Posts tagged with "State Department"

Biden seeks $33 billion for Ukraine, plus go-ahead to liquidate assets of Russian oligarchs

April 29, 2022

On April 28, the White House announced a proposal to allow U.S. authorities to liquidate the assets of Russian oligarchs and donate the proceeds to Ukraine—seeking what appears to be broad new legal powers to expand America’s financial war on the Kremlin amid bipartisan pressure in Congress, reports The Washington Post.

President Joe Biden will send the new plan to Congress along with a broader request for $33 billion to help the Ukrainians fight Russia’s invasion. Biden’s funding request includes:

  • $20 billion in military assistance for Ukraine,
  • $8.5 billion in economic assistance, and
  • $3 billion in humanitarian aid.

He also is seeking other funding, including $500 million to support production of U.S. crops to address the global food shock caused by the war.

The White House has not revealed the legislative text behind its proposal regarding the Russian oligarchs, but has said that the proposal “would improve” the federal government’s ability to send seized funds to Ukraine. Under current law, the United States can typically only freeze—not seize or liquidate—the assets of sanctioned individuals.

Civil liberties groups had raised concerned that prior congressional proposals ran afoul of constitutional protections by allowing federal law enforcement to circumvent judicial procedure. It was not immediately clear how the White House would seek to change the existing statute without violating those protections.

“This package of proposals will establish new authorities for the forfeiture of property linked to Russian kleptocracy, allow the government to use the proceeds to support Ukraine, and further strengthen related law enforcement tools,” the White House said in a fact sheet.

The White House said the roughly $20 billion in military aid it is seeking would help provide Ukraine and the “Eastern flank” allies with artillery, armored vehicles, anti-armor capabilities, and advanced air defense systems, among other weaponry.

The $8.5 billion in economic assistance would help Ukraine’s government pay for food, energy, and healthcare; while the humanitarian assistance is intended to buffer a growing international hunger crisis. Ukraine’s government has asked for at least $2 billion per month from the United States to meet its short-term economic needs.

The White House said its plan for liquidating Russian oligarch assets was released in close coordination with the Treasury Department, State Department, and Commerce Department.

Attorney General Merrick Garland previously told congressional lawmakers that he supports the efforts to repurpose seized Russian funds to Ukraine. But even some senior Biden administration officials had emphasized the need for caution around a potentially significant change in precedent to U.S. seizure law.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters last week that lawmakers needed to be careful when she was asked about a plan to give to the Ukrainians billions of dollars in seized Russian bank reserves.

“I would say that is very significant, and it is one that we would carefully need to think through the consequences of before undertaking it,” Yellen told reporters last week. “I wouldn’t want to do so lightly, and it’s something that I think our coalition and partners would need to feel comfortable with and be supportive of.”

The new powers sought by the White House reflect the pressure on the Western allies to intensify its economic campaign against Russia over its ongoing war against Ukraine. The Biden Administration’s proposal also includes a directive to make it a federal crime to “knowingly or intentionally possess proceeds directly obtained from corrupt dealings with the Russian government,” and the Western allies are coordinating a response to Russia’s move to cut off natural gas to two NATO countries.

The latest White House proposal also calls for improving protections against money laundering and would give the United States the authority to seize proceeds of attempts to facilitate the evasion of sanctions.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Biden admonishes Trump Administration over ‘obstruction’

December 30, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden said on Monday that his transition team had faced “obstruction” from the Defense Department—raising more concerns about the Trump Administration’s distinct lack of cooperation with the new White House denizens with just over three weeks until Inauguration Day, The New York Times reports.

“Right now, we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas,” Biden stated in Wilmington, Delaware, after he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were briefed about barricades put in place by agencies dealing with national security and foreign policy, like the Defense and State departments.

“It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility,” Biden said.

In his remarks, the president-elect said that his team had “encountered roadblocks” from political leaders at the Defense Department as well as at the Office of Management and Budget. Biden emphasized the importance of a smooth transition, saying, “Right now, as our nation is in a period of transition, we need to make sure that nothing is lost in the handoff between administrations.”

“My team needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world and our operations to deter our enemies,” he continued. “We need full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit.”

In a statement on Monday, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, defended the department’s level of cooperation with the Biden team. He said the department was continuing “to schedule additional meetings for the remainder of the transition and answer any and all requests for information in our purview.”

 “Our D.O.D. political and career officials have been working with the utmost professionalism to support transition activities in a compressed time schedule, and they will continue to do so in a transparent and collegial manner that upholds the finest traditions of the department,” Miller said. “The American people expect nothing less, and that is what I remain committed to.”

As the Times notes, the Biden transition was hamstrung at the outset by the Trump Administration’s delay in formally designating Biden as the apparent winner of the election. The head of the General Services Administration did not take that step until November 23.

More recently, Mr. Biden and his team have complained about their dealings with the Pentagon in particular.

A week before Christmas, Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of the Biden transition, said that the president-elect’s team had encountered “isolated resistance in some corners, including from political appointees within the Department of Defense.” He expressed concern about what he described as “an abrupt halt in the already limited cooperation there.”

Miller had cited a “mutually agreed-upon holiday pause,” but Mr. Abraham said that no such agreement had been made.

And last week, during an event at which Biden criticized President Trump for playing down the Russian hacking of the federal government and private companies, Biden said, “The Defense Department won’t even brief us on many things.

The department responded by calling that claim “patently false.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Child care costs have skyrocketed 150% for Massachusetts families who hire au pairs

February 5, 2020

Some families in Massachusetts just saw their child care costs shoot up by 150% almost overnight, CNN reports.

The reason? Two months ago, on December 2, a Bay State federal appeals court affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Cultural Care Au Pair. With that decision, the court confirmed that au pair workers qualify as “domestic workers”—and, therefore, are protected by the Massachusetts minimum wage, overtime, and Domestic Worker Bill of Rights (DWBOR) laws 

The au pair program, designed as a federal cultural exchange program under the U.S. State Department, brings au pairs to the United States on temporary J-1 exchange visas. Under the traditional program, families nationwide paid their au pairs a stipend—a minimum of $195.75 a week for up to 45 hours of child care work.

However, CNN reports, as of January 2020, parents in Massachusetts now must pay the state’s minimum wage of $12.75 an hour, or the stipend—whichever is more—raising the weekly wage to more than $500 for 45 hours.

In addition, under Massachusetts law, families that hire au pairs now must give domestic workers who labor 16 or more hours a week a written agreement that includes information about:

  • Their regular and overtime rate of pay;
  • Raises or increases in pay for added duties or skills;
  • Work schedule and job duties;
  • Rest periods, sick leave, holidays, vacation, and personal days’
  • Any other benefits;
  • Charges or pay deductions;
  • Eligibility for workers’ compensation;
  • The process for raising and resolving concerns;
  • Notice of termination by the worker or employer;
  • Why and when the employer will enter the worker’s living space (for live-in workers); and
  • What would constitute “cause” for termination (for live-in workers).

In addition, employers of domestic workers must keep payroll records and provide paystubs.  Records should be kept for three years. Specifically, domestic workers who work 16 or more hours per week must receive a timesheet at least every two weeks that shows the number of hours worked each day. The timesheet should be signed or acknowledged by both the worker and employer.

A worker who disagrees with the number of hours listed has the right to make a note on the timesheet of the hours the worker believes that he or she worked.  Signing a timesheet does not mean that the worker cannot later claim any additional wages owed.  Failure to sign a timesheet does not allow an employer to delay or withhold pay.

According to CNN, all of this sounds like good news to Abril Nieves, who arrived from Mexico in 2014 to be an au pair for a family in Boston. While many au pairs have a good experience, she felt as if her host family had taken advantage of her.

“What [the agency] sold me was a cultural exchange,” she told the cable news network. “They said you’ll work a couple hours, learn English, travel.”

Instead she found herself working more than 45 hours a week—caring for four children, all under the age of two—and she didn’t feel like she was being fairly compensated for the work she was providing.

“The program is flawed,” said Nieves. “We don’t have sick days or benefits.”

However, although the ruling was designed to protect people like Nieves, many say that it doesn’t fairly account for the value of free food, housing, and additional financial support provided by the host family throughout their year together. Critics of the ruling worry that the dramatic shift in cost will push families away from the program altogether, blocking the opportunity for young people who are interested in visiting the US.

“The increase in financial obligations for families is a significant challenge,” Natalie Jordan, SVP of Cultural Care Au Pair, told CNN.

Research contact: @CNN

Rudy to the rescue? Giuliani’s current Ukraine jaunt freaks out Trump’s team—and he doesn’t care

December 9, 2019

Forget Carmen Sandiego. Where in the world is Rudy Giuliani?  The president’s personal attorney’s decision to travel to multiple European countries last week—during the height of an impeachment probe involving his client—was so out of left field that senior administration officials and national security brass began tracking his movements in an effort to get a read on his objectives abroad, The Daily Beast reports.

Indeed, officials in the West Wing and numerous Trump associates learned about Giuliani’s latest foreign escapade, which included a stop in Ukraine, by reading the news, the news outlet said.

Many of them expressed exasperation at the thought of Giuliani—himself reportedly in the crosshairs of federal investigators—continuing to cause headaches for the White House. Others feared he would cause tangible damage to U.S. foreign policy.

 “I do not see why [any] lawyer would see this as serving the best interests of their client,” a senior White House official told The Daily Beast. “Especially now.”

Senior U.S. officials in the State Department and on the national security team were concerned that Giuliani was speaking with politicians in both Budapest and Kiev who have interests in domestic American politics.

According to five Daily Beast sources with knowledge of the situation, there is renewed fear that the president’s lawyer is still shopping for dirt about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter as well as speaking with foreign officials who, against all evidence, have promoted the idea that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election. In fact, there are rumors that he is taping a documentary.

The concerns about Giuliani’s trip to Kiev were so pronounced that they reached officials close to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, who were advised by Americans and politicians in Ukraine not to meet with Giuliani when he was in town, according to an individual familiar with those conversations.

The president’s attorney, who has been defiant in the face of criticism for his prior efforts to target the Bidens, was similarly unmoved by the idea that his current expedition was both unseemly and unwise, the news outlet said.

“I would hope they have more important things to do than intrude on the work being done by a lawyer defending his client against another set of false and contrived charges,” Giuliani told The Daily Beast last Wednesday, while still overseas.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

White House says “get out’ to unmarried, same-sex partners of diplomats, UN staff

October 3, 2018

The Trump administration has begun denying visas to some unmarried, same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and employees of the United NationsForeign Policy reported on October 1.

In order to legally remain in the country, those who are already residents must get married by December 3, the State Department has clarified. Otherwise, they will be deported within 30 days.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. characterized the decision—which foreign diplomats fear will create major hardships for same-sex couples from countries that don’t recognize same-sex marriage—as an effort to bring its international visa practices in line with current U.S. policy, Foreign Policy noted.

In light of the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the U.S. extends diplomatic visas only to married spouses of U.S. diplomats. Since the June 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, U.S. policy has dictated that diplomatic visas be extended only to married spouses.

In July, the U.S. mission sent out diplomatic notes to the United Nations and representatives for foreign diplomatic missions explaining the new policy, which reversed a 2009 decision by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant visas to domestic partners of U.S. and foreign diplomats.

The contents of the diplomatic note were first reported in August by the Washington Blade.

The 2009 policy, however, did not allow a heterosexual domestic partner of a U.S. or foreign diplomat to enter the country on a diplomatic visa. “Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” reads the announcement obtained by Foreign Policy. “Consistent with [State] Department policy, partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible” for a diplomatic visa.

Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN, blasted the move as “needlessly cruel and bigoted” on Friday.

“But only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage,” Power noted.

Alfonso Nam, the president of UN Globe, a UN LGBT staff advocacy organization, told Foreign Policy that same-sex couples are at risk of prosecution if they return to a country that criminalizes homosexuality or has not legalized same-sex marriages.

Diplomats would be eligible for “limited exceptions” under the Trump administration’s policy if they can prove that they are from countries that outlaw same-sex partners, according to Foreign Policy.

That exception, however, reportedly does not extend to U.N. officials.

“With this change, the State Department is enforcing parity in the way they recognize opposite-sex partnerships and same-sex partnerships,” UN Globe said in a statement. “It is an unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage.”

Research contact: @columlynch