Weekly Roundup 7/25/2011

"Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables?"
Mark Bitman, The New York Times, July 24, 2011

Synopsis: “What will it take to get Americans to change our eating habits?” asks Mark Bitman, who regularly writes about food for The New York Times’ opinion section. His answer: a tax, big enough to change buying and eating habits, on unhealthful foods, such as sugary soft drinks, fat-laden French fries and the like. He would use the proceeds to subsidize more healthful foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in the hope that better nutrition could reduce food-related illnesses such as obesity and diabetes.

Other views: For a roundup of developments on soda tax proposals at the local and state levels, see this in the newsletter Corporations and Health. The beverage industry discounts the role that soft drinks play in contributing to obesity. The American Beverage Association’s Web site is here.

For background, see these CQ Researcher reports: Barbara Mantel, “Preventing Obesity,” Oct. 1, 2010; and Kenneth Jost, “Diabetes Epidemic,” March 9, 2001 (subscription required).

-- Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"Public Schools, Private Budgets"
Ben Jorasky and Mick Dumske, Chicago Reader

Synopsis: Charter schools are funded with public dollars but run by private companies, some of them large. But only 12 of 32 of the biggest charter school management companies operating in charter-heavy Chicago provided budget information in response to a reporter’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Takeaway: "Charter schools are the fastest-growing part of Chicago's public education system, but how they spend our tax money is mostly a secret," although the law does require charter operators to respond to FOIA requests, the journalists say.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

For background, see my CQ Researcher report, “Fixing Urban Schools,” April 27, 2007, updated Aug. 5, 2010 (subscription required).


With This Ring…
The New York Times, July 24, 2011

Synopsis: Proper etiquette is terra incognita for many of us, especially when it comes to matters gay, marriage and otherwise. The New York Times to the rescue! To mark the first day that same-sex marriage was allowed in New York State, a special issue of the always readable Sunday Styles section looked at the changes the law will bring to many gay and lesbian couples.

Takeaway: A number of articles deal with everything from planning the perfect wedding to dealing with pushy parents.

For background, see Kenneth Jost, “Gay Marriage Showdowns,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 26, 2008, updated Oct. 15, 2010 (subscription required).

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


"Back on the Bus"
Calvin Trillin, The New Yorker, July 25, 2011

Trillin began his five decades as a journalist with a one-year stint in the Atlanta bureau of Time Magazine in 1960-61. From there, he ventured all over the South as the civil rights movement was gathering strength. In a vivid account, Trillin recalls the dangers as well as the professional issues with which he grappled. Among them was his obligation to remain a dispassionate observer. Hence Trillin never dropped any money in the collection baskets that went around during movement meetings. But when it came to his reports, he didn’t pretend that any equivalency existed between demonstrators demanding their constitutional rights and segregationists who responded to those demands by burning down houses. At a time when journalistic ethics are still being debated, Trillin’s unapologetic reliance on morality has enduring value.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer

Obama Acts to Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

By Kenneth Jost
      President Obama has taken the final step necessary to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay and lesbian service members, effective Sept. 20.
      Acting according to conditions set by Congress in December in repealing the 1993 law, Obama certified to Congress on Friday (July 22) that ending the policy against military service by out gays and lesbians would be “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the armed forces.”
      Obama sent letters of certification to the chairmen and ranking Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. As required under the December repeal, he acted on the recommendation of the top military leaders: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
      The law imposes a 60-day waiting period after the president’s certification before the policy is officially ended, but the military has been under a court order not to discharge gay or lesbian service members under the policy pending a ruling on its constitutionality.
      In a written statement, Obama said the action represented “the final major step toward ending the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law that undermines our military readiness and violates American principles of fairness and equality.”
      “As Commander in Chief, I have always been confident that our dedicated men and women in uniform would transition to a new policy in an orderly manner that preserves unit cohesion, recruitment, retention and military effectiveness,” Obama said.
      “Our military is ready for repeal,” the president continued. “As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country. Our military will no longer be deprived of the talents and skills of patriotic Americans just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.”
      The development on “don’t ask, don’t tell” came in a week with other advances for gay rights advocates. In Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee held the first hearing on legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples. Meanwhile, New York prepared for the state’s first same-sex weddings on Sunday as a result of legislation passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 24.
      New York becomes the sixth, and largest, state to allow same-sex couples to marry. It already had decided to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Along with the District of Columbia, five other states recognize same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
      Obama had pushed to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” even while the administration defended the constitutionality of the policy in a challenge brought by Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group. A federal court judge in California ruled the policy unconstitutional, and the case is currently pending before the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
      Despite the impending repeal, lawyers for Log Cabin Republicans are pressing for the case to continue because service members discharged under the policy continue to suffer “collateral consequences” as a result. The lawyers also argued that without a final court ruling, Congress could be free to re-institute the policy later.
      The administration has pleased gay rights groups by refusing to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in constitutional challenges pending in federal courts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. A federal court judge in Massachusetts has ruled the policy unconstitutional, and the case is pending before the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Connecticut case is pending in federal district court.
      Legislative repeal of DOMA is unlikely in the current congressional session. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said this week that he would not bring a repeal measure to a vote on the House floor. Gay rights advocates saw the Senate committee hearing as an important initial step to develop support for repealing the measure.

      For background, see Peter Katel, “Gays in the Military,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 18, 2009, updated Oct. 15, 2010; Kenneth Jost, “Gay Marriage Showdowns,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 26, 2008, updated Oct. 15, 2010 (subscription required).

Do free-trade agreements with low-wage countries further weaken U.S. manufacturing?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "Reviving Manufacturing" by Peter Katel on July 22, 2011.


The decline in U.S. manufacturing coincided with the rise of free-trade agreements between the United States and a range of other countries, generally nations considered friendly to American interests. Pacts with 17 nations are now in effect. The agreements are designed to boost U.S. exports to partner countries — by allowing U.S. companies to bid for government contracts in free-trade partner nations, for example. Likewise, the United States agrees eventually to drop tariffs against imports from the partner countries. [Footnote 19]

But ever since a long and intense debate leading up to the landmark 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada, critics have argued that the pacts serve above all to encourage U.S. companies to build factories abroad. Labor unions that portray free-trade agreements as vehicles for expanded offshoring are among the agreements’ main critics. They are playing a major part in holding up congressional approval of pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Defenders, including all recent Republican and Democratic presidents and their top officials, call the pacts essential to boosting U.S. job creation by expanding markets in which U.S. companies, including manufacturers, sell goods and services.

“We're in a global economy,” says the National Association of Manufacturers’ Moutray, noting the dynamism of the so-called BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China. “For multinationals, a lot of their growth in sales is coming from selling manufactured goods to the BRIC countries,” he says, contrasting them to the “relatively mature” U.S. market.

Free-trade agreements, by that logic, play a key role in expanding opportunities for U.S. firms. “Where the growth is going to come from is in trade,” Moutray says. “When you lower barriers, you're going to see more trade going back and forth.”
Manufacturing as a Share of GDP, 1947–2010

But the key to whether an agreement actually benefits the U.S. economy lies in the pact's details, says George Mason University's Hill. “When countries have highly asymmetric social and economic systems, with workplace standards, environmental standards and wage-and-hour standards that are very different,” he says, “that's where problems can arise.”

A deeper source of these problems, Hill argues, is that free-trade agreements often are proposed for political, rather than economic, reasons. He cites the proposed pact with Colombia, which has been awaiting congressional action for seven years. “Making an agreement with Colombia is a way of saying, in part, ‘We appreciate the enormous effort you've made to bring drug cartels under control, and to open your markets,’ ” he says.

But Perry of the American Enterprise Institute argues that the proposed Colombia deal makes considerable economic sense. It would immediately eliminate Colombian tariffs on 80 percent of American consumer and industrial products exported to that country. [Footnote 20] “If Caterpillar is selling to Colombia, the more they sell, the higher the profits,” Perry says. The Illinois-based heavy-equipment maker strongly backs the proposed pact.

The need to step up exports makes trade deals essential, Perry says. “The more [trade agreements] we have, the easier it is for our manufacturers to export,” he says. “That means more output and more jobs here.”

Yet, argues economist Charles McMillion, the evidence is clear that free-trade pacts damage U.S. manufacturing. “After NAFTA, we've gone from a strong manufacturing surplus to a record manufacturing deficit,” with Mexico, says McMillion, president of MBG Information Services, a Washington-based economic consulting firm. U.S. Commerce Department data he analyzed show trade surpluses in manufactured goods of $5.8 billion, $7.9 billion and $1.7 billion for the three years before NAFTA took effect — and deficits of $64.2 billion, $74.6 billion and $64.3 billion in 2006–2008. [Footnote 21]

The Issues:

  • Is U.S. manufacturing reviving?
  • Do free-trade agreements with low-wage countries further weaken U.S. manufacturing?
  • Should the government actively promote U.S. manufacturing and discourage further offshoring?
Click here for more information on this CQ Researcher report [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[19] The 17 free-trade partners are: Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Oman, Peru, Singapore. “Free Trade Agreements,” Office of the United States Trade Representative, undated, www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements.; “U.S. Free Trade Agreements,” export.gov, updated April 26, 2011, www.export.gov/FTA/index.asp.

[20] “Overview of the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement,” undated, U.S. Trade Representative, www.ustr.gov/uscolombiatpa/facts.

[21] “U.S. Manufacturing Trade Surpluses With Mexico Plunged to Record Deficits Since Nafta,” CW McMillion/MBG Information Services, undated.

Weekly Roundup 7/18/2011

"How to cut the deficit – and what happens if we don’t"
Mark Zandi, The Washington Post, July 15, 2011

"Default would dim American power"
James M. Lindsay, The Washington Post, July 15, 2011

"Debt Ceiling Worries Are Way Overdone"
Alan Schram, Huffington Post, July 17, 2011

"U.S. Debt Ceiling Increase Remains Unpopular With Americans"
Gallup poll, July 12, 2011

Synopsis: With President Obama and congressional leaders still at odds over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, most but not all commentators are warning of risks from a possible default. Moody’s economist Mark Zandi says financial markets would unravel and the U.S. and global economy would enter a severe recession. James Lindsey of the Council on Foreign Relations
says a default could harm America’s ability to wield and project its power in the world. But Alan Schram, managing partner of Wellcap Partners, a Los Angeles-based hedge fund, says a default would have minimal consequences that would be far outweighed by the benefit of getting government spending under control.

Takeaway: A plurality of Americans (42 percent) say they want their representative in Congress to vote against raising the debt ceiling, according to the most recent Gallup poll, and only 22 percent want their lawmakers to vote for it. But slightly over one-third of those surveyed (35 percent) say they do not know enough about the issue to say. Despite intensive coverage, the “don’t know” percentage is essentially the same as a month earlier.

For background, see Marcia Clemmitt, “National Debt,” CQ Researcher, March 18, 2011 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"Did Data-driven Accountability Cause the Atlanta Cheating Scandal?"
John Thompson, Huffington Post, July 12, 2011

Synopsis: Teacher-blogger Thompson describes teacher-accountability practices that ramp up pressure on schools, potentially leading to the cheating scandals now rocking cities such as Washington and Atlanta. "Humiliation and scapegoating" of teachers who didn't raise test scores enough were "ritualized" in Atlanta, he says. For example, at one end-of-the-year district teacher-recognition ceremony, a "principal forced a teacher who did not raise scores enough to crawl under a table," while teachers whose students had scored high were feted up front.

Takeaway: Such tactics may encourage cheating, and when cheating enters the picture, everybody loses, not least the teachers who don't cheat, Thompson says. In many new accountability schemes -- such as the "value-added" comparisons that many current school reformers tout -- each teacher's success with an individual student is measured relative to that student's success in earlier grades. A teacher is judged successful with a student only if that student performs as well as or better than he or she performed in the previous school year. Thus, when one teacher fakes higher scores, "the teacher who gets the same students the following year is also hurt” because that teacher “is starting from an inflated baseline" of what those students can do, explained Pulitzer Prize-winning education writer Susan Headden.

For background, see my April 29 CQ Researcher report, “School Reform” (subscription required).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History
Threat Level blog, Wired Magazine, Kim Zetter, July 11, 2011

Those who follow Middle Eastern politics, or nuclear proliferation, or tech-world developments – or all three – won’t want to miss this detailed and absorbing account. Zetter pulls back the curtain on the discovery of “Stuxnet,” the ingenious computer virus designed to sabotage uranium enrichment in Iran. Exactly who wrote the virus code remains a mystery, though Zetter’s piece does nothing to contradict the conventional wisdom that Israel or the United States – or both countries working together – created the program. But even with Stuxnet’s authorship unconfirmed, the tale of how a few members of the global computer-security community spotted Stuxnet and then laboriously figured out its purpose makes for a great read. Not surprisingly, the more that the principal decoders figured out, the more nervous they got for their own safety. Nothing in their careers of countering cyber-bandits had prepared them for the cyber-battlefield where they found themselves.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer

Will spending on health care for the elderly bankrupt the United States?

To follow is an excerpt from the CQ Researcher report "Aging Population" by Alan Greenblatt on July 15, 2011.


Health care costs already consume more than double the share of the economy that they did 30 years ago. They are expected to consume $2.8 trillion this year, or 17.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to the federal Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). That's up from 8.1 percent of the economy in 1975. [Footnote 16]

Medicare and Medicaid spending have grown at a similar pace. The two programs, which provide coverage for seniors and the poor and disabled, respectively, are on course to grow from about 4 percent of GDP in 2008 to nearly 7 percent by 2035. [Footnote 17]

The 2010 federal health-care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, was designed to cut Medicare costs by nearly $120 billion over the next five years. [Footnote 18] But Medicare's actuaries worry that savings from the 2010 law can't all be relied upon. That's because Congress has frequently canceled plans to lower Medicare fees for hospitals and physicians. [Footnote 19] As a result, the Medicare trust fund is on course to run out of money in 2024 — five years earlier than previously predicted — according to Richard Foster, the chief actuary at CMS.

Rising health care costs are a burden not just for the government but for individuals as well. “We're spending about $8,000 more annually for insurance for a family of four than we did in 2000,” says Paul Hewitt, vice president of research at the Coalition for Affordable Health Coverage, an advocacy group in Washington.

Experts say aging trends are a significant reason for the climb in health care costs and an important source of pressure on the federal budget. “It's worth keeping in mind that a significant share of health care growth is demographically based,” says Jackson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “You're looking at a steep rise in cost just because of the rise in the average age of the beneficiaries — the aging of the aged.”

But health economists say aging trends are far from the whole story. Medical costs are rising largely because of the ever-increasing availability of expensive treatments in the health care system — a system that treats young and old alike. “The real problem is not the aging of the population, but the rise of health care costs,” says Case Western's Binstock, a former president of the Gerontological Society of America. “We don't look at the elephant in the room here, which is the enormous profits of the medical-industrial complex.”

Most experts agree that major alterations are in order. Some are discouraged that the two major parties seem worlds apart on health care issues. “Both parties have to recognize the need to compromise,” says the Urban Institute's Johnson.

That does not appear imminent. Republicans have pledged to repeal the 2010 health care law, considered one of Obama's signature achievements, while Democrats intend to use the GOP's controversial plan to turn Medicare into something resembling a voucher program against them in the 2012 elections.

Even as congressional Republicans seek to slash Medicare and other entitlements, they oppose the Independent Payment Advisory Board, established by the 2010 health care law, which is meant to make recommendations for Medicare spending cuts when its growth exceeds GDP growth by more than 1 percent.

“Cutting providers eventually cuts benefits because they are less available,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the minority whip. “You don't have as many physicians, for example, to take care of Medicare patients, so either people have to wait a lot longer or they never get to see the physician they'd like to.” [Footnote 20]

But if a political deal is not reached, the consequences could be dire, experts warn. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says health care costs, on their current course, could swallow all of GDP by 2082. [Footnote 21]

The risk of bankruptcy from health costs in particular, says Hewitt, are exactly what bond rating agencies have warned about when they have threatened recently to downgrade U.S. debt — meaning the federal government may not be able to borrow money as cheaply because there's more risk that it won't be able to cover its interest payments.

“Three-quarters of the projected deficits over the next 10 years are new health care spending, according to CBO,” Hewitt says. “If you could hold health costs at 2011 levels, you wouldn't have any deficit of note in 2021.”

“There's no question that we're on course for health care costs to bankrupt the country,” says the New America Foundation's MacGuineas. “You can't have anything growing faster than GDP forever, because it consumes more and more of the economy.”

That may be the greatest danger. MacGuineas, like other budget experts, predicts that some sort of change will be made in health care spending, because present trends are not sustainable. But the changes won't come without pain and political difficulty. In the meantime, rising health costs may continue to squeeze spending on other programs.

The Issues:

  • Should Americans work longer?
  • Will spending on health care for the elderly bankrupt the United States?
  • Will the young and old fight over resources?
Click here for more information on this CQ Researcher report [subscription required] or purchase the PDF.



[16] See Annual Report of the Medicare Trustees, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, May 13, 2011, www.cms.gov/ReportsTrustFunds/downloads/tr2011.pdf.

[17] “Choosing The Nation's Fiscal Future,” National Academies Press (2010), p. 79, available at www.ourfiscalfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/fiscalfuture_full_report.pdf.

[18] “Strengthening Medicare: Better Health, Better Care, Lower Costs,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, www.cms.gov/apps/files/medicare-savings-report.pdf.

[19] Matthew DoBias, “Medicare's Actuary Paints a Darker Picture Than Trustees,” National Journal.com , May 23, 2011, www.nationaljournal.com/healthcare/medicare-s-actuary-paints-a-darker-picture-than-trustees-20110523.

[20] Emily Ethridge, “Republicans Decry Medicare Cost-Control Panel While Seeking Broad Cuts,” CQ HealthBeat, June 8, 2011.

[21] “CBO'S 2011 Long-Term Budget Outlook,” Congressional Budget Office, www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=12212.

Weekly Roundup 7/11/2011

"As Shuttle Era Ends, Dreams of Space Linger"
John Noble Wilford, The New York Times, July 9, 2011

"The space shuttle: Portrait of an American era"
Philip Scott Andrews, The Washington Post Magazine, July 10, 2011

Synopsis: Two veteran space-watchers reminisce as NASA prepared for the July 8 launch of Atlantis, the final mission in the agency’s 30-year space shuttle program. In his essay, John Noble Wilford, who covered the space program for the Times since the 1960s, recalls the difficulties that preceded the first launch in 1981 and the gradual routinization of the program as guest lawmakers and others were invited into space flight. Photographer Philip Scott Andrews, who recalls tagging along as his father photographed space missions for Canon, provides a gallery of behind-the-scenes photos taken over the last three years.

Takeaway: “I no longer expect to see boot prints on Mars during my lifetime,” says Wilford, now 77. But he closes by wishing “bigger and braver dreams for us all in the future.”

For our coverage, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Human Spaceflight,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 16, 2009 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Bradley Manning’s Army of One
Steve Fishman, New York Magazine, July 3, 2011

A constant flow of major news events has pushed the WikiLeaks story out of the limelight. But the case remains very much alive, with secret U.S. government documents brought to the surface by WikiLeaks still regularly cited in news stories. (Over the weekend, the Miami Herald reported on a WikiLeaks cable that said U.S. medical students in Cuba had been threatened with loss of their scholarships if they had contact with U.S. diplomats in Havana.) Meanwhile, Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who faces possible life in prison for allegedly leaking the trove of documents, remains in military custody. Some people who dealt with Manning during his tour of duty as an intelligence analyst in Iraq tell a New York Magazine reporter of a deeply unhappy, highly talented individual who seems to have been completely out of place in the Army. One of his superiors questioned whether Manning was emotionally fit to be deployed to a war zone. A reader may wonder if military manpower needs overcame that concern, thereby arguably setting in motion the still unfolding WikiLeaks saga.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer

For our coverage, see Alex Kingsbury, “Government Secrecy,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 11, 2011 (subscription required).

Weekly Roundup 7/5/2011

An African Adventure, and a Revelation
Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times, July 3, 2011

Synopsis: For the fifth year, New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof took a young student – and this year, a 60-something teacher – with him on a foreign reporting tour to Third World Countries. The 10-day trip in mid-June took the traveling party to five African nations (Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger), where Kristof and the first-time Africa visitors witnessed poverty, disease and corruption slow to yield to reform from within or without. Nevertheless, Kristof is bullish on Africa’s prospects, noting that the continent’s economy is growing significantly faster than Europe’s or America’s.

Takeaway: “[T]he poverty is heartbreaking and the insecurity ominous,” Kristof writes in conclusion. “But the giraffes and villagers alike are hugely welcoming, and the progress is now effervescent. The backdrop is a continent that is chipping away at poverty and disease, while doing a better job of educating its young. Africa seems likely to become a much more important part of the global economy in the 21st century — a place to admire, not to pity.”

For our recent coverage, with a mixed report on democratization, see Jason McClure, “Sub-Saharan Democracy,” CQ Global Researcher, Feb. 15, 2011 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


"Facebook Changes Privacy Settings for Millions of Users – Facial Recognition Is Enabled"
Graham Cluley, Sophos Naked Security Blog, June 7, 2011

"Facebook to Be Probed in EU for Facial Recognition in Photos"
Stephanie Bodoni, Bloomberg/Business Week, June 8, 2011;

and "Facebook Money: Will the Feds Stop Facebook’s Power Play for Online Currency?"
Jamie Court, Huffington Post, June 29, 2011.

Synopsis: Zuckerberg Nation arrives. And Mark knows who you are!

It’s here: Facial-recognition software that can find all your Jello-shots photos – or photos of your doppelganger doing Jello shots – and tag them with your name, without human intervention. Security writer Graham Cluley explains how to opt out of the new, scary Facebook feature, and Bloomberg/Business Week reports that European regulators are not happy.

Meanwhile, American consumer advocate Jamie Court reports that, as of July, all sales conducted on Facebook must use Zuckerberg money – so-called “Facebook Credits.” Up to now, credit cards or PayPal also could be used. “If Facebook's new facial recognition software isn't scary enough, imagine Mark Zuckerberg's face replacing George Washington's on the dollar bill,” says Court. “July 4th may be Independence Day for America, but on July 1st Facebook is making a declaration about its new virtual currency, ‘Facebook Credits,’ that could well put the Internet powerhouse on the road to dominance of all online commercial transactions.” Court’s California-based group, Consumer Watchdog, has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

For more, see my Sept. 7, 2010, report on “Social Networking.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, staff writer


"Married, With Infidelities"
Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times Magazine, July 3, 2011

Synopsis: After nearly 40 years of a wonderful marriage – yet one with the usual ups and downs – I read the Times magazine’s cover story on marriage with considerable interest. The lengthy story by Mark Oppenheimer, who writes the Times’ Beliefs column, takes a look at the institution of marriage through the prism of the Anthony Weiner and Arnold Swarzenegger scandals. Oppenheimer essentially explores the notion, pushed by popular sex columnist Dan Savage, that marriage is hard enough without imposing monogamy on a relationship.

Takeaway: While Oppenheimer notes that Savage says monogamy is appropriate for many couples (count me in!), he seems to support Savage’s enlightened (if that’s the right word) take on marriage. “Although best known for his It Gets Better project, an archive of hopeful videos aimed at troubled gay youth, Savage has for 20 years been saying monogamy is harder than we admit and articulating a sexual ethic that he thinks honors the reality, rather than the romantic ideal, of marriage,” Oppenheimer writes. In place of strict fidelity, Savage “proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.”

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong
Leon Aron, Foreign Policy, July/August, 2011

The Moscow-born director of Russia studies at the American Enterprise Institute makes a strong argument that Soviet Union disintegrated above all because of moral outrage, not economic decay nor military weakness. Ordinary citizens’ outrage at corruption and injustice tends to be underestimated as a revolutionary force, Aron writes. But popular anger is proving itself a force to be reckoned with, right now, in the Middle East. And Aron sees signs of that indignation returning to Russia, in response to the inequality, and the impunity for the powerful, that mark Russian life.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer