July 18, 2021

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GOP negotiator: Senators ditch tougher IRS enforcement as way to pay for bipartisan infrastructure plan (Devan Cole and Daniella Diaz, 7/18/21, CNN)

The comments from the Ohio Republican mean that the group of lawmakers will have to continue looking for ways to pay for the costly infrastructure package, the latest version of which suggested that an additional $100 billion could be collected by the IRS over the next 10 years simply by beefing up enforcement and making sure the government is collecting what taxpayers actually owe -- also known as closing the "tax gap."

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Hajj explained: The past and present of the most important Muslim pilgrimage (Rayhan Uddin, 17 July 2021, Middle East Eye)

Although the rituals of Hajj began during the time of the prophet, the origins of the pilgrimage date back over 4,000 years. 

Around 2000 BCE, Muslims believe that Ibrahim was ordered by God to leave his wife Hajera (Hager) and infant son Ishmael in the desert. With Ishmael dehydrated and very hungry, Hajera ran back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwa, before praying for deliverance. According to Islamic tradition, it was then that an angel appeared and created a fresh spring of water, known as the well of Zamzam. 

Muslims believe that Ibrahim returned to his family, and was ordered by God to build a monument (the Kaaba) at the site of the well, as a gathering place for those who wanted to strengthen their faith in God. 

The monument and availability of water turned Mecca into a busy and profitable city. However, over time the Kaaba lost its monotheistic purity, and became a place of idol worship and polytheistic religious practice. 

In the year 630, the prophet led his followers from Medina to Mecca, destroying the idols and re-dedicating the site to the worship of the one God. Two years later, he performed the first ever Islamic pilgrimage, laying out to his followers the rituals of the Hajj.  

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New Freedom Phone Isn't What It Appears to Be (Stephen Silver, 7/18/21, National Interest)

"The Freedom Phone is a free speech and privacy-first focused phone. With features like tracking blockers and an uncensorable app store," the product's website says. Carrying a price tag of $499.99, the Freedom Phone ships in August. It works with all major carriers and, ironically for a product that's supposed to combat big tech, its website includes share buttons for both Facebook and Twitter.

The phone boasts an "Uncensorable App Store" called PatriApp, and comes preloaded with apps favored by conservatives, such as Parler, DuckDuckGo, Rumble and Newsmax.

"We want to create a future where free communication is not banned by Big Tech," the website says. "We want to bring back free speech. Forever."

The man behind the Freedom Phone is Erik Finman, who calls himself the "youngest Bitcoin millionaire." In a tweet this week, Finman calls the Freedom Phone "the first major pushback on the Big Tech companies that attacked us--for just thinking different."

The phone has been endorsed by a list of Trump-adjacent celebrities, like Candace Owens, Dinesh D'Souza, Roger Stone, and Ali Alexander.

However, the Freedom Phone isn't quite what it claims to be, according to the Daily Beast.

The Freedom Phone "appears to be merely a more expensive rebranding of a budget Chinese phone available elsewhere for a fraction of the Freedom Phone's price," according to the Daily Beast. Off-brand phones like this typically do not go for a $500 price tag.

The Freedom Phone is merely a rebranding of a Chinese smartphone called the Umidigi A9 Pro, made by the tech company Umidigi- and it typically costs around $120, according to the Daily Beast.

All comedy is conservative.
Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


12 accounts behind most online vaccine misinformation, COVID conspiracy theories (Times of Israel, 7/18/21)

The vast majority of online misinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic and coronavirus vaccines originates with just 12 accounts, according to a new report.

Those people, dubbed the "disinformation dozen" by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), include Robert F. Kennedy Jr. -- nephew of former United States president John F. Kennedy -- and Joseph Mercola, a well-known anti-vaxxer who peddles health supplements he claims can cure disease.

The other named perpetrators were the joint account of Ty and Charlene Bollinger, as well as the social media accounts of Sherri Tenpenny, Rizza Islam, Rashid Buttar, Erin Elizabeth, Sayer Ji, Kelly Brogan, Christiane Northrup, Ben Tapper and Kevin Jenkins.

Many of them are linked to the religious and/or wellness communities.

Elizabeth, who is partner to Mercola, also posted antisemitic conspiracy theories involving the Rothschild family, the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Fear of a Black Cuban Planet: Many Afro-Cubans are leading calls for change. Who's listening? (JASON JOHNSON, JULY 17, 2021, Slate)

Cuba's Communist regime has endured for over six decades and outlasted more than 10 American presidents, several of whom predicted and pushed for its downfall. But in recent days, a government that survived pressure from one of the most powerful nations in the world is facing its toughest fight--from its own people. From social media to the streets, Cuban Americans have added their voices to the call for a new government in Cuba, and many of them are challenging the historic American narrative about the country. One of these people is Amalia Dache. She's Afro-Cuban and a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania. She researches the role of race in higher education and student activism. She's also the author of the book Rise Up! Activism as Education. On Friday's episode of A Word, we spoke about the uprising and the myths and realities of racial equity in Cuba. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jason Johnson: When you talk to Cubans on the island and then look at the conversation happening in U.S. politics and media, what's the most critical disconnect or misunderstanding about the uprising?

Amalia Dache: So the Cubans--Cuban natives, Cubans who are dissidents of the revolution, which many of my family are, and Cuban Americans here--agree that Cuba has to change. Cuba has to be more democratic. Between both the island and the United States, that's the agreement with Cuban Americans and Cubans on the island. I mean, just engaging on Twitter, you will see people on the left and people on the far right both saying similar things, like "OK, is it possible that the CIA has been involved in the resistance in Cuba?" Have y'all not been following "Patria y Vida"? Have y'all been following Afro-Cuban artists? Have y'all not been following what they've been doing? No, they haven't. [..]

A lot of the protests there, protests in general, are generally led by young people. You've also studied uprisings in the United States and the protests that we've had over the years. What are some similar threads between the youth uprising in Cuba and what we've seen in the United States, not just last year, but over the last several years?

What's similar is that these youth, Afro-Cuban youth, have been leading. They live in the most marginal, oppressed, and repressed neighborhoods in Cuba. So where this resistance began was in one of the southern barrios of Havana, which is highly marginal, as far as race and as far as the economic situation. Because in Cuba, even though you have this totalitarian state and supposedly everyone's the same across the economic system, you still have neighborhoods, you still have barrios, that are worse as far as their housing, as far as who lives there across the demographics, and you do have predominantly Black and underserved and impoverished--within the scale of Cuban poverty--communities. So even in this kind of government, you still have a hierarchy of poverty and those who are highly affected are Black Cubans, and the youth are the ones that are coming out.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The courageous faith of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (J John,  13 July 2021, Christianity Today)

In July 1944, Bonhoeffer's imprisonment became more severe and he was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. The accounts we have of him at this time describe him as a man of peace, full of grace and kindness, and occupied in pastoring and counselling those about him.

In the spring of 1945, Bonhoeffer's name was linked with an old plot against Hitler and his execution ordered. He was hanged on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before the camp was liberated. His last recorded words were, 'This is the end - for me the beginning of life.'

I find at least four striking things in the faith of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

First, his faith was displayed in doing. Bonhoeffer could have stayed an academic theologian quietly writing. Instead, he insisted that Christianity had to be lived out and to be a disciple of Christ was to do something. Beliefs must have consequences: whether it was to work for good or against evil. Bonhoeffer was no armchair Christian and we shouldn't be either.

Second, his faith was displayed in daring. One of the first German Christians to denounce Hitler, Bonhoeffer worked against Nazism for 12 years, knowing that at any moment he could be - as ultimately he was - arrested, imprisoned and killed. It's particularly hard not to be impressed by how, having made the safety of New York in 1939, Bonhoeffer then took the boat back to Germany. We could do with a lot more daring today.

Third, his faith was displayed in defying. Faced with a threatening government and a church that remained silent, Bonhoeffer spoke out boldly against both. There are times when we, too, need to stand up and speak boldly.

Finally, and it's uncomfortable, Bonhoeffer's faith was displayed in dying. As he wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, 'When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.' And with typical consistency that is exactly what Bonhoeffer did.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Best Anti-Fragility Speech Ever Came From a Surprising Source"It's the best statement of anti-fragility I've ever seen," says psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of 'The Coddling of the American Mind.' (Jon Miltimore, 7/11/21, FEE)

The comments come from a surprising source: CNN Host Van Jones, a best-selling author and speaker who served in the Obama administration. As Haidt points out, Jones isn't a hard-nosed conservative. He's a progressive activist, but he sees serious problems with the approach many universities are taking to stifle open discourse and debate.

Jones' comments, made during a panel discussion on safe spaces at the University of Chicago in 2017, have been posted in their entirety below so they can be read in their full context:

I don't like bigots and bullies. I just want to point that out... But I got tough talk for my liberal colleagues on these campuses. They don't tend to like it but I think they like me so I get away with it. I want to push this.

There are two ideas about safe spaces: One is a very good idea and one is a terrible idea. The idea of being physically safe on a campus--not being subjected to sexual harassment and physical abuse, or being targeted specifically, personally, for some kind of hate speech--"you are an n-word," or whatever--I am perfectly fine with that.

But there's another view that is now I think ascendant, which I think is just a horrible view, which is that "I need to be safe ideologically. I need to be safe emotionally I just need to feel good all the time, and if someone says something that I don't like, that's a problem for everybody else including the administration."

I think that is a terrible idea for the following reason: I don't want you to be safe, ideologically. I don't want you to be safe, emotionally. I want you to be strong. That's different.

I'm not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I'm not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that's the whole point of the gym. This is the gym. You can't live on a campus where people say stuff you don't like?! And these people can't fire you, they can't arrest you, they can't beat you up, they can just say stuff you don't like- and you get to say stuff back- and this you cannot bear?! [audience applause]

This is ridiculous BS liberals! My parents, and Monica Elizabeth Peak's parents [points to someone in the audience and greets her] were marched, they dealt with fire hoses! They dealt with dogs! They dealt with beatings! You can't deal with a mean tweet?! You are creating a kind of liberalism that the minute it crosses the street into the real world is not just useless, but obnoxious and dangerous. I want you to be offended every single day on this campus. I want you to be deeply aggrieved and offended and upset, and then to learn how to speak back. Because that is what we need from you in these communities. [applause]

Van Jones is right that we harm young people by trying to protect them from ideas.

We're all old enoughto remember when Van Jones was the Right's CRT du jour.