Russian Reality, SIGTARP, and Uncle Sam’s Refi

Here’s What You Need to Know

Russia has been mentioned in news headlines on a nearly daily basis for the past couple weeks. Between allegations of Russian involvement in the DNC email hack and Donald Trump’s comments on U.S.-Russian relations under a Trump administration, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been accused of inappropriate relationships with Russian industrial and political leaders. These accusations are being thrown around as consensus has been formed that Russia presents the greatest geopolitical threat to the U.S., a contention made by Mitt Romney in 2012 that President Obama then mocked.

To Make Sure You’re Properly Armed for Your Facebook Fights, Here Are the Facts You Need To Know About Clinton, Trump, and Russia.

HILLARY HEARTS RUSSIA’S SILICON VALLEY: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton worked to convince American companies to invest in an “innovation city” – Skolkovo – which was billed as Russia’s Silicon Valley. The FBI warned tech companies that these types of Russian investments could serve as cover for theft of their proprietary technology. Despite this warning, Clinton brought in top U.S. tech firms, and noted Clinton Foundation donors like Google, Intel, and Cisco. Meanwhile, various Russian leaders tied to the Skolkovo project made multi-million dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation.

PODESTA HID HIS PUTIN CONNECTION: In 2011, current Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of Joule Unlimited, a small energy company that received $35 million from a Putin-controlled tech project called Rusnano. Podesta failed to reveal this on his personal financial disclosure documents required of him when he became a senior advisor to President Obama in 2014.

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HILLARY’S URANIUM STAMP OF APPROVAL: In 2013, Russia completed a takeover of Uranium One, a Canadian mining company that gave them control of one-fifth of the uranium production capacity in the United States. Due to the national security implications of the sale, it required U.S. government approval, which included a sign off from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the same time, Uranium One’s Canadian sellers continued to make multi-million dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation and former President Clinton received $50,000 in speaker’s fees from a Kremlin-connected Russian investment bank shortly after the deal was announced.

MANAFORT’S URKRANIAN ADVENTURES: Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort managed the successful 2010 campaign of pro-Russian Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort also helped reshape the image of Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party before the Ukrainian President was removed from power and exiled to Russia in 2014. In 2005 Manafort served as an advisor on corporate communications strategy for Ukrainian steel and iron magnate Rinat Akhemtov. Akhemtov was a notable supporter of Yanukovych.

TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN CHAIR IS AN OLIGARCH’S MONEY GUY: Manafort managed tens of millions of dollars on behalf of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Some have reported Deripaska is “close to Vladimir Putin,” but it should be noted that in 2009 Putin very publicly humiliated Deripaska by likening the Russian billionaire to a cockroach and forcing him to tour a factory to witness the state of Russian social unrest.

TRUMP HAS HIS OWN OLIGARCH TOO: Russian oligarch and Putin ally Aras Agalarov helped Trump bring the Miss Universe competition to Moscow in November 2013. At the time, Trump and Agalarov were in discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow but the deal never materialized.

News You Can Use

From 2009 to 2010, Dr. Bob Kocher served as special assistant to President Obama and an architect of Obamacare. Now he claims, “I was wrong. Wrong about an important part of Obamacare.” He penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining that the consolidation of doctors he and the other policy minds behind Obamacare believed would benefit the healthcare consumer has done the opposite, creating large, inefficient medical bureaucracies. This failure illustrates why reforms perform best when done organically in the marketplace rather than through centralized bureaucracies in Washington. These officials made assumptions about what was best, got it wrong, and saddled the American public with the consequences. In a free marketplace, alternatives would have been present and his error would have been corrected by others without requiring political and policy fights for years to come. Americans are suffering from his error, but at least he got his guilt off his chest.

Six years ago, Americans for Limited Government (ALG) requested a set of records from the Department of Labor under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). ALG was told the records existed and they were being reviewed. But now federal officials are claiming the documents do not exist and the communication proving otherwise has been deleted. ALG President Nathan Mehrens said, “At best, this is a case of mismanagement. At worst, well, use your imagination. Are they hiding something and trying to run out the clock in order to avoid sunlight into their operations?” It’s another case of FOIA request obfuscation from government agencies over the past several years. So much for the Obama administration declaring themselves the “most transparent administration in history.”

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton’s supporters are more pro-Israel than Bernie Sanders’ supporters and that there are concerning signs of anti-Semitism among Trump voters. But an analysis from the Brookings Institute shows “there is generally little difference between the supporters of Clinton and Sanders on these issues.” Just over half of both Clinton and Sanders supporters favor punitive measures against Israel on the issue of settlements, and over 80% of Clinton and Sanders supporters say America should generally favor neither side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Conversely, Trump supporters hold decidedly more pro-Israel views, with 74% of them opposing punitive action against Israel and 55% saying U.S. policy should generally lean towards Israel.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) was created in 2008 to investigate and root out crimes committed by banks and their executives related to the financial crisis. Since its creation, the office has charged 102 bankers, including 22 chief executives and presidents, for criminal and civil misdeeds leading up to and during the financial crisis while also recovering more than $10 billion. But critics of the office point out that most of SIGTARP’s investigations have involved community and regional bankers and ignored prominent Wall Street executives that many consider more responsible for the 2008 meltdown. The TARP program is winding down and SIGTARP’s future is unclear, but either way it looks like those still seeking prosecutions of Wall Street executives will continue to be disappointed.

Massachusetts nonprofits are on edge as a new proposal has come up in the state legislature challenging the property tax exempt status of nonprofits and schools in certain circumstances. The issue has risen out of the city of Lowell, where the University of Massachusetts Lowell has purchased a large piece of property and has left the city with a substantial budget hole due to the University’s tax exempt status. Some states, like Connecticut and New Jersey, have addressed this problem by limiting the tax exempt status of well endowed, property rich entities like schools and hospitals, but some of these measures have also hurt smaller, traditional nonprofits like local Elks clubs or charities. The challenge for policymakers is to ensure municipalities have the revenue to fund basic services for their citizens while protecting the existence of charities and nonprofits’ ability to function in expensive real estate markets.

Political conventions are often showcases of how proudly American each party is, and videos featuring the U.S. military are commonplace. So it was not out of place that at last week’s Democratic National Convention, retired Adm. John Natham, a former commander of Fleet Forces Command, spoke in front of a video of giant warships. What was out of place was the warships themselves. The vessels were, in fact, Soviet-era Russian Kara-class cruisers. It’s not the first time stock footage has embarrassed a campaign and it probably isn’t the last. But, it does show how a little fact-checking and research can avoid simple mistakes.

A Wall Street Journal editorial recently argued given the staggering and ever increasing national debt, the U.S. government should consider “taking advantage of today’s cheap financing by borrowing for the long term.” Locking in current debt at today’s low rates may only kick the can down the road in terms of actually addressing the looming debt crisis, but it would at least insulate taxpayers from some of the cost of government spending. Without pro-growth policies and comprehensive fiscal reform being enacted, the next best thing may be to make it a little bit more affordable for the American public to pay for deficit spending.

Mark Your Calendars

Monday, September 26: First Presidential Debate, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY