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Is the United States military prepared for war?

The United States is not prepared for war against either Russia or China. This is according to Senator Jon Kyl. The senator opined that the military superiority of the United States is not where it once was and this has left the existing troops unprepared for international threats.

In his report to congress, the senator attributed the unpreparedness to underfunding and budget instability. “The Pentagon needs more funding and more budget stability than it currently receives from Washington,” remarked the senator. He went on to further add, “The congressionally mandated reported by the National Defense Strategy Commission is a sobering analysis that puts the military at its lowest ebb since the end of the cold war.”

The United States defense has never been as fragile as it is at the moment. This puts the American citizens and the American economy at risk and has greatly reduced its global influence. Rival states are challenging America’s position as a global superpower questioning the states ability to defend its interests as well as that of its allies and partners.

Mixed reactions from the President

President Donald Trump has not been doing much to aid the situation. If anything, he continues to send mixed signals in matters state security. In August 2018, the President signed into law a national defense spending plan that would see American troops receive a 2.6 percent pay raise. The spending plan also included provisions for other purchases such as F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Later in October, President Trump proposed the defense budget cuts in a cabinet meeting.

Unlike the U.S., rival countries such as Russian and China are investing heavily in National defense. This gives them a defensive edge when it comes to dealing with International threats. It is not clear as to why the President proposed budget cuts in National defense even in the face of increasing international threats from better prepared rivals.

According to the report by Senator Kyl, China and Russia were singled out as possible threats. The report also noted that the focus on counter terrorism did not give the nation a competitive edge in areas such as cyber operations, missile defense and anti-submarine warfare.

The senator’s report rightly concluded that there is a need for investment in National defense. America cannot afford to take risks with its defense especially not in the wake of increasing international threats.

Does Vladimir Putin own Donald Trump?

At the now infamous US-Russia summit in Helsinki, Vladimir Putin made what President Trump characterized as “an incredible offer”: In exchange for allowing Special Counsel Bob Mueller to question Russian intelligence officers indicted in the collusion probe, Putin wants to question Americans he claims were involved in ‘crimes’ against Russia.

Putin accused American-born British financier Bill Browder and his partners of conspiring with US intelligence officials to launder $400 million out of Russia and into the campaign coffers of Hillary Clinton.

Total funds raised by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election cycle amount to $563 million, so that would mean Browder and associates funded an astounding 71% of her campaign. Perhaps the sheer absurdity is what forced Putin to recant his statement.

Nevertheless, the Russians released a list of 11 Americans they want to question, including Michael McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia under President Obama and a vociferous Putin critic. The list also names at least two other diplomats, as well as members of the intelligence community.

On Wednesday, New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman prodded press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to clarify President Trump’s position. Is he really willing to hand American officials over for questioning by Putin?

“There was some conversation about it,” Sanders said, “but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that.”

Let’s be clear: no president should have to “work with his team” on this. The immediate, obvious answer is “nyet!” What could possibly be more impolitic than subjecting American diplomats to interrogation by a hostile power without a whiff of evidence? And what could possibly make Trump look even more like a Putin stooge?

The common thread connecting the 11 Americans singled out by Putin seems their work on sanctions against Russia. This is really about Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act.

Although Putin now treats Browder as a bête noire, they were once allies. Browder’s Hermitage Capital Management was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005, when he was suddenly stripped of his visa and deported as a “national security threat.” The exact reason is unclear, but it’s worth noting Hermitage had made a habit of auditing corrupt Russian conglomerates with ties to the Kremlin.

In the wake of Browder’s expulsion, Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s Russian accountant, alleged that police helped organized crime groups to take over three of Hermitage’s businesses and claim fraudulent tax refunds on their behalf amounting to $230 million.

Magnitsky was arrested in 2008. He was held for 11 months without trial, denied necessary medical attention, and then beaten to death seven days before the Russian government was legally required to release him.

The murder of this whistleblower triggered an international outcry. Browder reached out to his political contacts in the US, who responded by introducing the Magnitsky Act. Signed into law by President Obama in 2012, it barred Russians accused of human rights abuses from entering the US and froze their stateside assets. The Act was later expanded to include criminals from other countries as well.

Canada passed its own Magnitsky Act in 2017; the UK and the Baltic states have done likewise.

Putin has fought bitterly against this legislation. Repealing Magnitsky was apparently the big ask of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in 2016 after offering dirt on Hillary Clinton through intermediaries.

As fate would have it, Veselnitskaya also defended Prevezon Holdings Ltd in American court, a Russian firm accused of laundering $14 million of dirty money into the New York real estate market. About $600,000 of those funds came from the $230 million tax fraud that caused Magnitsky to be killed in the first place.

Trump’s ham-fisted overtures to Putin make less than no sense from a policy perspective.

The Russian Federation is a kleptocracy to rival Ferdinand Marcos’ Philippines or Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire. It is a pirate state, run by a cabal of crooked bureaucrats, tycoons, and gangsters who have plundered their country’s natural wealth, depriving their own people.

Despite an official salary of US $302,000, Putin lives in a $1 billion palace and owns a $500 million yacht. He may, in fact, be the richest man in the world, and he didn’t get there by saving paycheques from his days as a middling KGB officer in East Germany.

Russia has invaded Crimea, shot down a passenger jet over Ukraine, and propped up the mass-murdering Assad regime in Syria. Russian intelligence operatives have hacked into American political institutions, interfered in an American election, bought influence with right-wing groups like the NRA, and waged an information war against the concept of democracy itself. They haven’t backed off, either; if anything, they’re doubling down.

Sanctions, combined with tepid world oil prices since 2014, have crippled Putin’s economy, and his popularity is in serious decline. Given his intransigence, the sensible course is to keep up the pressure until his people finally tire of him.

But Donald Trump continues to give succour to Putin, his cronies, and their corrosive conspiracy theories. That’s why the mainstream media is (finally, belatedly) asking: does Putin literally own Trump?

Trump doesn’t have the power to give Russia Bill Browder; Browder has been a citizen of the UK since 1998. He probably won’t hand over American diplomats like Ambassador McFaul either. Still, that he would even contemplate it can only be described as rock bottom, even for an administration that has hit rock bottom many times before and kept on drilling. They’re fracking for personal worsts.

If President Trump is a Russian asset, he’s certainly the most guileless in history. Yet he seems poised to get away with it by virtue of his position and his cult of personality.

Somewhere, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are clawing at the lids of their coffins.

Celebrating Women: Naira Velumyan

Life doesn’t always goes as planned. Imagine being a young mother to two children and losing your husband. As painful as that reality is, Dr. Naira Velumyan lived this ordeal. Living in her homeland of Russia at the time, Dr. Velumyan had to turn her life around, focusing on creating a brand for herself and investing in opportunities for the survival of herself and her children.

After obtaining her master’s and doctorate in psychology, Velumyan decided to pursue something that has always fascinated her; Jungian analysis and symbolism in art. Coming from a background in law and psychology, this was not an easy jump, but Velumyan embraced the connection between an artist and his audience through the collection of images. Jungian analysis deals with the psychology of the unconscious and a persons’s attitudes of the ego. Using this relation to artwork connects our unconscious mind to an artist’s intensions through his work.

While trying to put her life together, a close friend introduced her to a Russian artist named Alexey Klokov. Klokov was able to give Velumyan an inside perspective on the life of an artist growing up in Russia. She became inspired and  Velumyan used her understanding of art to become a gallerist and Mr Klokov’s agent. She was now part of an exclusive artistic world — little did she know she would be thanking her future husband at the time.

Velumyan spent her time in Russia building up a solid business network and becoming a certified art dealer, exclusive to Klolov’s work. To grow in business you always have to think outside of the box and this is why Velumyan had thoughts of integrating her Russian art brand into the North American market. Prior to this, she had little exposure to the North American art scene and all her connections were in Russia. She managed to maintain a private psychological practice and balanced her time.

“After we built an established dealer network in Russia, I recognized the importance of growing beyond European boundaries. North America always attracted me with its art market, and my father who has lived in Toronto for 25 years was always inviting me to come. As a skilled worker, immigration to Canada was not insurmountable; however, my adult children and Alexey did not share this vision.”

‘Girl on Two Balls’- 2012- Alexey Klokov- Oil on Canvas

Despite this, Velumyan pushed through and left Russia for Canada in the pursuit of building an even bigger and noticeable brand for her husband’s artwork. She was now classed as an immigrant in unfamiliar territory and with it came all the challenges. She was unestablished in a country full of competing artists striving to make a name for themselves.

“In Canada I had to start from scratch. Different country, different mentality and different culture … In a new country amidst established Canadians. Everyday is a learning experience with unique challenges and opportunities.”

During her first year in Canada, she had to learn English while having her Phd credentials approved. Velumyan attended the Bridge Training Program for Internationally Trained Mental Health Professionals, interned at a local clinic, and subsequently received her license in psychotherapy. Velumyan was used to helping people, so in addition to her art work, she became a founding member of an organization called IWB.

IWB stands for Immigrant Women in Business and is an organization dedicated to Helping Immigrant Women in Business to Succeed. It is run by CEO Svetlana Ratnikova, a fellow Russian immigrant in Toronto.

“When I met Svetlana Ratnikova, she invited me to become one of the founding members, and I was eager to help. As a woman in business, I know what unique challenges we face in the workplace and in our personal lives not withstanding the challenge of being immigrants.”

‘Potentility’ -2016- Alexey Klokov- Enamel on Linen- Suggested Abstract

As a founding member of IWB, Velumyan publicly shares her struggles as an immigrant and how she excelled in life. For International Women’s Day in March, Velumyan spoke at an IWB event and featured the painting shown above, ‘Potentiality’ which she says Klokov created to show the path of an immigrant ( the green mark) rising to success (yellow). Her talks offer a form of mentorship for immigrant women thinking about venturing into business.

As Alexey Klokov’s exclusive agent, Naira represents the sole interests of his work. She is developing a Canadian brand, organizing exhibitions, providing all printed products, and conducting negotiations with dealers and buyers. Currently, she hosts private art exhibits in Toronto, Ottawa, New York and Miami and is looking to establish a gallery network in these cities. Success in the art world was not linear for Velumyan and she knows the struggles women face in life.

“Sometimes women lose faith in themselves,” she said. “I would like them to know that there are always alternatives. In life everything is temporary and tomorrow is always another day. With the right effort any situation can be changed and these are life changing secrets I would like to share with women.”

Living in Canada has helped Velumyan explore a world outside of her comfort zone. One day soon, she hopes to establish her successful dealer’s network then she will focus on private psychotherapeutic practice. She would like to eventually volunteer for families that don’t have access to a therapist. “I look at the family as a system where the problem of one affects the others. Therefore when we cure one person, we get a healthier micro system.”

For a chance to listen to one of Dr. Velumyan’s talks, check out the next IWB event, scheduled for September 5 at Metro Hall, downtown Toronto. The event will run from 6-9pm and will offer various inspirational speeches and networking opportunities from other successful founding members. For more information and to register check out their Evenbrite page.

My tears over Sochi and the IOC

When the ignorance of governments, businesses, and organizations is overwhelming we can’t forget what we are fighting for.

I cried twice this summer.

I’m not much for crying, I have a tendency to express my deepest feelings through irreverence and sarcasm. This year, perhaps showing my advancing age, I found myself twice at a total loss for words and broke down in tears.

The first was during Toronto Pride. I was spending my Saturday at a garden party in the gay village and wandered away from my friends in search of a drink. The beer table was located not too far from the makeshift dance floor right beside a splash pad and jungle gym. I got into line and took stock of the scene in front of me.

Young friends laughing with each other enjoying the ambiance, old couples holding hands without fear of slurs or hatred. I saw a straight mother in her fifties dancing with her twenty-something gay son and his partner.

My moment turned into a living cliché as an acoustic version of “Born This Way” came over the speakers I saw two toddlers splashing each other calling out in opposite to directions, one to her two dads and one to his two moms. I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I turned into a sobbing, blubbering idiot.

In that moment I wished I could invite anyone who thinks there is something bad or wrong about being gay to stand with me and take it in.

I cried because it was everything we’ve ever worked towards. It was everything I had ever hoped to see in my lifetime. It was love, happiness, and unequivocal acceptance. It was just right.

My second set of tears came just the other day on the streetcar upon reading that the International Olympic Committee has sided with the Russian government, agreeing that gay and gay friendly athletes expressing themselves would be espousing some kind of political agenda and should be punished, either by arrest at the hands of the Russian police or reprimand from the Olympics themselves.

I thought of all the brave Russian people who are trying their best to survive right now and cried for them, and I cried thinking about how this opportunity for the men and women of the IOC to stand up and exhibit just one sliver of the bravery that these Russians show every day had reduced them to sniveling cowards.

The organizing body behind games meant for international cooperation threw the fags and dykes under the bus.

They’re in good company.

Amidst calls for Canada, harbringer of anti-discrimination laws and gay marriage, to pull out of the games in response to Russia’s draconian, hate-fueled laws there has been little response. Who cares about these homos anyway? Pulling out would punish the athletes, and apparently playing a game is more important than the livelihood and human rights of those stupid fags.

Our national broadcaster, despite having a number of queers they keep behind the desk to deliver you the news, sees it fit to continue covering the games. The excuse the CBC has cooked up is limp at best, using the Kremlin’s homophobic spectre over the games as an excuse to continue traditional sports coverage as if it were also news, despite the fact that they would be in direct contravention of Canada’s Human Rights Act to send (or not send) any gay reporters there to watch curling and speed skating. Besides, they just spent $100 million in taxpayer money to broadcast the games — the livelihood and human rights of those stupid fags obviously isn’t worth that much.

Sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, two of the biggest brand names in the world, haven’t made any motions towards stripping their names from the Sochi games, despite having both funded two of the largest gay celebrations in the world in NYC and San Francisco in recent years. I mean, bigots and homophobes eat Big Macs and drink Coke too, right? So, despite having already pledged their support to gay rights in the past, these big brands have to get their advertising while it’s good, nevermind us stupid fags.

When I cried on the streetcar they were tears of exhaustion. What can any one of us little people do in the face of giants like governments and multinational corporations and groups?

Part of me feels utterly defeated. Every broken bottle at Stonewall and every chant at the Toronto Raids worth nothing. Every gay person being arrested in the 38 African nations where it is a criminal offence worth nothing. Every single drop of blood from every single stupid fag like Matthew Sheppard worth nothing, and it has brought us here, to a place where we can’t even convince our own government, media, or businesses that we are human beings worth respecting or even protecting.

It is so frustrating and overwhelming to see my people being arrested and murdered, to see that all of our voices shouting can do so little.

And then I remember that scene in the park and I get it.

I’ve seen the perfect world, the one we are fighting for. I’ve felt the love, happiness, and acceptance all around me in one fleeting moment and I know that we can’t ever stop fighting until that world is real for us and for everyone around the world all the time.

If the IOC will side with the Russians we will shout twice as loud until our voices are heard. If Coca-Cola will sponsor these games we’ll dump it out in the street with the Stoli. If Stephen Harper and the CBC won’t pull out in order to send a message to Russia that these are despicable, evil laws we will bang on every door, write every letter, sign every petition, and march in every street until we are heard.

There is no giving up. Human rights and dignity are all or nothing. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to save our brothers and sisters in Russia and around the world, and if us little people scream loud enough in the ears of giants we can begin to change the future.

And if we can’t be respected and protected for who and what we are in this life than I can pray it will become true within the lives of my children, so that when they see the love, happiness, and acceptance surrounding a gay family in the park they won’t stop and cry, they won’t pause and reflect. They won’t even bat an eye.

 

 

You can follow Travis on Twitter at @TravMyers.