Jessica Bennett

Stories by Jessica Bennett

  • Calling Net 911

    In the aftermath of the 2004 South Asian tsunami, and nine months later, when Hurricane Katrina hit, mainstream media struggled with a communications infrastructure a shambles. Some of the most poignant descriptions of the devastation and most effective calls for help were posted online. Blogs and message boards carried news about the disaster, calls for the missing, pleas for help and offers of assistance.Online information wasn't easy to get, of course. Even if you could hook up to the Internet, disorganized posts made it tough to find the right sources. That's where two University of Maryland professors come in. They're proposing a system that would combine the best aspects of MySpace, Craigslist and the U.S. Amber Alert. Named after the U.S. emergency phone number, their 911.gov network would take pressure off busy emergency dispatchers and make crucial information available to anyone with a mobile device. How would that work? Say there's been a flood or fire. Should you...
  • Do It Online

    Microfinancing for poor entrepreneurs is one of the hottest ideas for helping the developing world, particularly since its founding thinker, Muhammad Yunus, won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Global demand for microcredit is estimated at up to $300 billion a year, however, so Yunus's Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank can't possibly reach them all. But the Internet can. Alex Counts, president of the Grameen Foundation, calls the Net's potential "tremendous."Kiva.org is perhaps the leader in the field of microcredit online. Launched just over a year ago by two California idealists, Kiva ("unity" in Swahili) started out listing just seven Ugandan entrepreneurs as applicants, and has since brokered $2.5 million in loans to thousands of businesses. By 2008, it expects to surpass $10 million.With as little as $25, users lend to business owners of their choice, whether a seamstress in India or a juice seller in Mexico. Money is transferred through handpicked microfinance institutions, which...
  • Seeing Clearly

    Need a clear plastic bag to get through airport security? From Prada to Pucci, transparent totes are all the rage. Chanel's Naked bag--easily see-through with a silver strap--is "much more chic than a plastic Baggie," says Neiman Marcus's fashion director Ken Downing ($895; chanel.com ). Oscar de la Renta boasts a variety of styles, from patent-leather-trimmed to a mini makeup case ($350 to $895; oscardelarenta.com ). Fendi offers the stylishly mysterious B. Mix Hologram bag that uses an intricate hologram in its plastic that makes peeking hard $1,580; fendi.com ). Prada's Plexi-Tote, with vibrant reds and yellows, makes a perfect beach bag when summer arrives ($1,250; prada.com ). Just make sure that you don't have anything to hide.
  • Why Skinny Models Could Be Making Us Fat

    We know that the trend toward super-thin models is pushing some of them to go on potentially deadly diets. What's it doing to the rest of us? 
  • Surveillance: Video Evidence

    Video surveillance is proliferating, so it's no surprise that it's having a bigger presence in the courtroom. "Video evidence [has become] the single most powerful kind of evidence there is," says Harold Ruvoldt, a New York attorney. But how do you know whether it's been manipulated? U.S. and British courts require the testimony of forensics experts before they'll admit video evidence.Hany Farid, a forensics expert and computer-science professor at Dartmouth College, has developed a way of analyzing video data to detect signs of manipulation. Because video information is usually "compressed" to fit on a tape or hard drive, it must be uncompressed before it can be fiddled with, and then compressed again--each time leaving a telltale digital sign. Farid has developed a technique of teasing out these signs. He expects to have a computer program ready this summer.
  • Taking TV to The Internet

    G. Scott Paterson loves predicting the future--and according to his résumé, he's pretty good at it. At 42, the Toronto native has come to be known as one of Canada's premier venture capitalists. He has headed Yorkton Securities, a multimillion-dollar tech and media investment firm, served on countless boards--including that of Lions Gate Entertainment--and even started his own foundation that donates computers to troubled youth. All that and he's got a wife, four children, two BlackBerrys and four cell phones--and is taking on the biggest challenge of his career.It's JumpTV--a cross between YouTube, MySpace and cable television--that distributes ethnic TV online to immigrant groups in North America and Europe. Since taking over as CEO of the company in 2005, when it was struggling to find a vision, he's made JumpTV into perhaps the largest provider of online ethnic television in the world. The company now broadcasts 240 channels from 70 countries--from Latin America and the Middle...
  • ‘Is Santa Claus Real?’

    It's the oldest trick in the book: threaten the kids with a lump of coal, and they'll behave in the name of Santa Claus. That may have worked years ago, but today's youngsters are smarter, savvier and more high-tech. Threaten them with a charcoal brick, and they'll retort with questions about how it's possible for Santa to get down every chimney in the world in just one night. Today, studies show that only 25 percent of 8-year-olds still believe in Santa Claus, and those who do could easily run a Google search to find the nonbelievers. Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles-based child psychologist, spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett about the tricky dance that parents do when asked about jolly old St. Nick. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Some people say that parents are purposely deceiving their kids by lying to them about Santa.Robert Butterworth: Is it purposely deceiving or playing along with the fantasy? There are always those stories in the paper about the kindergarten teacher or parent who...
  • Naughty, Naughty

    It's hard to imagine Donald Trump being the forgiving type—at least when it comes to his money. So when reports of scandal about the current Miss USA surfaced last week, it seemed a safe bet that he'd say those famous words. Trump, after all, co-owns the Miss USA franchise with NBC. But he shocked fans and foes alike on Tuesday when he announced his decision not to the fire the embattled Tara Conner, despite allegations of hard-core partying, underage boozing, cocaine abuse and promiscuous activity. "I've always been a believer in second chances," the coifed billionaire told reporters on Tuesday, with a tearful Conner at his side. “She left a small town in Kentucky and she was telling me that she got caught up in the whirlwind of New York."Wait—what? When TMZ.Com broke the Tara Conner story last week, gossip rags and celebrity commentators were all but certain the 20-year-old (who turned 21 on Monday) would be stripped of her crown. She reportedly had been evicted from her...
  • Peddling Poison

    The radioactive poison that was used to kill former Russian KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko is apparently available online—and on the cheap. United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, which aims to “put the ‘fun’ back into science,” according to its Web site, sells 0.1 microcurie of the substance for just $69, plus shipping and handling (a microcurie is a measurement of radiation). The Albuquerque, N.M.-based company says it has supplied radioactive materials to businesses, government agencies, school teachers and “the science hobbyist” since 1998—and assures customers that they run no risk of being tipped off to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.Is it time to panic? Now that traces of radiation were found on two British Airways jets Wednesday, has polonium 210 become the new anthrax? The radioactive element turns out to be a fairly common substance that is used, in minute quantities, in fire detectors, spark plugs, antistatic devices, photo-developing equipment and many industrial...
  • ‘Flying While Muslim’

    As a Muslim-American and president of the North American Imams Federation, Dr. Omar Shahin is no stranger to the heightened security of a post-9/11 world. On more than one occasion, the Phoenix, Ariz., resident says he’s been picked out of a crowd by the color of his skin—interrogated, finger printed or detained. So when Shahin headed to the airport Monday with five other imams for a flight out of Minneapolis—where the NAIF had met for a conference—the group did everything they could to avoid suspicion, according to Shahin. They wore Western clothes, he says. The men spoke only English. They didn’t book their seats together. And when it came time to conduct their sunset-time prayers, Shahin says, they did so quietly, and not all together—hoping to avoid any unwanted attention.But when the group boarded their U.S. Airways flight bound for Phoenix, on which Shahin (a frequent flier on the airline) had been upgraded to first class, they would never leave the ground. After finding their...
  • ‘Fundamentally Flawed’

    For more than a decade, numerous human-rights organizations have forcefully made the case that Saddam Hussein is guilty of crimes against humanity. So when his case was the first to be brought before the Iraqi High Tribunal, the court set up to try those considered responsible for decades of rights violations, it was no surprise the trial itself was considered a victory for rights advocates. So why then, when the former dictator was found guilty Nov. 5, would any of these same groups object?Because Hussein’s trial, which resulted in a sentence of death by hanging for his complicity in the 1982 murders of 148 people in the Shiite town of Dujail, was "fundamentally flawed," says Human Rights Watch, a leading advocacy group. In a new 97-page report, "Judging Dujail," the New York-based organization says the trial's verdict is unsound and should be thrown out—marred by a torrent of procedural and substantive flaws. "The tribunal squandered an important opportunity to deliver credible...
  • A Whole New Battle

    Dawn and Bart Beye did everything by the book. When their teenage daughter began showing signs of a serious eating disorder, they caught on fast—confronting the illness in its early stages. When their child got progressively worse, they enrolled her in a full-time treatment program they thought was covered by insurance. But three weeks into their daughter’s treatment for anorexia—which experts say can take months—the Wayne, N.J., couple was told their insurance provider, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, would no longer pay for treatment.More than six months later, as their 16-year-old (whose name is not being identified at the family’s request) remains in a private recovery facility, the Beyes have spent tens of thousands for her treatment out-of-pocket. They’ve taken out home-equity loans, tapped every savings account—even depleted their childrens’ college funds. And on top of it all, Dawn, a special-education teacher, is out of work due to her own health: she found...
  • 'Unrealistic Weights'

    More than 11 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. But the myth that eating disorders only affect upper-class white women is false; more and more, both men and women of all ages and ethnic backgrounds are facing the challenges of a debilitating eating-related illness. With the release this week of "Thin," HBO's new documentary that follows three women through treatment of anorexia nervosa, eating disorders have been brought back into the spotlight. Dr. Cynthia Bulik, director of the eating-disorders program at the University of North Carolina and author of the book "Runaway Eating: The Eight-Point Plan to Conquer Adult Food and Weight Obsessions" ( Rodale ), says she thinks the film will raise questions about the illness, its treatment options and where to go for help. She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: What are some of the characteristics of a person suffering from an...
  • Elizabeth Edwards on Fighting Cancer

    In just a few months on the campaign trail in 2004 with her vice-presidential-candidate husband John, Elizabeth Edwards captivated America with her openness and personality. When she found out she had breast cancer just days before the election, she delayed announcing it until after the ballots were cast, determined not to let her illness be labeled as a publicity stunt. In the months following the news, Edwards was caught off guard by a flurry of support—not just from family and friends, but from total strangers. She says she received almost 100,000 supportive letters, and though she struggled through one of the most difficult periods of her life, it felt like she’d “been wrapped in an incredible blanket.”In those letters, “It didn’t matter if they were a Republican or a Democrat, it didn’t matter where they lived, whether it was this country or another country, what their native language was, what their religion was—all of those were swept away,” Edwards says. “It was such an...
  • For Sale: Toads and Eels

    Wal-Mart’s expansion into every nook and cranny of the United States has long been the stuff of corporate legend. Now the $300 billion retail empire is setting its sights on China, where the corporation has reportedly offered more than $1 billion to acquire Trust-Mart, the nation’s second-largest hypermarket chain. If the deal goes through, the purchase of Trust-Mart, which is privately owned by Taiwanese entrepreneurs, would represent one of the discount seller’s largest acquisitions in recent years. However, Wal-Mart’s previous foreign ventures have had mixed success: it’s done well in countries like Mexico, but has pulled out of its operations in Brazil, Japan, South Korea and Germany.What’s the reasoning behind Wal-Mart’s latest retail maneuver, and what can it gain from buying out a local company? NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett spoke with Charles Fishman, author of “The Wal-Mart Effect” ( Penguin ) about the corporation’s international ventures. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Put this billion...
  • Reopening Old Wounds

    When New Yorkers heard about a plane crashing into an Upper East Side building Wednesday, many naturally thought of September 11, 2001. Though federal officials promptly declared there was no evidence of a terrorist attack, images of smoke and debris and the cacophony of sirens and helicopters in the city couldn't help but stir up old fears. Dr. David Spiegel is an expert on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and has studied the stress levels of New York City residents in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jessica Bennett about how Wednesday’s crash might trigger stress symptoms. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: When something like this happens, what kind of emotions can it trigger?David Spiegel: Well certainly it can, will—and it did in me—trigger memories of 9/11, and you wonder, "Is it another terrorist attack?" It tends to get you back in the frame of mind that you were in when 9/11 happened, so it's a lot of anxiety and insecurity and wondering what's...
  • My Poppy, Mr. President

    As president, George H.W. Bush faced a starkly changing world: the Berlin Wall came down and the cold war ended after 40 tense years. He overthrew the corrupt regime of Panama's Manuel Noriega and invaded Iraq (without ousting Saddam Hussein) to protect Kuwait in a 100-hour war. As a father and younger man, he dealt with the daily challenges of raising five young children, as well as the tragic death of his daughter from leukemia at age 4. Now at 82, a new book—written by the former president’s only living daughter—highlights Bush’s life beyond his political career.”My Father, My President” (Warner) takes an inside look at the personal stories, family memories and intimate challenges that remained largely out of the public eye during Bush’s presidential years. Dorothy (Doro) Bush Koch, spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett about her father’s legacy. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: What does this book tell us about your father than we may not have known?Doro Bush Koch: My dad reached the highest...
  • Business as Usual

    It’s been five years since the September 11 attacks, and still, Ground Zero sits empty. There have been competitions and controversy, public debates and new designs, and seemingly endless delays over the memorial and surrounding buildings to be constructed there. Many who’ve followed the saga are skeptical they’ll see the World Trade Center Memorial realized by it’s projected opening of 2009. Others remain deeply unhappy with the memorial design and the plans to surround the site with tall office buildings.While public discourse is normal, Paul Goldberger says the plan for the World Trade Center site and memorial has veered off track, encumbered by power and politics. The author of “Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture and the Rebuilding of New York” ( Random House ) and the architecture critic for the New Yorker magazine, Goldberger spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett about the function of memorials and great memorials of the past. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: What would you say are the...
  • ‘It’s Incompetence’

    You’ve seen the awful pictures: rotting houses knocked off their foundations, walls mottled with mold, floors coated in grimy mud, piles of God-knows-what towering over empty streets. For Hurricane Katrina survivors and volunteers sent to help, the cleanup isn’t just unpleasant—it’s potentially sickening.Like the 9/11 workers, many of those working in the Katrina rubble are being exposed to deadly toxins, says Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington. With more than 35 years of experience in the field, he particularly worries about workers and citizens being exposed to harmful contaminants like asbestos and mold .A year ago, Kaufman cautioned residents about returning to the affected areas too quickly. Now he explains to NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett how dangerous the situation remains. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: What’s the present environmental situation in the Gulf Coast regions hit hardest by Katrina?Hugh Kaufman: We’re dealing with...
  • Veil of Suspicion

    The life and mind of John Mark Karr reveals a disturbing narrative of childhood obsession. Long before he confessed to the killing of JonBenet Ramsey, Karr had picked up his life and moved—several times—possibly to feed this fascination. That may have been the case in 2000 when Karr relocated his family to Petaluma, Calif., a Sonoma County town whose name had riddled headlines seven years before: it was the town where 12-year-old Polly Klaas was abducted and murdered—and according to Karr’s ex-wife, he was obsessed with the Klaas case. According to court filings in a child-pornography case involving Karr, he kept a copy of Klaas’s death certificate in a maroon folder—and a letter he’d received from her killer, Richard Allen Davis.This creepy revelation was especially horrifying for Marc Klaas, Polly's father, who, for the last decade, had devoted his life to keeping the likes of Karr away from children. A well-known children's lobbyist and founder of the KlaasKids Foundation, the...
  • Hungry, Thirsty and Ready to Spend

    For some air travelers, it was toothpowder travel packs that made newly liquid-free flights just a little more bearable. For others, it was Pepto-Bismol--the tablets, not the syrupy pink fluid. To help travelers cope with restrictive carry-on rules in the wake of last week's purported foiled terror plot, airport retailers are coming up with creative solutions.Contrary to some early reports of falling sales, many airport retailers weathered last week's period of uncertainty and are dealing with the new restrictions just fine. Some may have even profited--at least in the short term. Though many items, like perfume, toothpaste and lotion, were taken off the shelves, they've been replaced by others. Retailers and restaurants have opened early and closed late to accommodate passengers who want to grab a snack after a tedious commute or fill up on liquids before they board the plane. Many travelers buy books or magazines to occupy them while they wait in security lines for hours. Still...
  • Plastic Predicament

    Credit-card debt has nearly tripled in the last two decades, leaving many Americans stuck in a sinkhole of fees and penalties. Who's to blame, irresponsible spenders or predatory lenders?
  • Reflective Criticism

    It’s hard to picture genocide, gangsta rap and Las Vegas sharing the pages of the same foreign-policy book. What could they possibly have in common? But add a chapter on SUVs, Halliburton and George W. Bush and you’ve got six of 100 ways that one foreign-policy expert says the globe's most powerful country is “screwing up” the world around it.From the present-day consequences of the cold war to more recent American trends—like “Seinfeld” or Wal-Mart—John Tirman lists what he calls American blunders in the context of its founding ideals, and hopes his commentary will serve as a call to arms. “It might seem cranky or clownish ... but there’s a serious point to this,” writes Tirman, head of the center for international studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of the new book “100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World” ( HarperCollins ). NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett spoke with Tirman about the inspiration behind his top 100. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Where did your...
  • Minimizing Your Risk

    Research groups indicate that identity theft affected more than 9 million Americans last year. But despite those numbers, the revelation this week that the personal information of 26.5 million veterans had been stolen from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee came as a shock. The information—mainly from veterans discharged since 1975—included the veterans' Social Security numbers, birthdates and, in some cases, a disability rating—a score of between 1 and 100 indicating how disabled a veteran is. NEWSWEEK spoke with The USAA Educational Foundation, a non-profit sponsored by the USAA financial services company, as well as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for some tips on how to protect against ID theft, and what to do if you think you're a victim. Excerpts:10 Tips to Prevent ID TheftMemorize your Social Security number. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.  Store your wallet or purse in a secure location while at work or public places...
  • ‘Zero Impact’

    They marched in big cities and small towns. They boycotted work and businesses, and withdrew their children from school. Some walked out of their jobs. And as hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants took to the streets yesterday, they hoped for a dramatic impact: to prove to America that their work was significant to the successful function of the U.S. economy.In certain industries, they made their case. In the West and Midwest, a number of meatpacking companies were forced to close. In California and Arizona, produce fields were absent of migrant pickers. And in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, a number of businesses lacked sufficient staff to operate.But the protests didn’t bring the economy to a halt, as some organizers had hoped. And that, says one economist, is because Americans overestimate the actual impact undocumented workers have on our economy. “It’s a positive benefit, but it’s not the be-all end-all of the economy,” says James P. Smith, an economist at the Rand...
  • This Week Online

    Lisa Murkowski, Alaska republican senator: These standards haven't been updated in almost 30 years. When I was in school, you either brought your lunch from home or you had the hot lunch the lunch lady made. Now we've got vending machines in just about every school, and if our kids don't like what's being served, that's where they get their food. Unfortunately, those machines offer items that hold very little nutritional value. This is not some crusade to dump all vending machines. We just want to make sure that what we provide in the schools is a healthier alternative to what's there now. ...
  • Credit Cruncher

    Americans are buying with plastic at a staggering rate. From lattes to vacation packages, car payments to home-equity loans, our reliance on credit is increasing. Even the Internal Revenue Service endorses credit cards as a "convenient" way to pay your taxes. The average American family carried about $9,300 in credit-card debt in 2005 reports the nonprofit Consumer Credit Counseling Service in Dallas. But what happens when borrowers who already have sizable debts are offered more credit?Director James Scurlock, 34, set out to tackle that question in "Maxed Out," a documentary he intended as a comic portrayal of consumer irresponsibility. What the self-described "finance geek" and former publisher of a financial newsletter ended up with however, is a much starker tale—one of struggle, suicide and desperation. "I think the people in the film would like nothing more than to pay off their bills, but they've just gotten to a point where it's not possible," says Scurlock. "And at some...
  • A Consuming Life

    You're allowed to buy soap, bread, cat food. Prohibited: ice cream, tissue, soda. Haircuts are OK, but focaccia bread is not. What about hair gel? Organic French-roast coffee?For Judith Levine, the idea of cutting ice cream out of her diet for an entire year was not easy. For her partner, Paul Cillo, the challenge was the red wine that ran like water among his Italian family and friends. But on New Year's Day 2004, the couple, who spend half their time in Brooklyn, N.Y., and half in Hardwick, Vt., began a rather odd resolution: to go a year without shopping.The idea began after a holiday purchasing frenzy that culminated in a maxed-out credit card. "I was schlepping a big shopping bag across New York City and dropped it in an icy puddle," says Levine, 53. "I thought, 'There must be more to life'."Her new book, "Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping" ( Free Press ), released this month, is Levine's witty depiction of a year living relatively free from the constraints of a credit...
  • Poultry Pioneer

    For the seven children of the late unsung poultry pioneer Robert Baker, it was summer jobs at the family chicken concession that raised money for their college funds. It was neighborhood chicken barbecues that heralded the arrival of each new spring. And it was chicken experiments at the dinner table that paved the way for some of the biggest poultry inventions in modern history. "Bob would bring different products home, and he always said that if the dog wouldn't eat it he knew it was a loser," says Baker's wife, Jacoba, 85.At the Bakers' home in upstate New York during the postwar era, it was those family taste tests that led to the invention of the chicken nugget, the chicken hot dog, chicken bologna and chicken steak. So when Baker passed away at the age of 84 this month, suffering a heart attack at his North Lansing, N.Y., home, his family didn't want his funeral to be a mournful event. Instead, they saw no better way to celebrate his life than with a neighborhood chicken...
  • Big Brother's Big Business

    In a world of fear, American cities and corporations are spending billions on high-tech surveillance equipment. A look at the economic engine and privacy concerns surrounding 'smart cameras' and other devices.
  • SAT Slip-Up

    For college-bound students—and their parents—it was ghastly news. An estimated 4,000 students who took their SATs last October received reduced scores because of what the College Board, which administers the test, described as technical problems. The organization said about 1 percent of the 495,000 students who took the test were affected, with some scoring more than 200 points lower than they should have. The College Board discovered the problem in late December, after two students questioned the scores they had received.The news prompted a scramble among colleges and universities, with many rushing to revisit applications they had already considered. How much of an impact has the error had? And can it be corrected? Susan Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for the University of California's nine campuses, spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jessica Bennett about the College Board mistake, its effect on students and the importance of the SAT in college admissions. NEWSWEEK: When did you...