January 9, 2017

This is the excerpt

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Top Stories:

WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russian Threat While Public Is Deceived”, Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide. And then, as has happened so often, when the story turns out to be false or misleading, little or nothing is done to correct the deceitful effects. And, most amazingly of all, these are the same people constantly decrying the threat posed by Fake News.

Further Reading: “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” — Intelligence Community Assessment
This is the intelligence report on the alleged Russian government’s intervention in the US election. These are the same people who wrote the 2002 WMD report that was used by the Bush Administration to mislead the public into the Iraq War. I found this report to be underwhelming due to its COMPLETE LACK OF EVIDENCE. They explain that by saying sharing evidence would compromise their methods and sources. Bullocks. Action should require evidence. Russian intervention is precedented and believable (They, just like us, have a long history of intervening in foreign elections), but until they show real evidence and get specific about the scope, we ought to treat these allegations with a high level of scrutiny.

This week in Swamp Monsters:

Treasury Nominee Steve Mnuchin’s Bank Accused of “Widespread Misconduct” in Leaked Memo” — David Dayen, The Intercept

…leaders of the state attorney general’s Consumer Law Section said they had “uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct” in a yearlong investigation. In a detailed 22-page request, they identified over a thousand legal violations in the small subsection of OneWest loans they were able to examine, and they recommended that Attorney General Kamala Harris file a civil enforcement action against the Pasadena-based bank. They even wrote up a sample legal complaint, seeking injunctive relief and millions of dollars in penalties.

But Harris’s office, without any explanation, declined to prosecute the case.

Odds and Ends

Song of the Week:
Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell is an autobiographical album that harkens back to his earlier work. The album is named after his mother and stepfather and devotes a lot of the material to them. “Fourth of July” is about the last moments of his mother Carrie’s life and the lyrics are inspired by their last conversation. Sufjan is wearing his heart on his sleeve and his emotions surrounding this moment are complicated by the turbulent relationship between he and his mother. It is a touching and vulnerable song.

“Fourth of July” — Sufjan Stevens Carrie & Lowell

Video of the Week:
“The News” — Alain de Botton, The School of Life

This video is from The School of Life’s “Sunday Lecture” series, a sort of attempt at non-theistic church service. Taking that lens to the media results in an apolitical critique of the media today that I find immensely perceptive. My lens for the media is heavily shaped by Noam Chomsky’s propaganda model and I found Alain’s perspective to be refreshing and it really resonates. Thought provoking and a must-watch.

 

Nations (Additions in BOLD)

Rachael and I have embarked on a years-long ambition to memorize all the nations and capitals. I’m adding 10-15 each week and posting it here so you can join us and/or help us by throwing us a pop quiz from time to time!

South America
Argentina — Buenos Aires
Bolivia — La Paz
Brazil — Brasilia
Chile — Santiago
Colombia — Bogota
Ecuador — Quito
French Guiana — Cayenne
Guyana — Georgetown
Paraguay — Asuncion
Peru — Lima
Suriname — Paramaribo
Uruguay — Montevideo
Venezuela — Caracas

North America
Belize — Belmopan
Canada — Ottawa
Costa Rica — San Jose
Cuba — Havana
Dominican Republic — Santo Domingo
El Salvador — San Salvador
Guatemala — Guatemala City
Haiti — Port-au-Prince
Honduras — Tegucigalpa
Jamaica — Kingston
Mexico — Mexico DF
Nicaragua — Managua
Panama — Panama City
Puerto Rico — San Juan

Europe
Belarus — Minsk
Bulgaria — Sofia
Czech Republic — Prague
Hungary — Budapest
Moldova — Chisinau
Poland — Warsaw
Romania — Bucharest
Russia — Moscow
Slovakia — Bratislava
Ukraine — Kiev
Albania — Tirana
Bosnia and Herzegovina — Sarajevo
Croatia — Zagreb
Cyprus — Nicosia
Estonia — Tallinn
Latvia — Riga
Lithuania — Vilnius
Macedonia — Skopje
Montenegro — Podgorica
Serbia — Belgrade
Slovenia — Ljubljana
Turkey — Ankara

January 2, 2017

This is the post excerpt

Happy New Year!!

“The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan’s Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking”,  Maria Popova, Brainpickings

Brainpickings is an amazing blog in which Maria Popova shares selections, thoughts, and insights from the books that she’s reading and she never disappoints. I keep a bookmarks folder of my favorite brainpickings on my internet browser. Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit” is a personal favorite.

Journalism in America today is in critical condition. On one end of the spectrum we have mainstream  media (MSM), which I believe is too heavily influenced by both ideology and the bottom line to be solely relied upon. The other end is fake news, which include various blogs, magazines, and websites with zero journalistic standards that have no checks to keep from lying outright.

Over the years I’ve tried different methods of countering the bullshit in modern journalism to varying degrees of success. What I’m on now is a sort of “trust, but verify” approach in which I try to choose my news sources carefully (mostly independent media with good journalistic standards) and I try to approach these trustworthy publications with epistemological tools in order to keep my head on straight. The first rule that I would add to Sagan’s kit is to double the scrutiny of anything that fits with what you believe, because confirmation bias is a persistent and devious foe.

The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/01/03/baloney-detection-kit-carl-sagan/

“Germany moves to atone for ‘forgotten genocide’ in Namibia: Berlin discusses possible reparations payments over massacre of tens of thousands of people in the early years of 20th century”, Jason Burke and Philip Oltermann, The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/25/germany-moves-to-atone-for-forgotten-genocide-in-namibia

Germany is pursuing policy to recognize and pay reparations for one of the first genocides of the 20th century. Descendants of the victims say it’s not enough, but it’s certainly a start. In honor of Germany trying to do the right thing, I’m adding three articles published last year that debate the concept for African Americans here in the United States. The first is Ta-Nehisi Coates case for reparations, the second is a refutation of Coates’s argument and is against reparations, and the third refutes both and makes its own case for reparations. Lengthy, but interesting.

“The Case for Reparations: Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”, Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

“An Open Letter to Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Liberals Who Love Him”, Cedric Johnson, Jacobin

The reparations demand survives as a parlor debate — it cannot address the real needs and interests of black workers

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/02/ta-nehisi-coates-case-for-reparations-bernie-sanders-racism/

“The Socialist Case for Reparations”, Brian Jones, Jacobin

Class politics and reparations aren’t at odds — they’re part of the same struggle.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/03/reparations-ta-nehisi-coates-cedric-johnson-bernie-sanders/

The following is the video of the week. It’s a man I’ve only recently come across, but he stands to be a personal favorite. Not only does he have a Scottish accent (awesome!) but he’s also a professor of Economics at Brown University. He predicted both Brexit and Trump’s election victory and has more than a penny’s worth of thoughts to share about what’s going on in the world today. This is Professor Mark Blyth on what he is calling “Global Trumpism”. Fascinating stuff imo (in my opinion).

Video of the Week:
“Global Trumpism And The Revolt Against the Creditor Class”, Mark Blyth

“What we have everywhere are creditor-debtor standoffs,” he said. “If you look at the states that really fell hard [for Trump] in the Rust Belt, it is economic. Now, if you recognize that simple fact, you can put Trump in there with Brexit.”

Nations of the Week! (New additions are in BOLD)
Rachael and I have embarked on a years-long ambition to memorize all the nations and capitals. I’m adding 10-15 each week and posting it here so you can join us and/or help us by throwing us a pop quiz from time to time!

South America
Argentina — Buenos Aires
Bolivia — La Paz
Brazil — Brasilia
Chile — Santiago
Colombia — Bogota
Ecuador — Quito
French Guiana — Cayenne
Guyana — Georgetown
Paraguay — Asuncion
Peru — Lima
Suriname — Paramaribo
Uruguay — Montevideo
Venezuela — Caracas

North America
Belize — Belmopan
Canada — Ottawa
Costa Rica — San Jose
Cuba — Havana
Dominican Republic — Santo Domingo
El Salvador — San Salvador
Guatemala — Guatemala City
Haiti — Port-au-Prince
Honduras — Tegucigalpa
Jamaica — Kingston
Mexico — Mexico DF
Nicaragua — Managua
Panama — Panama City
Puerto Rico — San Juan

Eastern Europe
Belarus — Minsk
Bulgaria — Sofia
Czech Republic — Prague
Hungary — Budapest
Moldova — Chisinau
Poland — Warsaw
Romania — Bucharest
Russia — Moscow
Slovakia — Bratislava
Ukraine — Kiev

December 26, 2016

This is the post excerpt

“Keeping the Feast”, Sojourners’ series on the saints

The saints are an interesting topic of conversation to bring up with non-Catholics. I find that often protestants have an aversion to “worshiping” idols before Jesus and the non-religious have a “what do saints have to do with me?” attitude. Those aversions, to me, are a real shame and they misunderstand the relationship Catholics have with their saints and you can take it from an atheist that there’s something in the saints for everybody! Hagiography is the study of a diversity great people who overcame all sorts of different obstacles. A source of inspiration and contemplation too valuable to be written off as a catholic thing, there is sure to be a saint for everybody. Here’s Sojourner Ryan Hammill’s explanation of why he cares about the saints:
https://sojo.net/articles/keeping-feast/why-care-about-saints

When I talk to the Christians whom I want to emulate, I find that they talk about other people — a mentor or a pastor or a spouse or a parent or a writer or a friend or someone else who changed them. If their life had an acknowledgments page, it’d be pretty long. And if you could go talk to those people, they’d probably talk about someone else. And so would those people, and those people, and those people. And eventually, I guess you’d get all the way back to John or Martha or Mary or Peter. And they’d tell you all about this guy named Yeshua, whom they followed around for a few years in Capernaum and Jericho and Jerusalem. Which makes sense, I guess. Christianity isn’t about me following Jesus, following Yeshua. It’s about all of us following Jesus, following Yeshua, together. It’s about 21st century Americans and Asians, along with 12th century Europeans, and 3rd century Africans and 1st century Jews and everyone in between following Jesus, together. And with people in the future. However long that goes on.

“Keeping the Feast”, Ryan Hammill, Sojourners
https://sojo.net/articles/series/keeping-feast

“This American Fought ISIS. Now He’s Trying to Get Washington to Untabgle Its Syria Policy”, Wes Enzinna, Mother Jones

Amos, who is 30, Jewish, and grew up in West Virginia, has hair the hue of desert sand, and he wore big black granny sunglasses. “We’d always be driving through the desert in cars like this,” he said. “One time, during a battle, ISIS guys came streaming out of a tunnel at the bottom of a hill and I thought we were going to die. My friend kissed me on the cheek and said ‘goodbye.’ I survived, but he didn’t.”

Today Amos is fighting a new war. Since returning home in late 2015, he’s formed the American Veterans of the Kurdish Armed Forces, a group that aims to increase visibility and support for the YPG as well as the approximately 200 Americans who have illegally joined them.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/12/turkey-syria-kurds-isis-american-volunteers

“Time Out; Who Carries The Ball for Women’s Equality in Sports Media?”, Candy Lee, Ms.

Title IX has been federal law since 1972 and has changed the world of sports more than any single act. Women in college have participated at almost three times the rate since enactment, and high school girls’ participation jumped from under 300,000 in 1971 to 2.8 million in 2002. The NCAA today sponsors more women’s championships than men. . . But there remains a dearth of women in sports and resources devoted to their teams. The 2015 Market research in the United Kingdom found that almost 2 million fewer women than men exercised regularly—and that appearance and ability were two key factors. Fear of being judged kept women is keeping women from exercise and sport. Another study spotlights that sports internationally suffer from a female deficit in the governing bodies—just 13 percent of the directors of the 76 international sports federation boards are female, while only 21 percent of the directors of national sports organizations in 38 countries are women.

http://msmagazine.com/blog/2016/12/23/time-carries-ball-womens-equality-sports-media/

Happy New Year!

December 21, 2016

This is the post excerpt

Merry Christmas!!
“Ultimate Christmas”,  Mormon Tabernacle Choir

“North Carolina’s Legislative Coup Shows What Voter Suppression Will Look Like Under Trump”, Ari Berman, The Nation

“Republicans have turned North Carolina into a laboratory for subverting Democracy”

This is sort of thing is what Bernie warned about as his worst case scenario for a Trump administration.

https://www.thenation.com/article/north-carolinas-legislative-coup-shows-what-voter-suppression-will-look-like-under-trump/

“Assaults on Muslim Women Force Some to Rethink Hijab”, Yonat Shimron, Sojourners

Melissa Grajek was subjected to all kinds of taunts for wearing the hijab, but an incident at San Marcos’ (Calif.) Discovery Lake sealed the deal.

Her 1-year-old son was playing with another boy when an irate father saw her and whisked his son away, telling Grajek: “I can’t wait until Trump is president, because he’ll send you back to where you came from.”

https://sojo.net/articles/assaults-muslim-women-force-some-rethink-hijab

 

“What I had to tell my daughter about the America of her black classmates” — Sarah Kendzior, The Correspondent

For centuries, black Americans have been systematically brutalized. Now that we have video evidence — going viral — you would expect things to change. But even video cannot open the eyes of those who refuse to see.

https://thecorrespondent.com/4936/what-i-had-to-tell-my-daughter-about-the-america-of-her-black-classmates/1396148177512-d5332d71

 

“Let Them Eat Privilege”, Connor Kilpatrick, Jacobin

By forcing the middle class to divert their attention downward (and within) instead of at the real power players above, Vox and Giridharadas are playing into the Right’s hands. It’s an attempt to shame the middle class — those with some wealth but, relative to the top one or one-tenth of one percent, mere crumbs — to make them shut up about the rich and super rich and, instead, look at those below as a reminder that it could all be much worse.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/04/1-99-percent-class-inequality/

December 12, 2016

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In response to Trump’s recent pick for Secretary of State, here’s Frontline’s 2012 “Climate of Doubt” documentary.

“Climate of Doubt” Frontline
Preview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wSLe8ZXdlc

Documentary: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/climate-of-doubt/

“Trump’s Transition Team is Dirty, and It’s Dark”,George Zornick, The Nation

“This array of big special-interest operatives and lobbyists who are now engaged in this transition in these exact places where their conflict of interest is most acute.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told reporters

https://www.thenation.com/article/trumps-transition-team-is-dirty-and-its-dark/
“Disinformation, Not Fake News, Got Trump Elected, and It Is Not Stopping”, Robert Mackey, The Intercept

As with many other false stories about Clinton that have widely spread online — like the baseless rumor promoted by Infowars and then Trump that millions of non-citizens illegally voted for her, and were encouraged to do so by President Obama — this should be described as what it is: disinformation, or the sort of “black propaganda” intelligence agencies have fabricated in decades past to smear politicians they see as enemies.

https://theintercept.com/2016/12/06/disinformation-not-fake-news-got-trump-elected/

“The Blindspots of Liberalism”, Adam Fisher, Jacobin

“What an impoverished small town tells us about the dangers of not taking class seriously”

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/12/class-white-workers-trump-rural-america/
“Liberté, Egalité, Féminisme?” Mayanthi Fernando, Dissent

The specter of “home-grown jihadism” has dominated discussions of French Islam. While many simply blame Muslims and Islam for terrorism and call for more repressive tactics in the name of security, some on the left have, for pragmatic reasons, begun to take seriously the factors that create the context for jihadism, such as socioeconomic marginalization and racism against French Muslims. Surprisingly little credence on any side, however, has been given to new political movements, led by French Muslims, that are challenging the French racism and Islamophobia that can provide fertile ground for jihadism. And despite the widespread perception of Islam as oppressive to women, it is Muslim women who are playing a prominent role in these new movements.

https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/liberte-egalite-feminisme-muslim-feminists-france
“Noam Chomsky & Harry Belafonte in Conversation on Trump Sanders, the KKK, Rebellious Hearts & More”, Democracy Now!
These two GIANTS are interviewed together for the first time. They’re not going to be around much longer and I think what they have to say ought to be heard.
https://democracynow.org/2016/12/7/the_search_for_the_rebel_heart

December 5, 2016

This is the post excerpt.

“The Dangers of Anti-Trumpism”, Cinzia Arruzza, Jacobin

Comparison between Donald Trump and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi abounded throughout the presidential election campaign and have only proliferated since Trump declared victory.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/trump-trumpism-opposition-democrats-protests-berlusconi/
“Potential DNC Leader Keith Ellison’s Controversial Law School Columns Show Anger, Not Bigotry ” Zaid Jilani,  The Intercept

NPR recently carried out something between good journalism and an outright hit on the legislator from Minnesota who is poised to be the next chair of the DNC for his relationship to the controversial Nation of Islam (an American black separatist group loosely based on the teaching of the Prophet). A little context paints a clearer image of Rep Ellison.

https://theintercept.com/2016/12/01/potential-dnc-leader-keith-ellisons-controversial-law-school-columns-show-anger-not-bigotry/
“A Right-Wing Academic Witch Hunt is Underway”, Sophia A McClennen, Alternet

This list that Rachael brought up over TG is frighteningly reminiscent of McCarthyism, which the American Left has never fully recovered from.
Turning Point’s founder and executive director Charlie Kirk wrote a blog to explain that the purpose of the list was to expose professors who are out of line: “Throughout the next 120 days, Turning Point USA will be running ads to make sure students, faculty, and and administrators see that these professors made the Professor Watchlist.” The 22-year-old closes his post with the chilling phrase: “We believe these people need to be exposed.”

http://www.alternet.org/right-wing/academic-witch-hunts-are-back-new-mccarthyism-sign-stupidity-post-truth-era
Watch/Listen:
“A School of Life for Atheists” On Being

Alain de Botton is a philosopher who likes the best of religion, but doesn’t believe in God. He says that the most boring question you can ask of any religion is whether it is true. But how to live, how to die, what is good, and what is bad — these are questions religion has sophisticated ways of addressing. So he’s created The School of Life — where people young and old explore ritual, community, beauty, and wisdom. He explains why these ideas shouldn’t be reserved just for believers.

http://www.onbeing.org/program/alain-de-botton-school-life-atheists/4821
“Democracy Now! Special: Bernie Sanders on Trump’s Victory & the Need to Rebuild the Democratic Party” Democracy Now!

In a Democracy Now! special, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sat down with Amy Goodman at the Free Library of Philadelphia on Monday night in his most extensive broadcast interview since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton two weeks ago. He began by speaking about Donald Trump’s election night victory and the need to rebuild the Democratic Party.

https://democracynow.org/2016/11/29/democracy_now_special_bernie_sanders_on
Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!

November 28

Morning Reads:

1) “Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and very Shady Group”, Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

The Washington Post on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda. . . . The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.

Basically, everyone who isn’t comfortably within the centrist Hillary Clinton/Jeb Bush spectrum is guilty. On its Twitter account, the group announced a new “plugin” that automatically alerts the user that a visited website has been designated by the group to be a Russian propaganda outlet.

https://theintercept.com/2016/11/26/washington-post-disgracefully-promotes-a-mccarthyite-blacklist-from-a-new-hidden-and-very-shady-group/

2) “A Million in South Korea’s Streets”, Yong-Chan Choi, Jacobin:

On November 12, roughly one million people went out on the streets to demand the resignation of the conservative South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, in what many have called the largest demonstration in the county’s nearly seventy-year history.
President Park, daughter of Park Chung-hee, a South Korean military general and dictator who ruled the country from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, has come under public scrutiny in recent months following revelations that she and her administration have been running the government in their own personal interests, enriching themselves along the way, through a secretive cabal centered around Choi Soon-sil, daughter of deceased Shamanistic religious cult figure Choi Tae-min who advised the president until his death in 1994.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/11/south-korea-protests-labor-unions-park-geun-hye-protests-choi-soon-sil/

3) “It’s not Donald Trump who matters now in the Middle East — It’s Putin”, Robert Fisk, The Intercept

But here’s a mollifying thought. US prestige in the region has fallen so low, the Arab world’s belief (and quite possibly the Israeli belief) in American power so shattered by Washington’s stupidity and ineptness, that I rather suspect little attention will be paid to Donald Trump.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-president-election-middle-east-arab-muslims-islam-russia-putin-a7409176.html

To Watch/Listen to:

1) One of On Point’s topics today is going to be about the alt-right in the White House. Could be an interesting conversation (Airs at 11 EST; will be posted by the evening)

http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2016/11/28/maga-alt-right-white-supremcists

2) Today’s Democracy Now! focused on the life of Fidel Castro. I’m guessing there are some perspectives voiced here that you won’t find in mainstream US media:

https://www.democracynow.org/2016/11/28/how_fidel_castro_showed_latin_america