Tag Archives: President-elect Donald Trump – AURGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

InCity Times Book Review

The Iran Wars

By Jay Solomon, (2016, Random House, 336 Pages)

Reviewed by Steven R. Maher

Two of the biggest issues that will bedevil the incoming Trump administration will be the rogue state of Iran and the nuclear deal signed by the Obama Administration in July 2015. This timely book by Jay Solomon entitled “The Iran Wars: Spy Games, Bank Battles, and Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East” is a well written and easy to read account of how we got to this point.

“The Iran Wars” reviews the history of how the United States first sent nuclear technology to Iran during the reign of the Shah, then a U.S. ally. The technology was inherited by the Mullahs after they overthrew the Shah in 1979.

Assassination and Stuxnet

Neither the United States nor Israel wanted to see Iran build nuclear weapons. They resorted to two state tools which have become unfortunately commonplace in today’s world: Assassination and Espionage.

Richard Nixon once said the Israeli Mossad is the best intelligence agency in the world. The shadow war with Iran gave them the opportunity to prove it. With orders to stop the Iranian nuclear program by any means, Mossad infiltrated its agents into the Iranian capital, Tehran, and assassinated several Iranian scientists working on the project.

Enraged, Iran tried to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States in retaliation. In the convoluted world of Middle Eastern politics, the Iranians did this on the theory that the United States was an ally of Israel, and Saudi Arabia was an ally of the U.S.

There was no direct link between Saudi Arabia and the assassinations in Tehran. This incident is worth noting, if for no other reason, as demonstrating the paranoid mindset of those ruling Iran today.

Next the U.S. and Israel launched a cyber-attack on Iran using a malware program named “Stuxnet.” This program was written in a fashion so it would only infect centrifuges in Iran’s atomic plants. It succeeded in delaying Iran’s processing of sufficient uranium to construct an atomic bomb by causing the centrifuges to spin at high speeds and break. This is believed to be the first cyber-attack in history by one nation state against another.

The Rial War

Connoisseurs of spy novels or movies will find the chapter entitled “The Rial War” fascinating. The “Rial” is the Iranian currency. The US launched a financial war against the Iranians. It was the most successful effort against the Iranian regime since 1979.

The international oil market is conducted entirely in American dollars. Treasury Under-Secretary Stuart Levey figured out financial institutions doing business with Iran could be damaged if they were denied access to the U.S. currency. As Solomon put it: “Treasury knew that major businesses simply couldn’t function without access to U.S. dollars, the world’s default currency. Treasury could force foreign firms to choose between doing business with the United States or conducting it with rogue states and criminal enterprises. To most, the decision was a no-brainer.”

Solomon thereafter takes readers through a labyrinth of disreputable banks in the Caymans and Luxembourg, straw fronts, paper corporations, and the other denizens of the financial netherworld. The Iranians used accounts within accounts, false charitable shells, and other subterfuges to hide their illicitly obtained dollars.

Treasury started out by choking off the banks and corporations suppling Iran material and technology to further their nuclear program.

Next, they cracked down on the banks which assisted Iran’s sale of oil on the black market.

Finally, they froze billions of Iranian dollars in U.S. banks on American territory. The value of the Rial went down 30% in one day.

Some 70% of the Iranians’ budget came from oil revenues. When the oil market cratered, Iran’s economy began to collapse, tens of thousands of Iranians were laid off, and Iran came to the nuclear talks in 2013 as an economic basket case.

Nuclear Treaty

In July 2015 Iran, the U.S. and the other P-5 powers signed the nuclear deal with Iran. Solomon believes the treaty has given the U.S. a 10-year breathing space to further disarm Iran. President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends to strictly enforce the agreement in lieu of canceling it. Americans must wait and see what Trump does before finding out how this story will conclude.

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The Trump Report – “Celebrity Presidency”!

From Saturday Night Live:

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By Steven R. Maher

Many Americans are terrified of what Donald Trump will do as President.

Fifty years ago, American anti-war protesters chanted “Give peace a chance.” Nowadays, the anti-Trump crowd might want to say “Give Trump a chance.”
Trump won the election under the constitutional order in place.

The majority of voters found Trump distasteful.

Trump won in three electoral states by 88,000 votes – after Russian meddling and FBI meddling (director Comey’s Clinton email bugaboo just 10 days before the election). The fact that Trump would be Tweeting “RIGGED ELECTION! NOT HAPPY!!!” if Hillary Clinton had won this way is irrelevant.

Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States. Democrats, liberals, lefties and progressives need to adjust to this reality. At this point, everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down. I’ve noticed a tendency among Trump opponents to become unduly alarmed after reading dire Internet warnings about what Trump will do. This recalls what happened after 9/11, when Americans sat watching over and over reruns of the terrorists ramming jet aircraft into the Twin Towers. Millions of people became paranoid about what Al-Qaeda would do next. But it did not mean the end of the world. Nor does Trump’s election.

Reagan example

I had the same reaction when Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980. I was sure President Reagan was a war monger who would quagmire us into another Vietnam.

House Speaker Tip O’Neil recalls in his memoirs: “Alexander Haig hadn’t been Secretary of State more than three weeks when he told me over breakfast that we ought to be cleaning out Nicaragua.”

But when Haig tried to raise the issue of Soviet subversion in Central America he was told to leave it alone – the White House didn’t want to divert attention from the economy at that point.

Reagan, in fact, showed himself to be extraordinarily reluctant to get involved in long-term military conflicts. He pulled the Marines out of Lebanon after 241 Marines were murdered by Hezbollah. Reagan didn’t “clean out,” i.e. invade Nicaragua, which would have destabilized Central America the way George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq destabilized the Middle East. Instead, Reagan cleaned out Grenada, where he sent 16,000 American military personnel to beat the bejabbers out of 800 or so Cuban construction workers. Grenada was too small for a guerilla insurgency.

Trump has evidenced a similar reluctance to get involved in long-term military struggles. While he has talked loudly of attacking ISIS, he has also mentioned the expense of going to war, wants to bill America’s allies for the cost of defending their countries and has appointed Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who lost a son to Bush’s Iraq disaster. Having experienced the agony of losing a child due to Bush’s stupidity, it is unlikely Kelly will be urging Trump to engage in Bush-style acts of imbecility.

Haig and Regan

Trump has appointed people to his cabinet with no experience in their new jobs. Foremost among these is Andy Puzder as Secretary of Labor, Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator.

Many of Trump’s designees fall into two categories: former generals and wealthy entrepreneurs. Reagan did the same thing – and experienced public embarrassment when the political neophytes he appointed self-destructed.

Haig is a good example. When Reagan was wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt, Haig destroyed himself politically by going on the air and saying: “As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him.”

As Haig said this, he came across as anything but reassuring, and his political career was dead from that point on.

Likewise, Donald Regan as the White House Chief of Staff, proved disastrous. Regan was a brilliant Wall Street trader before becoming part of the Reagan administration. “This was one of the President’s [Reagan’s] worst mistakes: Don Regan may have been a financial genius, but he knew nothing about politics,” wrote O’Neil.

Trump not Reagan

Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan. As a President, Reagan hated firing people. Trump tried to copyright “You’re fired!” as his signature line!

Trump’s tolerance of the fools he has appointed to his cabinet will end the moment they start embarrassing him.

We are talking about a man who fired two campaign managers before settling on personnel best suited to his management style.

If Trump had appointed Rudolph Giuliani as attorney general and John Bolton as secretary of state, I’d be damn worried. But Trump seems to have kept the most severe political right-wing nuts out of his cabinet.

After Trump won, ICT published my election analysis, in which I wrote that Democrats underestimated Trump the same way they had underestimated Reagan. I quoted George Santana’s adage that “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Trump is about to learn the same harsh lesson, repeating Ronald Reagan’s mistakes of appointing to his cabinet financial wizards whose private-sector acumen is not necessarily transferable to political office.

We can expect many firings during Trump’s Celebrity Presidency.

Jim parked in Rose’s space … McGovern Calls on Trump to Make Human Rights a Top Priority

From The New York Times:

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From Stephen Colbert:

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McGovern at Tufts University Addresses U.S.-Russia Relations, Need for Strong American Leadership on Human Rights Around the World

U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern (D-MA) called on President-Elect Donald Trump to make human rights a top priority in his administration. At a discussion at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University with William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital Management, McGovern spoke about the future of U.S.-Russia relations seen through the lens of human rights abuses by the Russian government and its impact on business and trade.

“During the campaign, two words I never heard Donald Trump utter were ‘human rights.’ Quite frankly, that worries me,” Congressman McGovern said. “I hope, as our next president, that human rights in Russia and around the world will become a major part of our foreign policy.

Congressman McGovern has been a leading voice in the call for U.S. leadership and action to strengthen human rights across the world, including in Russia. Congressman McGovern is one of the authors of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, legislation passed by both the U.S. House and Senate in 2012 to establish a critical precedent that human rights must be an essential component of trade legislation.

The Magnitsky Bill was named after Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who worked for Hermitage Capital Management. Magnitsky’s arrest and subsequent death while in Russian custody triggered both official and unofficial inquiries into allegations of fraud, theft, and human rights violations. Mr. Browder, an international human rights crusader, wrote the New York Times bestseller Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice based on these experiences.

“The United States is not above criticism when it comes to human rights. But we remain the best hope for so many around the world who are oppressed. We must not turn our backs on bad behavior – either from our adversaries or our allies,” Congressman McGovern added.

“The Magnitsky bill is not anti-Russian people – it’s anti-Russian corruption, murder and oppression. We should continue to have a constructive relationship with the Russian government. But we should not turn a blind eye; we should not be indifferent; and we should not rationalize or explain away the type of behavior that resulted in the death of Sergei.

“Going forward, will the fact that there has been strong Republican support for the use of sanctions matter? Like most sanctions legislation, the Magnitsky law is discretionary; it authorizes but does not require the president to impose sanctions on those whose names the Congress forwards. The decisions the new president takes on Magnitsky sanctions will send a clear message as to the importance he places on human rights and the fight against corruption in Russia and globally.”

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Full text of Congressman McGovern’s speech:

“Good evening. It is a great pleasure to be here tonight, and to be sharing the stage once again with my good friend Bill Browder, who has worked tirelessly to bring corrupt officials and human rights violators to justice in Russia and around the world.

“I especially want to thank Tufts University and the Fletcher School for hosting this important event. In two short months a new president will be sworn in whose foreign policy positions, including those on Russia, are simply unclear. So it is a good time to be discussing the U.S. relationship with countries like Russia, where concerns about human rights and corruption are often at the forefront.

“I’d like to take a few minutes to remind you of the origins of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 that is in effect for Russia, and its sister legislation, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, that I cosponsored in January 2015 and is currently being considered in the Congress.

“As you will hear today, this all started when Bill Browder began to expose corruption in the Russian economy, which led to him being declared a threat to Russia’s national security, and got his company raided and fraudulently transferred to state control. Bill hired a Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, to investigate what was going on. Sergei’s investigation uncovered a $230 million dollar fraud committed by Russian government officials – but it was Sergei, not the corrupt officials, who was arrested. He was held for 358 days, tortured, and eventually beaten to death in 2009. He was 37 years old.

“This terrible experience led Bill to start a global campaign to expose endemic corruption and human rights abuses in Russia. He brought this cause to the U.S. Congress, and that led to the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act which Sen. Ben Cardin and I introduced in September 2010. There wasn’t enough time to move the bill in the 111th Congress, so we reintroduced in the 112th, and the Magnitsky Act was passed in December 2012.

“The Act directs the President to identify individuals responsible for the detention, abuse or death of Sergei, or of other Russians seeking to expose illegal activity by Russian officials, or otherwise defend human rights. The people on the list then become ineligible for U.S. visas, any current visas are revoked, their U.S. assets are frozen and any transactions involving U.S. property are prohibited. As of today, 39 people have been sanctioned under this law, including many of those directly involved in Sergei’s death.
Of course, corruption and human rights violations do not only occur in Russia. People continually bring new cases of rights abuses or corrupt practices to my attention, from places all over the world – Syria, Tibet, Burma, Turkey, Sudan, Bahrain, Guatemala, to name just a few. This is why, when we started working on the Sergei Magnitsky Act, we wanted it to have global reach.

“But because that didn’t happen in 2012, I introduced the Global Magnitsky bill during the current Congress, together with my colleague Rep. Chris Smith. I remain hopeful that Global Magnitsky will be passed yet this year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. If so, we will have achieved an important victory.

“It’s important to recognize that the Magnitsky legislation is not a substitute for strengthening rule of law in the countries where human rights abuses and corruption are occurring. We should all work for the day when judicial systems at the national level are strong enough and independent enough to investigate and punish the people who use their positions of power to repress their citizens’ most basic rights, or to enrich themselves at public expense. What Magnitsky legislation allows us to do is prevent people who are responsible for abuses from benefitting by coming to our country and doing business here.

“This approach, this way of contributing to ensure some kind of accountability for terrible abuses, has strong bipartisan support. When I first introduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act in the House in September 2010, I only had three co-sponsors. When I reintroduced the bill in April 2012, it garnered 80 cosponsors, showing growing bipartisan support. In December 2012, the bill passed the House by a vote of 363-45. The Global Magnitsky bill has also had strong support on both sides of the aisle.

“One big question going forward is whether the new Administration will continue to use the Magnitsky and other sanctions authorities to communicate to foreign governments that the United States will oppose human rights abuses and corruption.

“Let me be clear that in my view, many more people in Russia could have and should have been sanctioned by President Obama under Magnitsky. Doing so would have been consistent with the focus in the U.S. National Security Strategy on building rule of law, combatting corruption and protecting and strengthening human rights. But at least the current Administration has implemented some sanctions.

“Going forward, will the fact that there has been strong Republican support for the use of sanctions matter? Like most sanctions legislation, the Magnitsky law is discretionary; it authorizes but does not require the president to impose sanctions on those whose names the Congress forwards. The decisions the new president takes on Magnitsky sanctions will send a clear message as to the importance he places on human rights and the fight against corruption in Russia and globally.

“I have always believed in engaging other governments, even those with which we have strong disagreements. But engagement without attention to accountability feeds the kinds of internal conditions in countries that can lead to marginalization, radicalization, and internal uprisings whose consequences spill over borders. Sanctions take time to be effective, and by themselves may not be sufficient to change behavior. But it would be irresponsible for the United States not to use all the tools it has to foster the good behavior of states internally and internationally.

“The story of Sergei Magnitsky is a tragedy. It is an outrage. The Russian government had hoped we would all just forget and move on. We didn’t – and as someone who cares deeply about human rights, I’m glad we didn’t. The Magnitsky law is not perfect, but it sent a clear message that there would be a consequence for those who are corrupt and commit human rights violations.

“The United States is not above criticism when it comes to human rights. But we remain the best hope for so many around the world who are oppressed. We must not turn our backs on bad behavior – either from our adversaries or our allies.

“The Magnitsky bill is not anti-Russian people – it’s anti-Russian corruption, murder and oppression. We should continue to have a constructive relationship with the Russian government. But we should not turn a blind eye; we should not be indifferent; and we should not rationalize or explain away the type of behavior that resulted in the death of Sergei.

“During the campaign, two words I never heard Donald Trump utter were “human rights.” Quite frankly, that worries me. I hope, as our next president, that human rights in Russia and around the world will become a major part of our foreign policy.