US House votes to limit Trump’s ability to strike Iran

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US House votes to limit Trump’s ability to strike Iran

Over two dozen Republicans join bipartisan proposal requiring president to get authorization from Congress before taking military action; White House vows to veto measure

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One as he departs July 12, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

US President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One as he departs July 12, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted Friday to put a liberalized stamp on Pentagon policy, including a bipartisan proposal to limit US President Donald Trump’s authority to make war against Iran.

The measure passed along party lines after a series of votes that pushed it further to the left. Among them was a 251-170 tally to require Trump get authorization from Congress to conduct military strikes against Iran, along with a repeal of a 2002 law authorizing the war in Iraq.

More than two dozen Republicans joined with Democrats on the Iran vote. Trump last month came within minutes of launching a missile strike against Iran in retaliation for Tehran’s downing of a US drone.

The broader measure passed by a 220-197 vote after several other provisions were tacked on by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, which had been upset by leadership’s handling of a border bill last month.

US Marines training on the flight deck of the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge, May 18, 2019, deployed in the Gulf of Arabia “to respond to contingencies and to defend US forces and interests in the region.” (MCS Jason Waite/US Navy)

“On the floor, the bill has taken a radical left turn,” said Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “There’s good and bad in this bill… but it’s moving in a direction that does make America less safe.”

The Trump administration has promised to veto the House measure. The Senate passed its own bill last month. Lawmakers will try to reconcile the competing versions in what could be lengthy negotiations given the differences.

The House measure, which cuts Trump’s request for the military by $17 billion to $725 billion, is still too rich for some progressives. They also balk at its continued funding of overseas military operations.

But the measure includes Democratic priorities such as a ban on transferring new detainees to the Guantanamo Bay prison and a denial of Trump’s request for $88 million to build a new prison at the base. It removes a ban against transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States that was enacted when Democrats controlled Congress in the early years of the Obama administration.

Republicans are less critical about the measure’s overall cost than with its contents, especially in military readiness accounts.

It would ban the deployment of a new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear missile and block the administration from shifting military money to a US-Mexico border wall.

“It’s a bill that I think Democrats should be happy with,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. “It’s not everything they want but we need to pass it to say, ‘This is our position,’ to move the ball in the direction we want.”

Other provisions are broadly popular, including a 3.1% pay raise for military service members and authorization to procure new weapons systems, and expanded health and child benefits for military families.

Another provision would deliver 12 weeks of paid family leave to all federal workers.

Two F/A-18E Super Hornets launch from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Mediterranean Sea while the ship travels to the Persian gulf, April 25, 2019. (US Navy/Matt Herbst)

The measure comes as the US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East, and fears are growing of a wider conflict after mysterious oil tanker attacks near the Strait of Hormuz blamed on Iran, attacks by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen on Saudi Arabia and Iran’s downing of the US military drone.

Iran has recently begun surpassing uranium enrichment limits set in its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in response to Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the accord a year ago.

The US has also re-imposed tough sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports, exacerbating an economic crisis that has sent its currency plummeting.

Iran has said its breaches of the nuclear pact can be reversed if the other parties to the agreement — Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and the European Union — can come up with enough economic incentives to effectively offset the American sanctions.

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JULY 13, 2019
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PROFILEFATHER OF FOUR STILL LIVES IN HIS PARENTS’ HOME IN TAYIBE

For 1st Arab head of major Israeli bank, breaking down barriers is second nature

Five lessons on success and excellence to learn from the story of Samer Haj Yehia, Bank Leumi’s new chairman of the board

Chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia (courtesy)

Chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, Samer Haj Yehia (courtesy)

Let’s clear something up right from the get-go: Samer Haj Yehia, who was recently named the chairman of the board of directors of Bank Leumi, made a significant crack in the glass ceiling. This marks the first time a major Israeli bank has appointed an Arab chairman.

The dozens of news items and social media posts focusing on Haj Yehia’s career overflow with (entirely justified) praise for the brilliant 49-year-old economist, who managed to overcome numerous obstacles as he made his way from his birthplace of Tayibe, an Arab city in central Israel, to having one of Israel’s top economy positions.

In fact — so thick is the glass ceiling he managed to shatter — that from now on, his name is likely to come up in every debate, discussion, or symposium dealing with the integration of Arabs into Israeli society.

A lawyer and certified public accountant, Haj Yehia is slated to take office on July 21, replacing David Brodet, who chaired the board for the past nine years. It is important to stress that no one questions whether Haj Yahya is worthy of this prestigious appointment. His nomination – approved by a majority vote of five in favor and three against – is free of any claim of affirmative action or political correctness, as the boards of directors of banks simply don’t bother with such matters. Their sole focus is on ensuring the bank’s success.

Illustrative image: Israelis walk next to Bank Leumi in Jerusalem on November 16, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The other three contenders for the position – ex-Finance Ministry director-general and current Israel Oil Refineries Executive Chairman Ohad Marani, former Teva Pharmaceuticals Deputy CEO Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shmuel Ben Zvi, and former Discount Bank Capital Markets and Investments head Dr. Yitzhak Sharir – sufficed with one vote each.

That’s how you smash through the glass ceiling with style.

Haj Yehia’s nomination earned praise left and right. “It’s about time the Israeli government follows in Bank Leumi’s footsteps. Unfortunately, had Samer been vying for a position in the public sector, I’m afraid he wouldn’t have made it,” Tayibe Mayor Sha’a Mansour Massarwa told newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also rushed to congratulate Haj Yehia, tweeting, “I welcome Dr. Samer Haj Yehia’s appointment as chairman of the board of directors at Bank Leumi and wish him the best of luck!”

But congratulations aside, Haj Yehia’s personal background deserves a second glance. Before we Israelis pat ourselves on the back and feel reassured that the bank’s move proves that we are not as racist as we may seem, it’s worth mentioning that this impressive achievement – marked before he turned 50 – is first and foremost a personal feat that, if not for a set of extraordinary personal circumstances, may have remained out of reach.

And so, in the spirit of the coaching culture, here are five lessons on success and excellence one can learn from the story of Haj Yehia.

1. It’s best to be born a male

There’s no easy way to say this, and I apologize in advance to anyone who is already outraged and may be ready to write a virulent response, but gender plays a role in this story.

Haj Yehia still lives – with his wife and four children – in his mother’s house in Tayibe. Fatina Haj Yehia, now 74, is a retired schoolteacher. Haj Yehia’s wife, Eden, is an English teacher who works at a school in Ra’anana. His mother’s sister, Sawad Jabareh, who guided this reporter through the ins and outs of the Haj Yehia family, is also a retired teacher.

Samer Haj Yehia has been appointed the chairman of the board of Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. (Courtesy)

Teaching is a noble profession, of course, and certainly one of the more important careers, but it doesn’t exactly require shattering glass ceilings, which is the issue at hand.

The first person to smash through the glass ceiling in the family was Samer’s father, Dr. Mohammed Saleem Haj Yahia, who was one of the first Arab students at Tel Aviv University. He majored in criminology and became a probation officer, handling many cases involving youth from the Tayibe area.

Fatina always wanted a daughter but had four sons. Each of Samer’s brothers has three sons. His older brother, Prof. Saleem Haj Yahia, is a renowned international heart surgeon who lives in Scotland, where he heads the national heart transplant program. His younger brother, Rani Haj Yehia, who also lives in Tayibe, is a finance attorney who heads the Jordan Gateway Free Zone and Industrial Park project.

The fourth brother, Saji, was an engineering major at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. He was killed in a car accident at the entrance to Tayibe in 1998. Samer Haj Yehia named his firstborn son after him.

Among the many congratulatory calls Haj Yehia received following his nomination were some from relatives who are doing well overseas, including a professor of pharmacology from the University of South Carolina and a senior official in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Haj Yehia and his wife, Eden, are the parents of four sons, the youngest of whom was born three months ago. Their two eldest boys, Saji and Bassel, attend the gifted students’ program at the Eastern Mediterranean International School in central Israel, and it wouldn’t be much of a gamble to assume that they, too, will make something of themselves, perhaps even shattering more unnecessary glass ceilings as they go. But unless some fundamental changes take place in Israel, it is also likely they may end up marrying teachers.

“They’re all geniuses. Samer’s son isn’t even two years old and he reads in English at a 10-year-old’s level,” his aunt Jabareh said. “He’s truly extraordinary. He can read the entire English alphabet and he speaks Arabic and English.”

2. It’s best to be born rich

Like the previous statement, this, too, almost goes without saying. This also has more to do with fate and luck, and while it may not guarantee success, different circumstances clearly make the road to success harder.

The Haj Yehia family isn’t only the biggest family in Tayibe – the extended clan numbers 6,000 and counting – they are also one of its most affluent families.

“They are a rich family, very rich,” Jabareh said. “They have land, lots of land. Samar’s paternal grandfather was a very rich man, and he left his children a sizable estate. Samer grew up like a kid in Kfar Shmaryahu [an affluent suburb of Tel Aviv]. He traveled and he was pampered. He never lacked for anything.

“Their life was something else, something very different from other children in Tayibe,” she continued, referring to Samer and his brothers. “In Tayibe, when a child wants a toy, he doesn’t always get it. They always got what they wanted. Well, maybe not all the time, but if they asked for something reasonable, they’d get it.

An Arab Israeli woman casts her vote during elections for the Knesset on April 9, 2019, at a polling station in the northern town of Tayibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

“They really lacked for nothing. They grew up then the way children grow up now – they have everything except good education. Samer lacked for nothing and he received an excellent education. He once said he was privileged to be able to teach other children, and he has done very well in doing that,” said his aunt.

3. A warm and supporting family is everything

This is the first lesson in our journey toward shattering the glass ceiling that is somewhat under our control. There is no doubt that being financially secure helps keep a family together, but we are no strangers to stories about wealthy families whose members seek to take each other down rather than lift each other up, something that is always a grave mistake.

The Haj Yehia family presents a different model. It is not a coincidence that Samer and his family still live in the family home in Tayibe, with his mother. It is hard to believe that there’s another chairman of a large bank anywhere else in the world, who still lives in his childhood home.

“They are an ideal family,” Jabareh said. “The brothers are very close to each other and close to their mother. They were also very close to their father. They’re really a very close-knit family, always supportive of each other. They always encourage each other, ‘Yes, go for it, don’t be afraid, do it.’ And it helped them all, very much, to get to where they are today.”

Haj Yehia’s father died of a stroke a year ago.

A view of Taibe (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

A view of Tayibe. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“Samer was in charge of his care until his very last day. He [the father] died at Meir Hospital [in central Israel] and Samer was the only one by his side,” she added. “I told Samer, ‘You knew your dad was dying, why didn’t you tell anyone?’ And he said, ‘Because I wanted to talk to him. He could hear me. I had many things I wanted to say to him before he died.’ We don’t know what he said. He loved his father very much.”

Jabareh said that back when they were all children, she used to envy the brothers.

“They were constantly spoiled. My father, Samer’s grandfather, always gave him special treatment. Even when he fell ill, he asked for Samer. ‘Bring Samer to me, I want to see Samer.’ He would always feel better after seeing him. Samer was also very close to his grandfather. He loved him very much,” said Jabareh.

“There was a time when their mother was alone at home. All four sons were in boarding schools outside Tayibe, and she would prepare food for everyone and bring it to them. She worked – she would work all week and go home only to cook for the children and then travel between their boarding schools to bring them food.

“When Samer was studying in university in Jerusalem he wouldn’t come home to Tayibe every weekend, he preferred to stay and study in the library. He didn’t have a roommate because he wanted to be able to study in peace. His mother would go to Jerusalem to bring him food. It was like that all the time,” Jabareh said.

4. Stand firm against pressure from your environment

Even with the support of family, your environment can still pull you down. Samer’s father, who as a probation officer supervised many paroled criminals in the Tayibe area, was familiar with the perils posed by his children’s surroundings and made sure all four attended boarding school outside the city, sending them to the Al Mutran Christian High School in Nazareth.

“It was a very good school, very few families can afford to send their children there,” Jabareh said. “Samer and his brothers were exceptional in Tayibe in every way – in their behavior, their education, even in how they dressed. Going to school in Nazareth – no one else went there. It was expensive and far away.”

Still, Haj Yehia proved to be exceptional from a very young age.

“It was clear that he was gifted. Everyone saw it, not just us. His kindergarten teachers and schoolteachers, too. A few days ago I ran into one of his teachers from third grade. She told me, ‘I knew, even in third grade, that he was destined to do great things. I used to give them [the children] arithmetic problems and he would solve them before I would finish explaining to the class what to do. He was always like that.’”

It is hard to distinguish between the retroactive compliments with which anyone who garners professional achievement is inundated, and reality. In Tayibe, Haj Yehia is a superstar, the subject of excited wedding conversations and social media posts. In his case, everyone knows that these compliments are grounded in reality, as he has always stood out from the crowd, shining brighter from day one.

Isaac Herzog outside the Knesset. (Courtesy)

By the time he turned 30, Haj Yehia had no less than five degrees under his belt, including in law, economics, and accounting. Current Jewish Agency director and then-partner at Herzog Fox Ne’eman Isaac Herzog mentored him during his internship at what is one of the most prestigious law firms in Israel.

Haj Yehia then set off for the United States, completing a doctorate in economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and embarking on a successful career in the financial world. At the age of 37 he was named the vice president of Boston-based Fidelity Investments, one of the largest multinational financial services corporations in the world. He also served as a lecturer in economics at MIT and Harvard University.

Seven years ago, Haj Yehia gave into his longing for Israel and the family left its comfortable life in Boston and returned to Tayibe. He also felt that his older children were becoming Americans and he didn’t like it.

Back in Israel, he enrolled Saji and Bassel in a local school, to help them reconnect with their hometown and the Arabic language, and later on sent them to school outside Taiybe, as his father did with him.

After his return, many in Tayibe pressured him to enter local politics.

According to Jabareh, “People here wanted him to be mayor, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Many people were angry with him for declining the offer – they saw him as someone who could save Tayibe from all of its financial problems. Very senior members of the Haj Yehia family, who are involved in local politics, pressed him about it, but he showed no interest. I kept telling him, ‘Don’t go into Tayibe [politics]. It’s crazy. Don’t do it.’”

Mayor of Tayibe Sha’a Mansour Massarwa (Dov Lieber / Times of Israel)

Tayibe is the only city in Israel to be declared insolvent twice, in 1999 and again in 2007, as years of municipal mismanagement have seen it amass nearly NIS 1 billion (roughly $280 million) in debt. In 2013, six years after a trustee was appointed to oversee the city’s finances, a settlement was reached with its creditors for NIS 130 million ($36 million) – 14% of its outstanding debt, which at the time amounted to NIS 931 million ($260 million). The city has since been slowly recovering from its financial woes, but its politics remain tumultuous.

“I know what the municipality is like in Tayibe, the kind of respect the mayor of Tayibe commands, and I still didn’t want Samer to go anywhere near it,” Jabareh said. “I told him, ‘There are plenty of good jobs out there for you. Don’t go into it [politics]. If you do, everyone will end up hating you.’ So he declined the offer and shortly afterward, they [Bank Leumi] offered him a job.”

5. Strive higher, stay motivated, continue to learn and grow

Haj Yehia’s parents encouraged their children to study and work. If there is one thing that can predict success in life – that must be it. Aside from his academic and practical career as a criminologist, his father continued to work the family’s five acres of land, and demanded that his children work on the farm as well.

This had no financial justification, only an educational one – teaching the value of hard work. Rani, Haj Yehia’s younger brother, recently revealed that he and his brothers still work on the family farm on weekends.

Haj Yehia needed little pushing or encouragement. Growing up, he had only a few friends and preferred spending time at home, reading and writing.

As a child, he seemed to be innately motivated, said Jabareh.

“He would come home from school and sit down to do his homework, without his mom or dad telling him he had to do it. They never had to tell him,” she said, recalling a childhood incident that can, perhaps, offer a glimpse into the nature of Bank Leumi’s new chairman.

Illustrative image: Withdrawing money at Bank Leumi on Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, January 18, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“I came over to their house one day and his father was working on some kind of university paper and he was using one of those old-fashion calculators. Samer, who was in the fifth or sixth grade, walked up to him, took the calculator from his father’s hand and said, ‘If you use it your mind will stop working. Throw it away and only use your head.’ So yes, he was always like this since childhood.”

Still, she would not venture a guess as to whether Haj Yehia he will use his new position to fight the racism and discrimination plaguing Arabs in Israeli society.

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I know little about banking and economics, but knowing Samer, I have faith that he’ll try. He’s an idealist.”

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Anti-Zionist imam delivers opening prayers in US House

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

(OPED: A Demon leading a prayer in a House full of Demons, what is it that surprises folks about this?)(oldpoet56)

 

Anti-Zionist imam delivers opening prayers in US House

Republican Lee Zeldin, who is Jewish, says decision to invite Omar Suleiman, who has likened Israeli troops to Nazis and called Zionists ‘enemies of God,’ was a ‘terribly bad call’

Omar Suleiman gives an opening prayer for a session of the US House of Representatives, May 9, 2019. (Screen capture: YouTube via JTA)

Omar Suleiman gives an opening prayer for a session of the US House of Representatives, May 9, 2019. (Screen capture: YouTube via JTA)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — An imam who has wished for the end of Zionism, called for a third Intifada and likened Israel to Nazi-era Germany delivered the opening prayer for a session of the US House of Representatives on Thursday.

Omar Suleiman, the founder and president of the Dallas-based Yaqeen Institute, an organization that describes itself as a resource about Islam, referred to recent attacks on houses of worship — which has included synagogues in the United States — in his opening remarks.

“Let us not be deterred by the hatred that has claimed the lives of innocent worshipers across the world, but emboldened by the love that gathered them together to remember you and gathered us together to remember them,” Suleiman said in a short prayer after being introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

Suleiman has a long record of incendiary social media statements about Israel, as compiled two years ago by Petra Marquardt-Bigman, a researcher, and posted on the Algeimeiner Jewish news site. He has on multiple occasions wished for a third Palestinian Intifada, or violent uprising, likened Israeli troops to Nazis, and has wished for the end of Zionism, calling Zionists “the enemies of God.” He is a backer of the boycott Israel movement.

Pelosi’s office did not reply to multiple requests for comment by publishing time.

Republican Representative Lee Zeldin of New York, who is Jewish, said in a statement that inviting Suleiman to deliver the opening prayer was a “terribly bad call.” Suleiman’s congresswoman, Democratic Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, reportedly invited him to deliver the prayer.

Suleiman in 2016 was at the scene of an anti-police shooting, in which five policemen were slain. He delivered a prayer at a memorial service a week later appearing on a stage with Texas’ two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, then-president Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush.

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Seizing Sudan’s moment of change: How Congress can help

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS BRIEF)

 

Seizing Sudan’s moment of change: How Congress can help

Zach Vertin

The Arab Spring did not begin in 2011. It started a generation earlier, in 1985, at least according to many proud citizens of Sudan. A president was removed from office that year on the back of popular protests, an uprising that has served as a beacon of hope, however faint, during three decades of political darkness since. Today, tens of thousands of Sudanese have again taken to the streets of Khartoum, hoping to recapture those heady memories and send another president packing. Congress is uniquely positioned to help them, and to reduce the chances of another violent collapse in the region. But it must act fast.

Author

This week’s record turnout is the latest in a series of anti-government demonstrations that began last December in response to rising food prices. After years of corruption and mismanagement, the country’s economy has all but flat-lined, kept alive only by sporadic cash injections from the Gulf. Recent years have seen similar protests over the country’s political and economic malaise, each crushed by the country’s formidable national security apparatus—one place the government has invested heavily as an insurance policy against its own misrule.

But this time around, something is different. Where past demonstrations were focused in Khartoum and championed by narrow constituencies, this year’s protests have proven more diverse and more widespread—and thus more resilient. Sparked in Atbara, a medium-sized city in the country’s north, the so-called #SudanUprising spread across the country and has been sustained by a broader swath of Sudanese society—including the professional classes that had long been decimated or chased abroad. Khartoum’s repressive regime is known for snuffing out such public dissent, but this time the revolutionary sentiment is burning bright.

Adding new fuel are divisions inside the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), a floundering organization that long ago traded policy and ideology for a platform of survival. The party, headed by President Omar Bashir, an indictee of the International Criminal Court, has often been misunderstood as a monolith. But fault lines have always run through it—between civilians and securocrats, Islamists and secularists, socialists and capitalists—including over how to engage the West. The cracks deepened last year when Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 coup d’état, again sought the nomination for elections in 2020. (Behind closed doors, more than a few party members will tell you they are as keen to see Bashir gone as his most ardent critics on the street.)

Splits within the country’s security establishment have also become more pronounced, the product of rivalry between the army and its increasingly powerful competitors. Protestors are calling on the army to step in, as it did in 1985, and so many officers suddenly confront a difficult decision: side with the embattled president or the masses now gathered at their gates. In recent days, army factions have taken measures to protect demonstrators against attacks from paramilitary forces and the omnipresent National Intelligence and Security Service. Today these forces clashed openly—an ominous sign of what may be to come.

The question at the core of Sudan’s current tumult is not whether President Bashir should go or not, as his departure is long overdue. The question is how: how to do so in a manner that maximizes the chances of a managed transition and minimizes the threat of violent collapse.

Opposition constituencies are rightly calling for a transitional government under new leadership, one that would oversee an inclusive constitutional review process and pave a path to internationally monitored elections. Such an arrangement would necessarily involve the release of political prisoners, an end to restrictions on political activity, and a cessation of conflict in Sudan’s peripheries. Most consequentially, a transition would necessarily include the NCP but articulate a time-bound exit for President Bashir, who has been clinging to office to avoid  arraignment at the Hague. No one should pretend this will be easy, but it is the best path forward.

For far too long, American policy toward Sudan was defined by pressure and isolation, a posture that failed to produce desired outcomes in part because sanctions were too often employed to punish rather than to leverage change. (More recent U.S. diplomatic efforts to do the latter have yielded results.) Congress now has a chance to nudge Sudan in the right direction—by sending a clear signal to moderate forces of reform, and to those now sitting on the fence, that there is a path back to international credibility, and to American partnership.

Democrats and Republicans should adopt a resolution articulating the parameters of a transition, in exchange for which Congress would move quickly to roll back existing punitive measures and offer incentives to bolster a transition. This could include: supporting international debt relief at the World Bank and earmarking funds to clear the fairly modest U.S. portion of Sudan’s debt, thereby unlocking debt relief among a pool of larger foreign creditors; signaling readiness to restore diplomatic relations, including by encouraging a visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and by confirming a new U.S. ambassador to Sudan—the first since 1997; allocating new development funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and taking concrete steps to promote commercial investment, and; lifting Sudan’s designation as State Sponsor of Terror, should Khartoum continue to comply with the technical requirements.

Those who hope for a better future are right now gathered at the gates of Sudan’s military headquarters. They deserve not only a chance for political renewal, but to be spared from a Libya-like disaster. Washington cannot determine the outcome, but it should act now to give them the best chance of success.

Nancy Pelosi: The Most Powerful Person In America

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

NANCY PELOSI STRODE confidently into a Capitol meeting room Thursday, papers in hand and a get-to-work look of determination on her face. She had just finished decisive negotiations to ensure she had the votes in her Democratic caucus to return as House speaker when the 116th Congress begins in January. It was harder this time than when the California representative became speaker in 2007, as the veteran lawmaker this month faced opposition from some younger members who wanted a fresh face or new image for the party. But Pelosi had done it – agreeing to stay in the job four years, unless there was overwhelming support for her to remain further – and this time, the prize was even bigger than when she made history by becoming the first female speaker a decade ago.[ 

READ: Pelosi Shows Off Skills in Securing Nomination as Speaker ]

Pelosi, as leader of the opposition party, arguably will become the most powerful person in the country.

Not only will Pelosi head the House chamber that is expected to investigate President Trump and possibly impeach him, but she can thwart the president’s legislative wish list as well, experts note. Even before she had tied down the final votes she needs to become speaker, Pelosi was adamant to Trump in an extraordinary, combative public negotiating session Tuesday that he would not get the border wall he had promised during his campaign.

She never said it out loud, but the implication was clear: Pelosi might be ascending to a third-ranking post – behind the president and vice president – but she holds much of his fate in her well-manicured hands.

“She’s not only [about to be] the most powerful person in the country, but she’s exactly the right person to be in this role at this time,” says political strategist Les Francis, who has known Pelosi since the mid-1970s. “She’s smarter than Trump. She’s tougher than Trump. We saw that the other day in the Oval Office,” Francis says.

Speakers have had reduced power in recent years in their own caucuses. Parties now have less control over which candidates were fielded for office, making freshman members less nervous about challenging leadership. The elimination of earmarks – federal money dedicated to specific local projects – deprives speakers of a tool to corral lawmakers. Intraparty divisions, such as the conservative Freedom Caucus’s feuds with more establishment Republicans, have also limited the ability of leaders to keep their members in line.

“She’s smarter than Trump. She’s tougher than Trump. We saw that the other day in the Oval Office.”

Pelosi, however, has a more united caucus and will have a kind of power over Trump, who will need Democrats to approve parts of his agenda on the Hill and who has been weakened by the special prosecutor’s inquiries.

“Nothing can come through the House without her involvement, which puts her in an incredibly powerful position,” says James Curry, a former Hill staffer and political science professor at the University of Utah, where he specializes in Congress and the legislative process. “Major policy is largely done at the leadership table. She’s going to be in on every single major policy meeting and then come back to her party with a take-it-or-leave-it offer.”

And it’s not just the job, experts say – it’s Pelosi herself. While some of the younger members chafed at reinstalling the 78-year-old lawmaker to the top leadership job, Pelosi, Hill-watchers say, showed why her extensive experience negotiating with presidents matters.

“She has the political force of character, and she has the temperament and the strategic instincts that come with being very experienced in the Democratic Party leadership,” says Wendy Schiller, chairwoman of the political science department at Brown University and a former Senate staffer. “She knows how to play the short game and the long game.”

Part of that, experts say, is that Pelosi has a very canny sense of when to pull the trigger on investigations or impeachment and when to focus on policy issues directed at the middle class. When George W. Bush was president, for example, Pelosi rejected demands from the left that the Democrats impeach Bush over the war in Iraq, aware that the effort could provoke a backlash.[ 

SEE: The Week in Cartoons ]

“In some ways, the biggest problem for Trump is that Pelosi is very savvy when it comes to whether to pursue investigating versus legislating,” says Matthew Green, a Catholic University political science professor and co-author, with Douglas Harris, of the upcoming book, “Choosing the Leader: Leadership Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Addressing reporters on Thursday, Pelosi downplayed any plans for dragging Trump administration officials before the House to testify – a scene that has many rank-and-file Democrats salivating in anticipation. Instead, the presumptive next speaker ticked off two items she said the House Democrats could work on with Trump – lowering prescription drug prices and building infrastructure – and said the House would move onto other issues, such as preventing gun violence, strengthening the Voting Rights Act and protecting young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

And instead of casting Trump as corrupt, Pelosi continued with a line she expressed during the meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer – that Trump simply isn’t in touch with reality.

Trump, she noted, was ready to shut down the government and take the blame for it.

“Perhaps he doesn’t understand people need their paychecks. That’s not the life he leads,” she said. Pressed about whether the impasse over the budget would indeed lead to a shutdown, Pelosi looked baffled at the president’s pronouncements.

“He doesn’t know that much about what it means to shut [the government] down,” she said. As for Trump’s insistence that Mexico would, in fact, pay for his border wall, through the economic impact of the pending new trade deal among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Pelosi shook her head.

“It doesn’t make sense. Does that sound familiar to you?” Pelosi said. First of all, she said, the trade deal isn’t even finalized. And, secondly, any economic benefit would be just that – a trade benefit for the country’s consumers and businesses – and not a kind of Mexican payment for a wall.[ 

VIEW: The Photos You Should See – December 2018 ]

“I think the Oval Office is an evidence-free zone,” Pelosi said.

Incoming House committee heads are signaling that they indeed will investigate the Trump administration: Intelligence is expected to look into the Trump family’s connections to Saudi Arabia, Ways and Means will likely seek Trump’s tax returns, and the Judiciary Committee is expected to take an ever broader look at the embattled administration.

None will result in impeachment proceedings without Pelosi’s OK – and experts say she will only give the go-ahead if the political climate is right. But Trump must now look to Nancy Pelosi to see his future.

“I did tell the president I pray for him,” Pelosi said. He may need it.

Susan Milligan, Senior Writer

Susan Milligan is a political and foreign affairs writer and contributed to a biography of the …  READ MORE

Tags: Nancy PelosiCongressHouse of Representatives

Congress Next To Legalize Marijuana?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘MOTHER JONES’)

 

Three States Passed Marijuana Legalization Measures Tuesday. Congress Might Finally Be Next.

Say goodbye to weed’s biggest opponent on the Hill.

bubaone/Getty

During a House Rules Committee debate in January, the chairman, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), was blunt. “I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” Sessions said while members argued over an amendment that would protect states with legal cannabis from federal interference. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.”

While mostly false—marijuana has been shown to be mildly addictive, but many patients rely on it as a medicine to treat chronic pain and other ailments—it was a pretty typical statement from the congressman. Having served more than two decades in the House, Sessions had become a powerful, if not the most influential, opponent of marijuana on the Hill, halting dozens of measures related to legalization. But on Tuesday, he lost, and lost pretty big—by more than 6 points—to his Democratic challenger, civil rights attorney Colin Allred, to represent Texas’ 32nd District.

In addition to losing Pete Sessions, Washington rid itself of the other Sessions last week—now-former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (no relation)—and with that, two of the biggest roadblocks to legalizing marijuana are finally gone, boosted by a blue wave that took the House and, in turn, created a more friendly environment for marijuana. Now, advocates are planning their attack.

With Democrats in control of the House, “the debate we’re going to have is not should we legalize, but how we’ll legalize marijuana,” an optimistic Michael Collins, interim director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, tells Mother Jones. “We’re closer than we’ve ever been.”

Already, 33 states have medical marijuana laws on the books, 10 allow adult recreational cannabis use, and 66 percent of the country supports legalizing marijuana, according to an October Gallup poll, including more than half of Republicans.

“Marijuana law reform is not a ‘red’ or ‘blue’ issue, it is a nonpartisan position favored by most Americans, including those residing in the heartland of America,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of marijuana advocacy group NORML, tells Mother Jones.

Even still, Congress has failed to pass any meaningful marijuana legislation in the past few years, and in the House, that was in large part due to Rep. Sessions. In a blog post on Election Day, NORML political director Justin Strekal called Sessions the “single greatest impediment” in the chamber to the passage of “common-sense, voter-supported marijuana law reform measures.” According to analysis by Tom Angell at Marijuana Moment, a cannabis news site, the House Rules Committee has blocked marijuana law reform proposals in at least 34 instances just in this congressional session, which began January 2017. During his career as rules committee chair, beginning in 2013, Sessions thwarted amendments that would have expanded research on medical marijuana, allowed Native American tribes to participate in the cannabis industry, and enabled the federal government to tax marijuana sales, among other proposals, according to Angell.

“[Sessions] made it clear from day one of his House tenure that no marijuana amendments would be heard on the House floor,” Armentano says. “He kept that promise.”

Another key marijuana opponent, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is also retiringin January. As chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte controlled the fate of bills relating to criminal justice. He blocked severalpieces of cannabis legislation during his tenure, including the 2018 STATES Act, which would have officially protected states with marijuana laws from federal punishment, and was supported by President Donald Trump. (The president has actually voiced support for states’ right to regulate cannabis independently.)

Replacing this old guard will be more than two dozen cannabis-friendly candidates who won their races, including Allred. “I support the use of medical marijuana as an alternative to the habit-forming opioids that have become a national crisis,” Allred told Politico in March. “This common-sense approach to alternative treatments has been opposed by Pete Sessions, and is something I will fight to expand.” In Virginia’s 6th District, Goodlatte will be succeeded by Republican Ben Cline, who has sponsored and passed progressive marijuana legislation in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Advocates say they are eager to work with these members to pass any and all legislation they can. Some of their biggest goals include securing access to marijuana for veterans, allowing banks to accept money from state-legal cannabis businesses, and de-scheduling weed from its Schedule 1 status (the same category as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy), Armentano says.

“We’ve taken out a big opponent of marijuana and the House has flipped,” Collins adds. “There’s a world of possibilities out there for marijuana reform.”

And with Attorney General Sessions out, advocates are hopeful Trump’s new appointee will recognize where the public stands on marijuana and be open to the possibility of reform. “Sessions, no doubt about it, was a disaster on drug policy,” says Collins. “[He had] very regressive positions on marijuana legalization, sentencing, and the opioid epidemic, and we’re glad to see the back of him.”

Boosting advocates’ hopes even further, Election Day saw plenty of other victories for marijuana. Michigan approved recreational cannabis, while Missouri and Utah—both red states—passed ballot measures that will legalize medical marijuana. (Though, as I recently wrote, Utah lawmakers and backers of the ballot measure, under rather unique circumstances, agreed to pass a “compromise” bill ahead of the election no matter the outcome of the vote.) And in Florida, voters passed Amendment 4, restoring voting rights to up to 1.4 million disenfranchised felons in the state, including tens of thousands convicted of marijuana-related offenses, according to NORML.

Of course, there are still plenty hurdles left to jump—the Senate and White House are still under Republican control, and there’s nothing to indicate a new attorney general will actually be more friendly to legalization—but advocates again emphasize that cannabis legalization isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a partisan issue, especially because Trump has supported states making their own decisions about weed.

But either way, advocates are doing their best to ensure that opposing legalization isn’t a winning strategy. “Opposition on this issue—you’re on the wrong side of history,” Collins says. “There’s a train coming in your direction, and it’s best to get on board.”

“This year, it really, really is the most important contest in decades,”writes David Corn. Nothing less than American democracy is on the ballot. See the full list of our election stories here.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn’t fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jonesplease join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2018 demands.

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I Am A Conservative Christian And The Evangelical Leaders Do Not Speak For Me

 

I was already planning to write an article today about the so-called Christian Right and Republican Politics and I was just putting the pieces together in my mind on how to write it. Then just before I clicked over to this platform I checked in once more to the Google news site that I read every day and found the embers on which to start my fire.  The top Google News story a few moments ago was from a Writer from the New York Times named Mike Cohen. The story line was “Evangelical Leaders Are Frustrated At G.O.P. Caution On Kavanaugh Allegation.” There was a picture of a man named Ralph Reed whom the article calls “the Social Conservative Leader”, okay, lets stop right there for a moment. Personally I consider myself to be a social conservative Christian and I personally have never heard of Mr. Reed and after reading some of his opinions I am fully sure that he does not represent me at all. I have often wondered how people here in the U.S. who call themselves Christians can possibly throw their support behind either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I realize that many do lean toward one Party or the other simply because our system only gives us two real choices here in the U.S. and both are obviously saturated in evil. I still believe that we voters must dump both of these evils and give the voters several more choices. For us Christians to condone the evil that is both Parties is to greatly diminish the love and the teachings of Christ whom we say we are followers of. Back in November of 2016 we all witnessed pure evil at the top of both of the Republican and the Democratic Tickets, we the people had a no win situation, many people were simply voting for what they felt was the least of the two evils. If we Christians condone that which is evil then we are and we will be counted among the evil, we must separate ourselves from them.

 

According to Mr. Reed “the Senate Republicans and the White House are not (PROTECTING) Judge Kavanaugh forcefully enough from a sexual assault allegation.” Mr. Reed goes on to say “if Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such a (obvious and eminently qualified and decent nominee) that it will be difficult to energize the (faith-based) conservatives in November.” I have a few questions about having Mr. Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court of our Country other than “just” this sexual assault case from when he was 17 years old though, but I will start my thoughts to you with this assault allegation. It appears that the events of that night became quite well-known in the school that the girl attended so it is not some just now made up story. There is a letter that has popped up now about 65 girls that Mr. Kavanaugh went to school with that are saying that he was a great guy who showed no signs of this type of behavior. My question on this is that MR. Kavanaugh went to an all boys prep school and the girl who said she was attacked by him went to an all girls prep high school. So, none of these 65 girls went to school with him, it would be a bit odd that they could have known him so well unless he was quite the ‘party animal.’

 

When Mr. Kavanaugh got his first job on the Bench his boss had a very bad reputation for sexual misconduct and in fact he resigned from the Bench because of all of the allegations against him. Mr. Kavanaugh said this past week that he was unaware of his Bosses reputation even though it was well know where he worked at. So, even now, is Mr. Cavanaugh just oblivious to the reality going on around him, is he just ignorant, or is he a liar? The New York Times also reports about how Court Clerk’s (the women) who wanted to get a job under Mr. Kavanaugh needed to have that certain “Model” look as he wanted all his female Clerks to be very good-looking. So, talent and knowledge didn’t seem to mean as much with him as a tight butt and a short skirt does seem to.

 

Now, another very important issue that is being swept under the table by the Republicans in the Senate concerning Mr. Kavanaugh is his finances and his financial records. Bank records show that he has never had more than $60,000 in the bank at any time of his adult life yet he came up with a 20% down payment on a house note of 1.25 million dollars and $107,000 entrance fee for a local Country Club. His finances do not match up with his expenses and his tax records do not match up with where he got the money for his life style. When a person is being considered for a position on the Supreme Court it is normal for the FBI to do a thorough investigation into the person, this has not been done with Mr. Kavanaugh and the Republicans who control the Senate and Mr. Trump do not want to wait long enough for the FBI to run an investigation before they want to vote him onto the Court, why? There are other hypocrisies in Mr. Kavanaugh’s writings like his opinions on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton because of his low character and how he is now willing to over look President Trumps Plethora of examples of no morals.

 

Here is what I am getting at concerning Judge Kavanaugh and concerning the so-called Christian right. First, sexual assault is something that must be taken seriously and should be investigated by the FBI being that this man is seeking a job in which he will sit in judgement of you, me, our children and grandchildren. For a so-called religious leader to act like even the possibility of such an event is something that doesn’t matter, I beg to differ with you on calling such a person a ‘Religious Leader.’ The White House and the Senate are totally treating the Supreme Court as a Political Toy when it is supposed to be totally independent of Politics all together. Procedures need to be followed, including a full FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh morals and sexual assault does fall into this category. Also, the FBI needs to do a full investigation into the financial back ground of Judge Kavanaugh to find out who it is that has been funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to him and why it is that there is no record of this money on his tax reports. We the people need honesty from our government, it is obvious that there is little to no honesty in either the Congress or in the White House so it is very important for we the people to at least have some honest people sitting on the Court Benches and for them to be more than just political monkeys.

House bill would write into law promised $38b defense aid for Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

BIPARTISAN BILL TIMED FOR AIPAC’S CONFERENCE OPENING SUNDAY

House bill would write into law decade’s promised $38b defense aid for Israel

Bipartisan draft legislation seeks to prevent any president from reneging on 2016 assistance agreement

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill timed for AIPAC’s annual conference would codify into law the memorandum of understanding signed in 2016 by Israel and the United States guaranteeing Israel $38 billion in defense assistance over 10 years.

The bill introduced Friday is sponsored by two Middle East policy leaders in the US House of Representatives — Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the Middle East subcommittee, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., its ranking Democrat. Their senior positions in their respective House caucuses means the bill has a high chance of passage.

Delegates to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference starting Sunday will lobby for the bill on Tuesday.

The thinking behind the bill is to prevent any president from reneging on the agreement.

Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (photo credit: AP/Harry Hamburg)

Separately, but also timed for the AIPAC conference, all 100 senators signed a letter urging the Department of Homeland Security to expedite Israel’s full membership in the Global Entry program, which facilitates passage through customs for citizens of member countries. Israel has had limited membership since 2012.

“Israel’s full membership in the Global Entry program would be a win-win-win, as it will provide a more seamless traveling experience for travelers, contribute greatly to our economy and strengthen the bond between these two great democracies,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader in the Senate.

Sens. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and James Inhofe, R-Okla, initiated the letter.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

Congress Votes To Strengthen Our 2nd Amendment Rights To Protect Our Own Families

(THIS IS AN EMAIL I JUST RECEIVED FROM MY U.S. CONGRESSMAN ANDY BARR THAT I HOPE WILL INTEREST MANY OF THE LAW ABIDING CITIZENS IN OUR COUNTRY WHEN IT COMES TO SELF AND FAMILY PROTECTION SECURITY ISSUES)

 

Home About Services Media Center Contact

Legislative Update

 

Dear Friend,

I am writing to update you on recent legislation the House of Representatives has passed, with my support, to defend the Second Amendment and to promote reciprocity between states in order to allow the legal carry and transport of concealed firearms.  Your communication is a vital part of our legislative process and I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, I feel very passionately that the government must not infringe upon Americans’ constitutional rights by preventing law-abiding citizens from carrying or transporting firearms across state lines.

That is why I felt it was important to vote in favor of H.R. ­­­38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which was endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), 24 State Attorneys General, and the Gun Owners of America (GOA).

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would allow an individual possessing a valid state-issued Concealed Deadly Weapon License (CDWL) the ability to carry in all 50 states (as well as the District of Columbia) as long as he or she obeys all state laws in which the individual resides and travels through.  This legislation would also ensure that valid concealed carry permits issued in one state are valid in any other state that also recognizes its own residents’ right to carry concealed.  If a gun owner is arrested for illegal concealed carry, this legislation puts the burden of proof on the state to prove that the accused did not comply with law.  I am proud to support H.R. 38 and other bills to uphold gun rights, and I will continue to help ensure that Congress does not advance measures that undermine the Second Amendment.

I know that law-abiding, responsible gun owners make essential contributions to public safety and that attacking the Second Amendment – as some in Washington are all too quick to do – is bad policy.  Responsible gun ownership constitutes a vital part of our nation’s heritage and remains essential to the rights of Americans to defend themselves and their families.  This is an important constitutional protection that I will always step forward to defend.

Sincerely,
Andy Barr

Apple’s cash mountain, how it avoids tax, and the Irish link

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE IRISH TIMES)

(OPED: PEOPLE LIKE APPLE’S TIM COOK WHO GO BEFORE CONGRESS AND LIE HIS -SS OFF SHOULD BE ARRESTED AT ONCE AND HELD WITHOUT BAIL. IF THE AVERAGE PERSON DID THESE SAME CRIMES THEY WOULD BE THROWN UNDER THE JAIL. IN MY OPINION, IT SHINES A LIGHT ON THE REAL WORLD OF POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS, IF YOU ARE A BIG MONEY GIVER TO THE POLITICIANS (BUYING THEM), YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BREAK THE LAWS AND STEAL BILLIONS THROUGH TAX FRAUD.) (TRS)

Apple’s cash mountain, how it avoids tax and the Irish link

Paradise Papers: Elite tax advisers help Apple and others skirt effects of ‘double Irish’ crackdown

Play Video

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), use the example of a fictional fast-food chain, Snax Haven, in explaining how offshore tax avoidance systems work. Video: ICIJ

It was May 2013, and Apple Inc’s chief executive, Tim Cook, was angry. He sat before the United States Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which had completed an inquiry into how Apple avoided tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits into Irish subsidiaries that the subcommittee’s chairman called “ghost companies”.

“We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” Cook declared. “We do not depend on tax gimmicks . . . We do not stash money on some Caribbean island.”

Tim Cook looks on as the new iPhone X goes on sale at an Apple Store on November 3rd, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty
Tim Cook looks on as the new iPhone X goes on sale at an Apple Store on November 3rd, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Five months later Ireland bowed to international pressure and announced a crackdown on Irish firms, like Apple’s subsidiaries, that claimed that almost all of their income was not subject to taxes in Ireland or anywhere else in the world.

Now leaked documents shine a light on how the iPhone maker responded to this move. Despite its CEO’s public rejection of island havens, that’s where Apple turned as it began shopping for a new tax refuge.

Apple’s advisers at one of the world’s top law firms, the US-headquartered Baker McKenzie, canvassed one of the leading players in the offshore world, a firm of lawyers called Appleby, which specialized in setting up and administering tax-haven companies.

A questionnaire that Baker McKenzie emailed in March 2014 set out 14 questions for Appleby’s offices in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.

One asked that the offices “Confirm that an Irish company can conduct management activities . . . without being subject to taxation in your jurisdiction.”

Apple also asked for assurances that the local political climate would remain friendly: “Are there any developments suggesting that the law may change in an unfavorable way in the foreseeable future?”

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, speaks about the iPhone X during a launch event in Cupertino, California on September 12th, 2017. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, speaks about the iPhone X during a launch event in Cupertino, California on September 12th, 2017. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters.

In the end Apple settled on Jersey, the tiny island in the English Channel that, like many Caribbean havens, charges no tax on corporate profits for most companies. Jersey was to play a significant role in Apple’s newly configured Irish tax structure set up in late 2014. Under this arrangement, the MacBook maker has continued to enjoy ultralow tax rates on most of its profits and now holds much of its non-US earnings in a $252 billion mountain of cash offshore. The Irish Government’s crackdown on shadow companies, meanwhile, has had little effect.

The inside story of Apple’s hunt for a new avoidance strategy is among the disclosures emerging from a leak of secret corporate records that reveals how the offshore tax game is played by Apple, Nike, Uber and other multinational corporations – and how top law firms help them exploit gaps between differing tax codes around the world.

The documents come from the internal files of the offshore law firm Appleby and the corporate services provider Estera, two businesses that operated together under the Appleby name until Estera became independent in 2016.

The files show how Appleby played a cameo role in creating many cross-border tax structures. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained the records and shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its media partners, including The Irish Times, the New York Times, Australia’s ABC, the BBC in the United Kingdom, Le Monde in France and CBC in Canada.

These disclosures come as the White House and Congress consider cutting the US federal tax on corporate income, pushing its top rate of 35 percent down to 20 percent or lower. President Donald Trump has insisted that American firms are getting a bad deal from current tax rules.

The documents show that, in reality, many big US multinationals pay income taxes at very low rates, thanks in part to complex corporate structures they set up with the help of a global network of elite tax advisers.

In this regard, Apple has led the field. Despite almost all design and development of its products taking place in the US, the iPhone maker has for years been able to report that about two-thirds of its worldwide profits were made in other countries, where it has used loopholes to access ultralow foreign tax rates.

Now leaked documents help show how Apple quietly carried out a restructuring of its Irish companies at the end of 2014, allowing it to carry on paying taxes at low rates on the majority of global profits.

Multinationals that transfer intangible assets to tax havens and adopt other aggressive avoidance strategies are costing governments around the world as much as $240 billion a year in lost tax revenue, according to a conservative estimate in 2015 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Corporate creativity

Documents reviewed by ICIJ and other media partners provide insight into how those strategies work. They show the creative methods that advisory firms devise in response to attempts by regulators to crack down on tax shelters.

“US multinational firms are the global grandmasters of tax-avoidance schemes that deplete not just US tax collection but the tax collection of most every large economy in the world,” said Edward Kleinbard, a former corporate lawyer who is now a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California.

The Trump administration and the United States Congress are considering whether to grant a one-time tax holiday that would allow big multinationals to bring home, at a sharply reduced tax rate, more than $2.6 trillion they have stowed in offshore subsidiaries.

Kleinbard said the prospect of a big corporate tax holiday “simply begs companies to ramp up their tax-avoidance strategy still further in anticipation of more holidays in years to come. And it removes pressure for genuine reform.”

An Apple spokesperson declined to answer a list of questions about the company’s offshore tax strategy, except to say it had informed US, Irish and European Commission regulators of its reorganization at the end of 2014. “The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country,” the spokesman said.

He added: “At Apple, we follow the laws, and if the system changes we will comply. We strongly support efforts from the global community toward comprehensive international tax reform and a far simpler system, and we will continue to advocate for that.”

By quietly transferring trademarks, patent rights, and other intangible assets to offshore companies, many other global businesses have also been able to cut their tax bills dramatically.

The leaked papers show how the ownership of prized assets – including rights to Nike’s Swoosh trademark, Uber’s taxi-hailing app and medical patents covering such treatment options as Botox and breast implants – could all be traced to a five-story office block in Bermuda occupied by Appleby and Estera.

Ownership of Facebook’s user database for most countries outside the United States, as well as rights to use its platform technology – together worth billions of dollars – has been held through companies at a similarly unassuming address on Grand Cayman used by Appleby and Estera. And Apple’s money trail has been traced to a building used by Appleby and Estera in Jersey, 30km off the coast of northern France.

Addresses shared by the two offshore firms on tax-haven islands have played host to secretive shell companies buried deep within the corporate architecture of many of the largest multinationals. Despite moves by governments to phase out loopholes, tax shelters remain as popular as ever.

Governments around the world have challenged some of the tax structures maintained by Appleby and Estera clients – though not always successfully. Nike triumphed over the US Internal Revenue Service a year ago. A dispute between Facebook and US tax authorities continues to play out in court. Apple, meanwhile, is being pursued €13 billion in Irish back taxes after European regulators ruled that Ireland had granted illegal state aid by approving Apple’s tax structure.

The leaked documents help explain how three small jurisdictions – the Netherlands, Ireland, and Bermuda – have become go-to destinations for big corporations looking to avoid taxes on their overseas earnings. Among them, these three spots hold less than one-third of 1 per cent of the world’s population – but they accounted for 35 per cent of all profits that US multinationals reported earning overseas last year, according to analysis by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Holy grail

Over three decades US multinationals have been growing bolder, shifting vast chunks of profits into tax havens. Concerns about their tactics were largely ignored until government finances around the world came under pressure in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Beginning in the autumn of 2012, the issue came to a head in a welter of government inquiries, tax-inspector raids, investigative reporting and promises of reform.

By the time the US Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations released 142 pages of documents and analysis for its public hearing on Apple’s tax avoidance in May 2013, the world was paying attention. The subcommittee found that Apple was attributing billions of dollars of profits each year to three Irish subsidiaries that declared “tax residency” nowhere in the world.

Under Irish law, most firms incorporated in Ireland are required to pay taxes locally on their profits. But if the directors are able to convince the Irish tax authorities that a company is “managed and controlled” abroad, it can often escape all, or almost all, Irish tax

For more than two decades the directors of Apple’s three Irish companies – including, for many years, Tim Cook – did just that. By running these Irish subsidiaries from group headquarters in California they avoided Irish tax residency.

At the same time, the directors knew that their Irish companies would not qualify for tax residency in the United States because American tax law worked differently. Under US rules a company has American tax residency only if it is incorporated there.

“Apple sought the holy grail of tax avoidance: offshore corporations that it argues are not, for tax purposes, resident anywhere in any nation,” Carl Levin, then a Democratic senator for Michigan, and chairman of the Senate subcommittee, said at the 2013 hearing.

Ireland’s minister for finance at the time, Michael Noonan, at first defended his country’s policies, saying, “I do not want to be the whipping boy for some misunderstanding in a hearing in the US Congress.” But by October 2013, in response to growing international pressure, he announced plans to require Irish companies to declare tax residency somewhere in the world.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in the Dáil: “For existing companies, there will be provision for a transition period until the end of 2020”
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan in the Dáil: “For existing companies, there will be provision for a transition period until the end of 2020”

At that time Apple had accumulated $111 billion in cash almost entirely held by its Irish shadow companies, beyond the reach of US tax authorities. Each year the pile grew higher and higher as billions of dollars in profits poured into these low-tax subsidiaries.

Company officials wanted to keep it that way.

So Apple sought alternatives to replace the tax-shelter arrangements that Ireland would soon shut down. At the same time, however, the iPhone maker wanted its interest in the offshore world kept quiet.

As Cameron Adderley, global head of Appleby’s corporate division explained in an email to other senior partners: “For those of you who are not aware Apple [officials] are extremely sensitive concerning publicity . . . They also expect the work that is being done for them only to be discussed amongst personnel who need to know.”

For Appleby, Adderley explained, this was “a tremendous opportunity for us to shine on a global basis with Baker McKenzie”.

Baker McKenzie’s role in setting up offshore structures for multinationals, and then defending them when challenged by tax regulators, is legendary. The law firm has also been involved in lobbying against proposals to crack down on tax avoidance by technology giants. It has 5,000 attorneys in 77 offices around the world. Former partners include Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister and now managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Behind closed doors, Apple decided that two of its Irish companies should, with the help of Appleby, claim tax residency in Jersey, one of the largest island shelters with strong links to the UK banking system, where Apple’s Irish subsidiaries already held accounts. Jersey is a crown dependency of the United Kingdom, but it makes its own laws, sets its own tax rates and is not subject to most European Union legislation, making it a popular tax haven.

Double Irish

As Apple’s plans to use an offshore tax haven progressed another potential problem emerged. In mid-2014, again under pressure from other governments, Ireland had begun exploring a ban on the tax shelter known as the double Irish, an avoidance strategy used by scores of companies, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, other tech companies and drugmakers such as Abbott Laboratories.

The double Irish allows companies to collect profits through one Irish unit that actually employs people in Ireland and is tax resident there, then route those profits to a second Irish subsidiary that claims tax residency in a low-tax island such as Bermuda, Grand Cayman or the Isle of Man.

A crackdown on such arrangements could have interfered with Apple’s plans in Jersey before they had got off the ground. Although it was aimed at double-Irish structures the potential rule change would ban all Irish companies from claiming tax residency in a tax haven.

Although the iPhone maker was not in a position to protest loudly, others spoke up. California-based Terilea Wielenga, who was the international president of the Tax Executives Institute, wrote to Noonan in July 2014, warning that moves that would effectively ban double-Irish structures “may not be prudent”. And if Irish ministers did press ahead, she added, they would be well advised to incorporate “a substantial transition period”.

What her letter did not tell, but leaked Appleby papers now show, was that Wielenga was quietly orchestrating a long-standing double-Irish structure at Allergan, the maker of Botox, where at the time she worked as head of tax. For more than a decade the structure has shifted profits away from Ireland, where Allergan has a Botox factory, to Bermuda.

The ICIJ attempted to contact Wielenga but did not receive a response. Allergan did not answer specific questions about its tax affairs but said: “Allergan abides by all applicable tax laws and accounting rules and pays all taxes owed in all jurisdictions where it does business.”

The lobbying seemed to work.

Ireland included a generous grandfathering clause for Allergan and other multinationals using Irish tax structures. “For existing companies, there will be provision for a transition period until the end of 2020,” Noonan declared on October 14th, 2014.

More precisely, the fine print of policy documents revealed, the grandfathering provisions would apply not just to companies in existence when the finance minister spoke but also any new ones created up until the end of 2014.

That gave Apple just enough time. By the start of 2015, it had restructured its affairs in Ireland, including securing tax residency in Jersey for Apple Sales International and Apple Operations International, two of the three Irish shadow companies highlighted in the US Senate investigation a year earlier.

For the previous five years, Apple Sales International had been Apple’s biggest profit generator, churning out more than $120 billion, or close to 60 percent of Apple’s worldwide earnings.

Meanwhile, much of that profit was transferred as dividends to Apple Operations International, described by Cook as “a company set up to provide an efficient way to manage Apple’s cash”.

Before their move to Jersey, these two subsidiaries had played a leading role in helping Apple accumulate and hold $137 billion in cash – most of which came from non-US profits barely taxed by any government in the world.

The latest figures indicate that since Apple’s reorganization of its Irish companies this sum has increased 84 percent, although Apple won’t confirm which of its foreign subsidiaries own this cash.

This pile of money has inadvertently made Apple one of the biggest investment funds in the world, and its offshore cash reserves have been put to work in a portfolio that includes corporate bonds, government debt, and mortgage-backed securities.

Under the wire

Apple was not the only multinational that moved quickly to grab a final chance before 2015 dawned.

“At the end of 2014 a window of opportunity closes,” advisers from the big US law firm DLA Piper explained to CitiXsys, a retail software supplier based in New York. DLA Piper set out a frenetic schedule of incorporations and intellectual-property transfers to be rushed through before the new year to set up a double Irish.

As DLA Piper explained, this arrangement “must be managed and controlled in [a] 0% or low tax jurisdiction, such as the Isle of Man, where the bulk of profits are recognized”. That way the entire structure “produces a very low effective tax rate, approximately 5% to 7%”.

ICIJ contacted CitiXsys and other multinationals featured in this story. CitiXsys did not respond, and Uber declined to comment. Nike, Facebook, and Allergan declined to answer questions but provided general statements saying they fully complied with tax regulations in countries where they operate.

DLA Piper declined to comment, and Baker McKenzie said it does not discuss client matters. Appleby declined to answer questions but said on its website: “We are an offshore law firm who advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business.” Estera, the corporate-services company that split away from Appleby at the beginning of 2016 and continues to administer many offshore companies on behalf of clients, declined to comment.

Finding home

While CitiXsys’s rapidly assembled structure mirrored the structures embraced by Facebook, Google and others using the double Irish, Apple’s reorganized Irish companies appear to function very differently.

The iPhone maker has declined to answer ICIJ’s questions about its new setup, but it appears to give a key role to another of Apple’s Irish subsidiaries, a company called Apple Operations Europe.

Together with Apple Operations International and Apple Sales International, the company made up the three Irish firms criticised by US senators in 2013 for being “ghost companies”, tax resident nowhere in the world.

By 2015 tighter Irish laws had caused all three to find a new tax home. But while the other two Irish companies took up residence in Jersey, Apple Operations Europe became tax resident in Ireland, the country of its incorporation.

A clue to why a multinational might want a subsidiary that was liable for taxes in Ireland can be found, once again, in Michael Noonan’s budget announcement in 2014.

While media headlines focused on his decision to crack down on double-Irish arrangements, less attention was paid to measures not mentioned in his budget speech but contained in accompanying policy documents. In particular, the paperwork revealed plans to expand an already generous tax regime for companies that bring the intangible property into Ireland.

The incentive, known as a capital allowance, offered Irish companies big tax deductions over many years if they spent money buying expensive intangible property.

Importantly for multinationals, however, it was also available to an Irish company that bought the intangible property from another company within the same group.

The arrangement was especially attractive to those multinationals that were in a position to sell their intangible property into Ireland from a subsidiary in a tax haven, where the gain from the sale would go untaxed.

In effect, even though the internal sale would cost the multinational nothing, such a move could nevertheless unlock huge tax breaks in Ireland.

Leprechaun economics

Even before Noonan sweetened the terms of this capital allowance tax break, some experts suggested it could be used to achieve tax rates as low as 2.5 percent.

Apple declined to answer questions about whether it has taken advantage of this tax break by selling rights to use its intangible property from Apple Sales International in Jersey to Apple Operations Europe in Ireland.

It’s clear, though, that a large amount of intangible property landed abruptly in Ireland around the period when Apple reorganized its three Irish subsidiaries. In fact, the country’s gross domestic product for 2015 leaped by an incredible 26 per cent, boosted by close to $270 billion of intangible assets suddenly appearing in Ireland’s national accounts at the start of the year – more than the entire value of residential property in Ireland.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called the development “Leprechaun economics”.

The ICIJ showed the findings from its investigation to J Richard Harvey, a Villanova University law professor, and Stephen Shay, senior lecturer at Harvard Law School. In 2013 both of them gave detailed testimony on Apple’s previous Irish structure to the US Senate committee’s investigation. They both told the ICIJ it appeared likely the iPhone maker had transferred intangible assets to Ireland.

“While it is not 100 percent clear how Apple has restructured its Irish operations, one strong possibility is that they have transferred more than $200 billion of valuable intangible assets . . . to an Irish resident company, for example, Apple Operations Europe,” Harvey said.

An Apple staff member counts a customer’s money as they pay for a new iPhone X at an Apple shop during its launch in Moscow, Russia, on November 3rd, 2017. Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky.
An Apple staff member counts a customer’s money as they pay for a new iPhone X at an Apple shop during its launch in Moscow, Russia, on November 3rd, 2017. Photograph: Sergei Ilnitsky.

Shay added: “By using Irish intangible property tax reliefs, Apple likely will pay little or no additional Irish tax for years to come on income at Apple Operations Europe.

The Department of Finance in Dublin told the ICIJ: “The Irish regime for capital allowances . . . is broadly similar to regimes available in other countries and does not confer any additional benefits to multinationals.”

However, in October 2017, Ireland reversed the sweetened terms Noonan had added to the tax break three years earlier.

Apple said that following its reorganization it pays more Irish tax than before. “The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country,” Apple said in a statement. “In fact, our payments to Ireland increased significantly and over three years [2014, 2015 and 2016] we’ve paid $1.5 billion in tax there – 7% of all corporate income taxes paid in that country.”

But the iPhone maker still won’t say how much profit it makes through its Irish companies – making it impossible to gauge whether $1.5 billion is a lot of tax to pay in three years or not.

Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the international tax program at the University of Michigan Law School, said Apple was “determined not to be hurt” when it had to abandon its previous Irish structure. “This is how it usually works: You close one tax shelter, and something else opens up,” he said. “It just goes on endlessly.”

Jesse Drucker, a reporter with the New York Times, contributed to this story

China threatens U.S. Congress for crossing its ‘red line’ on Taiwan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Josh Rogin

China threatens U.S. Congress for crossing its ‘red line’ on Taiwan

 October 12 at 6:00 AM

President Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 6. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

In a rare pressure campaign, the Chinese government is demanding that the U.S. Congress back off passing new laws that would strengthen the U.S. relationship with Taiwan. Beijing’s efforts are the latest sign that it is stepping up its campaign to exert political influence inside countries around the world, including the United States.

In response to proposed legislation in both the House and Senate, the Chinese Embassy in Washington lodged a formal complaint with leading lawmakers, threatening “severe consequences” for the U.S.-China relationship if Congress follows through. China’s tactics have angered lawmakers and staffers in both parties, who call them inappropriate and counterproductive.

In an August letter from Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai that I obtained, the Chinese government expressed “grave concern” about the Taiwan Travel Act, the Taiwan Security Act and Taiwan-related provisions in both the House and Senate versions of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

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The measures represent “provocations against China’s sovereignty, national unity and security interests,” and “have crossed the ‘red line’ on the stability of the China-U.S. relationship,” the letter stated.

The letter was sent to leaders of the House and Senate’s foreign relations and armed services committees and called on them to use their power to block Taiwan-related provisions in the bills. Lawmakers and aides told me the Chinese threat of “severe consequences” was unusual and out of line.

“The United States should continue to strengthen our relationship with Taiwan and not allow Chinese influence or pressure to interfere with the national security interests of the U.S. and our partners in the region,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the sponsor of the Taiwan Travel Act, which calls for more visits by U.S. officials to Taiwan and by Taiwanese officials to the United States.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.) told me Cui’s letter stood out because of its threatening tone. “China carries out this kind of heavy-handed behavior with other countries around the world,” he said. “It’s interesting to me that they now feel that they can get away with these kind of threats and vague pressure tactics with the U.S. Congress.”

The issue is coming to a head as the House and Senate Armed Services committees negotiate over the must-pass defense policy bill. The Senate version has several strong Taiwan-related provisions, thanks to amendments added by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). It would authorize Taiwanese ships to make port calls to U.S. naval bases and vice versa, invite Taiwan to the “Red Flag” international military exercises and provide for increased supply of U.S. defense articles to Taiwan. The House version of the bill contains softer versions of those provisions that give the administration more flexibility.

When the two chambers go to conference, lawmakers and aides will have to reconcile the two versions. It’s a delicate negotiation, and aides resent the blatant Chinese efforts to influence it.

“Making these sorts of threats and laying down ‘red lines’ on domestic legislative action is neither helpful or constructive to build the sort of relationship needed between the United States and China,” a Senate Democratic aide said.

By stating that the “red line” had been crossed by the mere introduction of legislation, the Chinese government seems to be saying it believes that Chinese interference in U.S. domestic political processes is appropriate, the aide said.

Other congressional aides said that no other embassy uses threats as a tactic to influence Congress, especially not via an official communication. Most embassies try to build relationships and persuade U.S. policymakers to support what they believe is in their national interest. But not China.

Beijing’s worldwide strategy to exert political influence inside other countries’ decision-making processes has been expanding for years. It’s just now getting noticed in the United States.

“It’s a concentrated, long-term, political-warfare influence operations campaign that has been going on for a long time but has definitely become more brazen,” said Dan Blumenthal, a former Pentagon Asia official now with the American Enterprise Institute.

Chinese pressure on domestic institutions in other countries takes many forms, he said. For example, Chinese government delegations routinely pressure U.S. governors by threatening to withhold economic benefits if they, for example, meet with the Dalai Lama.

In Australia, there’s a huge debate about Chinese pressure on universities to alter curriculum to match Chinese propaganda. In Spain, the government controversially changed the law to curb prosecutions of foreign leaders for human rights violations, under Chinese government pressure.

“We don’t really recognize the Chinese efforts to coerce political influence in other countries. That’s not even on our radar,” said Blumenthal. “It’s part of Chinese grand strategy. It’s a big, big deal.”

Congressional action over the next weeks and months will be a test of the legislative branch’s willingness to stand up to Chinese bullying and continue a long tradition of seeking improved engagement with Taiwan. Even if the House and Senate compromise, they should send a clear message that China’s tactics won’t work.

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