Tag Archives: foreign policy

Whatever Happened To… S 722 Russian Sanctions?

Whatever happened to S 722, the sanctions bill passed by the US Senate on a 98-2 vote?  Perhaps a more timely question is what happened to the amendment concerning US sanctions on the Russians:

“The amendment would do a number of things. It would codify and
strengthen six existing Obama administration Executive orders on Russia
and Ukraine and on Russian cyber activities and the sanctions flowing
from them.
It would provide for strict congressional review of any effort by the
President to relax and suspend and terminate or waive Russian sanctions
patterned after the Iran Review Act.
It would require mandatory imposition of sanctions on malicious cyber
activity against the United States, on corrupt Russian actors around
the world, on foreign sanctions evaders violating the Russia, Ukraine,
and cyber-related sanctions controls, on those involved in serious
human rights abuses in territories forcibly controlled by Russia, and
on special Russian crude oil projects around the world.”

Seems reasonable in light of what’s been going on to keep the sanctions, codify them, and give Congress a hand in the process in case the administration tries to modify them.  Although there is an argument to be made that allowing Congress to interfere with the sanctions process is problematic, there is a valid counter argument asserting that when an administrative proclivity toward softening sanctions against an international ‘bad actor’ is displayed, Congress needs to have some mechanism for putting on the brakes.   We might also want to pay particular attention to that last line in the amendment description, “and on special Russian crude oil projects around the world,” because this element is a thorny proposition in relation to the pro-fossil fuel policy of the current administration and State Department.

The amendment description continues:

“It would authorize broad new sanctions on key sectors of Russia’s
economy, including mining, metals, shipping, and railways, as well as
new investments in energy pipelines.
It would crack down on anyone investing in corrupt privatization
efforts in Russia–something we have seen a lot of over 20 years.”

This, of course would definitely not be music to the Oligarchs’ ears.  The “privatization schemes” began in the 90s, including the Aluminum wars and the oil grabs, along with other highly questionable distributions of Russian assets, natural and manufacturing.  The Wilson Center analysis is one of the better, more succinct, summaries:

“The small groups of individuals who emerged in control of the privatized enterprises fall into three different groups, according to Goldman. The first is former factory directors that became factory owners. This group outmaneuvered the workers, who were not organized, to gain control of the factories. The next two groups, argued Goldman, were the ones who obtained the greatest wealth–the nomenklatura and non-nomenklatura oligarchs. The nomenklatura oligarchs were the Soviet economic elites who took advantage of their positions to privatize the industries that they regulated. For example, Viktor Chernomyrdin, who oversaw natural gas production during the Soviet era, went on to head up Gazprom, the Russian natural gas monopoly and richest company. When Chernomyrdin went on to become Prime Minister, he passed control on to his deputy who worked under him in the Ministry.”

It’s easy to see why and how privatization became piratization.   And now we come to some of the items in the amendment the current administration might find potentially problematic:

“It would broaden the Treasury Department’s authority to impose
geographic targeting orders, allowing investigators to obtain ATM and
wire transfer records so Treasury can better target illicit activity of
Russian oligarchs in the United States.
It would require Treasury to provide Congress with a study on the
tangled web of senior government officials from Russia and their family
members and any current U.S. economic exposures to Russian oligarchs
and their investments, and that includes real estate.”

Let’s move to a side track for a moment and look at those geographic targeting orders in light of recent activity by FinCen:

“The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today (2/23/17) announced the renewal of existing Geographic Targeting Orders (GTO) that temporarily require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used to pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate in six major metropolitan areas. FinCEN has found that about 30 percent of the transactions covered by the GTOs involve a beneficial owner or purchaser representative that is also the subject of a previous suspicious activity report. This corroborates FinCEN’s concerns about the use of shell companies to buy luxury real estate in “all-cash” transactions.”

Now, who’s in the “high end residential real estate” business?  This brings to mind that transaction between Donald Trump and the Fertilizer King in south Florida.  Sometimes, it appears, the shells weren’t even thought necessary? However, the high end real estate market is attracting a stream of foreign “investment” which is perilously close to, if not definitively part of, good old fashioned money laundering.  Thus, providing Congress with a study of those tangled webs of Russians and their ‘investments’ and our economic exposure to their machinations might be embarrassing to the current administration?

The amendment also gives the administration some homework:

“It would require the administration to assess and report to Congress
on extending secondary sanctions to additional Russian oligarchs and
state-owned and related enterprises.”  (link to pdf)

Not only would be administration be tasked with enforcing or perhaps even increasing sanctions on the Oligarchs, but it would have to study whether secondary sanctions should be applied on those with whom they do business.

We should recall that this bill, including this amendment, sailed through the Senate on a 98-2 vote.  No sooner did the bill hit the House of Representatives than the leadership thereof displayed a heretofore relatively quiet amorous relationship with the Origination Clause.   Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) thought the origination questions had been settled in the final version of the Senate bill, but House Republicans continued to argue the question had not been resolved.

And now we turn to Nord Stream 2 pipeline, not exactly a subject of banner headlines in the US, but nevertheless an important piece in the sanctions discussion.  The Financial Times reports that the pipeline will pump gas from Russia to European countries in 2019, and is a “flagship project” for Gazprom; among those sanctioned would be investors in the pipeline.  The Oil and Gas lobby is particularly “concerned,

“Rep. Bill Flores, a Republican from Texas, said he’s been approached by “five or six of the majors” based in his state. The energy companies have told him they worry the bill as it stands is overly broad.

“You could restrict the sanctions of those activities within the borders of Russia, that might be a quick fix and also the national security carve out as well,” Flores said when asked how the sanctions bill might be changed to address those concerns. “Most of us are fine with having sanctions on U.S. interests operating inside Russia, with Russian companies, but then going outside of Russia is too broad.”

“Going outside of Russia” appears to be code for “Nord Stream 2.” Somewhere between Nord Stream 2 and the inspection of money laundering and other dubious transactions in the high end real estate business may lie the explanation for administration/House Republican opposition to the passage of S 722.

While Nevadans are calling Senator Heller’s office urging him to vote “no” on the health insurance bill, they may also want to contact our Congressional Representatives about advancing S 722.

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) can be reached at 775-686-5760 (Reno) 775-777-7705 (Elko) or 202-225-6155.   Representative Ruben J. Kihuen can be reached at 702-963-9360 or 202-225-9894.  Representative Jacky Rosen’s Las Vegas office number is 702-963-9500 and Representative Dina Titus can be reached at 202-225-5965 or 702-220-9823.

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Filed under energy, Foreign Policy, Politics

Ripped from a few Headlines: Friday Edition

If you haven’t already seen the New Yorker article concerning Trump, Putin, and what the Russians want…click immediately for some excellent reporting and analysis. Here’s a taste:

“The great fear is the neutering of NATO and the decoupling of America from European security. If that happens, it gives Putin all kinds of opportunities. If Trump steps back the way he seemed to as a candidate, you might not even need to do things like invade the Baltic states. You can just dominate them anyway. You’re beginning to see the collapse of institutions built to insure our security. And if that happens you will see the re-nationalizing of Europe as a whole.”


If anyone is counting, and they are, there have now been THREE Jewish cemeteries vandalized within the last few weeks, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester, NY. And then there are the bomb threats to Jewish community centers.

“In all, 48 JCCs in 26 states and one Canadian province received nearly 60 bomb threats during January, according to the JCCA, an association of JCCs. Most were made in rapid succession on three days: January 9, 18 and 31. A number of JCCs, including Orlando’s, received multiple threats. On February 20, another wave of bomb threats hit 11 JCCs across the country, bringing the total to 68 incidents targeting 53 JCCs, according to the JCCA.” [CNN]

It would appear that while most people are protesting immigration related raids, Muslim travel bans, and assorted Trumpian outrages, others are taking the opportunity to express their antisemiticism, racism, and bigotry.


Meanwhile in the last two months four mosques have been attacked by arsonists.  The Oval Office remains silent:

“The press has certainly covered Trump’s attitudes—and those of his top advisors—toward Islam, particularly since he announced a ban on travel from seven majority-Muslim nations on January 27. But attacks on American mosques have received far less attention than the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers. As far as I’m aware, no reporter has asked Trump about them at a press conference. And no major network would suggest that Trump’s failure “to adopt a stern, public line” against Islamophobia has been “politically damaging.”


Floating around in the Swamp, the Trumpster Regime — again (and again) says there was no connection between the campaign and Russian operatives. This, of course, goes nowhere toward explaining the contacts made by Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Roger Stone, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Flynn, … and what names are to come?


The most bizarre explanation for opposing Motor Voter/automatic  registration in Nevada comes compliments of Nevada’s political gadfly and whack job Ira Hansen, did you miss this one?

“Assemblyman Ira Hansen, R-Sparks, was the most vocal opponent during the committee hearing and said it represented an overreach of people’s privacy, especially those who don’t want to partake in the electoral process.”

 

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Hate Crimes, Immigration, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics, Politics, racism, Voting, White Supremacists

2092 days

The Trumpster promised that if President Obama would release his birth certificate he would release his tax returns.  So, as of April 27, 2011 Trumpster was on record … Not that keeping his word is of much importance.  It’s been 2092 days since the promise was made and subsequently ignored.

It’s not just the returns. Build a wall?  Well, maybe a bit of fencing. Mexico will pay for it? No, that would be the American taxpayers. Now, the Trumpster announces health insurance for everyone,  Everyone!  Well not unless the old ideas like health savings accounts, portability, high risk pool can do the job. That these haven’t worked in the past is conveniently omitted.

It appears the only words which tend to hold are the Kremlin talking points. NATO is obsolete. (Unless you happen to be in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland…) The European market is failing. (Unless you happen to be in Germany, France, Spain…)

At least some questions might be addressed by releasing the tax returns, but until such time as they appear in public the obvious conclusion is that there are “foreign entanglements” enveloping the president-elect.

2092 and counting.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Health Care, health insurance, Politics

The Taiwan Call: There’s a message in here somewhere

trump tie scotch tape It’s amateur hour in Washington, D.C.  Not just for the Trumpster’s transition team but for the Beltway Media too?  45 years of foreign policy precedent just got reversed, and the punditocracy doesn’t seem to understand that the Orange Foolious isn’t thinking in terms of national issues. Personal ones perhaps, but national – not so much.

The Reagan administration understood; the GHW Bush administration understood; the GW Bush Administration understood – but his Republican version hasn’t grasp the finer points of international diplomacy, perhaps not even some of the more blatant ones to date.

There is really NO reason for having three different answers to the same question (Why did you take the call?) in today’s world.

Personal issues, perhaps:

“Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island’s new airport development. Weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, a businesswoman claiming to be associated with his conglomerate made inquiries about a major investment in building luxury hotels as part of the island’s new airport development.” [Guardian]

And, we note the carefully phrased disclaimer from Trumpster Aides:

“A representative for Trump Hotels said there had been no authorized visits to Taiwan on behalf of its brand for development purposes, nor are there any active conversations.”  [WSJ]

Humm, no “authorized visits” and no “active conversations.”  This is interesting verbiage because from the same WSJ article we find:

“Reached Saturday by The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Chen, who is also known as Charlyne Chen, said she’s not a Trump employee, but has worked as a promoter and salesperson of real estate properties in Las Vegas and has a letter stating that she is a “sales ambassador” for Mr. Trump’s company.

She said the meeting with Taoyuan’s mayor to discuss the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project was arranged by former Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu, whom Ms. Chen said is a friend who had hoped to bring the Trump brand to Taoyuan, where she had previously served as magistrate. She said the meeting took place in September, “way before” Mr. Trump’s election, and talks about any project are at a “very, very early stage and there has been zero details.”  [WSJ]

Thus we are now in the realm of – What’s an “authorized visit?” And, what’s an “active conversation?”   It seems there is another lady in the mix:

Anne-Marie Donoghue, who identifies herself on her Facebook page as a Trump Hotels Asia sales director, posted a photo from a visit to Taiwan this fall, saying that she was in Taipei and enjoying the trip. “Work trip but it has been so fun!!!” [WSJ]

It’s not “official” but there’s a “sales ambassador” involved?  It’s not “active” but there have been two individuals involved in “work” on behalf of the Trumpster’s brand in Taiwan?  One of which was having “so much fun!!!”

Deniability is a lovely thing but it doesn’t work when back door dealings are posted on social media and published in the business press.

First it was Argentina, now it’s Taiwan… the message is that the Orange Foolious is still “selling his brand,” and quite possibly selling out American interests.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans

DIY Ukraine Briefing: Will Trump Stand Up To The Russian Tanks?

Ukraine Map

Yes, Mr. Trump, the Russians are in Ukraine. They’re occupying Crimea, and supporting “rebel” groups in eastern Ukraine. [HuffPo]  More distressing still is baffling inarticulateness which came after Mr. Trump was reminded that the Russians were already in Ukraine:

“Asked about the scrubbing of pro-Ukrainian language from the Republican platform, Trump offered up a word salad in which he seemed unaware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meddling in Ukrainian politics for years.

“[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said. (1)

Stephanopoulos pushed back, reminding Trump that Putin’s “already there, isn’t he?” Trump quickly changed the topic to Obama bashing.

“Okay — well, he’s there in a certain way. (2) But I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.” (3)  [ThinkProg]

(1) The Russians are obviously already in Ukraine, and are currently building up forces along the border (again).

“Kremlin is supposedly to deploy three more brigades near the Ukrainian border. The Russian Federation is actively regrouping its two armies near the border with Ukraine and new divisions are being formed, according to the representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency.

“The 1st Tank Army, which is stationed in Moscow region, is being built up, as well as the 20th Army with Headquarters in Voronezh. Three new divisions are being created. The plans of the Russian leadership are changing,” told the representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine Vadym Skibitskiy.” (emphasis in original) [Ukraine Today, July 26, 2016]

Skibitskiy further commented that the three brigades formerly deployed along the border with Ukraine have now turned into three divisions.

(2)He’s there in a certain way?”  Well, yes, if “certain way” means occupying Crimea, supporting eastern pro-Russian rebels against the Ukrainian government and moving in like the proverbial brother-in-law who takes over the couch and then the living room. Liquidating status and changing place names.

July 28, 2016: “Russia liquidates the federal district status of the annexed Crimea.”

July 30, 2016: “U.S. tech giant Google has reinstated existing Soviet-era place names on online maps of Russia-annexed Crimea after it angered Moscow by changing them to correspond with names that Ukraine hopes to adopt in future under its “decommunization” law.”

(3)He’s  going away.” Certainly not if the Russians are building up units like the 1st Tank Army and the Russian army units based in Voronezh.  Putin is not going away any time soon, but he would like the Sanctions imposed in March and April 2014, April 2014, and the third round of sanctions imposed from April 2014 to the present to go away. Putin would really like it if the EU sanctions extended on December 12, 2015 to July 31, 2016 went away.

A door prize to anyone who can figure out what this means, which might be perilously close to “I can see Russia from my house:”

And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this.”

Ah yes, THIS from the man who suggested he would seriously consider not supporting Article 5 of the NATO agreement – one for all and all for one.  Yes, that self-same article 5 that was invoked by NATO after we were attacked on September 11, 2001.  The Lithuanians certainly don’t find Mr. Trump’s bombast comforting –  a large segment of the Lithuanian population remember all too vividly what the Russians did to them when they asserted their independence in 1991. [WaPo]

Mr. Trump obviously isn’t listening to people like Erika Verberyte, Lithuanian diplomat and foreign policy expert: “Almost every family in Lithuania had someone killed or deported by KGB. I was 19 and a student at Vilnius University during the events of Jan.13, 1991, when we rallied to stand up to Soviet tanks.” [WaPo]

The question is will Mr. Trump stand up to the Russian Tanks?

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics, Republicans

Ready for the Sunday Shows?

Advice Never Asked For

Enough said?

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Filed under Politics, Republicans