Showing posts with label Washington Post. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Washington Post. Show all posts

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Senator Bob Corker at the Post, John Ray, Impact Investing Analyst, Georgetown University, Master’s in Finance

On Wednesday, July 26th, I watched as Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) sat down with David Ignatius of The Washington Post to discuss the current foreign policy environment in the United States. Part of the Post's “Securing Tomorrow” Series, Senator Corker, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, answered questions on Congress’ attitude towards a variety of foreign policy concerns.

The major takeaways from the event include Corker’s firm stance on the need for congressional review of Presidential actions, his continued praise for Secretary Tillerson and President Trump’s cabinet, and his belief that sanctions on both Russia and Iran are absolutely vital pieces to American foreign policy.

Corker's bill not only enhances sanctions on Russia and Iran, but also limits the president’s ability to lift sanctions currently imposed.  Mr. Corker believes very strongly in increasing Congress’ role in foreign policy when it comes to sanctions and his bill does just that.

Interestingly, while the bill currently includes sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, it is expected that the North Korea sanctions included will need to be stripped out prior to passing the Senate, having passed overwhelmingly in the House just a few months ago. He claimed strong bipartisanship in favor of the bill and fully expects the revised sanctions measure to be pushed through prior to Congress’ August recess. ("The Senate voted 98-2 to send a bipartisan sanctions package against Russia, Iran, and North Korea to President Donald Trump's desk" on 7/27/17).

How will President Trump and the White House react you might ask? Corker anticipates some push back from the Executive Branch, but firmly believes the bipartisan support will be enough to override any Presidential veto that may come.  He acknowledged the President’s push to relax relations with Russia by lifting sanctions put in place by the Obama administration.  However, the Foreign Relations Committee believes this is certainly not the right approach to take in the current political environment.  While recognizing the United States may have its worst relationship with Russia since 1991, Corker believes the Committee will not allow Russian aggression to continually destabilize democracy worldwide.

Senator Corker thinks this bill, and subsequent sanctions, lays the groundwork for protecting our allies from future Russian aggression and addresses concerns over Russian involvement in the presidential election.  A core issue driving this bill is President Trump’s repeated “flip-flopping” on Russian involvement in the election, the lack of acknowledgement of their involvement driving the legislation.

While the Russian sanctions bill was the focus of the interview, Senator Corker did briefly address other issues, most prominently the current healthcare reform bill, President Trump’s tweeting habits, and the drama among the president’s staff and cabinet members.

On healthcare, Corker believes reform must occur, but notes that healthcare delivery costs must be addressed in order to facilitate a fully beneficial healthcare system for Americans.   Mr. Corker also believes an Obamacare repeal must occur, but not until 2020, giving Congress time to structure a reform package.

 A point continually reinforced throughout the interview was Senator Corker’s respect for Secretary Tillerson and the inner working of the President’s cabinet.   He lauded Tillerson’s work in improving foreign policy. Corker did note the apparent lack of continuity between the president and Tillerson himself.  With a string of tweets, President Trump regularly undermines Tillerson’s efforts by occasionally contradicting his own Secretary of State.

When asked more specifically about the president’s extensive use of twitter, Corker does not believe there is anything that Congress can to do to restrict the President.  In a bit of irony, President Trump sent a controversial tweet on the military during the interview, forcing Corker to, again, do his best to dodge the question of should Congress do anything about the president’s use of social media.

In concluding the interview, Corker addressed his concerns about the Iran nuclear deal put in place by the Obama administration.   He believes it was much too light on sanctions and believes his new bill will address some of Congress’ concerns. He did admit that leverage with Iran is gone since signing the initial deal.  Without tearing up the deal and destabilizing relations, Corker believes in radically enforcing the sanctions that are in place and strictly monitoring Iran's enrichment of uranium.  Backing out of the deal now could create a world crisis and adding to the list of crises right now would be very unwise.  He hopes the President understands this and waits to carry out his campaign promise of tearing up the Iran deal.

All in all, Corker did not drop any bombshells. With that said, it will be interesting to monitor the effects of the new sanctions bill.  Will President Trump veto the bill and, by doing so, create tension within the federal government? Will Russia have a strong push back against it?  While we find financial markets around the globe rallying right now, could these sanctions have a destabilizing effect on the global economy?  While no immediate impact is foreseen, it will be of the utmost importance to anticipate Russia’s response and potential escalation that would certainly affect the world economy.

Stay tuned America; our wild political ride appears to be only getting crazier.

John Ray
Impact Investing Analyst
Creative Investment Research
Georgetown University, Master’s in Finance

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) at the Washington Post by Kari Nelson, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

On June 7, as part of The Washington Post’s recurring series Securing Tomorrow, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, sat down with David Ignatius of The Washington Post to discuss the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion or ties to the Trump campaign. I was in the room for this interview, so I’m going to try to answer the most important question: What important things did we learn from this interview?

Rep. Schiff commented on former FBI Director James Comey’s description of President Trump’s behavior in a written statement submitted by Comey on June 7, which included the President describing the Russia investigation as “’a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country,” and asking what the FBI “could do to ‘lift the cloud.’” Schiff called this behavior “certainly evidence of interference or obstruction.” This is important. As we know from Watergate, obstruction of justice is a potentially impeachable offense, so this question of if Trump obstructed justice is important to the big picture question of how much longer he’ll be in office. Continuing, however, Schiff brings up a good point that the practical question of if Trump could be impeached for obstruction of justice is a more complicated matter: even if there is a legal case to be made that Trump obstructed justice, you may not be able to persuade enough GOP members in the Republican Congress that they can justify a vote for impeachment to their constituents. This is a sticky situation, especially when one considers that prominent legal minds such as Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz can’t even agree on whether Trump’s behavior is obstruction of justice. None of this is new or shocking information, we’ve been hearing about obstruction of justice since around the time of the Comey firing, but this question of if there is a legal case that Trump obstructed justice and, if so, if there’s a chance he may be impeached for it is extremely significant and it’s important to see where Schiff’s thinking is on this.

Schiff also commented on President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, calling it “one of the single most destructive acts of a President” that he “can remember” because “we have just given up the leadership globally on one of the most important issues globally,” (that important issue being climate change). This is important because climate change is a huge issue and U.S. global leadership is important, but this isn’t shocking news: there are very few Democrats in Congress that agree with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. In bringing up Paris though, Schiff brought light to one very important issue: the Democrats play too nice. Democrats need to be more assertive in “calling out the President when he violates the norms of office, the letter of the law, or anything like it,” or they aren’t going to win elections.  He also noted that Democrats need to reach out to “shrinking communities, where people literally felt left behind,” and more effectively demonstrate to those communities how and why Democratic policies would improve their lives. In my opinion, these two points about calling out Trump and reaching out to communities where people feel left behind are very important. (I should note here that I consider myself a Democrat and I want the Dems to have a majority in the House and Senate, and to have control of the White House.) Obviously something the Democrats are doing isn’t working or the Republicans wouldn’t have control of Congress and the White House, and some major changes need to be made if Dems are going to be win back control of either chamber of Congress in 2018 or the White House in 2020. I don’t have the answers for what these changes should be, but it’s important for prominent Democrats like Adam Schiff to talk about these issues and really start a conversation within the Democratic Party (and the DNC under it’s new chair Tom Perez) about what should be happening differently.

Schiff also said that he agreed with Senator Angus King’s (I-ME) assertion that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers had no acceptable justification to refuse to answer questions regarding their conversations with President Trump and whether or not Trump attempted to get Coats and Rogers to intervene in the FBI’s Russia investigation. Pay attention to this. There is some talk that these two men should be charged with Contempt of Congress, and I’m not a lawyer so I won’t comment on that; but as more hearings occur, this suggests that Democrats will be united in putting a lot of pressure on Trump personnel to fully answer all questions they legally can. We have yet to see if this increase in pressure will stop anyone during future hearings from refusing to answer a question just so they don’t embarrass Trump, but it will definitely be interesting to see if someone does and, if so, how Dems will push back.

Schiff also brought up the timing of events leading up to the firing of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:
·         Jan. 26: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns White House that the then- National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may be compromised
·         Jan. 27: Trump invites then- FBI Director Comey to a private meal and asks for a pledge of loyalty
·         Feb. 13: Flynn fired
·         Feb. 14: Trump asks Comey to drop investigation into Flynn

Did Trump’s decision to invite Comey to dine with him and request Comey’s loyalty have to do with Yates’s warning? These events, as well as their timing, paint “an alarming picture” of the POTUS, according to Schiff. Schiff brings up an important point, one that I believe John Oliver expressed best when he told viewers to keep reminding themselves “this is not normal” during the Trump presidency; we cannot become desensitized to the dangerous antics of this administration.

Lastly, Schiff noted that the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia is just getting started. This tells all of us following the investigations into Trump and Russia that we’re probably not going to learn the whole story any time soon, if ever. So if you’re like me and you’ve been watching cable news every night to learn the latest about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, keep watching and waiting but pace yourself, this is going to be a long and weird journey.

I’ve discussed the main points from David Ignatius’s interview with Rep. Adam Schiff here, but I really recommend that anyone who is interested in politics watch it in it’s entirety ( It’s a rare treat to see a politician be as straightforward in an interview as Schiff was, and Ignatius asked interesting and important questions, so it’s worth it to give up 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 2 seconds of your life to watch the full interview.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sir Richard Branson at the Post by Brendan Cody, Impact Investing Intern and GWU student

Richard Branson owns one of the British Virgin Islands, but, on Friday April 28th, concern about climate change brought him out of his tropical paradise to Washington.

In advance of attending the climate march on Saturday April 29, the Virgin CEO sat down with Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post for a wide ranging discussion.

Before answering Capehart’s first question, he untied the reporter’s neck tie and tossed it away, displaying his patented eccentricity and disdain for formality. Branson had an unconventional upbringing and while he never received a university education, he “learned through meeting fascinating people and through amazing experiences.”

Branson has innovative ideas to improve the world and prevent the potentially debilitating effects of  climate change. Along with other billionaires, he created a monetary prize for anyone who can create a way to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

He also suggested that coal is not coming back in the United States, but that coal mining regions can be converted to clean energy centers. "People who used to mine coal could now lay solar panels and of roofs and and help to build wind energy plants." Clean jobs in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky would help these devastated climates while also improving the climate. (This is similar to the Energy Efficient MBS investment CIR developed in 2006.)

While Jonathan Capehart asked some very good questions and is a respected journalist, he arguably could have facilitated a more compelling and captivating discussion with a character like Branson.  I would have asked about the business strategy of Virgin and the future of disruptors in continuing to push innovation. Additionally, I would have liked to hear Branson address the question of whether the next generation of disrupters will come from established companies (Amazon, Apple, Virgin) expanding into new sectors or from new startups that will challenge the established order. Capehart spent several minutes on Branson’s personal relationship with the Obamas, which, although interesting, used time poorly: a brief discussion of their shared policy initiatives would have sufficed.

Branson is cautiously optimistic about the future and contends that, with some exceptions, the world is improving. Conflicts are at historic lows and human rights advances are seen across the world. Branson is optimistic regarding his own future as well and stated that at 65, he hopes to live for at least another 30 years.

When asked about his legacy, he suggested it is much too early for such a question since he is still creating a lasting impact on the world.