02/17/20

Dem Senators Meet in Secret with Zarif/Iran Last Week

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Did you hear about Senator(s) Whitehouse and Murphy and their secret meeting and delegation?

*** “Murphy is a frequent speaker at the National Iranian American Council, a lobbying group with alleged links to the Islamic Republic of Iran.” He also criticized the killing of Soleimani, the world’s most notorious terrorist, who also killed more than 600 US soldiers in Iraq.

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Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other Democratic senators had a secret meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the Munich Security Conference last week, according to a source briefed by the French delegation to the conference. Murphy’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time.

Such a meeting would mean Murphy had done the type of secret coordination with foreign leaders to potentially undermine the U.S. government that he accused Trump officials of doing as they prepared for Trump’s administration. In February 2017, Murphy demanded investigations of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn because he had a phone call with his counterpart-to-be in Russia.

“Any effort to undermine our nation’s foreign policy – even during a transition period – may be illegal and must be taken seriously,” Murphy said in 2017 after anonymous leaks of Flynn’s phone call with Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak were published. He also strongly criticized the open letter some Republican senators sent Iranian leaders during the Obama administration’s campaign for a nuclear agreement.

However, Murphy has previously defended rogue meetings if they’re done by Democrats such as former Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Unless it was authorized by the president or secretary of state, conducting independent foreign policy sends mixed signals to our adversaries,” said Christian Whiton, former State Department senior advisor in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations. “It seems very unpalatable. If we want to talk to Iranians, they know how to reach us and they don’t need to go through an intermediary.”

A State Department official who spoke on background said that the State Department was not aware of any side meetings with Iranian officials that Murphy was engaged in.

The Munich Security Conference, an annual forum on international security policy, welcomes hundreds of world leaders each February. This year’s conference featured robust debate on the United States’ maximum pressure policy against Iran, China’s handling of the coronavirus and technology concerns, and the European alliance with the United States. Other Democrat senators at the conference included Sens. Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Former Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts also attended.

Both Murphy and Zarif spoke publicly during a two-hour session on Middle East policy, with Murphy and Zarif both fiercely criticizing U.S. policy.

President Donald Trump has reoriented American policy in the Middle East away from President Barack Obama’s friendly posture toward Iran. He departed from Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a nuclear arrangement with the Republic of Iran that was not ratified by the United States Senate.

Trump has exerted instead a “maximum pressure” campaign against the regime, with 12 demands on Iran before a new deal is reached. Those demands include a full account of its nuclear program, ending its proliferation of ballistic missiles, releasing all U.S. citizens held on spurious charges, ending support to terrorist groups, withdrawal of forces in Syria, and cessation of its threatening behavior against its neighbors.

The “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions has devastated the Iranian economy, which is in recession and faces rising inflation. It has made it difficult for Iran to pay foreign fighters engaged in supported terror operations. Iranians have taken to the streets in protest.

Iran recently killed an American contractor in Iraq and the United States killed Iranian general Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian leader who was responsible for the killing and maiming of thousands of U.S. soldiers. Iran’s retaliatory strike for that killing resulted in no U.S. deaths, but the country did shoot down a Ukrainian passenger plane then lied about it for days.

At the conference, Zarif said official retaliation for the killing of Suleimani had ended, although he suggested independent attacks from others in the country might follow.

Murphy is a frequent speaker at the National Iranian American Council, a lobbying group with alleged links to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Ted Cruz of Texas recently asked the Department of Justice for potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

They wrote that the influential lobbying group “purports to improve understanding between American and Iranian people but in reality seems to spread propaganda and lobby on behalf of the Iranian government.” Evidence indicates that evidence Zarif himself was involved in founding the group. Hat tip/Federalist

02/17/20

Russia Got Crimea, Working on Ukraine, Belarus Next?

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Primer: The Minsk Agreement has not led to a peace deal. The agreement was first negotiated by a mere telephone call between Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko in 2014. It has a few newer iterations. It was to stop the warring factions between Russia and Ukraine. The whole matter was and is a continued plot for Putin to consolidate his power.

***

Belarus, Minsk and Schedrin Maps

The president of Belarus said Friday that Russia insisted on merging the two states during last week’s talks on further integrating the countries’ economies.

“They understand integration as swallowing up Belarus. This isn’t integration. It’s incorporation. I will never go for this,” President Alexander Lukashenko said during a visit to a paper plant in southeastern Belarus.

“I will always fight for our land to remain sovereign and independent. Your first president that you once elected will never be the last,” he added.

Tensions have been running high between the neighboring ex-Soviet states for several months now. As negotiations on closer ties stalled, Russia halted oil supplies to Belarus and Lukashenko repeatedly accused the Kremlin of pushing for a merger of the two countries.

Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down last Friday for yet another round of talks in Sochi but failed to reach an agreement.

Merging with Belarus is seen by many as a strategy for Putin to stay in power well past the legally mandated end of his presidential term in 2024 by becoming the head of a new state.

As Lukashenko has resisted the integration effort, the Kremlin has increased pressure by halting oil supplies to Belarus, which relies on Russia for more than 80% of its energy needs.

Lukashenko has since vowed to find alternative oil suppliers and boasted about warming ties with the West in an apparent bid to win concessions from Russia. So far Belarus has been able to secure a shipment of oil from Norway and is negotiating supplies from Kazakhstan.

Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than two decades and is up for re-election this year. He doesn’t want to become a governor in a single state with Russia, Minsk-based political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky told The Associated Press.

“The Kremlin has so far failed to scare Minsk by cutting subsidies ahead of the presidential race in Belarus,” Klaskovsky said.

Lukashenko said Friday that talks on closer ties between Russia and Belarus would continue, but only “the questions of integrating economies” would be on the table.

***

This effort by Moscow has been going on at least since 2014. Trade and oil are at the core of the issues and Russia is strong-arming the leadership of Belarus.

02/17/20

Meet the Group Behind Letter Demanding AG Barr Resign

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Sanctimony at its peak…

AG Barr to testify - Iola Register

AG Barr

Let us go back several years shall we? Does anyone remember Sandy Berger? He was the cat that went to the National Archives and stole classified documents. At the time he was a national security advisor to President Clinton. He was found guilty and the recommended sentence was no jail time, a $10,000 fine and he would lose his security clearance for three years. His actual sentence was a $50,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and two years probation and no loss of his bar license.

We also have so many others like James Comey, James Clapper, illegal criminal immigrants, Bradley Manning, Bowe Bergdahl among so many others, including those that were given clemency, like Marc Rich.

*** The letter signed by so many former Department of Justice officials demanding AG Barr resign reads as follows: (the list of signatures are found at the end of the link)

We for sure now have confirmed activist media –> Eight legal analysts for CNN and MSNBC are among the signatories of the letter. This letter/action is coming from the left that does not want people sentenced for misdemeanors nor a whole host of felonies. Which is it, people?

DOJ Alumni Statement

We, the undersigned, are alumni of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) who have collectively served both Republican and Democratic administrations. Each of us strongly condemns President Trump’s and Attorney General Barr’s interference in the fair administration of justice.

As former DOJ officials, we each proudly took an oath to support and defend our Constitution and faithfully execute the duties of our offices. The very first of these duties is to apply the law equally to all Americans. This obligation flows directly from the Constitution, and it is embedded in countless rules and laws governing the conduct of DOJ lawyers. The Justice Manual — the DOJ’s rulebook for its lawyers — states that “the rule of law depends on the evenhanded administration of justice”; that the Department’s legal decisions “must be impartial and insulated from political influence”; and that the Department’s prosecutorial powers, in particular, must be “exercised free from partisan consideration.”

All DOJ lawyers are well-versed in these rules, regulations, and constitutional commands. They stand for the proposition that political interference in the conduct of a criminal prosecution is anathema to the Department’s core mission and to its sacred obligation to ensure equal justice under the law.

And yet, President Trump and Attorney General Barr have openly and repeatedly flouted this fundamental principle, most recently in connection with the sentencing of President Trump’s close associate, Roger Stone, who was convicted of serious crimes. The Department has a long-standing practice in which political appointees set broad policies that line prosecutors apply to individual cases. That practice exists to animate the constitutional principles regarding the even-handed application of the law. Although there are times when political leadership appropriately weighs in on individual prosecutions, it is unheard of for the Department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the President, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case. It is even more outrageous for the Attorney General to intervene as he did here — after the President publicly condemned the sentencing recommendation that line prosecutors had already filed in court.

Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice. In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President. Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.

We welcome Attorney General Barr’s belated acknowledgment that the DOJ’s law enforcement decisions must be independent of politics; that it is wrong for the President to interfere in specific enforcement matters, either to punish his opponents or to help his friends; and that the President’s public comments on DOJ matters have gravely damaged the Department’s credibility. But Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign. But because we have little expectation he will do so, it falls to the Department’s career officials to take appropriate action to uphold their oaths of office and defend nonpartisan, apolitical justice.

For these reasons, we support and commend the four career prosecutors who upheld their oaths and stood up for the Department’s independence by withdrawing from the Stone case and/or resigning from the Department. Our simple message to them is that we — and millions of other Americans — stand with them. And we call on every DOJ employee to follow their heroic example and be prepared to report future abuses to the Inspector General, the Office of Professional Responsibility, and Congress; to refuse to carry out directives that are inconsistent with their oaths of office; to withdraw from cases that involve such directives or other misconduct; and, if necessary, to resign and report publicly — in a manner consistent with professional ethics — to the American people the reasons for their resignation. We likewise call on the other branches of government to protect from retaliation those employees who uphold their oaths in the face of unlawful directives. The rule of law and the survival of our Republic demand nothing less.

If you are a former DOJ employee and would like to add your name below, click hereProtect Democracy will update this list daily with new signatories.

02/14/20

UN Blacklists Israeli Companies

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Primer: Remember the United States crafted and offered a peace agreement between Israel, Hamas, the Palestinians just a few weeks ago. Reading below, note that ‘united nations’ is hardly what this blacklist encourages.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published on Wednesday a “database” of companies doing business with Israeli settlements. The list includes 112 firms, 94 of them Israeli and the other 18 from six other countries, including the United States.

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Michelle Bachelet

The database was generated pursuant to Resolution 31/36, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 24, 2016, which calls upon the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce a “database of all business enterprises” engaged in certain settlement-related activities in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

The database also referred to as a blacklist, is inconsistent with U.S. law and policy. U.S. law, at 19 U.S.C. 4452(b)(4), states that Congress “opposes politically motivated actions that penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, such as boycotts of, divestment from, or sanctions against Israel.”

In addition, compliance with the blacklist could be inconsistent with the U.S. anti-boycott statute (50 U.S.C 4842), which has long been used to punish compliance with boycotts (and blacklists) fostered by the Arab League.

Boycotts spurred by the UNHRC and its blacklist would likely also run afoul of some or all of the two dozen U.S. state laws that require divestment from companies that boycott Israel (in some cases specifically defined to include Israeli settlements).

Compliance with a boycott fostered by the UNHRC and its blacklist may also cause U.S. companies to run afoul of the U.S. Treasury Department’s separate antiboycott regulations. The regulations implement the Ribicoff amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976. Internal Revenue Code section 999 requires U.S. taxpayers to report whether they (or corporations they control) have participated in or cooperated with boycotts not sanctioned by the U.S. government. According to the Treasury, U.S. persons who participate in such boycotts “may be subject to penalties that reduce their foreign tax credit, the benefits of foreign sales corporations, and the deferral available to U.S. shareholders of controlled foreign corporations.”

The blacklist also lacks a basis in international law. Indeed, international law does not prohibit business in disputed territories. Nor is doing such business inconsistent with the principles of corporate social responsibility (which are non-binding). That is the official view of the United Nations, expressed in its Global Compact document titled “Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: A Resource for Companies and Investors.”

Finally, the legitimacy of the database is also thrown into doubt by the very makeup of the UNHRC, which includes as members many of the world’s worst human rights violators. Current UNHRC members sitting in judgment of Israel include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, and Venezuela.

There are more than 100 territorial disputes in the world today, including in Crimea, Cyprus, Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, Tibet, and Western Sahara. Yet only the West Bank and East Jerusalem were singled out for such a database. The decision to focus on Israel raises the question of whether the database is really about human rights, or rather about hypocritically bashing Israel.

***

The list identified companies listed in the United States, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Thailand, and Britain.

Inclusion on the list had no immediate legal implications for the companies. But the issue is highly sensitive as companies named could be targeted for boycotts or divestment aimed at stepping up international pressure on Israel over its West Bank settlements.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin expressed solidarity with the named businesses, saying, “Boycotting Israeli companies does not advance the cause of peace and does not build confidence between the sides.”

“We call on our friends around the world to speak out against this shameful initiative which reminds of dark periods in our history,” he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Whoever boycotts us will be boycotted. The UN Human Rights Council is a biased body that is devoid of influence. Not for nothing have I already ordered the severing of ties with it. It was also not for nothing that the American administration has taken this step together with us. In recent years, we have promoted laws in most US states, which determine that strong action is to be taken against whoever tries to boycott Israel. Therefore, this body is unimportant. Instead of the organization dealing with human rights, it only tries to disparage Israel. We strongly reject this contemptible effort.”

The head of Israel’s centrist Blue and White party — ex-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz — tweeted, “A dark day for human rights. The UN high commissioner for human rights has lost touch with reality.”

Hillel Neuer — executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch NGO — tweeted, “The list has no precedent & turns the UN into Ground Zero for the global anti-Israel boycott campaign.” More here.

02/13/20

US Navy Seizes Iran Ship with SAMs on Board

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Our turn eh? Hmmm, the same day that the Senate votes to limit the President’s war power measures on declaring war with Iran, this event from last week hits the headlines. By the way, President Trump has never indicated he would go to war with Iran with or without Congressional approval so that whole bi-partisan measure in the Senate was just a formality… a gesture.

The Senate passed a war powers resolution Thursday that constrains President Donald Trump’s ability to authorize military strikes against Iran.

The resolution from Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine received bipartisan support. It passed 55–45 with eight Republicans voting with Democrats in favor. However, Trump has signaled he will veto the resolution, and there are not enough votes in Congress to override the veto.

Kaine introduced the resolution in early January after escalating tensions with Iran culminated in an American strike killing Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iran responding by firing missiles at two American bases in Iraq. The administration gave Congress a briefing to justify the strike after the fact, which didn’t satisfy Democrats and infuriated two administration allies, Republican Reps. Mike Lee and Rand Paul.

“The nation should not be at war without a vote of Congress,” said Kaine Wednesday. “Even if he chooses to veto it and we can’t override, the will of both bodies and the public they represent, that could be a factor in his decision making.” h/t

Anyway, back to the SAMs…surface to air missiles…

U.S. Warship in Arabian Sea Seizes Suspected Iranian Weapons

***
Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG-60) seized a cache of Iranian-made anti-tank missiles and other munitions aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea over the weekend.

The Normandy stopped the dhow while conducting maritime security operations over the weekend, in accordance with international law, according to a statement released Thursday by U.S. Central Command.

The seized weapons include:

  • 150 Dehlavieh anti-tank missiles, which are Iranian-made version of the Russian Kornet anti-tank missiles.
  • Three Iranian-made surface-to-air missiles.
  • Thermal imaging weapon scopes.
  • Components for manned and unmanned aerial and surface vessels.

The CENTCOM statement noted that many of the munitions seized over the weekend by Normandy are similar to weapons and components seized in November by the crew of Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98).

The weapons included 358 surface-to-air missile components and ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), intended for the Houthis in Yemen, aboard a stateless dhow during a maritime interdiction operation in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations on Feb. 9, 2020. US Navy Photo

The weapons seized by Forrest Sherman were determined to be destined for Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen, according to CENTCOM. Houthi rebels have been fighting Saudi Arabian forces in Yemen for five years. The force has used unmanned aerial and surface vessels to attack Saudi Arabian forces in the past, using equipment that U.S. military experts say comes from Iran.

The shipment of weapons seized over the weekend would violate a United Nations Security Council resolution prohibiting the “direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis,” the CENTCOM statement notes.

02/13/20

Hunter and The Truman National Security Project

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

Turn the corner and we find yet another swampy organization where Hunter Biden had a parking space called the Truman National Security Project. Yeesh, this outfit is really a left-leaning organization founded by Rachel Kleinfeld. She is also a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The roster of young Truman fellows in high places includes Matthew Spence, who co-founded Truman with Kleinfeld and is now a senior aide to Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Eric Lesser, who until he left for Harvard Law this summer worked in the White House, first as David Axelrod’s right-hand man and then as director of strategic planning for the Council of Economic Advisers. (He also organized the annual White House Seder.) Others have worked in the Department of Homeland Security, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Pentagon offices of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There are journalists, like Patrick Radden Keefe, and analyst-bloggers like Micah Zenko, of the Council on Foreign Relations. And there are people like Liz McNally, a West Point graduate and Rhodes Scholar who worked as a speechwriter for Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq—and who, in August, wound up on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “The New Greatest Generation.” More context and details here.

Okay, back to Hunter…

\In 2011, two years into his father’s term as vice president, Hunter Biden was appointed by the Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning foreign policy network, to its board of directors. The younger Biden was, at the time, one of just six members of the governing board, where he served alongside the organization’s founder and CEO, Rachel Kleinfeld, and a handful of corporate leaders. He had no obvious qualifications for the position.

As the Truman Project expanded, Democratic national security heavyweights including Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy guru who ran the Department of Policy Planning during her tenure at Foggy Bottom; Matthew Spence, a Defense Department veteran who served as a senior aide to Obama national security adviser Tom Donilon; and Steve Israel, the former Democratic congressman and head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, eventually joined Biden on the board.

Run for Office

A cached version of the organization’s website shows that Biden rose to the position of vice chairman of the board, serving there until at least March of 2019. It is not clear precisely when—or why—Biden stepped down from the board, and the Truman Project did not respond to requests for comment. But during his tenure on the board, according to the New Yorker, he was in and out of drug rehabilitation facilities several times and, in 2014, joined the board of the Ukrainian gas giant Burisma and was discharged from the U.S. Navy after he failed a drug test. He later claimed that cigarettes he had smoked outside a bar may have been, unbeknownst to him, laced with cocaine.

Founded in 2004 by Kleinfeld, a Yale University graduate and Rhodes Scholar, the Truman National Security Project was intended to mirror conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Funded by the Ploughshares Fund, the organization awards dozens of fellowships every year and aims to mentor a new generation of Democratic foreign policy leaders.

(Sidebar: The Ploughshares Fund was a major funder promoting the Iran Nuclear deal and remember lil Ben Rhodes of the Obama White House later joined Ploughshares.)

Kleinfeld, who left the organization in 2013 and now serves as a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, did not respond to a request for comment. The Truman National Security Project did not return multiple requests for comment. A lawyer for Hunter Biden did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for John P. Driscoll, the chairman of the board of the Truman National Security Project, did not respond to a series of questions including why Biden was appointed to the board and when he stepped down from the position.

Kleinfeld has, however, written about her deep concern about corruption in Ukraine, writing in 2014, the year Biden joined Burisma’s board, that “Iraq’s fall on the heels of Ukraine’s collapse should be compelling. Curbing corruption before it tips into Kalashnikov-carrying rebels and public crucifixions is good security policy. And we need to get better at it.”

Biden was appointed to the Burisma board as the oil and gas giant faced a slew of corruption investigations involving its owner, Mikhail Zlochevsky, who was facing a money laundering investigation.

During Biden’s time on the board of the Truman Project, the organization joined a network of other left-leaning national-security oriented outlets with which it is closely linked, decried the Trump administration’s foreign policy initiatives and called for the resignation of Attorney General William Barr. Defend American Democracy, which identifies the Truman National Security Project as a “partner organization,” ran a national ad urging Americans to “hold the president accountable for abusing his office and risking national security for his own gain.”

Biden wasn’t the organization’s only connection to Burisma. Throughout his tenure on the board he sat alongside Sally Painter, the chief operating officer of the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Blue Star Strategies, which was hired by Burisma to improve the company’s image in the United States. A November Wall Street Journal report detailed how Painter’s colleague, Karen Tramontano, used Biden’s name in an effort to secure meetings with senior State Department officials, though the paper said it was not clear “whether the younger Mr. Biden knew his name was being used by Blue Star in its contacts with State Department officials on Burisma’s behalf in early 2016.”

While it is unclear when, exactly, Burisma retained Blue Star Strategies, Biden and Painter were serving together on the Truman board while Blue Star was working for Burisma.

As a tax-exempt organization, the Truman National Security Project is required to file tax returns indicating whether any of its officers or key employees have a “business relationship” with any others. Though Burisma tapped Painter’s public relations outfit while Biden was a member of the board, the Truman Project answered “no.” It further indicated that its officers had been briefed on their duty to disclose any conflicts of interest and that it was “regularly and consistently” monitoring compliance with the policy.

Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First, who served as president and CEO of the Truman Project when the tax returns were filed, and who is identified on them as the individual who possesses the organization’s books and records, did not respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Truman fellows can now be found throughout the D.C. foreign policy establishment. Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright; Senators Chris Coons (D., Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D., Ill.) and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.); and former undersecretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy are board members of its sister organization, the Truman Center for National Policy.

The Truman National Security Project’s current president and CEO, Jenna Ben-Yehuda, whose contact information is not publicly listed on the organization’s website, did not respond to a request via Twitter for an appropriate point of contact for media inquiries. A page listing the group’s membership is “currently under construction,” according to the group’s website, and the email address listed for press inquiries was inoperative.

On Tuesday—even before his disappointing fifth place finish in New Hampshire—Joe Biden fled the state for South Carolina, where he is hoping African-American voters will revive his flagging campaign. If that hope proves futile, it will be in part because of the perception that, as vice president, Biden either used his name and influence to help friends and family or looked the other way while they did so at places like Burisma and the Truman National Security Project.

***

As of June 2017, it is composed of 16 chapters from 47 different states across the nation and claims more than 1,600 members. It supports American leadership, using its defense and diplomacy in the world on issues involving shared security and democracy promotion abroad. Many of its members are former or current military personnel, diplomats, foreign policy lobbyists, and political activists. The Truman Project has been criticized for giving the impression that it is bipartisan and independent while being supportive of the Democratic Party.

02/13/20

Chinese Spy Leading California Public Pension Fund?

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

This may add some very new and different questions when it comes to the Biden foreign operations… read on.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., joined “Mornings with Maria” to explain why he wrote a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom highlighting his concerns about the state public pension fund’s chief investment officer having ties to China.

The fund has invested $3.1 billion in Chinese companies, some of which have been blacklisted by the U.S. government, Banks told FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo.

“If this were up to me, I would fire [Chief Investment Officer Yu Ben Meng] immediately because of these suspicious ties,” he said. “We learned that Mr. Meng, who is the chief investment officer of CalPERS, was actually recruited to this position by the [Chinese Communist Party] through something called the Thousand Talents Program. Now he’s denied it.”

CalPERS stands for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the nation.

“What is unusual is that many of these companies are companies that we’ve blacklisted, that make Chinese military equipment or are responsible for technologies like Hikvision, which is the equipment that’s used by the Chinese for surveillance on the Uighur Muslim population that they’ve been abusing in their own country,” Banks said.

The Commerce Department blacklisted Hikvision in October “for engaging in or enabling activities contrary to the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

CalPERS defended Meng.

“This is a reprehensible attack on a U.S. citizen. We fully stand behind our Chief Investment Officer who came to CalPERS with a stellar international reputation,” a CalPERS spokeswoman told Reuters.

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Hold on, it is actually worse… going back 4 months ago…

(Reuters) – Some of the biggest public pensions funds in the United States have invested in one of the world’s largest purveyors of video surveillance systems that the U.S. government claims are used in wide-scale repression of the Muslim population of western China.

The Trump administration’s decision to put the company, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co (002415.SZ), on a blacklist last week has prompted at least two of the pension plans to say they are reviewing or monitoring that development.

The blacklist applies to Hikvision and seven other companies because they allegedly enabled the crackdown that has led to mass arbitrary detentions in the Xinjiang region.

“We are tracking the situation given this new development with the Department of Commerce’s announcement,” a spokeswoman for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) said in an email.

CalSTRS owned 4.35 million Hikvision shares at the end of June 30, 2018, the last data available. The holding, owned directly and through emerging market exchange-traded funds, would be worth $24 million at that share count.

The New York State Teachers Retirement System also owned Hikvision, reporting 81,802 shares at the end of June, up from 26,402 shares at the end of 2018, fund disclosures show.

“Our holdings are primarily held according to their weights in passive portfolios matching the MSCI ACWI ex-U.S. index, our policy benchmark. We are monitoring the situation,” said a spokesman for the teachers’ fund. The ex-U.S. All Country World Index includes stocks from 22 developed and emerging markets.

The blacklisting means Hikvision and the other companies will not be able to buy U.S. technology, such as software and microchips, without specific U.S. government approval. It does not prevent U.S. investors from buying the companies’ shares. In August, Hikvision had been banned from selling to U.S. federal agencies because the government said its products could allow access to sensitive systems.

Hikvision’s General Manager Hu Yangzhong told Reuters on Wednesday it has been talking to the U.S. government about Xinjiang and has hired human rights lawyers to defend itself against the blacklisting.

A spokeswoman for law firm Sidley Austin LLP, which has lobbied for Hikvision this year, declined to comment.

Another major fund investing in Hikvision shares is the Florida Retirement System (FRS), with 1.8 million shares at the end of June.

A spokesman for the fund said it was working closely with external money managers “related to the issue in order to meet all regulatory and fiduciary requirements.”

POSTER CHILD

Risk consultants say the ease with which money used for the retirements of tens of millions of Americans is being invested in such companies should concern U.S. authorities at every level, as well as Americans generally.

“Hikvision has emerged as the corporate poster child for enabling Chinese human rights abuses, with its surveillance cameras visible atop the walls of detention camps incarcerating some one million or more Uighurs in Xinjiang,” said Roger Robinson, president and CEO of Washington DC-based risk consultancy RWR Advisory Group.

Beijing denies any mistreatment of people at the camps, which it says provide vocational training to help stamp out religious extremism and teach new work skills.

Robinson said that many Americans are unwittingly owning shares in such companies because they are in index funds. “They are picked up by the index providers in sizable numbers and sluiced into U.S. investor portfolios with seemingly very little, if any, due diligence or disclosure in the categories of national security and human rights.”

MSCI Inc (MSCI.N), whose products are designed for global investors, added Hikvision to its benchmark emerging markets index last year. MSCI declined to comment.

One other company among the blacklisted eight that is owned by some of the big pension funds is iFlytek Co Ltd (002230.SZ), a speech-recognition firm. Its shares were owned by funds in Florida, New York State as well as CalSTRS and the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) indirectly through the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF at their last disclosure dates. IShares, a top ETF provider owned by BlackRock Inc (BLK.N), declined to comment.

CUTTING TIES

Not all the funds have stuck with Hikvision.

The New York State Common Fund, one of the country’s biggest pension funds, liquidated its position months ago. It had owned 2.7 million shares worth $14.2 million at the end of March through an external fund manager, but sold them in May, a spokesman said, declining to say why.

U.S. mutual funds have also cut or eliminated positions in Hikvision amid the negative publicity, which included it being named in a Human Rights Watch report on mass surveillance in Xinjiang in May.

Just 9% of global emerging markets funds now own Hikvision, down from 20% in 2018, according to Copley Fund Research. One fund to pull out is the $2.7 billion Artisan Developing World Fund (APDYX.O), which had a $66 million position in Hikvision at the end of March but reported holding no shares three months later, fund disclosures show. Artisan did not respond to a request for comment.

At least one U.S. pension fund had worried this summer about whether to invest in the Chinese surveillance company.

The $33 billion Alaska Permanent Fund had considered an investment in a China fund featuring Hikvision as a top holding, according to minutes of a June meeting of its trustees and staff. The minutes were published last month.

Schroders Global Asset Management, a finalist for the fund’s mainland China investment mandate, touted Hikvision as a top performer.

Some Alaska trustees, however, worried about “headline risks” of investing in companies that aid the Chinese government’s surveillance activities, according to the minutes.

Jack Lee, portfolio manager of the China fund, assured Alaska pension officials he had spoken with Hikvision executives. Hikvision will “try to avoid that kind of business,” the trustees were told, but “they don’t necessarily know how their equipment is used,” Lee told the trustees, according to the minutes.

Reuters could not determine whether Alaska made an investment in the Schroders fund that included Hikvision stock.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska Retirement Management Board, which oversees the pension, said it does not have any additional information to share regarding Schroders’ efforts. A Schroders spokesman declined to comment.

02/12/20

GovTrack Data on 2020 Candidates in the Senate

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

As we go through these primary states, do voters really do the work to determine the backgrounds of the candidates? Likely not, so below is a little cheat sheet that voters must consider for some of these candidates during their time in the Senate. It is a voter’s duty to know.

Who are Democrat's top choices for 2020 presidential ...

Last May, we published an article highlighting differences between the 2020 democratic candidates based on their legislative records in 2017 and 2018. We also published several articles highlighting some of the key legislation that candidates have introduced more recently to give an understanding of their current policy concerns. As we finally reach the 2020 democratic primaries, it’s a good time to revisit what GovTrack data can tell us about the remaining viable candidates who are currently serving in or have served in the US Senate.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has secured his position as the most progressive candidate by championing significant reform for popular issues. He has introduced a bill in this session of Congress for almost all of his major talking points, such as his Medicare for All ActRaise the Wage Act and College for All Act. The titles of these bills are more or less self-explanatory, which is fitting of Sanders’ style. Sanders introduces relatively few bills compared to other Senators, but the ones he does introduce tend to propose sweeping changes.

While Sanders’ legislative focus tends to be on health and the economy, he’s also touched on other key progressive issues. He introduced two environmental bills: the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which would set energy efficiency standards for all public housing among other things, and the Prevent Future American Sickness Act, which in a break from Sanders’ loftier policy goals would designate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances. He also introduced the No War Against Iran Act in response to increased tensions earlier this year.

Only two of the 27 bills Sanders introduced this session were supported by a Republican, and he’s only signed on to 19 Republican bills.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has a clear focus on financial and economic policy. She introduced several bills to regulate large corporations, like her Accountable Capitalism Act, which would set responsibilities for United States corporations and enforce them with a new federal office, or her Ending Too Big to Jail Act intended to crack down on financial crime.

While not all of the bills she introduces are specific to that focus, most of them are presented from a financial perspective. For example, two of the major educational reforms Warren proposes, the Student Loan Debt Relief Act and the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act, are centered around the affordability of preschool and higher education. Affordability is a key issue to Warren, appearing in the titles of two of her recent bills, the Affordable Safe Drinking Water Act and the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, which show off her approach to environmental and health policy respectively.

Warren and Sanders have both built their campaigns on progressive reforms meant to relieve stress for low-income Americans. However, looking at the legislative records we can find some contrast. While Sanders rarely ever trades cosponsorship with Republicans, Warren is much more likely to have a Republican or two sign on to her bills. In the previous session of Congress over half the bills Warren introduced had a Republican cosponsor and in this session, almost a third were the same. She also has cosponsored 98 Republican bills this session.

Amy Klobuchar

One legislative issue stands out for Amy Klobuchar more so than for the other candidates: campaigns and elections. She has introduced 15 bills such as her Stopping Harmful Interference for a Lasting Democracy Act, which would require Federal campaigns report any foreign assistance offered or given, her Redistricting Reform Act, intended to combat partisan gerrymandering, and her Same Day Registration Act, which would allow voter registration on the same day of an election.

But with 81 bills introduced in this session, Klobuchar has covered a wide range of topics. She has introduced environmental bills such as the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy Act, which would provide grants and technology assistance to rural electric cooperatives, and finance bills such as the Monopolization Deterrence Act, which would allow monetary penalties against corporations that engage in monopolization offenses.

Klobuchar introduced more bills than the other senators running for President. She tends to focus less on lofty goals like Sanders’ Medicare for All or Warren’s Universal Child Care, opting to legislate for smaller policy adjustments rather than large scale reform. She also is much more likely to get Republican cosponsors. 51 of the 81 bills she introduced this session had at least one Republican cosponsor.

Joe Biden

Although Joe Biden didn’t introduce any bills in this session of Congress, we can look into his record from his last years as a senator. From 2007 to 2009 Biden focused on criminal justice and sentencing reform. He introduced bills such as the Bail Bond Fairness Act which would have required that bail bonds only be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear in court, the Justice Integrity Act, which would have created a program to prevent racial bias in law enforcement and to improve public confidence in the police, and the Drug Sentencing Reform and Cocaine Kingpin Trafficking Act, which would have eliminated mandatory minimums for possession of crack or powder cocaine, among other things. He took an interest in preventing drug abuse through bills like the Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act and Dextromethorphan Abuse Reduction Act.

Biden also had bills on clean energy and college affordability. His College Affordability and Creating Chances for Educational Success for Students Act would have assisted college students with tax credits and Pell grants, and his International Clean Development Technology Fund Act would have appropriated $2 billion for developing and implementing technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globally.

65 of the 89 bills Biden introduced in his last session of Congress had Republican cosponsors. Biden signed on to 71 bills introduced by Republicans.

02/11/20

Huawei Snooping via Backdoor on US Telecom Network

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

For ten years…

U.S. officials say Huawei Technologies Co. can covertly access mobile-phone networks around the world through “back doors” designed for use by law enforcement, as Washington tries to persuade allies to exclude the Chinese company from their networks.

Chinese tech giant Huawei can reportedly access the networks it helped build that are being used by mobile phones around the world. It’s been using backdoors intended for law enforcement for over a decade, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing US officials. The details were disclosed to the UK and Germany at the end of 2019 after the US had noticed access since 2009 across 4G equipment, according to the report.

The backdoors were inserted for law enforcement use into carrier equipment like base stations, antennas, and switching gear, the Journal said, with US officials reportedly alleging they were designed to be accessible by Huawei.

“We have evidence that Huawei has the capability secretly to access sensitive and personal information in systems it maintains and sells around the world,” Robert O’Brien, national security adviser, reportedly said.

The White House and Huawei didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but the tech giant rejected the claims according to the Journal.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved Huawei for 5G last month with some conditions: The British restrictions are to exclude Huawei from building core parts of the UK’s 5G networks, have Huawei’s market share capped at 35% and exclude Huawei from sensitive geographic locations. The European Union allowed higher-risk vendors for 5G with similar restrictions at the end of January.

Huawei’s 5G approval there came despite the US urging the UK to ban the Chinese telecommunications giant.

Huawei was blacklisted in May when it was added to the United States’ “entity list” (PDF). In addition, US President Donald Trump at the same time signed an executive order essentially banning the company in light of national security concerns that Huawei had close ties with the Chinese government. Huawei has repeatedly denied that charge.

*** Huawei faces further investigation into Chinese 'spying ...

Huawei disputed the latest allegations, as it has done in the past, saying it “has never and will never do anything that would compromise or endanger the security of networks and data of its clients.” Huawei also said that the United States made its latest accusations “without providing any kind of concrete evidence.”

“No Huawei employee is allowed to access the network without an explicit approval from the network operator,” a Huawei official said, according to the Journal.

The US government has been moving to reduce the amount of Huawei and ZTE equipment in telecom networks. The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously in November to ban Huawei and ZTE gear in projects paid for by the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF). FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said at the time that Huawei and ZTE “have close ties to China’s Communist government and military apparatus” and “are subject to Chinese laws broadly obligating them to cooperate with any request from the country’s intelligence services and to keep those requests secret.”

The ban is expected to hit small carriers the hardest, as Huawei has appealed to small network operators by selling low-cost gear. By contrast, big telcos like AT&T “have long steered clear of Huawei,” a March 2018 Wall Street Journal report said.

02/11/20

Meet the Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act

By: Denise Simon | Founders Code

It would be ironic if the report itself came in $1 billion over budget and five years behind schedule.

(Really? Behind schedule and over budget and it has to be $1 billion? Your thoughts?) It is a start however introduced by 2 Republicans, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI8) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA).

What is a billion dollars? | Sam Diacont

Context

A number of taxpayer-funded projects are taking significantly longer or costing significantly more than originally projected. Prominent examples include everything from the current 2020 Census to NASA space missions, plutonium cleanup sites to New York City subway construction.

What the bill does

The Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act would require an annual public report detailing all federal projects that are running at least $1 billion over budget or at least five years behind schedule.

(That would likely include President Trump’s proposed border wall, for which U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week increased its original cost estimate up to $11 billion.)

The report would be compiled by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It would feature such components as both the original and current estimated costs of the projects, and supposed explanations justifying the increased expenses or late arrivals.

The Senate version was introduced last February 26 as bill number S. 565, by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). The House version was introduced a month later last March 27 as bill number H.R. 1917, by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI8).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation allows for better management of misused and mishandled money allocated funded by American taxpayers.

“There are far too many taxpayer-funded projects that are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule,” Sen. Ernst said in a press release. The bill “will require the disclosure of the cost and timeline of these federal projects, bringing overdue accountability and transparency to the process, which will allow us to identify problems before they become a bottomless pit of taxpayer dollars.”

“Mismanagement of multibillion-dollar government projects should not be treated like business as usual,” Rep. Gallagher said in a separate press release. “It’s our job in Congress to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, and this bill provides much-needed transparency of large-scale projects so we can get to the bottom of a problem before it becomes a bottomless pit of money.”

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any explicit statements of opposition.

Odds of passage

The Senate version has attracted five cosponsors: four Republicans and one Democrat. It passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on November 6th and now goes for a potential vote by the full chamber.

The House version has attracted 12 cosponsors: eight Republicans and four Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in either the House Budget or Oversight and Reform Committee.