Tag Archives: Trump Administration

No Toleration for Intolerance, and other matters

No, I don’t feel one tiny little bit of need to be one tiny little bit magnanimous or even a tiny little bit of need to be tolerant of the Oaf in the Oval Office — or the politicians who enable him.

I feel no need to be tolerant of those who rally the uglies.  The uglies are those who think calling out African American congressional representatives (see: Frederica Wilson and Maxine Waters)  and addressing them with epithets is appropriate from an Oval Office occupant.  And, what’s with calling out Jemele Hill of ESPN?  What do these three have in common?  Oh, yeah, I get it.  It’s obvious.  The Oaf’s performance in Pennsylvania was enough to curdle any and all positive feelings toward a once proud office and a once proud political party.  It’s OK to be outraged, in fact if a person isn’t outraged then it’s time for a reality check.

I feel no need to be tolerant of a government which cannot seem to find voice when our closest ally on this planet is told that a nerve agent attack in Salisbury “looks” like the Russians did it, but “we” will wait for a conversation with Prime Minister May before making a statement.  WE have already heard from the Prime Minister. She was all over the TV landscape yesterday with strong words in their Parliament. She was concise. She was forceful. She was measured but emphatic.  WE can take her word for it. She doesn’t need to reveal sources and methods in order for US to believe her.  In fact, I used up my blogging time yesterday watching BBC News, and following their news and analysis.  There wasn’t anything nebulous about the coverage.  However, WE have an Oval Office Occupant who can’t bring himself to say anything negative about one of the most egregious thugs on this planet.   Why it is even necessary to ask: Now, will we implement the sanctions against Russian passed almost unanimously by Congress last year?

I feel no need to take his sycophants like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Moscow Oblast) seriously.  Rep. Nunes is perfectly free to make a complete fool of himself with his issuance of a report clearly intended to exonerate the Oval Office Oaf.  Except it won’t.  Representative Nunes evidently believes it is more important to protect the OOO than to determine to what extent the current mis-administration was aligned with Russian efforts to interfere in our electoral processes and institutions.  Rep. Nunes is marching alongside those who find it impossible to conduct serious inquiries and thereby suggest serious legislation to resolve problems which led to the Russian interference.

I feel no need to support an administration the prime characteristic of which is the cacophony of a one man band playing off key and out of rhythm.   The Oval Office Oaf doesn’t even have the courage to fire people face to face.  He sends a body-guard to fire the former Director of the FBI, he sends a tweet to fire a Secretary of State, he is a coward.  He may want “conflict” but he can’t handle confrontation.

Item:  He conducted a skit about DACA at the White House.  He was all for a compromise, he would take the political heat, he would sign a bi-partisan bill. Until — he got a bi-partisan bill delivered to him for his approval and suddenly he didn’t want to take the political heat, and he caved to the racist opponents of immigration reform.

Item: He conducted a skit concerning gun reform at the White House.  He was all for several proposals which might reduce the lethality of mass shootings. Until — he met with the leadership of the NRA, and suddenly he was carrying their water in oversize pails.  There’s precious little reason for anyone to visit the White House to present proposals on most important subjects because the Oval Office Oaf will make comments and express concern only to reverse himself faster than a used car lot inflatable air dancer in a hurricane.

I feel no need to be tolerant of an administration beset with moral and ethical issues. Granted there have been embarrassments in all administrations.  However, this one is beyond the range of our previous imagination.  One year into an administration and key members can’t get a security clearance?  At least one person who was under investigation for “serious financial crimes,” was fired from the White House only to find immediate employment with the re-election campaign this week.  Who hires people who are under investigation for “serious financial crimes?” Four Cabinet officials have been ‘reprimanded’ for their questionable travel and expenditures. Four, and it’s only 400+ days into an administration.

Presidents need not be saints, and Heaven knows a few of ours haven’t been, but pay offs to a porn star?  That’s a new one.  Yes, supporters of James Blaine in the 1884 election would chant “Ma Ma Where’s My Pa?”  The rejoinder from advocates of Grover Cleveland’s candidacy was “Gone to the White House, Ha Ha Ha.”  However, none of our former Presidents faced allegations of sexual misconduct from 19 women.

And then there’s the money.

“…an investigation by The New York Times into the financial maze of Mr. Trump’s real estate holdings in the United States reveals that companies he owns have at least $650 million in debt — twice the amount than can be gleaned from public filings he has made as part of his bid for the White House. The Times’s inquiry also found that Mr. Trump’s fortunes depend deeply on a wide array of financial backers, including one he has cited in attacks during his campaign.” [NYT]

His claim that he’s had “nothing to do with Russia” is pure nonsense.   For all the salacious interest in the Oval Office Oaf’s sexual misconduct — the more fruitful segments of current investigations are likely encapsulated in the Nixon era maxim “follow the money.”

In the mean time, I do not intend to “follow the President,” and I do not wish him well as he undercuts environmental protections, consumer protections, financial consumer protections; our standing among nations, our relationships with our allies, and our prestige in the world.  Nor do I intend to grant him any accolades for continuing his divisive, irrational, and racist rhetoric.  One campaign filled with that was sufficient.

I do take some comfort knowing that 65,853,516 people in this country may agree with me.

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A Wish List For 2018

There are several things I would like to see in the coming year.  The following, a not so modest list of them:

  1. I’d like to see the commercial media, print and broadcast, dismantle its long nurtured cottage industry employed in Clinton Bashing.  This has been an on-going activity for the last two and a half decades at least, and I’m finding it tiresome.  I am sure the chattering classes find it amusing to resurrect and inject their old talking points; and there’s a certain comfort in returning to old themes, much like one’s favorite blanket on the bed or pillow on the couch.  However, the plethora of Clinton columns a year past the last election, only indicates to me that Secretary Clinton is living rent free in several editorial heads.  Perhaps, it seems as though they couldn’t live with her, and now they can’t live without her.
  2. It would be pleasing to wake up some fine morning to discover a news broadcast in which the various travel and singular expenditures of the present administration are explored in some detail.  I recall an old bit of wisdom from the sheriff’s department about people who get caught criminal littering: One could be an accident, Two is an indication of trouble, and Three times and it’s deliberate.  Thus we’ve had a Health and Human Services secretary resign, which should have been a message to others — but, we now know the Secretary of the Treasury indulged in excessively expensive travel, followed by a Secretary of the Interior doing likewise. Were this not enough, we have a director of the EPA indulging in what gives every appearance of being truly excessive “security” expenditures.  What does he have to hide?
  3. A little patience is required for my third item: A thorough and accurate report from the Special Counsel.  Perhaps Trump’s opponents are hoping for too much, and his followers are hoping for an exoneration which is not to be.  Whether the President* himself was entangled in a web of deception and conspiracy is relevant but not, I think, the core of the matter.  The important point is that a hostile government, the Russians, sought to interfere, did interfere, and continues to interfere in our democratic institutions and practices.  The more important point is what we, as a nation, intend to do about it. This leads to my 4th wish.
  4. I wish for personal, professional, and tangential issues to be separated from the essential process of addressing Russian interference.  This will take more than beseeching private Internet corporations to “do their duty.”  Further, it will take more than a narrow focus on whether or not that interference had an appreciable effect on the 2016 election.  We need to know what the Russians did, how they did it, and what we can do to prevent “it” in future election cycles.  We need state and local election officials who are aware of the nature of Russian (and other) attempts at interference, who have the resources both in terms of funding and expertise to prevent meddling.  We need federal officials who will take this threat seriously and who will engage with state and local officials to be of assistance in these efforts. What we don’t need is a sham commission rehashing old conspiracy theories about “illegals” voting and fraudulent voting myths. What we do need is a task force with components from the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Intelligence Community to take foreign interjections seriously, investigate them thoroughly, and to make thoughtful, rational, suggestions for protecting our most basic freedom — the right to vote.
  5. We need the improvement and enaction of the Voting Rights Act.  Nothing is so central to our Republic, nothing so necessary to the health of our Democracy.
  6. We need a rational statement of what constitutes citizenship, and it’s not the legal fiction including a corporation.  The decision in Citizens United is a major problem for our system of government.  No, my friends, corporations are not people.  They may have property rights, and rights pertaining to their organization and operations, but they are not people — as in We The People.
  7. Wouldn’t it be fine to end 2018 with a new attitude toward rules and regulations. Corporate propaganda has generalized anything commercial interests don’t like into “burdensome regulations.”  However, there are some burdens we should bear with a sense of civic pride.  No, we do not wish our rivers to be polluted and our forests unnecessarily despoiled for profit. Nor do we want our elders placed in care to be ignored, mocked, and mistreated.  Nor do we want to eat contaminated food, or drink contaminated liquids. Nor do we want employers to allow, perhaps even encourage, unsafe working conditions.  Too often the generalizations have been presented to us as ‘fact,’ without a challenge from public quarters asserting the rationale for the rules in the first place.  Those challenges deserve more publicity than they are currently receiving.
  8. Although it’s an election year, wouldn’t it be beneficial if we were to receive more information about POLICY than POLITICS?  The failure to emphasize what a candidate is offering and to focus instead on poll numbers and other electoral data means that politicians are allowed to speak in broad, and often meaningless, generalities.  In this circumstance a politician becomes little more than a human megaphone, his or her popularity based on the cheaper expedient of polling than on a serious consideration of what is on offer.   Granted there have always been demagogues among us — but we really don’t have to encourage them.

And so ends this little list.  We can only hope.

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It Isn’t Over Even After All The Fat Ladies Sing: The State of the Resistance?

Maybe I’m just the eternal optimist, but I have serious doubts about those lamenting the “fatigue factor” in resistance to the Trump administration and the Republican controlled Congress.   First, I’m not sure we’re measuring the right things.

Granted the Women’s March was spectacular, but to bemoan the lack of huge responses on the streets in the period between that march and today is to miss one of the important features of that event.  Speaker after speaker encouraged people to actively engage in the political process.  I’ve wondered — how many people in this country even knew that Congress had switchboard numbers for access to Senators and Representatives before those speeches?

The march for science was smaller, but there again — have we ever been able to mobilize any significant number of people in science related fields to hit the streets before?  Then there was the immediate and profound reaction to the Muslim Travel Ban — instantaneous and powerful.  We ought not to measure the impact of the “resistance” by numbers on pavement.  Perhaps quantification is simply going to be elusive, as is the ripple effect.

We can list the number of Indivisible organizations, and we can delineate other related organizations — some general and some interest oriented.  However, what we can’t quantify is the effect of demonstrating resistance on people who would otherwise sit quietly on the sidelines.  How many people now have made their first ever phone call to a Representative or Senator’s office?  How many people took the postcard idea from the Women’s March and stocked up on post cards for other, future, comments to elected officials?  How many people who weren’t “interested in politics” before the “Resistance” now pay attention to news broadcasts and articles about our politics — and have spoken about these topics to others.  These activities aren’t easily quantifiable, and perhaps we don’t even need to measure resistance attempting to “make the numbers.”

Nor should “resistance” be limited to single issues or even a particular legislative agenda.  For example, a young friend on a neighboring Reservation was particularly moved by the DAPL movement — she made signs, talked about the issue with others, and for the first time in her life expressed an interest in “politics.”  Count her as part of the Resistance.   Somewhere out there is a grandmother disturbed by the prospect of her autistic grandson losing special education services he desperately needs — if she made one phone call or sent one postcard — count her as part of the resistance.  If a father of a young daughter who was born with a congenital heart defect is worried about her “pre-existing condition” and made a call or sent a letter, then count him as part of the resistance.

There’s a temptation to dismiss that which we can’t count, or to disregard what we can’t see.  However, the ‘resistance’ is out there.  Sometimes quiet, sometimes smoldering, and sometimes flaming up.  There’s another angle we should appreciate:  Human contact.

Someone went to a demonstration…he or she met someone there unknown before…they exchanged phone numbers?  They exchanged addresses?  They agreed to meet again, or to contact each other if some topic emerged in which they shared an interest?  This isn’t necessarily “party building” but it’s just as much a part of resistance as more highly organized formats.  If the human contact is initiated the more organized formats will follow.  They always do because at some point all the “interested parties” don’t fit around a kitchen table.

We may never know whether, for example, it was a call made to Representative Bilgewater’s office from a phone bank operation or from someone’s recliner in the living room that made the Representative truly aware that there was serious opposition to his bill.  Honestly, it doesn’t matter.  The origin of the calls is of less importance than the fact that they were made.  The calls matter, the engagement matters, and the engagement is resistance.

One thing we can measure is the interest being generated in running for political offices.  The graphic on the Rachel Maddow Show is instructive.  In 2009 there were 78 Republicans interested in a seat in the House of Representatives contrasted with 40 Democrats.  As of June 2017 there are 209 Democrats seeking seats and 28 Republicans.  There are more women running. there are scientists running, there are people who were happy being on the county commission and hadn’t considered a congressional run before recently tossing their hats into the ring.  This is resistance.

Vive la Resistance.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics

Dear Sir: Your Presidency is a failure

Dear Mr. President: Your presidency so far is a failure.  Not necessarily in legislative terms.  Not necessarily in terms of a poorly articulated agenda.  However, when we look at what is supposed to be your “wheelhouse,” your “strike zone,” business management, you’ve tossed the playbook.

You’ve not made the distinction between a boss and a leader.  Let’s discuss it in business terms — a boss directs employees and manages the production in a system of rewards and punishments; a leader uses mentorship and encouragement to get employees to work towards shared goals. [BND] It doesn’t take much consideration to reach the conclusion that productivity is higher for the latter than the former.  One piece of advice on bosses/leaders which is well worth a reminder is:

“A good boss elevates everyone around them, provides the resources they need to do their job well and acknowledges them often,” Borba Von Stauffenberg added. “Additionally, a good boss allows each team member to be brilliant by staying out of their way but is willing to get in the trenches with them when needed.”

The next time the president is tempted to launch a Twitter rant or issue threats to members of Congress or to members of his administration he would do well to read the last sentence with great care.  There are some other precepts from the business community which call for more consideration in this administration.

A good “boss” or leader communicates a clear vision to employees.  Good leadership can be measured by looking at how well the employees understand why they are doing what they are doing.  Needless to say,  the manager who resorts to threats and badgering may “make the quarterly numbers,” but will fall well short in terms of overall success.  An element of this is the establishing of equally clear performance objectives.  What did the president want in regard to health insurance reform legislation? Was it outright repeal? Was it repeal with a plan to cut Medicaid? Was it a plan to cut taxes without cutting Medicaid?  Answering these questions requires reading Tweet Streams that are constantly changing and range from alternative one to alternative three.

A good boss/leader listens.  Listening means the boss gets answers to operational issues and systemic problems from the shop floor.  Once received the advice should be acknowledged, credit must be given where it is due, and the employees are recognized as human beings, not merely “human resources.”   If your Secretary of State is saying one thing and you are saying something else entirely, then you’re not listening.  How much longer can this situation continue before a subordinate decides there is such a paucity of trust and support that further efforts are futile?

There are personal traits which are associated with good business management which aren’t really in evidence in the Oval Office at the moment.  One is the capacity to acknowledge faults and weaknesses,  and to work to minimize these when it comes to team building for successful operations.  A good manager will leave meeting participants feeling that their contributions were appreciated and that they were personally respected.  That infamous cabinet session during which members each offered sycophantic accolades to their Dear Leader wasn’t at all reassuring that we’re led by those who feel respected themselves.

Trust, respect, and operational success are never a given when employees and subordinates feel there’s a bus coming around every corner.   The following is as good a summation as any:

“Terrible bosses throw their employees under the bus. Good bosses never throw their employees under the bus.  Memorable bosses see the bus coming and pull their employees out of the way often without the employee knowing until much, much later… if ever, because memorable bosses never try to take credit.”

Attorney General Sessions may be thinking of this summary at the moment?  Additionally, notice that last sentence above, the one about never trying to take credit for all the successes and deflecting blame for any failures.  That requires getting one’s ego out of the way.  While the boss may be personally responsible for the advancement of the company, he or she should not take things personally.  For example, the chaos created when a major supplier goes out of business may cause issues, but that’s no reason to rail at the manager of the procurement department.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but even a cursory examination of articles on good leadership and business management yields a pattern of management practices which are violated on a daily basis by this mis-administration.  It’s about time for the board of directors to start speaking of putting some additional pressure on the Boss to review and revise his management practices.

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Filed under Economy, Politics

Pennsylvania Avenue Jr. High

I’d be surprised to discover there’s a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or teacher (anyone who’s had contact) with a middle schooler who hasn’t heard the Great Whine, or forms thereof.  It is a bit disturbing to hear the Great Whines emanating from the White House.   For those who haven’t had a 12-14 year old in close proximity recently, the Great Whine comes with perfectly predictable elements.

I didn’t do it.  Yeah, right.    Like the sheets and towels aren’t blue-gray after a pair of denim jeans (just your size) were tossed into the washing machine?

Okay, but everyone does it.  No.  Only people immature and foolish enough to think that parents don’t notice other parents aren’t getting memos from the school about children who sling toilet paper around the rest room do it.

Yeah, but So and So was the one who made me do it.  Please.  This household believes in Free Will.  You did it, you own it. We also believe in the Pottery Barn Rule — you break it, you buy it.  Next time you might want to have a quick thought before succumbing to some silly antic or prank.

It’s no big deal.  Uh, yes it is. When you screw up it’s a big enough deal.  If it were not a big deal no one would be noticing it, much less commenting.

But, it’s not really bad.   Wrong again me bucko.  If it violates the norms of civilized behavior, causes harm to anyone or anything, is a misdemeanor or perhaps even a low grade felony…it’s bad.

It’s not fair.  Oh yes it is.  Even if your friend didn’t get his skateboard confiscated because he flunked his last English test, even if your friend didn’t get grounded for throwing tomatoes at the neighbor’s cat, even if your friend (real or imagined) didn’t get into trouble for leaving left-over pizza out on the living room table overnight… you are not the victim of a misinterpretation of Universal Divine Law.  You screwed up, and there are consequences.

The problem with the Pennsylvania Avenue Junior High is that the stakes are so much higher than those associated with the usually small misdemeanors of young adolescents.  Yes, there are highly questionable meetings with agents of a hostile foreign power.  There are profound questions about the enforcement of sanctions imposed on that country for invading a sovereign nation, occupying that nation’s territory, and attacking the election processes of western democracies, and for egregious violations of human rights.

There are questions concerning the enforcement of those sanctions by a government the leadership of which may have financial connections of a nature as to make the desires of the foreign power of greater importance than the needs of our own nation. These questions need answers.  Those findings may range from  the inconvenient to the felonious, but applying the Cliché of the Day: We need to follow the facts.

 

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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

The Russia Sanctions: From Headache to Migraine for the Trump Administration – Updated

The US Senate approved amendment S. Amdt 232 to S.722 (Iran Sanctions bill) on June 14, 2017 on a 97-2 vote (No. 144) and it’s worth our while to look at precisely what this amendment provides [Congressional Record]:

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.

The Obama Administration imposed sanctions on Russian in the wake of Russia’s incursions and take over of Crimea, described by Reuters on December 20, 2016. The article notes that the incoming administration, Rex Tillerson included, were in favor of easing these sanctions.

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.

This provision likely won’t be well received at the White House, as it removes the administration’s power to unilaterally ease the sanctions, including the ones added in the aftermath of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.  The ‘cyber’ sanctions included the removal of 35 Russian diplomats and the closing of two Russian properties identified as “rest and recreation” locales, but commonly believed to be intelligence centers by US authorities.  It was reported last May that the administration was giving consideration to returning the two controversial properties to the Russians.[WaPo]

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.

The use of the term “mandatory” is important in this context.  The message is clear, should the Russians or their agents engage in further acts of “malicious cyber activity, then imposition of sanctions is an absolute, non-negotiable, manner.  Notice, please, the list of activities which would trigger sanctions: Violating sanction controls, human rights abuses, and Crude Oil Projects.  The latter will be of great interest to the Russian oligarchs and “comrade” Putin.

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.

The inclusion of “metals” is interesting,  considering the Trump promise to build oil pipelines with American steel.  The promise has a compromise:  On March 31, 2017 the Los Angeles Times reported that about half the steel for the Keystone Pipeline would come from an Arkansas plant and the rest will be imported. The rationale?

“The steel is already literally sitting there” waiting to be used, White House spokeswoman Sanders told reporters, explaining the reversal. Evraz Steel, a Canadian subsidiary of Russia’s Evraz PLC, had signed on to provide 24 percent of the steel before the project was rejected under Obama, according to Reuters, and some pipe segments have already been built.” [CSMonitor]

It would crack down on anyone investing in corrupt privatization
efforts in Russia–something we have seen a lot of over 20 years.
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.

A few translations might be in order.  “Corrupt privatization” is an analytic term used to describe Russian versions of privatization as essentially corrupt — “corruption has resulted from the privatization of public assets whether “bought” (typically at grossly undervalued prices) or by government officials in effect taking private control of assets still officially publicly owned.”  “Geographic targeting” refers to the authority given to the Department of the Treasury to regulate sanctions over regions, and not just specific countries or companies.  ATM and wire transfer records are of great interest to FINcen, and FINcen is the division of the Treasury which investigates financial fraud and other illegal activity.  (See also OFAC FAQ compliance)  At the risk of unsupported speculation, we can muse that if FINcen has the power to investigate wire transfers to Russia, and if the Special Counsel has access to FINcen investigations, then any attempts to evade sanctions can end up in the hands of the Special Counsel’s investigation.  This might get messy indeed.

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.

This portion of the amendment widens the net.  “Any current US economic exposure to Russian oligarchs and their investments” is sufficiently broad to include anyone, any company, any corporation, and any family.  And, while we’re discussing real estate, this opens the possibility — even the probability — of a report on the transaction in which Russia’s “Fertilizer King” bought a Trump property in Florida at a price well over the market. [Miami Herald]  The term exposure could also extend to the fine art of money laundering, succinctly explained by this Business Insider article.  When the word “investments” pops up we can assume that the powers thus authorized in the Amendment can look into shell corporations.  “The real big shots don’t bother with casinos, crooked bank managers, junkets, or smurfs. They manage to transfer millions, or billions, without handling cash or involving banks at all, instead funneling their money through corporate deals (bribes, kickbacks, and embezzlement schemes), which are exempt from currency controls.”

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.

We can also safely assume that an administration which wanted to ease sanctions on Russia will not be best pleased with having to self-report on the possibility of extending secondary sanctions to “additional Russian oligarch,” etc.  For clarification, “secondary sanctions” are defined as follows: “Secondary sanctions are a relatively new kind of sanction that has been implemented frequently over the past five years, particularly relating to Iran. These kinds of sanctions supplement other sanctions programs by targeting non-U.S. persons (primarily foreign financial institutions and foreign sanctions evaders) who do business with individuals, countries, regimes, and organizations in Iran.” [OFACnet]  The Amendment provides for an administration report of the relative effectiveness of levying such secondary sanctions.

So, what to expect?  Since the administration failed to apply the brakes on the Senate, we could reasonably expect it to try to ameliorate these provisions in the House.  This should separate the Reagan Would Be Spinning In His Grave Republicans from the Dear Leader Trump Is Always Right Crowd.  Speculation Warning: Trump friendly representatives may try to argue that the Senate Amendment is “too broad,” or “too vague.”  The problem with this is that the Senate amendment is neither too broad or “void for vagueness.” There will be the “sanctions don’t work” argument perhaps — but this falters if those in favor of reverting to the old level of Cuban sanctions try to have it both ways — Cuban sanctions OK, Russian sanctions not OK.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but 97 members of the US Senate have just elevated the administration’s Russian sanctions headache to a full bore hemiplegic migraine.

Update: S. 722 (Iran Sanctions Bill with Russian Sanctions Amendment) passed the Senate on a 98-2 vote (number 147) The only members of the Senate voting against the bill were Sanders (I-VT) and Paul (R-KY).

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