CRF Blog

Backgrounder on the U.S. Opioid Epidemic

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on The U.S. Opioid Epidemic.

The United States is grappling with one of its worst-ever drug crises. More than nine hundred people a week die from opioid-related overdoses, and some experts say the death toll may not peak for years. Meanwhile, millions more Americans suffer from opioid addiction.

The crisis has reached such a scale that, beyond the risks it poses to public health, it is becoming a drag on the economy and a threat to national security. Analysts say the problem started with the overprescription of legal pain medications, such as oxycodone, but note that it has intensified in recent years with an influx of cheap heroin and synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, supplied by foreign-based drug cartels.

In recent years, the U.S. government has ramped up efforts to cut both the foreign and domestic supply of opioids, limiting the number of prescriptions in the United States while providing counternarcotics assistance to countries including Mexico and China. Meanwhile, federal and state officials have attempted to reduce demand by focusing less on punishing drug users and more on treating them. Other countries where opioid use has also spiked, such as Canada and Australia, are experimenting with different policies. [more]

The Week’s Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See The Week’s latest collection of political cartoons.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Intelligent design gets even dumber

by Bill Hayes

In Intelligent design gets even dumber for the Washington Post, Jerry A. Coyne writes a critical review of Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution by Michael J. Behe.

The notion of “intelligent design” arose after opponents of evolution repeatedly failed on First Amendment grounds to get Bible-based creationism taught in the public schools. Their solution: Take God out of the mix and replace him with an unspecified “intelligent designer.” They added some irrelevant mathematics and fancy biochemical jargon, and lo: intelligent design, which scientists have dubbed “creationism in a cheap tuxedo.”

But the tuxedo is fraying, for intelligent design has been rejected not just by biologists but also by judges who recognize it as poorly disguised religion. Nevertheless, its advocates persist. [more]

CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive has two lessons related to issues of creationism and intelligent design:

The Scopes Trial: Who Decides What Gets Taught in the Classroom?

More Monkey Trials: The Evolution Debate Goes Back to Court

Why Do We Care So Much About Privacy?

by Bill Hayes

Writing in the New Yorker, Louis Menand looks at Why Do We Care So Much About Privacy? and discusses these two books: The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America by Sarah E. Igo and Habeas Data: Privacy vs. the Rise of Surveillance Tech by Cyrus Farivar.

The reason you’ve been receiving a steady stream of privacy-policy updates from online services, some of which you may have forgotten you ever subscribed to, is that the European Union just enacted the General Data Protection Regulation, which gives users greater control over the information that online companies collect about them. Since the Internet is a global medium, many companies now need to adhere to the E.U. regulation.

How many of us are going to take the time to scroll through the new policies and change our data settings, though? We sign up to get the service, but we don’t give much thought to who might be storing our clicks or what they’re doing with our personal information. It is weird, at first, when our devices seem to “know” where we live or how old we are or what books we like or which brand of toothpaste we use. Then we grow to expect this familiarity, and even to like it. It makes the online world seem customized for us, and it cuts down on the time we need to map the route home or order something new to read. The machine anticipates what we want.

But, as it has become apparent in the past year, we don’t really know who is seeing our data or how they’re using it. Even the people whose business it is to know don’t know. When it came out that the consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested the personal information of more than fifty million Facebook users and offered it to clients, including the Trump campaign, the Times’ lead consumer-technology writer published a column titled “I Downloaded the Information That Facebook Has on Me. Yikes.” He was astonished at how much of his personal data Facebook had stored and the long list of companies it had been sold to. Somehow, he had never thought to look into this before. How did he think Facebook became a five-hundred-and-sixty-billion-dollar company? It did so by devising the most successful system ever for compiling and purveying consumer data.

And data security wasn’t even an issue: Cambridge Analytica didn’t hack anyone. An academic researcher posted an online survey and invited people to participate by downloading an app. The app gave the researcher access not just to personal information in the participants’ Facebook accounts (which Facebook allows) but to the personal information of all their “friends” (which Facebook allowed at the time). Cambridge Analytica, which hired the researcher, was thus able to collect the personal data of Facebook users who had never downloaded the app. Facebook at first refused to characterize this as a security breach — all the information was legally accessed, although it was not supposed to be sold — and continues to insist that it has no plans to provide recompense.

Cambridge Analytica isn’t the only threat to digital privacy. The Supreme Court is set to decide the fate of Timothy Carpenter, who, in 2014, was convicted of participating in a series of armed robberies on the basis, in part, of records obtained by the police from his cell-phone company. These showed the location of the cell-phone towers his calls were routed through, and that information placed him near the scenes of the crimes. Carpenter was sentenced to a hundred and sixteen years in prison. The Court is being asked to rule on whether the collection of the cell-phone company’s records violated his constitutional rights. [more]

Martin Luther’s Revolution

by David De La Torre

In Martin Luther’s Revolution for The Nation, Elizabeth Bruenig reviews these three books: Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal Roper, The Protestants: The Faith That Made the Modern World by Alec Ryrie, and Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society by John C. Rao, ed.

Martin Luther was born in 1483 and grew up in the small German mining town of Mansfeld. “The son of a peasant,” by his own account, Luther spent his childhood in Mansfeld’s muddy, coal-dusted, and pugilistic streets, which introduced him early to the culture of vicious insults and brutal argumentation that would later characterize — and help to popularize — many of his famous polemics.

Luther’s story has been told many times, but Roper handles it with special sensitivity, offering both an engrossing narrative and capturing the ways in which Luther’s early life and education contributed to the fixations that would occupy him in his later years. After a dreary childhood in Mansfeld, the young Luther set off to attend school in Magdeburg in 1497. He went on to study at the University at Erfurt and entered law school uneasily at his father’s behest.

It didn’t last. Luther instead was drawn to the church and took vows as an Augustinian monk in 1505. He was particularly attracted to the order’s learned friary and intellectual tradition, and Augustine’s political theology — at least its rhetorical shape — would go on to form an important dimension of Luther’s own. In 1512, he received his doctorate in theology. Now a thoroughly educated and opinionated man of God, Luther began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg, giving sermons in the local church, and tallying the errors of his peers and superiors.

By 1517, Luther had established himself as an accomplished, if quarrelsome, preacher. He was known to have a particular (and entirely reasonable) animus toward indul-gences, the means by which certain church authorities parted faithful Catholics from their money with theologically specious promises of salvation and other favors. It was during one such dispute over the sale of indulgences that Luther finally met his destiny, on the last day of October 1517, at the doors of a Wittenberg church. There, he posted his 95 theses disputing established Catholic teaching — and launched a revolution that would transform the Christian world. [more]

For a free classroom lesson on Luther, see Luther Sparks the Protestant Reformation from CRF’s Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Recent Political Cartoons

by Bill Hayes

See Cagle’s collection of recent political cartoons.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

How statistics can be misleading

by Bill Hayes

A TED-ED video looks at How statistics can be misleading.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Chocolate

by Bill Hayes

Discover magazine looks at 20 Things You Didn’t Know About … Chocolate.

4. Analysis of ancient and modern T. cacao DNA confirmed the shrubby tree was first domesticated in that upper Amazon basin region.

5. As it spread north, chocolate became a luxury commodity worthy of tribute to the gods for the Aztec, Maya and other Mesoamerican civilizations. [more]

Cartoons of the Week

by Bill Hayes

See Real Clear Politics’ collection of the Cartoons of the Week.

For how to use editorial cartoons in the classroom, see Teaching With Editorial Cartoons.

Arthur C. Brooks’ Book Recommendations

by Bill Hayes

In The Week’s Book List, Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recommends six books.

Socrates by Paul Johnson (2011). One of the best accounts I’ve read of the life of this man whose thought still undergirds so much of Western civilization. Johnson situates Socrates in his particular historical context and also illustrates why his contributions to the life of the mind remain as important for us now as they were in the 5th century B.C.[more]

Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers

by Bill Hayes

Writing for the New York Times, Bret Stephens offers Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers.

8) Be proleptic, a word that comes from the Greek for “anticipation.” That is, get the better of the major objection to your argument by raising and answering it in advance. Always offer the other side’s strongest case, not the straw man. Doing so will sharpen your own case and earn the respect of your reader. [more]

If the Moon were replaced with some of our planets

by Bill Hayes

This short video envisions what it would look like If the Moon were replaced with some of our planets.

Later school start times will help students get needed sleep. But they aren’t enough

by David De La Torre

In Later school start times will help students get needed sleep. But they aren’t enough for the Los Angeles Times, Vicki Abeles argues that students need more sleep and less homework.

[T]he student workweek remains unregulated, and schools have an unfettered ability to increase the amount of academic work that students are required to do. Children and teens are in school an average of 25 more days a year today than in the 1950s, and a University of Michigan study found that children between 6 and 17 spend about 7½ hours per week more on academics than they did 20 years ago.

This additional work has not led to a significant improvement in overall academic performance. [more]

Special Report on Germany

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s special report on Germany features the following articles:

How Germany and the Germans have changed

German politics has become much more complicated

A land of multiple identities

Germany may be rich, but inequalities are widening

Germany’s conservative economic model is being put to the test

Germany has been slow to reassess its place in the world

German history takes to the small screen

Where does Germany go from here?

The Future of News

by Bill Hayes

In The Future of News for Bloomberg Businessweek, John Micklethwait predicts quality journalism is returning.

The quality press has staged a remarkable resurrection, thanks to the introduction of metered paywalls that charge regular readers but still leave their websites open to much larger audiences of occasional visitors who can see advertisements. The New York Times, which already has almost 2 million digital subscribers, is aiming for 10 million; about 100 million people still visit its website each month. The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, and the Economist all make most of their money by charging people for their content; old advertising-first fiefdoms, like Condé Nast and the Los Angeles Times, are also now building paid circulation quickly. Even Le Monde — hardly most people’s idea of capitalism — is now apparently profitable, thanks to a paywall.

This week, we at Bloomberg joined the trend — with our own consumer subscription business. We already have perhaps the most profitable professional paywall, through the Bloomberg terminal; now we’re expanding a version of the Businessweek paywall we erected last year to cover all of There are rumblings from Facebook and Google that they will start paying old media for content. Even the Guardian, the most fervent advocate of the idea of free news, now asks, very respectfully, for you to make a donation. Its begging letter has attracted 800,000 supporters.

The reason for this transition? It’s partly negative. No news provider has maintained much of a profit out of advertising, no matter how big its audience. But there’s also a positive reason: Consumers will pay. [more]