Weekly Roundup 1/31/2011

Remarks by the President on the Situation in Egypt
President Barack Obama, Jan. 29

How should the U.S. respond to the protests in the Middle East?
The Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2011

With Egypt, Diplomatic Words Often Fail
Helene Cooper, The New York Times, Jan. 30, 2011

Synopsis: President Obama says embattled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak must “give meaning” to his promise of better democracy and greater economic opportunity. Five experts selected by The Washington Post offer varying views on the best U.S. policy toward the widening protests against Mubarak’s government. And The New York Times’ White House correspondent notes the difficulties posed by uncertainty in a vital U.S. ally.

Takeaway: “We’re in completely uncharted territory,” one expert tells the Times. “This is a big deal with huge potential consequences for U.S. strategic interests in a vital region.”

For further reading, see “Human Rights Issues” by Kenneth Jost, CQ Researcher, Oct. 30, 2009.

-- Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Unproven for Older Women, Digital Mammography Saps Medicare Dollars
Joe Eaton, Elizabeth Lucas and David Donald, Center for Public Integrity, Jan. 30, 2011.

Synopsis: The march of medical technology and the billions of dollars it costs goes on, with insurers such as Medicare unable to stem the tide. Direct-to-consumer marketing of technologies like digital mammography – for which Medicare now pays about 50 percent more than for traditional film mammography -- is persuading patients to demand them, even when medical evidence shows them to be no more effective than older, cheaper technologies.

Takeaway: “We are living in a time when a lot of medical interventions have been oversold, and [digital mammography] is another one,” said Dr. Russell Harris, a professor and preventive medicine expert at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “The people who make the machines, who benefit by selling newer machines, have triumphed.”

“The story behind the rise of digital mammography is a tale of intense industry marketing, direct-to-consumer advertising, political lobbying, and strategic campaign donations to politicians who shepherded beneficial Medicare reimbursement rates through Congress, creating the financial incentive for clinics and hospitals to replace film machines with digital,” according to the Center for Public Integrity reporters.

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest: Dealing With Julian Assange and His Secrets
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 30, 2011.

Synopsis: Times editor Bill Keller provides a compelling account of his negotiations with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to publish a vast cache of classified government diplomatic cables.

Takeaway: Keller’s insider account is essential reading for those who are following the WikiLeaks saga and/or ruminating on First Amendment rights and the definition of a journalist in today’s new online world. Keller writes: “I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from a Stieg Larsson thriller – a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.”

--Thomas J. Colin, contributing editor


"Smoked out"
The Economist, Jan. 22-28, 2011.

Research shows a link between the viewing of actors smoking in the movies and the consumption of cigarettes by people leaving the theater, a response “clearly relevant to those involved in public-health policy,” The Economist writes.

Takeaway: “Although smokers trying to quit are advised to avoid other smokers, and to remove smoking-related paraphernalia from their homes, it might not occur to them to avoid films in which smoking is depicted.”

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Is transporting radioactive waste dangerous?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Managing Nuclear Waste" by Jennifer Weeks on January 28, 2011


Because spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste are extremely radioactive, some observers worry that transporting them poses a health risk for people who handle fuel casks or live along transport routes. Although the United States has more than 40 years of experience with shipping radioactive waste, opening a repository or reprocessing spent fuel would involve moving much larger quantities over thousands of miles.

Utilities routinely ship spent nuclear fuel among storage facilities at different plants. They have made more than 3,000 shipments of commercial spent nuclear fuel by road and rail since the mid-1960s. And DOE has moved many tons of defense nuclear waste as it cleans up nuclear weapons production sites. About a dozen minor accidents have occurred during these shipments, none of which released radioactivity to the environment. [Footnote 12] A 2006 study by the National Research Council concluded that there were “no fundamental technical barriers to the safe transport of spent nuclear fuel and [high-level waste] in the United States.” [Footnote 13]

But some groups worry that large-scale transport of radioactive waste will increase risks of accidents or low-level exposures. In November 2010 the American Public Health Association (APHA) called spent-fuel transportation “a national public health threat that is largely preventable.” The group advocates long-term fuel storage at reactors until a permanent repository is ready. [Footnote 14]

“The potential hazards and risks are huge, so minimizing transport makes sense. It just takes one accident, and then everyone will be pointing fingers and asking how we got to this point,” says Amy Hagopian, a professor of global health at the University of Washington in Seattle who reviewed the statement for APHA.

Spent fuel is transported in massive steel casks that measure four to eight feet in diameter, have walls five to 15 inches thick and contain materials that shield the environment from radioactivity. One cask used for shipment by truck holds up to nine bundles of fuel rods and weighs up to 25 tons; a rail shipment cask holds several dozen bundles and can weigh 150 tons. Casks must withstand a range of forces in testing, including a 30-foot drop onto reinforced concrete, a 40-inch drop onto a steel spike, a 30-minute fully engulfing fire and submersion under water for eight hours. [Footnote 15]

In its 2006 study the National Research Council recommended steps to improve transportation security, including analyzing risks of long-lasting fires that might breach a fuel cask. Researchers were worried about scenarios like a 2001 disaster in which a freight train carrying flammable and toxic chemicals derailed in a tunnel under downtown Baltimore, igniting a fire that burned for five days. [Footnote 16]

In response the Nuclear Regulatory Commission sought a study that concluded the likelihood of such accidents was extremely low and that rail-shipment casks for spent fuel would not release dangerous levels of radiation even in a similar fire. [Footnote 17] The agency also negotiated with the railroad industry to revise freight policies so that trains carrying flammable materials would not enter tunnels at the same time as trains carrying spent fuel. [Footnote 18]

“A significant radiation release would only happen in a very low-probability accident scenario,” says the Natural Resources Defense Council's Cochran. “I'd worry more about being in a small car in front of the truck carrying spent fuel than about exposure from an accident.”

While the potential for major accidents concerns some industry critics, so too does the possibility of routine radiation exposure. Some cite a 2008 environmental impact study by George W. Bush's administration supporting a proposal for large-scale domestic reprocessing and plutonium recycling starting around 2025. [Footnote 19] The report estimated that shipping spent fuel and high-level waste cross-country would cause from a handful to hundreds of additional cancer deaths over 50 years from public exposure to low-level radiation, depending on the number of shipments and whether they went by road or rail. [Footnote 20]

“You can't move spent fuel without irradiating people along the truck routes,” argues Gerald Pollet, executive director of Heart of America Northwest (HOANW), a nonprofit group in Washington state. HOANW advocates for cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation, a site on the Columbia River covering nearly 600 square miles where workers produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1943 through the late 1980s. Hanford remains the most contaminated site in the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex. But Pollet asserts that DOE should find ways to manage Hanford's nuclear waste without increasing risk to the public. “If you move it twice — first to reprocess spent fuel and then to send the leftover high-level waste to a repository — we will see many more cancers,” he says.

The National Research Council study also called sabotage of nuclear waste shipments “a major technical and societal concern,” especially in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. [Footnote 21] Companies transporting nuclear waste are required to use routes approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and monitor shipments in transit. But the federal agency's regulations have changed little since they were enacted in 1980. The agency is proposing new requirements, including joint planning with states along transit routes and use of global positioning systems or radiofrequency identification to track shipments in real time. [Footnote 22]

The agency's proposed standards are “a vast improvement over the current rule,” says Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group that lobbies on environmental issues and oversight of nuclear power. But they would be stronger if they spelled out the size and type of attacking force that security measures must withstand, he argues. “This rule still doesn't provide the same level of security for spent fuel in transit as for spent fuel at reactor pools,” Lyman says. “The number of escorts protecting spent fuel shipments is essentially ad hoc and isn't clearly related to a specific and evolving threat.”

The Issues:
* Is transporting radioactive waste dangerous?
* Should Congress revive the Yucca Mountain repository?
* Should the U.S. recycle plutonium from spent fuel?

For more information on the CQ Researcher report on "Managing Nuclear Waste" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[13] Ibid., pp. 2–3.

[14] “Policy Statement B-7,” summarized at www.apha.org/membergroups/newsletters/sectionnewsletters/occupat/fall10/default.htm#{46E77A7B-722B-4393-94A5-FD04BF5CE736}.

[15] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Safety of Spent Fuel Transportation (2003), pp. 4–5, www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/brochures/br0292/br0292.pdf, and “Typical Spent Fuel Transportation Casks,” www.nrc.gov/waste/spent-fuel-storage/diagram-typical-trans-cask-system-2.pdf.

[16] National Transportation Safety Board, “Railroad Accident Brief,” August 2004, www.ntsb.gov/publictn/2004/RAB0408.pdf.

[17] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Spent Fuel Transportation Package Response to the Baltimore Tunnel Fire Scenario,” NUREG/CR-6886, www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/contract/cr6886/r2/cr6886r2.pdf.

[18] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Staff actions taken in response to the National Academy of Sciences' study on transportation of high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel in the United States,” SECY-07-0995 (June 6, 2007).

[19] President Obama changed this plan to focus on basic research, with no reprocessing until mid-century at the earliest.

[20] U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, “Draft Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement — Summary,” DOE/EIS-0396 (October 2008), pp. S-52, S-53, www.brc.gov/library/docs/GNEP%20Summary.pdf. Figures cited are for public latent cancer fatalities.

[21] National Research Council, Going the Distance, op cit., p. 8.

[22] “Physical Protection of Irradiated Reactor Fuel in Transit,” Federal Register, Oct. 13, 2010, pp. 62695–62716.

Weekly Roundup 1/25/2011

Domestic use of aerial drones by law enforcement likely to prompt privacy debate
Peter Finn, The Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2011

Synopsis: Some federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are using low-flying aerial drones – unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft – to aid surveillance and pursuit not only in unpopulated border areas but also in urban centers. For now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is limiting the use in the interest of air safety, but the agency is developing rules that may allow expanded use within a few years.

Takeaway: Law enforcement views the technology as effective and cost-efficient. Civil libertarians are worried: “What we don’t want to see is their pervasive use to watch over the American people.”

--Kenneth Jost, Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press; Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


"What IBM's Jeopardy Machine Can Teach Us: Humility"
Stephen Baker, Jan. 20, 2011

Synopsis: An IBM computer that's set to challenge Jeopardy super-champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter next month doesn't "think" the same way humans do. Rather than memorizing facts, the machine is programmed to treat every individual statement it's been fed as merely provisional -- not set in stone -- and to scan its memory for all related information before it states the answer that's most statistically probable, based on all the connections its memory contains. We humans, by contrast, quickly move many things we've "learned" into the "requires no further research" category. That mental practice allows us to retrieve answers faster, but it also likely contributes to making us the easily biased creatures that we are, speculates tech writer Baker.

Takeaway: "Our minds are full of 'facts' that appear to require no further research. It makes thinking easy, so easy in fact, that we're tempted to expand our universe of facts. We build beliefs. They can be about country music, literature, politics or religion. And in our minds, these beliefs often become facts as well: truths that are beyond debate."

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Rise of the New Ruling Class: How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind
Chrystia Freeland, The Atlantic, January/February, 2011

Sympathy for those who haven’t grabbed a big share of the ever-globalizing world’s wealth isn’t running strong among those who are swimming in newly created riches. So reports Freeland, a Financial Times reporter who has been spending the past several years among the new rich. They tend to be creators of their own fortunes, as opposed to stewards of riches spawned by their forbears. One result is that their attitude tends to be: We made it, and if you didn’t, it’s your problem. One Internet tycoon told Freeland that the American middle class makes foreign labor a far more attractive option for employers. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he said. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.” There’s much more to this sharp and insightful piece. If you’re wondering, for example, how good life at the top can be – it can be very, very good.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer

Is selling genetic tests directly to consumers a good idea?

Direct-to-consumer sales of genetic tests were rare until November 2007, when three companies began offering them. Since then, tests have been easily available on the Internet, allowing people to send a DNA sample — usually saliva — to companies such as California-based 23andMe and Navigenics and, for a few hundred dollars, get back information about their genetic ancestry and medical risks. [Footnote 11]

DTC vendors say the tests help curious people learn about themselves and that their analyses are based on the best current scientific understanding. Critics, however, contend the science of genetic testing isn't far enough along to yield meaningful results.

“Customers empowered with this information have made lifestyle changes aimed at reducing their risks of developing disease and have provided information to their doctors to aid in diagnosis and treatment. These actions have improved and even saved lives,” 23andMe general counsel Ashley C. Gould told a House oversight committee last July. [Footnote 12]

While saying she could not speak for the whole industry, Gould said her firm provides “extensive information to our customers so they understand that the data we provide can change as new scientific studies are completed.” [Footnote 13]

Purchasers of DNA health-risk profiles are mainly well-off, technically savvy people, so it's not clear how far one can generalize from their response to DTC testing, said David Kaufman, director of research and statistics at the Genetics & Public Policy Center, a research and survey group jointly sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins University. Nevertheless, current customers' self-reported responses to test results suggest testing's potential in preventive health, he said. [Footnote 14]

Asked whether they'd made health-related lifestyle changes after DTC tests informed them they had medical risks, 34 percent of people surveyed by the center said they were more careful about what they ate, 14 percent said they exercised more and 16 percent had changed their medications or dietary supplements. “We don't give enough credit to people's abilities to decide what's useful to them,” said Kaufman. [Footnote 15]

But Congress' nonpartisan auditing and investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), blasted current DTC tests in a report last July. After buying tests from four websites, GAO analysts created biographical profiles of several “fictitious consumers” of various ages, weights and lifestyle descriptions and submitted them along with DNA samples taken from only one woman and one man. Although the DNA came from just two people, the companies sent back a wide and bewildering variety of risk profiles and recommendations, the GAO said. [Footnote 16]

“Although there are numerous disclaimers indicating that the tests are not intended to diagnose disease, all 14 results predict that the fictitious consumers are at risk for developing” conditions ranging from osteoporosis to cancer, presumably based on lifestyle profiles, not DNA, said Gregory Kutz, GAO managing director for forensic audits and special investigations. “If the recommendations were truly based on genetic analysis,” then all the fictitious females “should have received the same recommendations because their DNA came from the same source. Instead, they received a variety of different recommendations, depending on their fictitious lifestyles.” [Footnote 17]

“Test results can be unreliable and difficult to interpret, and they are often offered to people with little or no genetic counseling or support,” said Christopher Hood, of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in London. “People should be aware that other than prompting obvious healthy lifestyle choices such as taking more exercise, eating a balanced diet and reducing alcohol consumption, the tests are unlikely to inform them of any specific disease risks that can be significantly changed by their behavior,” said Hood, chairman of the council's Working Group on bioethics and Gladstone professor of government at All Souls College, University of Oxford. [Footnote 18]

“With only a few exceptions, what the genomics companies are doing right now is recreational genomics,” said David B. Goldstein, a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke University. [Footnote 19]

Having access to one's own sequenced genome, once that becomes feasible and affordable for everyone, won't add much to most people's understanding of their health risks, says Barbara Bernhardt, a genetic counselor and clinical professor of medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “You're going to find every single difference in your genome from what may be considered normal. But you won't have a clue about what that means,” nor will anyone, including scientists, she says.

“Even highly educated people misinterpret test results,” says Kaufman of the Genetics and Public Policy Center. For example, told that a DTC test found a hypothetical woman having a risk of diabetes that was lower than the general population's risk, 7 percent of people, most of them fairly well-educated, erroneously concluded that the woman actually was at high risk of the disease.

“People were more likely to misinterpret a low-risk number” as predicting a high risk, Kaufman says. This might happen “because people are just looking for high-risk information,” he suggests.

Timothy Caulfield, a professor of law and public health at the University of Alberta, one of Canada's largest research institutions, said that in one study, a whopping 78 percent of people who said they are interested in being tested also said they “would ask their physician for assistance with interpreting the data. Further, 61 percent of respondents felt that physicians have a professional obligation to help with this interpretive process,” he said. [Footnote 20]

However, “the data is of only marginal health benefit,” according to most analyses, meaning that the costs and time used up in those physician visits would provide “little or no health benefit” to anyone, Caulfield said. Cash-strapped health-care systems can ill afford such luxuries, he said. [Footnote 21]

In addition, hopes by some that genetic testing will eventually hold down costs by dissuading doctors and patients from using medical treatments that gene tests show won't work for them are probably overly optimistic, genetics counselor Bernhardt speculates.

Diseases once thought to be single conditions are now known to have quite different genetic origins in different individuals. As a result, scientists already know that people with certain genetic profiles simply won't benefit from some therapies. And such findings will certainly proliferate, Bernhardt says. But even if testing definitively demonstrates that a patient won't benefit from a given therapy, physicians will most likely prescribe it anyway, since “no one will do nothing” for a sick patient, she says.

The Issues:
* Are effective therapies derived from gene science on the horizon?
* Is selling genetic tests directly to consumers a good idea?
* Should the government award patents for “naturally occurring” genes?

For more information on the CQ Researcher report on "Genes and Health" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[11] For background, see Jordan P. Lerner-Ellis, J. David Ellis and Robert Green, “Direct-to-consumer Genetic Testing: What's the Prognosis?” Council for Responsible Genetics website, www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org.

[12] Testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, July 22, 2010, http://energycommerce.house.gov.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Quoted in “Personal Genomics Tests Prompt Lifestyle Changes,” New Scientist online, Nov. 5, 2010, www.newscientist.com.

[15] Quoted in ibid.

[16] Testimony before House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, op. cit.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Quoted in Ben Richmond, “Direct to Consumer Genetics Testing Kits Aren't Worth Spit, According to British Study,” Medill Reports, Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Oct. 20, 2010, http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=170660.

[19] Quoted in Nicholas Wade, “Genes Show Limited Value in Predicting Diseases,” The New York Times, April 16, 2009, p. A1.

[20] Timothy Caulfield, “Direct-to-consumer Genetics and Health Policy: A Worst-Case Scenario,” The American Journal of Bioethics, June-July 2009, p. 48.

[21] Ibid.

Weekly Roundup 1/18/2011

Horrified by Schools that Give Every Student an iPad
Mark Belinsky, Huffington Post, Jan. 5, 2011

Snyopsis: The iPad is yet another device that puts greater distance between consumers of technology and those who will wield the real power in our increasingly technological world: the people who know how to create and change that technology. That's the contention of Mark Belinsky, founder of the nonprofit group Digital Democracy, which helps such people as reporters living under repressive governments and low-income teenagers learn computer techniques that facilitate self expression and democratic participation. Belinsky contends that conditioning kids to use machines solely based on prepackaged "apps" is a recipe for creating a powerless citizenry.

Takeaway: Says Belinsky: "The iPad is magic to children. Press a button and it does everything that you want it to. The problem is that it doesn't tell you how the magic happens...When downloading an app, there is no explanation that the app is utilizing the accelerometer, contact list, and your current location....This is exactly the kind of mentality that is getting kids to fall behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics."

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


On Martin Luther King Day, remembering the first draft of ‘I Have a Dream’”
Clarence B. Jones, The Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2011

Synopsis: Former King adviser and speechwriter Jones recalls, in an excerpt from his book Behind the Dream, the drafting of King’s historic speech for the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” – and King’s spur-of-the-moment decision to scrap the prepared text and deliver the now immortal lines.

Takeaway: “In front of all those people, cameras, and microphones, Martin winged it. But, then, no one I’ve ever met could improvise better.”

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


After Tucson, Is the Anger Gone?
Matt Bai, The New York Times, Jan. 15, 2011

While some see the shooting rampage in Arizona as a turning point in the nation’s civic life and national discourse, the long-term impact of the tragedy remains to be seen, Bai suggests.

Takeaway: “Perhaps…we have to consider…that the speed and fractiousness of our modern society make it all but impossible now for any one moment to transform the national debate,” Bai suggests.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor


Obama’s Speech After the Tucson Shootings

Synopsis: Commentators and politicians on both the left and right have described the president’s speech after the Tucson shootings as a powerful call to end the poisonous political rhetoric. Many also say it could be a political game-changer.

Takeaway: Read the speech yourself; what do you think? Is more civil discourse likely to follow?

Tom Colin, Contributing Editor

Should the Supreme Court permit live audio and video coverage?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Cameras in the Courtroom" by Kenneth Jost on January 14, 2011


Retired justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was back in the courtroom last fall and liked what she saw. “It was absolutely incredible,” O'Connor recalled during a Dec. 13 program at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. Three women on the bench: one on the far right, one toward the middle, one on the far left. “I just think that the image that Americans overall have of the court has to change a little bit when they look up there and see what I saw,” O'Connor said.

Moderator Linda Greenhouse quickly noted that the sight was not as accessible as O'Connor suggested. “Not that many people actually get the chance to see” the Supreme Court in action, said Greenhouse, The New York Times' former correspondent at the court and now journalist in residence at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn. [Footnote 11]

In fact, except for the working press, members of the Supreme Court bar and invited guests, all visitors to the Supreme Court face a time-consuming process in trying to see the justices in action. Would-be spectators typically line up hours in advance to claim one of the 250 seats available for the general public. At least 50 spectators are allowed to stay for an entire, hour-long argument, but others are ushered in for only a few minutes.

Camera-access advocates have been making their case over the past decade in large part by emphasizing the public's limited access to the courtroom. “There is no reason why in the 21st century the American people should not be able to watch their democracy in action, and the Supreme Court should not be an exception,” says Nan Aron, president of the liberal Alliance for Justice. The alliance was part of a 46-group coalition led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that urged the lame-duck Congress last year to pass legislation either requiring or calling on the Supreme Court to permit live TV coverage.

The pressure from Congress and outside groups has helped prompt the court to make audio recordings of arguments available sooner and more widely than in the past. But the justices have not allowed camera coverage of proceedings, whether live or delayed.

The three justices vocally opposed to cameras — Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas — warn that TV coverage could hurt collegiality on the court and endanger the justices' personal security. Scalia has also complained that TV coverage would reduce the Supreme Court to “entertainment.”

Critics and skeptics of TV coverage of the court echo those concerns. “I do not see a good case for cameras in the courtroom and think it will inflict some real costs,” says Edward Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, and a former Scalia law clerk. Jonathan Adler, a conservative law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, agrees, though with some ambivalence. “I understand what they're afraid of,” says Adler. “Their fears may be completely overstated, but I understand them.”

The media organizations and other advocacy groups in favor of camera access discount the fears that cameras would affect either the justices or the lawyers. In particular, they say fears of grandstanding by lawyers will not materialize. “Oral advocates are going to get up there and do their best, and so are the justices,” says RTDNA counsel Kirby.

C-SPAN counsel Collins says the cable network's experience with coverage of other appellate courts shows that lawyers do not play to the cameras, as opponents fear. “They don't, and it's very simple why they don't,” says Collins. “The only person who's going to determine the rights of their client are the judges. So they play to the judges. They do it respectfully and within the rule of law.”

Whelan disagrees. “No one behaves exactly the same way when a camera is on him,” he says. “It adds an additional element. It is not at all clear that it's a desirable element.”

C-SPAN, supported by other media organizations, stepped up its requests for TV access to the court in advance of the two cases that resolved the Bush v. Gore presidential election contest in 2000. By letter, the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist responded that “a majority” of the justices remained opposed to TV cameras. But the court did take the then-unprecedented step of releasing audio tapes of arguments in the two cases immediately after the conclusion of each session.

The court followed that procedure in a dozen or so cases over the next decade. The new practice, adopted at the start of the current term in October, makes the recordings of all arguments available, but only at the end of the week. “They wanted to get out of the business of making a case-by-case decision,” Collins says.

Prospects for congressional legislation may be dim after the defeat of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat who sponsored legislation calling for camera coverage and closely questioned Supreme Court nominees on the issue during confirmation hearings. In any event, it is unclear whether Congress has the power to require the court to let cameras in.

Collins says the court itself will have to change before cameras are allowed. “I think the court will be televised eventually, but it will be a result of generational change,” he says. “There have to be enough justices who've had broad experience with video in their lives to be comfortable with it for them to open up.”

The Issues:
* Has television coverage of state courts been a success?
* Should federal courts permit television coverage of trials, including criminal cases?
* Should the Supreme Court permit live audio and video coverage?

For more information on the CQ Researcher report on "Cameras in the Courtroom" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[11] An excerpt from the Dec. 13, 2010, program, “A Conversation With Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter,” was posted on You Tube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4D9RTCOD9E.

Weekly Roundup 1/10/2011

Arizona Rampage Elicits Range of Opinions on Political Speech

In Defense of Inflamed Rhetoric: The awesome stupidity of the calls to tamp down political speech in the wake of the Giffords shooting
Jack Shafer, Slate, Jan. 9, 2011

Sanity from Jack Shafer
Rick Moran, American Thinker, Jan. 10, 2011

Climate of Hate
Paul Krugman, The New York Times, Jan. 9, 2011

Synthesis: Columnists and talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum have been opining about the current state of political speech in the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson. Some say the dialogue is too virulent and should be curtailed. Others say it’s a sign of a healthy democracy. Some say conservatives are the biggest offenders; others see room for blame on both sides. Without taking sides, here is a small sample of what’s out there; the list of offerings, of course, is endless.

Takeaway: Now more than ever, thoughtful readers should sample both sides of the debate to be fully informed and able to come to thoughtful, dispassionate conclusions.

-- Tom Colin, Contributing Editor


No dirty videos please – we’re in the Navy
Greg Jaffe, The Washington Post, Jan. 9, 2011

"He was fired for his videos, but Capt. Owen Honors did the right thing"
Bruce Fleming, The Washington Post, Jan. 9, 2011

Synopsis: Two authors take on the prevailing view that Capt. Owen Honors was wrong (and properly relieved of command of the U.S.S. Enterprise) for racy videos that he produced and showed for the crew several years ago while he was the aircraft carrier’s executive officer. Fleming, a civilian English instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy, argues the videos were a legitimate effort to keep up crew morale by dealing with a subject, sex, that is on everyone’s mind whether acknowledged or not. Jaffe, one of the Post’s military affairs correspondents, says the uproar reflects an unprecedented – and unwarranted – squeamishness toward matters sexual.

Takeaway: The Pentagon and the public have come to a different conclusion, but Fleming and Jaffe make points that may help explain why so many of the sailors under Honors’ command came to his defense.

-- Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"The Dubai Job"
Ronen Bergman, GQ, January, 2011

The assassination of a Hamas leader in a luxury hotel in Dubai has faded from the headlines. Now, an Israeli journalist who specializes in security affairs provides a detailed reconstruction of the killing. A team from a special unit of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, carried out the operation, according to Bergman (the agency doesn’t confirm or deny involvement). Though the Hamas man died, the assassination is widely seen as a failure, because members of the assassination team appeared on security videos that Dubai police made public, and because the false papers they used were traceable to Israel. Bergman’s account provides plausible explanations for these breakdowns.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


"The New Speed of Money, Reshaping Markets
Graham Bowley, The New York Times, Jan. 1, 2011.

Synopsis: The growth of fully computerized "automated trading" is driving financial markets faster and faster. Automation has decreased the overhead costs of market trading, which may allow more people to participate, potentially diminishing the stranglehold of large financial institutions over the markets. However, some worry that enhancing the ability of traders to make huge, quick profits on momentary price shifts also opens the door to undue market manipulation and, potentially, catastrophic crashes.

Takeaway: "One debate has focused on whether some traders are firing off fake orders thousands of times a second to slow down exchanges and mislead others. Michael Durbin, who helped build high-frequency trading systems for companies...and is the author of the book All About High-Frequency Trading, says that most of the industry is legitimate and benefits investors. But, he says, the rules need to be strengthened to curb some disturbing practices. 'Markets are there for capital formation and long-term investment, not for gaming.'"

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

Should the government restrict student aid to career and trade schools?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Career Colleges" by Barbara Mantel on January 7, 2011


Any day now the Department of Education could release the much-anticipated final version of a regulation that would restrict federal student aid at career colleges and trade schools. “While career colleges play a vital role in training our work force to be globally competitive, some of them are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use,” Education Secretary Duncan said when the department first proposed the gainful-employment rule last July. [Footnote 27]

The department was scheduled to publish the final rule last October, but furious lobbying by the for-profit sector caused it to reconsider. “Through this proposed regulation, the department will be making law that shuts out the very students who have the most to gain through their access to the programs offered by career colleges,” said Washington lawyer Lanny Davis, spokesman for the Coalition for Educational Success, a group representing career colleges. [Footnote 28]

To qualify for federal student aid, the Higher Education Act for decades has required that career colleges and vocational-training programs prepare students for gainful employment in recognized occupations. But gainful employment has never been defined. Now the department is attempting to do just that and has ignited a contentious debate.

The proposed rule is complicated. A program would be fully eligible for federal student aid if at least 45 percent of its former students — whether graduates or dropouts — are repaying the principal on their federal student loans. Even if a program's repayment rate is lower than that, it could still be eligible if its graduates have a debt-to-earnings ratio of less than 20 percent of discretionary income or 8 percent of total income. (Discretionary income is defined as income above 150 percent of the poverty level.)

A program would be ineligible for student financial aid if its repayment rate is less than 35 percent and its graduates have a debt-to-earnings ratio above 30 percent of discretionary income and 12 percent of total income.

Programs between these two poles would be on a restricted list. They could still enroll students with federal financial aid but would not be able to expand, and they would have to warn students about the high debt burdens they are likely to carry in relation to the salaries they are likely to earn. [Footnote 29]

The industry says the consequences for the students it serves would be enormous. An industry-commissioned analysis estimates that between 1 and 2 million fewer students would enter postsecondary schooling over the next 10 years as a result of the rule.Footnote 30

The Department of Education disagrees. It estimates that the vast majority of students at for-profit schools that could be deemed ineligible would be able to transfer to another program or school. Future students would attend the remaining eligible schools. [Footnote 31]
Federal Loan Default Rates by Type of School

Jonathan Guryan, a professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University in Chicago, says the department is much too optimistic. Guryan researched and wrote the industry study and says only a quarter of affected students have reasonable alternatives. “That's partially because many community colleges are at capacity and partially because there are not other for-profits nearby with similar programs,” he says.

But Pauline Abernathy, vice president of the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success in Oakland, Calif., says the remaining for-profit schools will fill the void. “The industry has demonstrated it can and will rapidly expand capacity,” says Abernathy. “Keep in mind also that at least seven of the 14 publicly traded colleges have more than 50 percent of their students in exclusively online curriculums, so proximity and physical space are not necessarily even issues.”

Guryan, however, says such expansion may not make sense. “It's hard to imagine that for-profit schools would create new programs to serve those students,” he says. “Presumably they would be worried that their programs would fail, too.” After all, a closed program would be ineligible “at least in part because of the characteristics and choices of the students it served,” according to Guryan. [Footnote 32]

But critics of the industry say poor results for schools that serve at-risk students are not inevitable and that schools could raise repayment rates and lower debt levels for their students more than the industry assumes is possible.

For instance, a recent study analyzed the experience of a small group of historically black colleges and universities in Texas, which 11 years ago faced critically high student-loan default rates. Over three years, the schools managed to more than halve default rates by improving student retention and graduation, offering better loan counseling, partnering with outside financial-aid experts and improving financial-aid packaging. [Footnote 33]

The for-profit higher education sector's objections to the proposed gainful employment rule go beyond the rule's projected unintended consequences. The industry also says the caps on debt-to-earnings ratios are arbitrary; the process for devising the rule was biased; and the statutory authority of the Department of Education to make such a sweeping change is nonexistent.

“They simply were unwilling to let this proposal go through the sunshine of a legislative debate,” says Miller of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. When asked if a lawsuit is possible, Miller says, “All options are on the table.”

While the industry is hoping the department withdraws the gainful employment rule or makes significant changes, groups like Abernathy's are hoping the department makes it stronger. For example, programs that are restricted can remain so indefinitely, and simply not allowing them to grow is not much punishment, says Abernathy.

“Some of these schools went through such rapid growth earlier that limiting the number of students to the level of the year before would still be an enormous number of students.”

A few for-profit companies have already taken action to improve student outcomes. Kaplan is allowing students to enroll in classes for several weeks to test out a program and withdraw during that time without any tuition obligation. And the University of Phoenix is requiring students who enter with fewer than 24 credits to take a free, three-week, non-credit orientation.

The Issues:
* Is deception pervasive at career colleges?
* Do career colleges provide a quality education?
* Should the government restrict student aid to career and trade schools?

For more information on the CQ Researcher report on "Career Colleges" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[27] “Department of Education Established New Student Aid Rules to Protect Borrowers and Taxpayers,” Department of Education, Oct. 28, 2010, www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/department-education-establishes-new-student-aid-rules-protect-borrowers-and-tax.

[28] Lanny Davis, “Time for a Re-Do on ‘Gainful Employment,’” The Huffington Post, Nov. 18, 2010, www.huffingtonpost.com/lanny-davis/time-for-a-redo-on-gainfu_b_785121.html.

[29] “Frequently Asked Questions, Program Integrity: Gainful Employment Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” Department of Education, www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2009/ge-faq.pdf.

[30] Charles River Associates, letter to Tony Miller, Deputy Education Secretary, Nov. 22, 2010, p. 1.

[31] “Frequently Asked Questions,” op. cit.

[32] Jonathan Guryan and Mathew Thompson, “The Availability of Alternative Programs for Students Displaced by Gainful Employment: Testing Assumptions Crucial to Estimates of the Impact of Gainful Employment on Students,” Charles River Associates, Nov. 22, 2010, p. 3.

[33] Erin Dillion and Robin V. Smiles, “Lowering Student Loan Default Rates: What One Consortium of Historically Black institutions Did to Succeed,” Feb. 2010, Education Sector, p. 5, www.educationsector.org/sites/default/files/publications/Default_Rates_HBCU.pdf.

Weekly Roundup 1/5/2011

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,
Timothy Snyder
Basic Books, 2010.

One might think that everything that could be written about mass murder in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s has been written. One would be wrong. A Yale University historian tells the story of those horrific decades by focusing on the stretch of territory where the murderous designs of both the Stalin and Hitler regimes reached their maximum intensity: Poland, the Baltic countries, Belarus, Ukraine and the western edge of Soviet Russia.

In these “bloodlands,” Hitler’s campaign to exterminate Jews was preceded by Stalin’s starvation of Ukraine and liquidation of Poland’s elite. Unlike many other academic historians, Snyder writes clearly and succinctly. A reader should have basic historical knowledge of the period, but nothing more is required. For all those with an interest in World War II and Soviet history, this book is a must.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


WikiLeaks Row: Why Amazon's Desertion Has Ominous Implications for Democracy
By John Naughton
The [UK] Guardian, Dec. 11, 2010.

Synopsis: With much of our public discourse and publishing occurring electronically, the freedom of those enterprises increasingly depends on those who own and control the "cloud" of computers out there that serve as hosts -- mainly private companies. Amazon ousted WikiLeaks from its computers on the grounds that WikLleaks had violated its terms of service because it didn't "own or otherwise control" all rights to the classified cables it published. This despite the fact that the leaked cables aren't under copyright. Amazon's action was taken after complaints by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. Naughton questions whether the companies that own the cloud will protect free speech.

Takeaway: "While Amazon was within its legal rights, the company has nonetheless sent a clear signal to its users: if you engage in controversial speech that some individual members of the U.S. government don't like… Amazon is going to dump you at the first sign of trouble," said Internet scholar Rebecca MacKinnon.

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer, CQ Researcher


The Bad Daddy Factor
By Emily Anthes
Miller-McCune, January-February 2011

Synopsis: A growing body of evidence, largely unpublicized, points to what the article calls a “connection between male behavior and fetal health.” Smoking, drinking, exposure to environmental toxins or even inadequate diet may damage sperm in a way that can increase the likelihood of birth defects.

Takeaway: With 60 percent of birth defects of unknown origin, tracing even a small fraction back to men’s environmental exposure would constitute what the writer calls “a major public health advance.”

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor, CQ Researcher

“The Global Budget Race”
By Douglas J. Besharov and Douglas M. Call
Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2010.

Synopsis: Two University of Maryland public-policy scholars warn that the United States must make difficult fiscal choices—including steep tax hikes and spending cuts—to deal with an aging population, growing health-care and Social Security demands and other budget pressures. Otherwise, as the article’s headline states, the United States will be “outrun by its competitors—some of whom have been quicker to face facts.”

Takeaway: “In the past,” the writers summarize, “the United States did reasonably well by muddling through crises. But this time, …the needed medicine is bitter. Tax increases in the trillions of dollars appear necessary, and they probably won’t be politically possible unless accompanied by similarly large—and permanent—cuts in government-provided retirement and health benefits.”

Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor, CQ Researcher


Several Warnings, Then a Soldier’s Lonely Death
By James Risen
The New York Times, Jan. 2, 2011

Synopsis: This poignant, in-depth story about the apparent suicide of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan was written by one of The Times’s star investigative reporters. It is a compelling, tragic story and a spectacular example of the journalist’s art.

Takeaway: The Army will only say that Sgt. David Senft’s death was caused by “injuries sustained in a non-combat related incident.” But friends and family are convinced his depression led him to take his own life, and that the military had had ample warning signs of his emotional fragility.

Tom Colin, Contributing Editor