Tag Archives: opinions

The thing ‘SNL’ does to Trump

(CNN)Trump’s “locked and loaded” standoff with North Korea has Americans in high anxiety, hair-pulling among White House officials may be stalling his agenda, Robert Mueller’s Russia campaign-interference probe appears to be heating up with the recent FBI raid of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Trump faces the lowest-ever approval ratings for a president at this time in his first term.

But things may be getting worse for the President: “Saturday Night Live” is back! Starting last night and airing the next three Thursdays, we will see an all-new, 30-minute live prime-time edition of “Weekend Update.”
The first episode served as a reminder of the vital, cathartic role that “SNL” has played during the Trump presidency, making (many) in America and beyond laugh, while spotlighting Trump’s failings.
    Let the late-night tweets from the White House begin.
    For those who have forgotten how much “SNL” sends Trump into a tizzy, here’s a quick refresher from his Twitter account. “Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”
    Even after Trump won the election, he was still lashing out at “SNL.” In November, he slammed the show as “one sided,” claiming the show featured “nothing funny at all.”
    And just a week before being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, there was Trump again whining about “SNL”: “…Not funny, cast is terrible, always a complete hit job. Really bad television!” (It would be great to see Trump direct that type of passion at Russia for interfering in our election, instead of bizarrely praising Putin for expelling hundreds of US diplomatic staffers from Russia, as he did this week.
    “SNL” showed Thursday night that it is indeed ready to mix it up with the leader of the free world. In last night’s edition, anchors Colin Jost and Michael Che took turns comically pummeling Trump before a studio audience that appeared hungry for just that.
    The show opened with jokes mocking Trump’s threat Wednesday to rain “fire and fury” on North Korea. After playing a clip of a cross-armed angry Trump lashing out at North Korea, Che joked, “unfold your arms. You look like a Jeff Dunham puppet” as the image of “Walter,” Dunham’s famous angry old man puppet, appeared on screen.
    Jost added, “You can’t threaten someone when you are sitting down … even FDR stood up when he was talking tough.”
    The show used comedy to remind us of the Trump-related scandals that have continued apace during the three months inter-season period while “SNL” has been off the air. There was Donald Trump Jr. (played by Mikey Day) and Eric Trump (Alex Moffat) reprising their comedy partnership with jokes about Donald Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer to get dirt on Hillary Clinton — and Donald Trump’s help in crafting son Don Jr.’s original tall tale to the American public about the meeting.

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    There was the uncanny cameo appearance by former “SNL” member Bill Hader channeling former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.
    When asked by Che if he had any regrets about his short stint in the White House, Hader responded, “The Mooch has no regrets, baby!” adding, “All I did was sell my company, miss the birth of my child and ruin my entire reputation, all to be king of idiot mountain for 11 days.”
    Yes, the “SNL” return will likely provoke the President, but there’s one silver lining for him — the prime-time “Weekend Update” episodes are only 30 minutes long, as opposed to typical 90-minute episodes. So from now until the show’s new season kicks off in October, Trump can take heart: there will be one-third less punchlines at his expense.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/11/opinions/snl-trump-weekend-update-opinion-obeidallah/index.html

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    US options on North Korea: It’s a choice between bad and worse

    (CNN)So, it has finally happened.

    Two subsequent launches of long-range Hwasong-14 missiles in July demonstrated that North Korea has become the third country in the world, after China and Russia, capable of hitting is not only Alaska and Hawaii, but also the Lower 48 with a nuclear warhead.
    This means it is time to start taking the North Korean problem seriously. The public will demand from the politicians “to do something,” but the sad truth is that options are highly limited.
      Very few analysts still believe that North Korea will denuclearize in exchange for political and economic concessions from the United States and other interested parties.

      Dead people don’t need money

      North Korean leaders know that dead people do not need money, and they believe that without nuclear weapons they will be as good as dead.
      They see themselves as vulnerable to both foreign attack — the fate of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — or killed in a domestic rebellion assisted from overseas — the fate offormer Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, the only dictator in history who agreed to abandon his nuclear program in exchange for promised economic benefits.
      Economic sanctions, currently the most preferable tactics, are not going to work either. To start with, sanctions seldom work with authoritarian regimes and North Korea is the authoritarian regime par excellence.
      Additionally, China, North Korea’s only significant trade partner, has serious reasons not to fully join their sanctions because it doesn’t want to provoke a domestic crisis in North Korea and deal with its consequences.
      The military options are too risky: any attack against nuclear and military targets in North Korea is likely to provoke a massive counter-strike against Seoul.

      The leaves us with only one option — the long-discussed but usually neglected idea of a “freeze.”
      Most freeze proposals are usually structured as such: North Korea gets keep all the nuclear weapons and missiles it has produced so far, but must refrain from testing any missiles and nukes. In exchange, Pyongyang gets a pretty generous package of political concessions and financial aid delivered by the United States and other interested parties.
      Such a package would have to be really generous because North Korean leaders, contrary to common assumptions, are not under much pressure. The country’s economy, in spite of sanctions, is doing remarkably well: according to the most conservative estimates, in 2016 the GDP growth was close to 4%.
      Such a deal is of course going to be quite flawed in many regards. First, given the North Korean track record, we can be pretty sure they will be cheating. Second, the North Koreans are likely to walk away from the deal at any moment, if they decide that it doesn’t suit their interests any more.
      However, policy is seldom a choice between good and bad. More frequently, it is a choice between bad and worse, and in this case all alternatives to the freeze are indeed, worse.

      It could get ugly

      If no deal is reached, North Korea is likely to further advance its nuclear and missile program, and the results are likely to be really ugly.
      To start with, in near future North Korea is likely to develop and deploy a solid-fuel ICBM (the recently tested Hwasong-14 uses liquid fuel).
      It takes time, possibly half an hour or more, to prepare a liquid-fuel missile for launch. The US military, with its superior intelligence gathering capabilities and air superiority, can use this time to locate and destroy the missile. A solid-fuel missile can be ready in few minutes, making harder to locate and wipe out.

      Another advancement likely to happen relatively soon is the development of the thermonuclear warhead — a powerful type of nuclear weapon.
      It’s not clear how precise North Korean missiles are, but that problem would be mitigated if they are equipped with powerful warheads. For example, if Pyongyang were to target New York City’s population centers, it wouldn’t matter whether the missile hit Manhattan or the waters near Staten Island: a thermonuclear weapon would obliterate the city either way.

      Dodging missile defenses

      It is also likely that in due time North Korean engineers will perfect technologies which will be able to reduce efficiency of the US anti-missile defenses, like the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which is designed to take out shorter-range ballistic missiles.
      Nobody really knows how efficient the existent systems would be in a real battle situation — THAAD is often described as hitting a bullet with a bullet — but there is little doubt that the US military will have more trouble intercepting more sophisticated missiles with multiple warheads and decoys.

      Last but not least, the sheer increase in number of North Korean missiles and nuclear devices is likely to constitute a problem in itself. It will increase a probability of an incident, and might also make North Korean leadership more prone to over-confident and adventurous actions.
      One can argue that North Koreans are likely to advance their technology even if they agree to a freeze. This is true, but the speed of this advance will decrease significantly, since the North Korean scientists and engineers will need a lot of testing.And the freeze agreement, as long as it holds, will deprive them of such opportunities.Thus, in spite of all its imperfections, the freeze agreement is likely to deliver some results.
      It will be possible to reduce the probability of North Koreans unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement by structuring its properly. The concessions the US and other interested parties are going to make, no matter how serious, should be completely and easily reversible and clearly conditional on Pyongyang’s willingness to honor the freeze agreement. So, if North Koreans resume nuclear and missile testing, they will immediately loose access to the advantages they enjoy under the freeze regime.
      The freeze is not a perfect compromise. However, alternatives are worse, so the sooner the new reality will be understood by the decision makers in Washington and elsewhere, the better.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/31/opinions/north-korea-freeze-andrei-lankov/index.html

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      Trump’s transgender tweets are an affront to the all-volunteer military

      (CNN)There is a lot to dislike about President Donald Trump’s decision this morning to reinstate the ban on transgender service.

      First of all, it’s an affront to the very ideals of the all-volunteer force, the force we both joined and served in for a combined 68 years. The central tenet of that force is that young men and women from across the spectrum of American society can choose to wear the cloth of the country in service to the nation.
      As long as they swear the oath to defend our ideas, meet the professional standards, complete the training and thereafter serve with honor, they have the privilege of defending our country. It’s led to a highly professional, well-led and motivated force that continues to be the world’s example of professionalism in military service. Right now, only about 1% of the nation make that choice, and transgender troops are a part of all that.
        To be sure, there have been times when ‘all-volunteer’ didn’t mean every volunteer. Policies throughout the years have altered the physical and mental aptitude requirements, have restricted — and still restrict, to a lesser degree now — the service of women, have banned the service of gays and lesbians, and have even made racial equality and equal opportunity a challenge. There is still much work to be done on these fronts.
        Wednesday’s decision doesn’t make that work easier. Indeed, it sets us back.
        It also violates the covenant, as well the very contract, between recruits and the Defense Department. If we are to believe the President’s statement this morning — which barred transgender troops from serving in “any capacity” — then it follows that every transgender soldier currently in uniform is in a state of limbo right now, uncertain whether or not they can continue their military careers.
        Sen. John McCain, along with many other lawmakers, objected to Trump’s tweet. “The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today,” McCain wrote in an official statement.
        As Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King told CNN today, “The great thing about being in the military is when we take our oath we take it to our country. I felt like I had just gotten fired via tweet.”
        They deserve better than this.
        There’s another problem: this new policy could actually hurt readiness. A study by the RAND Corporation — commissioned by the Defense Department — found that somewhere between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender troops currently serve on active duty. If you consider the upper end of that estimate, you’re talking about the same number of people who fill out an Army Brigade Combat Team, a little more than two Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) or an aircraft carrier with its embarked air wing. And this RAND estimate doesn’t include many thousands more transgenders who likely serve in the Guard and Reserve.
        That’s a lot of talent … a lot of people with unique and necessary skills. These are not individuals attempting to make a statement, these are citizens wishing to serve their nation. They serve in the infantry. They repair and maintain tanks, planes and ships. They fly, navigate, sail and drive all manner of machinery, vehicles and aircraft. They send missiles downrange. They keep supplies coming. They are interpreters and military analysts. They hunt down and kill terrorists.
        We — the American people — have trained them. We’ve invested time and dollars in their education, in their development as leaders, and in their contribution to teams. We put them out there on the front lines, and now — apparently — our Commander-in-Chief wants to call them back in.
        At a time when the Secretary of Defense and all the Service Chiefs are rightly concerned about readiness levels, when each of the military forces needs the continued funding and support of Congress to reset a force that has operated — and continues to operate — at a high tempo, it makes little practical sense to deprive the ranks of these professionals.
        We should be better than this.
        Many proponents of this new ban will say that it actually saves money … that the costs of providing specialized medical care to transgender troops deprives the services of funds that could be applied to weapons systems, training and operations.
        “Should we be spending any tax dollars to do gender reassignment surgeries when we have soldiers who don’t have body armor or bullets?” asked Republican Congresswoman Vicki Hartzler, a supporter of Trump’s decision. “We need to be investing every dollar that we have to meet the threats that we’re facing as a nation,” she added.
        Citing an internal study conducted by her office, Hartzler claimed that gender reassignment surgeries alone would cost the Defense Department $1.35 billion over the next 10 years.
        But the RAND report (to remind, commissioned by DoD) disputes that, calling the costs of transition-related treatments “relatively low” with an increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, roughly a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in “active-component health care expenditures.” The study also concluded that only a small percentage, estimated in the study to be between 29 and 129 service members, would even seek “transition-related care that could disrupt their ability to deploy.”
        So, yes, while there would be a financial cost to keeping the policy in place — and the concomitant time away for post-operative rest and recuperation — it’s beyond a stretch to assert that it would debilitate the military.
        Finally, there is the actual process … how this whole thing came about today. In a tweet. Without, apparently, much coordination with the Pentagon. Without any heads-up to Congressional leadership. Without a statement to our troops as to what this means for them and how it was going to be implemented.
        Politico posted an excellent piece this afternoon, citing sources that claim the President made this decision to ensure passage of a spending bill that would fund, among other things, his cherished border wall. If true, that represents the worst kind of political gerrymandering on an issue that should have been thoughtfully considered and weighed — just like Trump’s defense secretary had wanted to do in the first place.
        Only three weeks ago, Defense Secretary James Mattis informed the Hill that he needed another six months to review transgender recruiting, saying he would use the “additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality,” and would have those results in December of 2017.
        That reflection, additional analysis and further evaluation is now moot. There will be no thoughtful deliberation about consequences or impact, no careful planning about how to move forward one way or the other. Just a knee-jerk political decision with no input from those who must execute it. No consideration over the lives and careers it affects.
        We went from studying the impact of transgender recruiting to banning their service altogether at light speed, or should we say tweet-speed. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, that’s just not the way to set personnel policies in the greatest military on earth.

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        This was an ill-considered, unplanned, and poorly executed decision. It is as unfair to Pentagon leaders as it is cruel to the thousands of serving troops it directly affects. It violates the very ideals behind our all-volunteer force, deprives us of much-needed talent, and flies in the face of the President’s own promise to take care of our troops.
        We must be better than this.

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/26/opinions/trump-trans-military-opinion-hertling-kirby/index.html

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        Wealthy Affiliate Review – Complaints, Opinions and Comments Regarding Wealthy Affiliate Platinum

        Wealthy Affiliate is an online university whose aim is to educate its members in the arena of creating a sustainable and profitable business through internet affiliate marketing. On the whole, Wealthy Affiliate is about providing three factors, which are, relevant knowledge, helpful tools, and constant support.

        Online, the amount of knowledge you have is directly proportional to your earning potential and Wealthy Affiliate, knowing this, offers hours upon hours of reading and video material to help you come to grips with how everything works until you are well versed in all the leading strategies. Furthermore these strategies are always being updated, refined and discussed as the internet climate continues to evolved.

        There are many tools at this university but perhaps the most essential one is Site Rubix, the easy to use website builder. Having your own webpage has now become more important than ever since the latest Google crackdown, and with Site Rubix it couldn’t be easier. Creating profitable landing pages in a matter of minutes, this resource is a god send for individuals with no previous html knowledge.

        Last but not least is the support that is provided, which mainly stems from the forum. If you have a campaign that is failing miserably then the members there will be more than helpful in helping you overcome the barriers that have been set before you. The amount of info rich laden posts is truly astounding, and everyday it is likely you’ll encounter a nugget of knowledge that’ll help you grow your business further. With the support at Wealthy Affiliate you are in a community that truly cares for your future.

        But what the negatives associated with this online university and what is the general consensus. Here are my comments.

        In my time at Wealthy Affiliate, the worst thing I encountered was when a few members would embellish their success to the new sign-ups so that they would buy their product out of fear of failing. Luckily though, compared to other forums, this spamming is kept to a minimum, and everyone is allowed to prosper in peace.

        Other minor things include members complaining about lack of sales. If you thought that joining Wealthy Affiliate entitles you hundreds of dollars a day then you would be quite wrong. A sustainable income online will only be achieved if you implement their teachings and only then will you reap the rewards.

        If are interested in learning more, there are a few sites that provide free Wealthy Affiliate tutorials. These will allow you to sample just exactly what is taught to its members to succeed online.

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        How Trump’s ‘compliment’ to Brigitte Macron hurts America

        (CNN)In a remarkably awkward farewell, President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron shook hands for 24 seconds before Trump left France Friday morning. But the way Trump bungled his arrival in the country yesterday was more troubling.

        In that encounter, he remarked on French first lady Brigitte Macron’s body.
        “You’re in such good shape,” he said. “She’s in such good physical shape. Beautiful.”
          The tacky remark suggests a presidential mindset that is damaging to America’s interests abroad.
          Of course, Trump isn’t the first man to judge a woman this way. For millennia, women have been depicted in art and literature through the gazes of men. More recently, one study found that employers who reviewed social media profiles judged female job applicants more on their appearances and men more on the content they posted.

            Trump’s never-ending handshake with Macron

          Women who are viewed as unattractive don’t fare well in America. A recent study found that, while the appearances of male students don’t seem to affect their grades, female students who are perceived as unattractive get lower grades than female students who are judged as attractive. Other research shows that overweight women make less money and are less likely to get top jobs.
          The notion that women’s worth is derived from chromosomal chance and wardrobe has certainly been reinforced by other politicians and by the media. In 2013, President Obama called California Attorney General Kamala Harris “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country” — though only after calling her brilliant, dedicated and tough. And earlier this year, when human rights attorney Amal Clooney delivered an impassioned speech calling on the United Nations Security Council to investigate atrocities committed by the Islamic State, some media outlets covered her “baby bump” and dress instead of what she said.
          But Trump’s remarks about Brigitte Macron are remarkable for two reasons. First, of course, is that they are part of a disturbing larger pattern of how he talks about women. Last month, he claimed that MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski was recently “bleeding badly from a facelift.” Trump has often even made comments about the body of his own daughter, calling Ivanka Trump “voluptuous” and suggesting he might date her if she weren’t his child.
          What is most extraordinary in this case, however, is the forum in which Trump made his comments about Macron. When the President of the United States speaks, the world views his words as a reflection of US values and foreign policy.
          Empowering the world’s women has long been a central goal of the US government. According to the State Department’s website, “women’s empowerment is our priority.” The government funds programs to help women around the globe build their leadership skills, start and grow small businesses, and advance in fields like science, technology and engineering.
          Trump’s remarks suggest something different: that the United States’ chief representative views women as objects rather than as forces in the world.

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          This is not only humiliating for the American people. It’s also detrimental to our interests abroad. As the IMF has reported, women now make up 40% of the world’s labor force and the majority of the world’s university students. If we want these people to start businesses that create jobs and find solutions to the seemingly intractable problems the world faces, we need to teach them that they’ll be valued for their intellect, knowledge, morals and courage — not their physiques.
          Trump’s instinct was, however, correct on one accord: flattering a first lady is a great way to win the hearts of foreign people and their leaders. Next time, however, he might consider a different compliment.

          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/14/opinions/trump-brigitte-macron-awkward-comment-alaimo/index.html

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          Meeting Russians for dirt on Clinton? It may be immoral but it’s not illegal

          (CNN)The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., has served up yet another juicy morsel of staggeringly inappropriate behavior by the Trump campaign, once again focusing public attention on allegations of a Trump-Russia connection.

          Trump Jr. exposed his own participation in a controversial campaign encounter, as well as its damaging details, Tuesday by tweeting an email chain that suggests a direct link between high ranking Trump campaign officials — including himself, the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort — and the Russian government.
          Trump Jr.’s tweets appeared to be a futile attempt to get in front of imminent publication of the same email material by the New York Times.
            The email chain suggests that in early June of 2016, after then-candidate Trump had locked up the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump Jr. was told in writing by a Russian publicist friend, Rob Goldstone, that a Russian pop star, Emin, had advised him that the Russian “Crown prosecutor” was prepared to supply “high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton though a “Russian government attorney.”
            Almost as an aside, Trump the younger was advised that the documents were being supplied as a “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” The statement of support had the eerie feel of an endorsement of the Trump candidacy. Trump Jr.’s repy: “…if it’s what you say I love it.”
            The emails further showed Goldstone and Trump Jr.’s exchanges as they made arrangements for a meeting with the Russian lawyer, later identified as Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr. told Goldstone to expect Jared Kushner — who would eventually become a presidential adviser — and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort to attend.
            Soon after, this high level trio met with Veselnitskaya.
            Donald Trump Jr. had initially claimed that the meeting was to discuss a program for American adoption of Russian children that Russia had suspended in response to US sanctions. Faced with the New York Times disclosure, he changed his story, now asserting that, though the emails suggested that incriminating Hillary material was to be supplied by a Russian government lawyer, only Russian adoption policies ended up being discussed with Ms. Veselnitskaya.
            Later, in an interview with NBC News, Veselnitskaya denied a connection to the Russian government and also asserted that she discussed only the US-Russian sanctions and not Hillary Clinton.
            Why the enormous media interest in this story? For months, the President and his surrogates adamantly, angrily and repeatedly denied any contacts with Russian officials. Later this position morphed into the claim that although there had been meetings with Russians, they were so inconsequential that they had been left off security clearance disclosures by Trump campaign participants, such as now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
            The latest variation on the story seems to be that, yes, there were meetings, but there was no “collusion” — and, by the way, “collusion” is not a crime anyway.
            On the subject of “collusion,” it is true that it is not literally a federal crime. “Collusion” is generally defined as “a secret agreement or cooperation for an illegal or deceitful purpose.” The federal crime closest to the concept would be “conspiracy,” but that “conspiracy” would need to amount to something illegal — like, for instance, placing a wiretap without a court order, hacking into a computer network or (for another example) breaking into the Watergate office complex.
            Even if Trump campaign officials had happily accepted damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russians — and there is no evidence that they did — so far there has been nothing to prove that they engaged in illegal activity through their interest in obtaining the material. It might be morally and politically objectionable to gather dirt about your campaign opponent from an enemy of the United States, but the mere acceptance and use of the material would not be illegal.
            In fact, if you could stretch the conspiracy statute to apply to your right to political free speech under the First Amendment, it would likely also provide a shield from prosecution. It really wouldn’t matter that you got your info from the Russians.
            The idea that this is some kind of campaign finance law violation doesn’t fly either. The statute requires campaign solicitation of cash or a “thing of value” from a foreign national. Information about Hillary Clinton is not what the law had in mind. The exchange of information is a core First Amendment/free speech concept, and Americans are free to accept ideas and information from US citizens and foreign nationals alike, even if the information is damaging to a political opponent.
            If you charged Trump campaign officials with this as a crime, you would have to charge Clinton campaign officials if they accepted information or volunteer services from, say, undocumented aliens, as they are clearly foreign nationals. And don’t even say the word treason. Treason, which can be punishable by death, is a whole different animal reserved for people who do things like steal atomic secrets and betray their country.
            Meeting with allegedly supportive Russians does not a criminal case make, as Yoda might say. On the other hand, just ask frequent CNN contributor (and Nixon-era White House counsel) John Dean about the notion that “it’s not the crime but the cover-up” that you have to worry about.
            The President and his supporters get very hot and bothered about the so-called “Russia Investigation” and the Don Jr. email chain adds to the growing body of evidence that a lot of people connected to the Trump campaign have been lying about connections to and meetings with supportive Russians.
            If they lie to federal investigators, the Mueller grand jury or congressional committees about this, charges of perjury, lying to federal investigators and obstruction of justice will follow. Just ask John Dean. When the smoke clears and the Trump Jr. email coverage is over, remember the covering-up, because if there is criminality in the Trump administration, that is where it will be found.

            Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/11/opinions/trump-jr-russia-meeting-not-illegal-callan/index.html

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            Why Russia-probe investigators are looking at anti-money laundering database

            (CNN)It has been reported that the Senate and House Intelligence committees investigating possible ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russians have begun to receive access to financial data from the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

            FinCEN’s mission is to safeguard the financial system from illicit use and to combat money laundering and promote national security through the collection, analysis, and dissemination of financial intelligence and the strategic use of the government’s enforcement authority.
            It does this, in part, by maintaining a database of over 200 million reports of financial transactions.
              These reports come from more than 80,000 financial institutions and 500,000 individuals who maintain foreign bank accounts.
              FinCEN makes this information available to law enforcement and other government authorities for use in criminal, tax and regulatory investigations and proceedings and in intelligence and counterintelligence activities to protect against international terrorism.
              At first glance, the FinCEN data would appear to be unrelated to the central question of whether there was collusion to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
              While no evidence has been released to date that bears on this question, there are good reasons to think that House investigators and Special Counsel Robert Mueller will look closely at the FinCEN data to determine its relevance to their investigations.

              How might FinCEN data be relevant?

              The House Committee on Financial Services in its request to FinCEN for documents indicated that it is interested in the FinCEN data to assist in determining the extent of any undue influence on the President and his administration from Russian government officials, oligarchs and organized crime leaders, in connection with the 2016 presidential election.
              The committee asked for certain records that may shed light on President Trump’s financial transactions with, and business ties to, Russia. That includes information about the financial accounts of President Trump, his family members, and his business associates, and any suspicious transactions relating to the Trump Organization, including the Taj Mahal Casino Resort, in which Trump retained an ownership or other financial interest from 1990 through 2014, when the casino resort was purchased by Carl Icahn.
              (The Trump Taj Mahal Casino was assessed a civil money penalty by FinCEN in 2015 for willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act’s program, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements from 2010 through 2012. Many of these violations were cited by the Internal Revenue Service in previous examinations of Trump Taj Mahal dating back to 2003. It is not publicly known whether any of the activity related in any way to the subject of the current investigation.)

              US money laundering laws

              There are two primary types of money laundering laws in the United States: (1) laws that make money laundering itself a crime, found in title 18 United State Code Sections 1956 and 1957; and (2) laws that assist in the investigation and prosecution of money laundering, terrorist financing, and other criminal activity, found in Title 31 United States Code Section 5311 and implementing regulations (also known as The Bank Secrecy Act or BSA), including requirements to report large currency transactions, suspicious activity, foreign financial accounts, and high-end residential real estate transactions.
              The Money Laundering Statutes
              Broadly speaking, under the criminal money laundering statutes, it is a crime for any person to engage knowingly in a financial transaction with knowledge that the transaction involves the proceeds of criminal activity. The courts have interpreted knowledge to include actual knowledge and willful blindness — deliberately avoiding gaining knowledge when faced with a high likelihood of criminal activity, i.e.,ignoring red flags of suspicious activity.
              For example, if a US person were to accept payment for a condominium with knowledge that the source of the funds used in the transaction was derived from some form of criminal activity, then that person potentially could be charged with violating the money laundering statutes.
              The Bank Secrecy Act
              The Bank Secrecy Act requires certain financial institutions (for example, banks, broker dealers, and casinos) to develop, implement and maintain anti-money laundering compliance programs. Financial institutions also are required to file a number of reports and maintain a variety of records, including currency transactions reports on cash transactions over $10,000 (CTRs) and suspicious activity reports (SARs).

                Warner: Absolutely want to meet with Trump Jr.

              SARs generally must be filed when a financial institution knows, suspects or has reason to suspect that a transaction: (1) involves money laundering activity or a violation of the Bank Secrecy Act, including structuring of transactions to evade the CTR requirement; (2) has no business or apparent lawful purpose or is not the sort of transaction in which the particular customer would normally be expected to engage; or (3) involves the use of the financial institution to facilitate criminal activity.
              All persons, including financial institutions, other legal entities, and individuals, are required to file an annual report of their foreign financial accounts if the aggregate value in the accounts at any time during the calendar year exceeded $10,000 (FBARs).
              Therefore, if any CTRs, SARs or FBARs were filed relating to Trump, his family members, his associates, or the Trump organization, these reports would be included in the FinCEN data. This, in turn, could provide insights into the transactions and investigative leads in furtherance of Congress’ and/or Mueller’s investigations.

              Reporting of high-end real estate purchases

              Law enforcement agencies and congressional oversight committees have long warned of the money laundering and terrorist financing threat posed by the infusion of illicit foreign sourced money into high-end real estate in the United States.
              As one of the responses taken by law enforcement to address this threat, FinCEN, in 2016, issued Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) which temporarily require certain U.S. title insurance companies in a number of major geographic areas to identify the people behind legal entities used to pay “all cash” for high-end residential real estate.
              These areas include all of the boroughs of New York City; the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach in Florida; the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara in California, and the Texas county of Bexar (San Antonio).
              FinCEN’s concern is that all-cash purchases — i.e., those without bank financing — may be conducted by individuals attempting to hide their identity and assets by purchasing residential properties through limited liability companies (LLCs) or other opaque structures.
              Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump real estate businesses, told the “Bridging U.S. and Emerging Markets Real Estate” conference in Manhattan in September 2008:
              “[I]n terms of high-end product influx into the United States, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
              The FinCEN data might shed light on the sources of these investment dollars and the identities of the people involved in the real estate purchases.
              Beyond the inquiry into the direct investment by Russians in Trump properties, there is interest in the relationship between Trump business interests and Deutsche Bank. As has been reported by Donna Borak for CNN Money, Deutsche Bank, which recently paid significant penalties relating to its involvement in an alleged Russian money-laundering scheme, is “in the crosshairs of Democrats looking into the bank’s ties to President Trump.”

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              Specifically, in the House committee’s May 23, 2017 letter seeking access to FinCEN data, the committee raised with Treasury the need for information relating to President Trump and his alleged financial ties to Russia, and information pertaining to “President Trump’s biggest lender and the only bank known to lend to the President after his bankruptcies, Deutsche Bank.”


              How these aspects of the overall investigation will roll out in the hands of congressional investigators and, perhaps, Special Counsel Mueller, are as-yet unknown, but looking at the level of interest by Congress and the expertise of the team of lawyers Mueller has assembled, one can expect a careful and through review of the FinCEN data. To the extent that any suspicious transactions are identified, one can be sure that the investigators will follow the money to see where the trail leads.

              Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/10/opinions/russia-probe-money-laundering-database-opinion-zeldin/index.html

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              ‘Hawaii Five-0’ Asian actors won’t be without projects for long

              (CNN)It’s been a little more than a week since word leaked that Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park were leaving CBS’s resilient hit “Hawaii Five-0,” and pieces of the story behind the story have begun to fall into place. The picture that’s emerging isn’t pretty.

              As Kim himself confirmed in a Facebook post to his fans, the duo left because their request to be paid the same as their white co-stars, Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan, was rejected. The gap in what they were asking for and what CBS was willing to offer was tiny reportedly a difference of as little as $5,000 per episode, which for the most-watched network in America is an amount that could basically be found under sofa cushions in their corporate offices.
              Although, according to “Hawaii Five-0” showrunner Peter Lenkov, the raise in CBS’s final offer to Kim and Park was “generous,” money in Hollywood isn’t just about money. It also reflects respect for an artist’s importance to a show’s success. And that aspect of the negotiations clearly served as the sticking point for Kim and Park, the two prominent Asian American faces of a show whose very identity is defined by its Asian and Pacific Islander-majority locale.
                Ultimately, the refusal to pay Kim and Park on matching terms with O’Loughlin and Caan was CBS’s formal declaration that they were determined to protect a disparity that has been a sore point since the show’s premiere: The assertion that O’Loughlin and Caan are “Hawaii Five-0” “stars,” and Kim and Park are merely “co-leads.”
                It’s hard to avoid concluding that this is a direct reflection of Hollywood’s continuing legacy as a system where white actors and male actors are seen as more valuable than nonwhite and female ones, simply by accident of melanin and genitalia.

                  Why is this actor being photoshopped on movie posters?

                The hypocrisy of this stance is particularly appalling, because while O’Loughlin and Caan play updated versions of the original show’s protagonist roles, “McGarrett” and “Danno,” the initial billboards promoting the show featured Kim and Park front and center.
                And why wouldn’t they? Kim had just spent six seasons on “Lost,” a show that was nothing less than a cultural phenomenon, and was also shot in Hawaii; Park was riding similarly huge public awareness from her stint as one of the most popular characters on the breakout hit Syfy’s reboot of “Battlestar Galactica.”
                They, and faint nostalgia, were the primary reasons why people were interested in watching the show. It was not O’Loughlin, who had a number of failed CBS shows to his credit (leading to some critics noting that the network seemed “determined to make him a star” ); and not Scott Caan, whose resume boasted a supporting role on “Entourage” and membership in George Clooney and Brad Pitt’s extended “Ocean’s Eleven” family but let’s be brutally honest and admit that no one ever tuned into a TV show or bought a movie ticket with the explicit goal of seeing Caan.
                Yet Kim and Park were initially paid less a lot less, given the fact that CBS called the offer they made an “unprecedented” raise in salary. They were relegated to second-banana status on call sheets and in industry press releases. And not being seen as “leads” meant reduced leverage in other critical areas as well: Caan was able to negotiate acontracteven while shooting five fewer episodes a season, allowing him to live in Los Angeles with his family. In his statement explaining Kim and Park’s departure, Lenkov specifically pointed to Park’s desire to spend more time in LA with her husband, real estate developer Phil Kim, and their son. Somehow, Caan was able to work out a deal giving him the flexibility to spend time with his partner and child and Park was not.
                Kim subtly but firmly referred to this persistent difference in how he and Park were being treated in a Facebook post he wrote to fans on July 5, stating that “the path to equality is rarely easy.”

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                Kim and Park certainly won’t be without projects for long. Indeed, even as he shot “Hawaii Five-0,” Kim was working on adding a new line to his resume. He launched his own production company, 3AD, whose first project is ABC’s “The Good Doctor,” one of next season’s most anticipated new shows.
                He’s part of a wave of Asian American actors who’ve turned toward developing their own projects to create opportunities, including Ken Jeong, who fictionalized his own life story into ABC’s “Dr. Ken;” Steve Yuen, of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” who’s developing a feature film on North Korea’s political prison camps; and two actors who exited “Hawaii Five-0” ahead of Kim and Park Brian Yang, producer of “Linsanity” and the forthcoming “Snakehead,” and Masi Oka, whose first project, the manga-inspired “Death Note,” is scheduled to premiere on Netflix later this summer.
                So yes, the path to equality is rarely easy. But for Asian Americans who want roles of substance and commensurate success, it’s increasingly looking like that path leads in a direction beyond acting.

                Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/08/opinions/hawaii-five-0-asian-american-actors-opinion-yang/index.html

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                Gordon Brown and Shakira: G20 leaders agreed to education financing, now comes the harder part

                (CNN)If ours was a world where every child was in school and learning, then the two of us probably would have never met. But more than a decade ago, frustrated by education targets made by the international community set and missed, we came together to push back in a world where far too many children go without a quality education. It’s up to all of us to make sure that children around the world have access to this essential right. Today, we finally have good news.

                Included in the G20 Summit Leaders’ Declaration is an agreement for more and better education financing through support for the International Finance Facility for education. With this declaration, world leaders are saying: Our sustainable development goal of an inclusive and quality education for all can be met. Now, with imaginative thinking and leadership, we can deliver.
                The right to an education is imperative. Far scarier than the current reality of 263 million children out of school and not learning is the Education Commission’s (an organization developing an investment case and financing pathway for achieving equal educational opportunity for children and youth) prediction that, by 2030, half a generation — more than 800 million children — will lack basic skills necessary to thrive in tomorrow’s economy.
                  Recent years will one day be remembered as a time when, across 35 crisis-affected countries, it was more dangerous to be a child on the streets than a soldier in the trenches. Inaction, whether in Syria or South Sudan, suggests the world has become inured to the unending violations of children’s rights impacting some 75 million children caught in the crossfire. Many of the children who flee conflict zones cannot even access the one thing that can make their lives better — education. Without it, girls in particular will be victims of early marriage, trafficking, child labor and sexual discrimination.
                  One of us serves as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, the other as a United Nations special envoy for global education. In these, and our shared capacities as members of the Education Commission, we know the power of an education. We will be forever changed by our meetings with child brides in India, young Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Turkey, and impoverished children in Colombia and across Latin America. All of these children told us that an education is the only force strong enough — the only wire cutter sharp enough — to escape cycles of suffering and division. And so coming out of the G20, the international community has, to draw on the old proverb, decided to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
                  Since 2002, the share of education funding in total international aid has fallen from 13% to 10%. A painful global recession turned back the clock on national education budgets — which is where most of the resources for education come from — and slowed the positive momentum witnessed in the early 2000s. While the international community agreed to bold, new sustainable development goals in 2017 — universal primary and secondary education by 2030 — we have, until now, failed to find a way to finance them. There have been encouraging signs of progress thanks to Botswana, Vietnam, Ghana, Tanzania and others that have put education first, and through international alliances like the Global Partnership for Education, operating in the poorest countries, and the newly established Education Cannot Wait fund, supporting education in emergency situations. Still, a change is needed if ever we are to achieve education for all.

                    Shakira: “Buscamos que en el 2030 toda la poblacin infantil tenga educacin”

                  The G20’s support for the proposed International Finance Facility for Education means new money tied to real results in children’s lives. The facility offers a lifeline for many of the world’s children who are out of school. This pact between countries that are willing to invest and reform, and an international community eager to take action, proves cooperation is alive and well. Through the Facility, more than $10 billion in new education funds could be donated by private and public donors and international banks made available — helping to close the existing funding gap.
                  Education deserves nothing less than such a commitment. Delivering on that promise for all children is the civil rights struggle of our age. And it can be won, for history proves that what sometimes seems impossible can be made possible. In the 1960s, the world marched for civil rights. In the 1970s and 80s, people came together to boycott a South African regime and end the oppressive forces of apartheid. And, in the last two decades, the avenues to guarantee the rights of women, people with disabilities, and LGBT persons have been expanded. In all of these realms, there is still much work to be done. The battle to secure children’s rights — neglected for far too long — deserves the same relentless commitment.

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                  We can be the first generation in history where not just some children but every single child in the world is not exploited but educated. As parents, we know the power of learning and the hope that can be witnessed if this opportunity is seized. For one of us, an early start in schooling brought into focus the reality that so many go without their talents and potential developed. And for the other, growing up in Colombia and seeing the transformative power an education can have on communities in a conflict-ridden country — from creating jobs to dispelling violence — reinforced the need to deliver this most fundamental right.
                  The two of us were brought together years ago because we agreed that this was the fight of our lives. With time, this conviction has only grown stronger. Today, we celebrate progress toward this promise. Now comes the hardest part: delivering.

                  Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/08/opinions/g20-summit-education-funding-opinion-gordon-brown-shakira/index.html

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                  The helium shutoff — a side effect of the Qatar confrontation

                  (CNN)The recent diplomatic dustup between Qatar and many other Gulf nations caused some nervousness for some of the world’s most cutting edge scientists.

                  Among recalled ambassadors, closed borders and massive disruptions on travel and shipping, the diplomatic crisis highlighted the world’s vulnerability to cutoffs in the supply of helium, since Qatar is the world’s second-biggest producer of the vital substance, after the United States. Although the helium aspect of this diplomatic imbroglio has been resolved, it highlights the way in which international diplomacy can impact scientific research.
                  While most people might think of helium as simply being the gas that is used for balloons at children’s birthday parties, it is actually a critical ingredient for some of the highest technologies on Earth.
                    It is used in cryogenic environments, like the operation of medical MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectrometers. It is used to purge and pressurize containers made of materials that cannot withstand chemical interactions.
                    It is used to provide controlled environments for the manufacture of solid-state computer chips. And it is used in tungsten gas welding for such metals as aluminum and copper, which would experience much weaker welds if they were contaminated by exposure to oxygen.
                    Helium is chemically inert and unique in its ability to remain liquid at temperatures below -450 F (-269 C). It is found in air at low concentrations (about five parts per million) — a concentration that does not economically allow for easy extraction.
                    In fact, helium is mostly obtained from natural gas deposits, like the South Pars/North Dome field, which is a natural gas condensate field shared by Iran and Qatar. Qatar stopped helium production on June 13 and only resumed operations on July 2. Had production not been resumed, the impact on scientific research could have been quite worrisome.
                    Helium is produced in radioactive alpha decay of minerals bearing either uranium or thorium, both of which are radioactive elements. Alpha decay is the emission of the nucleus of a helium atom. The same sort of geological processes that trap natural gas underground will also trap helium. The concentrations of helium in natural gas deposits vary widely, ranging from a few parts per million to as much as 7% at a small gas field located in New Mexico.
                    Qatar, with an area smaller than that of Connecticut, produces 25% of the world’s helium and the recent diplomatic crisis strongly reduced its ability to ship this valuable commodity.
                    While the country can still ship natural gas via special facilities near Ras Laffan Industrial City in the north part of the country, helium is normally shipped overland through Saudi Arabia to the Jebel Ali port in the United Arab Emirates. With this shipping route blocked, the helium liquefication facilities inside Qatar were effectively shut down on June 13.
                    The necessary helium shipping containers are essentially very large thermos bottles, which eventually warm up when they are emptied. Since the containers were located at the customer’s site and not quickly returned to the producer’s facility, they warmed and were easily contaminated with air. At liquid helium temperatures, more common gasses are frozen solid; thus a small contamination by ordinary air can form solid blockages in helium transfer pipes. Restarting the cooling plant and reconditioning shipping containers is a very delicate and time-consuming business.
                    The world’s scientific and technical community needs reliable helium supplies and each facility usually stores locally only a few weeks’ worth of liquid helium consumption. However, once their reserves are depleted, they become very concerned about how long a reduction in production caused by disruptions like this blockade of Qatar is going to last.
                    When the helium supply becomes very scarce, this hits medical and scientific users particularly hard. Helium rationing has no system for prioritization; medical facilities do not get special access to the remaining reserves. What drives the distribution in a rationing environment is individual contracts. Previous helium production reductions saw some facilities having their supply reduced by half.
                    The vulnerability of the world’s helium supply is not a new thing. The United States formed an enormous helium reserve in 1925 just outside Amarillo, Texas, in part to ward off situations exactly like those caused by the Qatar blockade. However, in 1996, financial and political pressures led the US government to direct that the helium reserve be sold on the open market by 2006. The reduction of the reserve led to market forces driving the prices of this critical element, further leading to periodic shortages for the scientific community.

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                    So, what should we do to avert future crises like that posed by the Qatar blockade? The first is to continue to further develop existing helium recapture technologies. Although these technologies exist, many existing facilities simply use helium to cool something or as part of their production process and then vent the helium gas to the atmosphere.
                    Helium’s inertness makes this safe, but it is wasteful. If more companies and laboratories would capture the gas and liquefy it, they could recapture the cost of the capture facilities in just a few years. It would also guard against vulnerabilities to shortages caused by geopolitical problems like the Qatar diplomatic crisis.
                    And, although the world’s helium reserves have not been depleted, it is a nonrenewable resource. When it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s true of many substances, but with helium, things are different. There is no known substance that can replace it.

                    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/07/opinions/helium-crisis-qatar-opinion-lincoln/index.html

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