Amazon Rainforest Group Defeats Hydropower Project

In a major victory for indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest, the Brazilian company Odebrecht abandoned plans to build a hydropower project in Peru. The voluntary decision came after opposition by the 14,000-member Ashaninka community, which said its forests and farmlands would be destroyed by the proposed Tambo-40 plant.

Commercial enterprises rarely take such initiatives on their own, according to the Sept. 20, 2011, CQ Global Researcher, “Saving Indigenous Peoples.” The report describes widespread encroachment into indigenous territories around the globe by governments and multinational corporations pursuing energy extraction, despite international agreements to first obtain consent from indigenous populations. Brazil’s planned Belo Monte Dam in the Amazon and Bolivia’s proposed hydropower plant in the Madidi National Park are prime examples. Bolivian President Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president and a champion of indigenous rights, has been accused of “reprehensible incoherence” for riding roughshod over the concerns of Madidi indigenous groups to make way for the plant.

See the report at

--Brian Beary

Weekly Roundup 11/29/2011

Iraq’s young prepare to inherit a war-scarred nation after U.S. withdrawal
Dan Zak (story and photographs), The Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2011

Synopsis: Post reporter Dan Zak concludes a short tour in Iraq with portraits of Iraq’s young generation, who are “glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein but feel less safe — and therefore less free — than before 2003.” The front-page package includes individual portraits, among others, of bloggers trying to recreate an Arab Spring-style revolution, an activist seeking to energize a protest movement and a student hoping to help transcend ethnic divisions. The Web version includes a photo gallery.

Takeaway: Young Iraqis “view their government as a pseudo-regime that deprives them of basic rights” and “worry that their peers are being lured into the ethnic, sectarian and partisan traps of their elders.” They also think, Zak writes, that “the world is fixating on revolutions in other Arab countries while ignoring a rotting democracy in Baghdad and their generation’s struggle to live the freedom that was promised to them 8-and-a-half years ago.”

For CQ Researcher’s most recent coverage, see “America at War” (Aug. 13, 2010) and “Cost of the Iraq War” (April 25, 2008).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


R.I.P. Lynn Margulis, Biological Rebel
John Horgan, Scientific American blogs, Nov. 24, 2011

Synopsis: Evolutionary biology lost one of its most remarkable minds last Tuesday, when Lynn Margulis, a professor of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, died unexpectedly of a stroke at the too early age of 73. Margulis faced intense early opposition to her idea that symbiosis – joint, cooperative functioning between organisms – rather than competition alone has been a major driver of evolution. How organisms with nuclei in their cells evolved from simpler older organisms that have no nuclei remained one of biology’s great mysteries until Margulis proposed that larger non-nucleated organisms may have engulfed smaller ones, creating symbiotically united organisms in which the smaller single-celled creatures became the nuclei of the larger ones.

Takeaway: “‘Evolution no doubt occurs, and it’s been seen to occur, and it’s occurring now. Everyone who’s scientific-minded agrees with that. The question is, how does it occur? And that’s where everyone parts company,’” Margulis told blogger John Horgan. “Ultra-Darwinians, by focusing on the gene as the unit of selection, had failed to explain how speciation occurs. Only a much broader theory that incorporates symbiosis and higher-level selection could account for the diversity of the fossil record and of life today, according to Margulis,” he wrote.

Virtual Schools Are Multiplying, but Some Question Their Educational Value
Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown, The Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2011

Synopsis: Full-time online schooling, mostly provided by for-profit companies, is becoming available to more students and younger students – including kindergarteners. But while some education theorists herald the development as a long-needed innovation that will save public dollars while giving students an invaluable chance to learn at their own pace, others say that online learning hasn’t yet proven its merits to the point that rapid deployment is warranted.

Takeaway: Possible social implications are one objection raised to full-time online schooling. “During recent deliberations over virtual schooling in Virginia, a member of the state Board of Education raised the issue of socialization,” write the Post reporters. “‘This would appear to make it possible to go from kindergarten through eighth grade without ever stepping into a real classroom,’ David M. Foster said. ‘I’m not sure I want to encourage that. . . . Collaborative problem solving, socialization, working with other people is key not just to the global economy but to getting along in life.’”

For more, see my CQ Researcher report on “Digital Education,” coming up Dec. 2.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Prosecution’s Case Against DNA
Andrew Martin, The New York Times, Nov. 27, 2011

Synopsis: Hundreds of convicted criminals have been exonerated by DNA evidence in the past quarter-century. But when DNA seemingly clears convicted criminals in Lake County, Ill., the new evidence doesn’t always set the men free. Instead, prosecutors often say it just changes the theory of how they committed the crime.

Takeaway: The issues raised by DNA exoneration have led to an overhaul of the nation’s criminal-justice system. But in some jurisdictions prosecutors are dubious about such new evidence. Some legitimately believe the new evidence is somehow flawed. “But legal scholars … suggest that prosecutors’ concerns about their political future and a culture that values winning over justice also come into play.”

For background see “Eyewitness Testimony” (Oct. 14, 2011) and “Wrongful Convictions” (April 17, 2009)

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Weekly Roundup 11/22/2011

A Sensible Solution to Student Loan Debt
Richard Lee Colvin, Huffington Post, Nov. 12, 2011

Synopsis: To help students afford college and increase the repayment rate on college loans, the United States should follow Australia and other nations into making enrollment in income-contingent loan-repayment programs automatic, with repayment managed by the IRS. Currently, U.S. income-contingent programs are woefully undersubscribed and managed through the Department of Education.

Takeaway: “Income-contingent loans could encourage money-hungry colleges to boost tuition even further, so Congress should also provide incentives to colleges to keep costs down,” writes Colvin, executive director of the nonpartisan think tank Education Sector. “Colleges that didn't keep tuition hikes within limits could be barred from the income-contingent loan program, which could drive students away.”

For more, see Reed Karaim’s Nov. 15 CQ Global Researcher on “Expanding Higher Education” and my Oct. 21 report on “Student Debt.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Teaching Good Sex
Laurie Abraham, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Nov. 20, 2011

Synopsis: A frank human-sexuality course at a private Quaker school on Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line “may well be the only one of its kind in the United States.” Teacher Al Vernacchio regards sexuality as “a force for good – even for teenagers.”

Takeaway: While Vernacchio extols the pleasure of sex, he also notes that sometimes it’s best left off the menu. At the same time, “I don’t necessarily see the decision to become sexually active when you’re 17 as an unhealthy one,” he says. “What if our kids really believed we wanted them to have great sex?” he asked at an evening talk for parents of ninth-graders who would attend his sex-ed course. “What if they really believed that we want them to be so passionately in love with someone that they can’t keep their hands off them? What if they really believed we want them to know their own bodies?”

See “Teen Sex,” (9/16/2005), CQ Researcher.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


MLS Deserves to Succeed

Ian Darke, ESPN, Nov. 22, 2011

Synopsis: Playing perhaps his final game in Major League Soccer (MLS), David Beckham capped off his five-year tenure with the L.A. Galaxy with his first league championship. Seen by many as a savior for the league when he arrived stateside in 2007, Beckham is now contemplating a return to a European club, which has prompted questions over the future of soccer in America should MLS lose its biggest celebrity.

Takeaway: The introduction of the Montreal Impact next season will bring the league’s team total to 19, nearly double the 10 teams it had upon inception in 1996 and approaching the 30 or so teams playing in other sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball. TV ratings and attendance have continually risen over the past decade. While pundits endlessly debate soccer’s place in the American sporting landscape, the league and its fans aren’t bothered if it remains a minority sport in the country because it’s increasingly becoming a significant one.

For historical background see “Soccer in America” (April 22, 1994).

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor

This Week’s Report: “College Football”

College football, the nation’s No. 3 spectator sport in popularity and a multibillion-dollar business, is under increasing scrutiny. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is proposing changes aimed at tightening academic standards and helping players, who earn millions for schools. But the NCAA has little power to control schools’ lavish spending on the sport.

The game has drawn even more critical attention in recent days because of the unfolding child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State, which involves a former assistant coach and has resulted in the abrupt firing of legendary head coach Joe Paterno.

Associate Editor Ken Jost explores the full range of issues surrounding college football in this week’s timely and highly informative CQ Researcher. The report is especially useful for classes and papers on sports management, higher education administration, ethics and contemporary culture.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 11/15/2011

Joe Paterno, and the end of the iconic, eternal college coach
John Feinstein, The Washington Post, Nov. 13, 2011

Climate of secrecy led to crumbling of Camelot
Ron Bracken, Centre (Pa.) Daily Times, Nov. 11, 2011

Synopsis: The firing of Penn State’s legendary coach Joe Paterno last week (Nov. 9) in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal involving his former assistant Jerry Sandusky dominated not just the sports sections but the front pages. Noted sports journalist Feinstein opines that the dismissal helps confirm the end of the “iconic” coach. With the pressure for success intensifying, even a revered coach may be vulnerable after a losing season, much less a national scandal. Meanwhile, Bracken, former sports editor of the local newspaper in Penn State’s home county, recalls a climate of secrecy on the Penn State campus that long antedated the current controversy.

Takeaway: “The attitude that prevails at Penn State,” Bracken writes, is “[p]rotect the image at all costs, and if the truth has to be whitewashed to hide it, well, break out the buckets and brushes.”

For a broader look at gridiron controversies, watch for my report, “College Football,” being published later this week.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


The Tweaker
Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker, Nov. 14, 2011

Synopsis: The vast tide of recent post-mortem hagiography to the contrary, Steve Jobs was less a creative genius than an editorial expert – gifted at picking just the right configuration of details to make uniquely user-friendly products. As the saying goes, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” and Jobs was an artist-thief who achieved techno greatness. Apple’s graphical user interface – the screen icons and mouse – were invented by engineers at Xerox, where Jobs saw and appropriated them to create the then-unique Macintosh computer, in whose mold virtually all user interfaces are made today. But others borrowing Apple’s ideas made him furious.

Takeaway: When Bill Gates saw the Macintosh and knew that it was good, Microsoft Windows, a somewhat clumsier but obviously Apple-derived new system, quickly appeared. Jobs “summoned Gates…to Apple’s Silicon Valley headquarters…. ‘You’re ripping us off!’ he shouted. ‘I trusted you, and now you’re stealing from us!’ Gates looked back at Jobs calmly….’Well, Steve,’ Gates responded. ‘I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.’”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

This Week’s Report: “Google’s Dominance”

Google is much more than an iconic search engine, as technology writer David Hatch reports in this week’s CQ Researcher. The company’s vast portfolio includes airline ticketing, comparison shopping, social networking and mobile-phone software, among other things, and Google’s proposed $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility would greatly increase its reach in the wireless phone industry.

Google’s rapid and aggressive expansion has drawn intense criticism from competitors, who portray the company as a monopoly that leverages its power to bully rivals, and from federal regulators, who are investigating whether Google is violating antitrust laws.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, defends the company against charges of monopolistic behavior, telling a congressional hearing, “We live in great fear …that consumers will switch in extraordinary numbers to other services.” But a skeptical Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said he was wary “of big companies that simultaneously control both information and the distribution channels of that information.”

This report is ideal for classes and reports dealing with business law and ethics, congressional oversight and the relationship between technology and culture.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 11/7/2011

A year from election day 2012, a dark mood awaits Obama and his GOP rival
Dan Balz, Jon Cohen and Chris Cillizza, The Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2011

Is Obama Toast? Handicapping the 2012 Election
Nate Silver, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Nov. 6, 2012

Synopsis: The American electorate is troubled about the economy, sharply polarized, frustrated with President Obama and disaffected with the Republican Party, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll published one year before the 2012 election. In hypothetical matchups, Obama leads each of the three top GOP hopefuls – Mitt Romney, Herman Cain and Rick Perry – according to the survey even though a majority (53 percent) disapprove of the way he is handling the presidency. In a separate article, Balz, the Post’s chief political writer, analyzes what he calls the “strange” race for the Republican nomination. An accompanying graphic shows the schedule for presidential primaries and caucuses beginning with Iowa on Jan. 3. Meanwhile, Nate Silver, editor of the The New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog, concludes from statistics-based handicapping that Obama’s chances of re-election rise or fall depending on economic trends.

Takeaway: “It will be an intensely negative and bitter campaign,” a GOP congressman tells the Post. “And that will complicate things enormously for the winner . . . .”

With economic issues front and center in voters’ minds, here are some CQ Researcher reports worth a look: Marcia Clemmitt, National Debt, March 18, 2011; Peter Katel, “Jobs Outlook,” June 4, 2010.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


When ‘thank you for your service’ falls flat
Phillip Carter, The Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2011

Don’t know what to say to veterans? Just listen
Paula J. Caplan, The Washington Post, Nov. 6, 2011

Veterans Day this year follows President Obama’s announcement of that the U.S. military will leave Iraq by the end of the year’s end. As a long and deadly war nears its end-point, and with withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled in 2014, the spotlight turns to veterans and the futures they face. (CQ Researcher reported in September on the slow-motion crisis of suicide in the active-duty military and among veterans.). Iraq veteran Carter writes movingly and thoughtfully of his efforts to come to terms with the cliché civilian greeting for Iraq-Afghanistan veterans. Caplan, a psychologist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, proposes one way of bridging the divide between veterans and civilians that marks American life. Veterans make up a small fraction of the population. And their experiences, both writers note, threaten to isolate them from the country whose uniform they wore.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer


Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)
Christopher Drew, The New York Times, Nov. 4, 2011

Synopsis: This just in: College classes in hard science are hard. It’s fashionable to blame poor middle- and high-school preparation for the low number of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grads. But new studies show that the pipeline leaks steadily as it wends its way through college. How to change that? Might better college teaching help more students persist? Smaller classes? An atmosphere less focused on cutthroat competition, which is a special problem in pre-med studies? A greater emphasis in families and on the principle that hard work can be its own reward? No one knows for sure. Some, however, suggest one thing that might help: sprucing up freshman and sophomore STEM curricula to include interesting research projects -- similar to many middle- and high-school programs – rather than feeding aspiring STEM-ers a steady diet of 500-seat lecture courses that ignore the applied side of STEM disciplines.

Takeaway: “The National Science Board, a public advisory body, warned in the mid-1980s that students were losing sight of why they wanted to be scientists and engineers in the first place. Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures,” writes Drew.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

A New Measure of an Old Ill: Poverty

The New York Times reports today that the U.S. Census Bureau is about to release a long-awaited new standard for measuring poverty.

Demographic methodology doesn’t ordinarily prompt major news coverage. But poverty is looming larger on the national radar these days, as I explored in my Oct. 28 CQ Researcher report, “Child Poverty.” One reason is a recent Census Bureau report of 2010 poverty statistics.

These numbers – based on the old methodology – showed a marked increase in the number of people living below the poverty line. The increase was especially drastic for children, 22 percent of whom were categorized as poor.

I cited that statistic and related findings in my report, along with experts’ questioning of the validity of poverty-calculation methods.

One aspect of the statistical issue that emerged both from my reporting and that of The Times: Experts on both sides of the deep left-right divide over poverty policy agree that new methodology is needed.

Both sides want – and apparently will get – calculation methods that take into account the benefits of antipoverty programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. For experts on the left, accounting for this aid will show its value in helping people. On the right, the idea is to show the magnitude of government aid to low-income people, to bolster conservatives’ argument that no more help is needed.

At the lower reaches of the socioeconomic ladder, some of the struggling people I spoke with do receive food stamps and other assistance. But they said they still relied on donations from food banks to keep their families fed.

--Peter Katel

This Week’s Report: Managing Public Lands

The federal government manages millions of acres of publicly owned land, much of it concentrated in the West. Not only is the acreage – forests, deserts, marshes and tundra – home to a fascinating array of wildlife and plants, it also contains valuable resources such as timber, gold, rangelands for livestock grazing, oil and natural gas.

As veteran environmental writer Jennifer Weeks explains in this week’s report, “Managing Public Lands,” some conservatives want less federal control and more local authority over public lands so the acreage can be put to multiple uses – not just by hikers and campers but by industry as well. Environmentalists, on the other hand, argue that the lands need more protection from development, not less.

“For decades,” Weeks writes, “policymakers, industry and environmental advocates have argued over how to strike the right balance on multiple-use lands. . . .How much should public natural resources be conserved, and how much should they be exploited?”

This is an especially timely report for classes in public administration, environmental science, civics, business and federal policy.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor