Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: rashedmian
A Long Island Rail Road train that failed to come to a complete stop entering Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn Wednesday morning partly derailed, leaving more a 100 people with injuries, many of them minor.
In total, 103 people were hurt when the train, which originated from Far Rockaway, came to a sudden halt. The most serious injury resulted in a possible broken leg, officials said. There were no fatalities.
The sudden crash occurred at approximately 8:15 a.m., when many riders were preparing to exit the train, officials said.
As the six-car train carrying 430 passengers entered Atlantic Terminal it failed to come to a complete stop, causing the train to strike and hop over the track’s bumping block. As a result, the lead car and an axel derailed, said MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast.
As officials surveyed the crash site there was little in terms of clues as to why the train failed to stop earlier.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. The MTA has been in contact with the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
“Obviously the train is supposed to stop short of the bumping block. It did not do that,” Prendergast told reporters. “So that’s one of the things we’ll look at. It’s one of the factors that we will look at in the investigation.”
While a train’s speed at the time of a crash or derailment often serves as the basis for much speculation, it did not appear that excessive speed played a role in this crash.
Prendergast said he was unsure how fast the train was traveling but noted that standard procedure is around 10-15 miles per hour for trains entering a terminal. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was also at the scene, said the train was moving at “a fairly low rate of speed.”
As part of the probe, the train’s locomotive engineer, the conductor and the brakeman will all be interviewed.
“We don’t know and obviously there will be an investigation to find out exactly what happened and why the operator didn’t stop the train before it hit the bumping block,” Cuomo said.
The governor also played down the notion of a derailment.
“Derailment is actually somewhat of a misnomer here. It’s not that it derailed,” Cuomo said. “The train hit the bumping block and when it hit the bumping block, the bumping block basically knocked it off the tracks, so it wasn’t a derailment. It was a train that didn’t stop when it was supposed to, hit the bumping block at a fairly low rate of speed.”
Most of the injuries were caused by the train’s sudden stop, which they were not prepared for, Cuomo said. He added that it was difficult to ascertain how many people were hurt because a number of riders simply left the scene following the crash.
Originally, the FDNY reported three-dozen injuries. That number then spiked to more than 70 before the fire department reported a total of 103 injuries.
Wednesday’s incident comes nearly three months after an LIRR passenger train collided with a work train in New Hyde Park, injuring 29.
As far as major train crashes go, Wednesday’s incident did not compare to some of the more serious recent derailments, officials said.
“There are accidents that happen, right?” Cuomo said. “This is a very large system, you are operating literally hundreds and hundreds of trains every morning with thousands and thousands of people…We have been through a number of them over the past few years. Many of them frankly, we were not this lucky. This is a relatively minor accident, luckily.”
veryone from Hillary Clinton to President Barack Obama to academics and media critics have voiced concern over the spread of fake news following Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, even going so far as saying viral fictitious stories directly influenced the result.
Still reeling from her election defeat, Clinton in a speech in the nation’s capital framed fake news as an existential threat to democracy.
“It’s now clear that so-called ‘fake news’ can have real-world consequences,” she said. “This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk. Lives of ordinary people just trying to go about their days, to do their jobs, contribute to their communities.”
As a result of the chorus of complaints about how blatantly false stories purportedly impacted voters, Facebook said it would clamp down on fake news through partnerships with standard fact-checking organizations. Among the most-shared fugazy stories was one about Pope Francis endorsing Trump, an FBI agent investigating Clinton’s emails dying in a horrific murder-suicide and a purported quote from Trump about running as a Republican because that particular base is gullible.
Blame for Clinton’s loss has been spread far and wide: to Macedonia, where teenagers created phony articles and raked in thousands of dollars, to Russian hackers interfering in the election, and FBI Director James Comey, for announcing a new probe into Clinton’s email inquiry just weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
It’s no surprise that scapegoats abound following one of the most incendiary and hard-fought presidential campaigns in modern US history and that such speculation overshadowed coverage of Clinton’s apparent shortcomings.
Meanwhile, little attention has been paid to an ever-evolving problem gripping the internet: For all its democratizing prowess, it is saturated with so much information—from traditional media outlets, alternative voices, hyperpartisan blogs, and industry groups funneling propaganda through websites masquerading as legitimate public policy centers—that it’s become increasingly difficult to distinguish between factual news, scientific research and agenda-driven content, academics say.
“Every single topic that is pressing for a citizen to decide upon is being influenced by the information that comes across the digital transom,” Sam Wineburg, founder of the Stanford History Education Group at Stanford University, tells the Press. “You name an issue of public policy, whether it’s the legalization of marijuana, charter schools or attacks on sugary drinks, and the way that a citizen learns about how to form an opinion about those topics is typically through a digital medium, increasingly through a digital medium… And so this issue goes far beyond fake news and far beyond news literacy to implicate the most basic duties of citizenship in the 21st century.”
Research behind internet consumption and social media habits has delivered troubling conclusions. Among the findings: The majority of Americans fail to recognize the difference between marketing content and real news and nearly two-thirds of people are more likely to share articles on social media without actually reading the story—meaning they are forming opinions and endorsing stories based solely on headlines.
Yet ensuring that fake news is curtailed has emerged as a chief concern for elected officials, who have pressured the likes of Facebook and Google to tackle the problem. In doing so, they are calling upon the very same institutions that contribute to this age of hyperpartisan politics to clamp down on the ability for such stories to go viral.
So how can tech companies combat fake news without first addressing what appears to be the bigger issue: that news consumers, perhaps out of no fault of their own, are struggling to navigate the increasingly convoluted World Wide Web.
‘Pants On Fire’
Last year, Facebook supplanted Google as the largest driver of traffic to news sites in the United States. Much of the content is delivered to Facebook users in a way that is very much undemocratic: The social media giant’s algorithm decides, based on a user’s activity, which stories are more likely to spur engagement, and subsequently dumps related content into their news feed. It’s through this mosaic that Facebook is able to provide marketers with valuable data about specific users: What department stores they’re interested, where they do their grocery shopping, and their political ideology.
Facebook users who primarily get their news through the site do so in an echo chamber, which means they’re interacting with articles that already confirm their political beliefs, what psychologists call “confirmation bias.”
Google works very much the same way. By delivering content based on a user’s past searches, a climate change-skeptic, for example, is more likely to receive results that align with their viewpoint, says Michael Patrick Lynch, professor of philosophy and director of the Humanities Institute at the University of Connecticut.
“What the internet is good at doing is keeping track of our preferences and predicting our preferences, our desires,” Lynch tells the Press. “So in a sense, it’s a sort of desire machine and we get what we want from it. Of course, what we want and what’s true are two different things.”
Lynch says social media, like Google, has shaped the way we consume content. But sites like Twitter and Facebook are different in that users are not only collecting information, but also distributing it.
That means anyone—the teenagers in Macedonia or a high-powered lobbying group—can disseminate potentially faulty information to the masses—who can then share those posts with their friends on Facebook.
Some academics see this as problematic, to say the least.
“We are in a post-Gutenberg era where we have extended freedom of speech to anyone who can spend $20 on a web template and get a high-speed internet connection,” says Wineburg of Stanford, referring to 15th century goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press and its introduction to Europe, launching a revolution in printing technology. “And so we have invented tools that are handling us, and not us them.”
What is true and what’s not took on greater significance in 2016 largely due to the frenzied presidential election. Trump, according to fact-checkers, was the candidate who was most disengaged with the truth. According to PolitiFact, 69-percent of his statements were considered “mostly false,” “false,” or “pants on fire.” His remarks were completely true only 4 percent of the time.
By contrast, Clinton’s truth scorecard had her telling an honest statement 25 percent of the time. Her combined false score was 26 percent, according to PolitiFact.
Traditional truths in the public arena were in such short supply in 20016 that Oxford Dictionary dubbed “post-truth” its “Word of the Year,” and PolitiFact struggled so much to agree on one particularly heinous mistruth that it settled on the broadly defined “fake news” as this year’s most egregious lie.
“Each year, PolitiFact awards a ‘Lie of the Year’ to take stock of a misrepresentation that arguably beats all others in its impact or ridiculousness. In 2016: where to start?” the site wrote. “With such a deep backlash against being truthful in political speech, no one person (though there are world-class frontrunners) and no one political claim perfectly stands out as the dust settles from an extraordinary campaign.”
Among the most-shared fake news stories in 2016 is one that emerged from a phony site called The Denver Guardian with a headline that screamed: “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder Suicide.”
A search of that headline on Facebook shows that the debunked story continues to live on the site. Thousands have either shared the article or commented, with one person writing: “I won’t be surprised if she put a hit on this FBI man and his family. This smells fishy and its (sic) stinks.”
What was actually fishy was the story itself—but not that it mattered.
When the administrator of one pro-Trump Facebook page that shared the story with the caption “You be the judge” was notified that the story was false, they bristled, offering an unapologetic retort.
“You think the Dems don’t lie by the truck load?” the administrator wrote. “And WIN because of it. I didn’t write the story. Don’t know if it’s true or false and don’t really care. They don’t fight fair why should we?”
Lynch describes two phenomenons at play: “implicitly recognizing bullshit…and then saying well the other side does it too” and “sharing [a story] and saying well, ‘I can’t tell what’s true but I’m going to share this anyway.’”
“What both of those phenomenons tend to reveal is that social media, and the sharing that goes on in social media, isn’t actually sometimes about reporting facts,” he adds. “It goes under that guise so people will share information under the idea that they’re sort-of fact-checking the mainstream media or they’re giving alternative views that looks as if they’re engaged in distributing factual information.”
To quantify just how viral fake stories were, a BuzzFeed analysis found that in the last three months of the presidential campaign the top-performing fake news stories inspired more engagement than articles from major news sources.
“I’m troubled that Facebook is doing so little to combat fake news,” Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth College, told BuzzFeed. “Even if they did not swing the election, the evidence is clear that bogus stories have incredible reach on the network. Facebook should be fighting misinformation, not amplifying it.”
Before acquiescing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the idea of fake news influencing the election was a “pretty crazy idea.”
A month later, Facebook issued a statement saying it would began flagging fake news stories and work with such fact-checking sites as PolitiFact and Snopes that would scrutinize the articles. Disputed stories would still appear in news feeds, but would come with a warning that states: “Disputed by 3rd Party Fact-Checkers.”
Facebook’s newfound dominance in the news distribution business played a direct role in the spreading of disturbingly false stores, says Lynch.
“Google searches are now not as much a source of information of news, according to some data, as Facebook is,” he says. “That’s what made the fake news phenomenon so painful, [it] was because most of the people were getting these fake news stories because of seeing them on Twitter and Facebook and other social media sites that’s distributed, not by some faceless entity, but by one of their friends.”
Much of what’s happening on the internet today, Lynch says, jives with what esteemed philosopher Marshall McLuhan said decades ago: “The medium is the message.”
“Whether it’s reading from a book or reading online or just talking to people, can shape the way in which we understand information.”
‘Zuckerberg Cannot Save Us’
Between January 2015 and June 2016, researchers from the Stanford History Education Group at Stanford University studied how adolescents analyze news, and found that more than 80 percent of middle school students were unable to differentiate between so-called “sponsored content”—online posts that appear to look like stories but are paid for by advertisers—and news stories.
“Some students even mentioned that it was sponsored content but still believed that it was a news article,” the study’s authors wrote. “This suggests that many students have no idea what ‘sponsored content’ means and that is something that must be explicitly taught as early as elementary school.”
Students are not alone. Stanford’s Wineburg, the study’s lead author, says an industry analysis revealed that 59 percent of adults had the same problem distinguishing the two.
The inability among the general public to decipher real news and advertisements is just part of the problem, Wineburg says. The way in which adults typically read digital content and print is the same: vertically. Meanwhile, fact checkers and researchers tend to consume digital content laterally—scrutinizing sources by opening multiple tabs and trying to pull the wool over a website’s true owner.
“The higher something is on a Google search they impute greater trustworthiness to it,” Wineburg says of college students, adding that this represents “a fundamental misunderstanding of search engine optimizers, the algorithms that Google uses.”
A society in which people are better equipped to analyze who’s writing a certain piece of content and the goal behind it is critical to a more stable democracy, he argues.
“The quality of information is to civic intelligence what clean air and clean water are to public health,” Wineburg adds.
Howard Schneider, the founding dean of SBU’s School of Journalism, said the course has been taught to more than 10,000 students on campus and has been adopted by 20 other universities in the United States and abroad.
“When we started the school in 2006 we said it was no longer sufficient for journalism schools just to train journalists,” Schneider tells the Press. “Given all of the changes in the way we get information, and the way it spreads, and the fact that we’re all now publishers and have the ability to basically publish anything we want and spread it, we have to train the audience.”
“The fake news phenomenon…is the latest manifestation of how the communications revolution is making it even more challenging for consumers to find reliable information,” he says.
One of the first techniques the center teaches is to slow down the way in which students process information.
“It’s getting faster and faster,” he said of the 24/7 news cycle, “and it’s a mix of real journalism and fake journalism and rumor and propaganda and infotainment and advertising and native advertising, so the first rule is stop.”
“The second thing is to ask some questions, and these are obvious,” Schneider continues. “In a way you have to think like a journalist thinks: How do you know what I’m saying is true? What’s the evidence? The more outrageous the story the higher the bar should be before you trust or share anything. Check whether the story supports the headline. When you see a headline, read the story, don’t just only read headlines.
“Always ask…who are the sources in the story? How do I know that these are trusted sources? How do I know where it comes from? And on social media you’ve got a whole other world you have to worry about.”
The good news is help is on its way. SBU’s Center for News Literacy is launching a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) globally on Jan. 7. The course will be taught in three languages—English, Spanish and Chinese—and is completely free. (Students that want a certificate will have to pay for one.)
This will give consumers of digital content the opportunity to learn how to weed out fact from fiction, news from opinion, and propaganda from scientifically backed research.
Learning the ways of this post-truth Internet could potentially better equip readers the next time a story with a flashy headline rolls across the screen.
“Mark Zuckerberg cannot save us,” says Wineburg. “The genie is out of the bottle. What used to be the responsibility” of journalists and editors “now falls on the shoulders of anybody who owns a smartphone. So Zuckerberg will come up with a bot that allows us to indicate wobbly content, there’s going to be an enterprising group of Macedonian teenagers who figure out a way to circumvent it.
“What we have to do, is we have to endow ordinary citizens who learn about the world through a digital device to become more thoughtful about evaluating that digital content.”
Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino, who ignited a firestorm last week over his racist comments about the Obamas, has 24 hours to resign from his seat on the Buffalo School Board. Otherwise the board will ask the New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to have him removed.
By a vote of 6-3, the Buffalo School Board on Thursday adopted a resolution, which effectively serves as an ultimatum to Paladino: Get out or be forced out.
Paladino served as President-elect Donald Trump’s New York State campaign co-chair during the election.
The vote comes almost a week to the day that Paladino’s racially insensitive comments sparked controversy. In a response to questions from the Buffalo alt-weekly Artvoice, Paladino said he wished that President Barack Obama would die of Mad Cow disease and that First Lady Michelle Obama would “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe.”
An unapologetic Paladino initially said his remarks, which many criticized as outright racist, were nothing more than an attempt at humor. But in a letter to the paper on Tuesday, he said he mistakenly passed along his comments to the newspaper rather than his friends, which he claimed were the intended recipients of his wishes for 2017.
Paladino, who was defeated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the 2010 gubernatorial race, titled the letter: “I certainly am not a racist.”
Although his local support has waned, Paladino has resisted calls to resign.
The school board’s resolution characterized Paladino’s comments as “unambiguously racist, morally repugnant, flagrantly disrespectful, inflammatory and inexcusable comments” that casts the western New York city in a bad light.
“Mr. Paladino’s behavior has irrevocably impacted the work of the Buffalo Board of Education by negatively impacting the Buffalo City School District in its goal of safeguarding the nights of all students in promoting a safe and healthy environment in which students are treated respectfully, by everyone,” the resolution states. He was elected to the school board in 2013.
Paladino issued a statement late Thursday suggesting that the board’s vote was politically motivated.
While not explicitly stating that he’d resign, Paladino said he’d “fight to the end to continue to expose corruption.”
The comments that stirred the controversy came in response to a series of New Year-related questions from Artvoice, titled, “What do we want for 2017?,” which it sent to notable figures in the Buffalo area.
Paladino replied: “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.”
Asked who’d he’d like to “go away” next year, Paladino responded: “Michele Obama…I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
As criticism mounted over his comments, Paladino issued an apology letter to Artvoice saying that he “never intended to hurt the minority community who I spent years trying to help out of the cycle of poverty in our inner cities. To them I apologize.”
He added that he received the paper’s survey at “an emotional moment” as he was listening to Obama’s recent statement on the situation in Aleppo, Syria.
“Your survey questions provided me with the spark to vent and write deprecating humor about a bad President for whom the mainstream media continues to seek an undeserved legacy,” Paladino said.
Gov. Cuomo was quick to decry Paladino’s remarks, as was a spokesperson from Trump’s transition team, who called the comments “absolutely reprehensible.”
The school board’s vote comes one day after the Buffalo Common Council, the city’s legislative body, voted unanimously to have Paladino removed from his seat.
Earlier the Buffalo News reported that Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz called on Paladino to resign immediately, as did Assemblyman Sean Ryan D-Buffalo, who said Paladino’s comments are “outrageous, dangerous and disturbing.”
Paladino has refused to bow out, and the controversy continues.
Super Bowl LI (51) will kickoff at around 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Feb. 5.
It’s never too early to start planning for the big game, even if it’s still more than a month away.
While many teams continue to jockey for position, one thing is clear: the only squad from our region with a shot at the Lombardi Trophy are the Giants, good ol’ Big Blue, who have secured their first postseason spot since 2011—the last time they lifted the coveted championship trophy. (We’ll update this section as the season progresses.)
Upstate New York Republican Carl Paladino, a former gubernatorial candidate, ignited a firestorm of criticism Friday for “racist” and “reprehensible” remarks including his wish that President Obama “catch mad cow disease” and “dies” and First Lady Michelle Obama “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe.”
The racially insensitive comments from Paladino, who supported President-elect Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, came in response to four questions posed by Artvoice, a Buffalo alt-weekly, for an article related to the new year titled, “What do we want for 2017?”
In response to the paper’s first question—“What would you like most to happen in 2017?”—Paladino said: “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.”
Asked who’d he’d like to “go away” next year, Paladino responded, “Michele Obama.”
“I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla,” he added.
The comments garnered swift condemnation from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his former 2010 gubernatorial race rival.
“Carl Paladino, a Republican Party official from Western New York, made racist, ugly and reprehensible remarks about President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“Paladino has a long history of racist and incendiary comments,” he added. “While most New Yorkers know Mr. Paladino is not to be taken seriously, as his erratic behavior defies any rational analysis and he has no credibility, his words are still jarring. His remarks do not reflect the sentiments or opinions of any real New Yorker and he has embarrassed the good people of the state with his latest hate-filled rage.”
Paladino’s comments also drew a rebuke from the president-elect’s transition team, calling the remarks “absolutely reprehensible.”
The Obama administration Thursday rescinded the regulatory framework for a widely criticized post-9/11 travel registration system that has been dormant for five years after officials deemed it redundant and ineffective.
The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to effectively kill the program—the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS)—came after a wave of civil rights groups petitioned the administration to dismantle it. Critics considered the program, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, discriminatory toward Muslims, since it affected only those coming from 24 predominantly Muslim countries, plus North Korea.
The DHS’ notice states that NSEERS was ineffective in that it required personnel to manually register non-immigrant travelers, while more efficient, automated programs later adopted proved much more effective in tracking non-citizens entering the country. The DHS de-listed the 25 countries associated with the program in April 2011, but left its regulatory framework in place.
“The regulatory structure pertaining to NSEERS no longer provides a discernable public benefit as the program has been rendered obsolete,” the DHS said in its notice.
The move by the Obama White House is its first direct response to President-elect Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, which include proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States and creating an NSEERS-like registration system.
Trump on Wednesday reportedly suggested he might go ahead with his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States following the terror attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.
Following Trump’s election, several immigrant advocacy and rights groups called on Obama to rescind the NSEERS regulatory framework, warning that if left untouched, Trump would be able to resurrect the program despite its deficiencies. Groups wrote letters, signed petitions and marched to the White House to express their dismay over the Obama administration’s failure to dismantle the program’s legal basis.
“The NSEERS program was all at once ineffective, expensive and discriminatory. It did not lead to a single known terrorist conviction, it has been discredited by the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector general, as well as former DHS leaders in the George W. Bush administration,” said Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, director of the Center for Immigrants Rights Clinic at Penn State Law, who has studied the program for years.
“For the Trump supporters who care about cost, NSEERS was [a] failed experiment,” she added. “For the Trump supporter who cares about finding the next ‘dangerous person,’ singling out Muslim men is not the way to finding…the next terrorist or a substitute for actual intelligence gathering. For the Trump supporter that believes in the rule of law and the US Constitution, NSEERS was at the brink or in the middle of raising major questions of constitutional law, or at least, being in the bucket of lawful but awful.”
Joanne Lin, senior legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union, in a statement hailed Thursday’s decision.
“NSEERS was a completely failed counter-terrorism tool and massive profiling program that didn’t yield a single terrorism conviction in nearly a decade,” she said. “The ACLU applauds the Obama administration for terminating NSEERS for good. With this action, the U.S. is on the right path to protect Muslim and Arab immigrants from discrimination.”
Operated by the DHS, the program, which was intended to add an additional layer of security at points of entry and exit throughout the country, failed to lead to one terror prosecution. The program was later found to be redundant, and the DHS’ Inspector General, in a 2012 report, cited terminating NSEERS as a way of better conserving resources.
NSEERS collected the identities of 80,000 men and teenage boys from the impacted nations, as it required them to register with customs officials as they entered the country. The government placed more than 13,000 men in removal proceedings for such violations as failing to timely re-register with local immigration offices.
NSEERS had a three-pronged approach: It collected information of non-immigrants from 25 countries entering the United States, required those registered to inform customers officials when leaving the country, and forced men already in the country to “check in” with their local immigration office.
Immigration advocates criticized the program from the start. Many of those who would’ve complied with immigration requirements could not because they were left in the dark about their responsibilities, advocates said.
In one case, a 19-year-old man in the United States on a student visa was placed in removal proceedings because a car accident caused him to postpone his visit to a local immigration office by a day.
The program created such confusion at times that department heads released memos to employees across the country to use “prosecutorial discretion” in light of legitimate excuses.
“The federal government relied principally on notices in the Federal Register to inform the public of registration requirements, and, like the majority of the American population, most individuals subject to NSEERS were not familiar with the Federal Register or the requirements contained therein,” researchers at the Center for Immigrants’ Rights at Penn State Law said in a 2012 report.
One of NSEERS’ architects, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, reportedly serves on Trump’s transition team, and in a meeting with the president-elect, was photographed holding documents suggesting the government would restart the program.
Kobach’s proposal would seem to even further single out Muslims by adding “extreme vetting questions for high-risk aliens: question them regarding support for Sharia law, jihad, equality of men and women, the United States Constitution,” according to notes that were photographed.
Without any specific proposals it’s difficult to discern how Thursday’s decision by the Obama administration would impact Trump’s policies going forward, Wadhia of Penn State Law, said, adding that if the president-elect wanted to re-implement the program he’d “have to start from scratch.”
Any ban “singularly focused on faith” would raise serious constitutional questions, Wadhia said.
If the incoming administration does go forward and implements a similar program, it could possibly face prolonged legal challenges, she suggested.
“I think his rhetoric during the election could lead to a wider foundation for bringing legal challenges, especially surrounding animus and any intentional discrimination,” Wadhia said.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called on President Obama to dismantle the legal framework of a since-shuttered post-9/11 traveler registration system criticized as a redundant and ineffective national security tool that’s discriminatory toward Muslims.
Established by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) captured the names of non-immigrants entering the US who originated from 24 predominantly Muslim nations as well as North Korea.
Enforcement measures included capturing names and fingerprints of males at US points of entry and tracking when they exit the country. The database eventually amassed more than 80,000 names of men and teenagers—none of whom were ever singled out as potential terror suspects.
Instead of weeding out potential troublemakers, the program placed 13,000 men in removal proceedings for such infractions as failing to re-register with immigration authorities, despite federal officials themselves admitting the process was confusing. In separate memos, department heads ordered subordinates to use “prosecutorial discretion” when a legitimate excuse was given.
The Department of Homeland Security de-listed the countries in April 2011 after concluding automated systems it had adopted made the manual process of registering specific individuals unnecessary. The agency also admitted that NSEERS failed in providing additional security measures.
“As you are aware,” Schneiderman told Obama in his letter, dated Dec. 19, “NSEERS sought to track and register non-immigrant males from primarily Arab, Muslim and South Asian countries who were not suspected or accused of any wrongdoing. The program did not achieve its intended purpose of reducing terrorist activity in the United States. Instead, NSEERS undermined the trust and hindered open communications between law enforcement and community members, thus hampering the ability of law enforcement to promote public safety.”
Placing 13,000 men in removal proceedings “devastated” communities, Schneiderman added, echoing decade-long criticisms by immigration advocates.
Rights groups have in the past lambasted the program as discriminatory because of its focus on two-dozen Muslim nations. The program included a domestic agenda, which stipulated that certain men currently in the US check in at immigration offices. Many of those impacted by the program were in the dark about their periodic registration requirements, leaving them in legal limbo, immigration advocates have said.
Schneiderman’s entreaty to Obama, a fellow Democrat, comes after dozens of Muslim and civil rights groups wrote a similar letter to the president on Nov. 21 asking him to rescind NSEERS’ regulatory framework. That letter documented the case of a 19-year-old Algerian athlete who came to the US on a student visa and whose visit to the local immigration office was delayed by one day because of a car accident, yet was still placed in removal proceedings.
Additionally, NSEERS’ critics marched to the White House last week armed with a petition that aired similar grievances.
Margo Schlanger, who once presided over the DHS’ Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties under Obama, previously told the Press that there was “no security case to be made for NSEERS.”
“All the people who come in on Visas are interviewed and tracked, and so we don’t have to pick based on generalizations, we can just interview and track everyone,” Schlanger said.
Writing to Obama, Schneiderman said the DHS made the correct decision in 2011 to eliminate the countries from the system and now urges Obama “to fully dismantle what is left of NSEERS so that it can longer be used to instill fear and mistrust within the communities we serve.”
A Nassau Community College student dubbed a “miscreant” and a “bigot” by Nassau police’s top cop was arrested for a string of anti-Semitic graffiti at the college over the last two months.
Police on Tuesday charged 20-year-old Jasskirat Saini of Plainview with multiple counts of aggravated harassment. He will be arraigned Wednesday at First District Court in Hempstead.
Saini, according to police, was responsible for drawing swastikas inside various bathrooms at the college and tagging one such room with the words “Germany” and “Heil Hitler.”
Anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at the college on at least six different occasions from Oct. 15 until Dec. 16, police said.
Saini allegedly told police the graffiti was in response to his feeling slighted by the Jewish community in Plainview.
Acting-Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said at a press conference Tuesday evening that hate crimes directed at any community won’t be tolerated by the department.
NCC President W. Hubert Keen in a statement said the college is “deeply saddened” the alleged perpetrator is a student, adding, “it reminds us that a zero-tolerance policy and a rigorous program of on-campus anti-bias programs must be reaffirmed every day.”
Police continue to investigate two recent bias crimes in Mineola, including the discovery of swastikas etched in the snow outside one residence and the words “Make America White Again” and anti-Semitic imagery spray painted outside another.
Nassau County police are investigating three separate incidents in which swastikas were discovered over the last three days, including yet another report of anti-Semitic imagery at Nassau Community College.
On Friday, police were alerted to the college’s East Garden City campus after a professor said he found multiple swastikas drawn in the men’s bathroom of the “G” building. That same day, officers responded to a 7-Eleven in Merrick after a customer observed anti-Semitic graffiti written on the store’s exterior wall. Police did not specify what the message contained. Finally, cops were called to a home in Mineola on Saturday for a complaint of five swastikas etched in the snow.
The Third Precinct is investigating all three incidents as bias crimes. The discoveries come as members of the Jewish community and other minority groups have expressed concern over the apparent rise of hate crimes since the Nov. 8 presidential election.
In response, community groups have convened special gatherings of faith groups, elected officials and law enforcement to discuss varying ideas—from better education to cops being more proactive—to address the spate of crimes.
Only a few of the hateful messages have explicitly mentioned President-elect Donald Trump himself or his campaign slogan, though it’s still unclear of the anti-Semitic messaging is in response to the businessman’s ascension to the White House.
In a statement released 10 days ago when the unsettling discoveries were first reported to the public, NCC President Hubert Keen said the school has “zero tolerance for any and all kinds of hate speech,” adding that such actions are “unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Mineola has also been the scene of anti-Jewish graffiti. Nassau police said it is investigating a hate crime in Mineola in which “Make America White Again”—a play on Trump’s oft-repeated slogan—as well as a racial slur and swastikas were found spray-painted on a Mineola sidewalk earlier this month.
The previous cases all remain unsolved and under investigation.
As NYPD officers staked out an Afghan restaurant in Huntington that appeared to be on the up-and-up, the police officers charged with spying on the eatery apparently didn’t find anything incriminating to report.
So with nothing nefarious afoot, they settled on the most trivial of observations.
“A medium sized Afghani restaurant.”
“This restaurant has twelve tables and seating for 40-50 customers.”
“This location has belly dancing on the weekends.”
To anyone fond of ethnic cuisine and an ancient form of belly gyrations, such a discovery would be welcomed. The NYPD, however, was not interested in the mundane lives of Muslim Americans who emigrated to the US to earn a living, raise a family.
After the Sept, 11, 2001 attacks, the NYPD created a massive surveillance operation—aided by at least one CIA operative—directed at Muslims. It led the police department entrusted with policing the five boroughs to stretch its increasingly growing intelligence apparatus to Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and even parts of Pennsylvania.
As part of its strategy, the department dropped a dragnet on Muslim-owned businesses, mosques, and collegiate student associations. The program, and the unit that enforced the measures, which has since been disbanded, was a localized version of the Bush administration’s war on terror. The entire operation was a secret until the Associated Press exposed the program in a series of stories that eventually earned the wire service a Pulitzer Prize.
Despite the police department’s efforts, the chief of the NYPD Intelligence Division admitted under oath in 2012 that the program failed to generate even one lead.
That program, however, did have a lasting effect. For some Muslim communities, it sowed distrust in the very people who pledged to protect them.
Muslim surveillance “created a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion, encroaching upon every aspect of individual and community life,” the CUNY School of Law reported in 2013 after conducting a trove of interviews.
The NYPD observed the goings on around small shops, occasionally reporting “nothing of interest was observed.”
It listened in on conversations and sermons inside mosques, took photo and video surveillance of targeted locations, oversaw a roster of informants, placed the names of law-abiding Americans into an intelligence database and spied on Muslim Student Associations at local colleges.
“Surveillance has chilled constitutionally protected rights—curtailing religious practice , censoring speech and stunting political organizing,” CUNY School of Law added in its report.
A conversation an undercover officer had with the son of a shop owner in Patchogue offered no justification for their efforts.
“Most of his customers are Pakistani and few are Indian,” the son said of his dad’s business. “We cater mostly to the Pakistani community because there are more of them in this area. We ship products directly from Pakistan. I also sell calling cards at a discounted rate.”
Two years after the NYPD disbanded the unit that carried out a mission that has been called unconstitutional and discriminatory by rights groups, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) proposed the federal government create a similar program during a meeting Thursday with President-elect Donald Trump.
“They were very effective for stopping terrorism,” King told reporters after his meeting with the incoming president. “And they should be a model for the country.”
King’s comments set off a rapid response from the American Civil Liberties Union, which Tweeted: “This would be unconstitutional and we would sue.”
The ACLU is currently in settlement negotiations with New York City over the police department’s surveillance operation.
In January, the police department agreed to increased oversight of counterterrorism investigations. Under the agreement, the city would appoint a civilian representative who would monitor investigations and report any violations. The proposed settlement, which must be approved by the court, also stipulated that authorization for operations using undercover officers or confidential informants could only originate from a high-ranking police official.
The settlement is an extension of the decades-old Handschu Guidelines, which prohibits the police department from conducting religious or politically-motivated investigations. After 9/11, however, the NYPD won approval from a court to modify the long-standing class action lawsuit, which was originally brought in 1971. The opposing sides are back at the negotiating table after a federal judge in October rejected the settlement, saying the agreed upon protections did not go far enough.
The NYPD’s controversial surveillance measures are also the subject of a separate lawsuit brought by New Jersey residents. That case is still pending after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reinstated the lawsuit following a lower court’s dismissal. The plaintiffs in that case argue Muslims were the focus of covert operations “solely because they are Muslim or believed to be Muslim.”
Responding to the city’s argument that plaintiffs did not suffer any injuries from the operation because it has not “overtly condemned the Muslim religion,” the court said: “This argument does not stand the test of time.”
“Our Nation’s history teaches the uncomfortable lesson that those not on discrimination’s receiving end can all too easily gloss over the ‘badge of inferiority’ inflicted by unequal treatment itself,” the court said. “Closing our eyes to the real and ascertainable harms of discrimination inevitably leads to morning-after regret.”
Muslim Americans often cringe at the suggestion of further government surveillance.
Dr. Mamoon Iqbal, board member at Masjid Noor in Huntington, said he’s disturbed that “Muslim Americans’ value” is judged “solely as a national security asset, which its not. We have more to bring to the table than the eyes and ears of homeland security.”
As for King’s comments, Iqbal brushed them off as “political.”
“I think it’s really unfortunate because Peter King in the past used to be a good friend to the Muslims,” he said, in particular citing the congressman’s visit to a Bay Shore mosque.
King lost favor with many Muslims on Long Island following his so-called “Muslim radicalization” hearings in Washington, D.C., which began in 2011. At the time, King had served as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The hearings ignited several protests with various rights groups and Muslim advocates labeling the hearings inappropriate. King was undeterred.
“To back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee—to protect America from a terrorist attack.”
King is among the critics unimpressed with President Barack Obama’s refusal to refer terrorists as “radical Islamist terrorists.” Obama, and President George W. Bush before him, believed identifying Muslims radicalized by a perverted interpretation of the religion would provide more ammunition to terrorists who recruit people based on claims that the West is at war with Islam.
Trump voiced similar criticisms during the presidential election—one of the most controversial and incendiary in modern US history.
The president-elect was accused during his campaign in trafficking in racism and Islamophobia after suggesting all non-US Muslims be banned from entering the country.
Trump himself has not commented on King’s proposal, but he may be amenable to policies directed at the Muslim American community if some ideas he broached during the campaign are any indication, such as instituting a Muslim registry or database and enforcing surveillance of mosques.
Muslim advocacy groups have already reacted to potential policies targeting their community after an advisor to Trump’s transition team bumbled his paperwork after leaving a meeting with the president-elect. Listed as one of his top immigration policies: “update and reintroduce the NSEERS screening and tracking system.”
The document was referring to the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System instituted by the Bush administration to track immigrants from mostly Muslim countries. The program was considered a failure.
Muslim Americans and their supporters demonstrated outside the White House to this week to demand Obama rescind NSEERS’ legal basis.
NSEERS, like the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims, did not generate a single terror-related case. The Department of Homeland Security later did away with it, but the Obama administration never gutted its regulatory framework, leaving concern among rights groups that Trump may reinstate the program. That and utilizing the full weight of federal law enforcement to spy on Muslims will likely contribute to the angst many Muslim Americans continue to feel after the election of Trump as president.
“It’s kind of disturbing,” Iqbal from Masjid Noor in Huntington said. “But at the same time, we’re going to weather through this. There is some cautious optimism in the sense that we know we’re not alone, we have people that support us.”