Elizabeth Warren Pushes Further Restrictions on Lobbyists

Ahead of a major address in New York City, the Democratic hopeful is wrapping her campaign in an anticorruption pitch to Democratic primary voters

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is proposing a federal ban on all fundraising activities hosted by lobbyists as part of a new, broad set of anticorruption proposals, adding weight to a theme that has underpinned her White House bid.

The plan, outlined Monday morning on the blog site Medium, builds on anticorruption legislation Ms. Warren announced last year. It adds the new lobbying prohibitions, as well as a ban to prevent senior executive branch officials and members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards—whether or not they receive compensation from such positions. Ms. Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, unveiled the proposal ahead of one of the splashiest events of her presidential campaign: an evening speech at New York City’s Washington Square Park.

The ideas are unlikely to become law while Republicans control the Senate and the White House. GOP lawmakers have generally lined up against similar proposals, citing constitutional concerns.

Typically, new restrictions on registered lobbyists lead to more Washington operatives deciding not to register, instead referring to themselves as consultants or strategic advisers. Ms. Warren says her plan would close that workaround by expanding the definition of lobbyist to include “all individuals paid to influence government.”

Such appeals to the idea that Washington is corrupt could pay off at the ballot box in 2020. In a WSJ/NBC News poll conducted last fall ahead of the midterm elections, 77% of all respondents said reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington ranked as either the most important or a very important factor in deciding which candidate should get their vote. The only issue that ranked higher was the economy. Many Democrats who won House seats in 2018 campaigned on decreasing the influence of money in politics.

“Look closely, and you’ll see—on issue after issue, widely popular policies are stymied because giant corporations and billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes or follow any rules use their money and influence to stand in the way of big, structural change,” Ms. Warren wrote Monday.

Ms. Warren is also pushing to alter the definition of a “thing of value” in campaign finance laws to include tangible benefits made for campaign purposes, in what appeared to be a nod to President Trump.

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The Wall Street Journal reported in November 2018 that Mr. Trump intervened to suppress stories about alleged sexual encounters with women, including the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the former adult-film star known professionally as Stormy Daniels, citing interviews with three dozen people, court papers, corporate records and other documents. The president’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, told a federal judge that Mr. Trump had directed him during the 2016 campaign to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to eight criminal charges, including campaign-finance violations. Mr. Trump has denied the encounters.

Ms. Warren is additionally proposing making it harder for corporations to seal settlements of product liability litigation, something Democrats have called for in the past, notably in 2014 following a faulty ignition switch installed on 2.6 million General Motors vehicles.

Why Manafort and Cohen Thought They’d Get Away With It

The crimes of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are notable not just for how blatant they were but also for their lack of sophistication. The two men did little to hide their lying to banks and the Internal Revenue Service. One can almost sympathize with them: If it wasn’t for their decision to attach themselves to the most unlikely president in modern history, there’s every reason to think they might still be working their frauds today.

  • .. Are there legions of K Street big shots working for foreign despots and parking their riches in Cypriot bank accounts to avoid the I.R.S.?
  • Are many political campaigns walking felonies waiting to be exposed?
  • What about the world of luxury residential building in which Mr. Cohen plied his trade with the Trump Organization?

.. The answer is more disturbing than the questions: We don’t know. We don’t know because the cops aren’t on the beat. Resources have been stripped from white-collar enforcement.

.. The F.B.I. shifted agents to work on international terror in the wake of Sept. 11. White-collar cases made up about one-tenth of the Justice Department’s cases in recent years, compared with one-fifth in the early 1990s

The I.R.S.’s criminal enforcement capabilities have been decimated by years of budget cuts and attrition.

The Federal Election Commission is a toothless organization that is widely flouted.

.. How could they not? Any person in any bar in America can tell you who was held accountable for the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which peaked 10 years ago next month: No one. No top officer from any major bank went to prison.

.. The Department of Justice — in Democratic as well as Republican administrations — has lost the will and ability to prosecute top executives across corporate America, at large industrial firms, tech giants, retailers, drugmakers and so on. Instead the Department of Justice reaches settlements with corporations, which pay in dollars instead of the liberty of their top officers and directors.

.. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has fallen upon a rash of other crimes. In doing so, he has exposed how widespread and serious our white-collar-fraud problem really is, and how lax enforcement has been for years.

.. The Southern District of New York, to which Mr. Mueller referred the Cohen case, raided the offices of Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, and fought for access to the materials, even as Mr. Cohen asserted attorney-client privilege. When federal prosecutors investigate large companies, out of custom and deference they rarely use such aggressive tactics. They place few wiretaps, conduct almost no undercover operations and do almost no raids. Instead government attorneys reach carefully negotiated agreements about which documents they can review, the product of many hours of discussion with high-powered law firms

..  The government has essentially privatized corporate law enforcement. The government effectively outsources the investigations to the companies themselves. The companies, typically trying to appear cooperative or to forestall government action, hire law firms to do internal investigations. Imagine if Mr. Mueller relied on Mr. Trump to investigate whether he colluded with the Russians or violated any other laws, and Mr. Trump hired Rudy Giuliani’s firm to do the inquiry.

.. Mr. Mueller isn’t looking to go soft to preserve his professional viability. I’m assuming that at age 74, he’s not going to go through the revolving door after this. That hasn’t been true for most top Justice Department officials in recent years. Many of them start out defending large corporations, and when they leave government they go back to the same work of defending large corporations.

 

Ehud Barak: We Must Save Israel From Its Government

For all of Israel’s great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultranationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

.. this government has been irrational, bordering on messianic

.. The government realizes that carrying out its one-state plan must entail steps and practices that necessarily clash with Israeli and international law — which is why it has effectively declared war on

  • the Supreme Court of Israel,
  • the free press and civil society, as well as
  • the Israel Defense Forces’ ethical code.

This disrespect for the rule of law permeates other aspects of the government, too. It helps to shield the prime minister, his family and his aides from corruption investigations. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party recently introduced legislation that would explicitly forbid the police from recommending indictments at the end of high-profile investigations.

.. The Middle East is certainly a tough neighborhood. The threats to Israel are real and none can be ignored. Our country, however, has built an “iron wall” of military and economic power that has made us into the strongest player in the region.
.. there is a broad consensus among Israelis that rests on three pillars.
  1. First and foremost, security comes before everything; every Israeli understands this.
  2. Second, the unity, solidarity and integrity of the people take priority over the unity of the land — namely, the wish to possess the entirety of our historic homeland.
  3. Third, the principles of the 1948 Declaration of Independence, which lay out a vision for a democratic Israel based on freedom, justice and peace, are the foundation of our country’s de facto constitution.
.. The entire debate, then, is actually only over the fate of the isolated settlements, fewer than 100 small communities deep in the West Bank, containing around 100,000 settlers. Even if it is not possible to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this stage — and it probably is not — it is obvious that continued construction in those isolated settlements directly damages Israel’s vital interests.
.. Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition claims to support the three pillars of Israeli consensus but the truth is it is determinedly undermining all three.
.. He prefers a Greater Israel with an Arab majority, violence and division over a united, self-confident Israel with a solid Jewish majority
.. He sanctifies the Land of Israel before the People of Israel. And he systematically erodes Israel’s democracy and liberal norms of governance.
.. In the service of this agenda, Mr. Netanyahu elevated fake news, alternative facts and whataboutism into art forms in Hebrew, long before those terms gained any traction in English.

Israel to American Jews: You Just Don’t Matter

To the casual observer, Israel has never looked more secure and prosperous. Its Arab neighbors are in disarray. Iran’s nuclear program has been mothballed for a while. The Trump team could not be friendlier and the Palestinians could not be weaker. All’s quiet on the Tel Aviv front. …

Look again. In fact, the foundations of Israel’s long-term national security are cracking.

.. Israel is overstretching itself by simultaneously erasing the line between itself and the Palestinians — essentially absorbing 2.5 million Palestinians, which could turn Israel into a de facto Jewish-Arab binational state — and drawing a line between itself and the Jewish diaspora, particularly the U.S. Jewish community

.. Netanyahu is setting himself up to be a pivotal figure in Jewish history — the leader who burned the bridges to a two-state solution and to the Jewish diaspora at the same time.

.. I won’t waste much time on Bibi’s deft manipulation of President Trump to shift all the blame onto the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas for the absence of progress in the peace process. Bibi masterfully distracted Trump with a shiny object — a video of extreme statements by Abbas (with no mention of extremist actions by Israeli settlers).

“Bibi, you win every debate, but meanwhile every day the separation of Israel from the Palestinians grows less likely, putting Israel on a ‘slippery slope toward apartheid,’ as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently warned. Where is your map? What are you going to do with 420,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank? Where is your imagination for how to reverse this trend that will inevitably lead to the end of Israel as a Jewish democratic state?”

.. About 75 percent of the 10 million diaspora Jews are non-Orthodox, mostly followers of the Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.

.. Netanyahu bowed to the demands of the Orthodox parties and canceled a 2016 agreement to create a distinct egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem — the holiest site of the Jewish faith — where men and women of the non-Orthodox movements could pray together. The Orthodox rabbis who control the Western Wall insist that men pray in one area and women in a separate, smaller area.

.. At the same time, Bibi caved and endorsed an Orthodox party bill in the Knesset that handed the ultra-Orthodox what amounts to a monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel “by pulling government recognition for private conversions” — basically those done by non-Orthodox rabbis

.. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency pointed out that Israel’s Orthodox parties and Chief Rabbinate essentially control “all Jewish marriage in Israel, and immigrants who wish to wed there must first prove they are Jewish according to Orthodox law. … The Chief Rabbinate’s antipathy to Reform and Conservative rabbis is well documented.”

.. Netanyahu “just gave the finger to a huge chunk of American Jews

.. After an outcry led by the American pro-Israel lobby Aipac, Bibi negotiated a six-month freeze on putting the conversion legislation in effect. But it is a time bomb.

.. “Does Israel view itself as the nation-state of Israelis or as the nation-state of the entire Jewish people — nearly 60 percent of whom live outside of Israel? Is the purpose of Israel to serve the continuing resilience, prosperity and existence of the Jewish people, as the founders of Zionism envisioned, or just its own well-being?

..Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren  .. the machinations of Bibi and the Orthodox parties constituted an “abandonment of Zionism. The [Western Wall] belongs to the Jewish people as a whole.”

.. “For years the diaspora’s rabbis were not recognized by Israel’s government, but their political support was sought and their congregants’ money was requested. Israeli politicians who voted against the diaspora’s interests in the Israeli Parliament begged for the stage at the Aipac convention in Washington

.. Israelis have long taken for granted the fact that America — the world’s greatest superpower —

  • is a steadfast supporter of Israel in the U.N.,
  • looks the other way on settlements,
  • secures Israel’s technological edge over its enemies through defense systems like the Iron Dome, and
  • just promised Israel $38 billion in security aid over 10 years.

.. Most Israelis, said Grinstein, “are ignorant of the fact that this astonishing reality is the outcome of tireless work by hundreds of thousands of Jews — Democrats and Republicans, most of them non-Orthodox

.. Today, Israel’s very identity is at a crossroad:

  • Runaway Jewish nationalism threatens to meld Israel with the Palestinians in the West Bank, while
  • runaway Orthodox politics threatens to disconnect Israel from its most committed supporters.

Israelis cheered for Trump. But they may miss Obama more than they expected.

Policy vs. personality in Middle East politics.

Real policy differences over Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran caused innumerable disagreements, many of them quite public. But during my time representing the United States here, I found that the caricature of universal Israeli hostility to Obama was overstated.
.. the arrival of a president who “at last” would support Israel unconditionally and not pressure the country to limit settlement growth or make concessions to the Palestinians.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, declared, “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state.”
.. revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a two-state solution, with the support of key Arab states
.. With Obama, Israelis may not always have gotten everything they wanted. But they always got consistency. Obama held as a firm principle the idea that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security was unconditional.
.. relationship mature enough and durable enough to withstand such differences — but they needed to know that the United States was a reliable ally when it mattered most. And he delivered
.. they came to appreciate was Obama’s style of leadership: steady, thoughtful, knowledgeable.
.. he had the maturity, the discipline and the judgment to reach well-informed decisions that benefited Israel’s security.
.. The result was a period of unprecedented intimacy between our militaries and intelligence services.
.. I was struck by the depth of appreciation that senior Israeli military officers and intelligence officials expressed for Obama’s contributions to Israel’s security, often drawing a contrast with sentiments expressed by their politicians or the public.
.. Amos Gilad, a longtime senior defense official.. told me: “It’s easy to criticize Obama. But on the military front, the relationship was incredible.”
.. His unpredictability .. was already a source of anxiety
.. Israelis now have to ask which Trump will show up for work each day — the friend who pledges his loyalty or the adolescent who can lash out at allies such as Australia and Canada, and perhaps one day Israel?
.. His lack of knowledge, compounded by his aversion to reading and short attention span
.. His carelessness
.. shaken the confidence of the Israeli intelligence services in the reliability of the United States as a partner
.. indifferent to democratic values and institutions and enamored of authoritarian leaders is harming the United States’ standing globally, which is never good for Israel.
.. off the record, officials are beginning to acknowledge that something has changed.
.. erratic, unreliable leader?
.. David Ben-Gurion, gave President John F. Kennedy
.. The best way you can help Israel, Ben-Gurion told him, is “by being a great President of the United States.”

Trump’s Push for Mideast Deal Perplexes Israeli Right

Many in ruling coalition, and West Bank settlers, are content with the way things are

 Much of Israel’s governing coalition is pretty happy with the status quo.The Israeli economy is booming. Jewish population growth has nearly caught up with Palestinian birthrates. And the level of violence remains at historic lows. The wars ravaging the wider Middle East, meanwhile, have distracted regional attention from the Palestinians’ predicament and have even pushed countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia toward more cooperation with Israel.

.. “There is nothing more sustainable than the current situation that has already existed for 50 years and that is getting better all the time,” said retired Brig. Gen. Effie Eitam

.. That’s why Mr. Trump’s ambition to resolve the intractable dispute—a solution that would likely require Israel to accept Palestinian statehood and give up most of the territory it has occupied since 1967—has confounded Israel’s right-wing coalition ..

.. Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet—seeking to accommodate American requests—has already imposed modest new limits on West Bank settlement expansion.

That’s not something that the West Bank settlers’ leaders had expected from a Trump White House.

.. the Yesha Council, said it was disappointing that Washington still wanted to halt settlement growth instead of looking for new “out of the box” solutions.

.. it won’t be solved by one side getting an order not to build so that children [of settlers] cannot live next to their parents—while the Palestinians can build as much as they can, and are building new cities,”

.. “To be honest,” he said, “nobody knows what will happen with Trump tomorrow.”

The Man Who Would Beat Bibi

“I can’t think of any other democracy in which the same person was prime minister, or president, or head of state in 1996 is still the head of state,” Lapid tells me in an interview

.. Some these days even see him as Israel’s answer to Donald Trump, a celebrity come lately to politics, with no discernible ideology and a flair for popular slogans.

.. The latest polls generally show Yesh Atid (“There Is a Future” in Hebrew), leading Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party by about four seats in parliamentary elections.

.. Netanyahu is facing a rapidly spiraling investigation into a host of allegations involving gifts and perks from big donors and trading favors for positive media coverage, not to mention new pressures from the right wing in his coalition who feel emboldened by Trump’s ascension to push for harder-line policies.

.. the country’s Labor party, historically the main opposition to Netanyahu’s Likud, has all but collapsed—a fate not dissimilar to the old left in many European countries like Britain in recent years.

.. he is running as “an extreme moderate,”

.. Lapid’s patriotism, compelling biography and cheerleading nationalism on his overseas trips are clearly playing well in Israeli politics

.. In this day and age of Trump and Brexit, when fiery right-wing populists are challenging for leadership of both France and Germany in hotly contested elections that have establishment types openly fretting about the death of the liberal international order, Lapid’s equally corny appeal for the virtues of “responsible” centrism can have an oddly soothing effect.

.. Trump’s handpicked negotiator, his longtime personal lawyer Jason Greenblatt

.. He even was reported to have pushed Israel to freeze West Bank construction outside already established settlement blocs, a demand that veteran peace process watchers see as key for the Trump team to make if it is serious about getting Palestinians to the table.

.. “Trump didn’t move the Embassy, pressured Bibi to put the brakes on settlements and reached out to Abu Mazen. He seems to really believe he can be the peacemaker,”

.. If Netanyahu can’t deliver on more settlement-building from a supposedly favorable Trump administration, there are plenty on his right flank poised to criticize him. And then, there’s Lapid—officially still a two-stater though he talks increasingly these days not of peace but of “separation” between Israelis and Palestinians as the goal

.. the administration’s asks of Israel on restraining settlement activity are well within the range of traditional U.S. policy under previous administrations—much to the disappointment of some Israelis who thought it would be ‘anything goes,’”

.. But I don’t see any indication that ether Bibi or Abu Mazen is capable of taking risks necessary to get a deal

.. “The right wing has Bibi by the throat and he cannot afford to do anything to jeopardize his coalition. Bibi cannot afford any kind of cracks in his coalition and they all know it, so they’re all going to press him and he will bend to them, he has to. No politician in Israel planning to run in next election wants to talk about peace.”

.. essentially endorsing Lapid’s view that only a new centrism could save the country from the “abominable practice of both right and left to hand over the keys to the kingdom to parties that are essentially fanatic and anti-democratic.”

.. Haaretz, a liberal newspaper with which Lapid has developed a feud so pronounced he boycotts its reporters.

.. Lapid is also articulate, adaptive, well-read and savvy.

.. “It’s the problem of centrists all around the world,” he says. “You don’t get to say those inflammatory, very interesting things that the extremists from both sides get to say. You are talking on behalf of complexity

.. he’s disciplined enough not to get drawn into fights he’s never going to win.