Issues for Debate in Sociology: Selections from CQ Researcher

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    Social Structure, Processes, and Control
    Celebrity Culture: Are Americans Too Focused on Celebrities?

    In early February, North Korea's leader bragged about his nuclear arsenal, the lagging U.S. dollar started climbing and the Prince of Wales announced his engagement. But the serious-minded readers of Bloomberg News were most interested in Charles and Camilla. Americans have an insatiable appetite for celebrity news, and the juicier the better — from Brad and Jennifer's breakup to Michael Jackson's trial to Martha Stewart's jail term. Some observers say it's harmless to follow the lives of celebrities. Indeed, they even say we are genetically programmed to care, and that the heavy focus on celebrities simply reflects that interest. But media critics say celebrity coverage is squeezing out legitimate news and that, as a result, the United States is becoming a nation that knows more about the “Battle of the Network Stars” than the battle for Baghdad. With less attention being paid to informing citizens about government and the world around them, the critics warn, a cornerstone of a democratic society — an informed populace — is being put in jeopardy.

    Teaching Values: Do School-Based Programs Violate Parents' Beliefs?

    Thousands of schools in more than a dozen states are participating in a new movement to teach values in schools. Leaders of the “character education” movement point to moral decline among America's youth — evidenced by rising rates of teen pregnancy and youth crime — as the main reason schools should teach values. The programs, which vary greatly depending on the school, have provoked relatively little controversy locally. However, both conservative Christians and civil libertarians see the potential for schools to impose ideologies contrary to parents' values. Leading character-education advocates contend that schools can teach such basic values as respect and responsibility without wading into controversial areas like abortion, sex education and homosexuality.

    Cyber Socializing: Are Internet Sites Like MySpace Potentially Dangerous?

    Internet socializing has become hugely popular, and Web sites that help people meet potential dates, find new friends and keep track of old ones are big business. Hundreds of sites attract tens of millions of users, and more sites come online daily. Born along with the Internet in the early 1970s, online socializing has helped people worldwide link to others with common interests for conversation and support. Nevertheless, new social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace raise more troubling privacy issues than traditional Internet chat rooms. Visitors to such sites can access not only individuals' posted profiles but also profiles of their friends. Parents and law enforcement agencies worry that predators can use the information to contact vulnerable teens. Some states are considering requiring tighter security and confidentiality, and a bill introduced in the House of Representatives would require schools and libraries to block teenagers from the sites.

    Closing Guantánamo: Can Obama Close the Detention Camp within One Year?

    President Obama on his second full day in office ordered the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year. The facility at the U.S. Naval Station in Cuba has been controversial ever since President George W. Bush decided in late 2001 to use it to hold suspected enemy combatants captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Both Obama and Republican candidate John McCain promised during the presidential campaign to close the facility if elected. But that poses many difficult issues about the camp's remaining 241 prisoners. The government wants to send many to other countries — with few takers so far — but worries that some may resume hostile activities against the United States. Some may be brought to the U.S. for trial, but those prosecutions would raise a host of uncharted legal issues. Meanwhile, opposition already has surfaced to any plans for housing detainees in the United States. And human-rights advocates worry the Obama administration may continue to back some form of preventive detention for suspected terrorists.

    Inequality
    Middle-Class Squeeze: Is More Government Aid Needed?

    Millions of families who once enjoyed the American dream of home ownership and upward financial mobility are sliding down the economic ladder — some into poverty. Many have been forced to seek government help for the first time. The plunging fortunes of working families are pushing the U.S. economy deeper into recession as plummeting demand for goods and services creates a downward economic spiral. A consumption binge and growing consumer debt beginning in the 1990s contributed to the middle-class squeeze, but the bigger culprits were exploding prices for necessities such as housing, medical care and college tuition, cuts in employer-funded benefits and, some say, government policies that favored the wealthy. President Barack Obama has promised major aid for the middle class, and some economists are calling for new programs — most notably national health coverage — to assist working Americans.

    Debating Hip-Hop: Does Gangsta Rap Harm Black Americans?

    Since exploding from the streets of New York in the 1970s, the cultural phenomenon known as hip-hop has morphed from hard-driving dance numbers into sex- and violence-filled “gangsta rap” — and a record label goldmine. Gangsta lyrics have sparked periodic outbreaks of indignation, but the outrage intensified after white shock jock Don Imus was fired in April for describing black female athletes in the degrading terms used commonly by hip-hop performers. African-American leaders, including Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey and the Rev. Al Sharpton, claim the genre's glorification of thug culture — often for the entertainment of white youths — drags down the black community. In response, a few top hip-hop figures have called for cleaning up gangsta content. Meanwhile, a school of socially conscious hip-hop remains vibrant, embraced by political activists, school reformers and artistic innovators who call it an inspiration no matter what happens to the gangsta style.

    Gender Pay Gap: Are Women Paid Fairly in the Workplace?

    More than four decades after Congress passed landmark anti-discrimination legislation —including the Equal Pay Act of 1963 — a debate continues to rage over whether women are paid fairly in the workplace. Contending that gender bias contributes to a significant “pay gap,” reformists support proposed federal legislation aimed at bringing women's wages more closely in line with those of men. Others say new laws are not needed because the wage gap largely can be explained by such factors as women's choices of occupation and the amount of time they spend in the labor force. Meanwhile, a class-action suit charging Wal-Mart Stores with gender bias in pay and promotions — the biggest sex-discrimination lawsuit in U.S. history — may be heading for the Supreme Court. Some women's advocates argue that a controversial high-court ruling last year makes it more difficult to sue over wage discrimination.

    Women's Rights: Are Violence and Discrimination Against Women Declining?

    Women around the world have made significant gains in the past decade, but tens of millions still face significant and often appalling hardship. Most governments now have gender-equality commissions, electoral gender quotas and laws to protect women against violence. But progress has been mixed. A record number of women now serve in parliaments, but only 14 of the world's 193 countries currently have elected female leaders. Globalization has produced more jobs for women, but they still constitute 70 percent of the world's poorest inhabitants and 64 percent of the illiterate. Spousal abuse, female infanticide, genital mutilation, forced abortions, bride-burnings, acid attacks and sexual slavery remain pervasive in some countries, and rape and sexual mutilation have reached epic proportions in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. Experts say without greater economic, political and educational equality, the plight of women will not improve, and society will continue suffering the consequences.

    Institutions
    Future of Marriage: Is Traditional Matrimony Going Out of Style?

    In the past 40 years, the nation's marriage rate has dropped from three-quarters of American households to slightly over half. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of all U.S. marriages now end in divorce, and the number of households with unmarried couples has risen dramatically. Some scholars say that although traditional marriage will not disappear entirely, it will never again be the nation's pre-eminent social arrangement. In the future, they say, the United States will look more like Europe, where couples increasingly are opting to cohabit rather than marry. But other experts argue that the recent decrease in the divorce rate and other positive trends point to a brighter future for marriage. Meanwhile, actions by a number of state courts and local officials in favor of same-sex unions have helped ignite a debate over the issue and prompted conservatives to push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

    Student Aid: Will Many Low-Income Students Be Left Out?

    With a record number of students hoping to attend college next year — and fees higher than ever — finding a way to pay the bills will be tough for many. Congress and the Bush administration made common cause in 2007 to increase federal Pell Grants for students and reduce some student-loan interest rates. Nevertheless, critics say the increases won't go far enough. To help middle-class families, states increasingly offer merit-based grants for college aid. But with merit scholarships replacing need-based aid, low-income and minority students — who often don't have the grades for scholarships — are finding their college dreams harder to realize. Meanwhile, longtime concern that private lenders rake in excess profits from their high-interest student loans has reached new heights. Investigations of student lending are being conducted in several states, even as universities and lenders settle allegations of loan fraud with New York's attorney general.

    Religious Fundamentalism: Does It Lead to Intolerance and Violence?

    People around the world are embracing fundamentalism, a belief in the literal interpretation of holy texts and, among the more hard-line groups, the desire to replace secular law with religious law. At the same time, deadly attacks by religious extremists in India, Uganda, Somalia and Nigeria are on the rise — and not just among Muslims. Meanwhile, political Islamism — which seeks to install Islamic law via the ballot box — is increasing in places like Morocco and in Muslim communities in Europe. Christian evangelicalism and Pentacostalism — the denominations from which fundamentalism derives — also are flourishing in Latin America, Africa, Central Asia and the United States. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish fundamentalists are blamed for exacerbating instability in the Middle East and beyond by establishing and expanding settlements on Palestinian lands. And intolerance is growing among Hindus in India, leading to deadly attacks against Christians and others. As experts debate what is causing the spread of fundamentalism, others question whether fundamentalists should have a greater voice in government.

    The Obama Presidency: Can Barack Obama Deliver the Change He Promises?

    As the 44th president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama confronts a set of challenges more daunting perhaps than any chief executive has faced since the Great Depression and World War II. At home, the nation is in the second year of a recession that Obama warns may get worse before the economy starts to improve. Abroad, he faces the task of withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, reversing the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan and trying to ease the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Still, Obama begins his four years in office with the biggest winning percentage of any president in 20 years and a strong Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. In addition, as the first African-American president, Obama starts with a reservoir of goodwill from Americans and people and governments around the world. But he began encountering criticism and opposition from Republicans in his first days in office as he filled in the details of his campaign theme: “Change We Can Believe In.”

    HPV Vaccine: Should It Be Mandatory for School Girls?

    A new vaccine that prevents infections from a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that causes cervical cancer is being hailed as a major achievement in women's health. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil, is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for girls ages 11–12, and could be used by females ages 9–26. Some state lawmakers moved quickly to make inoculations mandatory for school attendance to ensure vaccine access regardless of socioeconomic status. The requirement was approved in the District of Columbia and Virginia. But reactions to an aggressive lobbying campaign by vaccine manufacturer Merck coupled with general concerns about immunization safety stalled efforts to mandate the shots in many states. Conservative groups joined the opposition, saying the vaccine would encourage inappropriate sexual activity and override parental autonomy.

    Social Dynamics
    Declining Birthrates: Will the Trend Worsen Global Economic Woes?

    Nations around the globe worry that low or falling birthrates will cause severe economic problems, including shortages of workers to pay into social security systems to support growing numbers of retirees. While the coming retirement of American baby boomers engenders concern, the United States is exceptional among major industrialized Western nations because its birthrate produces enough children to maintain the population as elderly people die. Most of Europe as well as Japan and China are well below population replacement levels. The current global economic downturn could worsen the situation by forcing young couples to postpone having children until the economy improves. Meanwhile, governments are casting about for solutions, such as cutting spending on the elderly, requiring workers to stay on the job longer before drawing benefits and offering cash bonuses to families to encourage them to have more children.

    Rapid Urbanization: Can Cities Cope with Rampant Growth?

    About 3.3 billion people — half of Earth's inhabitants — live in cities, and the number is expected to hit 5 billion within 20 years. Most urban growth today is occurring in developing countries, where about a billion people live in city slums. Delivering services to crowded cities has become increasingly difficult, especially in the world's 19 “megacities” — those with more than 10 million residents. Moreover, most of the largest cities are in coastal areas, where they are vulnerable to flooding caused by climate change. Many governments are striving to improve city life by expanding services, reducing environmental damage and providing more jobs for the poor, but some still use heavy-handed clean-up policies like slum clearance. Researchers say urbanization helps reduce global poverty because new urbanites earn more than they could in their villages. The global recession could reverse that trend, however, as many unemployed city dwellers return to rural areas. But most experts expect rapid urbanization to resume once the economic storm has [Dave/Nancy: This paragraph was incomplete in the original version of the article. Would you be able to complete this sentence, or should we delete it altogether?]

    Reducing Your Carbon Footprint: Can Individual Actions Reduce Global Warming?

    As climate change rises closer to the top of the government's policy agenda — and an economic crisis intensifies — more and more consumers are trying to change their behavior so they pollute and consume less. To reduce their individual “carbon footprints,” many are cutting gasoline and home-heating consumption, choosing locally grown food and recycling. While such actions are important in curbing global warming, the extent to which consumers can reduce or reverse broad-scale environmental damage is open to debate. Moreover, well-intentioned personal actions can have unintended consequences that cancel out positive effects. To have the greatest impact, corporate and government policy must lead the way, many environmental advocates say.

    Socially Responsible Investing: Can Investors Do Well by Doing Good?

    Socially responsible investing, which combines financial goals with the aim of improving society through stock screening, shareholder activism and other methods, has grown into a multi-trillion-dollar industry. Concerns about climate change, worker rights and other issues are prompting big institutional accounts as well as small investors to put more and more emphasis on social, environmental and corporate governance factors in weighing investment decisions. But critics say stock-screening methods used by mutual funds are subjective and that socially responsible investments tend not to perform as well as conventional ones. Some of the harshest criticism has been directed at public pension funds using social-investing approaches, such as the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which uses a “double bottom line” approach to investing.

    Preface

    Are Internet sites like MySpace potentially dangerous? Does gangsta rap harm black Americans? Is traditional matrimony going out of style? Can Barack Obama deliver the change he promises? Can individual actions reduce global warming? These questions and many more are addressed in a unique selection of articles for debate offered exclusively through CQ Researcher, CQ Press and SAGE. This collection intended for introductory sociology courses aims to promote in-depth discussion, facilitate further research and help students formulate their own positions on crucial issues.

    This first edition includes seventeen up-to-date reports by CQ Researcher, an award-winning weekly policy brief that brings complicated issues down to earth. Each report chronicles and analyzes current issues in our society. This collection was carefully crafted to cover a range of issues including celebrity culture, cyber socializing, women's rights, student aid, the Obama Presidency and much more. All in all, this reader will help your students gain a deeper, more critical perspective of timely and important issues.

    CQ Researcher

    CQ Researcher was founded in 1923 as Editorial Research Reports and was sold primarily to newspapers as a research tool. The magazine was renamed and redesigned in 1991 as CQ Researcher. Today, students are its primary audience. While still used by hundreds of journalists and newspapers, many of which reprint portions of the reports, the Researcher's main subscribers are now high school, college and public libraries. In 2002, Researcher won the American Bar Association's coveted Silver Gavel award for magazine excellence for a series of nine reports on civil liberties and other legal issues.

    Researcher staff writers — all highly experienced journalists — sometimes compare the experience of writing a Researcher report to drafting a college term paper. Indeed, there are many similarities. Each report is as long as many term papers — about 11,000 words — and is written by one person without any significant outside help. One of the key differences is that writers interview leading experts, scholars and government officials for each issue.

    Like students, staff writers begin the creative process by choosing a topic. Working with the Researcher's editors, the writer identifies a controversial subject that has important public policy implications. After a topic is selected, the writer embarks on one to two weeks of intense research. Newspaper and magazine articles are clipped or downloaded, books are ordered and information is gathered from a wide variety of sources, including interest groups, universities and the government. Once the writers are well informed, they develop a detailed outline, and begin the interview process. Each report requires a minimum of ten to fifteen interviews with academics, officials, lobbyists and people working in the field. Only after all interviews are completed does the writing begin.

    Chapter Format

    Each issue of CQ Researcher, and therefore each selection in this book, is structured in the same way. Each begins with an overview, which briefly summarizes the areas that will be explored in greater detail in the rest of the chapter. The next section chronicles important and current debates on the topic under discussion and is structured around a number of key questions. These questions are usually the subject of much debate among practitioners and scholars in the field. Hence, the answers presented are never conclusive but detail the range of opinion on the topic.

    Next, the “Background” section provides a history of the issue being examined. This retrospective covers important legislative measures, executive actions and court decisions that illustrate how current policy has evolved. Then the “Current Situation” section examines contemporary policy issues, legislation under consideration and legal action being taken. Each selection concludes with an “Outlook” section, which addresses possible regulation, court rulings and initiatives from Capitol Hill and the White House over the next five to ten years.

    Each report contains features that augment the main text: two to three sidebars that examine issues related to the topic at hand, a pro versus con debate between two experts, a chronology of key dates and events and an annotated bibliography detailing major sources used by the writer.

    Acknowledgments

    We wish to thank many people for helping to make this collection a reality. Tom Colin, managing editor of CQ Researcher, gave us his enthusiastic support and cooperation as we developed this edition. He and his talented staff of editors and writers have amassed a first-class library of Researcher reports, and we are fortunate to have access to that rich cache. We also wish to thank our colleagues at CQ Press, a division of SAGE and a leading publisher of books, directories, research publications and Web products on U.S. government, world affairs and communications. They have forged the way in making these readers a useful resource for instruction across a range of undergraduate and graduate courses.

    Some readers may be learning about CQ Researcher for the first time. We expect that many readers will want regular access to this excellent weekly research tool. For subscription information or a no-obligation free trial of CQ Researcher, please contact CQ Press at http://www.cqpress.com or toll-free at 1-866-4CQ-PRESS (1-866-427-7737).

    We hope that you will be pleased by this edition of Issues for Debate in Sociology: Selections From CQ Researcher. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for future editions. Please direct comments to David Repetto, Sr. Acquisitions Editor, Pine Forge Press, an Imprint of SAGE Publications, 2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91320, or david.repetto@sagepub.com.

    —The Editors of SAGE

    Contributors

    Howard Altman is the courts and cops team leader at the Tampa Tribune. He was formerly Mid-Hudson Regional Editor of the Times Herald-Record, in Middletown, New York, and editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia City Paper. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, American Journalism Review,http://wired.com. and http://salon.com, and he is the recipient of more than 50 journalism awards. He graduated from Ithaca College with a BS in communications.

    Brian Beary—a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.—specializes in European Union (EU) affairs and is the U.S. correspondent for Europolitics, the EU-affairs daily newspaper. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, he worked in the European Parliament for Irish MEP Pat “The Cope” Gallagher in 2000 and at the EU Commission's Eurobarometer unit on public opinion analysis. A fluent French speaker, he appears regularly as a guest international-relations expert on television and radio programs. Beary also writes for the European Parliament Magazine and the Irish Examiner daily newspaper. His last report for CQ Global Researcher was “Race for the Arctic.”

    Thomas J. Billitteri is a CQ Researcher staff writer based in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, who has more than 30 years' experience covering business, nonprofit institutions and public policy for newspapers and other publications. His recent CQ Researcher reports include “Campaign Finance,” “Human Rights in China” and “Financial Bailout.” He holds a BA in English and an MA in journalism from Indiana University.

    Nellie Bristol is a veteran Capitol Hill reporter who has covered health policy in Washington for more than 20 years. She now writes for The Lancet, The British Medical Journal and the Journal of Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. She graduated in American studies from The George Washington University, where she is now working toward a master's degree in public health.

    Marcia Clemmitt is a veteran social-policy reporter who previously served as editor in chief of Medicine and Health, a Washington industry newsletter, and staff writer for The Scientist. She has also been a high school math and physics teacher. She holds a liberal arts and sciences degree from St. John's College, Annapolis, and a master's degree in English from Georgetown University. Her recent reports include “Climate Change,” “Controlling the Internet” and “Pork Barrel Politics.”

    Karen Foerstel is a freelance writer who has worked for the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report and Daily Monitor, The New York Post and Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper. She has published two books on women in Congress, Climbing the Hill: Gender Conflict in Congress and The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Congress. Her most recent CQ Global Researcher was “China in Africa.” She has worked in Africa with ChildsLife International, a nonprofit that helps needy children around the world, and with Blue Ventures, a marine conservation organization that protects coral reefs in Madagascar.

    Sarah Glazer, a London-based freelancer, is a regular contributor to the CQ Researcher. Her articles on social policy issues have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Public Interest and Gender and Work, a book of essays. Her recent CQ Researcher reports include “Fair Trade Labeling” and “Future of Feminism” and “Antisemitism in Europe” in CQ Global Researcher. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in American history.

    Kenneth Jost graduated from Harvard College and Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author of the Supreme Court Yearbook and editor of The Supreme Court from A to Z (both CQ Press). He was a member of the CQ Researcher team that won the American Bar Association's 2002 Silver Gavel Award. His previous reports include “Treatment of Detainees” and “War on Terrorism.”

    Peter Katel is a CQ Researcher staff writer who previously reported on Haiti and Latin America for Time and Newsweek and covered the Southwest for newspapers in New Mexico. He has received several journalism awards, including the Bartolomé Mitre Award for coverage of drug trafficking from the Inter-American Press Association. He holds an AB in university studies from the University of New Mexico. His recent reports include “New Strategy in Iraq,” “Prison Reform” and “Real ID.”

    David Masci specializes in science, religion and foreign policy issues. Before joining The CQ Researcher in 1996, he was a reporter at Congressional Quarterly's Daily Monitor and CQ Weekly. He holds a law degree from The George Washington University and a BA in medieval history from Syracuse University. His recent reports include “Rebuilding Iraq” and “Human Trafficking and Slavery.”

    Jennifer Weeks is a CQ Researcher contributing writer in Watertown, Massachusetts, who specializes in energy and environmental issues. She has written for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe Magazine and other publications, and has 15 years' experience as a public-policy analyst, lobbyist and congressional staffer. She has an AB degree from Williams College and master's degrees from the University of North Carolina and Harvard. Her previous CQ Global Researcher examined “Carbon Trading.”

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