CO117 Will Wilkinson on Community and Ideology

Will Wilkinson is the vice president for research at the Niskanen Center.

He’s also and a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. He was previously, a correspondent for The Economist and a research fellow at the Cato Institute.

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CO116 Raymond Ibrahim on Islam and the West

Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Sword and Scimitar: Fourteen Centuries of War Between Islam and the West.

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Let’s do a bit of science.

Maybe, like me, you have had various social media invaded by people making all sorts of complaints about something called 5G. That’s the newest mobile data standard. Unless you are really special, that doesn’t work on your phone yet, but the networks are being installed, and newer handsets using them will be available soon, probably starting at the top end of the price range.

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CO115 John Hawkins on Politicized Data

John Hawkins is a writer for Bizpaq review, Brass Pills and is the editor Right Wing News. He’s also the author of 101 Things All Young Adults Should Know.

We talked about John’s article The Best Stats & Quotes From ‘Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse’, John’s take on the findings of that book. I mentioned the fact that the number of hours needed to work at minimum age to pay college tuition has increased about tenfold in the last 40 years, and the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam.

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CO114 Greg Shupak on Reporting the Conflict

Greg Shupak has a PhD in Literary Studies and teaches Media Studies at the University of Guelph in Toronto. He regularly writes analysis of politics and media for outlets including Electronic Intifada, In These Times, Jacobin, and the website Fairness and accuracy in reporting.

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CO113 Mark Vernon on the Secret History of Christianity

Mark Vernon is a psychotherapist and writer, with a degree in physics, before two degrees in theology, and a PhD in philosophy. He’s written books covering subjects from friendship and belief, to wellbeing and love.

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CO112 Justin Strekal on Legalizing Marijuana

Justin Strekal political director at Norml.

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I mentioned last week that I would talk about the earthquake – earthquakes really – in UK politics. In particular that Nigel Farage’s new party, the Brexit Party won the European Parliament elections in the UK by a mile last month.

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CO111 Bruce Schneier on Cybersecurity

Bruce Schneier is a public-interest technologist. He’s been writing about security issues for more than 20 years, and he’s a Special Advisor to IBM Security, a fellow and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School, and a board member of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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A couple of quite similar stories caught my eye in the past while.

The first was about a German MP called Markus Frohnmaier. He was elected to the Bundestag, the German parliament for the far-right AfD party in 2017.

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CO110 Grayson Quay on Another View on MeToo

Grayson Quay is a freelance writer. His work has been published in The Washington Times, Reason.com, National Interest, Townhall and others. He is also MA candidate at Georgetown University Master’s Degree candidate.

CO109 Aaron Naparstek on the War on Cars

Aaron Naparstek is a cohost of the War on Cars podcast, and also the founder of Streetsblog.org.

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There have been a couple of stories about facial recognition. This audio is from a BBC report where the police set up a van with cameras filming passersby and searching for records on them based on facial recognition. One man decided that he didn’t like that, and pulled his sweater up over his mouth and nose to frustrate the camera system; the police stopped him, forced him to be photographed, and fined him £90, about $115 for what they called disorderly conduct.

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CO108 Rob Bluey on Standards and Consistency

Rob Bluey is vice president for communications at The Heritage Foundation and Founding Editor of Daily Signal. I mentioned in the interview an article that Rob wrote during the Obama administration criticizing the removal of a website about earmark reform, and contrasted it to the Trump cull of the EPA’s website.

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Last month, a mob of more than 70 men, armed with baseball bats, knives, and rocks launched a series of vigilante attacks around the towns of  Clichy-sous-Bois and Bobigny, about an hour east of Paris. French police arrested at least 20 of them.

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CO107 David Dayen on the Economics of Vaping

David Dayen is a contributing writer The Intercept and a weekly columnist for the New Republic. He is the author of the book Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud., and he’s shortly to become the executive editor of the American Prospect.

We talked about his article How Vaping Giant Juul Explains Everything that’s Wrong with our World.

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There’s a story in the last couple of weeks that, if you’re in Australia, you’ve almost certainly heard, if you’re not in Australia, you’ve almost certainly not heard.

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CO106 Mitchell Robinson on Education Reform and Charter Schools

Mitchell Robinson is a writer for Eclectablog and associate professor and chair of music education at Michigan State University, as well as being a former high-school teacher. His research is focused on music education and education policy.

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CO105 Cathy Reisenwitz on Cars and Freedom

Cathy Reisenwitz is a writer whose work has appeared in The Week, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and others, and she’s appeared as a commentator on Fox News and Al Jazeera, which an interesting combination to say the least.

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CO104 Christian Toto on the Politics of Hollywood

Christian Toto is the editor of Hollywood in Toto, and a regular commentator on both politics and the entertainment industry.

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Clement Atlee, the British World War II Labour Party leader, and minister was once quoted by Margaret Thatcher, the conservative party leader of the 1970s and 1980s. They both agreed that referendums are ‘a device of dictators and demagogues’.

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CO103 Michael Tanner on Helping the Poor

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, with an emphasis on poverty and social welfare policy, health care, and Social Security and entitlement reform.

His most recent book, The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor, looks at the ways government contributes to poverty in the United States and suggests reforms that will enable the poor to more fully participate in a growing economy. 

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I saw a couple of things recently related to podcasts, or at least that might resonate with podcast listeners. One was a YouTube video that compared the market valuation of WeWork, the company that offers hotdesking to remote workers, to Regus, a similar but much more established company, now owned by the IWG group. WeWork has a valuation of $47 billion. WeWork have been advertising heavily on some podcasts. Hell, if they have that much money, I should be tapping them for ads on Challenging Opinions. Regus has a valuation of $4 billion and, get this, Regus is does almost ten times the business. Almost ten times bigger, but less than one tenth of the valuation.

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CO102 Scott Morefield on Trump, Three Years Later

Scott Morefiled is a reporter for the DailyCaller and a columnist for Townhall. His writings have also been featured  on Breitbart, BizPac, TheBlaze, National Review, The Federalist, The Hill and others.

In the podcast we discussed his article from 2016, and I mentioned a quotation from HL Mencken, and the fact that Trump’s cabinet has a collective wealth of over four billion dollars.

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In the U.S., President Trump was reported recently as saying that EU countries must take back the estimated 800 Isis fighters captured in Syria by US-backed forces and put them on trial.

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CO101 Adam DeCollibus on What Was the Past Like?

Adam DeCollibus is the author of Caravan. I mentioned the excellent Caliphate podcast in the conversation.

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I’ve talked about the Baltic republics, and Ukraine before – their governments, and to a large extent their people – are anxious to make alliances to the West, join NATO, join the EU. It’s notable that of the former eastern bloc countries, the Baltic states that once were part of the Soviet Union, occupied by the Soviet Union they would say, have been the most anxious to integrate with the west, joining NATO and the EU, and adopting the euro currency as soon as they were permitted to do so.

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CO100 David Introcaso on Healthcare Reform

David Introcaso is a healthcare policy consultant based in Washington DC.  He worked for then house majority leader Stenny Hoyer and at Department of Health and Human Services, and he has consulted for the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association and United Health Group.  He has taught as a adjunct at the University of Chicago and at George Washington University.

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I was reading a piece called Unholy Alliance: Why Do Left-Wing Americans Support Right-Wing Muslims? by Yasmine Mohammed. She’s a former Muslim who, in her own words, ran away from the religious far-right world in which I was raised, and … made [her] way left towards values … like gender equality, free speech and LGBT rights.

And she continued,

Now, try to imagine the shock, betrayal and sadness I feel seeing fellow liberals celebrating right-wing, conservative aspects of Islam. On February 1, I was so upset over World Hijab Day that I spent the day in bed with a migraine. Hijab Day? … Is there a Mormon underwear day? What about a chastity belt day? I risked my life, and my daughter’s life, to escape from the darkness into the light — only to find the light celebrating and fetishising darkness.

That’s what she said, and I think she has a point. I know that many Muslim women want to wear the hijab, and do so without harassment, but for many others, it’s a symbol of oppression and submission. And, let’s be real here, for many women, it’s a bit of both.

Now, I can sympathise with the feeling that women who don’t want to leave the hijab behind, or don’t want to do that yet, they shouldn’t be victimised, they shouldn’t be treated badly on that basis, and them wearing the hijab shouldn’t be used as  a proxy, an excuse for racist or ethnic victimization. So, yes, defend the right of people to wear silly religious garb if they want to do that, and it doesn’t restrict the rights of others.

But there is a whole world of difference between that and saying that wearing the hijab is a good thing, that it should be encouraged or celebrated. Sure, some women in the west wear the hijab because they were brought up with it, and they wouldn’t be comfortable going out without it, and to an extent that is their choice.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the hijab springs from a virginity hysteria in the deeply misogynistic culture that it comes from. Yasmine Mohammed is right that it is absolutely absurd for American liberals to be supporting it, or any other of the bronze-age traditions that make up Sharia law.

But they aren’t the only ones who are being hypocritical. Let’s look at many of the people who are setting themselves up who are loudest about keeping the evil influence of Islam out of the west, the Breitbarts and the Tommy Robinsons, the Nathan Damigos and the Black Pigeon Speaks, and all the alt and not-so-alt right. Why do they want to do that? To preserve western values, that’s why. To defend the enlightenment.

The only problem is that the people who are so anxious to keep out Muslims for the sake of western values and the enlightenment are the same people who care least about western values and the enlightenment. Between them they have attacked everything from due process and the rule of law to religious freedom, universal suffrage and democracy, and every individual liberty that has made the western world what it is. There’s an awful lot of hypocrisy out there. I can understand Yasmine Mohammed being disappointed with otherwise-liberals doing the apologetics for the equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. And I hate to have to make the choice, but when I do have to make the choice between silly liberals being too tolerant of a totalitarian religion on one hand, and on the other hand, knuckleheads with keyboards dressing their racism up as concern for something that I am actually concerned about … I hate to have to make that choice, but I think I’d tip the balance in favour of people believing in freedom and getting it wrong sometimes, than people believing in totalitarianism and getting it wrong sometimes.

CO099 Jennifer Briney on Unity and Divisions

Jennifer Briney is the host of the Congressional Dish podcast.

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A lot of people are kidding themselves.

We have two rival presidents in Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro, the elected president, the successor to Hugo Chavez. I won’t go so far as to say democratically elected, but … elected.

And Juan Guaido, the speaker of the national assembly who has declared himself interim president; he’s been supported strongly by the current US administration, despite the fact that he has no constitutional legitimacy at all, and to a lesser extent by the EU and other western countries.

People on the left have been calling this just another US-backed coup in Latin America, and there is some reason to say that, but they are kidding themselves if they think that is the only thing going on here. People like UK Labour Party leader tweeted in 2013 “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world”.

Maybe not quite. Whatever about the aims of Chavez and his successor, their economics have been a catastrophe for the country. 90 per cent of people live in poverty, and the average Venezuelan lost 11kg, that’s 24 pounds, in 2017. Get that, the economy is in such a mess, people on average lost enough weight to make themselves a weightwatchers star, just because they can’t afford food.

That’s a disgrace in any country but for the nation with the world’s biggest oil reserves, that’s an outrage. It’s said that no society is more than two missed dinners from anarchy, so with years of the whole population going hungry, anyone saying that the current crisis is all down to American propaganda or destabilisation is kidding themselves.

But they’re not the only ones. We’ve had a lot of guff about free elections and democracy, but anyone who thinks that the only motivation the west has is fostering democracy, is really kidding themselves. Marco Rubio let the mask slip a little when he tweeted about how important Venezuelan oil is to Valero Energy and Chevron, and, perhaps as an afterthought, to oil refining jobs in Gulf Coast.

The US administration is bending over backwards to encourage a military coup against Maduro, and I’ve no doubt if he falls, a lot of people, most people, in Venezuela will cheer. A new government might even make life better; it could hardly make it much worse.

But the US strongly supports murderous authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, which are ranked much lower than Venezuela on the world democracy index. They’re not encouraging the people in those countries to rise up and overthrow their government; they’re not openly inciting a military coup. The difference is, as Marco Rubio said, the importance of keeping the Venezuelan oil flowing to US oil companies. If you think that the motivation is democracy, then you’re kidding yourself.

CO098 Max Suchkov on Russian Objectives

Maxim A. Suchkov is a PhD political analyst, Russia Editor at Al Monitor, and a fellow at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies.

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A little more than a year ago, on 27 December 2017, a woman climbed on top of a utility cabinet, one of those boxes you see in the street for telecom equipment, she took off the headscarf that she was wearing, she tied it to the end of a stick and she waved it like a flag.

That might not seem noteworthy, just a little strange, except for the fact that the woman who did it was Vida Movahed, and the utility cabinet she stood on was on Enghelab Street, which means Revolution Street, in Teheran, the capital of Iran.

Vida Movahed

Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, wearing a hijab, a headscarf covering the hair and neck, is required by law for all women in Iran. Vida was arrested almost immediately and is currently on bail awaiting trial.

Within a couple of days, several women posted images on social media of them doing the same thing. One of them, Narges Hosseini, was arrested and charged with openly committing a sinful act which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison and up to 74 lashes; she is also on bail pending trial. Since then many other girls and women have followed Vida’s example, despite dozens of them being arrested and some beaten by police.

Reports indicate that Iran’s hardline Islamic government is unsure whether to crack down hard on these protests, or turn a blind eye – they fear that either strategy could lead to them spreading. Some of their attempts to prevent the protests have been pathetic, such as fixing obstacles on top of utility boxes.

Iran is different to Saudi Arabia, where women were only recently given the right to get a driving licence, and still can only go to university, or even go shopping, with the permission of a male guardian.

The place of women in Iranian society is complex. There are female members of the Iranian parliament, some of whom have expressed something akin to grudging support for the Girls of Revolution Street, as the protestors have become known. Before that revolution, women had comparatively much more freedom. In 1979, thousands of women protested in the streets at the introduction of this very law, making the hijab compulsory.

Iranian schoolgirls show their attitude to the compulsory hijab laws

The courage of the women in the recent protests cannot be overstated. They protest, often alone, often in a street full of hostile men. They are well aware that rape, and torture, including sexual torture, are common Iranian prisons, particularly for prisoners protesting against the regime.

And, should they try to escape and claim asylum, every single one of them is banned from entering the United States under Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.