Get equal rights, but whatever you do, don’t campaign for the right to be married, Jim Rinnert advises gay leaders in In These Times (December 30). Let heteros have the word and the institution, he says, and insist only on “a civil contract recognized by state and federal governments that gives gay and lesbian unions the same rights, advantages, and protections.” The campaign for gay marriage “is likely to do for gay rights what the rallying cry of ‘abortion on demand’ did for the Equal Rights Amendment and the women’s movement: It diverts the real debate, herding it into a cul-de-sac inhabited by screaming right-wing fundamentalists who will use it to galvanize opposition to gay rights in any form, on every level.”

May I help you later? In an October study of the five busiest local offices of the Illinois Department of Human Services–Englewood, Roseland, Northern, West Suburban, and Northwest–Lisa McKean of the Center for Impact Research found that “caseworker staffing was 23.7% less than the allocated level and supervisor staffing was 28.6% less than allocated. These staff reductions [result] in caseloads in Cook County offices as high as 700 to 1,200 per caseworker.” Most clients surveyed reported being treated politely, though they were often unable to get the help they needed (“Policy and Practice: Customer Service in Illinois Department of Human Services Local Offices”).

What constitutional law has come to. columnist Joanne Mariner on the December 18 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in the case of Chicagoan Jose Padilla: “What the government was asking the Second Circuit to do in the Padilla case was still more dramatic [than what it asked in the earlier case involving Yasser Hamdi]: to sanction the indefinite detention of an American citizen who was not captured on a foreign battlefield, but rather picked up in Chicago….At the heart of the court’s ruling is the fact that “Chicago is not Afghanistan” and that under the separation of powers only Congress has the power to authorize the indefinite, incommunicado detention of an American citizen. “The President, acting alone, does not.”

“Mobile [telephone] service has dramatically boosted phone access in Africa,” reports the Worldwatch Institute in its December 22 “Vital Signs Fact of the Week,” because it’s cheaper to build cell-phone towers than to string wires. “In 1999, Uganda became the first African nation to have more mobile than fixed-line customers. Some 30 other African nations have since followed.”

By the numbers. From an American Journal of Public Health (December) report on a 1998 study on substance abuse: “Only 9 percent of people lacking health insurance and suffering from drug or alcohol dependence had received any treatment in the past year.”

“Right now, the 50 largest media companies account for little more of total U.S. media revenue than they did in 1986,” writes Ben Compaine, media scholar and author of Who Owns the Media?, in Reason (January). “Back then, for example, CBS was the largest media company in the country, with sizable interests in broadcasting, magazines, and book publishing. In the following decade it sold off its magazines, divested its book publishing, and was not even among the 10 largest American media companies by the time it agreed to be acquired by Viacom in 1999. Conversely, Bertelsmann, though a major player in Germany in 1986, was barely visible in the United States. Ten years later, it was the third-largest media company in America. Upstarts such as, Books-A-Million, Comcast, and C-Net were nowhere to be found on a list of the largest media companies in 1986. Others, such as Allied Artists, Macmillan, and Playboy Enterprises, either folded or grew so slowly they fell out of the top ranks.” On the Herfindahl-Hirschmann Index, a score of 10,000 is total monopoly, anything over 1,800 is a highly concentrated market, and under 1,000 is competitive. Compaine says that the 1997 score for American motor vehicles was 2,506; for semiconductors, 1,080; for pharmaceuticals, 446; and for media companies, 268.