Patt Morrison for June 1, 2011

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Late Sunday night a pair of Air Force F-16 fighter jets escorted a United Airlines Boeing 767 bound for Ghana back to Dulles International Airport, following a passenger scuffle. One passenger slapped the traveler a seat ahead of him on the head, after the latter reclined his chair too far back into the offended man’s lap. A flight attendant and another passenger broke up the ensuing fight, while the pilot turned back to Dulles. In response to a potential terrorist threat, two fighter jets took off from Andrews Air Force Base as soon as the plane had reentered Washington airspace and accompanied the plane on its 25 minute flight to burn off excess fuel before landing. The Dulles police awaited the passengers at the gate, but no charges were pressed. Increased security measures and quick responses to on-flight disturbances have become common in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and in recent years have led to the detection of terrorism plots to blow up aircraft with explosive-laden shoes or clothing. But did this scuffle warrant an entourage of fighter jets? Who determines the intensity of responses to security threats, and how are these decisions made?
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In a first vote that was meant to set the lines of demarcation in the coming budget fight, a bill that would raise the U.S. debt limit by $2.4 trillion went down to defeat in the House of Representatives yesterday. Of course the bill was designed to lose as part of the wider posturing and negotiations that are ongoing in the twin efforts to increase the national debt ceiling and cut the $14+ trillion debt. House Republicans met with President Obama today, looking for an agreement on spending cuts made in exchange for raising the debt ceiling; and Vice President Joe Biden has been leading negotiations for weeks with the idea of a grand bargain that could lead to $1 trillion in spending cuts for a boost in the debt ceiling. What might $1 trillion in cuts look like? Farm subsidies, benefits for government workers and spending caps have all been discussed, and while $1 trillion isn’t chump change, there are many more difficult decisions to be made. Will the debt ceiling ultimately be increased and is the country’s political leadership finally serious about tackling our structural debt?
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In the 1970s, chemical flame retardants were banned from being used in children’s pajamas because of a connection found to cancer. New research now finds that the same chemical, Tris, is in furniture and baby products, such as nursing pillows, car seats, and highchairs. Critics of the chemical point to studies finding relation between the chemical and reduced IQ in children, reduced fertility, thyroid problems, endocrine disruption, and cancer. Defendants of the fire retardant chemical say that the retardants have dramatically lessened deaths caused by upholstered furniture and that it is not clear that the flame retardant actually comes out of the product. In direct opposition, Tris critics claim the retardant has not actually increased fire safety. About a month ago, state Sen. Mark Leno’s Consumer Choice Fire Safety Act, which would create an alternative furniture standard that maintains fire safety without the chemical retardant, was voted down 8 to 1 in committee—critics say because of the powerful fire retardant chemical industry lobby. The Act will be up for a vote again in a year. How will California legislators—whose strict flammability rule has become a de facto national standard—juggle their efforts to protect Californians and their babies from being burned as well as from getting cancer?
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Donor Unknown: Adventures in the Sperm Trade

When JoEllen was 7, her two mothers showed her the donor profile of her anonymous biological father: age 28, Caucasian, 6”, blue eyes, light brown hair. A year ago, at age 20, JoEllen used the online Donor Sibling Registry to connect with more than a dozen of her half-siblings. The New York Times picked up the story, and Jeffrey Harrison, living alone with four dogs and a pigeon in a broken-down RV in a Venice Beach car park, got a hold of the story. Jeffrey donated sperm three or four times a week, totaling 500 times, during the 1980s and 1990s to help pay the rent—and JoEllen and her half-siblings were the result. The documentary Donor Unknown tells the story of the new kind of ‘family’ that results when Jeffrey decides to give up anonymity and meet his children. As several countries start to ban donor anonymity, there is a booming industry in the U.S. of reproductive tourism and shipping eggs and sperm abroad. Should the U.S. put children’s rights over adult’s, as critics argue, and ban donor anonymity? Given the fear of half-siblings meeting romantically, should there be a limit to the number of times a person can donate egg or sperm? Should parents be obligated to tell their children if they have a donor parent? Patt talks to JoEllen, Cryobank co-founder and director, and a bioethicist to explore these questions.
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In 2008 a cyber attack against the Pentagon’s computer network—it was believed to have originated in Russia but the Russian government denied complicity—rattled the Defense Department to the point of briefing then President George W. Bush. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin’s computer systems were hacked just last week, exposing sensitive military hardware information. And on the offensive side of things, the “Stuxnet” computer virus unleashed on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges from an unknown source (Israel, the U.S.?) is credited with slowing down that country’s development of nuclear weapons. Cyber warfare is an increasingly expected part of traditional warfare and as such requires the usual doctrines of engagement. The Pentagon first formal cyber strategy goes as far as classifying certain types of cyber attacks as acts of war—under the concept of equivalence, if a cyber attack produces death, destruction or high-level economic disruption then it could be a candidate for a “use of force” response. But can the identity of cyber attackers ever be truly confirmed, and can bullets best megabytes?
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Should cheerleading become an NCAA sport?

Should cheerleading be a sport? The question has vexed universities, sports enthusiasts and feminists for decades, but now two groups have submitted competing proposals to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to recognize cheerleading as an emerging sport for women. Opponents have traditionally said it sends the wrong message to women, that it literally and figuratively puts them on the sidelines of male-dominated sports and offers universities an easy path to skirt Title IX obligations to provide equal athletic opportunities to male and female students. But competitive cheerleaders say that’s an image from the past; today’s cheering is much more sophisticated and deeply rooted in stunts and gymnastics. To the casual observer, the competing proposals differ only in details—how the competition should be scored, how to structure the season and whether the sport will ultimately look more like stunts or gymnastics. But both aim to make it an NCAA-recognized sport that would ban cheerleaders from cheering for other athletic games. What could that mean for athletic scholarships and even the iconic image of cheerleaders on the sidelines?
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