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Cyril Foster Lecture 2019: The EU’s Role as a Global Player for Peace and Stability   

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Event date: 

The Cyril Foster Lecture is the University of Oxford’s principal annual guest lecture in the field of International Relations. Since the first lecture in 1960, it has attracted a most distinguished group of speakers, including Secretary Generals of the UN and NATO, Presidents and former Prime Ministers.

The 2019 Cyril Foster Lecture will be delivered by Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, at 14:30 on Tuesday 15 October at the Manor Road Building Lecture Theatre. The topic of the lecture will be ‘The EU’s Role as a Global Player for Peace and Stability’.

Please register to attend at: cyrilfoster2019.eventbrite.co.uk


          

Immigration protesters shout down acting DHS secretary   

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WASHINGTON – Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan left an immigration policy conference Monday without speaking after protesters shouted him down.

McAleenan was scheduled as the keynote speaker at Georgetown University Law Center during an annual immigration law and policy conference held by the nonprofit immigration think tank Migration Policy Institute. He was expected to take questions from the audience, made up mostly of immigration policy experts, lawyers and advocates.

As he took the stage, a handful of protesters made up of law school students and activists stood up and held large black banners, one read “Hate is Not Normal,” and shouted out that children were under attack. They also began yelling the names of children who had died after they were in immigration custody.

Homeland Security is the department that manages immigration enforcement and is largely responsible for meting out many of the massive changes pushed by the Trump administration that has restricting asylum, forced more than 50,000 migrants to wait in Mexico and added hurdles for those seeking green cards. Since December, at least seven children have died after they were taken into immigration custody, and officials have been grappling with a massive influx of migrants that vastly strained the system.

McAleenan, a longtime civil servant who was the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection before he was tapped to lead DHS, started off saying that he was a longtime law enforcement officer and believed in free speech, but said that public engagement was important.

Some in the audience shouted at the protesters to sit down so they could hear him speak. Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute who was the head of the agency that preceded Customs and Border protection, was to moderate the Q&A, and told the protesters they were robbing the audience of their ability to engage in a meaningful dialogue on a contentious and important topic.

McAleenan tried to speak at least three times, but eventually left, shaking hands with Meissner and others on stage. Some in the audience cheered when he left.

As Meissner moved on to the next panel, she questioned whether the protesters planned to stay for the whole conference and asked them to take their seats. They obeyed, but many left shortly after.

Migration Policy Institute President Andrew Selee said he regretted the speech was disrupted.

“In a democracy, it is important to hear from all sides on public policy issues, including from those who are instrumental in developing and implementing policy, whether or not we agree with them,” he said in a statement.


          

Profit, not politics: Trump allies sought Ukraine gas deal   

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KYIV, Ukraine – As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer were also active in the former Soviet republic.

Their aims were profit, not politics. This circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Giuliani and Trump while trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.

Their plan hit a snag after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost his reelection bid to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose conversation with Trump about former Vice President Joe Biden is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

But the effort to install a friendlier management team at the helm of the gas company, Naftogaz, would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new president by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors.

It’s unclear if Perry’s attempts to replace board members at Naftogaz were coordinated with the Giuliani allies pushing for a similar outcome, and no one has alleged that there is criminal activity in any of these efforts. And it’s unclear what role, if any, Giuliani had in helping his clients push to get gas sales agreements with the state-owned company.

But the affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president’s personal political interests. It also raises questions about whether Trump allies were mixing business and politics just as Republicans were calling for a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

On Friday, according to the news site Axios, Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it had been Perry who had prompted the phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” regarding Biden. Axios cited a source saying Trump said Perry had asked Trump to make the call to discuss “something about an LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant.”

While it’s unclear whether Trump’s remark Friday referred specifically to the behind-the-scenes maneuvers this spring involving the multibillion-dollar state gas company, The Associated Press has interviewed four people with direct knowledge of the attempts to influence Naftogaz, and their accounts show Perry playing a key role in the effort. Three of the four spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. The fourth is an American businessman with close ties to the Ukrainian energy sector.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Energy Department said Perry, a former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, was not advancing anyone’s personal interests. She said his conversations with Ukrainian officials about Naftogaz were part of his efforts to reform the country’s energy sector and create an environment in which Western companies can do business.

Perry was asked about the AP’s reporting on Monday while in Lithuania, where he was meeting with officials from Ukraine and other eastern European countries to discuss energy security and cooperation. He said any suggestion that he tried to force a management change at Naftogaz was a “totally dreamed up story.”

“We get asked for our recommendations about people who are experts in areas, various areas,” Perry said. “Folks who have expertise in particular areas. Obviously having been the governor of the state of Texas, I know a lot of people in the energy industry.”

The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogaz, however, appear to have had inside knowledge of the U.S. government’s plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the U.S. ambassador there months before she was actually recalled to Washington, according to three of the individuals interviewed by the AP. One of the individuals said he was so concerned by the whole affair that he reported it to a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine months ago.

THE BUSINESSMEN

Ukraine, a resource-rich nation that sits on the geographic and symbolic border between Russia and the West, has long been plagued by corruption and government dysfunction, making it a magnet for foreign profiteers.

At the center of the Naftogaz plan, according to three individuals familiar with the details, were three such businessmen: two Soviet-born Florida real estate entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Florida, named Harry Sargeant III.

Parnas and Fruman have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to Republicans, including $325,000 to a Trump-allied political action committee in 2018. This helped the relatively unknown entrepreneurs gain access to top levels of the Republican Party – including meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

The two have also faced lawsuits from disgruntled investors over unpaid debts. During the same period they were pursuing the Naftogaz deal, the two were coordinating with Giuliani to set up meetings with Ukrainian government officials and push for an investigation of the Bidens.

Sargeant, his wife and corporate entities tied to the family have donated at least $1.2 million to Republican campaigns and PACs over the last 20 years, including $100,000 in June to the Trump Victory Fund, according to federal and state campaign finance records. He has also served as finance chair of the Florida state GOP, and gave nearly $14,000 to Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

In early March, Fruman, Parnas and Sargeant were touting a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov, according to two individuals who spoke to the AP as well as a memorandum about the meeting that was later submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, formerly known as Kiev.

Going back to the Obama administration, the U.S. Energy Department and the State Department have long supported efforts to import American natural gas into Ukraine to reduce the country’s dependence on Russia.

The three approached Favorov with the idea while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas. Parnas and Fruman told him they had flown in from Florida on a private jet to recruit him to be their partner in a new venture to export up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor, according to two people briefed on the details.

Sargeant told Favorov that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president’s full support, according to the two people who said Favorov recounted the discussion to them.

These conversations were recounted to AP by Dale W. Perry, an American who is a former business partner of Favorov. He told AP in an interview that Favorov described the meeting to him soon after it happened and that Favorov perceived it to be a shakedown. Perry, who is no relation to the energy secretary, is the managing partner of Energy Resources of Ukraine, which currently has business agreements to import natural gas and electricity to Ukraine.

A second person who spoke on condition of anonymity also confirmed to the AP that Favorov had recounted details of the Houston meeting to him.

According to Dale Perry and the other person, Favorov said Parnas told him Trump planned to remove U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and replace her with someone more open to aiding their business interests.

Dale Perry told the AP he was so concerned about the efforts to change the management at Naftogaz and to get rid of Yovanovitch that he reported what he had heard to Suriya Jayanti, a State Department foreign service officer stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv who focuses on the energy industry.

He also wrote a detailed memo about Favorov’s account, dated April 12, which was shared with another current State Department official. Perry recently provided a copy of the April memo to AP.

Jayanti declined to provide comment. Favorov also declined to comment.

On March 24, Giuliani and Parnas gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington with Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign adviser who once served as deputy communications director for Giuliani’s presidential campaign and as a communications official during the George W. Bush administration.

She is now listed as the CEO of 45 Energy Group, a Houston-based energy company whose website describes it as a “government relations, public affairs and business development practice group.” The company’s name is an apparent nod to Trump, the 45th president.

This was a couple of weeks after the Houston meeting with Favorov, the Naftogaz executive. Giuliani, Parnas and Baumgardner were there to make a business pitch involving gas deals in the former Soviet bloc to a potential investor.

This time, according to Giuliani, the deals that were discussed involved Uzbekistan, not Ukraine.

“I have not pursued a deal in the Ukraine. I don’t know about a deal in the Ukraine. I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously,” said Giuliani, reached while attending a playoff baseball game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. “There is absolutely no proof that I did it, because I didn’t do it.”

During this meeting, Parnas again repeated that Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, would soon be replaced, according to a person with direct knowledge of the gathering. She was removed two months later.

Giuliani, who serves as Trump’s personal lawyer and has no official role in government, acknowledged Friday that he was among those pushing the president to replace the ambassador, a career diplomat with a history of fighting corruption.

“The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced,” he said. “I did play a role in that.”

But Giuliani refused to discuss the details of his business dealings, or whether he helped his associates in their push to forge gas sales contracts with the Ukrainian company. He did describe Sergeant as a friend and referred to Parnas and Fruman as his clients in a tweet in May.

As part of their impeachment inquiry, House Democrats have subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and communications related to dozens of people, including Favorov, Parnas, Fruman and Baumgardner’s 45 Energy Group.

Baumgardner issued a written statement, saying: “While I won’t comment on business discussions, I will say this: this political assault on private business by the Democrats in Congress is complete harassment and an invasion of privacy that should scare the hell out of every American business owner.”

Baumgardner later denied that she had any business dealings in Ukraine but refused to say whether the replacement of Ambassador Yovanovitch was discussed.

Sargeant did not respond to a voice message left at a number listed for him at an address in Boca Raton.

John Dowd, a former Trump attorney who now represents Parnas and Fruman, said it was actually the Naftogaz executives who approached his clients about making a deal. Dowd says the group then approached Rick Perry to get the Energy Department on board.

“The people from the company solicited my clients because Igor is in the gas business, and they asked them, and they flew to Washington and they solicited,” Dowd said. “They sat down and talked about it. And then it was presented to Secretary Perry to see if they could get it together.

“It wasn’t a shakedown; it was an attempt to do legitimate business that didn’t work out.”

THE ENERGY SECRETARY

In May, Rick Perry traveled to Kyiv to serve as the senior U.S. government representative at the inauguration of the county’s new president.

In a private meeting with Zelenskiy, Perry pressed the Ukrainian president to fire members of the Naftogaz advisory board. Attendees left the meeting with the impression that Perry wanted to replace the American representative, Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and energy representative who served in the Obama administration, with someone “reputable in Republican circles,” according to someone who was in the room.

Perry’s push for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to change its supervisory board was first reported by Politico.

A second meeting during the trip, at a Kyiv hotel, included Ukrainian officials and energy sector people. There, Perry made clear that the Trump administration wanted to see the entire Naftogaz supervisory board replaced, according to a person who attended both meetings. Perry again referenced the list of advisers that he had given Zelenskiy, and it was widely interpreted that he wanted Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman from Texas, to join the newly formed board, the person said. Also on the list was Robert Bensh, another Texan who frequently works in Ukraine, the Energy Department confirmed.

Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were also in the room, according to photographs reviewed by AP. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, said he was floored by the American requests because the person had always viewed the U.S. government “as having a higher ethical standard.”

The Naftogaz supervisory board is supposed to be selected by the Ukrainian president’s Cabinet in consultation with international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the United States and the European Union. It must be approved by the Ukrainian Cabinet. Ukrainian officials perceived Perry’s push to swap out the board as circumventing that established process, according to the person in the room.

U.S. Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said Perry had consistently called for the modernization of Ukraine’s business and energy sector in an effort to create an environment that will incentivize Western companies to do business there. She said Perry delivered that same message in the May meeting with Zelenskiy.

“What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” Hynes said Saturday. “That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”

Hynes said the Ukrainian government had requested U.S. recommendations to advise the country on energy matters, and Perry provided those recommendations. She confirmed Bleyzer was on the list.

Bleyzer, whose company is based in Houston, did not respond on Saturday to a voicemail seeking comment. Bensh also did not respond to a phone message.

Perry has close ties to the Texas oil and gas industry. He appointed Bleyzer to a two-year term on a state technologies fund board in 2009. The following year, records show Bleyzer donated $20,000 to Perry’s reelection campaign.

Zelenskiy’s office declined to comment on Saturday.

In an interview Friday with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that “as God as my witness” he never discussed Biden or his son in meetings with Ukrainian or U.S. officials, including Trump or Giuliani. He did confirm he had had a conversation with Giuliani by phone, but a spokeswoman for the energy secretary declined to say when that call was or whether the two had discussed Naftogaz.

In Lithuania on Monday, Perry said he could not recall whether Bleyzer’s name was on the list provided to Zelenskiy. But Perry confirmed he had known Bleyzer for years and called him “a really brilliant, capable businessman.”

“I would recommend him for a host of different things in Kyiv because he knows the country,” Perry said of Bleyzer. “He’s from there. So, why not? I mean I would be stunned if someone said that would you eliminate Michael Bleyzer from a recommendation of people you ought to talk to about how to do business in the country, whether they’re knowledgeable. It’d be remarkable if I didn’t say, `Talk to Michael.“’


          

As impeachment looms, GOP revolts against Trump on Syria   

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WASHINGTON – They may have his back on impeachment, but some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal allies are suddenly revolting against his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria.

On Monday, one chief Trump loyalist in Congress called the move “unnerving to the core.” An influential figure in conservative media condemned it as “a disaster.” And Trump’s former top NATO envoy said it was “a big mistake” that would threaten the lives of Kurdish fighters who had fought alongside American troops for years.

Trump’s surprise move, which came with no advance warning late Sunday and stunned many in his own government, threatened to undermine what has been near lockstep support among Republicans. It also came against the backdrop of a congressional impeachment inquiry in which the backing of Republicans in the Senate is the president’s bulwark against being removed from office.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been among Trump’s most vocal defenders, called the Syria decision “a disaster in the making” that would throw the region into chaos and embolden the Islamic State group.

“I hope I’m making myself clear how short-sighted and irresponsible this decision is,” Graham told Fox News. “I like President Trump. I’ve tried to help him. This, to me, is just unnerving to its core.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has shrugged off the key allegation in the impeachment inquiry – that Trump pressured foreign powers to investigate a top Democratic rival – tweeted that Trump’s shift on Syria is “a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria.”

And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has been more willing than many Republicans to condemn Trump’s calls for foreign intervention in the 2020 election, called the Syria move “a terribly unwise decision” that would “abandon our Kurdish allies, who have been our major partner in the fight against the Islamic State.”

A more frequent Republican Trump critic, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, cast Trump’s announcement as “a betrayal.”

“It says that America is an unreliable ally; it facilitates ISIS resurgence; and it presages another humanitarian disaster,” Romney tweeted.

Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s hand-picked ambassador to the United Nations, also cast the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Iraq as a betrayal of a key ally.

“The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake,” she wrote on Twitter.

Former Rubio aide Alex Conant highlighted the risks ahead for a president whose political future depends on Republican support.

“For Trump to make a very controversial move on Syria at the exact moment when he needs Senate Republicans more than ever is risky politics,” Conant said, noting the significance for many Senate Republicans of the United States’ policy in northern Syria, where Kurds would be particularly vulnerable to a Turkish invasion.

“They’re not just going to send out a couple of tweets and move on,” Conant said. “At the same time, the White House is going to need these guys to carry a lot of water for them.”

While a number of Republicans criticized Trump’s decision, one of their most important leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was sanguine, offering little concern about Syria or impeachment during an appearance at the University of Kentucky.

“There are a few distractions, as you may have noticed,” McConnell said. “But if you sort of keep your head on straight and remember why you were sent there, there are opportunities to do important things for the country and for the states that we represent.”

After the appearance, McConnell issued a statement warning that Trump’s proposed withdrawal “would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

“As we learned the hard way during the Obama Administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal,” McConnell said.

Outside government, leaders of conservative groups backed Trump.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent evangelical leader, said Trump was simply “keeping his promise to keep America out of endless wars.”

He suggested Trump could easily reengage in the region if the decision backfires.

“The president has got to do what’s best for the country, whether it helps him with this phony impeachment inquiry or not,” Falwell said in an interview.

Former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett noted that the president has been talking about reducing troop levels in the Middle East since before the 2016 election.

“I understand that they don’t like the policy, but none of them should be shocked by the policy,” Bennett said. “He’s only been talking about this for four or five years now. I think he’s with the vast majority of the public.”

Still, the backlash from other Trump loyalists was intense.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, called it a “misguided and catastrophic blow to our national security interests.”

And on Fox News, a network where many rank-and-file Trump supporters get their news, host Brian Kilmeade said it was “a disaster.”

“Abandon our allies? That’s a campaign promise? Abandon the people that got the caliphate destroyed?” Kilmeade said on “Fox & Friends.”

Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the controversy reminds him of former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ decision to resign late last year after Trump announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

“Ultimately, Trump reversed himself,” Aliriza said. “The question is whether he will actually reverse himself again in view of the opposition from Capitol Hill led by several of his closest allies.”


          

Whistleblower’s attorney says team now representing ‘multiple’ officials   

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WASHINGTON – An attorney for the whistleblower who sounded the alarm about President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine said Sunday that “multiple” whistleblowers have come forward, deepening a political quagmire that has engulfed the president as well as several of his Cabinet members.

The news comes as House Democrats are accelerating their impeachment inquiry and subpoenaing documents related to Trump’s efforts to push foreign countries to investigate one of his political opponents, former vice president Joe Biden.

“I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection to the underlying August 12, 2019, disclosure to the Intelligence Community Inspector General,” the whistleblower’s attorney, Andrew Bakaj, said in a tweet. “No further comment at this time.”

Mark Zaid, who also is a member of the original whistleblower’s legal team, confirmed to the Washington Post that the team is now representing a second whistleblower, someone who works in the intelligence community. The second individual has spoken to the inspector general of the intelligence community and has not filed a complaint.

“Doesn’t need to,” Zaid said in a text message, adding that the person has “first hand knowledge that supported the first whistleblower.”

News that the original whistleblower’s team is representing a second person was first reported Sunday by ABC News.

Trump seized on the latest development in a Sunday night tweet.

“Democrat lawyer is same for both Whistleblowers? All support Obama and Crooked Hillary. Witch Hunt!” he said.

The crisis, which began last month with media reports revealing the original whistleblower’s complaint, has quickly metastasized across the Trump administration, ensnaring senior officials such as Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who came under further scrutiny over the weekend.

Trump largely stayed out of public view, spending Saturday at his golf club in Sterling, Virginia, and Sunday at the White House. In tweets, he attacked Democrats and some Republican detractors, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, whose ouster he demanded Saturday after Romney criticized him.

He also appeared to directly link the 2020 presidential race to his efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden, contrary to a tweet on Friday declaring that “this has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens.”

“And by the way, I would LOVE running against 1% Joe Biden – I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Trump tweeted Sunday, arguing that Biden and his family were “PAID OFF, pure and simple!”

“Sleepy Joe won’t get to the starting gate, & based on all of the money he & his family probably ‘extorted,’ Joe should hang it up,” Trump added. “I wouldn’t want him dealing with China & [Ukraine]!”

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates responded by calling it “puzzling” that Trump would claim to love the prospect of a matchup against Biden, “seeing as how he just sent his administration into a tailspin by trying to bully a foreign country into spreading a comprehensively debunked conspiracy theory about the vice president.”

Biden’s son Hunter served for nearly five years on the board of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private gas company, whose owner came under scrutiny by Ukrainian prosecutors for possible abuse of power and unlawful enrichment. Hunter Biden was not accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation.

As vice president, Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire the top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, whom Biden and other Western officials, including Republicans, accused of not sufficiently pursuing corruption cases. At the time, the investigation into Burisma was dormant, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials.

On Saturday, Perry’s discussions with Ukrainian officials came to attention amid reports that Trump told Republicans on Friday that he made the July 25 call with the Ukrainian president at the request of Perry.

Asked about Trump’s comments, which were first reported by Axios, Energy Department spokeswoman Shylyn Hynes said in an email that Perry encouraged Trump to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky to discuss energy security.

Pompeo, who was scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, is facing growing pressure from Democrats seeking Ukraine-related documents.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Pompeo, who had spent much of the past week in Europe, missed a Friday deadline to comply with a subpoena for information about the State Department’s dealings with Ukraine. Pompeo asserts that a letter sent to the committee constitutes the department’s initial response.

The whistleblower complaint accused Trump of asking the Ukrainian government to help him with his reelection bid by launching an investigation into Biden. Democrats are also probing whether Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military assistance from Ukraine was linked to his push for the government there to pursue political investigations that could bolster the president’s reelection bid.

Text messages between State Department officials, revealed by House Democrats last week, show that there was at least some concern that Trump was pursuing an improper quid pro quo.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” diplomat William Taylor wrote on Sept. 9 to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Sondland, who has denied that Trump sought a quid pro quo, has agreed to meet privately on Tuesday with the three House panels – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight – spearheading the probe, according to a committee aide.

On Friday, those three committees subpoenaed the White House for documents and wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence demanding that he turn over documents related to his talks with Zelensky.

Speaking at a Republican event in Louisiana on Saturday, Pence criticized Democrats but gave no indication about whether he would comply with their document request.

“Do-Nothing Democrats launched a partisan impeachment inquiry in a blatant attempt to overturn the will of the American people in the last election,” he said.

On Sunday, Trump’s campaign announced that the president would be traveling to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to hold a rally on Friday. The president will also have a rally on Wednesday in Minneapolis.

No White House officials made appearances on the Sunday morning news shows, leaving it up to congressional Republicans and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to defend the president in heated interviews during which they offered at-times-contradictory explanations for the president’s actions.

In a combative exchange on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd urged Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to explain why he told the Wall Street Journal about his concern in the summer that Trump had sought to link Ukrainian military aid to an investigation of the Bidens.

Johnson repeatedly declined to answer, instead raising a conspiracy theory and criticizing the media before finally stating that Trump had “adamantly denied” any quid pro quo.

Johnson also at one point said he does not trust U.S. intelligence agencies. “Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign and in the transition, the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don’t know,” he said.

“We do know the answer,” an exasperated Todd responded, adding: “You’re making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place.”

Giuliani issued a defiant defense of Trump in an interview on Fox News Channel’s “MediaBuzz” in which he argued that the president “has every right to ask countries to help us in a criminal investigation that should be undertaken.”

Giuliani was named in the whistleblower’s complaint and in a rough transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky as being a key intermediary in back-channel efforts to pursue the allegations against Biden.

But other Republicans sought to play down Trump’s comments, including his exchange with reporters outside the White House on Thursday in which he urged China to investigate Biden.

In an interview on ABC News’s “This Week,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, echoed a suggestion on Friday by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that Trump’s China statement was not “a real request.”

“George, you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family? … I think he’s getting the press all spun up about this,” Jordan told host George Stephanopoulos.

During the interview, Stephanopoulos repeatedly sought an answer from Jordan on whether he thinks it is appropriate for Trump to ask China and Ukraine to investigate Biden. Jordan dodged the question more than a dozen times.

Democrats on Sunday defended their party’s efforts to pursue an impeachment inquiry.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of the Intelligence Committee, supported Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s view that no vote by the full House is necessary for an impeachment inquiry to move forward.

She added that she thinks the House “will have to take a serious look at articles of impeachment” based on the evidence that has emerged.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, N.Y., a key member of House Democratic leadership, said on “This Week” that “the evidence of wrongdoing by Donald Trump is hiding in plain sight.”

“The administration, without justification, withheld $391 million in military aid from a vulnerable Ukraine,” he said. “The president then pressured a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 elections and target an American citizen for political gain. That is textbook abuse of power.”


          

Gen. Colin Powell on life and leadership   

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Fmr. Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell joins to discuss the new documentary “Breath of Freedom” and the importance of mentors to guide future generations.

          

Powell, Rice also have classified info on...   

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National Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton, Brian Fallon, discusses the news the classified information was sent to the personal email accounts of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He explains how this plays into Hillary Clinton’s email situation...

          

Gen. Powell: ‘I would like to see...   

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Former Secretary of State, General Colin Powell, talks to Andrea Mitchell about President Obama’s proposal to close Guantanamo Bay and transfer of detainees to prisons in the United States.

          

Colin Powell on Nancy Reagan's influence   

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served as a national security adviser to President Reagan, looks back on his memories of Nancy Reagan, who passed away from heart failure at the age of 94.

          

Colin Powell calls Trump 'disgrace' in emails   

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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is confirming the authenticity of emails, in which he has harsh words for Donald Trump and other leaders.

          

Hillary Clinton discusses Trump's impeachment to a crowd chanting 'Lock him up!'   

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One of the darkest refrains of the Trump presidency have been the crowds at his rallies chanting "Lock her up" at the mention of Hillary Clinton's name.

The idea that an American president would threaten to imprison a political rival smacks of authoritarian tactics that have no place in a democracy.

These days, the chants seem rather ironic being that Donald Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives for trying to extort the president of Ukraine. If Trump is removed from office, he may face legal consequences for his actions which could mean jail time.


"The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert had fun with the idea of Trump being locked up on his show Monday night when his guests were former Secretary of State Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea.

Amber Guyger, the off-duty cop who murdered an unarmed black man in his own apartment, found guilty

At the start of the interview, Colbert asked Clinton about the impeachment inquiry saying, "Is it time to — dare I say — lock him up?"

Then the crowd began chanting "Lock him up" to Clinton's chagrin and then she motioned with her hand to tamp down the chanting.

When the crowed quieted, Clinton said that the impeachment inquiry is "exactly what should be done."

"I believe strongly that this particular incident has had such a huge impact because we've known for a long time that he [Trump] was a corrupt businessman who cheated people, and we've known that he and his campaign asked for aid from Russia, we've known that," said Clinton.

"But to see him in the office of the president putting his own personal and political interest ahead of the national security of our country just pierced through whatever confusion or denial people had. And, at that point, Speaker Pelosi rightly said this is something we have to investigate and that's what's going on."

Colbert admits that Trump's dealings with Ukraine have changed his opinion on impeachment.

"I was never a big 'let's impeach him' fan," Colbert said. "I thought we should go to the ballot box. But when someone is clearly using the office that they're in to subvert the ballot box. To use by corrupt means influence fro other countries to maintain their office, what good is that ballot box at that point?"

RELATED: Ivanka claimed the 'force is strong' in her family and Luke Skywalker wasn't having it

Clinton knows about impeachment. Her husband was impeached in 1998 and, as a young lawyer, she worked on the case against Richard Nixon. She believes that Trump's actions are exactly what the framers of the Constitution were defending against.

"To undermine the oath that he took to protect and defend the Constitution and the American people that's what falls right into the definition of an impeachable offense," she said.

Colbert also asked Clinton's thoughts on current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on the call when President Trump attempted to extort the president of Ukraine.

"How many times when you were Secretary of State did you have to say to Barack Obama 'You can't extort foreign countries'?

"Yeah, that never happened," Clinton laughed.


          

Baker-Polito Administration Urges Passage of Impaired Driving Legislation   

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Underscored need to pass legislation to implement recommendations of special commission...
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Governor Charlie Baker speaks about recommended legislation covering drivers impaired by chemical intoxication. (Courtesy of Gov. Baker)
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BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito today joined state officials, road safety advocates, law enforcement officials and leaders of the cannabis industry to urge passage of the Administration’s impaired driving legislation. Following the Cannabis Control Commission’s approval last month of regulations for social consumption of marijuana, the group assembled at the State House today underscored the need to pass legislation that would implement recommendations made by the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving. 

The Governor and Lt. Governor were joined by Helen Witty, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, David Torrisi, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, Cannabis Control Commissioner Britte McBride and Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael. 

“As Massachusetts continues to implement adult use of marijuana, including potential social consumption sites, it’s vital that we update our impaired driving laws to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the Commonwealth’s roads,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This legislation which draws on thoughtful recommendations from a commission of a broad cross-section of stakeholders, gives public safety officials the tools they need to combat impaired driving and keep our roads safe.” 

“Our Administration is committed to working with law enforcement officials and advocates in the public and private sector to combat impaired driving and ensure the safety of our residents and communities,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are grateful for these leaders’ support of this important legislation which will update our impaired driving laws as we confront new public safety challenges.”

According to Massachusetts crash statistics from 2013-2017, marijuana was the most prevalent drug (aside from alcohol) found in drivers involved in fatal crashes. In Colorado, where marijuana has been sold for adult use since 2014, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent while traffic deaths increased 31 percent, according to a report prepared by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Colorado also saw a marked increase in traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana which more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 115 people killed in 2018. Since recreational marijuana was legalized, the percentage of all Colorado traffic deaths that were marijuana related increased from 15 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2018.

“While we trust that the overwhelming majority of adults who use cannabis will do so responsibly, our research shows that some marijuana users believe the myth that they drive better when high,” said Thomas Turco, Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS). “It’s important that we state unequivocally that that is, in fact, a myth and that driving under the influence of cannabis is dangerous and potentially fatal.”

The Baker-Polito Administration’s bill is based on recommendations made by the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving. The Special Commission is composed of a diverse set of stakeholders and experts, including police, prosecutors, medical and toxicological professionals, and representatives of the criminal defense bar and civil liberties community. 

The proposed legislative changes in the bill include: 

  • Adopting implied consent laws to suspend the driver’s licenses of arrested motorists who refuse to cooperate in chemical testing for drugs, as existing law has long required for arrested motorists who refuse breath testing for alcohol.
  • Adopting a statute authorizing courts to take judicial notice that ingesting THC, the active chemical in marijuana, can and does impair motorists.
  • Directing the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) to expand the training of drug recognition experts and allowing them to testify as expert witnesses in civil and criminal cases.
  • Prohibiting drivers from having loose or unsealed packages of marijuana in the driver’s compartment of a vehicle, under the same provision of the motor vehicle code that has long prohibited driving with open containers of alcohol.
  • Permitting judicial notice of the scientific validity and reliability of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which would make it easier for the Commonwealth to introduce the results of that test at trial to demonstrate a driver’s intoxication.
  • Empowering police officers to seek electronic search warrants for evidence of chemical intoxication, as is the practice in over thirty other states.  Any blood draw would have to be authorized by a neutral magistrate after a showing of probable cause and would be performed by a doctor, nurse, or other appropriate medical staff at a health care facility.
  • Developing educational materials and programming on drug impairment to share with trial court judges.

The Baker-Polito Administration recently kicked off an impaired driving educational campaign designed to reach men age 18 to 34, who are the most likely to be behind the wheel in impaired driving crashes. The campaign, titled “Wisdom,” was informed by focus groups made up of cannabis and alcohol users and conducted by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s (EOPSS) Office of Grants and Research (OGR). The feedback was used to create TV spots featuring interviews of real people who were willing to share their perceptions about driving after consuming cannabis, alcohol, or other drugs.

“Our family – and the thousands we represent – know all too well the life-altering consequences of drunk and drugged driving,” said Helen Witty, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “My 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was out rollerblading on a bike path near our Miami home in 2000 when she was run over and killed by a teenage driver impaired on alcohol and marijuana. I landed shattered in MADD’s lap, and determined to make sure this violent, preventable crime never happened to anyone else. MADD is grateful to the Baker-Polito Administration for doing everything they can to keep people from being needlessly injured or killed by impaired drivers.”

“An important goal of the commission’s work is to protect the health and safety of the people in our state as we navigate the new reality of legal adult use of cannabis. I am pleased to be here today to support the Baker-Polito Administration and their partners in promoting the safe use of marijuana and cannabis products,” said Britte McBride, Commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission.

“We have made educating adults about the importance of responsible use of cannabis products a priority – and we hope the Legislature takes action on this bill,” said David Torrisi, Executive Director, Commonwealth Dispensary Association. “We welcome the opportunity to join the Baker-Polito administration in stressing the importance of safe driving habits, including planning for alternate transportation if using marijuana.” 

Massachusetts Data (2013-2017) from the EOPSS Office of Grants and Research:

  • Marijuana was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal crashes.
  • 11 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were found with both alcohol and drugs in their system.
  • 78 percent of impaired drivers in fatal crashes were men.
  • 35 percent of drunk drivers involved in a fatal crash were 21-29 years old. 
  • The number of drivers involved in a fatal crash who were alcohol-impaired (BAC .08+) and had drugs in their system increased by 63 percent (35 to 57).
  • From 2016 to 2017, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities decreased by 19 percent (148 to 120).

          

Os dois pesos e duas medidas da Organização dos Estados Americanos   

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Losing Legitimacy? The Organization of American States and its inconsistent defense of democracy, por Adam Ratzlaff (Global Americans):
Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), has been an outspoken proponent for democracy in Venezuela. Even before Juan Guaidó invoked the country’s Constitution and declared the Venezuelan presidency vacant, under Almagro’s direction the OAS has become a fierce promoter of democracy in the Americas and the defender of free and fair elections. But although Almagro has championed the cause of democracy in Venezuela and Honduras, he has failed to protect democracy in other countries in the region and, in so doing, has threatened the legitimacy of the OAS to respond to democratic crises like the one currently occurring in Venezuela.

          

No Government Doors – DTNS 3631   

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US Attorney General William Barr, UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, requesting Facebook delay building end-to-end encryption across all its messaging apps to […]

          

Mozambique: Frelimo Boasts of '80%' Victory in Beira   

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[AIM] Maputo -If elections were held today in the central Mozambican city of Beira, the ruling Frelimo Party would win with a margin of 80 per cent, boasted Domingos Jeque, the Sofala provincial secretary of Frelimo for organisation, mobilisation and propaganda at a press conference in the city on Sunday.

          

Ajay Kumar Lallu named new UP Congress chief   

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Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi on Monday announced the partys new Uttar Pradesh team, with two-time MLA and Congress Legislative party chief Ajay Kumar Lallu as the state chief.

          

Clinical Secretary - Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center - Sheridan, WY   

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Assist, as directed, in inventory and ordering of office and program supplies and equipment as approved by the immediate supervisor. 2 plus years of experience.
From Northern Wyoming Mental Health Center - Wed, 31 Jul 2019 18:14:58 GMT - View all Sheridan, WY jobs

          

‘US: Nord Stream 2 to Boost Russian Influence on EU’ ‘Russia dumps U.S. dollar … chooses euro’   

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Current and proposed Russian gas pipelines to Europe(by Samuel Bailey) COGwriter The US has again raised concerns about the Nord Stream pipeline project: US: Nord Stream 2 to Boost Russian Influence on EU by Agence France-Presse October 7, 2019 VILNIUS – US Energy Secretary Rick Perry warned Monday that the controversial Nord Stream 2 natural […]

          

Colin Powell’s Trump Problem   

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When the compromised speak of judgment, the voice of credibility vanishes.  In its place, a certain niggling sense of hypocrisy and weakness prevails.  Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell is one of those of those compromised voices.  He presided over a redundant State Department before the pressures of the Pentagon and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, keen to initiate[Read More...]

The post Colin Powell’s Trump Problem appeared first on Countercurrents.


          

Finance ministry to kick-start budgetary exercise from October 14   

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The Budget Estimates for 2020-21 will be provisionally finalised after the expenditure secretary completes discussions with other secretaries and financial advisers. Pre-Budget meetings will begin from October 14 and continue till the first week of November, it said.

          

Look Beyond the Bogus Bonus Smokescreen   

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Taxpayers might be less skeptical of the born-again guardians of fiscal responsibility if these evangelists were actually practicing what they preached. While the Obama administration now issues impassioned calls to stop rewarding failure, they moved Thursday to dump another $5 billion into the failing auto industry. That's on top of Thursday's announcement by the Federal Reserve to print $1 trillion to buy Treasury bonds and mortgage securities sold by the government -- which no one else wants to buy.

Financial blogger Barry Ritholtz tallied up $8.5 trillion in bailout costs by December 2008 between Federal Reserve, FDIC, Treasury and Federal Housing Administration rescues (not including the $5.2 trillion in Fannie and Freddie portfolios that the U.S. taxpayer is now explicitly responsible for). Then there's the (at least) $50 billion proposed by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in February to bail out home owners and lenders who made bad home loan decisions, which would be just a small sliver of the $2.5 trillion he wants to spend on the next big banking bailout, which would draw on the second $350 billion of the TARP package over which an increasing number of Chicken Little lawmakers are having buyer's remorse.

Phew. We're not done yet: As AIG-bashing lawmakers inveighed against wasted taxpayer funds and lamented the lack of accountability and rush to judgment that led to passage of the porkulus bill that mysteriously protected the bonuses, the Senate quietly passed a $10 billion lands bill stuffed with earmarks and immunized from amendments. GOP Sen. Tom Coburn, fiscal conservative loner, pointed out that none of the provisions for special-interest pork projects -- including $3.5 million in spending for a birthday bash celebrating the city of St. Augustine, Fla. -- was subject to public hearings. That's on top of the pork-stuffed $410 billion spending bill passed two weeks ago.

Oh, and did I mention that the House passed a $6 billion volunteerism bill (the "GIVE Act") on Wednesday to provide yet another pipeline to left-wing advocacy groups under the guise of encouraging national service?

Also coming down the pike: the Obama administration's "cap-and-trade" global warming plan, which Hill staffers learned this week could cost close to $2 trillion (nearly three times the White House's initial estimate) and the administration's universal health care scheme, which health policy experts reported this week could cost about $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

It is no wonder that when earlier this week Vice President Joe Biden told local officials in Washington that he was "serious, absolutely serious" about policing wasteful spending in Washington, he was met with the only rational response his audience could muster: laughter.


          

The Kabuki Theater of AIG Outrage   

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The checks were mailed Friday, but the March 15 bonus deadline had been on the Capitol Hill radar screen since December -- when Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings released a letter to AIG CEO Edward Liddy that noted: "Without taxpayer intervention, AIG would have ceased to exist and, to be blunt, all of its employees would have lost their jobs. Against this background -- and given the massive layoffs occurring at other major financial entities, such as Citibank -- the American taxpayers have a right to know why senior executives at AIG, who are frankly lucky to still have jobs, need to receive additional bonus payments of any kind to retain them at AIG."

But it wasn't until last week that the hapless court jester of the Obama administration, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, scrambled to rein in the payments. Liddy basically told him to buzz off. Geithner, the primary architect of the original $85 billion AIG bailout last fall, "reluctantly" approved the bonuses anyway. And now his outraged boss has ordered him to scour every legal nook and cranny possible to get the money back.

Spare me President Obama's finger wag. He's "outraged"? Meh. Two weeks ago, Team Obama forked over another $30 billion for the basket-case company after it reported $61.7 billion in fourth-quarter losses. That's on top of the first $85 billion round and the second $38 billion round under Bush -- both of which Obama supported. (Obama, by the way, collected more than $101,000 in AIG campaign contributions.) Don't talk to me about how the Obama administration opposes rewarding failure.

And don't talk to me about all the politicians stampeding to tax AIG's bonuses. Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, the corporate crony who is the largest recipient of AIG donations, is now leading the charge to tax the retention payments in order to recoup the $450 million the company is paying to employees in its financial products unit.

But Dodd, it turns out, was for protecting AIG's bonuses before he was against them.

Fox Business reporter Rich Edson pointed out that during the Senate porkulus negotiations last month, Dodd successfully inserted a teeny-tiny amendment that provided for an "'exception for contractually obligated bonuses agreed on before Feb. 11, 2009,' which exempts the very AIG bonuses Dodd and others are seeking to tax." Pay no attention to what his left hand was doing. Dodd's right fist is pounding mightily, mightily for the sake of the taxpayers.

The hypocritical indignation on the Hill is bipartisan. On his Twitter page last night, GOP Sen. John McCain huffed: "If we hadn't bailed out AIG = no bonuses for greedy execs." Well, if the GOP presidential candidate had held fast to his opposition to such doomed corporate bailouts in the first place, maybe bailout-palooza wouldn't have spiraled into the gazillion-dollar mess it inevitably became. McCain asserted in a Twitter interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos Tuesday morning that he "would have never bailed out AIG."

But on Sept. 18, 2008, McCain performed a 24-hour flip-flop and abandoned his principled opposition to the $85 billion AIG bailout, lamenting that the "government was forced" to do it. Soon after, McCain joined Obama in supporting the $25 billion auto bailout, the first $350 billion banking bailout (TARP I) and his own massive $300 billion mortgage bailout.

If Washington's newfound opponents of rewarding failure want to do taxpayers a favor, how about giving back their automatic pay raises? How about returning all their AIG donations? How about taking back all the bailout money to all the failed enterprises, from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to AIG, the automakers and the big banks? Barry? Harry? Nancy? John? Chris? Bueller? Bueller?

Exit stage left. The curtain falls.


          

Obama's New Commerce Secretary Nominee: Not So "Squeaky Clean"   

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The left-leaning Seattle Weekly newspaper notes that Locke presided over a $3.2 billion tax break for Boeing while "never disclosing he paid $715,000 to -- and relied on the advice of -- Boeing's own private consultant and outside auditor." Then there's the tainted matter of Locke's "favors for his brother-in-law (who lived in the governor's mansion), including a tax break for his relative's company, personal intervention in a company dispute, and Locke's signature on a federal loan application for the company." Locke's laces ain't so straight.

The glowing profiles of Locke have largely glossed over his troubling ties to the Clinton-era Chinagate scandal. As the nation's first Chinese-American governor, Locke aggressively raised cash from ethnic constituencies around the country. Convicted campaign finance money-launderer John Huang helped grease the wheels and open doors.

In the same time period that Huang was drumming up illegal cash for Clinton-Gore at the federal level, he also organized two 1996 galas for Locke in Washington, D.C. (where Locke hobnobbed with Clinton and other Chinagate principals); three fundraisers in Los Angeles; and an extravaganza at the Universal City, Calif., Hilton in October 1996 that raised upward of $30,000. Huang also made personal contributions to Locke -- as did another Clinton-Gore funny-money figure, Indonesian business mogul Ted Sioeng and his family and political operatives.

Sioeng, whom Justice Department and intelligence officials suspected of acting on behalf of the Chinese government, illegally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to both Democratic and Republican coffers. Bank records from congressional investigators indicated that one Sioeng associate's maximum individual contribution to Locke was illegally reimbursed by the businessman's daughter.

Checks to Locke's campaign poured in from prominent Huang and Sioeng associates, many of whom were targets of federal investigations, including: Hoyt Zia, a Commerce Department counsel, who stated in a sworn deposition that Huang had access to virtually any classified document through him; Melinda Yee, another Clinton Commerce Department official who admitted to destroying Freedom of Information Act-protected notes on a China trade mission involving Huang's former employer, the Indonesia-based Lippo Group; Praitun Kanchanalak, mother of convicted Thai influence-peddler Pauline Kanchanalak; Kent La, exclusive distributor of Sioeng's Chinese cigarettes in the United States; and Sioeng's wife and son-in-law.

Locke eventually returned a token amount of money from Huang and Kanchanalak, but not before bitterly playing the race card and accusing critics of his sloppy accounting and questionable schmoozing of stirring up anti-Asian-American sentiment. "It will make our efforts doubly hard to get Asian Americans appointed to top-level positions across the United States," Locke complained. "If they have any connection to John Huang, those individuals will face greater scrutiny and their lives will be completely opened up and examined -- perhaps more than usual."

That scrutiny (such as it was) was more than justified. On top of his Chinagate entanglements, Locke's political committee was fined the maximum amount by Washington's campaign finance watchdog for failing to disclose out-of-state New York City Chinatown donors. One of those events was held at NYC's Harmony Palace restaurant, co-owned by Chinese street gang thugs.

And then there were Locke's not-so-squeaky-clean fundraising trips to a Buddhist temple in Redmond, Wash., which netted nearly $14,000 from monks and nuns -- many of whom barely spoke English, couldn't recall donating to Locke, or were out of the country and could never be located. Of the known temple donors identified by the Locke campaign, five gave $1,000 each on July 22, 1996 -- paid in sequentially ordered cashier's checks. Two priests gave $1,000 and $1,100 respectively on Aug. 8, 1996. Three other temple adherents also gave $1,000 contributions on Aug. 8. Internal campaign records show that two other temple disciples donated $2,000 and $1,000 respectively on other dates. State campaign finance investigators failed to track down some of the donors during their probe.

But while investigating the story for the Seattle Times, I interviewed temple donor Siu Wai Wong, a bald, robed 40-year-old priest who could not remember when or by what means he had given a $1,000 contribution to Locke. He also refused to say whether he was a U.S. citizen, explaining that his "English (was) not so good." Although an inept state campaign-finance panel absolved Locke and his campaign of any wrongdoing, the extensive public record clearly shows that the Locke campaign used Buddhist monks as conduits for laundered money.

The longtime reluctance to press Locke -- who became a high-powered attorney specializing in China trade issues for international law firm Davis, Wright & Tremaine after leaving the governor's mansion -- on his reckless, ethnic-based fundraising will undoubtedly extend to the politically correct and cowed Beltway. Supporters are now touting Locke's cozy relations with the Chinese government as a primary reason he deserves the Commerce Department post. Yet another illustration of how "Hope and Change" is just another synonym for "Screw Up, Move Up."


          

Barack Obama's Savior-Based Economy   

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The event turned into a full-blown revival meeting when Obama announced that the Senate had passed his massive stimulus plan. Audience members erupted into applause. Tongues of fire descended from the sky. Loaves and fishes (or rather, pork and Kool-Aid) multiplied miraculously into trillions for all. GOP Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina didn't know how right he was when he warned over the weekend: "We're moving precipitously close to what I would call a savior-based economy."

Like Mighty Mouse, President Obama is here to save the day. The government is here to help -- and it is your patriotic duty to pay for it all without preconditions. Hughes didn't explain the cause of her financial turmoil. Obama didn't ask. And if we conservatives dare to question the circumstances -- and the underlying assumption that it is government's (that is, taxpayers') role to bail her out -- we'll be lambasted as cruel haters of the downtrodden.

Woe unto ye unbelievers in Big Government who cling to what Obama derided as "ideological rigidity."

Well, pardon my unbending belief in fairness and personal responsibility, but why should my tax dollars go to feed the housing entitlement beast? At his fear-mongering press conference Monday night, Obama lamented that homeowners "are seeing their property values decline." Countrywide crony Sen. Chris Dodd successfully stuffed $50 billion into the just-passed stimulus package for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to spend on "mandatory loan modifications" for homeowners deep underwater on their mortgages. That's in addition to the $20 billion already allocated by the House last month for the same purposes.

Banks have been engaged in these "Mo Mod" programs over the past year. Democrats want to accelerate the pace and use the power of government to essentially provide a blanket amnesty for borrowers and lenders who made bad financial decisions. Yes, there are many responsible borrowers out there having trouble negotiating loan modifications. But this $50 billion giveaway to the banks -- on top of the upward of $2 trillion more from the Treasury department, on top of the $700 billion in original "TARP" funding -- is throwing more bad money after bad.

This massive expansion of government meddling in the housing market -- yet another attempt to get federal bureaucrats in the business of rewriting loan contracts and reducing principal -- will just delay the inevitable. A report released by the Comptroller of the Currency in December showed that more than half of loans modified in the first quarter of 2008 fell 30 days delinquent within six months. And after six months, 35 percent of people were 60 or more days behind on their payments.

Where's the fairness in forcing prudent homeowners and renters to subsidize people who bought overpriced houses and rescue the banks that lent to them?

Tellingly, Obama chose Ft. Myers to drum up support for his wealth redistributionism. The area has been one of the hardest hit by foreclosures, as the president was quick to point out. But many of those homes are second or third homes and investment properties. And low housing prices are not a catastrophe for everyone. They've created opportunities for Americans who haven't been able to buy in an artificially inflated market. The median sales price of a home in the Ft. Myers area fell 50 percent to $106,900, from $215,200 in December 2007. Bargain-priced home sales are up 146 percent from a year ago.

It's sacrilegious to say it in the Age of Obama, but it needs to be said: Home ownership is not an entitlement. Credit is not a civil right. Your property-value preservation is not my problem. Can I get an "Amen!"?


          

All the President's Tax Cheats   

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Health and Human Services Secretary-designee Tom Daschle finally bowed out after aggressive rehabilitative efforts failed. His chummy Senate pals on both sides of the aisle may have been willing to forgive his failure to pay longstanding back taxes owed on limo services, undisclosed consulting fees and dubious charitable donations worth an estimated $146,000, including interest and penalties. But the American people were not. (And an interesting postscript: He may have apologized and dropped out of the administration, but Daschle still owes Medicare taxes equal to 2.9 percent of the personal value of the car service he received from Democratic donor and crony Leo Hindery Jr.)

Just before the Daschle announcement came the withdrawal of Nancy Killefer. She was tapped to be President Obama's "Chief Performance Officer," overseeing compliance, organizational effectiveness and waste management across every federal agency. But the former Clinton Treasury official and head of the prestigious Washington office of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Inc., couldn't be bothered to manage her own household help effectively. She failed for a year and a half to pay employment taxes and had an outstanding tax lien on her home. The lien was worth less than $1,000 -- far less than the tax liability Geithner owed.

If I were a left-wing feminist, I'd be sorely tempted to whip out the gender card and give the Good Old Boys Club a few whacks. Killefer gets thrown under the bus, but Geithner gets to drive? No justice, no peace!

Now, compare President Bush's transition track record in 2001. Remember that the traditional 100-day period was shortened as a result of the election lawsuit. Wrote Paul Light of the left-leaning Brookings Institution at the time: "Bush gets an A on the transition into office. He survived his truncated 40-day transition with only one major mistake -- Linda Chavez, who withdrew her nomination for Labor Secretary after the flap over allowing an illegal immigrant to stay in her house. ... Bush also deserves an A-plus for the timely assembly of his White House team. Building around Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush White House is an MBA's dream: efficient, predictable, well controlled, on time, under budget."

During Tuesday's press briefing, glib White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did his best to bat down a rising chorus of questions about his boss's judgment -- not only on the nomination "glitches," but also on an ever-growing list of exemptions to Obama's no-lobbyists pledge. Echoing Bill Clinton's "most ethical administration ever" and Nancy Pelosi's "most ethical House ever" mantras, Gibbs defensively asserted: "The bar that we set is the highest that any administration in the country has ever set."

Then how, pray tell, did all the president's tax cheats make it past the front door? And where is Vice President Joe Biden to wag his finger at their lack of patriotism? Team Obama embraced these damaged candidates despite advanced knowledge of their lapses. Killefer's tax lien was four years old. Questions about Daschle's judgment have lingered for years. Ask GOP Sen. John Thune, who defeated Daschle the Dodger in 2004 after news broke of his bogus property-tax homestead exemption claim on his $1.9 million D.C. mansion -- which he listed as his primary residence despite voting in South Dakota and claiming it as his primary residence in order to run for re-election.

The buck stops at the desk of Barack Obama. A little of that humility and personal responsibility he spoke so much about during his inaugural address is now in order.


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