Monday, April 24, 2017

Trump and the Imminent Dangers of an "Oh, Never Mind" President

  by Nomad

Last week, The Washington Post featured an op-ed piece by Pulitzer Prize–winning conservative political commentator, George Will. Even though it always helps to be slightly inebriated before reading anything from the right, this piece which caught my ever-roaming eye.
It was entitled "The ‘Oh, Never Mind’ President." 

History’s Most Unprepared Candidate

From the outset, there's something you need to know. Mr. Will has made it perfectly clear that he's no great fan of Donald Trump. Back in June of last year, Will actually walked away from the Republican party due to his issues with the billionaire. 

And in November, Will called Trump's victory "a ruinous triumph for the GOP." Reading the following passage, the word "scathing" is one that immediately comes to mind.
The simultaneous sickness of both parties surely reveals a crisis of the U.S. regime. The GOP was easily captured, and then quickly normalized, by history’s most unpleasant and unprepared candidate, whose campaign was a Niagara of mendacities.
But there's another word to describe Will's thoughts. "Disingenuous."

Will seems to think Republican party was, until the marmalade Menace marched onstage, the party of common sense, and fiscal prudence. 

Naturally, Mr. Will is welcome to his historical re-writing, and Lord knows, the last 40 years of US politics has given scrubbers like him plenty of work. Still, Trump didn't start the mess but he is going to make it a lot worse very soon. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Nomadic Meditations on Earth Day 2017

  by Nomad

You are Here Earth

Today, April 22, 2017, is Earth Day, which marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.
In the 47 years that have passed, there have been triumphs and failures. It seems as though the spread of environmental awareness might not be a potent enough force against the tide of greed and ignorance and the pressures of mindless exploitation.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Good News Round-up: Three Inspiring Stories about Survival

by Nomad

For those of us who were born to care about the world, it's easy to find more than enough depressing things to think about. More than we deserve to see, I think. No doubt, it would be a lot easier to stop worrying and turn our backs the whole damn thing.
Well, I have tried but for some reason, as soon as the fatigue wears off, I keep coming back.
Still, today, at least, we can take a break from the gloom.

Survivor Named Peace

If you ever land in Istanbul while on your world adventures, be sure to look up the Red Cat Publishing House. Besides a lot of books and kind-hearted staff, you are likely to find the cat named Baris, (pronounced Bar-ish). It means Peace in Turkish.

He happens to be a minor celebrity at the moment even in a city famous for its love of stray cats.

Turkey Peace Cat

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Shared Values: VP Mike Pence's Shameless Human Rights Lies in Indonesia

by Nomad

Mike Pence

Proud to Partner

With all that's been going on lately, you might have missed this story. As part of his Asia tour, Vice-president Mike Pence made a stop in tropical Indonesia.
There, he gave praise to what he described as the world's most populous Muslim nation's Indonesia's democracy and moderate form of Islam. It has been held up- as Turkey once was- as the champion of "a more tolerant and moderate Islam."

Agreeing to boost cooperation between the two nations to fight terrorist extremism, Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo welcomed Pence.
The vice president, according to the AP story, was there to reinforce traditional U.S. alliances at a time when Donald Trump's presidency has raised questions about the strength of the U.S. commitment to the region.

Pence said:
"As the second- and third-largest democracies in the world, our two countries share many common values including freedom, the rule of law, human rights and religious diversity. The United States is proud to partner with Indonesia. It promotes and protects these values."
Every American- whatever his politics- has a right to question Pence about which shared values he might be referring to. When you take a close look to the reports of independent human right organizations, Pence's claims look much worse than the typical hyperbolical gloss of honey-coated diplomacy.

It is, in fact, the worst kind of misrepresentation. It is also a shame for any nation that has once held itself as a champion and defender of human rights around the world.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spiraling Out of Control: The Dangerous Fallacies of General Mattis

by Nomad

Contrary to what the Defense Secretary apparently believes, there's a lethal risk in basing American foreign policy on the belief that other nations will pull back from the brink.

Red Lines and Spirals

On April 11, 2017, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and General Joseph L. Votel, commander, U.S. Central Command held a press conference. It was a comparatively sedate and well-mannered meeting with the press. Mattis came across as a wise and disciplined type of leader, something solely lacking in the Trump administration.

However, there was an exchange that stood out for me and worth a bit more attention.
Q: Secretary Mattis, you're a student of history. You're a student of strategy. You've talked about red lines. The president has talked about red lines. The Russians have talked about red lines. At what point is there a danger of this spiraling out of control and to conflict between two nuclear-powered countries?

SEC. MATTIS: I don't believe I've talked about red lines. I generally shy away from it myself. I recommend Assad be rather cautious about violating international law with chemical weapons. I suppose that could be considered a red line. So I won't argue the point.
It will not spiral out of control. As you know, Secretary of State Tillerson is in Moscow. We maintain communications with the Russian military and with the diplomatic channels. It will not spiral out of control.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sanity Sunday- Four by Souad Massi

by Nomad

As you know by now, the sources for our music for Sanity Sunday breaks are diverse. This week we turn to an Algerian singer of Berber descent, songwriter, and guitarist, Souad Massi.

One doesn't get much more eclectic than Massi. From her Wikipedia entry:
Massi's music, which prominently features the acoustic guitar, displays Western musical style influences such as rock, country or the Portuguese fado but sometimes incorporates oriental musical influences and oriental instruments like the oud as well as African musical stylings. Massi sings in Classical Arabic, Algerian Arabic, French, occasionally in English, and in the Berber language, Kabyle, often employing more than one language in the same song.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Shaltay Boltay: The Fall of Russia's Humpty-Dumpty

by Nomad

One of the stories that was, I think, under-reported in all of the ongoing Trump-induced chaos was the strange tale of the arrest of the Russian colonel. Here's some information on that mysterious event. 

The Arrest of the Colonel

In December 2016, one of Russia's top security officials was arrested and it was, by all accounts, an extremely dramatic event. During a meeting, officers grabbed him, putting a bag over his head before taking him away.The charge: high treason.

The accused, Colonel Sergey Mikhailov, was the former chief of the 2nd Operational Management of FSB Information Security Center (ISC).

At that time of the arrest, it was tempting to make some kind of connection between Russian interferences in last year's election and this arrest. The spate of mysterious deaths of Russian officials calls out for some explanation or theory about what's really going on behind the scenes.
However, the story of this particular event, based on the information which has emerged, could easily have been the subject of a Le Carre spy thriller.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Educating Tomi: Conservative Ranter Gets a Lesson in Free Speech

by Nomad

Last week, the Dallas Morning News reported that Ms. Tomi Lahren, right wing political ranter, has taken her former boss Glenn Beck (along with his media corporation) to court. 
She alleges that she was wrongfully terminated after comments she made about abortion during an appearance on The View.
The lawsuit claims that Lahren was “understandably disappointed, saddened and in shock for being suspended for freely expressing her opinions, which certainly reconcile with what is the law of the land in the United States i.e., a woman’s constitutional right to choose and in no way inconsistent with any of [Lahren’s] obligations under the Employment Contract.”
On March 26, 2017, news broke that Lahren had been fired and it seemed to be verified when it was announced that Tomi would no longer be appearing on TheBlaze. (Mr. Beck thinks removing a space between words makes him look more serious, I suppose, rather than a typographical carelessness.)  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sanity Sunday: Four by Glass Duo

by Nomad

For this Sunday's sanity break, I have chosen the husband-wife pair from Poland, Arkadiusz and Anna Szafraniec. This pair of unique musicians go by the name GlassDuo. They create hypnotically beautiful music using only their fingers and an elaborate arrangement of sparkling wine glasses.
Their bio states:
Some time ago, being charmed with the sound of musical glasses, they abandoned their places in the symphony orchestra in Gdansk and started to realize their own idea of performing.
Today they play the glass harp in duo and with other musicians as well. They've successfully performed with string quartets and various chamber ensembles.
GlassDuo have worked together with the majority of Polish orchestras including The Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and Sinfonia Varsovia as well as with orchestras from outside Poland.
Their latest album, Glassified, is available on Itunes.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Uber and the Strange Case of the Russian Passenger

 by Nomad

Most of us, whether we have used the smartphone app or not, have heard of Uber.  However, there's a dark side of Uber that you might not know about.

Uber and the New Business Model

Launched in 2012, Uber provides an alternative to the traditional Yellow taxi and was hailed as the beginning of a more free-form type of business model.
In case you don't know, Uber is a kind of unique car-for-hire service with smartphone tech as its dispatch and fee manager. Drivers do not possess special licenses and use their personal vehicles at a discounted rate. Riders do not even need to pay in cash or tip the Uber driver.

Despite having its share of some serious birthing pangs, Uber has become a major success. Today Uber is in 377 major cities around the world. World travelers can expect to find Uber rides in more major cities.

The techie podcast, Reply All, recently investigated a baffling hitch related to Uber.  One of its customers was notified that he was being billed for Uber trips he had never made. More than once, Alex Blumberg's bank account was slapped with illegitimate service charges.
Somewhere, somehow, a Russian in Moscow was proving that there really is such a thing as a "free ride." Literally.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Wealthy Russians Who Call the United Kingdom Home

by Nomad

In a time when war-torn refugees coming to Europe and the UK are looked upon with skepticism, fear, and dread, there's been very little discussion of the economic migration of the wealthy class from Russia.

The Good Life and the Illusion of Safety

It's not what you'd call new news. In 2012, CNBC reported
Wealthy Russians are moving to London is such large numbers that local commentators have coined the term “Londongrad.” Roman Abramovich, the Russian multi-billionaire who owns the Chelsea Football Club is the highest-profile rich Russian in Britain, but he is only one of ten Russian billionaires living there, while an estimated 1,000 Russian millionaires now call London home.
The reasons for this exodus, according to attorneys and real-estate agents in London who deal with the Russian rich, is the attraction of the stability and the refined culture of London life.

But something else: the relative safety of not being poached by the mob or arrested by the police. As Reuters reported that same year.
Leaked secret diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassy in Moscow once described Russia as a "virtual mafia state", and London has long been the chosen destination for Russians seeking refuge from trouble at home.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sanity Sunday- Four by Tom Rosenthal

by Nomad

Thirty-year-old British singer and composer Tom Rosenthal's self-description is plain and simple.
I live in London, have 2 young daughters, and I write songs. I've released 3 albums to date, and the 4th is coming in Spring 2017. Aside from the main albums, I've released a trilogy of EP's and one underrated Christmas single.
The first three videos I have chosen, for your listening pleasure,  provide us with a little poetry, haunting music backed by expansive, lush landscapes.

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Story of the Secret Violinist of Mosul

by Nomad

In the song, "American Pie" we hear the phrase "the day the music died" but few could ever imagine a time or place when making music would become a capital crime.
Journalist Josie Ensor, writing for The Telegraph, recently introduced us to a young man named Ameen, the secret violinist of Mosul.

A Reign of Terror

On 10 June 2014,  jihadists of ISIS marched into the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. For this fighters, the city was conquered lands and its inhabitants were a subjugated population. And as crusaders of their strict interpretation of Islam, one of their first tasks was to implement Sharia law upon the residents of the city. Among many other prohibitions, there were bans on all things Western. This included a ban on Western sins like cigarettes and alcohol. There were also strict rules on dancing and music.
The punishment for violators? Death.

For 26-year-old Ameen Mokdad, it really was "the day the music died." Music was more than a pastime for Mokdad. Since childhood, it had always been a means of self-expression.
Now all that had changed.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hybrid Warfare: NATO Investigates Putin's Troll War against the West 3/3

by Nomad

Part One
Part Two

In the third and final installment in this series, we finish up with a look at what NATO learned by studying Russian trolling activities in the Baltic nation of Latvia before 2015. How can we apply these findings to what went on in the US a year later?

So Why Latvia?

Back in 2015, NATO had several good reasons for choosing the tiny Baltic nation of Latvia to study how hybrid trolling operated.

When it comes to vulnerability, the nation has many unique characteristics. For one thing, Latvia and Russia share a 214 km border as well as a long and often contentious history. Even today, it is very much in the shadow of the Russian bear.
It is also a divided nation.
Demographically, ethnic Latvians form 61% of the population while a full 25.6% are ethnic Russians. There are other divisions as well. Latvia is historically predominantly Protestant Lutheran yet its ethnic Russians population is Eastern Orthodox Christians. Despite the fact that the sole official language of Latvia is Latvian, Russian, widely spoken during the Soviet occupation, is still the most widely used minority language.

It is also one of the limited club of NATO members that was once a member of the rival Warsaw Pact 1955–1991 and a part of the Soviet Union. Latvia regained its independence in August 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.  For that reason, Latvia will probably always be a politically divided nation.
For these and other reasons, Latvia is in many ways a perfect target for outside tampering by Russians.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sanity Sunday- Music from Mongolia

by Nomad

This week's musical sanity break takes us far away from the dread-inspiring world of politics. And this is about as far away from that sordid mess as you can and remain on the planet. But, seriously, you all need a break. It's been a hellish and nerve-racking week (It did, however, have a happy ending for almost everybody.)

In any event, nomads deserve nomadic music so I present to you, the music from Mongolia.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Manafort and Deripaska: More Secret Russian Connections in the Trump Team

by Nomad

The tangled web woven by President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, just keeps getting more and more tangled.
And now there's this:

The Associated Press is now reporting that Manafort 
"secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics."
That's quite a bold claim. It's also one that would flatly contradict Trump administration assertions that Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
Nope, never. Fake news, people!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Trumpcare, Paul Ryan, and Founding Father Dr. Benjamin Rush's Warning

by Nomad

Last Thursday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was interviewed by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. It wasn't very interesting, to be honest with you.
As expected, Ryan performed the same retractions and dodges and, in order not to be accused of saying anything either for or against the president, twisted more than a talented contortionist.

We can't really blame Trump for his slanderous tweets against Obama because, as Ryan said, ten-year-old Twitter is "new" and 70-year old presidents can't be blamed for not understanding how all this new technology stuff works.
Ryan really said that.

Watching a grown man squirm like that is hard to watch. It wasn't any easier to view knowing that there really were people out there who might actually believe him.
However, among all of this intentionally complicated fast talk, there was one thing he said that caught my ear.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Film Friday- Two Short Films from "The Perennial Plate"

by Nomad

The two films I've chosen this Friday are actually a pair of episodes from the two-time James Beard Award-winning online weekly documentary series, The Perennial Plate.
This show is a dedicated to socially responsible and adventurous eating.
All of the episodes can be found here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hybrid Warfare: NATO Investigates Putin's Troll War against the West 2/3

 by Nomad

In Part One of this series, we took a look at the basic principles of Russia's hybrid warfare campaign on social media based on a 2015 NATO report. In this segment, let's take a look at how these techniques have been used in practice. In addition, we will look at the role that Russian hybrid warfare played in the 2016 campaign.
That's a puzzle that's still missing quite a few pieces.

Early Warnings

I don’t think anybody knows that it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia—I don't, maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?Donald Trump, September 26, 2016
This remark by candidate Trump in last months of the campaign must have struck many informed observers as extremely peculiar. His denial of Russian hacking didn't fit into the established timeline.
Only a few months earlier, on July 27, in the heat of the campaign, Trump had invited Russian hackers to find the 30,000 Hillary Clinton's emails. 
And a month before that, June 15, 2016, a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0 explain he had given the hacked emails to WikiLeaks. The emails reportedly came complete with telltale Russian-language formatting errors. Yet, Trump was still inexplicably denying what was already obvious.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hybrid Warfare: NATO Investigates Putin's Troll War against the West 1/3

  by Nomad

The role that social media outlets, like Twitter and Facebook, play in managing and influence public perception has really come to the forefront since the 2016 US election. Few would argue that social media's influence in this presidential election is stronger than it has ever been.
Immediately after the election, NPR pointed out how social media have changed our national political conversation, turning it into "a loud mess." The advent of fake news transformed what should have been a public discussion into a battle of conspiracy theories.

Experts are now studying whether it was some natural effect or whether all of the confusion was actually stage-managed by unseen hands?

NATO and Social Media 

In 2015, well before the election, one of those who took a keen interest in this subject was NATO, specifically the Strategic Communication -Centre of Excellence (NATO StratCom COE). This agency was asked to conduct a study on how social media has been transformed into a weapon of hybrid warfare.

The report that emerges presents a frightening snapshot of the methods, targets, and effectiveness of this new type of warfare.  
Ever since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, for example, we have seen fake identities and accounts being created in order to "disseminate narratives through social media, blogs, and web commentaries in order to manipulate, harass, or deceive opponents."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Documentary- "Loving the Other Side"

  by Nomad

Here's a fascinating documentary about parents and children and how the present political climate had divided families. It was produced by the New York Times and filmed in January of this years.
I can't help wondering any of the pro-Trump individuals have started to have any second thoughts yet.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Chelsea Manning's Emotional Letter of Thanks to Her Fellow Inmates

by Nomad

Chelsea Manning Letter

In January this year, President Barack Obama commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning Under the President's order, Manning's sentence will expire on May 17, 2017.
As a soldier in the US military, Chelsea Manning, (formerly known as Bradley) was court-martialed for leaking secret military and government documents to WikiLeaks.

His release will hopefully bring to a close a sorry chapter for whistleblowers around the world. Given the current administration's attitude on hunting and eliminating leakers, the Manning saga is especially troubling.


The material leaked by Manning included the Baghdad airstrike video "Collateral Murder", which showed two American helicopters firing on a group of 10 men in the Amin District of Baghdad. As Wikipedia notes:
Two were Reuters employees there to photograph an American Humvee under attack by the Mahdi Army. Pilots mistook their cameras for weapons. The helicopters also fired on a van, targeted earlier by one helicopter, that had stopped to help wounded members of the first group. Two children in the van were wounded, and their father was killed.
Manning was also responsible for the "Cablegate" leak of 251,287 State Department cables, written by 271 American embassies and consulates in 180 countries, dated December 1966 to February 2010. The leaks, which revealed the private thoughts of those handling international relations, were considered at the time to be damaging to America's international image. Here is a top ten list of bombshells found in the leaked documents.

In his testimony before the court, Manning apologized for his actions saying
"I am sorry that my actions hurt people. I'm sorry that they hurt the United States. I am sorry for the unintended consequences of my actions. When I made these decisions I believed I was going to help people, not hurt people. ... At the time of my decisions, I was dealing with a lot of issues."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sanity Sunday- Three by Melody Gardot

by Nomad

The artist of this week's musical sanity break, Melody Gardot, is by special request. Thanks for the suggestion!
It is easy to see why the New Jersey-born Gardot has been compared to that of Nina Simone. In fact, her influences are an eclectic mix from Latin music artists such as Caetano Veloso to Janis Joplin and George Gershwin. She certainly has a classy sound.
And, like all true nomads, Gardot considers herself a "citizen of the world".

First up is one I have dedicated to the president. It is called "Cry Wolf."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Film Friday- "4.1 miles"

by Nomad

The tranquil Greek island of Lesbos is only 4.1 miles from the Turkish coast. For this reason- a geographic detail- this island has become the scene of a critical link in the refugee crisis story: the destination for thousands of Syrians and Middle-Eastern refugees who dare to make the perilous crossing.

Greek documentary filmmaker, Daphne Matziaraki, who lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area, returned home to Greece in the fall of 2015 to film this story.

Greek film 4.1Her film, "4.1 miles" records, in graphic detail, what most of us have only heard about but can't hardly being to imagine.
The film was nominated for a 2017 Academy Award.
In an interview, Matziaraki explained that this humanitarian crisis involves more than one side. The Greek people- who, as the saying goes, have no horse in this race, are being severely tested as well.
Regardless of the hardship Greeks have endured from the financial crisis, for a long time my home country has by and large been a peaceful, safe and easy place to live. But now Greece is facing a new crisis, one that threatens to undo years of stability, as we struggle to absorb the thousands of desperate migrants who pour across our borders every day. A peak of nearly 5,000 entered Greece each day last year, mainly fleeing conflicts in the Middle East.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The 1999 Moscow Apartment Bombings and the Rise of the Man President Trump Admires

by Nomad

In September 2009, American novelist, journalist, and a veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson wrote this
It is a riddle that lies at the very heart of the modern Russian state, one that remains unsolved to this day. In the awful events of September 1999, did Russia find its avenging angel in Vladimir Putin, the proverbial man of action who crushed his nation's attackers and led his people out of a time of crisis? Or was that crisis actually manufactured to benefit Putin, a scheme by Russia's secret police to bring one of their own to power?

What makes this question important is that absent the bombings of September 1999 and all that transpired as a result, it is hard to conceive of any scenario whereby Putin would hold the position he enjoys today: a player on the global stage, a ruler of one of the most powerful nations on earth.
The riddle he refers to has, today, been largely forgotten by the world press. Yet, understanding what happened in Moscow in 1999  may be a vital question that Americans need to think about.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Film- Refuge: Human Stories of the Refugee Crisis

by Nomad

When we think of the refugee problem, it's too easy to forget that each of the people, each family has its unique story, unique tragedies.
And each refugee has his or her own hopes for a better future and a safe place.

This documentary (and the "making of") attempts to give a misery a human face when a small team of filmmakers set out for Greece to interview the victims of this humanitarian crisis back in 2016.

Part 1-Refuge


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Thomas Jefferson, Donald Trump and the Dangerous Path of the Republican Party

by Nomad

Founding father Thomas Jefferson would probably not be surprised by the rise of Donald Trump and the decline of the Republican party. A few of his quotes remind us that Jefferson understood very well why governments fail their people. He also warned what happens when ruling parties ignore the warning signs.

Wolves over Sheep

Like all of the founders of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was anti-royalist and had a strong dislike of all forms of despotism. He devoted much thought (and a tankerful of ink) on the subject.
The principal author of the Declaration of Independence considered monarchies and aristocracies to be governments of force, rather than the rule by consent, deeming them to be "a government of wolves over sheep."

Corrupt rulers- whether they are elected or assume power by undemocratic methods- never stopped innovating new and devious means of enriching themselves at the public expense. They are the curse for anybody who values their liberty and who despises criminal mismanagement. It has been the blight of humanity since the first governments were created.

With the establishment of the new American nation, those flaws of government would be amended.  First, to prevent the rise of a despot, there would have to be some basic ground rules. 
As Jefferson wrote to Lafayette in 1816:
"[To establish republican government, it is necessary to] effect a constitution in which the will of the nation shall have an organized control over the actions of its government, and its citizens a regular protection against its oppressions."
In an enlightened age, government must be thought of as public trust and politicians, employees in the service of a nation.  In this capacity, a president must expect to be under constant scrutiny by the press, he or she must expect to be fairly criticized by opposing parties. He or she can no longer expect to conduct financial arrangements in secrecy.
(In President Clinton's case, even a sexual dalliance between two adults was considered fair game for congressional investigations.)

Monday, February 20, 2017

From the Archives: The Day when Bankers and Businessmen Betrayed a Nation

by Nomad

Scouring the archive again.
In a 2015 post, This Day in History: When Bankers and Big Business Betrayed a Nation, we examined the willing complicity of the German industrialists and how the fascist leader's seduced the people who once had underestimated him.

On February 20, 1933, - exactly 84 years today- something extraordinary happened in Europe. Of course, nobody knew about it and few could have understood the significance at the time.

This was the day that Chancellor Adolf Hitler made his pitch to the leaders of banking and industry.
On that day, Hitler held a secret meeting aimed at allocating campaign financing for the Nazi party in the crucial upcoming elections.
It was for the captains of industry a moment of decision, a time to choose between the good of the country or supporting an extremely ambitious man with deeply dangerous ideas.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Some Notes and Three Timely Quotes from a Roman Republican

by Nomad

It's time to take a breather from the hectic pace of present politics. I wanted to share some reflections on a noble Roman who also lived in troubled times.

For much of my life, I have been fascinated by Roman history, especially the transition from Republic to Empire. The first century after Christ was full of drama and plot twists all driven by larger-than-life characters, some very ambitious and evil-minded and some very noble and admirable.

A Man at the Center

One such character was Marcus Tullius Cicero, better known as simply. Cicero. As a Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul, and constitutionalist, Cicero was at the very center of politics during the Fall of the Republic, even as that center was spinning wildly out of control.

Interesting times to say the least. Interesting but lethal. He would eventually become one of its notable early victims, murdered by a power-hungry man's squad of hit men, on the road outside his villa.
In defiant fashion, he bared his neck for the killing blow and told his killers:
"There is nothing proper about what you are doing, soldier, but do try to kill me properly."
There's a lot more to Cicero than meets the historian's eye. His writings, (which include his essays, speeches, and letters) were somehow salvaged throughout the Dark Ages. That has become Cicero's legacy to countless generations.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

11 Smart Ass Questions I'd Like to Ask Trump's Press Secretary, Sean Spicer

by Nomad

Trump Spicer

As Donald Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer's take-no-prisoners style came as a bit of a shock to reporters who had gotten used to the laid-back demeanor of Obama's Josh Earnest.
We got used to a lot of nice things in the Obama administration, like civility, well-presented facts and, more importantly, a lack of covert Russian involvement in US politics.
Alas, those good old days are gone.

Of course, in his position, Spicer is supposed to represent Trump and in that regard, he does succeed. Spicer's  hyper-aggressive adversarial manner is an accurate reflection of his boss' distaste for journalism that refuses to flatter him and refuses to ask only nice questions.

I don't know what it is but there's something about Spicer's bully behavior that brings out my juvenile smarty-pants side. Admittedly it never takes very much.

So, to get that out of my system, I composed a list of eleven questions that I would enjoy asking Spicer if the White House would ever be insane enough to let me in the door.

1. Who told you that it was a good idea to open your first press conference by saying "Okay, which of you incompetent assholes wants to ask me something?"

2. Have you always been a jerk? Is it the effect of deep insecurity?

3. So, how much longer do you think you'll be able to hold onto this position? (Follow-up: Do you plan to resign or let Trump fire you?)

4.. Who cut your hair? Is it on purpose? 

5. Is mocking laughter frowned upon in the White House briefing room or should we all just step outside?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Middle East Mayhem: Why Trump's Foreign Policy in Syria is a Disaster in the Making

by Nomad

Recently Foreign Policy magazine conducted an in-depth analysis of President Trump's domestic and foreign policy strategy.
The article is bluntly entitled Trump’s Grand Strategic Train Wreck and was authored by Colın Kahl and Hal Brands, The pair examined Trump's stated policies objectives and came up to one stunning conclusion: as hard as it might seem, Trump really does have a grand strategy.
That's the good news.
The only problem is, however, it's not so grand. In fact, it's a nightmarish mess.

If you have a few sober hours without distractions, the Foreign Policy article's a must read. But don't expect to walk away feeling buoyant and relieved. Au contraire, mon beau amis, anticipate a feeling of exasperation with a touch of despair. 

According to the article, none of the pieces of the Trump grand strategy seem to actually fit together.
According to some analysts, Trump’s endless streams of erratic and apparently improvisational ideas don’t add up to anything consistent or purposeful enough to call a grand strategy. We see it otherwise. Beneath all the rants, tweets, and noise there is actually a discernible pattern of thought — a Trumpian view of the world that goes back decades. Trump has put forward a clear vision to guide his administration’s foreign policy — albeit a dark and highly troubling one, riddled with tensions and vexing dilemmas.
Troubling is an adjective that just doesn't quite capture the full scale of the problem.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

From the Archives: The Story of President Carter's Moment of Truth

by Nomad

Carter' SpeechA post from the archives looks at back at a president's speech and the turning point of a nation.

Back in February 2012, I wrote the post "Two Roads Diverged: Jimmy Carter’s Speech - July 15, 1979."

The post dealt with a moment when a president spoke honestly and directly to the American people. Like Cassandra of the day, President Carter urged the public to face facts. It was time to change course.

But just as important was the public reaction. When given this blunt assessment of the existential challenge facing the United States, how would Americans respond?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday Film - Make Inishturk Great Again

by Nomad

For many Americans, the idea of Donald Trump as their president is something so terrifying that, for them, leaving the US seems like a better option. (Even on this blog, there's been a lot of talk about our idyllic tropical paradise called Snowflake Island.) 

Check out this short film made before the election. It tells the story of a tiny Irish island that decided, if Trump were to win, it would welcome the refugees.
Nobody thought anybody would take the offer seriously.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Moment When Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans Attempted to Silence the Opposition

 by Nomad

This week saw an ominous moment in Congressional history. That was the moment when a female US Senator was told shut up and sit down by her male colleagues.

Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren had been attempting to read a 30-year old letter by Coretta Scott King of Jeff Sessions for a federal judgeship. By reading the letter into the Congressional record on the Senate floor, Warren had planned to King letter as evidence of Session's unfitness to serve as Donald Trump Attorney General.

However, Majority Leader of the Senate Mitch McConnell cited Senate Rule XIX - an obscure 115-year-old rule to aimed at keeping Senators from fistfighting. The rule states that Senators are prohibited from impugning another senator.
McConnell said
“She was warned. She was given an explanation Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Warren was then ordered to be silent for the remainder of the debate. In a CNN interview, Senator Warren later said
"I literally can't be recognized on the floor of the Senate. I have become a nonperson during the discussion of Jeff Sessions."
And she added:
"They can shut me up, but they can't change the truth." 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Accountability and the Employee of the People

by Nomad

An event some 35 years ago underscores a vital question that presidents and their staff too often ignore. The question of accountability.

Press Conference

On Oct. 15, 1982, at a White House press briefing, journalist Lester Kinsolving asked Reagan's Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes a simple question.
Had he heard the news about a new disease that doctors had detected among the gay community?

In fact, the initial detection of some kind of lethal pathogen was not a secret. On 5 June 1981, more than a year before that press conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's newsletter Morbidity and Mortality Weekly (MMWR) made a reference to five cases of an unusual form pneumonia in Los Angeles.

Even as late and October 1982, there still might have been means to control the spread. Warnings might have been issued. Medical experts could have been mobilized to determine how to prevent the spread or offer theories at the very least.
However, as we all know, that is not what happened.

The video below records that historic moment when a health crisis first emerged as a political issue.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Up the Rates: How Zimbabwe's Mugabe Found a Simple Way to Crush Organized Dissent

by Nomad

Zimbabwe's autocratic leader, Mugabe, has found a way to nip popular uprising in the bud by jacking up the price of mobile phone service. 

Zimbabwe's Proud Hitler

Mortality, not morality, is generally the enemy of even the most long-lived autocrat. If they survive assorted assassins or popular uprisings, eventually, Mother Nature and Father Time team up and end a dictator's pretty dreams of absolute oppression.

For the average Zimbabwean, it must be a little hard to maintain patience. The increasingly frail 92-year-old Robert Mugabe has hung onto power through the use of dubious election tactics, divisive politics and outright brutality since the days of Ronald Reagan.
One man rule of Mugabe is, therefore, something Zimbabweans have grown extremely weary of. They have every reason to be. Robert Mugabe and his dismal record do nothing to increase Zimbabwe's international prestige.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sanity Sunday- Three by George Ogilvie

by Nomad

Singer/songwriter George Ogilvie was born in Canterbury England and began writing music at 18. His uploaded videos showcased his talents and helped him build a large fanbase.

Here he is singing "Dust in the Wind." (That's not, by the way, a cover for the Kansas tune of the same name.)  The lyrics to this song can be found here.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Right Wing Think-Tank Cato Institute Takes Aim at Trump's Buy American Trade Policy

by Nomad

False Buy  American

Cato, Then and Now

As a humble peasant, it always fills me with awe when billionaires with agendas begin to lob insults at one another. I don't have to particularly agree with one or the other, it's just nice to believe there are some cracks in a global conspiracy against the little guy.

If you are unfamiliar with the Cato Institute,  here's the run down for you.
Founded by Charles G. Koch and funded by the brothers Koch, Cato is a libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington. By and large, it has promoted policies that uphold "the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, and peace."
The Koch family has donated more than $30 million dollars to the organization, according to the New York Times as of 2012. In March of that year, there was a falling-out when the Kochs filed a lawsuit against Cato to gain control.

The Cato Institute wields a tremendous amount of influence among conservatives. In addition to its advocacy of far right positions, it has become a substantial funder of other "like-minded" think tanks For all those reasons, Cato is an organization that any president ought to take seriously. tanks around the U.S.

Cato Institute

Any endorsement of criticism of Mr. Trump and his policies should be understood to come solidly from the conservative right.

Refuge of Scoundrels

On many subjects, such as climate change denial, school privatization, privatization of government services and anti-taxation, the Cato Institute's position and the Trump administration's agenda seem to dovetailed pretty tightly.

That's why a recent article by Cato's Daniel Ikenson, director of Cato’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, seems so counter-intuitive. Are these power-hungry Republic-destroying fat cats supposed to be working together?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Want to Know How Mr.Trump Really Feels About the Arts? Just Read This

by Nomad

Can the Arts be saved from President Trump's budget-slashing? If this story about a van Gogh painting is anything to go by, probably not. 

According to an article in The Hill, Trump's "skinny" budget includes slashing spending a lot of programs. Leaks from insiders on Trump's transition team say that, under Trump's proposed cuts, the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.

Conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation have long considered this kind of spending to be throwing money onto an artsy-fartsy bonfire. Where's the return on the government investment? What's the bottom line?
This brings up the question: What are President Trump's views on the Arts in general?

Deal of the Art

A very short snippet of dialogue from a May 1990 New York Magazine article gives us an insight into this billionaire's sensibilities and what he thinks about the arts in general. 

The story is actually short and sweet. In the late 1980s, Australian billionaire Alan Bond was interested in purchasing the Hotel St. Moritz, a luxury hotel located at 50 Central Park South, from Mr. Trump. As part of the agreement, Trump demanded equity.
No probs.
Bond had a veritable treasure to offer up.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Immigration Ban: How Trump's Inability to Distinguish Friend from Foe Destroyed a Family

by Nomad

What happens when a careless administration allows unqualified advisors to call the shots? As the world saw last Friday, innocent people get caught up in the cross-fire and families can be torn apart.

Bannon in Charge

As a businessman, Donald Trump was used to signing papers without a careful reading or deep comprehension of the potential complications or consequences. It's second nature to him.
He had teams of expensive and qualified lawyers to take care of that stuff. He had people that he trusted to sort all the boring details. These were experts in their profession. Men who knew what they were doing. These were people he knew he could depend on.

As president of the United States, Trump gets his advice primarily from, Steven Bannon, a former editor of a far-right-wing news site. If you somehow have doubts about the journalistic values of the
Breitbart News, just check this list of past headlines.

True, Bannon was once a Goldman Sachs as an investment banker as well as an executive producer in Hollywood. Nevertheless Bannon, however, has no expertise in Constitutional or international law. Could give a flying fig about human rights. He knows nothing about the complexities of immigration policy or international treaties. He is, in short, absolutely not unqualified for penning or spot-checking executive orders.
Nonetheless, PresidentTrump signs documents approved by Bannon without having any independent legal review. Trumps goes for the money shot and promptly displaying them for the press and moves on to sign more. And more like an assembly line for Constitutional hell.

In the wake of those executive orders, things, as we saw last week, can suddenly and dramatically spin out of control. Real lives are turned upside down.
Fox News- an outlet that Trump clearly trusts above all others-
reported the other day one such example.