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