US official links economic protests in Iran to sanctions
By JON GAMBRELL
Thursday, July 12
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A top U.S. official focused on sanctions against Iran on Thursday linked American financial pressure on Tehran with ongoing economic protests roiling the country, saying she hoped the strain would limit the Islamic Republic’s “malign activities” across the Mideast.
Sigal P. Mandelker, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury, declined to comment when ask if the Trump administration hoped that tightening of the sanctions would spark the Iranian government’s overthrow.
However, her comments to journalists in Dubai come against the backdrop of the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. The United States is now seeking to choke Iran’s vital oil exports to the wider world.
“You’ve seen the Iranian people, of course, stand up loudly, at risk of their own lives, shouting in protest about the corruption that’s happening within Iran,” Mandelker said. “Of course the fact (is) that so much money has gone to support malign activities elsewhere, with very little focus on the economy itself.”
Iran’s support for the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah, Shiite rebels in Yemen and embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad represents a “despicable use of Iranian revenue,” she said.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment over Mandelker’s remarks.
Mandelker and other Treasury officials have traveled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates this week as part of a worldwide effort to get American allies to crack down on Iran ahead of Nov. 4, when importing Iranian crude oil becomes a sanctionable offense for the U.S.
While the U.S. has said it will grant some waivers to importing countries, Mandelker said American officials want to “very significantly reduce” Iran’s crude oil exports. Among the top importers of Iranian oil are China, India, Turkey and South Korea.
Already, U.S. benchmark crude oil is trading about $70 a barrel, while Brent crude is near $75. A gallon of regular gasoline in America now sells on average for $2.88, up from $2.25 a year earlier, according to AAA. President Donald Trump, facing a midterm election in the fall, has been pushing oil producers to increase supply.
In Iran, the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal only worsens its already-hobbled economy. The Iranian rial now trades at 78,500 to the dollar, despite the official rate being 43,100 to $1. Unemployment remains high. Promised billion-dollar deals with Western firms have evaporated for fear of being cut out of the American financial system.
Economic protests swept the Iranian countryside at the end of last year and have occurred in recent weeks as well. Wildcat strikes and demonstrations over water scarcity also have erupted.
As the U.S. tightens its sanctions on Iran, Mandelker said American officials wanted to make sure their allies shut off avenues Tehran could exploit to evade them. The Trump administration made similar requests when increasing pressure on North Korea last year as Persian Gulf nations have shared economic ties with Pyongyang .
“There’s no transparency within Iran,” Mandelker said. “The world needs to be wise to the ways in which they move deceptively.”
However, limiting Iran’s ways of evading sanctions remains extremely difficult in the region. The UAE in particular has a large ethnically Persian population and long historic trade ties to Iran.
Iran already has exploited the UAE’s many economic free zones to set up companies to acquire otherwise-prohibited materials, simply opening a new company when authorities target another. A recent report also noted how Dubai’s luxury real-estate market offered a money-laundering haven for war profiteers, terror financiers and drug traffickers, as well as those associated with Iran.
Mandelker declined to say how the U.S. planned to address those issues.
“I do believe we have excellent partners in the UAE,” she said. “They see the threats very clearly from Iran.”
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jongambrellAP . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz
Opinion: No, Kavanaugh Would NOT Be Trump’s ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ Card
By Michael Graham
“(Kavanaugh) has very strong views about a sitting president not being interfered with, with criminal charges or civil lawsuits. … Trump saw Kavanaugh as his Get-Out-of-Jail Free card, and he saw that it was too good to pass up.”— Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland
“Kavanaugh, who could be presiding over a case should the Pres be indicted, thinks that the Pres can’t stand trial. Trump has nominated a get-out-of-jail free card.” — Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York
A lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the land should come with tough questions and a thorough vetting. But there’s a line where “tough” crosses over into “ridiculous,” and the question of whether President Trump picked Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court as part of a scheme to stay out of jail falls on the wrong side of that line.
The claim is based on an article by Judge Kavanaugh that appeared in the Michigan Law Review regarding his time working for Ken Starr on the Clinton investigations. After an extensive review of the independent counsel’s work, and his own under what he called a “badly flawed” law, Kavanaugh says:
“Looking back into the late 1990s, the nation certainly would have been better off if President Clinton could have focused on Osama bin Laden without being distracted by the Paula Jones sexual harassment case and its criminal investigation offshoots.”
This is the reason Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Cory Booker want to keep Kavanaugh off the bench?
Kavanaugh also wrote that when the Supreme Court allowed the Paula Jones lawsuit to go forward and forced President Clinton to testify under oath, the court “may well have been entirely correct” under the law.
“With that in mind, it would be appropriate for Congress to enact a statute providing that any personal civil suits against presidents, like certain members of the military, be deferred while the President is in office,” Kavanaugh wrote.
“Congress should consider doing the same, moreover, with respect to criminal investigations and prosecutions of the President. In particular, Congress might consider a law exempting a President — while in office — from criminal prosecution and investigation, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense counsel.”
In other words, Kavanaugh does believe that letting a president be president while he’s in office and deferring non-presidential litigation until after he leaves is good policy. But not from courts — from Congress.
Kavanaugh’s opponents, like Sen. Booker (D-New Jersey) have extrapolated his position into “Get Out of Jail Free.” Trump “picked the one guy who has specifically written that a president should not be the subject of a criminal investigation, which the president is right now,” Booker said.
“Why did Trump stick with Kavanaugh?” Sen. Schumer (D-New York) asks. “Because he’s worried that Mr. (Robert) Mueller will go to the court and ask that the president be subpoenaed and ask to do other things necessary to move the investigation forward, and President Trump knows that Kavanaugh will be a barrier to preventing that investigation from going there.”
Law professor and former George W. Bush official John Yoo says they couldn’t be more wrong. “Schumer and Booker are deliberately misrepresenting and distorting an article that Kavanaugh wrote in 2009. The article by the judge says the exact opposite of what Schumer and Booker falsely claim it says.”
And then there’s the math problem: Let’s say Kavanaugh is utterly corrupt, that he plans to serve as Trump’s toady on the Supreme Court. OK, that gives Trump a total of one vote.
The only way the Kavanaugh conspiracy makes sense is if you assume that Trump somehow ensnared at least four other members of the court into his nefarious web. It’s theoretically possible that Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch is in on the scheme, but John Roberts? Samuel Alito? Clarence Thomas?
Trump critics might argue that the other four judges don’t have to be corrupt, just authentically conservative. This view of the law would cause them to support a strong executive and, therefore, side with the president in some future legal fight with Mueller. Well, if it’s possible to rule on behalf of Trump for legitimate legal reasons, isn’t it also possible that Kavanaugh shares that legitimate view based on his principled jurisprudence?
According to former Assistant U.S. Attorney and legal analyst Andrew C. McCarthy, the reason Kavanaugh’s opponents are turning to conspiracy theories is because they can’t bear to face reality.
“Kavanaugh is somebody who was confirmed 12 years ago by a 21-vote margin in the Senate. In the ensuing dozen years, he has been one of the most relied upon and affirmed appellate judges in the United States, one whose opinions on a number of occasions have been adopted by the High Court.”
“I can’t think of a more concrete example of what it means to be a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’ than Brett Kavanaugh,” McCarthy said.
Are Democrats playing the “Get Out Of Jail Free” card because they don’t have anything better in their hand?
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael Graham is political editor of NH Journal. He’s also a CBS News contributor. You can reach him at email@example.com. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: A Look at NATO Funding
By James Dobbins
Analysts at the Defense Department’s National Defense University calculate that Europeans already spend twice as much on European defense as does the United States. They also already spend twice as much on defense as does Russia, the only state that conceivably threatens Europe.
The United States defense budget is larger than the combined total of its NATO allies, but the bulk of that, perhaps 75 percent, is devoted to the defense of Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Afghanistan, Iraq other allies and partners in Asia and the Middle East and of course the continental United States.
Since 2011 the Obama administration, with an eye on China, pursued a policy of “rebalancing” toward Asia. Although the Trump administration has dropped the term, a glance at its 2017 National Security Strategy shows that the emphasis on Asia, the Middle East and Afghanistan remains.
Although NATO Europe already outspends Russia two-to-one, more could be done to defend the most exposed areas of the alliance, those bordering or near Russia.
NATO should continue to improve its capacity to mobilize and move forces to these threatened areas. Some of this would require more money, for instance to increase readiness and improve rail, roads and bridges leading East. Other important steps can probably be done within existing budgets, to include larger and more frequent exercises east of Germany and removing administrative and regulatory barriers to the rapid movement of forces across national borders in times of emergency.
Presumably President Trump has been informed that European defense spending has been rising since 2014, that NATO’s 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending is a goal, not a commitment, and indeed a goal to be reached by 2024, not a standard allies have already failed to meet. The consistent characterization of this target derives, therefore, not from a misunderstanding but rather from what appears to be a calculated strategy of disruption of the sort already applied to other spheres of the international order, notably trade and the environment.
What is absent so far is an explanation of why the United States should want to disrupt its longest and largest alliance relationship, perhaps the single most important bulwark of its global leadership.
ABOUT THE WRITER
James Dobbins is a senior fellow with the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a former assistant secretary of state for Europe. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
AFFIRMATIVE ACTION — POINT-COUNTERPOINT
Point: What’s at Stake? Affirmative Action
By Derrick Johnson
If there were ever a time to be alarmed by the state of our nation’s civil rights in the 21st century, it would be now.
Upon Justice Anthony Kennedy’s impending retirement from the Supreme Court at the end of this month, President Trump has named Brett Kavanaugh as the nominee to replace him. Kennedy, albeit a moderate conservative, was a supporter of affirmative action, voting to uphold consideration of race in higher education to promote diversity. Kavanaugh, in contrast, wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that opposes race-based affirmative action in college admissions.
Earlier this month, Trump reversed the very Obama-era guidance that encouraged universities to consider race as a factor during the enrollment process — policies that sought to diversify schools, giving minorities a chance at the quality education they are so often denied.
In essence, Trump’s move is a quasi-rescinding of affirmative action, but his administration says they are simply championing race-blind admissions standards. However, in 2018, to be race blind means to be intentionally blind to the many inequities facing people of color. To be race-blind means to be so shrouded in your own privilege that you believe that same privilege is extended to every person in the United States. It is not.
In fact, this administration is far from race blind. Make no mistake, President Trump sees race, as his policies seem to favor only people who are like him — rich or white, more points if they are both. Some people who fall into these categories unreasonably view affirmative action as a threat. Let’s be clear: Affirmative action is not an affront to white students, rather, it is a legal initiative to even the playing field for all Americans, not just rich white men with access to opportunities of which many can only dream.
Unfortunately, much of the aversion to affirmative action is a result of misinformation. A popular misconception is that affirmative action targets only African-Americans. This is categorically false. Women, Native Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinx and many other minorities face the barriers that affirmative action aims to break down.
In fact, white women have historically been affirmative action’s largest group of beneficiaries — a fact that is astonishing since white women have challenged affirmative action the most in the courts.
Another misconception is that affirmative action rewards unqualified applicants at the expense of more qualified people. In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia once argued against affirmative action, saying it did more harm than good for African-American students because it put them in elite institutions for which they weren’t prepared — despite studies showing there is no evidence for such a claim.
Affirmative action has been one of the best tools in ensuring that minorities get a fair chance at the quality education they deserve, and without it, our schools will continue to be disproportionately whitewashed. According to Vox, 84 percent of college students in the United States were white in 1976 compared to only 60 percent in 2012 — making it far more likely that those who benefitted the most from legacy college admissions practices are white.
In addition, a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education reviewed 30 elite universities’ admissions processes and found that a legacy connection gave an applicant a 23.3 percentage point advantage over a non-legacy applicant, and if the parent was an alum, the advantage jumped to 45.5. Such advantage shows just how uneven the playing field is for people of color, many of whom were unable to establish such legacies since segregation barred their parents and grandparents from attending such institutions.
We are in the saddest of times where diversity is being rebuked at every level. We’ve seen it in the types of people appointed to our nation’s highest offices. We’ve seen it in the countries President Trump would rather have immigrants from, and now, our kids may be forced to see it when schools begin to follow this latest guidance. Judging by the current political climate, now is simply not the time to do away with affirmative action. We are far from an America where equality is the norm for all people, in fact with a more conservative Supreme Court, many of our recent victories in human and civil rights are in jeopardy.
If we abandon affirmative action at this critical juncture in present-day America, we will effectively be using tools from a marred past to dim the light on our children’s futures.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Derrick Johnson is president and CEO of the NAACP. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Counterpoint: Is it Time to Reassess Affirmative Action?
By Chris Talgo
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10925, which gave birth to affirmative action. JFK’s order mandated government contractors “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin.”
JFK’s intent was to create a society in which all people would compete for jobs on a level playing field — a noble and necessary endeavor in the early 1960s.
However, more than 50 years after JFK’s edict, the objective of “affirmative action” has morphed into a tool in which powerful interests pick and choose, often based on political considerations, to help certain demographics at the expense of others, creating discrimination in an effort to end discrimination.
Fifty-seven years after JFK’s edict, the Trump administration finally recognized the fundamental contradiction that lies at the core of affirmative action in its metastasized form. Thankfully, the Department of Justice and Education Department are working to restore the original intent of JFK’s vision.
This new iteration of affirmative action is most prevalent in education admissions and hiring practices. “Affirmative action 2.0” has been implemented in various ways, including through the use of less stringent qualification standards for minority students and staff and, in some cases, for those who live or grew up in a household with a limited amount of wealth.
Weighted test scores, racial quotas and preferential treatment for certain minorities are the new norm, which begs two major questions. First, has affirmative action veered so far off course that instead of addressing inequality, it now creates inequality? Second, has the time come that such policies are no longer needed to reverse a history of “institutionalized discrimination”?
Like most government programs, affirmative action has grown considerably in size and scope over the last few decades. As a result, its mission and tactics are vastly different than originally intended. For example, under the Obama administration, several higher education institutions sought to increase certain minority attendance by “penalizing” other minority groups. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against such policies by women, Asian-Americans and other minorities who have been denied admission in favor of students with inferior academic performances.
Is it fair to “reward” some minorities and “punish” others? Of course not!
Education admissions and hiring should be based on merit, not minority status. The only impartial approach that ensures people are not mistreated because of their race is a merit-based model, wherein hard-working students and eager employees are considered based on the objective standard of their past performance, not on the subjective feelings of admission officers and government bureaucrats.
Merit-based standards are overwhelmingly supported by Americans. In 2016, 70 percent of Americans said “merit should be the only factor in college admissions,” according to a Gallup poll. Furthermore, nearly 66 percent of blacks and Hispanics believe public colleges should not use race as a factor in their admissions decisions.
Besides the blatant hypocrisy at the heart of current affirmative action policies, it’s also worth considering whether such policies are even necessary anymore. In 1961, it would be hard to argue against the need to address institutionalized discrimination. De jure (legalized) and de facto (unwritten) segregation plagued society. Almost 60 years later, those polices are no longer beneficial to society. In fact, they in many cases create frustration and feelings of unfairness among other groups.
Why should a poor white or Asian student be given an admissions disadvantage compared to a wealthy African-American applicant?
The United States, unlike many other nations, was founded upon the belief that “all men are created equal.” Although this was not the case for much of our nation’s history, huge steps have been made toward truly making America “the land of opportunity” for all citizens. Why else would millions of people around the globe want to live in the United States? Minorities enter the United States in droves every year because they understand (better than most Americans) that this country is still the world’s beacon of freedom and opportunity.
This is not to say that all Americans are born into equal circumstances. Obviously, people are born with different abilities and grow up in vastly dissimilar situations. But America’s promise of “equality” isn’t a guarantee that all people will end up with equal amounts of talent, skills, work ethic, etc. That’s impossible. What makes the United States special is its promise of equality under the law, something affirmative action, by design, aims to destroy.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Chris Talgo is an editor at The Heartland Institute. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.