your creativity.

At the site, you can sign up to get new blog posts via email, too. Today's offering: "Ten Psychological Insights" about online dating. Among them, some good news about online life: "Contrary to the stereotype, there's little evidence that Internet dating is the last resort of social misfits or weirdos." Dean says that's the takeaway message from several studies over the past few years, to which he offers links on the site.


Marcia Clemmitt, CQ Researcher staff writer

Seat at the Table

Talk about name-dropping. Readers like to know that the author of the piece they are reading has a seat at the A-list table. Well, New York Times star business writer Andrew Ross Sorkin shows he’s sitting pretty indeed in his can’t-put-it-down “Dealbook” column on Tuesday (Sept. 14). Sorkin’s table is in the Grill Room at the Four Seasons restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, and he begins by quoting his lunch guest, film director Oliver Stone: “You know, half the people in this place could be prosecuted.” Sorkin then goes on to name some of the bold-face names also in the legendary joint, including such business heavyweights as Blackstone Group Chairman Stephen Schwarzman and former Citigroup Chairman Sanford Weill, “the mother of all evil,” says Stone “with a wry smile.” It goes on. For more insight on Wall Street and the new financial reforms passed by Congress, see Marcia Clemmitt’s CQ Researcher report “Financial Industry Overhaul” (July 30, 2010).

Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher

Reading the Tea Leaves

To no one’s surprise, this week’s primaries suggest the Tea Party is indeed a force to be reckoned with. But as Peter Katel noted in his CQ Researcher report on March 19, 2010, the movement’s big test comes in November in 25 states, where at least 58 candidates, mostly for House seats, say they share Tea Party beliefs. “Meanwhile,” Katel wrote, “some dissension has appeared among tea partiers, with many preferring to sidestep social issues…. Still, the movement exerts strong appeal for citizens fearful of growing government debt and distrustful of the administration.”

Thomas J. Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher

Weekend Roundup 9/13/2010

Worth reading…

Every week, the CQR Blog will feature comments from CQ Researcher writers and editors on stories they read over the weekend and liked. We hope you’ll join in the conversation and post your favorite reads in the comment section.
Here's what we read over the weekend:

Ted Koppel: Nine years after 9/11, let's stop playing into bin Laden's hands
Ted Koppel, The Washington Post, 9/12/10

Synopsis: A useful and timely critique of the American response to 9/11 from the managing editor of ABC's "Nightline" from 1980 to 2005.
Takeaway: He warns that bad decisions on the terror front play into the hands of the very foes we seek to defeat.

  • Tom Billitteri, Assistant Managing Editor, CQ Researcher
Quran Burning Story: This Is How the Media Embarrass Themselves
Jason Linkins, Huffington Post.com, 9/10/10

Synopsis: Linkins delivers some funny lines as he skewers the media for pandering to pastor Terry Jones, "the leader of a microscopic cult of idiots who announced plans to stage an 'international day' of Quran burning in Gainesville, Fla."
Takeaway: You'll be crying and laughing at the same time on how the media's lack of responsibility is all too true.
  • Tom Colin, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher
Woman’s link to Mexican drug cartels a saga of corruption on U.S. side of border
Ceci Connolly, The Washington Post, 9/12/10

Synopsis: With so much attention focused on the violence and corruption of the drug wars across the Mexican border, this is a thorough and vivid account of another aspect of the problem: the risk of corrupt agents within the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol itself. The piece details the years-long undercover investigation that led to the 20-year prison sentence of Martha Garnica, a veteran Border Patrol agent who led a lucrative double life.
Takeaway: A Homeland Security official told Connolly that it would be “na├»ve” to think that Garnica is the only dirty government agent aiding the drug cartels.
  • Ken Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher
Haley Barbour, race, Ole Miss — from black perspective
Margaret Thaley, McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/10

Synopsis: Given what I picked up from brain scientists for some reports I've written, I found this an interesting piece on how differently we remember things, based on the emotional impact we have toward interactions or events at the time.
Key Takeaway: A pretty apt encapsulation of the very different experiences individuals have of American life that make it hard for all of us to understand each other. The piece also provides some nuanced insight into the issue of race in America.
  • Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher
New Science Sheds Light on the Cause of Alzheimer’s Disease
Elizabeth Agnvall, AARP Bulletin, 5/21/10

Synopsis: New scientific research blows previous theories about the cause of Alzheimer’s disease out of the water. New evidence indicates that the sticky plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients may be the body’s way of protecting against deadly free-floating protein clumps
Takeaway: If true, these findings would mean that current Alzheimer's drugs, which aim to destroy brain plaques, could actually be making the condition worse.
  • Kathy Koch, Managing Editor, CQ Global Researcher

Homegrown Jihadists

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report on "Homegrown Jihadists" by Peter Katel, September 3, 2010


For one young resident of Washington's Oakton, Va., suburbs, the door into jihadism was football. Shortly before the FBI arrested him in July, 20-year-old Zachary Adam Chesser wrote that he converted to Islam in 2008 while playing on a football team formed by a member of a Muslim missionary organization.

“By Allah Jihad is a part of this religion and by Allah it is obligatory,” Chesser wrote on an extremist Website shortly before his arrest for allegedly providing “material support” to a terrorist organization. He also acknowledged that in talks with FBI agents he had “praised the Baghdad Sniper who killed 37 U.S. soldiers,” and explained that FBI agents “were mad because the Baghdad Sniper killed Americans. I informed them that I was not rooting for the Americans and that the Baghdad Sniper was on the side I wanted to win.”[Footnote 1]

The agents also asked Chesser, who said he grew up in a household with two lawyers, about sports, apparently reflecting the view of terrorism experts that sports can be a jihad precursor. “A reliable predictor of whether or not someone joins the Jihad is being a member of an action-oriented group of friends,” Scott Atran, research director of ARTIS, a Phoenix-based social science research firm specializing in political violence, told the Senate's Emerging Threats Subcommittee in March. “It's surprising how many soccer buddies join together.”[Footnote 2]

Sports enthusiasm is far from a reliable predictor of extremism, of course. Indeed, no one can predict who will be drawn to jihadism powerfully enough to seek training or launch an attack. But one thing is clear, national security officials agree: Most of the estimated 2.5 million Muslims in the United States as well as the vast majority of the 1.6 billion-plus Muslims worldwide, reject jihadism.[Footnote 3]

Worldwide, Atran testified, the number of Muslims who move from jihadist sympathy to violence amounts to no more than a “few thousand.” In the United States, veteran terrorism analyst Brian Jenkins of the RAND Corporation think tank has counted 46 cases — involving 125 people — of recruitment to jihadist violence from Sept. 11, 2001, to the end of 2009.[Footnote 4]

A recent string of attacks and attempts — including the killing of 13 military personnel at Fort Hood last year and an attempted car bombing in Times Square three months ago — has experts intensifying the search for jihadists' distinguishing characteristics. But the clues are many and varied.

“No single pathway towards terrorism exists,” Kim Cragin, a senior policy analyst at RAND, told the House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment last December.[Footnote 5]

Still, for Karen J. Greenberg, executive director of New York University's Center on Law and Security, one conclusion is inescapable: “It is no longer possible to think of jihad as a purely foreign phenomenon,” she wrote in The New Republic in May. “American jihad ranges the full spectrum from lone nuts cloaking a general appetite for violence in jihadist rhetoric to more sophisticated would-be terrorists who have actually trained abroad. In all these cases, it is a threat we ought not to ignore.”[Footnote 6]

A series of widely varied episodes that began last year seems to reflect a mix of “lone wolf” attackers and small-group conspirators, both from immigrant and longtime citizen backgrounds:

* On June 1, 2009, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (Carlos Bledsoe), a Muslim convert claiming to be retaliating for U.S. military aggression against Muslims, allegedly shot and killed a U.S. Army private and wounded another outside a military recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark. He is awaiting trial.[Footnote 7]

* Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan residing in the United States, was arrested on Sept. 19, 2009, for preparing to bomb the New York subway system. In pleading guilty this year, he said he'd been trained in Afghanistan and ordered to make the suicide attack. At least one other man was directly involved and has pleaded guilty.[Footnote 8]

* An American who converted to Islam in prison and a Jordanian immigrant were arrested by the FBI on Sept. 24, 2009, in two separate cases in which each one allegedly tried to detonate a building with fake explosives provided by undercover agents. Talib Islam (Michael Finton) is awaiting trial; Hosan Maher Husein Smadi pleaded guilty.[Footnote 9]

*Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed 13 fellow service personnel at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5. Hasan, a psychiatrist from a Palestinian immigrant family, is awaiting trial in a military court.[Footnote 10]

* David C. Headley, an American citizen with a Pakistani father, pleaded guilty on March 18 to a series of crimes outside the U.S. growing out of a long-term affiliation with Pakistani jihadist groups and Al Qaeda, including six months of training in combat and surveillance.[Footnote 11]

* Faisal Shahzad, 30, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square on May 1. Upon pleading guilty, he admitted receiving bomb-making training in Pakistan. “I consider myself a Mujahid, a Muslim soldier. The U.S. and NATO forces have attacked the Muslim lands,” he said. “It's a war … I am part of that.”[Footnote 12]

If the recent incidents have anything in common, it's that they all differ significantly from the intricately orchestrated Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, which were carried out entirely by Arabs, some of whom had studied in Europe. “Al Qaeda and affiliated movements,” Cragin said, “have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to different recruiting environments, adjusting both message and method of recruitment.”[Footnote 13]

Terrorism experts are also making adjustments. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many had argued that young American Muslims are less drawn to jihadism than their counterparts in Western Europe, with its ghettoized populations of second- and third-generation Muslim immigrant families and its history of intolerance toward newcomers. But in light of the latest attacks and attempts, that view is less widely held.

To be sure, American Muslims do tend to be more affluent and more integrated in a country with a long history of religious and social pluralism. “Far more Muslims in three of the four Western European nations surveyed said they considered themselves first as Muslims, rather than citizens of their countries,” a 2007 study by the Pew Research Center concluded. Nevertheless, about one-quarter of U.S. Muslims said they had experienced discrimination, and most said their lives had gotten more difficult since 9/11.[Footnote 14]

Difficulties aside, some experts have long pointed to the existence of a jihadist current within a generally well-off, well-integrated population as evidence that socioeconomic advantages don't prevent jihadism. “I see very little connection between status in life and proclivity to resort to violence,” says Daniel Pipes, a conservative commentator on Islam and the Middle East and director of the Middle East Forum, a think tank for promoting U.S. interests. “I believe it's ideological, and unpredictable.”

Others venture some forecasting, based on an upsurge of anti-Muslim sentiment this summer sparked by a proposal to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the former World Trade Center site in New York. As the furor has intensified, some politicians and activists have gone from attacking the project near “ground zero” to denouncing the religion as a whole. In effect, some experts argue, the attacks are providing supporting evidence for a key tenet of jihadism: that America is at war with Islam.

“The jihadi and Glenn Beck need each other,” says counterterrorism consultant Marc Sageman, a sociologist, psychiatrist and former CIA operative in Pakistan.

Beck, a radio talk-show host and Fox News TV commentator — and one of the more prominent opponents of the mosque projects — said in August: “You tell me you want to build an ‘Allah tells me to blow up America mosque’ — yeah, I got a problem with that.”[Footnote 15]

Such talk, and projects such as a Florida preacher's plan to hold an “International Burn a Koran Day” on Sept. 11, are generating rhetorical violence in Muslim online chatrooms. “By Allah, the wars are heated and you Americans are the ones who … enflamed it,” says one posting reported by The Wall Street Journal. “By Allah you will be the first to taste its flames.”[Footnote 16]

Other Muslims have objected to the cultural center project precisely because it provided an arena for denouncing their faith. And from the jihadist side, amped-up rhetoric didn't begin with the cultural center project.

Chesser, the former Virginia high-school football enthusiast now in custody, rose to the attention of law enforcement and eventually the public through virulent Web postings that he signed as an individual — most notoriously a declaration that the creators of the “South Park” TV show were likely to be killed for planning to include a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed in an episode. (The Comedy Central network censored the offending episode.)[Footnote 17]

Chesser was arrested after allegedly trying to travel to Somalia to join al-Shabab (“the youth”), an Al Qaeda-allied militia that controls part of Somalia. At least three other Americans have also been arrested recently for allegedly making the same attempt.

The three had spoken of their jihadist plans to men who turned out to be informants or undercover law enforcement agents. Chesser himself knowingly spoke to FBI agents about his beliefs. No trained operative would let down his guard or trust outsiders — actions that arguably rank the men strictly as amateurs.

Jarret Brachman, a counterterrorism consultant formerly with the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, hypothesizes that Chesser was trying to emulate Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi. The Jordanian jihadist killed seven CIA operatives, including a top agent, in a suicide operation in Afghanistan after luring them into a meeting.[Footnote 18]

Balawi's attack was a popular topic on Websites to which Chesser contributed, Brachman says, adding, “I think that was his model.”

The Issues:
* Does ideology — rather than discrimination, alienation or foreign policy — drive domestic jihadism?
* Are domestic jihadis competent enough to mount serious threats?
* Are U.S. Muslim communities doing enough to counter jihadist influence?

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

[1] “Breaking: Zach Chesser Indicted for Material Support of Terrorism,” Jawa Report (blog), July 22, 2010, contains archived Web posting by Chesser; Tara Bahrampour, “Terror suspect took his desire to belong to the extreme,” The Washington Post, July 25, 2010, p. C1.
[2] “Efforts to Counter Violent Extremism,” Senate Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities,” committee testimony (written), March 10, 2010,
[3] “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream,” Pew Research Center, May 22, 2007, p. 9; “Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents,” Adherents.com, updated Aug. 9, 2007,.
[4] “Efforts to Combat Violent Extremism,” op. cit.; “House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment,” CQ Congressional Transcripts, May 26, 2010.
[5] “Extremist Thought and Actions,” House Homeland Security Committee, Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, Dec. 15, 2009.
[6] Karen J. Greenberg, “Homegrown: The Rise of American jihad,” The New Republic, May 21, 2010. For background, see Sarah Glazer, “Radical Islam in Europe,” CQ Global Researcher, November 2007, pp. 265–294.
[7] John Lynch, “A GI-slaying case intensifies,” Arkansas Democrat, Aug. 5, 2010.
[8] Tina Susman and Richard A. Serrano, “Guilty plea in terror attack,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 23, 2010, p. A1; “Guilty plea in New York subway bombing plot,” The Associated Press (Los Angeles Times), April 24, 2010, p. A16.
[9] Mike Robinson, “Men accused of unrelated bomb plots in Ill., Texas,” The Associated Press, Sept. 25, 2009; “Jordanian pleads guilty in Dallas skyscraper bombing plot,” Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, May 27, 2010.
[10] Dana Priest, “Fort Hood suspect warned of threats within the ranks,” The Washington Post, Nov. 10, 2009, p. A1.
[11] Jane Perlez, “American Terror Suspect Traveled Unimpeded,” The New York Times, March 26, 2010, p. 1; United States of America v. David Coleman Headley, No. 09 CR 830-3, Plea Agreement,” March 18, 2010,.
[12] Quoted in Patricia Hurtado, “Times Square Bomb Suspect Shahzad Pleads Guilty,” Bloomberg, June 22, 2010,.
[13] “Extremist Thought and Actions,” op. cit.
[14] “Muslim Americans …,” op. cit., pp. 3–4.
[15] “Becks suggests mosque near Ground Zero is an ‘Allah tells me to blow up America mosque,’” Media Matters for America, Aug. 3, 2010.
[16] Jonathan Weisman, “Protests, Rhetoric Feeding Jihadists' Fire,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23, 2010, .
[17] Dave Itzkoff, “‘South Park’ Episode Altered After Muslim Group's Warning,” The New York Times, April 22, 2010, republished on Revolution Muslim, (original posting no longer available there) .

Does reality TV distort how young viewers perceive life?

To follow is an excerpt of the CQ Researcher issue on "Reality TV" by Maryann Haggerty, August 24, 2010

Where some people see reality television as one more hazard for young people growing up today, Robert Thompson, a professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, sees it as a possible career path.

As he gauges what a lifetime of watching such programs has meant for his students, he says, “The biggest effect it's had is that some of them consider it now one of the options they may have if they want to become famous. I have had a lot of students who have aspired to try out for ‘American Idol,’ some of whom have actually done it. ‘The Real World’ comes to campuses for auditions on a regular basis.”

As far as other “big behavioral kinds of things,” he says, “obviously, the culture we consume comes in an aggregate and helps to shape who we are. The books that we read, the movies that we watch and all the rest of it accrues and adds up together to shape the contents of our minds.” But if a kid watches a stunt on “Jackass” and imitates it, “and it gets reported all over the news, and it essentially says reality TV is killing a generation of our kids? I think that is really, really overstated.

“Most of my students that I talk to about reality TV watch it very much in the same mode that I as a 50-year-old adult do, which is oftentimes very much tongue in cheek.”

Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, an advocacy group that frequently criticizes TV vulgarity, separates reality programming into two categories. A lot of it can be family-friendly, she says — for instance, “American Idol” or “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“And then there's everything else.”

She says, “What we have found is that they do contain higher levels of profanity and foul language. They also tend to include more aggression.”

While not much research has been done specifically on how reality TV affects children, Henson says it's possible to extrapolate from generalized research on how media affects behavior. “And what the vast body of research indicates is that kids who are exposed to higher levels of violence tend to behave more violently,” she says. “Kids who are exposed to higher levels of sex in media tend to become sexually active earlier in life than peers with less exposure.

“Because kids are seeing people close to their own age behaving a certain way on these reality programs, they tend to accept that that's normative behavior.”

Unlike scripted television — think, for instance, of cop shows like the popular “CSIS” — most reality programs stop short of portraying physical violence. Instead, they contain a lot of what academics call relational aggression. “Such behavior involves direct harm to relationships or the social environment and includes gossiping, spreading rumors, social exclusion and relational manipulation,” a group of researchers wrote recently in the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media. They also found that reality shows contain much higher levels of verbal aggression — insults, name calling — than scripted shows. [Footnote 13]

The researchers evaluated and compared a selection of scripted and unscripted shows, counting not only the frequency of various types of aggression but also whether it was justified or rewarded. “Such aggression often helps the contestant to ‘get ahead’ in the program, for example, by defaming another contestant's reputation or by turning contestants against each other,” they wrote. “However, the extremely high levels of relational aggression in reality programs are somewhat alarming, given the realistic portrayal of the aggression.”

How does that affect young people? Lead researcher Sarah M. Coyne cautioned in an e-mail interview that she hadn't personally studied the long-term effects of reality viewing. “However, watching a heavy diet of aggression (which reality TV is high on) can have a long-term effect on both aggressive attitudes and behavior,” commented Coyne, an assistant professor at the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

Others caution that reality shows can provide warped role models. “On reality TV, they can get away with a little more distortion than a scripted television show would,” says Letsome, the NOW vice president. “There's glamorization of drunkenness and casual sex. It reinforces the most immature actions of our entire society.”

When high-school students in particular see such behavior held out on television as the norm, it distorts their perceptions of what's acceptable. “It sends a message to the next generation that this is what I have to do, this is what is expected of me when I get to college or get to the business world,” she says.

Among college students, though, the effects of reality television are less than pessimists fear, says Gomery, who teaches history of media at the University of Maryland. Sure, students follow “American Idol,” but they care more about social media. “Reality TV is an adult form,” he says. “College students are much more interested in other things…. If you want large audiences, you can't rely on college students. Reality TV really works because it's one of the few genres that people born between 1945 and 1963, the Baby Boomers, like. You can't get those kinds of numbers without them.”

The Issues:
* Has reality TV caused a coarsening of society?
* Does reality TV perpetuate harmful racial, gender and other stereotypes?
* Is reality TV harmless entertainment or a cultural threat?

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

[13]Sarah M. Coyne, Simon L. Robinson and David A. Nelson, “Does Reality Backbite? Physical, Verbal and Relational Aggression in Reality Television Programs,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54:2, 282–298 .