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.