Saturday, July 22, 2017

Congress Reaches Deal on Russia Sanctions

Congressional Leaders have reached an Agreement on sweeping Sanctions Legislation to Punish Russia for its Election Meddling and Aggression toward its Neighbors like:

- Annexation of Crimea
- Continuing Military Activity in Eastern Ukraine
- Human Rights Abuses
- Supplying Weapons to the Government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria
- Undermining Cybersecurity

Defying the White House’s Argument that President Trump needs Flexibility to adjust the Sanctions to Fit his Diplomatic Initiatives with Moscow.

The New Legislation sharply Limits the President’s ability to Suspend or Terminate the Sanctions, a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Trump’s tenure. It is also the latest Russia-tinged turn for a Presidency consumed by Investigations into the Trump Campaign’s interactions with Russian Officials last year.

Trump could soon face a Decision: Veto the Bill, a move that would fuel Accusations that he is doing the Bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, or Sign Legislation imposing Sanctions his Administration abhors. “A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” said Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The White House has not publicly spoken about the compromise Legislation. But two Senior Administration Officials said they could not imagine Trump Vetoing the Legislation in the current Political atmosphere, even if he regards it as Interfering with his Executive Authority to conduct Foreign Policy. But as ever, Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to Veto a significant Bill.

Congress has complicated his choice because the Legislation also encompasses New Sanctions against Iran and North Korea, two Countries the Administration has been eager to Punish for its Activities.

A Sanctions Package had stalled in the Republican-led House for weeks after winning near-unanimous support in the Senate last month. Democrats accused Republicans of delaying quick action on the Bill at the behest of the Trump Administration, which had asked for more Flexibility in its Relationship with Russia and took up the cause of Energy Companies, Defense Contractors, and other Financial players who suggested that certain Provisions could harm American Businesses. The House Version of the Bill includes a small number of changes, Technical and Substantive, from the Senate Legislation, including some made in response to concerns raised by Oil and Gas Companies.

Paired with the Sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the House Version of the Bill was set for a vote on Tuesday, according to the Office of Representative Kevin McCarthy [R, CA-23rd District] and the Chamber’s Majority Leader. For months, Lawmakers have agreed on the need to Punish Russia, separating the issue from others, such as Immigration and Health Care, that have been subject to partisan wheel-spinning. The unity has placed Republicans in the unusual position of undercutting their own President on a particularly sensitive subject.

Yet Politically, the collaboration delivers benefits to members of both Parties. Democrats have sought to make Russia Pay for its Interference in the 2016 Election, which many of them believe contributed to Mr. Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton. And Republicans, who have long placed an Aggressive stance toward Russia at the center of their Foreign Policy, can quiet critics who have suggested they are shielding the President from scrutiny by failing to embrace the Sanctions.

There are still hurdles to clear. Neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Majority Leader, immediately issued Statements on Saturday to give the Agreements their Blessing.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Friday, July 21, 2017

Parliamentarian Deals Setback to GOP ACA Repeal and Replace Bill

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Major Portions of the Republican Bill to Repeal and Replace the ACE or ObamaCare will require 60 Votes, according to the Senate Parliamentarian, meaning they are unlikely to survive on the Floor.

The Parliamentarian has Advised Senators that several parts of the Bill could be Stripped Out, according to a Document released Friday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee.

The Provisions that would likely be Removed include: Polices important to Conservatives, such as Restrictions on Tax Credits being used for Insurance Plans that cover Abortion, Defunding Planned Parenthood for a Year, Violates Budget Rules, according to the Parliamentarian. That Guidance is sure to anger Anti-Abortion Groups who backed the Bill specifically because of those Provisions.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said it was "obvious" that the Defunding Provision would be a Violation of the Reconciliation Rules. "No amount of legislative sleight of hand will change the fact that the primary motivation here is to pursue a social agenda by targeting Planned Parenthood," the Group said.

The Parliamentarian has also not yet Ruled on a Controversial Amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow Insurers to Sell Plans that do not meet ObamaCare Regulations. If that Provision were Struck, Conservative Support for the Bill would be in doubt.

Republicans are trying to use the Budget Reconciliation process to pass their Healthcare Bill with only a simple Majority. The Provisions deemed Impermissible under that process can be Stripped if a Senator on the Floor Raises an Objection. Democrats would be virtually certain to Deny Republicans the 60 Votes they would need to keep portions of the Bill intact. The result is that the Arcane Rules of the Senate could end up making the Bill harder for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to Pass.

A Spokesman for McConnell was quick to point out that the Parliamentarian only provides Guidance on the Legislation to help inform subsequent Drafts. The Bill will have to Change before it gets to the Floor if Republicans want to Salvage any of Provisions in question.

GOP Leaders have said they want to Vote on a Procedural Motion to begin Debate on ObamaCare Repeal Legislation early next week. However, it's still not clear if they have the Votes, or which Legislation they will be Voting on; the Replacement Bill, or Repeal-only Legislation.

Some Conservatives were already questioning Friday why the Senate Parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, would Rule against Planned Parenthood Defunding, when that Provision was Allowed under Reconciliation in 2015.

A Spokesman for Sanders said the Guidance has changed because it is now Clear that Planned Parenthood would be the only Organization Affected by the Defunding Language. "It passed last time because there was at least a question that other entities could be affected by the language," the Spokesman said. "In the interim, Republicans have not been able to show that any entity other than Planned Parenthood is affected, and the new [Congressional Budget Office] score confirms that."

In a Blow to the Insurance Industry, the Parliamentarian has Advised that Two Key Market Stabilization Provisions in the Bill would be Against the Rules. First, the Legislation can't Appropriate the Cost-Sharing Reduction Subsidies Insurers rely on to keep Premiums and Deductibles Low; it can only Repeal Them. Additionally, a Lockout Provision requiring Consumers with a Break in Coverage to wait Six Months before Buying Insurance also Violates the Rules, according to the Guidance. The Provision was added to the Bill to Address concerns that People would only Sign up for Health Insurance when they're Sick, if Insurers are still Prevented from Denying Coverage for Pre-Existing Conditions.

The Parliamentarian also Advised that a Specific Provision dealing with New York State's Medicaid Program would be a Violation of the Rules. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) seized on that Decision. "The parliamentarian made clear that state-specific provisions" Violate the Rules, Schumer said. "This will greatly tie the majority leader’s hands as he tries to win over reluctant Republicans with state-specific provisions. We will challenge every one of them.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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NY Democrats to Vote on Fate of GOP-Allied Defectors

The New York State Democratic Party, led by Governor Andrew Cuomo, is taking aim at Breakaway Democrats who have helped the Republican maintain Control of the State Senate.

The State Democratic Committee will Vote on Wednesday whether to Demand that Members of Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) end their Alliance with Republicans or else.

Those that don’t may no longer receive Donations from the State Party or get help from Local Democratic Clubs gathering Signatures on Nominating Petitions. Republicans hold just 31 of the 63 Seats in the Senate. But they call the shots by Counting Democrat Simcha Felder (17th District-Brooklyn) as a Member of their Conference, while making deals with the 8-Member IDC led by Sen. Jeff Klein (34th District-Bronx).

IDC Senator Members: Jeff Klein, Diane Savino (23rd District), Tony Avella (11th District), David Valesky (53rd District), David Carlucci (38th District), Jesse Hamilton (20th District), Marisol Alcantara (31st District), and Jose Peralta (13th District).

Cuomo has claimed that he’s done all he can to get the IDC and mainstream Democrats back together. “I can facilitate a marriage, but that assumes you have two parties who want to marry each other. If they don’t want to marry, I have no power or role in forcing the marriage. There is no political shotgun-marriage equivalent,” he said on July 11th.

The Retaliation Threat by the State Party comes as Cuomo tries to clear the deck for his Re-Election and possibly the 2020 Presidential Race.

He promised mainstream Senate Democrats during a meeting this week in his Midtown office that he would work toward winning a Majority in the Chamber next year.

Critics on the left say Cuomo has been far too accommodating of the Rebel Democrats and hasn’t exerted pressure on them to return to the Democratic fold. It’s a story line that’s been picked up by National Media. “This is another political stunt by people more interested in getting print than votes. We will see you at the polls,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Dark Web Criminal Marketplaces Go Dark

Law Enforcement Officials on Thursday said they Shut Down two of the world’s Largest Illegal Stores on the Internet.

AlphaBay, which was shut down earlier this month, sold Heroin, Fentanyl, Firearms, and other Illicit Goods to 200,000 users, and was worth upwards of $23 million.

Canadian-born Alexandre Cazes, the Site’s alleged 25-year-old Owner, was found Dead last week, apparently taking his life on July 12th, in a Thailand Prison Cell, after being Arrested on July 5th by Local Police following his indictment in California. The Justice Department also is going after the Assets of Cazes. Cazes was a Canadian Citizen who was living in Thailand and also had obtained Citizenship from Antigua and Barbuda.

Dutch Officials last month seized Control of a similar site, Hansa Market, seizing Illegal Digital Currency Accounts valued at roughly $2.6 million, or about 1,000 Bitcoins.

Officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and Europol Executive Director Robert Mark Wainwright, heralded the Action Thursday morning as a Message to Criminals everywhere.

"This is likely one of the most important criminal investigations of this entire year," Sessions said. "Make no mistake, the forces of law and justice face a challenge from criminal and transnational criminal organizations who think they can commit their crime with impunity by going dark. This case ... says, 'You are not safe, you cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network and we will prosecute you.'"

According to the McCabe, AlphaBay was 10 times the size of Silk Road, a previous massive Dark Web Marketplace that DOJ busted in 2013.

Officials especially noted of the Sale of Fentanyl, a deadly Opioid Drug, on AlphaBay, saying in early 2017, 122 Vendors advertised Fentanyl and 238 advertised Heroin on the Marketplace. Prosecutors also linked multiple Opioid-related Deaths in the U.S. to Drugs that were traced back to AlphaBay.

Overall, the Marketplace boasted more than 40,000 Vendors and 200,000 Users, according to the DOJ, citing an AlphaBay Staff Member. There were more than 250,000 Listings for Drugs and Toxic Chemicals, Sessions said.

The Dark Web refers a Layer of the Internet only Accessible through Anonymizing Networks. While Anonymous browsers like Tor Service a number of Legitimate purposes, including protecting Vulnerable Individuals like Political Dissidents, for example, they also facilitate a robust Criminal Underground where everything from Drugs to Hacking materials to Stolen Identities to Child Pornography can be bought and sold.

AlphaBay operated much like any Legitimate E-Commerce site, including having a Public Relations Manager, Security Administrator, and "Scam Watchers".

Court documents also said others were involved in the Conspiracy and Officials said they would also be investigating individuals who were found through Undercover Operations.

McCabe noted that other Dark Marketplaces would likely fill the Void created by the Law Enforcement Crackdown but warned Criminals that the DOJ and its Partners would never relent. "We will go to the ends of the earth to find these people and to stop them," McCabe said.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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President Obama's Plan to Counter Russian Hacking on Election Day

President Obama’s White House quietly produced a Plan in October 2016 to Counter a possible Election Day Cyber attack that included Extraordinary Measures like sending Armed Federal Law Enforcement Agents to Polling Places, Mobilizing components of the Military and launching Counter-Propaganda efforts.

The 15-page Plan stipulates that “in almost all potential cases of malicious cyber activity impacting election infrastructure, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments” would have Primary Jurisdiction to respond.

But in the case of a “Significant Incident” the White House had several “Enhanced Procedures” it was prepared to take.

The Plan allowed for the Deployment of “Armed Federal Law Enforcement Agents” to Polling Places if Hackers managed to halt Voting. It also foresaw the Deployment of “Active and Reserve" Military Forces and Members of the National Guard “upon a request from a federal agency and the direction of the Secretary of Defense or the President.”

For Three days after the Election, a Special Interagency effort would be tasked with addressing “any post-election cyber incidents,” including “planted stories calling into question the results.”

The Plan reflects how thoroughly the Russian effort to undermine Public Confidence in the U.S. Electoral system had succeeded. The U.S. Intelligence Community had concluded the Primary and abiding Goal of the Russian operation was “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.”

By Election Day, with widespread coverage of Russian Hacking and then-Candidate Trump’s assertions that the Vote would be Rigged against him, Gallup found that only 30% of Americans had Faith in the Honesty of Elections, while 69% did not.

The Document’s formatting has been changed from the original.

CLICK HERE to read the 15 page report.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Trump's FL Private Clubs Seeking Visas for Foreign Workers

The Trump Organization is asking the Federal Government for Special Visas to hire scores of Foreign Workers for two of President Trump's Private Clubs in Florida, the Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach and the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.

The Requests for H-2B Visas, posted on the Department of Labor website, are for 26 Cooks, nearly 50 Waiters and Waitresses, plus Housekeepers, a Hostess and a Bartender.

The Jobs range in Pay from just under $12 to less than $14 an hour. Mar-a-Lago and the Jupiter Club have relied on Foreign Workers in past years for Staffing during their Peak seasons, which run October through May.

This year, the request for Foreign Workers comes in the middle of "Made in America" week at the White House. Trump, who has had his own line of products manufactured Overseas, says he wants U.S. Companies to focus this week on ways to create more Opportunities for American Labor.

In the past, Trump has defended Hiring Foreign Workers at his Florida properties, saying that "getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible."

Employers say they are struggle to find Seasonal Workers, and Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would be boosting the Number of Non-Agricultural H-2B Visas available this year by 15,000.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Treasury Fines ExxonMobil for Violating Russia Sanctions While Tillerson was CEO

The Treasury Department and ExxonMobil locked horns in a Legal Battle Thursday, with the Oil Giant Filing a Lawsuit to stop a $2 million Fine the Department slapped on it earlier in the day it for Violating Sanctions against Russia in 2014, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was Head of the Company.

Exxon named Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the Complaint it Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, putting the Trump Administration in the awkward position of Defending one Cabinet Member against a Lawsuit Filed by a Company formerly Headed by another Cabinet Member.

The Fine is a pittance for ExxonMobil, which reported $4 Billion in Earnings for the First Quarter of this year, but it illustrates how the Company's myriad Business Operations could complicate the Job of the Nation's Top Diplomat.

Tillerson has long spoken against the Sanctions on Russia, arguing at an Exxon Shareholder Meeting the same Month as the alleged Violations that “we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively, and that’s a very hard thing to do.”

Just last Month, he argued against Toughening Sanctions on Russia.

The heart of the Dispute are Eight Contracts Exxon Representatives Signed with Igor Sechin, Head of Russia’s State-owned Oil Company Rosneft. Sechin is a close Confidant of Russia President Putin and is also Named in the Sanctions.

Exxon said the Administration, in its previous explanation of the Sanctions Policy, made a Distinction between Actions taken by Sechin in his Personal Capacity, which were not Permitted, as opposed to his Professional capacity at Rosneft.

Treasury said there was no such Legal Distinction, adding that no Materials from the White House or the Department itself “asserted an exception or carve-out for the professional conduct of designated or block persons, nor did any materials suggest that U.S. persons could continue to conduct or engage in business with such individuals.”

In a Statement, Company spokesman Scott Silvestri called the move “fundamentally unfair.” “ExxonMobil followed the clear guidance from the White House and Treasury Department when its representatives signed documents involving ongoing oil and gas activities in Russia with Rosneft — a nonblocked entity — that were countersigned on behalf of Rosneft by CEO Igor Sechin in his official representative capacity,” Silvestri said. He pointed to a Statement on May 16th, 2014, by a Treasury Spokesperson, “who said by way of example that BP’s American CEO was permitted to participate in Rosneft board meetings with Sechin so long as the activity related to Rosneft’s business and not Sechin’s personal business.”

Silvestri said the Treasury Department “is trying to retroactively enforce a new interpretation of an executive order that is inconsistent with the explicit and unambiguous guidance from the White House and Treasury issued before the relevant conduct.”

Treasury, in its explanation of the Action, said the Company “is a sophisticated and experienced oil and gas company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services and technology subject to U.S. economic sanctions and U.S. export controls. OFAC determined that ExxonMobil did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations to OFAC, and that the violations constitute an egregious case," it added.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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