Weekly Roundup 4/25/2011

Obama’s Young Mother Abroad
Janny Scott, The New York Times Magazine, April 24, 2011

In all the discussion of President Barack Obama’s relationship with his late Kenyan father – and all the fact-free conspiracy theorizing about Obama’s birthplace – a major figure in the president’s life has been hiding in plain sight. The late Stanley Ann Dunham turns out to have been an immensely strong-willed woman with a taste for adventure and a deep belief in her son’s promise. He spent some of his formative years with her and her second husband (his stepfather) in Indonesia, a country whose culture of never showing emotion seems to have left its mark on him. So too did her strong personality, which was leavened with a dry sense of humor (one of Obama’s characteristics). This absorbing article, an excerpt from a forthcoming book, tells the story of a woman who tried not to let convention stand in her way.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


The Grand Tour: Europe on fifteen hundred yuan a day
Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 18, 2011

Articles and books about China pour forth in a never-ending stream. That is as it should be, given the country’s growing presence in world affairs and in U.S. homes (check to see how much of what you own is made in China). Yet, the Chinese still remain mysterious to many Westerners. And, Evan Osnos reports after accompanying a Chinese tour group on a whirlwind bus tour of Western Europe, that the West is just as puzzling to ordinary Chinese. The differences between societies remain vast, and seem likely to endure for the foreseeable future.

For background, see Roland Flamini, "U.S.-China Relations," [subscription required] CQ Researcher, May 7, 2010.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


Q&A: Open-Source Electronics Pioneer Limor Fried on the DIY Revolution
Chris Anderson, Wired online, March 29, 2011

Synopsis: Numerous familiar computer programs and Internet features such as the Mozilla Firefox browser, WordPress blog software and the Linux computer operating system were created as “open source” projects, in which software engineers collaborate to perfect a project and make all programming details freely available over the Internet. Now, the open-source movement is burgeoning in a new field: computer hardware (such as circuit boards) and electronics. A new wave of do-it-yourself electronics engineers, such as young New Yorker Limor Fried, post complete specs of their inventions online, where other do-it-yourselfers can copy, then modify and improve the plans to drive invention forward. The trend could begin a new wave of innovation in which small businesses create a much wider range of niche products that suit customers better than large-corporation, mass-produced electronics do today, she speculated to Chris Anderson, Wired’s editor-in-chief.

Takeaway: “In five to 10 years, I would be surprised if every public school doesn’t have a required class in robotics mechatronics,” said Fried. “You’ll have a return of wood shop, but it will be metal/robotics/electronics shop, and kids are going to have to learn sensors and technology.”

For background, see Patrick Marshall, “Artificial Intelligence,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, April 22, 2011.

Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer


A Royal Wedding, a Tarnished Crown
John F. Burns, The New York Times, April 24, 2011

Synopsis: The royal wedding of Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton on Friday (April 29) comes at a time when the future of the British monarchy is once again in question, according to The New York Times’ veteran foreign correspondent. Many royalty lovers hope the ceremony will renew Britons’ love for the monarchy’s pomp and circumstance, but the royal family has given the rapidly changing British public “much to dislike” during recent years – most notably, Prince Charles’ divorce of Diana Spencer and later marriage to his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.

Takeaway: “[O]nly time will tell,” Burns writes, “whether the anachronism of the monarchy in a democratic age can be rescued by the modernizing changes that seem certain to follow when Prince Charles or Prince William ascends the throne.”

For a look at the issue when Charles and Diana were recently separated, see my report, “The British Monarchy,” [subscription required] March 8, 1996.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Bullies in the Burbs,” book review by Caroline Leavitt

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline

The New York Times Book Review, April 25, 2011

Synopsis: Wow. According to reviewer Leavitt, this is one heck of a good legal thriller – and terribly relevant to all young students and their parents. The story revolves around an upper-middle-class mom trying to protect her daughter, a third-grader who is being bullied. The non-stop action begins when a fire at the child’s school forces the mother to choose between saving her daughter and trying to save the children that were bullying her.


“Save Me isn’t just about a devoted mother protecting her bullied child,” Leavitt writes. “It’s really about one brave and determined woman who finds the means to save herself.” The pace is so fast, she says, that “you could get whiplash just turning a page.”

For background, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Preventing Bullying,” CQ Researcher, Dec. 10, 2010.

- Tom Colin, Contributing Editor

Will artificial intelligence lead to unemployment?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, machines have replaced human labor, but some scholars believe artificial intelligence will have a much bigger impact on employment than 19th-century steam engines and textile mills ever did.

MIT economics professor David Autor argues that intelligent machines are “hollowing out” the economy, with new jobs coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid and the jobs in the middle being lost to automation and outsourcing to lower-wage countries. [Footnote 16]

And this trend, some analysts say, is only going to increase as machines become more sophisticated. “The economic impact will be huge,” said Carnegie Mellon's Mitchell. “We're at the beginning of a 10-year period where we're going to transition from computers that can't understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.” [Footnote 17]

American software entrepreneur and author Martin Ford thinks the economic impact of intelligent machines is likely to be nothing short of disastrous, and not just for displaced workers. As companies turn to lower-cost machines to replace people, according to Ford, it could be the beginning of the end for traditional capitalism. “It's not just about unemployment,” Ford says. “It's about consumers. As people lose their incomes they can no longer go out and buy things.”

While most intelligent machines are being used to perform midlevel tasks, Ford says low-wage, unskilled employees also are highly vulnerable. It “doesn't mean that machines won't also figure out how to flip burgers,” he says. Ford argues that job losses throughout the economy will be so widespread that “ultimately the only solution will be some form of taxation and redistribution of income.”

Yet some economists argue that the negative economic effect of intelligent machines will be transitory and that their development can improve society. Robin Hanson, a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., says that while machines eventually will be able to “substitute cheaply for … most human cognitive tasks,” the transition will have “a lot of overall positives.”

If intelligent machines are able to produce more at lower cost, he says, “total wealth goes up even if wages go down. This becomes a much more rich, powerful and capable society.”

The trick, says Hanson, is to get through the transition period. The tendency throughout history has been that successive technological innovations produce progressively less inequality, he argues. “Transition periods in and of themselves produce inequality,” but “the first societies to adopt new ways of doing things gain great advantages from that.”

Hanson expects a slow, predictable transition that causes less economic disruption than a rapid one. But other economists are skeptical.

“Artificial intelligence leading to gloom and doom? I think it's possible,” says MIT's Brynjolfsson. “My first instinct, as with most economists, is that historically every time technology has improved and eliminated some jobs, there have been a lot of other things that people can do and, as a consequence, the net effect has not been unemployment. But I don't think that's an iron law of economics. It's just the way it has worked so far.”

Brynjolfsson concludes: “It is possible that at some point we start having machine intelligence that replicates or, for that matter, surpasses enough of the tasks that humans are doing in enough areas that it starts becoming more and more difficult to find gainful employment for a lot of people.”

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



[16] Markoff, “Armies of Expensive Lawyers,” op. cit.

[17] Ibid.

Weekly Roundup 4/18/2011

"When it comes to offshore drilling, still treading in deep water"
Steven Mufson and Joel Achenbach, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011

Synopsis: One year after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig triggered the nation’s worst oil spill, policymakers, experts and the public are debating whether – and how vigorously – to resume deep water drilling. The Obama administration says it’s possible to resume drilling in “a safe and responsible way.” But Republicans in Congress want to mandate shortcuts in approval of drilling permits.

Takeaway: The industry says new safety procedures have been adopted, but a professor who advises the industry voices concern. “The scare is we’ll go off half-cocked, half-prepared, have another significant loss of well control, and that’s going to be an industry stopper.”

For an earlier report, see Tom Billitteri, “Offshore Drilling,” [subscription required] June 25, 2010.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Gabriel Sherman, New York Magazine, April 10, 2011

Synopsis: Young economics hotshot Peter Orszag served as White House advisor to President Bill Clinton, director of the Congressional Budget Office in the mid-2000s, and chief of President Barack Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. So when the then-41-year-old left OMB last July to become head of global banking at troubled Citigroup, one of the financial-sector giants that benefited from the government bank bailout and whose risky practices still raise eyebrows among regulatory-minded lawmakers, the move renewed concern about the “revolving door” between government service and wealthy industries.

Takeaway: “To the layperson, the most surprising thing might be the degree to which people like Peter Orszag see the government and Wall Street as, essentially, parts of the same industry,” writes Sherman. “Aside from some bad publicity, going from one to the other is not a leap at all, not any kind of sellout, but a natural progression for a member in good standing of the super¬meritocracy…. In this sense, the last two years have been confusing for these people, because you need public servants who understand capital markets, and who understands markets better than Wall Street? ... But another way of looking at this is that Wall Street has Washington over a barrel — and the values of one can’t help but be the values of the other. Even in Democratic administrations like the current one, once and future Wall Streeters are in position to pull the teeth out of regulations — for what they see as perfectly sensible, perfectly ordinary reasons. … To change the system, you have to change the people; but the people are the only ones who know how the system works.”

For an earlier report, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Financial Industry Overhaul,” [subscription required] July 30, 2010.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%
Joseph Stiglitz, Vanity Fair, May, 2011

Synopsis: Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz delivers a chilling judgment about the state of U.S. democracy. In a piece that’s attracting favorable comment across the left side of the blogosphere, Stiglitz (interviewed in CQ Researcher in 2008 Cost of the Iraq War,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, April 25, 2008> about his calculations on the real costs of the Iraq war) argues that growing economic inequality is turning the United States into a close relative of the Middle Eastern systems now under attack by their own citizens. Americans at the top 1 percent of the wealth bracket now control 40 percent of the nation’s assets, he writes, and receive nearly 25 percent of the country’s income.

Takeaway: The growing economic power of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans allows them to shape laws to their benefit and live on a separate track from their fellow citizens, he says, a state of affairs that Stiglitz says is unsustainable.

For an earlier report, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Income Inequality,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, Dec. 3, 2010.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer

Should people not wishing to donate organs at death be required to opt out?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "Organ Donations" by Barbara Mantel on April 15, 2011.


In the United States, no one is presumed to be an organ donor. Instead, adults who want to donate their organs upon death must give express consent, either by registering online, checking a box when obtaining or renewing a driver's license or state ID card or making their wishes known to family members.

In Europe, however, governments presume that all adults are potential organ donors; those not wanting to donate must join a registry to opt out. Still, most countries — Austria is an exception — consult with family members before recovering a deceased person's organs.

Lawmakers in New York, Illinois and Delaware have proposed versions of the European model — called “presumed consent” — with the goals of increasing the supply of donated organs and shrinking waiting lists. But all the bills have died in committee amid the public's concerns that such programs are coercive.

In early January, Colorado state Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and her co-sponsors were the latest to propose a presumed-consent measure, only to withdraw it a few weeks later amid strong public opposition. [Footnote *] “There is a lot of misinformation out there, and people are scared and upset,” Guzman said after admitting defeat. “It's just causing too much fear.” [Footnote 11]

“We had a huge public outcry,” says Jennifer Prinz, chief operating officer of Donor Alliance. The reaction included such comments on local media blogs as: “I … have been a potential donor for many years. Once these politicians assume they can start carving me up, it's a different ball game.” [Footnote 12]

After the legislation was introduced, Prinz says, her organization saw an increase in the number of people removing themselves from the organ-donor registry. Given that Colorado has one of the highest donor-registration rates in the country, Prinz believes that “removing one's name from the registry might have been less about a person's willingness to be a donor and more of a protest against perceived government intrusion.”

Donor Alliance opposed Guzman's legislation because it was drafted “in a vacuum,” says Prinz. “We were not consulted until the bill was in final draft form,” she says. Donor Alliance would welcome a national discussion about presumed consent, as long as OPOs, representatives from religious communities, transplant centers, hospitals, transplant candidates and the public participated, Prinz says.

“It is fair to say that the government would have to spend a tremendous amount of money on public education to make sure that this presumed-consent notion was not a complete fiction,” says Mary Ann Baily, a fellow at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research organization in Garrison, N.Y. Baily cites the country's multilingual, multicultural population as a reason she opposes presumed consent in the United States. “We have so many different languages,” making it extremely difficult to ensure that every person who would not want to donate understood how to opt out, she says.

However, Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, favors presumed consent as long as families are consulted at the time of death. “It is possible that it would be difficult, but I'm not sure that is an argument for the status quo,” he says. “I think you would get 20 percent more organs” if a new law were properly advertised and health-care providers were properly trained on how to approach the next of kin, Caplan says.

That's despite a Gallup survey conducted for the federal government in 2005 that suggested 30 percent of respondents would have chosen to opt out if the United States had a presumed-consent law. Of course, the respondents had not been exposed to a vigorous education campaign. [Footnote 13]

As evidence that a presumed-consent plan can work, Caplan and other supporters point to Europe, where most countries use the system and have higher organ-donation rates than countries that don't.

In addition to adopting presumed consent and mounting an extensive education campaign, Spain also has increased the number of hospital transplant coordinators who seek out donors. Moreover, Spain has given hospitals more money to perform transplants and expanded the pool of organ donors to include those suffering cardiac death as well as brain death.

Caplan believes Spain would not have seen an increase in donations without presumed consent as the foundation of the effort. “If you just did these other things, nothing would have happened,” he says.

But Berg of the New York Organ Donor Network says she's not convinced presumed consent would produce more donors. “There are myriad research papers on presumed consent, and I don't think any of them have definitively shown in a scientific way that it is presumed consent that has made the difference,” she says.

While Caplan would like to see a few states try a well-advertised presumed-consent pilot program, Baily and Berg are not ready to give up on the current system. Both would like to see the federal and state governments spend more on improving organ-donor registration and increasing the number of families willing to donate the organs of a deceased loved one. What's more, Baily asks, “why don't we spend more energy and dollars on researching how to bioengineer organs?”

Even if presumed consent were adopted by every state, and every single adult in the United States became a potential organ donor upon death, an organ shortage would still exist. That's because so few people die from the right conditions, in the right place, at the right time to become viable organ donors. Waiting lists might shrink, but they would not disappear.

The Issues

* Should people not wishing to donate organs at death be required to opt out?
* Should organ donors be compensated?
* Should kidneys from the youngest donors go to the youngest patients?

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



[*] Under the Colorado legislation, applicants for a driver's license or state ID card would have been presented with the following statement: “You are automatically deemed to have consented to being an organ and tissue donor and this designation will appear on your driver's license or identification card. If you do not want to be considered an organ and tissue donor, you must elect to not be included on the organ donor registry by inserting your initials on the line below. _______ At this time, I do not wish to be included on the organ donor registry.”

[11] Lynn Bartels, “Senator plans to kill her organ donor bill,” The Spot blog at The Denver Post, Jan. 21, 2011, http://blogs.denverpost.com/thespot/2011/01/21/senator-plans-to-kill-her-organ-donor-bill/21309.

[12] Ibid.

[13] James F. Childress and Catharyn T. Liverman, eds., “Organ Donation: Opportunities for Action,” Institutes of Medicine, May 2, 2006, p. 215, http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11643&page=205.

Weekly Roundup 4/11/2011

"How Wall Street Crooks Get Out of Jail Free"
William Greider, The Nation, April 11, 2011

Synopsis: Veteran journalist-author William Greider explains how the Justice Department’s policy of “deferred prosecution,” begun under President Bush and continued under President Obama, allows most corporations accused of financial or other crimes to escape serious punishment. Companies negotiate fines, which become part of the cost of doing business, or outside monitoring; but no corporate executives go to jail.

Takeaway: “Restoring justice thus has two parts,” Greider concludes, “establishing individual responsibility within the company and redefining criminal liability for the corporation in ways that have real impact on corporate behavior.”

For an earlier report, see “Corporate Crime,” [subscription required] CQ Researcher, Oct. 11, 2002.

Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"My Uncle, Oscar Hammerstein"
John Steele Gordon, Commentary, April 2011

Synopsis: Oscar Hammerstein is best known as the lyricist of beloved classics like Climb Every Mountain from “The Sound of Music” and Some Enchanted Evening from “South Pacific,” but his greater contribution may have been the librettos – or scripts -- he wrote for those and many other shows. Hammerstein’s scripts were perhaps the primary force that changed the American musical from an all-froth, no-plot evening at the theater to one of the great art forms of the 20th century. His work is capable of touching on deep and difficult themes, like the interracial marriage that figures largely in the plot of Show Boat, the 1927 show he wrote with Jerome Kern.
Takeaway: After years of struggle finally yielded Hammerstein’s first big critical and popular success, “Oklahoma, “it didn’t go to his head,” writes Gordon. In December 1943, just after “Oklahoma” began its first triumphant run, “he put an ad in Variety, as many show people did at Christmas time. But instead of noting his recent triumphs, he listed his five previous flops, with their runs, and added, ‘I’ve Done It Before and I Can Do It Again!’”

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Peter G. Peterson’s Last Anti-Debt Crusade
Alan Feuer, The New York Times, April 8, 2011.

Outside the small circle of people who closely follow federal policy, his name may not mean much. But Peter G. “Pete” Peterson more than any other person made the national debt a top political issue. As a billionaire former investment banker (and Commerce secretary in the Nixon administration), he had the money and connections to develop a large audience for his worries that the country was going broke. Over the past 30 years, he’s published articles, made speeches and subsidized a foundation bearing his name. Now that much of the country’s political class has adopted his views, The Times reintroduces Peterson to a wider audience – not neglecting the views of economists who view his ideas as nothing more than a scheme to shrink Social Security and Medicare.

Peter Katel, Staff Writer

Should public employees have the right to collective bargaining over pay, benefits and pensions?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "Public-Employee Unions" by Kenneth Jost on April 8, 2011.


Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels marked his first full day in office on Jan. 11, 2005, by rescinding collective bargaining rights for the state's 25,000 employees. The Republican governor's move reversed a policy that three Democratic predecessors had followed under executive orders for the previous 15 years.

Daniels depicted the action then as needed to restructure the state's child-welfare bureau. Six years later, the potential GOP presidential contender sees a broader purpose in curbing public-sector unions. “Public jobs grew while private jobs were lost, public salaries went up while private sector salaries are shrinking,” Daniels told a Republican fundraiser in Cincinnati Feb. 23, referring to the era since widespread recognition of collective bargaining for public-employee unions. “It's time to interrupt that loop in the public interest,” Daniels said. [Footnote 8]

Daniels' comments came as his fellow Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio were urging GOP-controlled legislatures to approve new restrictions on public-employee unions in their states. In those states, as in Indiana earlier, unions and their allies say the moves eliminate important worker rights, while supporters say restrictions on unions are needed to cut costs and make government more efficient.

“Public employees should have the same bargaining rights as every other employee in society,” says AFSCME collective bargaining director Kreisberg. “If they want to work together in the bargaining process, they should have the same right as any other worker in America.”

“I don't believe they're rights,” counters Matt Seaholm, director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a low-tax advocacy group that has supported Walker's legislation. “It's a privilege for public-sector unions to have collective bargaining ability with government and, frankly, with the taxpayers. That privilege has been abused.”

In the past, union rights for public employees were seen by opponents as an infringement of government sovereignty. That argument is rarely heard today. Instead, critics of public-employee unions argue that the unions' combined economic and political clout results in overly favorable deals for public workers when bargaining with government officials and managers.

“The trouble with collective bargaining for public employees is there's no one with skin in the game on the other side of the table,” says Chris Chocola, a former two-term Republican congressman from Indiana and now president of the Club for Growth, another low-tax advocacy group. “The people agreeing on one side bear no consequence.”

Collective bargaining for public employees “results in pay that you could not get in an arms-length negotiation,” says Stephen Bainbridge, a professor at UCLA Law School and a former senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. “It gets you the kind of gross pension benefits that you see around the country.”

Pro-labor experts scoff at the picture of unions overpowering complacent government officials and managers. “Tired arguments,” says North Carolina State's Kearney. “There are constraints on public employees,” he continues. “When the public perception is that the unions have been too successful and have generated wages, benefits and working conditions that are out of step with those in the private sector, then there can be a reaction.”

“The problem is not that the unions exist,” says Henry Farber, a professor of economics in the industrial relations section at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J. “The problem is inadequate discipline on the government's side. The solution is not to kill the union.”

Kreisberg similarly rejects the argument that government managers are more willing to grant union demands than private companies. “It's easier to make a profit than to raise a tax,” he says. He also notes that in many states pensions are set by legislatures, not through collective bargaining. “That's the biggest myth out there right now,” he says. “That unions have somehow negotiated fat pensions.”

Defending the Wisconsin legislation, Seaholm initially says that it leaves bargaining over wages “intact” and only eliminates negotiations over pensions and benefits. Under questioning, however, he acknowledges that the bill allows bargaining over wages only for raises up to the cost-of-living increase. With that provision, the bill “basically abolishes collective bargaining,” Kreisberg retorts. “Let's not mince words.”

Walker and other critics are tapping into a sentiment widely shared by the public at large — that public-employee unions have gotten the upper hand. “In some states, the relationship [between state government and public-employee unions] is slightly out of whack,” says DiSalvo of the City College of New York. To correct the imbalance, DiSalvo favors either restricting collective bargaining rights or limiting unions' political influence. “If one could restrict one or the other, it could bring things back into equilibrium,” he says.

But Thomas Kochan, a professor of management and director of the Institute for Work and Employment Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, says restricting collective bargaining is not the solution. “The beauty of collective bargaining is standards,” he says. “That doesn't eliminate politics, but there are standards. To go back to the law of the jungle and pure politics is very, very shortsighted.”

The Issues

* Should public employees have the right to collective bargaining over pay, benefits and pensions?
* Are public employees, in general, overpaid, underpaid or fairly paid?
* Do public-employee unions wield undue political influence?

Click here for more information on the CQ Researcher report on "Public-Employee Unions" [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[8] Quoted in Sharon Coolidge, “Daniels: Ohio can follow Indiana's lead,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb. 24, 2011. For the 2005 action, see Kevin Corcoran and Mary Beth Schneider, “Daniels ends union pacts for 25,000,” The Indianapolis Star, Jan. 12, 2005, p. A1.

Weekly Roundup 4/4/2011

On Eve of Redefining Malcolm X, Biographer Dies
Larry Rohter, The New York Times, April 1, 2011

Synopsis: Manning Marable, a Columbia University professor and leading scholar in the field of African American studies, died March 31 on the eve of the publication of his magnum opus: a new, and redefining, biography of Malcolm X, the black nationalist leader of the 1960s. “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” depicts him not as “a figure of unswerving moral certitude,” according to the Times’ summary, but as “a man often subject to doubts about theology, politics and other matters.” Marable also discloses evidence that New York City police were aware of assassination threats against Malcolm but did little to investigate them.

Takeaway: “This book gives us a richer, more profound, more complicated and more fully fleshed out Malcolm than we have ever had before,” said Michael Eric Dyson, author of the previous biography “Making Malcolm: The Myth and Meaning of Malcolm X.”

-Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

NYTimes.com's Plan To Charge People Money For Consuming Goods, Services Called Bold Business Move
The Onion, March 28, 2011

Synopsis: The lampooning newspaper The Onion weighs in on the audacity of hope exhibited by The New York Times in instituting its new plan to charge readers for its content.

Takeaway: "To ask NYTimes.com's 33 million unique monthly visitors to switch to a cash-for-manufactured-goods-based model from the standard everything-online-should-be-free-for-reasons-nobody-can-really-explain-based model is pretty fearless. It's almost as if The New York Times is equating itself with a business trying to function in a capitalistic society,” snark the satirists.

-Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

The Shrug That Made History: How slavery really ended in America
Adam Goodheart, The New York Times Magazine, April 3, 2011

Synopsis: OMG! What an incredible account of such a key aspect of American history – and one I knew much less about than I thought. Here’s how this fascinating story begins: “On May 23, 1861, little more than a month into the Civil War, three young black men rowed across the James River in Virginia and claimed asylum in a Union-held citadel, Fort Monroe, Va.” In the weeks ahead, hundreds of slaves followed, and the fort’s commanding general made the fateful decision to let them stay. The reviewer equates what happened with Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit at the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Ala. “Earthshaking events are sometimes set in motion by small decisions,” author Adam Goodheart writes.

Takeaway: This is, essentially, the untold story of the birth of emancipation. I promise, you won’t put it down.

-Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor