Weekly Roundup 7/31/12

6 Ways Big Banks Screwed Grandma in the Price-Fixing Scandal That's Rocking the World
Alexander Arapoglou and Jerri-Lynn Scofield, Alternet, July 26, 2012

Synopsis: When British banks tampered with interest rates, the result was sharply lowered earnings for bank CDs and pension-fund investments. That harmed ordinary people, especially the elderly.

Takeaway: Why, with interest rates declining, did so many elderly people lose their homes? One reason: while returns on fixed income investments plummeted, reducing the income the elderly have to pay their bills, many were locked into fixed-rate mortgages. “Since Grandma has probably left the workforce and therefore lacks a salary, she’s unlikely to be able to refinance her house."

For related material, see the following CQ Researcher reports: Financial Misconduct (Jan. 20, 2012), Financial Industry Overhaul (July 30, 2010), Financial Bailout (Oct. 24, 2008; updated July 30, 2010), and Mortgage Crisis (Nov. 2, 2007; updated Aug. 9, 2010).

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Hope in the Wreckage
Suzy Hansen, The New York Times Magazine, July 29, 2012

Synopsis:  An Iranian approach to health care is being used in impoverished rural Mississippi, and it seems to be saving lives.

Takeaway: The HealthConnect network in the Mississippi Delta, where there are few if any doctors, runs “health houses” modeled after an Iranian approach. Health aides at small health centers advise local residents on nutrition and family planning; take blood pressure, monitor environmental conditions like water quality and keep track of prenatal care needs. People who become very sick are referred to a district hospital.

For related reading, see the CQ Researcher report Health-Care Reform (June 11, 2010, updated May 24, 2011).

-- Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Weekly Roundup 7/23/2012

Mark Edmundson, The New York Times, July 19, 2012
Synopsis: Online education doesn't allow the kind of teacher-student or student-student interaction that makes learning come alive, argues a University of Virginia professor of English.

Takeaway: "We tend to think that the spellbinding lecturers we had in college survey classes were gifted actors.... But I think that the best of those lecturers are highly adept at reading their audiences...They feel it when the class is engaged, and when it slips off. And they do something about it....The Internet teacher, even one who responds to students via e-mail, can never have the immediacy of contact that the teacher on the scene can.”

For more, see our reports on Digital Education (Dec. 2, 2011) and Career Colleges (Jan. 7, 2011).

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

By Scott Anderson, The New York Times Magazine, July 22, 2012

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Greg Ousley shot and killed his parents at home in Indiana. He has been in an adult prison for 19 years and says he is sorry for the crime and rehabilitated. He wants his freedom.

Takeaway: Does it make sense to keep Greg in prison? Many people who know Greg, including the warden and his caseworker, say he is a changed person, and some but not all his family members favor his release. “Greg’s case is a telling one in the national debate over just what is accomplished by sentencing juveniles to long prison sentences. In the case of juvenile parricide, there is an added paradox. Because it is among the most target-specific of crimes, criminologists believe that an abused juvenile who killed a parent is likely to be at low risk of future criminality if he gets treatment and has a strong social support system when he is released.”

For background see Youth Violence, March 5, 2010 and Downsizing Prisons, March 11, 2011.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Weekly Roundup 7/17/2012

Crooked Bankers Are Corrupting Government: The Real LIBOR Story
Richard Eskow, Huffington Post, July 11, 2012

Synopsis: The truly alarming financial news is not that banks manipulate the LIBOR  -- the interest rate banks charge other banks -- says Eskow, a writer for a liberal advocacy group. The big story is that politicians, regulators and financial journalists ignored the immoral and damaging practice.

Takeaway: "Reports say that the Fed knew about Barclays' deception back in 2007" but nevertheless "rescued Barclays and its executives with nearly a trillion dollars in publicly backed loans,” Eskow writes. “That means that Barclays probably made billions off the reduced interest rate alone, courtesy of the American people...after [the Fed] learned that the bank was lying."

For more, see our reports on "Financial Misconduct," Jan. 20, 2012, and "Financial Industry Overhaul," July 30, 2010.

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Amid Reports of Ineptitude, Concerns Over Security at London Olympics
John F. Burns, The New York Times, July 15, 2012, p. 10

Synopsis: Two weeks before the start of the London Summer Olympics, security experts, whistleblowers and even government officials say security plans are in complete disarray.

Takeaway: The problems go far beyond the shortfall in private security guards, which will now be filled by Britain’s armed forces. For example, recruits repeatedly failed to spot fake bombs and grenades during X-ray training, and cleared people through security without spotting hidden weapons.

For background see “Hosting the Olympics,” CQ Global Researcher, July 3, 2012.

-- Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

This Week’s Report: “Privatizing the Military”

Over the past decade, the United States has hired tens of thousands of private security contractors to support its military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, alleviating some of the pressure on American service personnel but raising significant questions about the role of soldiers-for-hire in U.S. foreign policy, according to this week’s Researcher.

As staff writer Marcia Clemmitt notes, politicians and military leaders long resisted sending large numbers of private contractors into war zones. But that thinking changed in the past two decades. “The government has increasingly turned to security companies … to assist in armed and unarmed military operations and help other government agencies working abroad,” Clemmitt writes. The trend originally was driven by military downsizing in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in the early 1990s, but “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fueled it, as has increased public acceptance of privatization as a way to increase quality and efficiency while reducing the number of jobs handled by government.”

While most contractors perform mundane duties, such as running food-service operations on military bases or building temporary structures, a growing number have taken on “delicate, mission-critical jobs” that analysts say “skate perilously close to duties that should be performed only by military personnel,” Clemmitt writes.  That expanded role has led to charges that using contractors for dangerous or questionable military activities gives policymakers too much latitude to take military action without citizens’ support or lawmakers’ consent.

This important report is ideal for those studying foreign policy, political science, military policy and history, the growing trend of privatization in both the public and private sectors and the application of human-rights law to international business.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor  

Weekly Roundup 7/9/2012

Verizon: Net Neutrality Violates Our Free Speech Rights
Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica, July 3, 2012

Synopsis: As debate continues over "net neutrality," Verizon argues that requiring Internet providers to treat all content equally would violate its free-speech rights as the Internet's owner and publisher.

Takeaway: "Broadband networks are the modern-day microphone by which their owners [e.g. Verizon] engage in First Amendment speech,” Verizon writes. Verizon believes that it's entitled to the same kind of control over the content that flows through its network as newspaper editors exercise over what appears in their papers. That includes the right to prioritize its own content, or those of its partners, over other Internet traffic."

For more, see our report on "Internet Regulation," April 13, 2012.

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Drone Zone
Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times Magazine, July 9, 2012

Synopsis: Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico is the Air Force’s primary training center for Predator and Reaper pilots, who can become certified in less than two years. But problems with flying planes from the ground remain.

Takeaway: Much is known about the government’s drone program, but much remains under wraps. The Pentagon, which is increasing its drone fleet by 30 percent, has acknowledged its drone operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But programs run by the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command remain classified.

For background see the CQ Researcher report "Drone Warfare," Aug. 6, 2010, updated April 27, 2012.

-- Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

This Week's Report: Whale Hunting

Once hunted aggressively for their oil, blubber and other byproducts, whales and other marine mammals are widely viewed today as intelligent creatures in need of protection. But despite a voluntary moratorium on commercial whaling in place since 1986, Japan, Norway and Iceland still hunt whales, and Japan continues to slaughter dolphins for their meat.

As this week’s compelling report details, hunting of whales, dolphins and porpoises continues to spark bitter disputes between animal-welfare activists and countries that defend whaling as legitimate. Meanwhile, other forces are also threatening marine life. They include climate change, entanglement in commercial-fishing gear and ocean noise pollution.

This report includes sidebars on a rare dolphin species in China that has gone extinct and on links between underwater sonar testing and the death of marine mammals. The report is ideal for classes on environmental policy, animal rights and international politics.

-- Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 7/2/2012

Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program: Data Collection Summary
U.S. Department of Education, June 2012

Homeless Students Top 1 Million, U.S. Says, Leaving Advocates 'Horrified'
Saki Knafo and Joy Resmovits, Huffington Post, June 28, 2012

Synopsis: In the 2010-11 school year, over a million homeless children and teens were enrolled in U.S. schools, up 57 percent from 2007.

Takeaway: "Only 52 percent of the homeless students who took standardized tests were deemed to be proficient in reading, and only 51 percent passed math tests. 'It sets you far behind. It's socially and emotionally disruptive,'” said Barbara Duffield, policy director for the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth."

For more, see our reports on "Fixing Urban Schools" (April 27, 2007 - updated June 5, 2012) and "Child Poverty" (Oct. 28, 2011).

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


A Snitch’s Dilemma
Ted Conover, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, July 1, 2012

Synopsis: This fascinating in-depth report on the life of police informant Alex White is better than any TV police drama – and twice as shocking.

Takeaway: White was making good money helping the police make drug cases, but his life turned upside down when “dirty” cops asked him to help them cover up an illegal shooting.

For background see the CQ Researcher report "Police Misconduct" (April 6, 2012).

-- Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

Supreme Court Blurred Ideological Line in Momentous Term

By Kenneth Jost
Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press

The Supreme Court ended its 2011-2012 term by defying conventional wisdom and its own predominantly conservative orientation with rulings that gave President Obama important victories on health care and immigration. Even before the final week, however, the court’s record for the term gave liberals as much to like in some respects as conservatives, if not more.

Liberal justices were in the majority in all but one of the cases selected by CQ Press as the 10 most important of the term. The exception was a 5-4 ruling split along the usual conservative-liberal fault line that permits jails to strip search minor offenders. (See table below.)

Civil liberties and criminal defense groups are counting victories in half a dozen significant rulings that strengthened constitutional protections in police investigations and criminal trials and potentially lowered sentences for some offenders. Among those decisions was the 5-4 ruling in the court’s final week that barred states from imposing mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole on juvenile murderers.

First Amendment advocates counted a win with the 6-3 ruling on the court’s final decision day that struck down the federal Stolen Valor Act, which had made it a crime to lie about having received the Medal of Honor. Earlier, the court had blocked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from sanctioning the Fox and ABC television networks for programs that included brief vulgarities or adult nudity.

The court did not change its ideological spots completely. In its final week, the court summarily struck down a Montana law banning independent campaign expenditures by corporations. The 5-4 decision turned aside a plea by liberal justices to reconsider the 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that gave corporations and unions a First Amendment right to spend money in political campaigns.

The term’s litigation-related rulings also continued the court’s general trend under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. of narrowing remedies for plaintiffs for injuries from violations of federal or state laws. Two five-vote decisions divided along conservative-liberal lines prohibited damage suits against state governments for violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and barred recovery for emotional or mental distress for violations of the confidentiality provisions of the federal Privacy Act. 

Roberts, a Republican now completing his seventh court term as chief justice, cast the decisive vote in the two most important rulings of the court’s final week. His vote with the four liberal justices to save Obama’s health-care reform law elated Democrats and left many Republicans and conservatives spitting mad. He joined three liberals and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the more usual swing vote on the court, in striking down on federal preemption grounds major parts of Arizona’s immigration enforcement law known as S.B. 1070.

The health-care and immigration decisions were qualified victories for Democrats and liberals. Roberts’ pivotal opinion in the health care ruling, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, rejected the administration’s principal argument for upholding the individual health insurance mandate; he voted with the liberals, however, to uphold the provision not as Commerce Clause regulation but as a tax. In the immigration decision, Arizona v. United States, the court unanimously upheld the so-called “Show Me Your Papers” provision requiring police to verify a suspect’s immigration status if they reasonably believe someone stopped or arrested is in the country illegally.

The criminal law rulings also included some significant qualifications, but overall they represented substantial gains for suspects and defendants. The 5-4 ruling on juvenile murderers stopped short of a categorical ban on life-without-parole sentences. Writing for the majority, however, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that such sentences should rarely be imposed.

Kennedy provided the critical fifth vote for the liberal bloc in the juvenile sentencing case and in three other closely divided criminal law rulings. Two of the decisions strengthened the right-to-counsel requirement for defendants during plea bargaining; the third reduced prison terms for crack cocaine defendants sentenced after Congress lowered penalties in 2010. Roberts and fellow conservatives Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

The justices divided 6-3 across ideological lines in a late June ruling that requires juries, not judges, to make factual findings needed to raise criminal fines. Roberts was in the majority in the ruling, which set aside an $18 million fine for a corporate polluter; the dissenters were Kennedy, Alito and liberal Stephen G. Breyer.

Earlier, the justices were unanimous in a decision in a major drug case that limits the ability of police to use GPS tracking to surveil suspects.  The eventual impact is unclear, however, because the justices divided 5-4 across ideological lines on the legal basis for the ruling.

The impact of the ruling on the FCC indecency policy is also unclear. The decision rejected the FCC’s appeal to reinstate the sanctions against the two networks but without ruling on the constitutionality of the policy. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg urged the FCC to rethink the policy, but in a separate case Roberts later said the FCC’s power to censure networks for “fleeting expletives” or “fleeting images” of nudity is “clear.”

Similarly, the 6-3 ruling striking down the Stolen Valor Act left it up to Congress to consider rewriting a narrower law. Kennedy wrote the main opinion, but in a significant alignment for future First Amendment cases Breyer and Kagan joined on narrower grounds.

In a significant freedom-of-religion case, the court unanimously ruled that churches or other religious organizations are exempt from anti-discrimination laws in the hiring of clergy or anyone who performs ministerial functions. The decision turned aside a disability-rights case brought by a teacher at a religious school in Minnesota.

Paralleling Roberts’ occasional breaks with the conservatives, the court’s newest justices – Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – parted company with the senior liberals Ginsburg and Breyer in some cases. But several observers remarked on the surprising number of unanimous decisions, some in significant cases. As one example, the court unanimously allowed property owners to challenge an Environmental Protection Agency compliance order in court before enforcement.

Table 1-1: Major Cases: U.S. Supreme Court, 2011—2012 Term

CQ Press each term selects the major cases for the Supreme Court’s term. The selection is based on such factors as the rulings' practical impact; their significance as legal precedent; the degree of division on the Court; and the level of attention among interest groups, experts, and news media.
Name of Case
National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius
Upholds Affordable Care Act; narrows enforcement of Medicaid expansion
Arizona v. United States
Strikes three parts of state immigration law; allows immigration status checks (8-0)
Miller v. Alabama
Bars mandatory life-without-parole sentence for juvenile murderers
Lafler v. Cooper; Missouri v. Frye
Strengthens effective-assistance-of-counsel requirement at plea bargaining stage
United States v. Jones
Defines extended GPS tracking of suspect’s vehicle as search for Fourth Amendment purposes
Southern Union Co. v. United States
Requires jury finding beyond reasonable doubt of facts needed to raise criminal fine
United States v. Alvarez
Strikes down federal Stolen Valor Act on free-speech grounds
Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC
Exempts religious organizations from anti-discrimination laws in hiring of clergy
Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County
Allows jails to strip-search minor offenders
FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc.
Sets aside FCC order against TV networks for fleeting expletives, adult nudity
Here are some other especially noteworthy cases: American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock (strikes down state law banning independent campaign expenditures by corporations); Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland (bars damage suits against state government for violating Family and Medical Leave Act); Dorsey v. United States (applies lower sentences for crack cocaine to anyone sentenced after change in law); FAA v. Cooper (bars damages for mental/emotional distress for violations of federal Privacy Act); Knox v. Service Employees International Union (limits public sector union imposition of special assessment or agency shop fee increase); National Meat Ass’n v. Harris (strikes down California slaughterhouse-regulation law on preemption grounds); Perry v. New Hampshire (limits rules against use of suggestive eyewitness identification in criminal trials); Sackett v. EPA (allows pre-enforcement challenge of EPA compliance order); Williams v. Illinois (eases rule on DNA profile evidence in criminal trials).