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