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Tennis, sailing or spying? US shuts 2 Russian compounds

Source: Associated Press

CENTREVILLE, Md. (AP) — The Obama administration is shutting access to a New York retreat and a swanky Maryland riverfront compound where Russian diplomats played tennis, sailed and escaped the political bustle, saying those doubled for intelligence activities.

As the Obama administration retaliates for alleged cyber-meddling in the U.S. presidential election, Russians were being denied access to the compounds starting at noon Friday. President Barack Obama announced that step recently in Washington as part of sanctions highlighted by the expulsion of 35 Russians.

The 45-acre Maryland retreat boasts a brick mansion along the Corsica River in the bucolic Eastern Shore region. Reports indicate it was bought by the former Soviet Union in 1972 and historically served as a recreational getaway for its diplomats seeking a respite from the diplomatic whirl in nearby Washington, D.C.

White House officials said this week that the compounds were being used for intelligence activities.

Read more: http://www.salon.com/2016/12/30/tennis-sailing-or-spying-us-shuts-2-russian-compounds/

Russia urges UN Security Council to endorse Syria cease-fire

Source: Associated Press

FRIDAY, DEC 30, 2016 11:01 AM EST

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia is urging the U.N. Security Council to quickly adopt a resolution endorsing the cease-fire agreement in Syria.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters Friday that Russia and Turkey, who brokered the nationwide cease-fire that went into effect at midnight, circulated the agreement to council members Thursday night and a brief draft resolution supporting it.

Churkin said he would formally present the draft during closed Security Council consultations on Friday morning and he hopes the council will unanimously adopt the resolution at a meeting on Saturday. He said the Security Council needs to participate “in this important process.”

Churkin said the cease-fire agreement also commits the Syrian government and the opposition to enter into direct talks in late January in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.


Read more: http://www.salon.com/2016/12/30/russia-urges-un-security-council-to-endorse-syria-cease-fire/

The biggest story of 2016: James Comey was Donald Trump's MVP most valuable politician

Comey crossed a line previously uncrossed by law enforcement, and changed the outcome of a presidential race


Barring yet another disaster of some sort, yesterday was probably the last big news day of 2016 and it was a perfect ending to a crazy year. President Obama announced sanctions against the Russian government for allegedly meddling in the presidential election campaign. Imagine sitting where you are right now and reading that, say, 18 months ago. Now further imagine what you would have thought if the result of that alleged meddling was that Donald Trump became president of the United States. You would have assumed you were reading the Onion. But it happened.

Many things happened in this presidential election year, much of it unthinkable. We had terrorist attacks and mass shootings and a freak show of a campaign unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The rave up ending, Trump’s victory, was the shocking ending of all endings. There are a lot of reasons for it — after all, the election was decided by less than 80,000 votes across a few states. (Or, if you prefer the analysis of Donald Trump’s pollster Tony Fabrizio, four counties in Florida and one in Michigan.)

Yes Hillary Clinton’s campaign was flawed in a dozen different ways that could have made the difference, from failure to campaign in certain states to choosing the wrong message for vital constituencies. In a close election the smallest miscalculation can cost you the race. People will be arguing for years about her strategic and tactical decisions, which led to the weird result of a 2.9 million win in the popular vote mixed with an Electoral College loss.

And while the hacking of various Democratic campaign emails accounts and publishing them online can certainly be said to have fed a right wing-generated media frenzy around Clinton’s email server, it’s not possible to declare it a definitive reason for the loss. (However, the national security implications and the significance for the Trump administration are only starting to unfold so it wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes the big story of 2017.)


GOP Operative Rick Wilson Slams Trump and His 'Ball-Washers': 'Their Allegiance Is to Putin'

Republican operative Rick Wilson went on an extended Twitter rant late Thursday in reaction to the news that Donald Trump was still defending Russia’s alleged hacking during the 2016 election, openly accusing the president-elect of being a pawn of Vladimir Putin.

Rick Wilson ✔

1/ In the course of the 2016 campaign I don't know how many times I was called a traitor to America for not supporting Trump.

11:36 PM - 29 Dec 2016
1,177 Retweets 2,534 likes

Rick Wilson ✔

2/ Of course, these intellectual giants never bothered to understand the specific definition of treason. All opposition to Trump was treason

11:40 PM - 29 Dec 2016
398 Retweets 1,343 likes

Rick Wilson ✔

3/ What's closer to treason? Political opposition to a candidate, or siding with a hostile foreign power in the Intel war?

11:44 PM - 29 Dec 2016
873 Retweets 2,432 likes

Rick Wilson ✔

4/ Make no mistake; Trump and his lackeys, ball-washers and toadies today clearly demonstrated their allegiance is to Putin.

11:47 PM - 29 Dec 2016
836 Retweets 2,203 likes


Evangelicals slam Trump for inviting prosperity gospel 'heretic' Paula White to pray at inauguration

30 DEC 2016 AT 08:20 ET

Many conservative Christians are angry over Donald Trump’s selection of a “prosperity gospel” televangelist to pray at his inauguration.

Paula White, senior pastor of New Destiny Christian Center, will join Franklin Graham, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rabbi Marvin Hier and other religious leaders in the Jan. 20 inauguration — but her participation has proved controversial, reported the Washington Examiner.

“I’d rather a Hindu pray on Inauguration Day and not risk the souls of men, than one whose heresy lures in souls with promises of comfort only to damn them in eternity,” wrote Erick Erickson, an outspoken Trump critic on the right. “At least no one would mistake a Hindu, a Buddhist, or an atheist with being a representative of Christ’s kingdom.”

White and her Florida church have been investigated by the U.S. Senate for operating a scam, based on the prosperity gospel’s defining principle — that followers who donate money, or a “seed,” to the church will see their investment returned many times over.


Trump to focus on 'peace through strength' over Obama's 'soft power' approach

President-elect Donald Trump has stacked his Cabinet with military generals, pushed for more Pentagon spending and a bigger Navy, threatened to slap tariffs on China and Mexico and, last week, suggested that he was open to expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The aim, he has said, is to achieve “peace through strength.”

If Trump follows through with this confrontational approach, it will represent a sharp break with the multifaceted foreign policy strategy that both Democratic and Republican presidents have practiced for decades, including reliance on what diplomats call “soft power” to achieve objectives and avoid conflict. Instead, Trump views foreign policy as largely transactional, aides say, and his goal is to win — by speaking loudly and carrying a big stick.

But critics, including former Obama administration officials and foreign diplomats, said winning on the world stage requires more than bluster and intimidation and pugilistic messages on Twitter. American leadership, they said, also is about the carrots — the promotion of democratic values and building U.S.-led institutions that can address shared global challenges such as economic growth, climate change and terrorism.

“If your slogan is, ‘America first,’ other people will think, ‘What about me?’ ” said Joseph Nye, who was an assistant secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton.


Republicans respond to Russia sanctions with disbelief over tactics and timing

By David Weigel December 29 at 7:35 PM

The Obama administration's move to name and sanction more Russians it accused of hacking Democratic campaign organizations had been previewed for days in leaks to reporters. But as they issued statements and appeared on news shows Thursday, Republicans offered a wide range of responses, from praise for the administration to praise for the hackers for revealing the inner workings of the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Many Republicans limned their praise for the sanctions with criticism of the Obama-era foreign policy. "While today’s action by the administration is overdue,” said House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), "it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.”

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that he had urged action “for years” and did not give Obama credit for acting in the last weeks of his administration. “This kind of indecision and delay helps to explain why now, at the end of Obama’s eight-year presidency, America’s influence has collapsed among both our allies and our enemies,” he said.

Some back-bench Republicans refrained from criticizing Russia. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), a conservative from a deep red district, said on MSNBC that it was important to note that no one accused Russia of hacking the election itself. (Some misleading headlines have given that impression, and polling has shown that nearly half of Clinton voters are willing to believe in such a hack.)


America's democracy has become illiberal - By Fareed Zakaria

By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer December 29 at 7:16 PM

Two decades ago, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs that described an unusual and worrying trend: the rise of illiberal democracy. Around the world, dictators were being deposed and elections were proliferating. But in many of the places where ballots were being counted, the rule of law, respect for minorities, freedom of the press and other such traditions were being ignored or abused. Today, I worry that we might be watching the rise of illiberal democracy in the United States — something that should concern anyone, Republican or Democrat, Donald Trump supporter or critic.

What we think of as democracy in the modern world is really the fusing of two different traditions. One is, of course, public participation in selecting leaders. But there is a much older tradition in Western politics that, since the Magna Carta in 1215, has centered on the rights of individuals — against arbitrary arrest, religious conversion, censorship of thought. These individual freedoms (of speech, belief, property ownership and dissent) were eventually protected, not just from the abuse of a tyrant but also from democratic majorities. The Bill of Rights, after all, is a list of things that majorities cannot do.

In the West, these two traditions — liberty and law on the one hand, and popular participation on the other — became intertwined, creating what we call liberal democracy. It was noticeable when I wrote the essay, and even clearer now, that in a number of countries — including Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Iraq and the Philippines — the two strands have come apart. Democracy persists (in many cases), but liberty is under siege. In these countries, the rich and varied inner stuffing of liberal democracy is vanishing, leaving just the outer, democratic shell.

What stunned me as this process unfolded was that laws and rules did little to stop this descent. Many countries had adopted fine constitutions, put in place elaborate checks and balances, and followed best practices from the advanced world. But in the end, liberal democracy was eroded anyway. It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.


Democrats new leader suggests John Kerry just 'emboldened extremists.' Meet your 2017 wild card.

By Aaron Blake December 29 at 12:04 PM

There is an old saying in politics: The most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer and a camera.

And the famously press-friendly incoming Senate minority leader could find himself in front of plenty of cameras in the months ahead — but perhaps not always in a way liberals will be terribly fond of.

As of next week, Schumer is the de facto leader of the opposition, wielding the best weapon Democrats have to thwart Republican President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress: The filibuster. But just how much he will use it — and how resolutely he'll stand in Trump's way — remains to be seen. Schumer himself has suggested there's plenty of room for common ground, while also talking tough about Trump.

Adding to that intrigue is Schumer's outspokenness, which was on full display Wednesday evening. Hours after Secretary of State John F. Kerry delivered a controversial speech critical of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Schumer issued a statement. It wasn't surprising that the strongly pro-Israel Schumer would be at least somewhat critical of Kerry's speech, but Schumer really didn't mince words — at all.

“While he may not have intended it, I fear Secretary Kerry, in his speech and action at the U.N., has emboldened extremists on both sides,” Schumer said, citing Palestinian attacks after Israelis withdrew from settlements in Gaza.


McCain, Graham: Sanctions Are 'Small Price For Russia To Pay'

Source: Talking Points Memo

By ESME CRIBB Published DECEMBER 29, 2016, 4:33 PM EDT

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a joint statement Thursday calling President Barack Obama's new sanctions against Russia a "small price" for the country to pay.

“The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue," Graham and McCain said in the statement. "But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

Graham and McCain are among the most vocal Republican lawmakers calling for action against Russia.

During an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation," McCain said that he would like to create a select committee to investigate Russian hacking. And both McCain and Graham signed a letter calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to set up a special committee to investigate Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Read more: http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/john-mccain-lindsey-graham-obama-sanctions-russia-hacking
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