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.