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Weekly Roundup 3/28/2011

The Kill Team
Mark Boal, Rolling Stone, March 27, 2011

Synopsis: A group of U.S. infantrymen assigned to root out the Taliban in a tough Afghan territory discussed the ethics and risks of killing Afghan civilians for months before setting out one January morning in search of an unarmed civilian to kill.

Takeaway: “He was a smooth-faced kid, about 15 years old. Not much younger than they were: [Cpl. Jeremy] Morlock was 21, [Pfc. Andrew] Holmes was 19. His name, they would later learn, was Gul Mudin, a common name in Afghanistan. He was wearing a little cap and a Western-style green jacket. He held nothing in his hand that could be interpreted as a weapon, not even a shovel. The expression on his face was welcoming. ‘He was not a threat,’ Morlock later confessed.”

Body Bagger in Iraq
Chris Hedges, Truthdig blog, March 21, 2011

Synopsis: An ex-Marine, now studying to be a counselor, recounts her eight-month tour of duty collecting and cataloguing the remains of dead soldiers in Iraq.

Takeaway: “‘War is disgusting and horrific,’ she said. ‘It never leaves the people who were involved in it. The damage is far greater than the lists of casualties or cost in dollars. It permeates lifestyles. It infects cultures and people and worldviews. The war is never over for us. The fighting stops. The troops get called back. But the war goes on for those damaged by war.’ Not long ago she received a text message from a Marine she had worked with in Mortuary Affairs after he tried to commit suicide. ‘I’ve got $2,000 in the bank,’ the message read. ‘Let’s meet in NYC and go out with a bang.’”

For background see the following CQ Researcher reports: Peter Katel, “America at War,” [subscription required] July 23, 2010.

-Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Washington’s New Brat Pack Masters Media
Sridhar Pappu, The New York Times, March 26, 2011

Synopsis: Reporter/bloggers in their 20s – among them, Brian Beutler (Talking Points Memo), Dave Weigel (Slate) and Ezra Klein (Washington Post) -- “have become part of the journalistic establishment in Washington,” according to Times reporter Pappu (age 35, per his Facebook profile). Despite disdain in some quarters, these and other masters of new media are acknowledged by the White House, invited to bold-face-name events and read with care by many in the old media.

Takeaway: A critic says the 20-somethings represent “a devaluation of serious journalism in favor of reporters who are able to create a brand identity.” But a fan says he admires “the way these bloggers have opened up the D.C. conversation.”

For background, see these CQ Researcher reports: Tom Price, “Journalism Standards in the Internet Age,” Oct. 8, 2010; and Kenneth Jost and Melissa Hipolit, “Blog Explosion,” June 9, 2006.

-Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Daniel Alarcón, Lost City Radio (Harper Perennial, 2008).

On his recent tour of South and Central America, President Obama portrayed the region as a model for Middle Eastern nations trying to move from dictatorship to democracy. But that transition is still under way, and the toll exacted by tyranny and civil conflict is still being calculated. Peruvian journalist and novelist Daniel Alarcón – who writes in English – offers a view of the years when most of South America was consumed by insurgency and counter-insurgency. Set in an unnamed country that seems to be a composite of Peru, Argentina and Colombia in the 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, the novel skirts politics to focus on people trying to live their lives under a state of siege. As they learn, the rules of survival aren’t spelled out, but breaking them carries mortal consequences.

-Peter Katel, Staff Writer

For background, see Peter Katel, “Change in Latin America,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, July 21, 2006.


"Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India"
Joseph Lelyveld, The New York Times Book Review, March 27, 2011

Reviewed by Geoffrey C. Ward

Synopsis: Given all the interest in India these days, it was fascinating to read about the man credited with starting the nation on the road to independence from Britain. I was surprised to learn (and a little embarrassed not to have known), that the great crusader for equality among India’s castes, as well as for his nation’s freedom, got his start in South Africa. Sent there as a young lawyer to represent Indian businessmen, he soon became caught up in the fight for the rights, not of black South Africans, but of Indians.

Takeaway: Gandhi is still widely called “the father of the nation” in India, but Lelyveld argues, “he was ultimately forced, like Lear, to see the limits of his ambition to remake his world.”

-Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Has Title IX created equity for women in sports?

When Congress passed Title IX in 1972, it marked a watershed moment for American education. The law demanded equality in a number of areas besides athletics, including access to higher education, the teaching of math and science and standardized testing.

Still, the legislation, renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002, in honor of its principal author, Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, is best known for its impact on athletics — and the controversy it has sparked over whether the law has worked to even the playing field for women and girls in sports.

“Has Title IX worked? My heavens, yes!” says Chris Plonsky, women's athletic director at the University of Texas, among the nation's biggest college-sports programs. “Can things still get better for opportunity and equality? Of course. But I think I'm sitting here, happy, as a women's athletic director at a major university because of Title IX.”

The view of Title IX isn't uniformly positive, though. “It was passed in 1972 and it's now 2011,” says Grant, the former University of Iowa women's athletic director. “That's a long, long time to have waited for equal opportunity. I never dreamed in 1972 that I would be talking with you in 2011 and still talking about the need to achieve equal opportunity.” She adds, “We've been successful — to a degree.”

The number of females taking part in high-school and college sports is higher than ever. Nearly 3.2 million girls participated in high-school sports in 2009-10, compared with only 295,000 in 1972, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). At the college level, growth has been similarly strong. Just 16,000 women took part in college sports in 1967, but some 180,000 are involved today. Athletic scholarships for female athletes were unheard of prior to Title IX; today they are commonplace. [Footnote 13]

Experts say the growth in women's sports moved in tandem with other social forces, including the rise of the women's rights movement, changes in corporate marketing strategies and civil-rights legislation.

“There is no way to know the percentage of change caused solely by Title IX. Society had to mature a bit in the 1950s before it became ready to see discrimination against women as something that needed a remedy,” says Brooklyn College's Carpenter, who adds that cultural norms, business forces and legislation “typically move together.”

The test developed by the government to measure Title IX compliance requires schools to meet any of three requirements: Opportunities for males and females must be “substantially proportionate” to enrollment numbers, schools must show a history of “program expansion” for the under-represented sex and they have to show they are “fully and effectively” accommodating the interests and abilities of the under-represented sex. [Footnote 14]

The National Women's Law Center's Chaudhry argues that even though colleges are enrolling more and more women, most institutions make no attempt to make athletic opportunities “substantially proportionate” with those of men. “Most schools are not even close,” she says. “Women and girls are still not receiving equal opportunities. At the high-school level, the number of girls playing sports is even today not at the level that boys were at in 1971.”

But some argue that the biggest problem isn't compliance with Title IX, but Title IX itself. With females now representing more than half of all college students, earning better grades than boys and participating in sports in such high levels that orthopedists have reported an epidemic of girls' and women's sports injuries, ESPN.com sports commentator Gregg Easterbrook says that Title IX is outdated.

“Title IX slogs on,” he wrote, “generating increasingly incongruous legal intrusions into minor matters as well as creating perverse results, such as forcing colleges to shut down men's athletic teams.” [Footnote 15]

Easterbrook was referring to a common complaint among Title IX's detractors, who say that in an effort either to bring the number of male and female athletes into closer alignment or free up funds for new women's teams, many schools end up cutting deserving men's sports. In other words, critics charge, a law intended to prevent gender-based discrimination is actually making the problem worse.

“There's a disconnect between what was written in the statutes and how we use it today,” says Allison Kasic, a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum, a conservative research and educational group in Washington. “It almost looks like two different laws.”

Leo Kocher, president of the College Sports Council, a national coalition of coaches, athletes, parents and fans who argue that Title IX is enforced in a way that harms male sports, says the law operates as a thinly disguised quota system. “This quota is not enforced elsewhere on college campuses,” he says. “Not in female-majority programs like dance, music, elementary-school teaching, nursing or even college enrollment.”

But Title IX's proponents vehemently dispute claims that schools' efforts to comply with the law have led to a reduction in the number of male athletes. “That is flat out not true,” says Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy at the Women's Sports Foundation, which advocates for gender equality in sports. “Both the NCAA and the National Federation of State High School Associations cite record highs for both men and women,” says Hogshead-Makar, also a law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. [Footnote 16]

Nevertheless, Kocher says that he has been told by a female Division III swimming coach of non-scholarship men's and women's teams that she had to reduce the male squad to match the female numbers — and if a female swimmer quit she had to cut a male swimmer.

“In other words, the number of males allowed on the team will depend on how many females want to participate,” says Kocher. “But I think that our everyday experience says that more males than females want to do sports, and more females than males want to participate in dance. It would be a horrible injustice to mandate that in dance you have equal numbers of males and females. It would be an injustice if women, who are 57 percent of college students, were mandated to be reduced to 50 percent of college students. It would be an injustice if they were reduced to a 50 percent share of the students in nursing schools and music and theater.”

But Hogshead-Makar thinks such comparisons miss the point. “Sports is the only part of our society that is sex segregated,” she says. “So in the math department, the administrators make entrance gender-blind. But in a sports program you can't do that — you have to create out of whole cloth another sports department. That's why there's a lot of misunderstanding around Title IX. People don't have any other frame of reference to think about a sex-segregated part of education.”

The Issues:

* Has Title IX created equity for women in sports?
* Do women's professional sports leagues have a future?
* Will women ever hold executive positions in sports in more significant numbers?

Click here for more information on the CQ Researcher report "Women and Sports" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[13] Lauren Fellmeth, “High School Sports Participation Tops 7.6 Million, Sets Record,” National Federation of State High School Associations, www.nfhs.org/content.aspx?id=4208&terms=sports+participation; and “More Hurdles to Clear: Women and Girls in Competitive Athletics,” United States Commission on Civil Rights, July 1980, www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED191940.pdf.

[14] Tanner, op. cit.

[15] Gregg Easterbrook, “No ‘Cheers’ for Latest Title IX Decision,” ESPN.com, July 27, 2010, sports.espn.go.com/espn/commentary/news/story?page=easterbrook/100727.

[16] Fellmeth, op. cit.; and “Participation in NCAA Sports Continues to Climb,” National Collegiate Athletic Association, April 20, 2010, www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/ncaa/ncaa/ncaa+news/ncaa+news+online/2010/association-wide/participation+in+ncaa+sports+continues+to+climb_04_20_10_ncaa_news.

Weekly Roundup 3/21/2011

Operation Odyssey Dawn: A Mix of Views

"An allied intervention in Libya"
David Ignatius, PostPartisan: A blog of the Washington Post, March 19, 2011

"What is the Libya endgame?"
Ben Smith and Byron Tau, Politico.com, March 20, 2011

"Libya: it's not our fight"
Edward Luttwak, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2011

Synopsis: President Obama’s decision to intervene in Libya only after Britain and France had led the way and the Arab League had come aboard was “brilliant strategy,” not “a feckless blunder,” according to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a veteran of Mideast reporting. But Politico writers Ben Smith and Byron Tau sense a potential contradiction in Obama’s description of a “limited” commitment but his repeated statement that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi “must go.” And Edward Luttwak, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argues that the U.S. role will inevitably be depicted as "predatory and anti-Muslim, generating more terrorism in due course."

Takeaway: Many observers doubt a quick resolution. “This is going to be more like Kosovo than like Baghdad in 2003,” says Heather Hurlburt, leader of the National Security Network, a group generally allied with the White House.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

Forthcoming: watch for CQ Global Researcher’s report on events in the Mideast in early May.


"Playboy Interview: Helen Thomas"
Playboy, April 2011

Synopsis: Among recent media commentators ousted from jobs after voicing unpopular opinions is Helen Thomas, longtime dean of the White House press corps. Thomas, now 90, was forced to resign her columnist’s job at Hearst newspapers last summer after a YouTube video showed her saying that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine” and adding that the Jews “can go home” to “Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.” Thomas, of Syrian descent, continues to argue that the statement was not anti-Semitic. “What I meant was [that Jews] should stay where they are because they’re not being persecuted—not since World War II, not since 1945…. I’m not anti-Jewish; I’m anti-Zionist,” she said. “I am anti Israel taking what doesn’t belong to it. If you have a home and you’re kicked out of that home, you don’t come and kick someone else out…. . American people do not know that the Israeli lobbyists have intimidated them into believing every Jew is a persecuted victim forever—while they are victimizing Palestinians.”

Takeaway: Asked if the intemperate remarks occurred because, at 90, she’s gone “crazy,” Thomas retorted: “You have to be crazy to criticize Israel? You have to be crazy to criticize tyranny? I learned before Hitler that you have to stand up for something. You have to stand up. We always have to take a stand against human tyranny wherever it occurs.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


"An Accelerated Grimace: On Cyber-Utopianism"
Chris Lehman, The Nation, March 21, 2011

Lehman, newly named managing editor of news blogs at Yahoo! (and a former editor at Congressional Quarterly), dissects a new book by technology writer Clay Shirky, finding it an example of shallow thinking that sees the Web as the solution to mankind’s problems. Another new book, by Evgeny Morozov, a former Web-enabled dissident in Belarussia, serves as the antidote to Shirky’s rosy-eyed view, Lehman concludes. Morozov saw firsthand, Lehman notes, that dictatorships are perfectly capable of using information technology to repress and misinform.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


"A Marked Man in America"
Andrea Elliott, The New York Times Magazine, March 20, 2011

Synopsis: Raised in both Texas and Saudi Arabia, Yasir Qadhi is a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic studies and one of the most influential conservative clerics in American Islam. But as he tries to balance the strict tenets of orthodox Islam with the customs of today’s America, he has become a “figure of interest” to law enforcement agents, despite his apparent message of nonviolence.

Takeaway: Discussing jihad with his followers – but not advocating it - without bringing anti-terrorism forces down on his head is among the challenge Qadhi ultimately faces.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Should debt reduction be Washington's top priority?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "National Debt" by Marcia Clemmitt on March 18, 2011.


Rising government debt is damaging the U.S. economy, say conservatives. “We're broke. Broke, going on bankrupt,” and “just as a bankrupt business has trouble creating jobs, so does a bankrupt country,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. [Footnote 11]

But many economists say the economic recovery is still too fragile to withstand severe cuts in government spending. For the next year or two, government should keep spending to create demand for goods and services — demand that private buyers can't yet supply, says Syracuse University's Palmer.

Yet, conservatives argue that the debt is the nation's biggest threat and must be cut now. “Our debt is a threat to not just our way of life, but our national survival,” said Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Okahoma's Coburn. “We are already near a precipice. In the near future, we could experience … hyperinflation” — a rapid decline in the dollar's value that could occur if investors lost confidence in America's ability to pay its debts, they said in a statement. [Footnote 12]

“The government's too damn big,” and large cuts must begin now, said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a potential 2012 GOP presidential hopeful. [Footnote 13]

Helping focus Republican lawmakers on debt is the surging influence of the Tea Party movement, which opposes public debt. “I've chopped my credit cards. I'm watching my spending. This country needs to do the same,” Texas retiree Carter Brough declared at a Tea Party conference in Phoenix in February. [Footnote 14]

Economists widely agree that allowing the national debt to balloon compared to GDP involves risk. Interest on ever-increasing debt soaks up money that could go to better purposes, and a huge debt may make investors worry that the U.S. economy is weak.

“There are increasing questions about the rest of the world's appetite for U.S. debt, as the United States has changed from a net creditor country in 1980 to a vast net borrower,” wrote Alan J. Auerbach, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and William G. Gale, chief federal economic policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington. [Footnote 15]

While investors would probably lose their appetite for U.S. Treasury bonds only gradually, “the history of financial markets suggests … that shifts in investor confidence can be sudden,” wrote economics professors Laurence Ball of The Johns Hopkins University and N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard. Such a shift could lead investors suddenly to demand much higher interest rates in exchange for lending money to Washington, they said. [Footnote 16]

“Right now, the U.S. is the best-looking horse in the glue factory,” with investors viewing U.S. Treasury bonds as the safest government vehicle in a world replete with troubled economies, says Joseph Minarik, senior vice president and research director at the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan, business-led think tank in Washington. At present, “you may well say, ‘If the U.S. isn't a good place to park your money, there is none.’” Nevertheless, Minarik says, “if Europe gets its act together, if China becomes more mature,” they could easily become more attractive places for investors. “At the rate we're going, we're deteriorating a lot faster than some other places.”

Liberal lawmakers and many economists argue that spending to push the economy back on track is still job one, however.

The danger from today's federal debt “is zero,” as evidenced by the fact that Treasury bond investors aren't demanding high interest rates, declared James K. Galbraith, a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin. “If the markets thought that [the deficit] was a serious risk, the rate on 20-year Treasury bonds wouldn't be [a low] 4 percent and change,” he said. [Footnote 17]

What would be a serious risk, some argue, is a sharp cut in federal spending amid a weak economic recovery. “From President Hoover in the Great Depression to global responses to the East Asia crisis in the late 1990s [when nations beginning with Thailand suffered financial meltdowns], it's clear that government cuts weaken economies rather than alleviating malaise,” wrote Joseph E. Stiglitz, a liberal Columbia University economist and 2001 Nobel Prize winner. [Footnote 18]

Syracuse's Palmer and Rudolph G. Penner, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a centrist think tank in Washington, argued that economic stimulus and debt reduction could occur simultaneously — if the debt-reduction moves are implemented gradually. “We could easily continue some short-run stimulus while immediately announcing reforms in Social Security or in health programs,” for example, to phase in “slowly beginning in, say 2012 or 2013,” they wrote.

The Issues
* Should debt reduction be Washington's top priority?
* Should Congress raise taxes to help cut the national debt?
* Is Social Security a cause of rising national debt?

Click here for more information on the CQ Researcher report on "National Debt" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[11] Quoted in Bob Smietana, Tennessean.com , Feb. 28, 2011, www.tennessean.com/article/20110228/NEWS02/102280350/-1/RSS03/House-Speaker-John-Boehner-says-debt-sign-moral-failure.

[12] “Senators Coburn, Crapo Announce Support for Debt Commission Plan,” press release, website of Sen. Tom Coburn, Dec. 2, 2010, http://coburn.senate.gov.

[13] Quoted in Marc Lacey, “Tea Party Group Issues Warning to the GOP,” The New York Times, Feb. 26, 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/politics/27teaparty.html.

[14] Quoted in ibid.

[15] Alan J. Auerbach and William G. Gale, “The Federal Budget Outlook”, Brookings Institution website, Sept. 17, 2010, www.brookings.edu/papers/2010/0917_federal_budget_outlook_auerbach_gale.aspx.

[16] Laurence Ball and N. Gregory Mankiw, “What Do Budget Deficits Do?” paper prepared for Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, 1995, www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/sympos/1995/pdf/s95manki.pdf.

[17] Quoted in Ezra Klein, “Galbraith: The Danger Posed by the Deficit ‘Is Zero,’” The Washington Post Blogs, May 12, 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/05/galbraith_the_danger_posed_by.html.

[18] Joseph E. Stiglitz, “Turbulence Ahead,” Truthout blog, Jan. 24, 2011, www.truth-out.org.

Japan’s Aging Population and the Tsunami

Reporter Martin Fackler described a harrowing scene in Tuesday’s New York Times of panicked residents of Yuiage village trying to outrun rising tsunami waters in northeast Japan by escaping to the tallest nearby building -- a junior high school. But the stairwell was crammed with elderly residents sitting on the steps, apparently too feeble to climb to the upper floors. Some younger people scrambling for safety either pushed the older residents aside or stepped over them, said an eye witness. Others formed a human chain to lift the elderly to safety.

The scene illustrates one reason the death toll is so high in Japan’s twin earthquake-tsunami disaster. “The elderly can’t take care of themselves in a disaster like this,” said Jun Kikuchi, a taxi company owner. And Japan has plenty of elderly citizens. In fact, it has the world’s oldest population, many of them concentrated in rural areas like Yuiage.

As reporter Alan Greenblatt points out in our CQ Global Researcher this week, “The Graying Planet,” people around the world are living longer, and couples are having fewer babies. As a result, countries are aging, meaning the proportion of their elderly residents is growing faster than that of their younger residents. And Japan’s population has been aging faster than the rest. Already, more than 20 percent of Japan’s population is older than 65, and that will double by mid-century. In 1963, Japan had 100 centenarians. By 2050, it will have 1 million. Meanwhile, the birth rate has plummeted. Japan had only about 40 percent as many births in 2008 as 60 years earlier. If that trend were to continue, demographers say, the last Japanese baby would be born in 2959.

Japan’s birth rate is so low, in part, because Japanese sons traditionally take in their aging parents, making marriage less attractive to Japanese women, who postpone marriage and have fewer children because they don’t want to have to care for both aging in-laws and their own children. Nearly a third of today’s young Japanese women won’t have any children at all.

Some blame Japan’s weak economic growth in recent decades at least partly on its aging population, since younger generations are the innovators and entrepreneurs. One can only wonder how such an aging population can bounce back from the devastating triple whammy of an earthquake, tsunami and, now, a possible nuclear meltdown.

But, as Greenblatt points out in his report, Japan is not the only nation that’s aging rapidly.
Among the report’s stunning statistics:

• By 2050, the number of children under 5 is expected to drop by 49 million, while the number of adults over 60 will skyrocket — by 1.2 billion. The oldest age groups in developed countries are growing the fastest: By 2050, the number of people age 80 and older will rise by 173 percent.

• The number of Chinese over 65 will triple by 2050. Within 20 years, China will have 167 million people over 65 — more than half the current U.S. population.

• Germany will lose 83 percent of its native population by 2100, as Germans die off and immigrants make up more of the population. The entire nation will have fewer natives than the current population of Berlin.

• The world population could reach 9 billion in the coming decades, but by midcentury it’s likely to stabilize or start shrinking. By 2150 the global population could be half what it is now.

The graying of the planet will trigger demographic changes that will profoundly shape economies, government expenditures and international migration patterns. Recalling the image of the younger Japanese stepping over the elderly as the tsunami waters rose, it’s easy to imagine, as experts predict, that the aging of the planet will pit generation against generation in the race for survival.

--Kathy Koch, managing editor, CQ Global Researcher

Weekly Roundup 3/14/2011

"Japan must concentrate on recovering, learning from quake"
Editorial, The Mainichi Daily News

"Swift response needed for victims of devastating earthquake"
Editorial, Asahi

Synposis: Editorials from the English-language newspaper Mainichi Daily News and the English-language website of Asahi, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, comment on the 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan on Friday. Explore both sites for news and photo coverage of the damage from the world’s fourth-strongest quake in more than a century and the explosions at one of Japan’s nuclear power plants.

Takeaway: “Let us all work together to bring relief to the victims as soon as possible.”

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

Is the United States ready for a major earthquake? See Thomas J. Bilitteri, “Earthquake Threat,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, April 9, 2010.


"Japan Disaster Reopens Nuclear Debate in Europe and the U.S."
Stephen Evans, BBC News, March 14, 2011

Synopsis: Just when U.S. environmentalists have hesitantly joined many national governments and the energy industry in backing greater use of nuclear power to cut carbon emissions, Japanese authorities struggle to contain meltdowns at a power plant in last week’s earthquake zone.

Takeaway: “President Obama is in pro-nuclear agreement with Republicans,” writes Evans. “He believes that nuclear power provides a relatively cheap form of energy, and one which doesn't produce global warming gases like coal, gas and oil-fired power stations do. Even environmental groups in the United States, unlike in Europe, believe that nuclear power has a place because of its light carbon footprint. But this was a fragile consensus and it is hard to see how it won't now come under pressure.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

For background, see Jennifer Weeks, “Managing Nuclear Waste,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, Jan. 28, 2011.


At State-Run Homes, Abuse and Impunity
Danny Hakim, The New York Times, March 13, 2011

Synopsis: In a year-long investigation, The New York Times found widespread sexual and other abuse of developmentally disabled residents in New York State’s network of more than 2,000 state-run group homes. In hundreds of cases, employees who sexually abused, taunted or beat residents were rarely fired, even after repeated offenses. Often, they were simply transferred to other group homes. Moreover, despite a state law requiring such incidents to be reported to police, fewer than 5 percent of some 13,000 allegations were reported.

Takeaway: Again, another story of horrific abuse that eerily recalls a similar episode, also in New York State, some 50 years ago. Not to go all First Amendment on you, but if you
ever had any doubts about the importance of the right of free speech to our society – and correspondingly the importance of crusading journalism – read this story.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


Learning to Love the (Shallow, Divisive, Unreliable) New Media,”
James Fallows, The Atlantic, April, 2011

An influential journalist who had been a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, Fallows in the 1990s took up the cause of high-minded journalism consciously devoted to the public good. The news media’s growing appetite for scandal was driving out quality coverage, Fallows wrote at the time. Now, he concedes that the war is over and his side lost – but didn’t lose everything. A tidal wave of “infotainment” hasn’t swept away all serious journalism, he says. And the media and IT industries remain so dynamic, he argues, that new ways of engaging the public on issues and events are sure to emerge.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer

For background, see Tom Price, “Journalism Standards in the Internet Age,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, Oct. 8, 2010.


Secret Fears of the Super-Rich
Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, April 2011

A new study by Boston College of the super-wealthy – those with at least $25 million -- finds that money may buy leisure but it may not buy happiness. Some of the nation’s ultra-rich report angst, guilt and an elusive quest for love and self worth.

Takeaway: “If anything, the rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us,” Wood writes. “We can always indulge in the thought that a little more money would make our lives happier – and in many cases it’s true. But the truly wealthy know that appetites for material indulgence are rarely sated.”

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

For background, see Peter Katel, “Philanthropy in America,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, Dec. 8, 2006.

Are too many nonviolent offenders sent to prison?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher issue "Downsizing Prisons" by Peter Katel on March 11, 2011.


Much of the argument over incarcerating nonviolent offenders centers on drug offenses, which often don't involve direct physical harm to another person. Neither, generally, do theft, burglary and “white collar” crimes.

Amid the states' budget crises, the debate has taken on new urgency. In New Hampshire, a 2010 “justice reinvestment” law limits sentences for nonviolent crimes to no more than 20 percent above the minimum requirement. [Footnote 17]

And even before the budget crisis, the Kansas legislature passed a law in 2007 designed to cut recidivism, with provisions that reduce prison sentences for good behavior and expand parole and probation programs. As a result, the prison population remained virtually flat instead of increasing by a projected 700 inmates. (Budget cuts to programs designed to help ex-prisoners reintegrate into society have pushed recidivism back up, writes Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center.) [Footnote 18]

But not everyone agrees that violence should be the sole criterion to determine whether an offender is sent to prison or gets probation.

Moreover, the proliferation of drug courts — 2,038 as of July 2009, the most recent figure available — and similar programs for the mentally ill (about 175 courts nationwide) and veterans (about 50) has expanded the options to jail or prison. [Footnote 19]

These alternative programs have tended to make state prison inmates precisely the sorts of dangerous offenders for whom prison was designed, some prosecution-oriented advocates argue.

Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation argues that statistics on the offenses for which state inmates were imprisoned may be misleading. An offender may have physically harmed someone in committing a drug crime, for instance, but be sentenced on the drug offense alone after a deal with prosecutors, he says.

“Ninety percent of prisoners go in under plea bargains,” says Scheidegger. “Those who did not have a violent offense as the offense of commitment are not necessarily nonviolent. Dropping the strongest charge is usually part of a plea bargain.” And nonviolent offenders may be incarcerated because they have a record of violence, he says.

But Indiana public defender Landis says that in his experience, plea bargains haven't followed the pattern Scheidegger laid out. “We don't break down too many crimes that are violent to a nonviolent offense,” says Landis. A plea bargain might, for instance, lower a charge of rape with serious bodily injury to rape plain and simple, he says. But rape by definition is a violent act. “You would never,” he says, “call that pleading out to a nonviolent crime.”

An offender's record of past offenses inevitably influences the sentencing process, Landis acknowledges. But “you ought to do the time for the crime,” he says, referring to a defendant's current case, “not for the crime you already did the time for.”

While the philosophical argument about who belongs behind bars is complex, an even more complicated question is whether defendants whose crimes indisputably didn't involve violence should be sent to prison.

In Missouri, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray Price Jr. has declared that his state imprisons too many nonviolent offenders. But Stanley Cox, Missouri House Judiciary Committee chairman, disagrees. “There is a class of lawbreakers who by their own intention and design have become such a threat — not a violent threat, but a threat — to society that it is better to incarcerate them,” says Cox.

Cox, a Sedalia Republican and former state prosecutor, adds, “It is false to believe that prisons, certainly in this state, are filled with people who end up there because they committed one nonviolent offense. That is absolutely not true. The people who fill our prisons, including these nonviolent offenders, are people who just never took the breaks they were offered. They offended, were placed on probation, and reoffended multiple times.”

But Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams told the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee on Feb. 11 that “people who commit the most crimes over and over are people who commit low-level property crimes. We don't need to send so many people who are nonviolent — through mandatory sentences — to prison.”

Williams also argued that high levels of recidivism by nonviolent offenders show evidence of system failure as much as individual shortcomings. “Where did society fail that person?” he asked. “What can we do to teach that person to be a barber or a cobbler or an auto mechanic or some real job?” Once they're trained, he said, “We won't see them again.”

The Issues

* Can states afford to maintain their current prison populations?
* Are too many nonviolent offenders sent to prison?
* Can diversion programs substitute for imprisonment?

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



[17] Clement, et al., op. cit., pp. 65-66.

[18] Ibid., pp. 60-61. See also Joan Petersilia, “Beyond the Prison Bubble,” Wilson Quarterly, winter 2011, www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?AID=1774.

[19] “Drug Courts — Facts and Figures,” National Criminal Justice Reference Guide, updated Sept. 1, 2010, www.ncjrs.gov/spotlight/drug_courts/facts.html; Emma Schwartz, “Mental Health Courts,” U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 7, 2008, www.usnews.com/news/national/articles/2008/02/07/mental-health-courts; “Justice for Vets,” National Association of Drug Court Professionals, updated Feb. 14, 2011, www.nadcp.org/JusticeForVets. For background, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Combating Addiction,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 9, 2007, pp. 121-144.

Military Trials to Resume at Guantanamo

By Kenneth Jost
Associate Editor
      Faced with congressional resistance to closing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, President Obama has announced new steps to resume military trials for detainees and to create a military-civilian review board for prisoners being held there without trial.
      The White House said on Monday (March 7) that the Pentagon will lift the suspension imposed in January 2009 on referring new cases for prosecution before so-called military commissions. Administration officials said new procedures established by a law passed in 2009 make the commissions “a more credible and effective tool for justice.”
      Obama also issued an executive order creating a six-member board to review cases of detainees who are not being brought to trial. Detainees can continue to be held if the predominantly civilian board finds that detention is “necessary to protect against a significant threat to the security of the United States.”
      The moves bow to the reality that Obama’s post-inauguration pledge to close Guantanamo within a year is now, two years later, unachievable in the foreseeable future. While under Democratic control, Congress last year added provisions to the Defense Department authorization bill that prohibit bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States for civilian trials and impose difficult-to-meet conditions on transferring detainees to other countries.
      Obama reluctantly signed the measure into law but said he would urge Congress to repeal the restrictions. In his statement on Monday, Obama reiterated his support for using civilian trials against some suspected terrorists. “The American system of justice is a key part of our arsenal in the war against al Qaeda and its affiliates,” Obama said.
      The moves drew favorable reaction from some experts but sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union. “Today’s executive order institutionalizes indefinite detention, which is unlawful, unwise and un-American,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.
      Guantanamo held 240 prisoners when Obama took office on Jan. 20, 2009; today, there are 172 prisoners. The administration has succeeded in transferring 67 prisoners to other countries, but only by dint of rigorous diplomatic arm-twisting. One detainee died in custody.
      The Pentagon funding measure prohibits future transfers unless the secretary of defense certifies that the receiving country meets specified security conditions. A substantial number of the remaining detainees are Yemenis; the administration was unable to reach security agreements with the Yemeni government even before the current unrest.
      The Bush administration established the framework for trying Guantanamo detainees before military tribunals, but with legal challenges and logistical difficulties it won convictions in only three cases: two by guilty pleas and one after trial. The Obama administration has won guilty pleas in two additional cases.
      The White House said military commissions “should proceed in cases where it has been determined appropriate to do so.” One of the cases likely to be among the first to come to trial is the prosecution of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Al-Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, has been imprisoned at Guantanamo since 2006.
      Administration officials refused to comment on plans for trying Guantanamo’s highest-profile prisoner: Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans in November 2009 to try Mohammed and four co-conspirators in a federal court in New York City, but the plan provoked a public and political backlash and has been on hold ever since.
      Officials acknowledged the congressional restrictions would bar a civilian trial in the United States at present. A White House fact-sheet termed the restrictions “a dangerous and unprecedented challenge to Executive authority” and said the administration would urge Congress to repeal them.
      A Justice Department task force concluded last year that 48 detainees should continue to be held at Guantanamo but were “not feasible for prosecution.” The executive order Obama issued on Monday creates a Periodic Review Board for those cases to include representatives of the State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security departments; the directorate of National Intelligence; and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
      Detainees will be entitled to a hearing before the board within one year, assisted by a government-appointed “personal representative.” If the board determines detention is warranted, a “file review” is to be conducted every six months and another full review in three years. Deborah Pearlstein, a law professor formerly with the advocacy group Human Rights First, called the procedure “a positive development.”

      For background, see "Closing Guantanamo," CQ Researcher, Feb. 27, 2009 (subscription required).

Weekly Roundup 3/7/2011

"States Prosecute Fewer Teenagers in Adult Courts"
Mosi Secret, The New York Times, March 6, 2011

Synopsis: Several states have moved or are moving to raise the age at which teenagers accused of crimes are treated as adults instead of being tried in juvenile courts. The trend reverses the get-tough policy of a generation ago when youth crime was at record levels. Proponents say juvenile courts offer social services better suited to redirecting youthful offenders; opponents are raising the additional costs of juvenile services in resisting the trend.

For background, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Youth Violence,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, March 5, 2010.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"In States, Parties Clash Over Voting Laws That Call for IDs, Limits on Where College Students Can Cast Ballots"
Peter Wallsten, Washington Post, March 7, 2011

Synopsis: Newly elected Republican leaders of state legislatures around the country are pushing to tighten voter-registration laws by requiring photo IDs and banning temporary residents such as students and military personnel from voting in a state that’s only their part-time home. Part of the rationale, as articulated by at least one lawmaker: College students don’t have what it takes to be intelligent voters.

Takeaway: “New Hampshire's new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They're ‘foolish,’ Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group. ‘Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do,’ he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack ‘life experience,’ and ‘they just vote their feelings.’”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


"The Liberation of Lori Berenson"
Jennifer Egan, The New York Times, March 2, 2011

Lori Berenson was an idealistic American graduate of M.I.T. who moved to Peru hoping to change the world. She was convicted and imprisoned for 15 years for aiding anti-government revolutionaries. This is her sobering post-release story.

Takeaway: We Americans are perhaps inured to breathless stories about terrorists from exotic lands, but this story is about someone who could have been the girl next door. It adds an important perspective to previous stories about terrorists and their motivation.

For background, see Barbara Mantel, “Terrorism and the Internet," [subscription required] CQ Global Researcher, November 2009; and Kenneth Jost, “Democracy in Latin America,” [subscription required] Nov. 3, 2000

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor