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