CRF Blog

The Debate Over Obama’s Actions on Immigration

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, legal scholars Erwin Chemerinsky and Samuel Kleiner argue that On immigration policy, the law and facts are on Obama’s side.

The Supreme Court long has recognized that immigration and deportations are closely tied to foreign policy, which is uniquely in the domain of executive power and control. The executive discretion granted by the Constitution certainly includes deciding whether to bring deportation proceedings. Throughout history, the federal government has chosen — for humanitarian concerns or foreign policy reasons — to not try to deport some individuals or classes of individuals, even though they are not lawfully in the United States. [more]

Writing for Justia, Chapman University law professor disagrees in The President’s Power to Waive the Immigration Laws.

[T]he issue is not whether one agrees with the President’s goals. (I share them.) The issue is whether it is constitutional for the President, unilaterally, to rewrite our immigration laws and change the status of about 5 million people. If the President can waive any law (by claiming prosecutorial discretion), future Presidents will be able, for example, to rewrite other laws. For example, if the next President does not favor the Affordable Care Act, he or she can simply grant a waiver to all of that law, just as the present President has already granted a waiver to important parts of the Affordable Care Act. [more]

Hotter Than Lava

by Bill Hayes

Police in Paris used stun grenades, or flashbangs, when they stormed the kosher supermarket in Paris where hostages were being held. In Hotter Than Lava, ProPublica reports that many U.S. police departments routinely use flashbangs in raids, and the devices can lead to serious injuries or even death.

Dukes had been hit by a flashbang, a $50 device used by the police to disorient suspects, often during drug raids. First designed nearly 40 years ago to help military special forces rescue hostages, flashbangs create a stunningly bright burst of light and an ear-splitting boom that temporarily blind and deafen anyone standing within a few feet of them. Last week, French special forces used flashbangs as part of a dramatic operation to free hostages held at a kosher supermarket in Paris. But when these modified hand grenades explode on the human body, they can cause severe injury or death. The flash powder burns hotter than lava. Dukes suffered second-degree burns across her body. When later asked to describe the pain she felt that morning on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the absolute greatest, Dukes said 100.

The military-style assault on the Laurel Park apartment the morning of July 21, 2010, did not uncover a violent criminal’s drug lair. Although Dukes’ boyfriend grabbed a handgun when the window shattered, he tossed it aside as soon as he realized that the intruders were police. He threw himself down on the ground and surrendered immediately. In the end, after storming the apartment and throwing three flashbangs, the police found about a tenth of an ounce of marijuana.

Such aggressive use of flashbangs has become common among today’s militarized police forces. The Clayton County police, who burned Dukes, deployed flashbangs on about 80 percent of their raids in the year prior to her injury, according to police records. Police argue that flashbangs save lives because they stun criminals who might otherwise shoot. But flashbangs have also severed hands and fingers, induced heart attacks, burned down homes and killed pets. A ProPublica investigation has found that at least 50 Americans, including police officers, have been seriously injured, maimed or killed by flashbangs since 2000. That is likely a fraction of the total since there are few records kept on flashbang deployment. [more]

The Best-Selling Vehicles in the U.S. Last Year

Infographic: America's Best-Selling Vehicles In 2014 | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

86 Viral Images From 2014 That Were Totally Fake

by Bill Hayes

Factually has assembled 86 Viral Images From 2014 That Were Totally Fake.

When Satire Cuts Both Ways

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times’ Room for Debate lets various knowledgeable contributors discuss news events and other timely issues. One recent debate covered: When Satire Cuts Both Ways.

People worldwide are outraged by the murders at the French satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic extremists angered by cartoons it published ridiculing Muhammad. But even some cartoonists have questioned whether satire can be pointlessly offensive.

Even if the most offensive speech deserves protection, is it worth considering its effects? Can writers and artists sometimes be too provocative and outrageous? Should they hold themselves back? [more]

Ancient and modern mariners

by David De La Torre

In Ancient and modern mariners, The Economist looks at modern container ships.

The bridge could easily accommodate 50 people, but at its busiest rarely holds more than ten. The high, surrounding windows and purposeful hush instil a vaguely ecclesiastical feel. At its centre is a large, sleek, wood-veneered steering wheel, used mainly when arriving and departing from ports. Otherwise the steering is automatic: if a human needs to intervene, he does so using a joystick the size of a child’s finger. Like the rest of the ship, the bridge smells of new-laid rubber and disinfectant — not an unpleasant smell, but a sterile one, with none of the undertones (tobacco, salt spray, fish, sweat) associated with sea journeys. Even in the ship’s bowels, the strongest odour is not the fuel oil used to power the engine but the coffee used to power the engineers.

Which artefact is the best emblem of modern life? The personal computer, perhaps, or the mobile phone, or the car. Or maybe, instead, the container ship, which transports all of those things and much besides: “90 Percent of Everything”, as the title of Rose George’s first-rate book on the shipping industry puts it. These ships are the workhorses of globalisation; they are also exemplars of another contemporary megatrend, automation. Their sterility would make them almost unrecognisable to Melville, the novelist-whaler, or to Joseph Conrad (who spent nearly two decades as a merchant marine). [more]

It’s All for Your Own Good

by Bill Hayes

In It’s All for Your Own Good for the New York Review of Books, Jeremy Waldron reviews two books by Cass R. Sunstein: Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism and Conspiracy Theories and Other Dangerous Ideas.

“Paternalism” is usually a dirty word in political philosophy: the nanny state passing regulations that restrict us for our own good, banning smoking and skateboarding because they’re unsafe, or former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg trying to limit the size of sugary sodas sold in New York City — “the Big Gulp Ban.” Now, a nudger wouldn’t try anything so crass. If you ordered a soda in nudge-world, you would get a medium cup, no questions asked; you’d have to go out of your way to insist on a large one. Not only that, but diet beverages would probably be the ones displayed most prominently in nudge-world and served without question unless the customer insisted on getting the classic version from under the counter.

You could order a supersized sugary beverage if you wanted it badly enough, but it wouldn’t be so convenient to carry it to your table because Thaler and Sunstein are in favor of abolishing trays. It is all too easy to load up a tray with food that will never be eaten and napkins that go unused. You could insist on a tray if you wanted to hold up the line, but a tray-free policy has been proved to lower food and beverage waste by up to 50 percent in certain environments. Nudge and Why Nudge? are replete with examples like this.

Nudging is paternalistic, but it is surely a very mild version of paternalism. It’s about means, not ends: we don’t try to nudge people toward a better view of the good life, with compulsory library cards, for example, or PBS always coming up when you turn on your TV. And it is mild too because you can always opt out of a nudge. Not that Sunstein is opposed to more stringent regulations. Sometimes a straightforward requirement — like the rule about seat belts — might be a better form of paternalism. These options are left open for the regulator. [more]

Job Training That Works

by Bill Hayes

In Job Training That Works for Bloomberg Businessweek, Peter Coy looks at how employers and schools are collaborating.

Employers, schools, and government agencies are learning to work together to fill jobs requiring “middle” skills — more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. The best community colleges and other training programs are preparing students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, not yesterday. They’re imparting education when and where students are most likely to absorb it, in keeping with a maxim of Lou Mobley, who started executive education at IBM (IBM): “Education is effective only at the time of felt need and clear relevance.” And employers are recognizing certificates like Murumba’s that attest to mastery of specific skills, sometimes in lieu of insisting on a two- or four-year diploma.

When it comes to getting people jobs, this isn’t the whole ball of wax, to be sure. Economic growth is essential. And career training is no substitute for general knowledge of the arts and sciences: cosmetology ain’t cosmology. But if this initiative succeeds, it will produce a stronger middle class and a more competitive U.S. economy. [more]

The Masked Avengers

by Bill Hayes

In The Masked Avengers for the New Yorker, David Kushner reports on the hacking group Anonymous.

In 2003, Christopher Poole, a fifteen-year-old insomniac from New York City, launched 4chan, a discussion board where fans of anime could post photographs and snarky comments. The focus quickly widened to include many of the Internet’s earliest memes: LOLcats, Chocolate Rain, RickRolls. Users who did not enter a screen name were given the default handle Anonymous.

Poole hoped that anonymity would keep things irreverent. “We have no intention of partaking in intelligent discussions concerning foreign affairs,” he wrote on the site. One of the highest values within the 4chan community was the pursuit of “lulz,” a term derived from the acronym LOL. Lulz were often achieved by sharing puerile jokes or images, many of them pornographic or scatological. The most shocking of these were posted on a part of the site labelled /b/, whose users called themselves /b/tards. Doyon was aware of 4chan, but considered its users “a bunch of stupid little pranksters.” Around 2004, some people on /b/ started referring to “Anonymous” as an independent entity.

It was a new kind of hacker collective. “It’s not a group,” Mikko Hypponen, a leading computer-security researcher, told me — rather, it could be thought of as a shape-shifting subculture. Barrett Brown, a Texas journalist and a well-known champion of Anonymous, has described it as “a series of relationships.” There was no membership fee or initiation. Anyone who wanted to be a part of Anonymous — an Anon — could simply claim allegiance.

Despite 4chan’s focus on trivial topics, many Anons considered themselves crusaders for justice. They launched vigilante campaigns that were purposeful, if sometimes misguided. More than once, they posed as underage girls in order to entrap pedophiles, whose personal information they sent to the police. Other Anons were apolitical and sowed chaos for the lulz. One of them posted images on /b/ of what looked like pipe bombs; another threatened to blow up several football stadiums and was arrested by the F.B.I. In 2007, a local news affiliate in Los Angeles called Anonymous “an Internet hate machine.”

In January, 2008, Gawker Media posted a video in which Tom Cruise enthusiastically touted the benefits of Scientology. The video was copyright-protected, and the Church of Scientology sent a cease-and-desist letter to Gawker, asking that the video be removed. Anonymous viewed the church’s demands as attempts at censorship. “I think it’s time for /b/ to do something big,” someone posted on 4chan. “I’m talking about ‘hacking’ or ‘taking down’ the official Scientology Web site.” An Anon used YouTube to issue a “press release,” which included stock footage of storm clouds and a computerized voice-over. “We shall proceed to expel you from the Internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form,” the voice said. “You have nowhere to hide.” Within a few weeks, the YouTube video had been viewed more than two million times.

Anonymous had outgrown 4chan. The hackers met in dedicated Internet Relay Chat channels, or I.R.C.s, to coördinate tactics. Using DDoS attacks, they caused the main Scientology Web site to crash intermittently for several days. Anons created a “Google bomb,” so that a search for “dangerous cult” would yield the main Scientology site at the top of the results page. Others sent hundreds of pizzas to Scientology centers in Europe, and overwhelmed the church’s Los Angeles headquarters with all-black faxes, draining the machines of ink. The Church of Scientology, an organization that reportedly has more than a billion dollars in assets, could withstand the depletion of its ink cartridges. But its leaders, who had also received death threats, contacted the F.B.I. to request an investigation into Anonymous.

On March 15, 2008, several thousand Anons marched past Scientology churches in more than a hundred cities, from London to Sydney. In keeping with the theme of anonymity, the organizers decided that all the protesters should wear versions of the same mask. After considering Batman, they settled on the Guy Fawkes mask worn in “V for Vendetta,” a dystopian movie from 2005. “It was available in every major city, in large quantities, for cheap,” Gregg Housh, one of the organizers of the protests and a well-known Anon, told me. The mask was a caricature of a man with rosy cheeks, a handlebar mustache, and a wide grin.

Anonymous did not “dismantle” the Church of Scientology. Still, the Tom Cruise video remained online. Anonymous had proved its tenacity. The collective adopted a bombastic slogan: “We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.” [more]

Drawing While the Hand Trembles

by Bill Hayes

In Drawing While the Hand Trembles for Foreign Policy magazine, Jonathan Guyer looks at the view of “Charlie Hebdo” from the world of Arab cartoonists.

What can political cartoons do beyond messages of solidarity? We might look at how Arab cartoonists have responded to their own local and national conflicts, notably in Iraq and Syria, during moments as bloody and disturbing as the events in Paris. In fall 2013, when reports of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attacks spread, Jordanian cartoonist Osama Hajjaj illustrated an outlandish guide to surviving unconventional warfare, an example of humor’s power to address the very real menace. When Westerners were decapitated in Syria this past August, cartoonists made light of the Islamic State’s campaign of terror. Many readers were squeamish about the cartoons proliferating in the Arabic press. In the Egyptian paper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Abdallah drew a headless man walking into the “ISIS” barbershop and saying, “Pardon me, chief, has my head rolled through here?” Abdallah walks the fine line between bad taste and irreverence. While the world recoiled with revulsion at the executions, cartoonists unveiled imagery that shocked in order to shame the Islamic State jihadis and other extremists. This is offensive. This is also Muslims critiquing Muslims. Beheading cartoons are an answer to anti-Muslim chatter, and that vapid intonation of “Where are the moderate Muslims?” They’re drawing. [more]


by Bill Hayes

In Wasteland, National Geographic reports on the status of Superfund sites, which although little is heard about them, almost 50 million Americans live near one today.

Today nearly one in six Americans lives within three miles of a major hazardous waste site, though few people could tell you where it is. These sites fall under the Superfund program, created by Congress in 1980 after a high-profile controversy at the Love Canal development in Niagara Falls, New York. Love Canal’s residents crusaded against the Hooker Chemical Company after they found barrels of its chemical waste in their backyards, which had been built on a former dump. Love Canal left many Americans wondering, Could this be happening near me?

There are more than 1,700 Superfund sites, and each has a story. Some are sacrifices to national security, like the 586 square miles at Hanford, in Washington State, where reactors have made plutonium for atomic bombs since the Manhattan Project. Others are the shells of mines, like the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana, excavated in pursuit of copper and now filling with water. There are chemical manufacturers, smelters, and grain elevators that were once drenched in fumigant. Water, which can spread poison, is a common theme: New York City’s Gowanus Canal is listed, as are parts of the Hudson River and the harbor of New Bedford, Massachusetts. And then there are the many, many landfills. [more]

Understanding Stalin

by Bill Hayes

In Understanding Stalin for the Atlantic, Anne Applebaum reviews Stalin: Volume 1: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928 by Stephen Kotkin.

Year by year, crisis by crisis, a fine-grained picture of Stalin’s intellectual development nevertheless emerges. It is easy to forget, but on the eve of the Russian Revolution, Stalin was in his late 30s and had nothing to show for his life. He had “no money, no permanent residence, and no profession other than punditry,” meaning that he wrote articles for illegal newspapers. He certainly had no training in statecraft, and no experience managing anything at all. The Bolshevik coup d’état of 1917 brought him and his comrades their first, glorious taste of success. Their unlikely revolution — the result of Lenin’s high-risk gambles — validated their obscure and fanatical ideology. More to the point, it brought them personal security, fame, and power they had never before known.

As a result, most Bolshevik leaders continued to seek guidance in this ideology, and Stalin was no exception. In later years, outsiders would listen incredulously to the wooden pronouncements of the Soviet leadership and ask whether they could possibly be sincere. Kotkin’s answer is yes. Unlike the uneducated cynic of Trotsky’s imagination, the real Stalin justified each and every decision using ideological language, both in public and in private. [more]

The Best Congress Money Can Buy

by Bill Hayes

In The Best Congress Money Can Buy for the New York Times Book Review, Thomas Frank reviews Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United by Zephyr Teachout.

Teachout’s main target is the currently reigning money-in-politics doctrine of the Supreme Court, as defined mainly by Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down certain restrictions on political spending by corporations. Today’s court understands “corruption” as a remarkably rare malady, a straight-up exchange of money for official acts. Any definition broader than that, the justices say, transgresses the all-important First Amendment. Besides, as Justice Anthony Kennedy announced in the Citizens United decision, the court now knows that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption” — a statement that I guess makes sense somehow in law-land but sounds to the layman’s ear like the patter of a man who has come unzipped from reality.

The first few American generations, Teachout reminds us, saw things very differently; for them, corruption was a “national fixation.” Drawing on Montesquieu and their understanding of ancient history, the founders fretted about the countless ways a republic might be undone from within. “They saw their task this way,” Teachout writes: “How could they create a system that would be most likely to be filled with men of civic virtue but avoid creating temptations that might corrode that virtue?” [more]

Dianne Feinstein’s flawed torture report

by Bill Hayes

In Dianne Feinstein’s flawed torture report for the Los Angeles Times, law professor John Yoo, who authored the so-called “torture memos” justifying the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation techniques, criticizes the Senate report on torture.

Three reasons persuaded us to approve waterboarding. First, Al Qaeda terrorists were not POWs under the Geneva Conventions, because they fought for no nation and flouted the laws of war by killing civilians and beheading prisoners (such as Daniel Pearl). Second, the U.S. armed forces had used it in training tens of thousands of officers and soldiers, without any physical injury or long-term mental harm. Finally, the United States had suffered the deaths of 3,000 civilians and billions of dollars in damage; we knew little about Al Qaeda, and intelligence indicated that more attacks were coming, perhaps using weapons of mass destruction.

Even under these extraordinary circumstances, the CIA would use harsh interrogation on only Al Qaeda leaders thought to have information about pending attacks — in the end the CIA approved the waterboarding of only three Al Qaeda leaders. [more]

For a related free classroom lesson, see Is Torture Ever Justified? from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Charlie Rose Interviews the NY Police Commissioner

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose interviews New York City’s Police Commissioner William Bratton.