Weekly Roundup 8/15/2011

The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy
Ruth Padawer, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Aug. 14, 2011

Synopsis: Assisted reproduction often results in a multiple-fetus pregnancy – twins, triplets, or more. A so-called megapregnancy can present increased risks for both the mother and the fetuses. Medical technology allows a doctor to “extinguish,” as Padawer puts it, one or more of the healthy fetuses and thereby increase the likelihood of a successful outcome. Early in this development of this medical approach, physicians performing pregnancy reductions adopted a rule of practice to reduce to twins, but not below. Now, however, some physicians believe it permissible to reduce to a single fetus, a change of view driven by parents who fear the demands of twins would be too much for their financial and social circumstances. Is it ethical? Padawer, a writer and teacher and the once overtaxed mother of naturally conceived twins, explores the issues thoroughly and evenhandedly.

Takeaway: “We are in the midst of a choice revolution right now,” one physician remarks, “where we’re trying to figure out where the ethical boundaries should be.”

For an overview of issues in the field, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Reproductive Ethics,” CQ Researcher, May 15, 2009 (subscription required).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Chinese Director’s Path From Rebel to Insider
Edward Wong, The New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011

Synopsis: How much do you really know – and understand – about China? If you’re like me, not a whole lot. Or in my case, perhaps less than I think I know. A case in point, Sunday’s front page article about Zhao Liang, director of the acclaimed film “Petition,” about “how the authorities muzzle and brutalize Chinese who…travel to Beijing seeking redress for wrongdoing by local officials.”

Takeaway: I discovered in this fascinating report that, in fact, China does not forbid independent filmmaking. Hence, Wong says, “Petition” was able to debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2009 but was banned in China. As Wong explains, China “does control distribution, so filmmakers who want their work to be widely seen end up submitting themselves to a capricious censorship process. Since then, Zhao has transformed his relationship with the authorities. Last year, for example, he completed a film about discrimination against Chinese with AIDS or H.I.V. It was commissioned by the Ministry of Health.

For background see Roland Flamini, “U.S.-China Relations,” CQ Researcher, May 7, 2010, updated May 24, 2011; and Peter Katel, “Emerging China,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 11, 2005.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


FYI: The Markets Don’t Want Austerity
Liaquat Ahamed, The Washington Post, Aug. 14, 2011

Synopsis: Pulitzer Prize-winning financial historian Ahamed argues that Washington politicians are misreading the stock market’s jitters. Instead of doubling down on austerity measures, he writes, “budget cuts are precisely the wrong medicine for what ails us.” Such austerity, he continues, “would only exacerbate a slowdown” and possibly trigger a double-dip recession.

Takeaway: Instead, the government should take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates to repair crumbling infrastructure, which would put people back to work and inject money into the economy, he contends. That view was repeated by Martin Barnes, the chief economist at BCA Research, an investment research firm based in Montreal, Canada, on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” today. “This is the worst time imaginable to have fiscal austerity,” Barnes said. “You do not normally follow a path of fiscal austerity when the economy is skirting the edge of recession.” Acknowledging that Congress is highly unlikely to approve a new stimulus package, given the current political environment, both men suggested stabilizing the housing market instead. Barnes recommended “some kind of national refinancing program” in which all homeowners can refinance at low interest rates without paying penalties. A big refinancing program “would be a long-term stimulus,” he points out. “Homeowners would be saving thousands of dollars a year, for many years to come.”

For background see the following CQ Researcher reports by Marcia Clemmitt, “Aging Infrastructure,” Sept. 28, 2007; “Public-Works Projects,” Feb. 20, 2009 and “Mortgage Crisis,” Nov. 2, 2007, updated: Aug. 9, 2010.

--Kathy Koch, Managing Editor, CQ Global Researcher


Critics Question Competency of Inspector General’s Office at Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Tom Zeller, Jr., Huffington Post, Aug. 12, 2011

Synopsis: Reports from the Inspector General’s office at the NRC are being rewritten to weaken negative findings and to avoid implicating the commission itself in problems discovered at nuclear plants, a former IG analyst charges.

Takeaway: In one report issued by the IG’s office in 2010 from a draft submitted in 2009 by a now-retired NRC investigator, “many of the most damning findings were excised,” writes Zeller, who interviewed retired investigator George Mulley for his piece. Furthermore, problems that Mulley and his team had identified in their draft report as due to weaknesses in NRC’s oversight procedures are portrayed in the final report as having been caused by lapses on the part of the nuclear-plant owners instead. Mulley and others say there’s substantial evidence that NRC’s IG office is whitewashing problems in NRC inspection processes that cry out for a remedy. “It was a joke,” said Mulley of one recent report. “If I was still employed in my former capacity, this report would have never been issued.”

For more on the nuclear-power industry, see my June 10, 2011, report, “Nuclear Power,” and Jennifer Weeks’ Jan. 28, 2011, report, “Managing Nuclear Waste.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Americas, Not the Middle East, Will Be the World Capital of Energy
Amy Myers Jaffe, Foreign Policy, Sept./Oct. 2011

Synopsis: The Western Hemisphere, and not the Middle East, may likely become the world’s global energy supply center by the 2020s. Horizontal drilling and other technological innovations are unlocking the potential of hard-to-reach hydrocarbons in offshore deposits and heavy oil formations.

Takeaway: The United States will no longer have to fret about meeting its own energy needs, but will rather have to find a buyer for its surplus. Energy-thirsty China has recognized this potential within the Americas with heavy investments in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Furthermore, the Arab Spring will likely stem the region’s future oil production, turning the global energy arena on its head.

For background see the CQ Global Researcher report “Energy Nationalism” by Peter Behr (July 2007).

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor