CRF Blog

How much warmer is your city?

by Bill Hayes

In How much warmer is your city?, the BBC has created a database of 1,000 cities around the world. You can find any city, and the database will tell you how much the average daily temperature has risen for the months of January and July from 1900 to 2018. Then it provides four scenarios for future temperature averages in 2100.

What Are These Civil Rights Laws?

by Bill Hayes

In What Are These Civil Rights Laws? for Lapham’s Quarterly, Daniel Brook explores the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1883 decision to strike down the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

In a consolidation of five lawsuits that became known as the Civil Rights Cases, the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as unconstitutional. In all five cases, African Americans refused the use of public accommodations guaranteed to them by Senator Sumner’s law had pressed federal charges against the proprietors. Notably, only one of the cases originated in the South—that of a Tennessee railroad conductor who had attempted to physically push an African American woman out of a whites-only railcar. He only backed down when the fair-skinned, blue-eyed man who had boarded with the woman outed himself as her nephew and firmly requested that the conductor cease manhandling his aunt. The Midwest cases concerned a Kansas restaurateur and a Missouri innkeeper who refused to serve black patrons. The most famous of the cases came out of San Francisco and Manhattan, where recalcitrant theater owners had refused to seat black ticket holders despite the federal law. In the San Francisco case, a black man was refused a seat at a minstrel show at Maguire’s New Theater on Bush Street in 1876. In the New York case, a South Carolina transplant was denied a seat at the Grand Opera House in 1879 at a tragedy starring Edwin Booth, the brother of the man who had shot President Lincoln.

As the cases headed towards the Supreme Court, public support for civil rights continued to erode. In an 1879 editorial, the New York Times sneered that “to invoke the Civil Rights laws is becoming very fashionable. Within a few days a holder of a ticket to an uptown theater was refused his seat on account of color, and he threatens a civil rights action. Not many weeks ago a colored clergyman called for refreshments at an ice cream saloon in Jersey City; the proprietor refused to serve him, and at last reports he was consulting a lawyer about suing under the Civil Rights laws. At the South, two or three married couples have lately been prosecuted because, contrary to the law of the State, the husband was black and the wife white, and their lawyers have argued that such law amounted to nothing, because [it is] contrary to the Civil Rights laws. At the North, when the Jews are excluded from Saratoga or Coney Island hotels, they are counseled that by virtue of the Civil Rights laws they can insist on being received…What are these ‘Civil Rights laws’?…If a [businessman] does not wish to employ negroes, or…sell to negroes, there [ought be] no compulsion.” It was in this hostile climate that the Supreme Court heard the cases and issued its eight-to-one decision striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875. [more]

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Beg to Differ

by Bill Hayes

In John Adams and Thomas Jefferson Beg to Differ for the New York Times Book Review, Richard Brookhiser reviews Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood.

Thomas Jefferson, describing John Adams in a letter, wrote, “He is so amiable, that I pronounce you will love him if you ever become acquainted with him.” The feeling was mutual. “I always loved Jefferson, and still love him,” Adams said when he was an old man. Their friendship lasted (with interruptions) for 51 years, from their meeting in 1775 in the Continental Congress to their deaths on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Gordon S. Wood, the Alva O. Way university professor at Brown, who has been writing history as long as Jefferson and Adams knew each other, examines their relationship in “Friends Divided.”

There was ample potential for division in this romance. Jefferson was a Virginia aristocrat whose first election to the colonial legislature at age 26 was an easy trot to home plate from third base. Adams, the son of a farmer/shoemaker, thrust himself into the Massachusetts elite by unremitting application as a lawyer and activist. [more]

Top 15 Countries by Military Spending (1914–2018)

by Bill Hayes

RankingTheWorld has a YouTube video showing the Top 15 Countries by Military Spending (1914–2018). (Wagner music in background)

Brexit Overview

by Bill Hayes

Brexit is a hot topic and a bit difficult for Americans to understand. Here are a few articles to help.

First, begin with Wikipedia’s article on Brexit. It should stay current. Next, the Financial Times has a few videos, most behind a paywall, but this one isn’t: Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to suspend parliament. Finally, the New York Times explains What Is Brexit? What Does ‘No-Deal’ Mean?

Special Report on Childhood

by David De La Torre

The Economist’s Special Report on Childhood features these articles:

The early years are getting increasing attention

The art and science of parenting

Parenting methods are exacerbating social divisions

In the Middle Ages there was no such thing as childhood

The continuing importance of the family

Why children’s lives have changed radically in just a few decades

How children interact with digital media

Why governments should prioritize well-being

by Bill Hayes

In this TED Talk, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon explains why governments should look beyond GDP and prioritize well-being.

As Suicides Rise, Insurers Find Ways to Deny Mental Health Coverage

by Bill Hayes

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that As Suicides Rise, Insurers Find Ways to Deny Mental Health Coverage.

The U.S. is in the midst of a mental health crisis. In 2017, 47,000 Americans died by suicide and 70,000 from drug overdoses. And 17.3 million adults suffered at least one major depressive episode. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a landmark law passed more than a decade ago, requires insurers to provide comparable coverage for mental health and medical treatments. Even so, insurers are denying claims, limiting coverage, and finding other ways to avoid complying with the law.

Americans are taking to the courts to address what they see as an intrinsic unfairness. DeeDee Tillitt joined one lawsuit in 2016, months after she lost her son Max. He’d been an inpatient for three weeks at a treatment center to recover from a heroin addiction and seemed to be making progress. His addiction specialist wanted him to stay. United Behavioral Health, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest insurer, declined to cover a longer stay for Max. Reluctantly, his family brought him home. Ten weeks later, Max was dead of an overdose. He was 21.

Tillitt soon discovered that Max’s death wasn’t an isolated tragedy. Across the country, people who need mental health and addiction treatment encounter roadblocks to care that could save their lives. [more]

Cool Schools 2019 Full Ranking

by Bill Hayes

Every year the Sierra Club ranks, based on six factors, the most environmentally friendly four-year colleges and universities. Below are the top 5 of the 282 schools it ranked for its Cool Schools 2019 rankings.

Thompson Rivers University

University of California, Irvine

State U. of New York College of Envir. Science & Forestry

University of New Hampshire University of Connecticut [more]

Infographic: 60% of Firearm Deaths Are Suicides  | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Addicted to Fines

by Bill Hayes

Writing in Governing magazine, Mike Maciag argues that many small towns in America are Addicted to Fines.

Flashing police lights are a common sight all along Interstate 75 in rural south Georgia. On one recent afternoon in Turner County, sheriff’s deputies pulled over a vehicle heading northbound and another just a few miles up on the opposite side of the interstate. In the small community of Norman Park, an officer was clocking cars near the edge of town. In Warwick to the north, a police cruiser waited in the middle of a five-lane throughway. 

These places have one thing in common: They issue a lot of tickets, and they finance their governments by doing it. Like many other rural jurisdictions, towns in south Georgia have suffered decades of a slow economic decline that’s left them without much of a tax base. But they see a large amount of through-traffic from semi-trucks and Florida-bound tourists. And they’ve grown reliant on ticketing them to meet their expenses. “Georgia is a classic example of a place where you have these inextricable ties between the police, the town and the court,” says Lisa Foster, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. “Any city that’s short on revenue is going to be tempted to use the judicial system.”

This is by no means just a Georgia phenomenon. Throughout the country, smaller cities and towns generate major dollars from different types of fines, sometimes accounting for more than half of their revenues. Some places are known for being speed traps. Others prop up their budgets using traffic cameras, parking citations or code enforcement violations. To get a picture of just how much cities, towns and counties rely on fines and fees, Governing conducted the largest national analysis to date of fine revenues and the extent to which they fund budgets, compiling data from thousands of annual financial audits and reports filed to state agencies. [more]

New Yorker: Is There Any Point to Protesting?

by Bill Hayes

In Is There Any Point to Protesting? for the New Yorker, Nathan Heller reviews the following books, which look at the effectiveness of protests: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Assembly by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism by L.A. Kauffman, and Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci.

For centuries, on the right and the left alike, it has been an article of faith that, in moments of sharp civic discontent, you and I and everyone we know can take to the streets, demanding change. The First Amendment enshrines such efforts, protecting “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” From the Stamp Act boycotts of the seventeen-sixties to the 1913 suffrage parade and the March on Washington, in 1963, protesters have pushed proudly through our history. Along the way, they have given us great — well, playable — songs. (Tom Lehrer: “The reason most folk songs are so atrocious is that they were written by the People.”) Abroad, activism drove the Arab Spring and labor movements in Macau, while outrages shared across continents triggered such events as the feminism-and-rationalism-flaunting event known as Boobquake. So strident was Boobquake that it elicited a counter-campaign, called Brainquake. All this expressiveness, we think, is good.

Still, what has protest done for us lately? Smartphones and social media are supposed to have made organizing easier, and activists today speak more about numbers and reach than about lasting results. Is protest a productive use of our political attention? Or is it just a bit of social theatre we perform to make ourselves feel virtuous, useful, and in the right?

In “Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work” …, a book published in 2015, then updated and reissued this past year for reasons likely to be clear to anyone who has opened a newspaper, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams question the power of marches, protests, and other acts of what they call “folk politics.” These methods, they say, are more habit than solution. Protest is too fleeting. It ignores the structural nature of problems in a modern world. “The folk-political injunction is to reduce complexity down to a human scale,” they write. This impulse promotes authenticity-mongering, reasoning through individual stories (also a journalistic tic), and a general inability to think systemically about change. In the immediate sense, a movement such as Occupy wilted because police in riot gear chased protesters out of their spaces. But, really, the authors insist, its methods sank it from the start by channelling the righteous sentiments of those involved over the mechanisms of real progress.

“This is politics transmitted into pastime — politics-as-drug-experience, perhaps — rather than anything capable of transforming society,” Srnicek and Williams write. “If we look at the protests today as an exercise in public awareness, they appear to have had mixed success at best. Their messages are mangled by an unsympathetic media smitten by images of property destruction — assuming that the media even acknowledges a form of contention that has become increasingly repetitive and boring.” [more]

What’s actually in the Green New Deal

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains What’s actually in the Green New Deal.

Wendell Willkie: The Forgotten Maker of History

by Bill Hayes

In Wendell Willkie: The Forgotten Maker of History for the New York Times Book Review, Lynne Olson reviews The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order by David Levering Lewis.

Lewis astutely notes the fact that although Willkie was still regarded as a dark horse when he arrived in Philadelphia, “the entire convention machinery belonged to the Willkie team.” On the convention’s final night, after more than eight nail-biting hours of voting, he emerged the winner.

As shocking as this coup was, Willkie’s cooperation with Roosevelt just weeks after his nomination was even more staggering. In the summer of 1940, the White House was considering a plan to send 50 old destroyers to Britain to help protect its shipping from German submarines, but Roosevelt refused to sign off on it unless Willkie promised not to make it a campaign issue. Willkie agreed, setting off a Republican firestorm that escalated when, in his campaign kickoff speech, he pledged to support legislation to create America’s first peacetime draft. The bill was political dynamite: If Willkie had opposed it, it almost certainly would have failed. Thanks to its passage, some 1.65 million men were in uniform when America finally entered the war in December 1941. [more]

The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran

by Bill Hayes

In The Secret History of the Push to Strike Iran, the New York Times Magazine reports on the decade-long push for a war against Iran’s nuclear program. One push came from John Bolton, the president’s recently departed national security adviser. But others were also pushing both for and against a war.

In July of 2017, the White House was at a crossroads on the question of Iran. President Trump had made a campaign pledge to leave the “terrible” nuclear deal that President Barack Obama negotiated with Tehran, but prominent members of Trump’s cabinet spent the early months of the administration pushing the mercurial president to negotiate a stronger agreement rather than scotch the deal entirely. Thus far, the forces for negotiation had prevailed.

But counterforces were also at work. Stephen K. Bannon, then still an influential adviser to the president, turned to John Bolton to draw up a new Iran strategy that would, as its first act, abrogate the Iran deal. Bolton, a Fox News commentator and former ambassador to the United Nations, had no official role in the administration as of yet, but Bannon saw him as an outside voice that could stiffen Trump’s spine — a kind of back channel to the president who could convince Trump that his Iran policy was adrift.

As a top national security official in the George W. Bush administration, Bolton was one of the architects of regime change in Iraq. He had long called not just for withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A., as the 2015 nuclear deal was known, but also for overthrowing the Iranian regime that negotiated it. Earlier that July, he distilled his views on the matter in Paris, at an annual gathering in support of the fringe exile movement Mujahedeen Khalq, or the M.E.K., which itself had long called for regime change in Iran. Referring to the continuing policy review in Washington, he repeated his belief that the only sufficient American policy in Iran would be to change the Iranian government and whipped the crowd into a standing ovation by pledging that in two years, Iran’s leaders would be gone and that “we here will celebrate in Tehran.”

The document that Bolton produced at Bannon’s request was not a strategy so much as a marketing plan for the administration to justify leaving the Iran deal. It did little to address what would happen on Day 2, after the United States pulled out of the deal. But Bolton’s views were hardly a secret to those who had spoken to him over the years or read the Op-Ed he wrote in The New York Times in 2015: Once American diplomacy had been set aside, Israel should bomb Iran.

Trump pulled out of the Iran deal in May 2018, just weeks after Bolton took over as his national security adviser, and now the president is navigating a slow-motion crisis. This June, attacks were launched against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and the United States pointed the finger at Tehran; in July, Britain impounded an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, and Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf. American spy agencies warn of impending attacks by Iranian proxies on American troops in the region, and over the summer, Israel launched flurries of attacks on Iranian proxies in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The least surprising outcome of America’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran, though, is that Iran now says that it, too, will no longer abide by the terms of the deal — a decision that could lead Tehran to once again stockpile highly enriched uranium, the fuel to build a nuclear bomb.

The president and his advisers have cited all these acts as evidence of Iran’s perfidy, but it was also a crisis foretold. A year before Trump pulled out of the deal, according to an American official, the Central Intelligence Agency circulated a classified assessment trying to predict how Iran would respond in the event that the Trump administration hardened its line. Its conclusion was simple: Radical elements of the government could be empowered and moderates sidelined, and Iran might try to exploit a diplomatic rupture to unleash an attack in the Persian Gulf, Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ilan Goldenberg, a senior Pentagon official during the Obama administration, recalls the standoff in the years before the Iran nuclear deal as a kind of three-way bluff. Israel wanted the world to believe that it would strike Iran’s nuclear program (but hadn’t yet made up its mind). Iran wanted the world to believe it could get a nuclear weapon (but hadn’t yet made a decision to dash toward a bomb). The United States wanted the world to know it was ready to use military force to prevent Iran from getting a bomb (but in the end never had to show its hand). All three were taking steps to make the threats more credible, unsure when, or if, the other parties might blink.

Trump’s abrogation of the Iran deal has revived the poker game, but this time with an American president whose tendency to bluster about American power but avoid actually using it has made the situation in recent months even more volatile.

“President Trump cannot expect to be unpredictable and expect others to be predictable,” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said during a speech in Stockholm in August. “Unpredictability will lead to mutual unpredictability, and unpredictability is chaotic.” Trump’s immediate goal appears to be to batter Iran’s economy with sanctions to the point that the country’s leaders will renegotiate the nuclear deal — and its military support for Hezbollah and other proxy groups — on terms that the administration deems more favorable to the United States. But it is also based on a gamble that Iran will break before November 2020, when the next American election could bring a new president who ends Trump’s hardball tactics. [more]