Review: Merchants of Doubt

This review will deal with both the book and the documentary based on it. The book was written by two historians of science Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University and Erik M. Conway and was published in 2010, while the documentary was directed by Robert Kenner and released in 2014 and has just been released on DVD. I can strongly recommend both. The book is very clearly written and makes a compelling case for the authors’ thesis. Although the documentary is based on the book, its emphasis is different (dealing mostly with the climate change debate) and provides new information that is not in the book. Here’s the trailer.
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Mandatory minimum sentences

On his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver discusses the serious problem of having mandatory minimum sentencing laws that fill up our prisons with people serving long sentences that are not proportionate to the crimes. He makes a powerful case that these laws are unjust and abusive and should not only be repealed but that those already serving long sentences because of them should have their sentences commuted or pardoned altogether.
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The Bland case is a wakeup call that we can all find ourselves in jail

My hometown of Cleveland has had a series of protests against police brutality and that eight months after the death of 12-year old Tamir Rice who was shot by police while having a toy gun, there have still not been any indictments. This was after the insane high-speed police chase through the streets involving 62 patrol cars and 100 police officers that ended with two unarmed people having 137 bullets pumped into them. These and a history of use of excessive force resulted in the US Justice Department issuing a scathing report about police practices here and imposed a consent decree on them that seeks to correct its practices.
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Guilty pleasure

I believe that politics is a serious business. It has important consequences and so do not take it lightly or treat it as entertainment. I have little patience with journalists who do not cover particular issues in depth or certain candidates because they consider them too boring. On the other hand, I must admit that an important political story that also has high entertainment value comes along but rarely and must be savored when it does, and the candidacy of Donald Trump fits the bill. Watching the Trump show is better than any reality show or soap opera. Each night ends with you wondering what the next day’s news will bring about his latest actions and reactions.
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Mass shootings in the US

We hear of mass shootings that occur periodically where a gunman (it is almost always a man with a gun) goes on some kind of rampage and slaughters a number of people. NPR interviewed Jodi Upton, a member of a team of reporters at USA Today that decided to find out how many mass murders had occurred since 2006, because the federal government does not keep track of such statistics. A mass murder was defined as one in which at least four people other than the killer died.
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The phony suggestions for making the Iran deal ‘better’

The opposition to the deal arrived at between the P5+1 nations and Iran has been led by the Republicans, the Israeli government and its lobby in the US, and the neoconservatives, all of whom would like the US to go to war with Iran, which is a truly insane idea. (Interestingly, American Jews support the deal by larger margins than the American public overall, showing once again that the Israel lobby in the US reflects the view of the most extreme elements of the Israeli government more than that of American Jews, something we saw before in the run-up to the Iraq war.) The absurdity and shallowness of their statements about the deal reveal that they were opposed to any agreement that Iran would agree to because that would pre-empt war, or at least delay it.
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Details? Who cares about details?

The Daily Show looks at the critics’ reactions to the deal arrived at between the P5+1 nations and Iran. It is obvious that they had decided what to say before they even knew what the deal contained because that is the level of politics now, where your attitude is totally unconstrained by facts. When your goal is to frighten everyone by warning of the sky falling, the actual issue doesn’t matter.
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Barrett Brown gets sent to ‘the hole’

I gave an update last week on the case of Barrett Brown, about whom I have written before, and linked to his posts about life in prison where he was incarcerated after exposing government misdeeds. Unfortunately, a few days ago he was sent for 30 days to ‘the hole’, one of the many synonyms for the ‘solitary housing unit’ or SHU that prisons in the US use as a form of punishment.
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