Weekly Roundup 3/5/2012

Bearing Witness in Syria: A War Reporter’s Last Days
Tyler Hicks, The New York Times, March 4, 2012

      Synopsis: Climbing through the barbed wire fence separating Turkey from Syria, Times photographer Hicks and the Times’ two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid embarked on a dangerous mission to bring back the story of the Syrian government’s brutal repression of Syrian anti-government rebels. One of the most celebrated war correspondents of his era, Shadid never made it back: he died of an acute asthma attack, touched off by an allergic reaction to the horses he and Hicks were supposed to ride back to safety.
      Hicks writes in his riveting account: “Our journey in took us to a group of men who would be our guides in Syria. They call themselves activists, and unlike the fighters, they're the civilian side of the revolution. They, too, are risking their lives to tell the world what is happening to their country.
      “It was clear that they understood the importance of having Anthony there. Foreign journalists are valuable for getting news out of Syria and into a wider world that might be able to help them (though that wider world seems uncertain about how to do so). His Arabic allowed him to speak directly to people without the buffer of an interpreter. As always, he conveyed a genuine interest that made people open up to him; everyone was equal, no story insignificant.”

      Takeaway: “What did the two journalists learn on their ill-fated trip? Hicks writes: “There are mixed emotions among the civilians living in these towns. Most say they favor the revolution and want Assad out of power. While hundreds of people gather daily to protest in some towns, with Friday gatherings for prayers swelling into the thousands, their rally to the cause is bittersweet. People know that the fighters, and the revolt, will draw the army to them, and some are not shy about saying they do not want to invite a crisis to their doorstep. They know what happened in Homs. The images on Arabic news channels are a constant stream of bloody scenes. They also know that they are probably next on the list as the Syrian army tries to crush the rebellion.”

      For related CQ Researcher coverage, see Tom Price, “Future of Journalism,” March 27, 2009 (updated Sept. 3, 2010) and in the CQ Global Researcher: Jennifer Koons, “Press Freedom,” November 2010, and Roland Flamini, “Turmoil in the Arab World,” May 3, 2011.

Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

For America’s Least Fortunate, Poverty Spans Generations
Tom Zeller Jr., Huffington Post, March 1, 2012

      Synopsis: In this must-read piece of long-form journalism, Huffington Post senior writer Zeller explores at ground level the facts of, and reasons for, the persistence of poverty in the United States. Zeller, a former New York Times reporter and editor, introduces the reader to Brooklyn Davis, born into poverty and blocked from escaping it despite best efforts and resolute attitude. “Culture of poverty” sociologists, and many politicians, blame it all on bad character and bad behavior. But as Zeller shows, Davis is trapped by circumstance: even if he’s lucky enough to get a minimum-wage job that he’s applied for, he won’t be able to afford the daily bus fare and still pay child support, old debts, etc. And let’s be clear: poverty is increasing – with 20 million Americans (6.7 percent of population) living at less than half the poverty rate. No policy solutions here: just thorough reporting, insightful writing, and much to think about.

      Takeaway: Unsympathetic views of poverty ignore the more nuanced picture that Zeller says is recognized by social workers, activists, poverty researchers and the poor themselves: “From their view, the so-called safety-net, while effective in preventing atrocities of hunger familiar to other continents, can also act like a web, trapping its poorest patrons in a tangle of conditional services, conflicting requirements and punishing penalties that conspire to keep them poor -- often very poor.

      For CQ Researcher coverage, see Thomas J. Billitteri, “Domestic Poverty,” Sept. 7, 2007 (updated April 27, 2011), and Peter Katel, “Child Poverty,” Oct. 28, 2011.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

Why an MRI costs $1,080 in America and $280 in France
Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, March 3, 2012

      Synopsis: Economic-policy blogger Klein reviews the evidence -- which is strong -- that high prices are the key driver of U.S. health-care costs, which far outstrip costs elsewhere in the world. Other developed nations budget to cover basic care for all with taxpayer funding. And the consolidated funding serves a second, important purpose. With taxpayers footing the bill for everyone's care, the government has a strong incentive to bargain hard over prices. In the U.S. system, fragmented among many payers, no payer, public or private, has had the market power to keep prices in check.

      Takeaway: As a result, "two of the five most profitable industries in the United States” are "the pharmaceuticals industry and the medical device industry....With margins of almost 20 percent, they beat out even the financial sector for sheer profitability. The players sitting across the table from them — the health insurers — are not so profitable. In 2009, their profit margins were a mere 2.2 percent. That’s a signal that the sellers have the upper hand over the buyers."

      For CQ Researcher coverage of this topic, see my June 11, 2010, report, “Health Care Reform” (updated May 24, 2011), and my April 7, 2005 report, “Rising Health Costs.”

Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer