Paul Manafort implicated along with Flynn in Russian contacts

Will Vladimir Putin have buyer's remorse?

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and strategic advisor, who stepped down in favor of Kelly Ann Conway when his business interests began to catch up with him, is back in the spot light. This time, leaked U.S. intelligence sources have identified Manafort as one of a few top Trump aids in contact extensively with Russian operatives during the Presidential campaign.

This revelation comes on the heals of Michael Flynn’s dismissal as National Security Advisor, following his own controversy over speaking to the Russians, and apparently lying about it to the Administration. Manafort, a long-time Washington lobbyist and political advisor, has represented Russian interests in the Ukraine. But he categorically denies speaking with Russian representatives at all during the campaign. His story contradicts leaked U.S. intelligence information.

The growing scandal surrounding Russian contact with top-level Trump advisors angers Democrats, but doesn’t appear to significantly phase Republicans, despite the obvious national security concerns. Since the Russian government has been implicated in a hacking scandal of DNC e-mails, which were publicly released, to the detriment of Hillary Clinton during the election, the recent revelations are of great interest to journalists and concerned citizens alike.

But it’s important to note that intelligence sources don’t know what the content of these communications actually was, and linkage to the hacking scandal remains speculative. However, those concerned with the President’s role want to know what he knew, precisely, and when he knew it—-questions echoing those asked of Richard Nixon during the Watergate years.

So, we are left to wonder, what on earth is going on in the Trump White House? Is there a connection between the e-mail hacking scandal and calls between Top White House aids and the Russians? If so that would be a serious national security breech, and a major ethical violation. If not, then why would they place so many calls to a foreign power at the height of a domestic election? Is Manafort lying or telling the truth about his actions? If he’s lying, what is he trying to cover up? And exactly how much does President Trump know about these events and goings on?

Learn more about Paul Manafort’s role (CNN)

 

Photo:

UPDATE: DeVos Confirmed! (Senators vote on Betsy Devos nomination today)

Senators vote on Betsy Devos nomination today

UPDATE: Betsy Devos was confirmed by the Senate in a 50-51 vote, with Vice Presdient Pence stepping in to cast the tie-breaking vote. The controversial Philanthropist and multi-billionaire will head the Department of Education in President Trump’s administration, heading a department with 4,400 employees and an annual budget of $68 billion. Face Activities will post more on the implications of Betsy Devos’s confirmation later today.

 

Will Betsy DeVos be the next Secretary of Education in President Trump’s Administration? Today her fate hangs in the balance. The U.S. Senate will vote on her confirmation to the important cabinet post, amidst strong opposition from both Congressional Democrats and concerned citizen’s protesting her nomination.

Opposition is actually so fierce that Democratic Senators launched an all-night protest on the floor of the Senate, during which they took turns throughout the night speaking out against the DeVos nomination. Their efforts were matched by passionate protests on the streets of Washington, D.C., and a vigorous nation-wide call-in effort by concerned citizens across the nation.

In the last week there have been notable republican defections to the anti-DeVos camp, giving the opposition hope. Republican law-makers still predict victory, but expect the margin to be extremely close, probably a 50-50 tie between Senators, that Vice President Mike Pence will step in to break in favor of the Trump nominee.

Devos is one of the most controversial Trump picks, perhaps second only to Bannon, who is a white nationalist extremist, loathed by the left, and many on the right as well. Devos is considered particularly unqualified for the top education administration job by most of her detractors, so the differences aren’t limited to ideological disputes. She has never held a paying job in the field of education, nor has she earned a University degree in the field of education. Many insist America’s top educator should actually be an educator, not merely a political hack.

And to make matters worse, she performed poorly during her confirmation hearings, revealing an inadequate understanding of important issues and controversies in the field of education. During a series of questions on the role of guns in schools, she was widely derided for suggesting that a school might need to keep a gun around to ward off grizzly bears.

In fact, it appears her main qualifications for the high profile cabinet position are loyalty to Donald Trump, a strong record of monetary donations to Trump and other conservative candidates and causes, strong support for extreme right wing views on education (that are pleasing to the alt right crowd,) and membership in the billionaire’s club, from which President Trump prefers to draw his cabinet picks.

It’s likely that her republican supporters recognize she’s not really qualified for the position, but hope to parlay their support for President Trump into concrete political victories, like hisupport for their conservative economic policies and legislative agenda. This is, of course, a sad and pessimistic view of American Politics. It’s always unconscionable to select unqualified candidates for important cabinet positions, especially positions that affect the welfare of children, and the future of the nation. Clearly the Secretary of Education is such a vital position.

For those Face Activities members who are concerned about the DeVos nomination and the direction the Trump Administration has taken, it’s not too late to do something about it. Call your Senator and let your voice be heard. And even if DeVos wins the nomination, the strong opposition she has received to date will be noted in Washington’s corridors of power.

Learn more about the DeVos confirmation vote today in the Senate (CNN)

 

 

Photo: By Keith A. Almli (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Betsy_Devos.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Federal Judge temporarily halts President’s immigration order

Federal Judge temporarily halts President's immigration order

A Federal Judge has placed a temporary, nationwide hold on President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration. Justice James Robard, a George W. Bush appointee who presides in Seattle, WA, granted the temporary restraining order on Friday. Following the judge’s decision, the U.S. Government will now reinstate the visas of travelers from the seven Muslim-majority countries affected by the executive order, allowing them to come and go legally, until the matter is resolved at a later date.

The Trump Administration initially called the court order “Outrageous,” and the Department of Justice has announced intentions to challenge the restraining order by filing an emergency stay, in order to defend the President’s  controversial Executive Order. It’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this case eventually, which would represent a major test of Trump Administration policy.

The Executive Order, which prevents valid visa holders from seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Lybia, Yemen, and Syria) from entering the U.S. for a period of 90 days, in order to allow time for “extreme vetting”, has sparked a firestorm of protests across the United States, and condemnation from around the world. Many believe the Executive Order is contrary to American values,  inordinately cruel to struggling refugees, and even unconstitutional.

Learn more about Judge Robard’s temporary restraining order (CNN)

 

Photo: By Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Will Vladimir Putin have buyer’s remorse?

Donald Trump has promised to shake things up in Washington, and that appears to hold true for international relations as well. According to Trump advisor Kelly Ann Conway, the new President is meeting to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a whole range of issues, including the Obama-era sanctions currently hampering Russia’s economic growth.

The first round of sanctions, which primarily affect Russia’s financial and energy sectors, were imposed in 2014 following the Russian invasion of the Crimea, and the second round after the hacking scandal broke late in 2016.

Trump will also speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande, who are staunch supporters of the sanctions. Trump has talked about the possibility of easing or ending these sanctions in the past. A ‘moment of truth’ style reckoning may soon be at hand. Which path will President Trump choose? His influence could likely sway the course of history on this issue, and affect the economic and political landscape of Europe for years to come, as well. Though clearly a man who plays it cool, Vladimir Putin is likely waiting for their talk with abated breath. A lot is riding on Trump’s decision, though it may not come during this first meeting.

In the interests of forging a new relationship with Russia, bearing in mind that U.S. / Russian relations are at an all-time low since the end of the cold war, and hoping to benefit from a cooperative and forward-thinking new climate, and perhaps, as many would argue, because he lacks good judgment and fails to see the importance of reining in a dangerous bully acting recklessly and selfishly on the international stage, Trump may lean towards Putin on the matter of sanctions.

However, Merkel and Hollande, leaders of nations with long, positive diplomatic histories with the U.S., may very well convince him otherwise. After all, Trump is an old-school deal maker, and surely the leaders of two of the most powerful European countries can potentially offer a range of enticing deals to win him over (as can Russia, most likely.) In the recent past Trump’s said he might favor lifting sanctions if Russia cooperates with the U.S. in fighting terrorists.

So, since the art of the deal isn’t an exact science, and Trump is a true wild card, anything can happen. This must worry Putin, who wants to get Russia out from under the harsh economic sanctions, restoring the flow of credit into Russia, and the flow of natural gas out of Russia, to bolster the Russian economy. In short, if the U.S. dropped sanctions, it would be a huge economic boon to Putin’s Russia.

Well, is Putin worried? Clearly, as the methodical KGB-trained leader who ordered a hacking campaign to smear Hillary Clinton during the U.S. election, which many believe contributed significantly to Trump’s victory, he has invested in a favorable outcome for Russia. So, we must ask, is he confident that Trump will serve the ball to his court, or is this seasoned, machiavellian leader contemplating buyer’s remorse?

Learn more about Trump and Russian sanctions (CNN)

 

Photo: By Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, Link

A brief biography of the New President and First Lady

A brief biography of the President and First Lady

President Donald J. Trump
Donald Trump is now the 45th President of the United States. A graduate of University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School, where he studied economics, he’s a prominent real estate developer, a billionaire who dabbles in Beauty Pageants, and a popular reality TV celebrity thanks to his role on his wildly successful shows, The Apprentice, and Celebrity Apprentice.

He’s now married to First Lady Melania Trump, and his previous wives are Ivana Trump and Marla Maples. He has two daughters, including the lovely Ivanka, whose husband is now a high ranking Trump Administration advisor, and three sons—-his two oldest will, in a controversial move, run his business empire during his tenure as President.

Donald Trump has been described by a wide range of adjectives: rash, lovable, arrogant, straight talking, manipulative, charming, inappropriate, patriotic, romantic, sexually-charged, predatory. Clearly he is different things to different people. To his loyal followers, he is a brilliant business-man, a leader of great ability, a master negotiator, a charming straight-shooting truth-teller, and the potential savior of the nation. To his detractors he is a neo-fascist bigot, an opportunist, a charlatan, a con-man, a hypocrite, and a shallow, low-brow bully. It’s quite remarkable how there are two Trumps, perhaps reflecting a deeply divided nation.
He was born in Queens, the fourth of five children, to a wealthy family of German and Scottish descent. Trump’s father, Frederich Christ Trump, was a successful real estate developer in Queens, a borough of New York City, who impressed upon his sons the donald_trump_nymaimportance of hard work, and an over riding need to always win, perhaps to an extreme degree. His older brother, Fred Jr., died tragically of alcoholism.

During his formative years Trump attended the New York Military Academy, from which he eventually graduated. He thrived on the discipline of the military model, and excelled in that strict environment, attaining the rank of Captain However, he was transferred from a command position following a hazing incident involving boys under his command, which Trump referred to as a promotion.

After military school Trump attended Fordham University for two years, then transferred to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He also worked and trained in the family business under the tutelage of his demanding but accomplished father. During his University years, at the height of the Vietnam War, Donald Trump received four deferments from military service, eventually pulling a high draft number, making compulsory service unlikely. In 1971 he assumed management of the family business, just three years after graduating from Wharton.

Trump took his real estate business to Manhattan, where he enjoyed success, and contributed to the development of the growing New York skyline. He also expanded into several other businesses, including Casinos, some of which failed disastrously. Considered too valuable as a pitch man, and two big to fail, his bankers kept the flamboyant young businessman afloat, and so he rode out the crisis. He also benefitted from controversial tax laws which permitted him to write off a huge business loss for many years. Trump’s company has built some prominent real estate projects in New York and all over the world. However, his “Trump University” project, which offered real estate training to ordinary folks, has been widely criticized, and subject to legal action. In 2016 Forbes estimated his net worth at 4.5 billion dollars, ranking him as the 113th most wealthy American.

First Lady Melania Trump

The new First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, was was born Melanija Knavs, in Slovenia, part of the former Yugoslavia, but changed her name to the Germanized ‘Melania Knauss’ before embarking on her modeling career. She has the great distinction of speaking six languages, including Serbo-Croatian, French, Italian, German, and Slovene (her native language.)

She attended the Secondary School of Design and Photography in Ljubljanaone, and one year of classes at the University of Ljubljana.Her mother was a pattern maker at a children’s clothing manufacturer in Sevnica. Her father, a hard line Marxist-Leninist, managed car and motorcycle dealerships for a state-owned manufacturer in Slovenia, and prevented her from receiving religious instruction or Baptism, due to his strong communist/atheist beliefs, much to the surprise of the extended family, which came from a Roman Catholic background (in the U.S. she later married in a church and discovered her religious faith.)

Melania began working as a a child model at the age of 5, building her portfolio while she went through school, eventually working with some well known photographmelania-trumpers in her native land. She signed with a modeling agency in Milan, Italy at the age of 18. Her modeling career steadily grew, and following her year in University she worked on several shoots in Italy and France, before moving to New York City in 1996. She had to frequently travel back and forth between New York and Slovenia because, due to her Slovenian citizenship, her work Visas only lasted one year.

Her move to the U.S. proved fortuitous. She did well as a model, gracing the cover of many prominent fashion magazines, and appearing in a Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue. No doubt her extreme beauty, exotic manner, and high profile career in fashion caught the eye of New York Real Estate Mogul Donald Trump. They first met at a Fashion Week party in New York City in 1998, during his separation with Marla Maples—-Melania declined to give him her phone number.

After a furtive and tenuous start, their relationship blossomed, steadily moving into the public sphere following an appearance on the Howard Stern Show, and following Trump’s run for President as a reform party candidate in 2000, and due to the fame that came with Trump’s popular role on The Apprentice in 2004. The couple were engaged in 2004, and married in 2005, in an Anglican ceremony (no more Marxist-Leninist atheism for Melania, who now embraced Christianity.) At their star-studded wedding Melania wore a $200,000 Christian-Dior dress, designed by John Galliano.

 

Photo: By U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/Released. Unit: HQMC Combat Camera – https://www.dvidshub.net/image/1892813/mc-lef-20th-annual-semper-fidelis-gala, Public Domain, Link

Photo: By Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library – “Photos show Donald Trump in military uniform, with athletic teams before dodging the Vietnam draft with ‘bull—t’ injury”, <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=”http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/photos-show-trump-military-garb-dodging-draft-article-1.2298248″>New York Daily News</a> (July 21, 2015), Public Domain, <a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50311394″>Link</a>

President Elect Trump concedes Russians were likely behind hacking

President Elect Trump concedes Russians were likely behind hacking

During his first Press Conference, and in a major break with his statements to date, President Elect Donald Trump finally acknowledged that Russia was probably behind the hacks that exposed Democratic National Committee e-mails unfavorable to Hillary Clinton during the Presidential election. Until now, the President Elect has resisted the widely accepted assertion that Vladimir Putin’s Russia was responsible for the security breach.

However, the President Elect refused to accept the notion that the e-mail hacks were perpetrated to help him win the election, or more accurately, in order to help defeat Hillary Clinton, whom Vladimir Putin reviles. To lend support to his claim, Trump insisted that the hackers also attacked the RNC, but their superior cyber security defenses prevented Republican e-mails from falling into unfriendly hands. It’s unclear where the President Elect got that information, which appears to contradict the consensus of the intelligence community on the matter.

President Elect Trump also rejected as “phony” reports that Russian operatives have collected information that could prove compromising to him. The story was called a “witch hunt” by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Buzz Feed, a hugely popular social media service, posted a story with unconfirmed reports that the alleged information collected by the Russian operatives was quite lurid in nature. President Elect Trump replied that this kind of accusation was something that would have happened in Nazi Germany, which in turn sparked criticism by those who felt the comparison trivialized the countless horrors of the Nazi regime.

It’s clear that Donald Trump started his first press conference with a bang. The affair was long on drama, conflict, and showmanship, but short on substance. It’s worrisome to note that this is a well established trend from the volatile campaign months of 2016, which does not seem to be reversing as the President Elect moves closer to assuming office.

Learn more about President Elect’s Russian hacking statements (CNN)

 

Photo: By Michael VadonDonald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

A renewed nuclear arms race under President Trump?

A renewed nuclear arms race under President Trump?

In a bizarre double whammy, the week before Christmas ends, Donald Trump offered great praise for Vladimir Putin’s warm holiday greeting card, while also threatening to restart the nuclear arms race. This dangerous and disturbing posturing comes after the noteworthy progress of the last three decades, when the size of the nuclear arsenals of both countries declined from cold war peaks. Sadly Putin has also expressed an interest in refurbishing Russia’s nuclear capability. It seems the stage is set for a massive arms race between the two nations, fueled by the egos of their charismatic leaders.

If this comes to pass it would be, of course, a giant step backwards. We must remember that the super powers have come to the brink of nuclear war before, most memorably during the cold war’s Cuban Missile Crisis. During that frightening ordeal the Kennedy Administration blocked an attempt by the Soviet Union to install Nuclear ICBMs on the tropical island, making for a tense October stand-off that had Americans literally heading for their backyard bomb shelters.

This sort of brinksmanship is dangerous, totally unnecessary, and should remain a thing of the past. And the more it happens the more tensions will escalate between the U.S. and Russia, as if the ordinary ebb and flow of world politics doesn’t provide enough fodder for conflicts to arise. And the greater the tension, and larger the number of thermonuclear weapons available for both sides, then the greater the chances of a catastrophic event. And a catastrophic event of a thermonuclear nature would spell the end of mankind. Mistakes do happen, after all, and thermonuclear mistakes are the mother of all mistakes.

Political leaders in Congress, as well as state and local governments, must rise to this challenge, and put their collective feet down in opposition to this policy. The American People must write to their congressional representatives, and organize to prevent a new nuclear arms race from starting. We have little to gain, and literally everything to lose, by pursuing this policy.

Perhaps Trump is using this as a negotiating tactic. Perhaps he has no intention of rekindling the madness of the cold war era, and that ever present, looming threat of global thermonuclear war. In that case, the nuclear arsenal is just another chip in a grand negotiation. It’s a big game between these two nations, that’s been playing out in one form or another over many generations. If so, the President Elect is playing a most dangerous game. Let’s visualize a scale, with concrete, pragmatic, useful diplomatic gains on one side, and the total destruction of life on earth on the other side. It’s hard to imagine any diplomatic gains worth a risk of that magnitude.

Learn more about Trump’s call for a new nuclear arms race (New York Times)

 

Photo: By Cookkiemonster123Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Petition to STOP TRUMP

Petition to STOP TRUMP

The following is a change.org petition for our members review and consider, urging the voters of the electoral college to stop Donald Trump. Please take a look:

 

 

In 48 Hours, We Gather in State Capitals to STOP TRUMP

Daniel Brezenoff
CA
DEC 17, 2016 — We’ve almost reached the moment of truth. Electors vote Monday and we need you there in state capitals, calling on them to stop Donald Trump.

Today, let everyone know you are coming by joining the December 19 Facebook event. Then share it, and invite everyone you know:

https://www.facebook.com/events/219210221855920/

There are events happening in all 50 states, but please try to a state where the Republicans hold the Electors. Please remember these are nonviolent actions and everyone attending is asked to be peaceful and exercise lawful free speech. Also, it will probably be cold, so dress for winter!

We have momentum, we have unity, and we have the biggest petition in history behind us. Now it’s time to stand up and STOP TRUMP.

Vladimir Putin’s e-mail hacks: have the Democrats become soft?

Vladimir Putin's e-mail hacks: have the Democrats become soft?

Based on evidence from the CIA and other important intelligence agencies, the Russians interfered with the 2016 Presidential Election, by way of an extensive e-mail hacking scheme. It’s important to note that these intelligence services are the most important and accurate sources of information for critical decision making in the U.S. government, with extensive networks of experts gathering and analyzing data.

Clearly the Russians wanted to make sure Donald Trump was elected, and Hillary Clinton was not. Intelligence experts believe two Kremlin-affiliated groups, operating independently, were responsible for the hacks, one from Russian Military Intelligence, and the other from the FSB Spy Agency. And Vladimir Putin appears to have been involved with the schemes.

The Russian leader has great enmity for Hillary Clinton, going back over four years. He believes she was responsible for a wave of protests in 2011 and 2012, when Putin ran for a third Presidential term. He believes that the protesters were paid by Clinton, who was still Secretary of State in President Obama’s administration, in an attempt to meddle with the Russian election. So the 2016 election hacks were essentially payback for Clinton, from Putin’s point of view. Putin was basically taking revenge.

In contrast, Putin’s view of Trump is much more favorable. He’s viewed as a fresh face, sans baggage, and a deal-maker with whom he can negotiate, not as an ideological hard-liner, and personal enemy, like Clinton. And Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson (President and CEO of Exxon Mobil) sits well with Putin, who has negotiated many favorable deals with Tillerson for the drilling of fossil fuels.

Tillerson is quite close to Putin, and the Russian government even awarded him the country’s Friendship Decoration in 2012. Clearly the Trump administration is poised to do a lot of business with Russia in the energy markets over the next four or more years. And so, in addition to a great deal of personal bad blood between Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, Russia has some pretty clear economic interests at stake, making it logical for the Russian government to prefer a Trump victory in the U.S. Presidential election.

So at this point we must ask, what’s wrong with the U.S., what’s wrong with American Citizens, and what on earth is wrong with the Democratic Party? We have clear evidence, from top intelligence services, particularly the CIA, that Vladimir Putin’s Russia hacked the U.S., and conspired to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump, who in fact ended up the actual winner.

In other words, a foreign power put its thumb on the scale of our election process, and was rewarded with exactly what it wanted! This is obviously an outrage, but nonetheless, many stand by passively. Where’s the outcry? Where’s the fiery concern for democracy and the sacred inviolability of the vote? Americans, and America’s Democrats in particular, need to stand up and be counted. They simply can’t allow this to pass.

For 70 years the preeminent power in the world has been the United States. Is that now changing? Was our 2016 election actually Russia’s great moment of triumph, its ascendancy to influence on the world’s stage, following it’s time in the doldrums of power after the collapse of the old Soviet Union? Has Russia finally outplayed the United States?

So what should we do in response to the hacking scandal? Surely something. Not simply—-nothing. Should we delay the Electoral College vote by a week or more, to help figure this mess out? Maybe. Should we declare the election results null and void, due to foreign interference, and run a new election? Probably. Are the American People and the Democratic Party so soft, so disinterested and sheep-like, that they…that WE… simply let this outrage pass? Shouldn’t we, for the love of our country, freedom and democracy, take this terrible revelation as a chance, and a reason, to take decisive action, and start over again?

 

Photo: By DonkeyHoteyVladimir Putin carrying his buddy Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

 

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