Oil Is Islamic State’s Lifeblood

An op-ed by Noah Feldman

The battle for Baiji, site of one of Iraq’s major oil refineries, is heating up again. Since May, Islamic State fighters have been chipping away at the Iraqi government’s control. Now it seems possible that the empty city and the shuttered refinery could fall. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi visited the battlefield this week and emphasized the site’s strategic importance to retaking Mosul. What he didn’t say was that Islamic State’s offensive on Baiji is part of its grand strategy to develop domestic sources of revenue that would help make it a functioning state, instead of a would-be state attempting to achieve legitimacy by beheadings and religious fervor.

As Markets Fall, Nationalism Rises

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanAfter the correction comes the nationalism. China’s market meltdown portends a potentially dangerous rise in nationalist sentiment likely to be whipped up by leaders both in China and in the U.S. The motives on each side are slightly different: China’s leaders need to shore up the legitimacy of Communist Party rule as growth slows, while Republican presidential candidates need to criticize the Democratic administration on foreign policy without mentioning the Middle East. But there’s an underlying symmetry that’s highly worrisome. On both sides, nationalism is a proven strategy for generating popular support while changing the subject. On China’s side, the equation is pretty simple. The Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy doesn’t come from communism. It comes from economic growth, which is slowing. Even if the stock market’s losses don’t directly affect most Chinese, the sharp market decline is likely to be felt in the real economy.

 

Could a negative Yelp review lead to a lawsuit?

For most foodies, sharing a snapshot on Instagram and writing a Yelp review is a must. But a Charleston, S.C., steakhouse warns patrons to think twice before turning to the Web. Post something nasty, and you could be sued. A “dining contract” sent to guests making a reservation for five or more people includes a clause stating they “may be held legally liable for generating any potential negative, verbal or written defamation against Grill 225,” The Post and Courier reported Tuesday. So, should serial Yelpers beware? Not so fast. This is “watered-down legalese that means nothing,” said Andy Sellars, a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, calling it a free speech issue. Defamation — which comprises a false statement of fact, made knowingly, that can be proven to cause harm — is already a civil wrong, thus rendering the clause in Grill 225’s policy unnecessary and “profoundly stupid,” he said. “If I said the service was terrible — ‘terrible’ is an opinion, you can’t sue someone for that,” he said, noting that a quick scan of Grill 225’s Yelp reviews show them to be quite opinion-laden. “Very few reviews would actually be defamation.”

 

Supreme Court Urged to End Life Without Parole for All Juveniles

(Registration required) The U.S. Supreme Court this term will decide whether its 2012 ban on mandatory life without parole sentences for juvenile murderers is retroactive. But some of those offenders and their lawyers hope for more from the justices. The high court has had several opportunities since its ruling in Miller v. Alabama to take up the question of its retroactive effect, but for unknown reasons, it passed until Montgomery v. Louisiana. The justices will hear arguments in Montgomery on Oct. 13. … In an amicus brief supporting neither side, Harvard Law School’s Charles Ogletree, on behalf of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and the Criminal Justice Institute, proposes: “A more straightforward way to resolve the case would be to answer the question this court has explicitly left open: whether ‘the Eighth Amendment requires a categorical bar on life without parole for juveniles.’”

Harvard Square’s homeless youth to have beds of their own

Homeless youth are a sad but very real fixture in Harvard Square and two recent Harvard grads, motivated by that grim reality, have gone about creating a shelter for them. Set to open in November, the shelter is meant to provide beds to homeless youth between 18 and 24 years old, a population that advocates say lacks an adequate number of beds specifically set-aside for them. … A unique twist on the youth shelter, which will be housed in the 4,725 square foot basement of the First Parish Church, is that it will be staffed by and run by about 30 student volunteers, most of them from Harvard. The volunteers will provide everything from case management to legal aid, courtesy of Harvard Law School.

Arkansas’s Mixed Religious Messages

An op-ed by Noah FeldmanArkansas, which is poised to erect a new Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of its state capitol, has just rejected a request by a Hindu group to erect a statue of the god Hanuman there. Constitutionally, the rejection is permissible: The U.S. Supreme Court permits the government to pick and choose what symbols it wants to project in public space. But turning down a statue of the Hindu deity with the jaw of a monkey also calls into question the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments statue — because the government can’t endorse one religion at the expense of others. Confused? I hope so. If you aren’t, you get an A in constitutional law — but something’s gone wrong with your logic function. The Supreme Court’s twin doctrines on government speech and endorsement of religion are in tension with each other, as the Arkansas situation shows.

 

Abortion Rights vs. Disability Rights in Ohio

An op-ed by Noah Feldman: Ohio is considering legislation that would ban abortion, even before viability, if the reason for the termination is that the fetus has Down syndrome. On the surface, the law seems blatantly unconstitutional: The U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed a woman’s basic right to be free of any “undue burden” on terminating her pregnancy before viability. And no one doubts that the proposed law is intended as part of a broader legal attack on Roe v. Wade. Yet on closer examination, the legal issue is more complicated. Seven states have laws banning abortion aimed at selecting the sex of a child. These laws are arguably constitutional, and haven’t been struck down by the courts. The argument in favor of those laws is that the state has a compelling interest in combating sex discrimination. It seems possible that countering discrimination against those with Down syndrome is a compelling interest on par with combating discrimination against women.

The American System Isn’t Rigged

An op-ed by Cass Sunstein: Within the past year, a new catchphrase has come to dominate political discussion, certainly on the left: “The system is rigged.”  Senator Elizabeth Warren says it to make her claim that wealthy private interests have usurped democratic institutions, ensuring that “the system” protects them rather than ordinary people. In calling for a […]

Christine Desan, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism

Christine Desan, teaches about the international monetary system, the constitutional law of money, constitutional history, political economy, and legal theory at Harvard Law School. In this podcast we discuss her new book, Making Money: Coin, Currency, and the Coming of Capitalism (Oxford University Press, 2015). Per the books jacket, “Money travels the modern world in disguise. It looks like a convention of human exchange – a commodity like gold or a medium like language. But its history reveals that money is a very different matter. It is an institution engineered by political communities to mark and mobilize resources. As societies change the way they create money, they change the market itself – along with the rules that structure it, the politics and ideas that shape it, and the benefits that flow from it.

Wider Reach Is Sought for Costly New Hepatitis C Treatments

Federal and state Medicaid officials should widen access to prescription drugs that could cure tens of thousands of people with hepatitis C, including medications that can cost up to $1,000 a pill, health care experts have told the White House. The experts, from the Public Health Service and President Obama’s Advisory Council on H.I.V./AIDS, said that restrictions on the drugs imposed by many states were inconsistent with sound medical practice, as reflected in treatment guidelines issued by health care professionals and the Department of Veterans Affairs. …But Robert L. Greenwald, an expert on health law and policy at Harvard Law School, said: “These criteria defy clinical guidelines and best practices. Rather than recommending the exclusion of people who inject drugs, we should encourage earlier treatment as a way to prevent transmission of the virus.”