Weekly Roundup 4/30/2012

Marc Fisher, The Washington Post, April 29, 2012

Synopsis: The Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 have been followed by Islamist revivals in the three countries with the most profound changes: Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. In an in-depth report on Tunisia, Fisher finds that confrontations between Islamists and secular Tunisians are occurring almost daily and that the disagreements often pit parents against children and siblings against each other.

Takeaway: The secular-minded head of Tunisia’s constitutional assembly says one side “wants progress” and the other “wants to go back in time.” But one young Islamist says the country must adopt sharia law or Islamists will resort to violence.
For background, see the following CQ Researcher reports: “Youth Unemployment,” March 6, 2012;  “Future of the Gulf States,” Nov. 1, 2011; “Turmoil in the Arab World," May 3, 2011; “Middle East Peace,” Jan. 21, 2005;   and “Rising Food Prices,” Global Researcher, Oct. 18, 2011.           

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Monica Hesse, The Washington Post, April 26, 2012

Synopsis: The headline on the version of this piece that I saw in the Sunday paper made the point better: “Food for thought on the oft-uttered proposition that ignorance displayed via social media shows that we’re a less informed culture than we used to be. Is that a valid conclusion, based on numerous recent tweets that ask who Dick Clark was and whether the Titanic was a real boat? Hesse thinks not.

Takeaway: “We were stupid before the Internet. We just didn’t know how stupid we were. Or at least we didn’t archive it.”

For more on digital-age culture, see our Sept. 24, 2010, report, “Impact of the Internet on Thinking,” and our Aug. 1, 2008, report, “Internet Accuracy.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Frank Bruni, The New York Times, April 30, 2012

Synopsis:  Last week’s debate in Congress focused on raising the interest rate on college loans to 6.8 percent. But the concern about college goes beyond its cost.  College once used to be a virtual guarantor of a good job and rosy future. But no more -- not even for the kids whose parents can afford to send them. Once, as Bruni puts it: “A diploma wasn’t a piece of paper. It was an amulet.”
Takeaway: Now just going to college isn’t enough – it’s important to pick your course of study wisely. Bruni calls “for government and university incentives to steer students into the fields of studies that will serve them and society best. We use taxes to influence behavior. Why not student aid?” he asks.

For background, see, “The Value of a College Education,” CQ Researcher, Nov. 20, 2009.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

The Euro Crisis - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Less than two weeks ago, our CQ Global Researcher report on the “Future of the EU” (April 17) quoted European leaders as saying the worst was over in the EU’s sovereign debt crisis. Then, suddenly, two political shocks hit financial markets. First, French President Nicolas Sarkozy was narrowly defeated on April 22 in the first round of the presidential elections by socialist rival Francois Hollande, who has pledged to renegotiate the Fiscal Treaty that 25 EU countries signed in March to impose tighter controls on government spending. The following day the Dutch government, which had worn its loyalty to fiscal austerity as a badge of honor, collapsed after a populist coalition party led by Geert Wilders abandoned the coalition. Wilders felt the government was too slavishly following diktats from EU mandarins in Brussels. Both stories suggest a surge in popular rejection of the austerity policies that have underpinned the EU’s debt exit strategy thus far. Financial markets have taken a nosedive with the news, fearful of yet another impending setback in the EU’s seemingly interminable debt crisis.

Brian Beary

Weekly Roundup 4/23/2012

Rethinking the War on Drugs
Mark A.R. Kleiman, Jonathan P. Caulkins and Angela Hawken, The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2012

Synopsis: Current drug policies do more damage than necessary and less good than thought, according to the co-authors of the book Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know. The three professors acknowledge the “superficial” appeal of legalizing drugs but say legalization would have “dire” consequences. Instead, they advocate “practical” steps to reduce drug use by daily regular monitoring of arrestees with histories of drug use and to reduce violent crime associate with drug trafficking by putting violent drug dealers in jail and pressuring non-violent drug dealers to give up the trade.

Takeaway: “The U.S. has reached a dead end in trying to fight drug use by treating every offender as a serious criminal,” according to the trio. The real prospects for reform depend on “policies, not slogans,” they say, but “it remains to be seen whether our political process . . . can tolerate the necessary complexity.”
For CQ Researcher coverage, see these reports by Peter Katel: “Teen Drug Use,” June 3, 2011; “Legalizing Marijuana,” June 12, 2009, updated July 21, 2010; “War on Drugs,” June 2, 2006.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


James Gallagher, BBC, April 18, 2012

Synopsis: New research on breast cancer shows that the old method of characterizing -- and treating -- cancers as being the same if they appear in the same organ has little basis in fact. Detailed gene studies of 2,000 breast-cancer patients revealed 10 different patterns of the disease that could eventually lead to different ways of treating it.

Takeaway: "We are a long way from using the new definitions in hospitals, and the immediate impact on patients will be limited. There are clear survival differences among the 10 categories. Clusters two and five seem to have a 15-year survival of around 40 percent. Clusters three and four have around 75 percent survival over the same period. This could help better inform patients....The hope is that by identifying the 10 breast cancers it will be possible for researchers to design drugs for each one, but that is still a work in progress."

For more on cancer and genetic medicine, see our reports on Genes and Health (Jan. 21, 2011), Breast Cancer (April 2, 2010) and Preventing Cancer (Jan. 16, 2009).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Sherry Turkle, The New York Times, April 22, 2012

Synopsis: Psychologist Turkle says that while mobile communication devices superficially help people connect with one another, they ultimately distance people from each other and make them feel lonelier. And in the process, we lose the art of conversation.

Takeaway: Turkle writes: “Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.”

For background see Marcia Clemmitt, “Cyber Socializing,” CQ Researcher, July 28, 2006.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Weekly Roundup 4/16/2012

Coming Soon: ‘Taxmageddon’
David Leonhardt, The New York Times, April 15, 2012

Synopsis: On the eve of Tax Day, the Times’ Washington bureau chief sets the stage for major federal tax and spending changes due to kick in on Jan. 1, 2013, unless Congress and the president agree on alternate plans. Taxes would rise for virtually all Americans, and major across-the-board spending cuts will kick in for defense and domestic spending. “All in all,” Leonhardt writes, “the end of 2012 will be unlike any other time in memory for the federal government.”

Takeaway: Political agreements on tax reform, entitlement reforms and spending reductions remain elusive, but, Leonhardt concludes, “the era of falling taxes and growing benefits cannot last forever.”

For CQ Researcher coverage, see these reports by Marcia Clemmitt, “National Debt,” March 18, 2011; “Budget Deficit,” Dec. 9, 2005.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


The Big Book
Chris Jones, Esquire, May 2012

Synopsis: Biographer/historian Robert Caro had planned four volumes on the life of Lyndon B. Johnson, but while working on the fourth volume, which tops 700 pages and comes out next month, he realized there would have to be five. As a fan of books that immerse me in someone else's world, I enjoyed Esquire's conversation with Caro about his process for writing these longest-of-long-form works -- increasingly, dinosaurs in our twittering days.

Takeaway: "'Nobody believes this, but I write very fast,’ " Caro told Jones. "Before he writes, however, he sits at his desk, and he looks out his window at the glass building across the street, and he thinks about what each of his books is to become.... Once he is certain, he will write one or two paragraphs … that capture his ambitions. Those two paragraphs will be his guide for as long as he's working on the book. Whenever he feels lost … he can read those two paragraphs back to himself and find anchor again."

For some reflections on the fate of long-form reading and writing in the Internet age, see these CQ Researcher reports: Future of Libraries (July 29, 2011), Future of Books (May 29, 2009, updated Sept. 14, 2010), and Reading Crisis? (Feb. 22, 2008). Note: The New York Times Magazine also carried a fascinating profile of Caro on April 15.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Nigeria’s Population Is Soaring In Preview of a Global Problem
By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times, April 15, 2012, P. A1

Synopsis: At the rate Nigeria is growing, in 25 years the population will reach 300 million – a population about as big as the United States in a country the size of Arizona and New Mexico.

Takeaway: The expected growth in Nigeria reflects rapid growth expected globally, but especially in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations. In response, alarmed governments in the region have begun reversing policies that encouraged large families.

For background see the following CQ Global Researcher reports: Sub-Saharan Democracy, Feb. 15, 2011; Rescuing Children, October 2009, and China in Africa, January 2008.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

This Week's Report: "Internet Regulation"

Pirating of copyrighted material – movies, music, TV shows and other creative works – continues to cost the entertainment industry, composers, authors and others billions of dollars a year in lost revenue, royalties and jobs. But doing something about the problem isn’t easy, as Staff Writer Marcia Clemmitt explores in this week’s CQ Researcher.

Two bills in Congress that would combat online piracy have run into stiff opposition from the likes of Wikipedia and Google, among many others. Opponents argue that the bills are so harsh that they would force any website carrying user-generated content perceived to violate copyright laws to shut down, possibly immediately.

Meanwhile, Clemmitt writes, another battle is raging over Internet regulation – this one over the murky concept of “net neutrality.” This debate concerns whether big Internet-service providers (ISPs) such as cable and phone companies should be barred from slowing the flow of online content from certain websites, such as sites of companies competing with the cable and phone providers to sell video or Internet phone service.

“Debates on Internet regulation are heating up as cyber companies gain clout in Washington and the Internet penetrates every area of life,” Clemmitt writes.

This important and timely report is ideal for classes and papers in media and communications studies, technology policy, government regulation and entertainment law.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 4/9/2012

Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off
By Jason De Parle, The New York Times, April 8, 2012, p. A1

Synopsis: The nation’s revamped welfare system, which gives the states great discretion in providing welfare funds to the unemployed, is not responding to growing hardships caused by soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

Takeaway: Eighteen states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years, Jason De Parle wrote. Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main cash welfare program for families with children. The program mainly serves single mothers.

For background, see Peter Katel, “Child Poverty,” Oct. 28, 2011; Thomas J. Billitteri, “Domestic Poverty,” Sept. 7, 2007 (updated April 27, 2011); and Sarah Glazer, “Welfare Reform,” Aug. 3, 2001.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


Why Health Care Isn't Broccoli -- Some Basic Economics
By Henry Aaron, Huffington Post, April 2, 2012

Synopsis: In deliberations over the health care-reform law, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia famously compared the law's "individual mandate" to buy insurance to a hypothetical universal mandate to buy broccoli. Law supporters argue that every American must buy health insurance because -- as accident and injury eventually strike us all -- every American will someday be in the health-care market. But "everybody has to buy food sooner or later,"
too, said Scalia. "So you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli." Brookings Institution health-care economics guru Henry Aaron explains why that's not the case.

Takeaway: For one thing, Aaron writes, "when someone consumes broccoli, one is not normally imposing costs on other consumers that make broccoli more costly or unaffordable." But when someone without insurance uses the emergency room, that's exactly what happens. Hospital charges for those who have coverage go up, as they pick up the costs that the uninsured patient couldn't pay.

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

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Stand Your Ground laws coincide with jump in justifiable homicides
Marc Fisher and Dan Eggen, The Washington Post, April 7, 2012 (print edition: April 8)

Synopsis: Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, a prominent part of the controversy over the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch coordinator, became the model for similar laws in roughly half the states after its enactment in 2005. In the years since, the number of homicides by private individuals deemed to be “justified” has increased by almost half – from 192 in 2005 to 278 in 2010, according to the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

Takeaway: Prosecutors say the law is a barrier to bringing charges against genuine criminals. But the former National Rifle Association president who championed the enactment of the Florida statute says, despite the controversy over the Martin case, there is nothing wrong with the law.

For CQ Researcher coverage, see “Florida Police Under Scrutiny in Trayvon Martin Case” in my report, “Police Misconduct” (April 6).

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor

The Latest CQ Global Researcher: "Women's Rights"

With conservative Muslim parties gaining power in some post-Arab Spring governments, feminists fear women's rights in the Middle East — already lagging by world standards — may be further threatened. Women – who were at the forefront in last year’s protests in Egypt -- have been scarcer in recent Egyptian elections than during the regime of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, veteran journalist Sarah Glazer writes in this week’s Global Researcher.

To put more women in decision-making positions, governments around the world are instituting electoral gender quotas and considering mandatory quotas for women on corporate boards.

Those interested in international relations, comparative politics and women’s issues will find this report especially useful and informative.

--Kathy Koch, Managing Editor, CQ Global Researcher

Weekly Roundup 4/2/2012

White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games
Anna Holmes, The New Yorker blogs, Mar. 30, 2012

Synopsis: On Twitter, some young filmgoers are expressing dismay that a popular character in the new movie Hunger Games is played by a black actress, even though the popular young-adult novel on which the movie is based clearly depicts her as black.

Takeaway: “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture,” ran one tweet. "The phrases 'some black girl' and 'little blonde innocent girl' are ringing in my head ... as are thoughts about how the heroes in our imaginations are white until proven otherwise, a variation on the principle of innocent until proven guilty that, for so many minorities, is routinely upended," remarks Holmes.

For material about American attitudes on race, see the following CQ Researcher reports: Race in America (July 11, 2003); Shock Jocks (June 1, 2007, updated Oct. 14, 2010); Debating Hip-Hop (June 15, 2007), Race and Politics (July 18, 2008), and Affirmative Action (Oct. 17, 2008).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Future of Health-Care Law – and Politics: Several Views

In Health Case, Appeals to a Justice’s View of Liberty
Adam Liptak, The New York Times, March 30, 2012

ObamaCare and the 2012 Election
Karl Rove, The Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2012

Could defeat for Obamacare mean victory for Obama?
Mark Penn, The Washington Post, March 31, 2012

Synposis: Supreme Court justices are deliberating on President Obama’s health-care reform after an extraordinary three days of arguments last week. The New York Times’ Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak analyzes how the case may look to the pivotal justice: Anthony M. Kennedy. Karl Rove, Republican politico and White House adviser to President George W. Bush, sees pitfalls for Obama’s re-election whatever the court decides. But Democratic pollster/political consultant Mark Penn says Obama could claim victory with a ruling to uphold the law or turn a ruling to strike it down against his Republican opponent by depicting the GOP as having no alternative plan to increasing access to health care.

Takeaway: Liptak says the evidence from the justices’ questions on the court’s likely ruling in the case was “mixed.” The decision is not expected until late June.

For my coverage of the Supreme Court arguments, see entries on the CQ Researcher blog on March 26, 27 and 28; for my analysis, see Health-Care Economics Too Hard for Some on High Court, Jost on Justice, April 1, 2012.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor/Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press