CQ Global Researcher Coverage on North Korea

North Korean state media announced the death of its country's leader, Kim Jong Il, this week. For CQ Global Researcher coverage on the North Korean regime, see Rob Kiener's report "North Korean Menace" (July 5, 2011).

This Week’s Report: “Fracking Controversy”

The natural gas industry has been under fire since the mid-2000s, when a controversial drilling method called hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – began to spread nationwide.

The technique involves injecting massive amounts of water, chemicals, sand and other material under high pressure into rock formations to release trapped gas. Critics charge that fracking fouls water wells and causes other unsafe conditions. This month the Environmental Protection Agency established the first scientific links between fracking and pollution of nearby drinking water. But industry officials say fracking is safe and efficient and is helping to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources.

Writer Daniel McGlynn delves deeply into the controversy in this week’s report, which provides rich background for classes, reports and debates dealing with environmental policy, energy development and government regulation.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 12/13/2011

Beyond Guantanamo, a Web of Prisons for Terrorist Inmates
Scott Shane, The New York Times, Dec. 11, 2011

Synopsis: Federal prisons within the United States house some 269 inmates convicted of crimes tied to international terrorism, far more than the 171 inmates still held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba. Congress has prohibited bringing Guantanamo inmates to the United States for trial, but the terrorist cases already prosecuted in civilian federal courts have been absorbed without undue difficulty, according to national security reporter Shane, and have resulted in long prison sentences. And those who have been released after convictions for lesser offenses are closely monitored by the Justice Department; few are reported to have returned to terrorism.

Takeaway: The prosecutions in federal courts contrast with the results from the military tribunals at Guantanamo, according to Shane, where cases have been “excruciatingly slow,”
“hugely costly” and strongly criticized within the United States and abroad.

For CQ Researcher coverage, see my reports “Closing Guantanamo,” Feb. 27, 2009, updated March 15, 2011; “Treatment of Detainees,” Aug. 25, 2006 (with Peter Katel); and “Prosecuting Terrorists,” March 12, 2010, updated May 26, 2011.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


The Personal Computer Is Dead
Jonathan Zittrain, Technology Review, Nov. 30, 2011

Synopsis: As the computing universe shifts from personal desktop machines loaded with software we own to “cloud” computers that store our programs and information remotely and are controlled by big tech companies, dreams that the Information Age will uniquely empower individuals are on the wane. So writes Harvard Professor of law and computer science Jonathan Zittrain, who describes how cloud owners such as Microsoft and Apple can subtly or not so subtly squelch individual freedom and technological innovation..

Takeaway: “Governments have come to realize that this framework makes their own censorship vastly easier: what used to be a Sisyphean struggle to stanch the distribution of books, tracts, and then websites is becoming a few takedown notices to a handful of digital gatekeepers. Suddenly, objectionable content can be made to disappear by pressuring a technology company in the middle.”

For more, see David Hatch’s Nov. 11 report, “Google’s Dominance,” and my Sept. 16 report, “Computer Hacking.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

This Week’s Report: “Water Crisis in the West”

Severe drought, a warming globe and rising demand for water in states such as Arizona and California are spurring fears of an unprecedented environmental crisis in the West: the lack of enough water to sustain the region’s massive agricultural industry and urban-population boom, Staff Writer Peter Katel writes in this week’s report.

The problem is sparking bitter conflict among agricultural interests, environmentalists, housing developers and others who have a stake in the issue, Katel writes.

“The confluence of drought, climate change and new scientific data on the region’s natural history is prompting a wave of concern in a region where massive dams, reservoirs and canals were thought for most of the 20th century to have solved water problems in the region,” Katel explains. “Worries are especially acute in the sprawling seven-state Colorado River Basin and in Texas, a swath that includes the entire Southwest.”

This timely report is especially useful for classes, reports and debates on environmental and agricultural policy, land use, local and state governance, geography and political science.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 12/6/2011

Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress
Bob Ivy, Bradley Keoun and Phil Kuntz, Bloomberg Markets Magazine, January 2012 (post-dated)

Synopsis: The nation’s banks took generous advantage of below-market-interest loans that the Federal Reserve provided during the height of the financial crisis, borrowing heavily even as most of them professed no need for help and earning billions in profits by lending the funds out at higher rates. That’s the conclusion that reporters for Bloomberg Markets Magazine reached after poring over more than 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained after a protracted Freedom of Information Act battle with the agency.

Takeaway: The reporters stress that Congress and the public were kept in the dark about the program. “While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses,” they write, “details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.”

For CQ Researcher coverage, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Financial Industry Overhaul,” July 30, 2010; Thomas J. Billitteri, “Financial Bailout,” Oct. 24, 2008, updated July 30, 2010; Kenneth Jost, “Financial Crisis,” May 9, 2008.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


GOP Filibuster Ends Tenure of Health Care Cost Cutting Expert
Brian Beutler, Talking Points Memo, Nov. 23, 2011

Now Departed from his Tenure at The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Berwick Receives High Marks for his Tenure at the Agency
Harris Meyer, Health Affairs, Nov. 2011

Synopsis: Filibuster-threatening Senate Republicans have steadfastly refused to allow an up-or-down vote on widely respected Don Berwick, whom President Obama appointed last year to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He will leave the agency at year’s end. Ironically, in this era of fierce battles over how to balance government budgets, Berwick is one of the world’s leading experts on “comparative effectiveness” research -- figuring out how to improve care and save money. Republicans argue that the better approach is to turn over all health care to the private sector.

Takeaway: Berwick’s departure is lamented by many in the health-care field, writes Meyer. “Other Republicans with extensive health care experience also heap Berwick with praise,” he wrote. ‘He did a wonderful job, but Gandhi couldn’t have gotten confirmed in this environment,’ says Thomas Scully, a senior counsel at Alston and Bird, who headed CMS under President George W. Bush.”

For more, see my reports on “Health Care Reform” (June 11, 2010, updated May 24, 2011; and Aug. 28, 2009), “Universal Coverage” (March 30, 2007), and “Rising Health Costs” (April 7, 2006).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer
John Branch, Three-part series, The New York Times, Dec. 3,4,5, 2011

Synopsis: In a riveting, three-part series, reporter John Branch tells the tragic story of Derek Boogaard, who grew up in a small Canadian town dreaming of playing in the National Hockey League. Boogaard got his wish. But as a mediocre player, the only way the six-foot-three-inch, 250-pound skater could make it was as an enforcer---the player on each hockey team designated to duke it out – bare knuckles -- with the enforcer from the opposing team. Indeed, Boogaard became the most feared man in hockey.

Takeaway: The role exposed Boogaard to repeated head trauma, chronic pain and a deadly addiction to pain killers. He died at age 28 of an accidental overdose. A study of his brain showed massive deterioration from repeated concussions and, if he had lived, dementia in mid-life.

For background see “Preventing Memory Loss,” by Marcia Clemmitt, April 4, 2008

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

CQ Global Researcher Author on Public Radio

Alan Greenblatt, author of this week’s CQ Global Researcher on “International Adoptions,” will be interviewed on public radio in St. Louis on why foreign adoptions are declining, even as some 2 million orphans are still living in orphanages around the world. The program will air Tuesday (Dec. 6) at noon (EST) on KWMU public radio. Don Marsh, host of "St. Louis on the Air,” will interview Greenblatt along with Cory Barron, development aid director for Children’s Hope International and father of twin girls adopted from China in 1999. Trish Almond, who also has two children adopted from China -- one with special needs -- will join the discussion.

Podcasts are available for the show.

--Kathy Koch, Managing Editor, CQ Global Researcher

This Week’s Report: “Digital Education”

Computers are replacing – or at least supplementing -- teachers in American classrooms, and the fast-growing trend has led to both excitement and dread in education circles, as Staff Writer Marcia Clemmitt explains in this week’s report.

“While digital devices have become ubiquitous worldwide,” she writes, “debate is raging over whether – and which – technologies have proved their worth as learning tools. Some school systems have fully embraced technology. But critics argue that money for such programs would be better spent on teachers.”

Online learning is rapidly shaping curriculum decisions. Idaho requires high school students to complete at least two online courses to graduate. And a number of states, led by Florida, are creating “virtual” public schools that allow students to complete their entire high school education without ever stepping into a traditional classroom.

This report is a good foundation for debates, classes and papers on education policy, the role of technology in society and state and local allocation of public funds.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor