Over the last year there has been a recurrent refrain about the seeming bromance between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. More seriously, but relatedly, many believe Trump is an admirer and would-be emulator of Putin’s increasingly autocratic and illiberal rule. But there’s quite a bit more to the story. At a minimum, Trump appears to have a deep financial dependence on Russian money from persons close to Putin. And this is matched to a conspicuous solicitousness to Russian foreign policy interests where they come into conflict with US policies which go back decades through administrations of both parties. There is also something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of evidence suggesting Putin-backed financial support for Trump or a non-tacit alliance between the two men.
Let me start by saying I’m no Russia hawk. I have long been skeptical of US efforts to extend security guarantees to countries within what the Russians consider their ‘near abroad’ or extend such guarantees and police Russian interactions with new states which for centuries were part of either the Russian Empire or the USSR. This isn’t a matter of indifference to these countries. It is based on my belief in seriously thinking through the potential costs of such policies. In the case of the Baltics, those countries are now part of NATO. Security commitments have been made which absolutely must be kept. But there are many other areas where such commitments have not been made. My point in raising this is that I do not come to this question or these policies as someone looking for confrontation or cold relations with Russia.
Let’s start with the basic facts. There is a lot of Russian money flowing into Trump’s coffers and he is conspicuously solicitous of Russian foreign policy priorities.
I’ll list off some facts.
From Obama to Black Lives Matter, everyone is talking about structural racism—something Trump’s supporters don’t want to own.
Despite the talk of “Make America Safe Again” at the Republican National Convention, the real message in Cleveland was that Obama is to blame for growing racial divisions that are weakening America.
Darryl Glenn, Republican candidate for Senate in Colorado, called Obama “the divider-in-chief” and said the country is “more racially divided today than before he ran.” House Speaker Paul Ryan castigated “the other party” for “always playing one group against the other as if group identity were everything.” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul alleged, “Obama and Hillary apologized for America and allowed jihadists to spread like wildfire.” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions rebuked Obama for capitulating to lawlessness in not cracking down on undocumented immigration.
In accepting the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump himself emphasized this theme: “The irresponsible rhetoric of our president, who has used the pulpit of the presidency to divide us by race and color, has made America a more dangerous environment for everyone.”
The Obama era has changed how many Americans look at race.
These claims are dubious at best. But the Republican Party exists in an elaborate fantasy land ruled by group hatred and fear of the other. It wants to lay on Obama’s doorstep centuries of racism, as well as the deteriorating race relations of late. In effect, the right blames Obama for the results of its own racist arguments, which picked up steam in the 2008 election when they slammed him as a Muslim “palling around with terrorists.”
From Neil Carter
Godless In Dixie
Here on the eve of the start of the Republican National Convention, I’ve finally turned a corner in my understanding of what Donald J. Trump is up to. I know a ton of my friends have been saying this for months, but I’ve been withholding judgment because it seemed to me that a megalomaniac driven by ego as much as the short-fingered vulgarian from Queens would actually want to occupy the highest office in the land. Surely a person as hungry for power and attention as Trump would want to be Commander-in-Chief, right?
No, I really don’t think so. I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think Trump wants to be president. I think U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hit the nail on the head last week when she remarked:
He is a faker…He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego.
How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that.
She later said she regretted speaking her mind in the middle of an election season, but I cannot help but agree with her diagnosis. Trump is faking his way all the way to November.
I think he wants to win the election, but I’m not sure he has any intention of actually serving as president. Let me explain what I mean, and what finally made things click for me.
Of course most of you will answer “No way!”, and I do, too, but accommodationists and science-friendly believers make this argument often. Here are a few specimens:
“. . . the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships.”—Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith“, New York Times.
“Moral laws are promulgated by God for free creatures, who have it in their power to obey or disobey. The laws of nature, on the other hand, are promulgated for the inanimate world of matter; physical objects don’t get to decide to obey, say, Newton’s law of gravity. In each case, however, we have the setting forth or promulgation of divine rule for a certain domain of application. It is important to see that our notion of the laws of nature, crucial for contemporary science, has this origin in Christian theism.” —Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies, p. 276
“Indeed, a distinctive feature of the Scientific Revolution is that, unlike other scientific programmes and cultures, it is driven, often explicitly, by religious considerations: Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy in many respects and projected it forward in a way quite different from that of any scientific culture. Moreover, when the standing of religion as a source of knowledge about the world, and cognitive values generally, came to be threatened, it was not science that posed the threat but history.” —S. Graukoger, The Emergence of a Modern Scientific Culture, p. 3
“faith in the possibility of science, generated antecdently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.” —Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, p. 19.
“Recent scholarship, most of it conducted by secular academics, has established that religious belief was entirely compatible with scientific progress, even encouraging it in many cases.”—K. Giberson and F. Collins, The Language of Science and Faith
Inevitably accompanying these claims is the assertion that because many early scientists (e.g., Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, and Maxwell) were Christians, Christianity must claim some credit for science. Other faiths too take credit; it’s common for accommodationist Muslims to point out that the real scientific achievements of Islam, coupled with bogus exegesis of the Qur’an, show that Islam was important in encouraging science.
From Media Lens
Last week, seven years after the Iraq Inquiry was set up, Sir John Chilcot finally delivered his long-awaited report. Although it stopped short of declaring the Iraq war illegal, and although it failed to examine the real motives for war, the report was not quite the whitewash that had been feared by peace campaigners.
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, gave a succinct summary of the Chilcot report, listing four of the main findings (each followed by our own comment):
1. There was no imminent threat to Britain from Saddam Hussein, so war in March 2003 was unnecessary.
In reality: utterly devastated by war, bombing and 12 years of sanctions, Iraq posed no threat whatsoever towards Britain or the US. The idea that there was any kind of threat from this broken, impoverished country was simply a lie; a propaganda fabrication by warmongering cynics and corporate hangers-on eager for a piece of the pie.
2. The existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was presented with a certainty that was not justified. It was never ‘beyond doubt’ that the weapons existed. None have been found in the subsequent 13 years.
In reality: it was completely clear, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the whole ‘weapons of mass destruction’ issue was a propaganda fabrication; a way of suggesting a ‘threat’ where none existed. Iraq only ever possessed battlefield biological and chemical weapons that were of no conceivable threat to the West. Iraq didn’t even use them when the West attacked the country in 1991. Not only that, but UN weapons inspectors had overseen the near-complete destruction of even these tinpot devices between 1991-1998; only ‘sludge’ remained: a known fact. Iraq was of no more threat to the West in 2002-2003 than Thailand or Iceland; that is all that needs to be said. Almost everything else is superfluous: cynical propaganda which was, and is, manipulated by violent Western leaderships that think nothing of smashing other countries to bits for whatever reason they declare ‘necessary’.
‘The War You Don’t See’ (2011) is a powerful and timely investigation into the media’s role in war, tracing the history of ’embedded’ and independent reporting from the carnage of World War One to the destruction of Hiroshima, and from the invasion of Vietnam to the current war in Afghanistan and disaster in Iraq. As weapons and propaganda become even more sophisticated, the nature of war is developing into an ‘electronic battlefield’ in which journalists play a key role, and civilians are the victims. But who is the real enemy?
John Pilger says in the film: “We journalists… have to be brave enough to defy those who seek our collusion in selling their latest bloody adventure in someone else’s country… That means always challenging the official story, however patriotic that story may appear, however seductive and insidious it is. For propaganda relies on us in the media to aim its deceptions not at a far away country but at you at home… In this age of endless imperial war, the lives of countless men, women and children depend on the truth or their blood is on us… Those whose job it is to keep the record straight ought to be the voice of people, not power.”
[We were led into yet another illegal war by 2 devout Christians: Blair and Bush… ds]
“Tony Blair broke politics,” wrote The Guardian reporter Anne Perkins after the long-awaited Chilcot Report on the Iraq War was released Wednesday.
The report is more than 6,000 pages, contains more than 2.5 million words, cost 10 million pounds ($12.9 million) and took seven years to write and publish. The investigation was led by Sir John Chilcot, who introduced the report Wednesday by saying that he and his team concluded that the U.K. decided to go to war before peaceful options were “exhausted” and that the information surrounding Saddam Hussein’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was “presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
The Guardian summarized some of the report’s most important points in the following list:
Six things we can learn from Northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region, where cooperatives drive the economy.
Picture a day like this: You wake up and head to your job at a small company you own and manage together with your fellow workers, doing high-tech, advanced manufacturing that’s too specialized for bigger factories. For lunch, you swing by a restaurant owned by another worker cooperative, this one a national-scale firm that serves millions of customers each year. Back at work, you’ve got a meeting with a local agricultural co-op that’s contracted your company to help design some more efficient processing material for the food they produce and export across the world. Afterward, you meet up with your partner, who works in a social cooperative jointly owned by caregivers and the elders who live and receive care there. The two of you swing by the local grocery store—part of a national chain owned by its millions of customers—and pick up a bottle of co-op-produced wine. This is a day in the life of the cooperative economy in Northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region.
Emilia Romagna, a region with nearly 4.5 million people whose capital is the medieval university city of Bologna, has one of the densest cooperative economies in the world. About two out of every three inhabitants are co-op members, together producing around 30 percent of the region’s GDP.
Doing business through co-ops is one of the clearest ways to democratize our economic institutions. But as anyone who has developed or worked in a cooperative will tell you, co-ops aren’t magic. Building institutions that go against the grain of corporate capitalism while managing to survive in the markets it creates is not easy to pull off. There’s plenty of room to fail, and even more room to do better. While cooperatives in the United States claim about 130 million memberships, these are by and large within consumer- and producer-owned co-ops, not cooperative workplaces. Only around 7,000 people nationwide are part of worker co-ops.
Impressive argumentation while driving…
“If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”
– George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia (1789)
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr (1787)
“In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind.”
– Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists (1771)
“Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.”
– Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man (1791)
“Congress has no power to make any religious establishments.”
– Roger Sherman, Congress (1789)
“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
– Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1758)
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people build a wall of separation between Church & State.”
– Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Danbury Baptists (1802)
“To argue with a man who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.”
– Thomas Paine, The American Crisis No. V (1776)
Note: You can read Paine’s whole pamphlet, where he expresses his atheistic beliefs, here.
“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.”
– Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779)
“Christian establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.”
– James Madison, letter to William Bradford, Jr. (1774)
“There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
– George Washington, address to Congress (1790)
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
– James Madison, General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia (1785)
From Jeff Cox
Organic Food Guy
You’ll never guess who’s selling out your right to mandatory GMO labeling.
According to Food Democracy Now! we’re being betrayed in Washington D.C. by a group of donation-hungry Senators and a handful of corrupt organic corporations that have just brokered an outrageous deal behind our backs in an effort to kill mandatory GMO labeling and make sure that Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill never takes effect this Friday.
Monsanto and Whole Foods’ new fake labeling bill (sometimes called the Monsanto Dream Act or the DARK Act) would not only preempt Vermont’s bill from taking effect this week, but all provisions of the bill are optional. The language is so poorly written that it would not include 85 percent of the current GMOs on the market. Additionally, the deal brokered by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Roberts (R-KS) would not provide any penalties for non-compliance, so cannot even be inforced if these companies refuse to label!
Besides Monsanto and Whole Foods, other companies behind the bill include DuPont, Stonyfield Farms, General Mills, Organic Valley, and Smucker’s.
In the past week, the American GMO labeling movement has been rocked by the most outrageous betrayal imaginable. While you and your friends have been fighting for mandatory GMO labeling, the giant corporate organic companies that are owned by parent conventional food companies have climbed into bed with Monsanto. According to a Politico story that came out last week, Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb joined his friends at Stonyfield, Smucker’s, and Organic Valley in selling out the American food movement.
Robb says it’s an “incredible thing” that senators came together and compromised during a dysfunctional time. He said he hopes that lawmakers can soon move on to other things. Incredulously, he went on to claim that “we need to…talk about much bigger issues.”
From George Monbiot
Roots in the Rubble
The decision to leave the EU is a disaster, but also a great opportunity for renewal
Were this vote to be annulled (it won’t be), the result would be a full-scale class and culture war, riots and perhaps worse, pitching middle class progressives against those on whose behalf they’ve claimed to speak, permanently alienating people who have spent their lives feeling voiceless and powerless.
Yes, the Brexit vote has empowered the most gruesome collection of schemers, misfits, liars, extremists and puppets British politics has produced in the modern era. It threatens to invoke a new age of demagoguery, a threat sharpened by the thought that if this can happen, so can Donald Trump. It has provoked a resurgence of racism and an economic crisis whose dimensions remain unknown. It jeopardises the living world, the NHS, peace in Ireland and the rest of the European Union. It promotes what the billionaire Peter Hargreaves gleefully anticipated as “fantastic insecurity”.
But we’re stuck with it. There isn’t another option, unless you favour the years of limbo and chaos that would ensue from a continued failure to trigger Article 50. It’s not just that we have no choice but to accept the result. We should embrace it and make of it what we can.
From The Humanist
It feels like we live in a world where movies and shows keep getting darker. It’s a pop culture where viewers tune in for their weekly dose of misery on The Walking Dead, depravity on Game of Thrones, and where even classic children’s heroes like Batman and Superman are portrayed as mass-murdering vigilantes in Dawn of Justice. Comic book and science fiction fans have even coined the term “grimdark” to describe this apparent one-upmanship of doom and gloom assaulting audiences
In contrast, for over five decades Star Trek has remained positive, philosophical, and moral, portraying a society built on Enlightenment values. With six television series totaling 716 episodes across thirty seasons, seventy million books in print, over forty video games, a new television series in the works, and this summer’s thirteenth feature film, Star Trek endures because there’s nothing like it in American media: a positive, humanist vision of humanity’s future based on rationality, science, and human-improvability.
With over fifty years of content, it’s important to note that one can find Star Trek stories to support nearly any hypothesis and also that Star Trek isn’t perfect. Conservative critics have a valid point that Starfleet appears communistic, while liberals correctly criticize the fictional organization for being militaristic. There are episodes where the writing is appalling, with plot holes and nonsensical situations that offend reason, along with bad acting. But there are also so many episodes that can bring tears to our eyes for their insightfulness and the beauty of their ideas. So please indulge my cognitive biases as I share the three aspects of the Star Trekcanon that most appeal to me as a humanist.
The Library of Things movement is emerging in communities around the world. These spaces give people access to a huge spectrum of items, from board games, party supplies and tennis rackets to saws, kitchen appliances, turntables, clothing and tents, without the burden of ownership.
Specialty libraries, which lend out a specific type of good, have pointed the way for the Library of Things movement and proven the model to be successful. The tool library movement has seen incredible growth in recent years; toy lending libraries, both in library branches and as semi-informal neighborhood projects, are on the rise; and kitchen libraries, such as the Toronto Kitchen Library, give people access to commercial-grade and household kitchen supplies on an as-needed basis. There are also lending libraries within traditional library branches loaning out musical instruments, neckties, learning materials, crafting tools and much more.
As Gene Homicki, co-founder and CEO of myTurn, a platform that enables people to create their own lending platform, explains, many community-based Library of Things locations lend over 1,000 items per week, offer classes, and have workshops or makerspaces.
“The most successful Libraries of Things are the ones do more than just lend items,” he says, “they also create a strong sense of community. For example, some offer sliding scale subscriptions based on income or usage to help ensure a diverse community can afford to access the library.”
Through myTurn, Homicki sees the growth of the movement firsthand as he works with universities, businesses, cities and hundreds of lending libraries of all types.
“We’re helping build a future in which anywhere you live, anywhere you work, and anywhere you travel, you’ll be able to access what you want and need at a Library of Things in our network,” he says.
The Library of Things movement challenges people to rethink whether we need (or want) to own goods we rarely use. It also brings people together around a shared vision and reduces wasted resources. Here are 8 of our favorite Library of Things…
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