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VERY interesting: A bill to revoke corporate personhood

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Strange we haven’t read more about this. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Last Wednesday, the grassroots organization, Move to Amend, held a press conference at the National Press Club to announce that six members of the U.S. House of Representatives were introducing legislationto overturn Citizens United v FEC to make free speech and all other rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution available only to “natural persons,” not corporations or limited liability companies. The legislation would also give Federal, state and local governments the ability to limit political contributions to “ensure all citizens,  regardless of their economic status, have access to the political process.”

When corporations overturn the will of the people, it’s widely covered by corporate media. When the people fight back, the news is frequently blacked out. As of this morning, we could find no major corporate media outlet or corporate wire service reporting on last Wednesday’s press conference by Move to Amend. That might be because there was evidence presented at the press conference of a groundswell of public momentum to overturn Citizens United, the decision handed down on January 21, 2010 by the U.S. Supreme Court that opened the floodgates to corporate campaign spending in elections along with super wealthy donors.

The press conference revealed that 16 states have passed resolutions asking Congress to overturn Citizens United while almost 600 municipalities and local governments across the country have done likewise. Almost two dozen other states have resolutions pending or introduced.

Congressman Rick Nolan of Minnesota spoke at the press conference, telling attendees that “Good and successful movements in this country have always started with ordinary people who commit to accomplishing great things. And so it was with ending slavery, with child labor laws, environmental laws, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, rights for the disabled – you name it – this movement transcends labels, it transcends political parties, it transcends regions and it transcends generations.”

Nolan added that “America’s future and American democracy is dependent upon the success of this movement.” In addition to Nolan, co-sponsors of the bill include Mark Pocan (WI), Matthew Cartwright (PA), Jared Huffman (CA), Raul Grijalva (AZ), and Keith Ellison (MN).

Leesa “George” Friday, who has been part of this grassroots movement since its beginning in 2009, said “Democracy isn’t a gift that we’re given, it’s a right. And with that right comes the responsibility to do a little bit more than just go to the polls every now and then or volunteer for a campaign, write a check or make some phone calls. It means being vigilant about what democracy means; about holding sacred that democracy; and doing the work.”

David Cobb, a member of the National Leadership Team of Move to Amend and the Green Party presidential candidate in 2004, called what has happened a “corporate coup d’etat” and said the group was broadening its strategy to include “Pledge to Amend,” where candidates running for office will be asked to pledge to support a constitutional amendment in order to get the support of voters, the majority of whom despise Citizens United.

The corporate coup d’etat could not have happened, of course, without the vote of five members of the U.S. Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision, which was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy with concurrence from Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The dissent was scathing. Written by Justice John Paul Stevens (who retired five months later), it was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. Stevens wrote:

The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case. In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.

The four dissenters also found that:

The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907…We have unanimously concluded that this ‘reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers posed by those entities to the electoral process…’

The view of the dissenters happens to dovetail with the majority view of the American people — meaning that five men in robes can overturn the will of a nation of 319 million citizens.

According to a 2010/2011 Peter Hart poll, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2015 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Media

Interesting profile of Arthur Chu

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A couple of days I blogged about a column by Arthur Chu on the Baltimore riots. I didn’t know who he was, and Salon did not have their usual brief description of the contributor. But he is, as you probably know, the guy who took Jeopardy! for a ride—and he turns out to be an interesting guy. Peter Baker (a former classmate of Chu’s) has a good profile of him in the Pacific Standard:

In January of 2014, I started getting text messages from my college friends asking whether I was following our old classmate Arthur Chu on Jeopardy! I wasn’t—I hadn’t watched the show for years—but I tuned in the next day.

From then on, I watched rapt as Chu racked up what was, at the time, the third-longest winning streak in the show’s history, drawing attention not only for the size of his haul (almost $400,000 in the end), but also for his supremely stereotypical nerdiness. He used an unorthodox strategy that drew on both game theory and statistical analysis of the Jeopardy! board. He was slightly pudgy, with glasses, and his hair was cut in a harsh horizontal line across his forehead. His shirts were rumpled, his ties poorly knotted. He spoke in a monotone and sometimes interrupted Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, cutting off Trebek’s patter so they could move on to the next question.

I had barely known Chu in college, but I loved watching him win. He seemed to simultaneously embody nerd stereotypes and vindicate them—by raking in a fortune. I especially liked his attitude toward his detractors: When people mocked him on Twitter, he re-tweeted their jibes, as if to demonstrate how little they hurt.

After Chu’s run ended, I found myself missing it. Several months later, checking his Twitter feed, I saw him announce he would be appearing on a panel at a gaming convention in Maryland called MAGFest, where he would be talking about “the general unpleasantness in the nerd community this year,” including “the#Gamergate fiasco.” This had the ring of familiarity, but I would have been hard pressed to say what any of it meant.

It didn’t take much research for me to pick up that 2014 had been a tumultuous year in American nerd-dom. Long-simmering tensions built into the very concept of “the nerd” had reached a boiling point, with shockingly vicious results: death threats, rape threats, and torrents of online abuse, most of them made by nerds themselves against those perceived to be finding fault with nerd culture.

To my surprise, some of the most interesting and well-circulated analyses of the mayhem had been written by none other than Arthur Chu, who had leveraged his 15 minutes of game-show fame into, of all things, a national platform for his opinions about nerds: What America gets wrong about nerds; what nerds—especially male nerds—get wrong about themselves; and why it matters. In Chu’s view, nerd-dom has a toxic, intolerant fringe, one that has gone unchecked in large part because nerds are awful at policing their own subculture, especially online. In an era when the nerds are increasingly ascendant, Chu wants to make nerd culture better—and to stop more of his fellow nerds from getting drawn into the worst of it.

In his MAGFest post, Chu asked his fans to come give him moral support. Debates about nerd-dom, he wrote, had recently become “a lot scarier.”

A few days later, I bought a pass to the convention.

When I met Chu in person at MAGFest—almost eight years since we’d been college students together—I was struck by how different he looked, not only from our college days but from when I’d first seen him on Jeopardy! . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2015 at 11:21 am

Posted in Daily life, Media

Associated Press admits their poll on drone strikes is bogus, but they don’t care

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Dan Froomkin and Jon Schwarz report in The Intercept:

The headline on the Associated Press story is unambiguous: AP Poll: Americans approve of drone strikes on terrorists. And that’s true! According to the AP’s poll, 60 percent of Americans support the use of drones to “target and kill people belonging to terrorist groups like al-Qaida.”

The problem is the U.S. drone program does much more than kill members of al-Qaida: it also kills a significant number of civilians, and drone operators often don’t even know exactly whom they’re targeting. So the AP’s own poll doesn’t show, as the story claims, “broad support among the U.S. public for a targeted killing program begun under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama.” What it does show is broad support for a drone program that doesn’t exist.

And strangely enough, if you get all the way to the story’s ninth paragraph, you learn that the AP’s own reporters have a pretty good hunch that the previous eight paragraphs were bullshit:

The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government’s assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists. Independent groups have estimated that at least hundreds, and possibly thousands, of noncombatants have been killed in the operations, a count the U.S. government disputes.

Drone skeptics say most polls on the subject frame the question with the assumption that those targeted are terrorists, when it’s not clear that is always the case.

“Almost everyone, of course, is going to support killing people who are trying to kill us, but that’s not who we are necessarily targeting in each case,” said Sarah Kreps, an associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.

Kreps examined poll data and found that if respondents are confronted with evidence of errors and civilian casualties in some drone strikes, support for the strikes drops below a majority.

The story was written by Ken Dilanian (@kendilanianap)and Emily Swanson (@el_swan). Was this their way of saying: Our pollsters are a bunch of propagandists who ask questions to elicit the answers they want? Or are they saying: Some people think we’re not asking the right question, but just we don’t care?

I invite their response, and will update the post with any I get. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2015 at 8:34 am

The problem with state-supported media (NPR, BBS, CBC, et al.)

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The problem is that state support translates readily into state control (cf. China and North Korea for flagrant examples, but it happens whenever the state controls the purse strings). Glenn Greenwald points out a recent incident in Australia in which a journalist made statements about the conduct of the Australian military that, though the statements are clearly true, were displeasing to the government, so the journalist was immediately fired. The article begins:

A TV sports commentator in Australia, Scott McIntyre, was summarily fired on Sunday by his public broadcasting employer, Special Broadcasting Services (SBS), due to a series of tweets he posted about the violence committed historically by the Australian military. McIntyre published his tweets on “Anzac Day,” a national holiday – similar to Memorial Day in the U.S. – which the Australian government hails as “one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.”

Rather than dutifully waving the flag and singing mindless paeans to The Troops and The Glories of War, McIntyre took the opportunity on Anzac Day to do what a journalist should do: present uncomfortable facts, question orthodoxies, highlight oft-suppressed views:

Almost instantly, these tweets spawned an intense debate about war, the military and history, with many expressing support for his expressed views and large numbers expressing outrage. In other words, McIntyre committed journalism: triggering discussion and examination of political claims rather than mindless recitation, ritualistic affirmation and compelled acceptance.

One outraged voice rose high above all the others: the nation’s Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who quickly and publicly denounced McIntyre in the harshest possible terms.

Turnbull isn’t just any government minister. He runs the ministry thatoversees SBS, McIntyre’s employer. The network’s funding comes overwhelmingly from the government in which Turnbull serves: “about 80 per cent of funding for the SBS Corporation is derived from the Australian Government through triennial funding arrangements.” Last year, the government imposed significant budget cuts on SBS, and Minister Turnbull – who was credited with fighting off even bigger cuts – publicly told them they should be grateful the cuts weren’t bigger, warning they likely could be in the future.

If you’re a craven SBS executive, nothing scares you more than having your journalists say something that angers the mighty Minister Turnbull (pictured, right, with Prime Minister Abbott). Within hours of Minister Turnbull’s denunciation of McIntyre, SBS’s top executives – Managing Director Michael Ebeid and Director of Sport Ken Shipp – tweeted a creepy statement announcing that McIntyre had been summarily fired. The media executives proclaimed that “respect for Australian audiences is paramount at SBS,” and condemned McIntyre’s “highly inappropriate and disrespectful comments via his twitter account which have caused his on-air position at SBS to become untenable.” They then took the loyalty oath to the glories of Anzac:

SBS apologises for any offence or harm caused by Mr McIntyre’s comments which in no way reflect the views of the network. SBS supports our Anzacs and has devoted unprecedented resources to coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

SBS supports our Anzacs” – and apparently bars any questioning or criticism of them. That mentality sounds like it came right from North Korea, which is to be expected when a media outlet is prohibited from saying anything that offends high government officials. Any society in which it’s a firing offense for journalists to criticize the military is a sickly and undemocratic one.

The excuses offered by SBS for McIntyre’s firing are so insulting as to be laughable. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Part of this is driven by the dangers of state-funded media, which typically neuters itself at the altar of orthodoxy. In the U.S. the “liberal” NPR is, not coincidentally, the most extreme media outlet for prohibiting any expressions of views that deviate from convention, even firing two journalists for the crime of appearing at an Occupy Wall Street event.  Identically, NPR refused (and still refuses) to use the word “torture” for Bush interrogation programs because the U.S. Government denied that it was; its Ombudsman justified this choice by arguing that “the problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under U.S. law and international treaties the United States has signed.” We can’t have a media outlet doing anything that might have “political and social implications” for high government officials!

The BBC is even worse: its director of news and current affairs, James Harding, actually said that they likely would not have reported on the Snowden archive if they were the ones who got it (which, just by the way, is one big reason they didn’t). Harding’s justification for that extraordinary abdication of journalism – that there was a “deal” between the source and the media organizations to report the story as a “campaign” and the BBC cannot “campaign” – was a complete fabrication; he literally just made up claims about a “deal.”

But his reasoning shows how neutered state-funded media inevitably becomes. . .

Another passage:

A different aspect of what the Australia firing shows is the scam of establishment journalists in defining “objectivity” to mean: “affirming societal orthodoxies.” Journalists are guilty of “opinionating” and “activism” only when they challenge and deviate from popular opinion, not when they embrace and echo it (that’s called “objectivity”). That’s why John Burns was allowed to report on the Iraq War for the New York Times despite openly advocating for the war (including after it began), while Chris Hedges was fired for having opposed the war. It’s why McIntyre got fired for criticizing Anzac but no journalist would ever get fired for heaping praise on Anzac, even though the two views are equally “biased.” That’s because, as practiced, “journalistic objectivity” is compelled obeisance to the pieties of the powerful dressed up as something noble.

But what is at the heart of McIntyre’s firing is the real religion of the supposedly “secular west”: mandated worship not just of its military but of its wars. The central dogma of this religion is tribal superiority: Our Side is more civilized, more peaceful, superior to Their Side.

McIntyre was fired because he committed blasphemy against that religion. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

30 April 2015 at 9:03 am

Posted in Government, Media

Corporate lobbying focused on state attorneys general

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Jon Schwarz reports in The Intercept:

You don’t understand the world you live in if you haven’t read Eric Lipton’s three-part series in The New York Times on the staggering “explosion” of relentless, grimy lobbying of state attorneys general. Lipton just won a Pulitzer Prize for his work, and it’s truly deserved: it’s a masterpiece of investigative reporting, built on diligent use of open records laws by Lipton and Times researchers.

More than anything it makes you understand why those laws are so important and so loathed by politicians. As Tony Blair said in his memoir, he was an “idiot” for supporting a Freedom of Information Act in the U.K. because it’s “used by journalists.” [Apparently Tony Blair is an idiot. Of course journalists use the FOIA. – LG]

The Times series explains that the current corporate onslaught is a response to successful collaborations by state attorneys general over the past several decades, including settlements in which 46 states extracted $206 billion from the tobacco industry, and 49 states forced the top five mortgage servicers to cough up $25 billion.

Public officials acting in the public interest was clearly a glitch in the matrix, and corporate America set out to eliminate it. In 2000 the GOP created the Republican Attorneys General Association, telling corporate lawyers to “round up your clients and come see what RAGA is all about” and then contribute because policy was being set “via the courthouse rather than the statehouse.” RAGA raked in at least $11.7 million in 2014, including $2.2 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and $500,000 from Sheldon Adelson.

The Democrats founded DAGA in 2002, and it now siphons up big chunks of money from many of the same donors as RAGA, including Citigroup, Comcast, Coca-Cola and Pfizer.

RAGA and DAGA provide one-stop shops for influencing state attorneys general. Corporations donate; RAGA and DAGA distribute much of their cash to the campaigns of individual attorneys general; and some of the rest of the money pays for “conferences” that include fundraisers at which corporate executives and their lawyers can donate more to officials in attendance. Then after the attorneys general leave office, they can use the contacts they’ve developed to go work directly for the corporations.

The end result has been a kind of outsourcing of what citizens would expect their legal representatives to do themselves. For instance, The Times found:

• Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency accusing them of “very significantly overestimating” the pollution caused by fracking; the letter was actually written by lawyers for an Oklahoma oil and gas company (which was a big supporter of RAGA).

• Missouri’s Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster instituted restrictive new rules for investigations by his consumer affairs division, rules that had been suggested by a senior executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

• Plaintiffs’ lawyers have encouraged many attorneys general, mostly Democrats, to file hundreds of lawsuits against businesses; the attorneys general then hire the outside lawyers to do most of the work in return for contingency fees, usually 20 percent of any settlement.

The end results, former Maine Attorney General James Tierney toldThe Times, are “shocking, terrible.”

But here’s the funny part: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2015 at 2:08 pm

22-Year Old Commits Suicide at Capitol to Send Congress a Message

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Corporate media know how to avert their gaze. Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

At approximately 1:07 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, April 11, during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival celebrating springtime in the Nation’s Capitol, a 22-year old man took his own life with a gun on the Capitol grounds with a protest sign taped to his hand. According to the Washington Post, the sign read: “Tax the one percent.”

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police Department released the young man’s name. He was Leo P. Thornton of Lincolnwood, Illinois. Based on what is currently known, the young man had traveled to Washington, D.C. for the express purpose of making a political statement with his sign and then ending his young life.

The Chicago Tribune reported that “Thornton’s parents filed a missing persons report on the morning of April 11 after he never came home from work on April 10, Lincolnwood Deputy Police Chief John Walsh said.”

Those are the tragic facts of the incident itself. But there is a broader tragedy: the vacuous handling of this story by corporate media. The Washington Post headlined the story with this: “Rhythms of Washington Return after Illinois Man’s Suicide Outside Capitol.” The message he delivered to his Congress – tax the one percent – has yet to be explored by any major news outlet in America in connection with this tragedy.

Was the message of Leo P. Thornton of Lincolnwood, Illinois a critical piece of information for this Congress to hear at this moment in American history. You’re damn right it was. Outside of Wall Street’s wealth transfer system, provisions in the U.S. tax code are the second biggest wealth transfer system to the one percent. Together, these two systems have created the greatest income and wealth inequality since the economic collapse in the Great Depression. They threaten a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse because the majority of Americans do not have the wages or savings to support the broader economy.

President Obama clearly understands what is going on. Whether he can get Congress to act is quite another matter. In his January 20, 2015 State of the Union speech, Obama stated:

“…let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth. We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college. We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together. We can achieve it together.”

The President was talking about one of the two biggest tax giveaways to perpetuate the one percent in America – the “step up in basis” at death. Having previously advised regular working folks on investments for 21 years, I can assure you that the majority of Americans have never heard of this giveaway to the rich which has been in effect for decades.

Here’s how it works: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2015 at 10:36 am

Why no Iranian guests on Sunday talk shows

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It’s very strange that Sunday talk shows, ostensibly to explore political questions, never have an Iranian as guest. Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

Sunday morning news television is where Washington sets its media agenda for the week and, more importantly, defines its narrow range of conventional, acceptable viewpoints. It’s where the Serious People go to spout their orthodoxies and, through the illusion of “tough questioning,” disseminate DC-approved bipartisan narratives. Other than the New York Times front page, Sunday morning TV was the favorite tool of choice for Bush officials and neocon media stars to propagandize the public about Iraq; Dick Cheney’s media aide, Catherine Martin, noted in a memo that the Tim-Russert-hosted Meet the Press lets Cheney “control message,” and she testified at the Lewis Libby trial that, as a result, “I suggested we put the vice president on Meet the Press, which was a tactic we often used. It’s our best format.”

Over the last couple months, the Sunday morning TV shows – NBC‘s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face The Nation, ABC’s This Week, Fox’s News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union – have focused on a deal with Iran as one of their principal topics. In doing so, they have repeatedly given a platform to fanatical anti-Iran voices, including Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They have sycophantically interviewed officials from the U.S.-supported, anti-Iranian Gulf tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan; two weeks ago, Chuck Todd interviewed Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel Al-Jubeir and didn’t utter a word about extreme Saudi repression, but actually did ask this “question”:todd-540x135

Are the foot rubs we Americans are giving to you to your liking, Mr. Saudi Ambassador, or do you feel that we must make them more vigorous? In the last three weeks aloneMeet the Press has interviewed the Israeli Prime Minister, the Saudi Ambassador, and the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.

Meanwhile, their “expert media panels” almost always feature the most extremist “pro-Israel,” anti-Iran American pundits such as Jeffrey Goldberg, who played aleading role in spreading false claims about Iraq under the guise of “reporting” (and only became more beloved and credible in DC for it), was dubbed Netanyahu’s “faithful stenographer” by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and even joined the Israeli military in his young adulthood. In 2014, Face the Nation interviewed Netanyahu five times and featured his “faithful stenographer,” Goldberg, three times; in 2015, the CBS show just last week interviewed Netanyahu and has already hosted Goldberg four times. ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos actually features supreme neocon propagandist Bill Krsitol as a regular “ABC News Contributor” and has also interviewed Netanyahu. And that’s to say nothing of the “hawkish”, AIPAC-loyal and/or evangelical members of the U.S. Congress who are fanatically devoted to Israel and appear literally almost every week on these programs.

But as these shows “cover” the Iran deal, one thing is glaringly missing: Iranian voices. There has not been a single Iranian official recently interviewed by any of these Sunday morning shows. When I raised this issue on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, a Meet the Press Senior Editor, Shawna Thomas, said the show had “put in a request” with Iran for an interview, while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes also suggested that it can be difficult to secure interviews with Iranian government officials.

That may be, but even if it is difficult to obtain interviews with Iranian government officials, it is extremely easy to interview Iranian experts, scholars, journalists and other authoritative voices from Tehran. Last week, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez  hosted a fascinating hour-long discussion about Iran with Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator for Iran who was Iran’s Ambassador to Germany from 1990 to 1997, and now teaches at Princeton. Just this week, CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Tehran University Professor Sadegh Zibakalam about Tehran’s views and actions in the Iran deal. Beyond those in Iran, there are Iranian-American groups and Iranian-American experts who actually speak Farsi who don’t see the world the way Jeffrey Goldberg and Lindsey Graham do. Outside the Sunday shows, Iranian officials have been interviewed occasionally by U.S. media figures.

In sum, the only way to exclude Iranian voices is if you choose to exclude them. That’s exactly what Sunday morning television programs have done, and continue to do. And it matters a great deal for several reasons.

For one, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2015 at 1:31 pm


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