John Kerry's Awkward Push For Investment In Iran

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right), along with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (left), speak to reporters in London on May 12. They tried to assure European banks they won't be penalized for conducting legitimate business with Iran. Critics say it should not be up to the U.S. to encourage investment in Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (right), along with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (left), speak to reporters in London on May 12. They tried to assure European banks they won’t be penalized for conducting legitimate business with Iran. Critics say it should not be up to the U.S. to encourage investment in Iran. Josh Lederman/AP hide caption

toggle caption Josh Lederman/AP

Secretary of State John Kerry has negotiated himself into the odd position of lobbying in support of investment in Iran.

As he tries to keep the Iran nuclear agreement on track in the final year of the Obama administration, Kerry has become personally involved in trying to help Iran get economic benefits out of the deal. That’s no easy task and one that critics say is letting Iran off the hook.

Kerry huddled with European bankers in London on May 12 to tell them “legitimate business” is available to them in Iran. He took Treasury Department officials with him to “dispel any rumors” about how the US will enforce its remaining sanctions on Iran.

In speaking to bankers, Kerry emphasized that “as long as they do their normal due diligence … they’re not going to be held to some undefined and inappropriate standard.”

Many banks, though, are still wary of doing business in Iran. One reason, but not the only one, is that banks fear the possibility that U.S. sanctions could “snap back” if Iran violates the nuclear deal.

As promised, the U.S. has suspended sanctions under the terms of the nuclear agreement that Washington and other world powers negotiated with Iran last year.

However, the U.S. still considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and says it routinely violates the rights of its citizens. So there are still some U.S. economic sanctions in place over these issues, which are separate from the nuclear deal.

Banks Cite Multiple Risks

Stuart Levey, the chief legal officer for the bank HBSC, says his bank and others in Europe still have good reason to be reluctant to jump in.

“Governments can lift sanctions, but the private sector is still responsible for managing its own risk,” Levey, a former Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, pointed out in The Wall Street Journal a day after Kerry met with bankers in London.

“No one has claimed that Iran has ceased to engage in much of the same conduct for which it was sanctioned, including activity supporting terrorism and building and testing ballistic missiles,” Levey wrote. He added that HSBC has no intention of doing any new business involving Iran.

Kerry’s lobbying efforts have also raised eyebrows on Capitol Hill.

Ed Royce, a California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accuses the Obama administration is “bending over backwards to accommodate Iran,” rather than keeping up pressure to encourage Iran to change its behavior.

Kerry was taking “the odd step” of reassuring foreign firms that Iran is open for business, Royce told a recent Congressional hearing, while “other administration officials go so far as to say that Iran economic growth is in our national security interest.”

Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief and the Obama administration argues that Tehran needs to see some economic benefits for the agreement to work.

Administration Says U.S. Is Now Safer

U.S. officials overseeing the deal say it has made the U.S. safer. Iran was a few months away from having enough material for a nuclear weapon, they argue, and now Iran is a year away from that.

“Since Iran has kept its end of the deal, we must uphold ours,” says Adam Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. He told a House Foreign Relations Committee that Iran is already seeing the benefits, opening new bank accounts and gaining access to billions of dollars in reserves.

The nuclear deal has improved Iran’s economic outlook, according to David Lipton, first deputy managing firector of the International Monetary Fund, who visited Iran in mid-May.

His report predicts GDP growth of 4 percent to 4.5 percent over the medium term, as Iran boosts its oil exports and its banks reconnect to the international financial system. Inflation in Iran has declined from 45 percent in 2013 to around 8 percent recently, the IMF adds. Despite low oil prices, Iran’s Oil Ministry is trying to ramp up production, exporting 2 million barrels per day in hopes of soon reaching 2.2 million barrels per day.

Iran needs investment, though, and that means access to the international financial system. That’s where John Kerry’s lobbying efforts fit in.

Kerry’s critics say Iran needs to show that it is following international rules and reforming its economy if it wants foreign investment and it should not be up to the Obama administration to make that case.

The Financial Action Task Force, an international body that reports on the risks of money laundering and terrorist financing, remains “particularly and exceptionally” concerned about Iran’s failure to live up to global standards.

Iran also gets poor marks on corruption. It is ranked 130th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and 118th on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who supports the nuclear deal, told a Senate banking hearing that issues like corruption explain why companies are so reluctant to invest in Iran.

“The United States should not fall into the trap of helping Iran rehabilitate itself,” former Treasury Department official Juan Zarate told that same hearing.

“The onus should remain solely on Iran to alleviate concerns about its activities, lack of transparency and failure to meet heightened global standards of financial integrity,” said Zarate, who is now chairman of the Financial Integrity Network.

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Songs We Love: Mara Hruby, 'In The Wee Small Hours'

Archaic Rapture
YouTube

Mara Hruby is a master at facing fears. The singer-songwriter born in Oakland, Calif., channels the many emotions of artists such as Julie London, Van Hunt and Ella Fitzgerald on her 2014 EP, Archaic Rapture. On that set, Hruby finds herself through a collection of jazz songs — and, in turn, faces an ex-lover’s infidelity.

“I was with a guy who cheated on me with six women. That’s why I am doing six songs, [and] why I’m calling the album Archaic Rapture. It was the darkest point in my life,” she told Billboard in 2014.

Archaic Rapture Courtesy of the artist hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of the artist

Hruby finishes her journey through Archaic Rapture by saying goodbye to a place she called home for four years in Berkeley, Calif., in the video for “In The Wee Small Hours,” directed by Melinda James. As in the other five songs on the EP, Hruby sings sweetly and passionately of a love that once was.

“My aim was to convey the power of vulnerability and the courage it takes to stand in your truth, right where it all happens, wherever that may be,” Hruby writes. “I shot this video one week before I moved out of my home of four years, and couldn’t think of having a more proper goodbye to that home and chapter of my life than this video. Let us always remember to stand strong in our experiences and remain honest with ourselves.”

Archaic Rapture is out now.

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Celebrating The Class Of 2016: Peace Odiase

Peace Odiase, one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee. (Courtesy/Peace Odiase)

Peace Odiase, one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee. (Courtesy/Peace Odiase)

This week, Here & Now has been speaking with 2016 college graduates about the biggest challenges they faced in school, and where they plan to go next.

Today, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Peace Odiase, one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.

  • Hear Monday’s conversation with University of Chicago graduating senior Konje Machini
  • Hear Tuesday’s conversation with Penn State graduating senior Emily Waschenko

Guest

  • Peace Odiase, one of two valedictorians at Fisk University.

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New Chewable, Fruit-Flavored ADHD Drugs Generating Controversy

A plastic pill bottle containing tablets of Adderall, a drug used to treat ADHD. (Tony Webster/Flickr)

A plastic pill bottle containing tablets of Adderall, a drug used to treat ADHD. (Tony Webster/Flickr)

If your child is taking medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), their doctor may soon offer a new option: fruit-flavored chewables.

The new drug, Adzenys, got FDA approval in January, and went on the market last week. But some psychiatrists are concerned that making amphetamines in a candy-like form will make people more likely to abuse them, and also contribute to what some see as a trend of overmedicating children.

Here & Now’s Robin Young talks with Meghana Keshavan, biotech correspondent at STAT.

Guest

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Dear Hollywood, This Is How You Make A Movie With African Characters

A scene from the movie Timbuktu, nominated in 2014 for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

A scene from the movie Timbuktu, nominated in 2014 for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Youtube hide caption

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You may have heard that Sean Penn’s new Africa-set drama, The Last Face, got savaged at the Cannes Film Festival this week. Reviewers complained (and let me just note that I’ve not yet seen the film) that while Penn’s centers story on a romance between two NGO doctors (Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem), he uses African conflict and tragedy mostly as a backdrop. A common lament was that the African characters weren’t individualized — the Hollywood Reporter said they amounted to “bleeding wallpaper.”

Harsh, that. But it’s a complaint frequently leveled at Hollywood films set in Africa. It’s true that box office considerations often lead producers to concentrate stories on their non-African stars as fish-out-of-water — whether it’s African Queen‘s Katharine Hepburn or Blood Diamond‘s Leonardo DiCaprio — and relegate dark-skinned characters to subordinate roles.

There are exceptions. Tom Hanks may have had the title role in the ship-hijacking drama Captain Phillips, but Barkhad Abdi’s Somali pirate, Muse, stole the show (and won an Oscar).

And of course, African performers get better parts and can make bigger impressions when international stars aren’t around to steal the spotlight. Here are a few films that give African characters (and actors) their full due.

YouTube

Tsotsi (2005)

An adaptation of the Athol Fugard novel about a young street thug (Presley Chweneyagae) who steals a car only to find a three-month-old baby in the back seat. He and the young mother (Papulana Seiphemo) he finds to take care of the infant make wrenching impressions.

YouTube

District 9 (2009)

The sci-fi thriller that uses fictional news reports, surveillance video and “found” footage to tell a story about reviled alien refugees that’s more or less a metaphor for apartheid and xenophobia. The film, which made a star of white South African actor Sharlto Copley (he’s since appeared in Elysium with Matt Damon), offered a vivid showcase for Eugene Khumbanyiwa as a psychopathic Nigerian gang leader.

YouTube

The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980)

A comedy about an isolated tribe of bushmen who think that a Coca-Cola bottle thrown from an airplane is a gift from the gods. Because the desire to possess it leads to social division in the tribe, not to mention envy and anger, Xi (Nǃxau ǂToma) decides to get rid of it. Turns out, that’s more complicated than he expects. Life also proved more complicated: Though the film grossed more than $100 million worldwide, the late star, who was a bush farmer, reportedly earned around $300 — although he negotiated a better deal (including some cattle) for the sequel.

YouTube

Timbuktu (2014)

The occupation of the title city by Islamic extremists leads to traumas of various sorts, some merely odd, others wrenching. The film, directed by Abderrahamane Sissako, was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and features an extraordinary ensemble.

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Senate Votes To Block New Rule On Retirement Advice

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) participate in a news briefing after the weekly Senate Democratic Policy Committee luncheon May 24, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats held a policy luncheon to discuss Democratic agenda. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) participate in a news briefing after the weekly Senate Democratic Policy Committee luncheon May 24, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats held a policy luncheon to discuss Democratic agenda. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Senate voted yesterday to block a new rule issued by the Obama Administration that requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when it comes to retirement accounts.

Before the rule change, they were required to make sure that investments were “suitable,” for clients, which was a lower standard. Republicans have supported blocking the rule, while President Obama has promised to veto the Senate bill so that the rule stands.

Here & Now’s Robin Young discusses the situation with CNN’s Maggie Lake.

Guest

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Defiant Female Ukrainian Pilot Freed From Russia In Prisoner Swap

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko (center), who was freed from jail in Russia as part of a prisoner exchange, talks to the media upon arrival at Kiev's Boryspil airport on Wednesday.

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko (center), who was freed from jail in Russia as part of a prisoner exchange, talks to the media upon arrival at Kiev’s Boryspil airport on Wednesday. Anatolii Stepanov /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Anatolii Stepanov /AFP/Getty Images

Ukrainian pilot and national hero Nadiya Savchenko has been released from Russia, where she’s been held for almost two years.

The release was “part of a tightly coordinated prisoner exchange” and Savchenko received a “hero’s welcome back in Kiev,” NPR’s Corey Flintoff tells our Newscast unit. He adds that she vowed to “continue fighting for other Ukrainians who are prisoners in Russia.”

“I want to thank everyone who wished me well. Thanks to you, I survived,” she told reporters in a defiant speech after landing in Kiev, according to translation provided by Ukraine’s Hromadske TV. “I want to thank those who wished me harm. I survived in spite of you. And I want to thank those, who were indifferent. Thank you for not interfering. Thank you all.”

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Savchenko “was exchanged for two Russians who were captured while fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine,” as Corey reports.

This comes after a Russian court in March found Savchenko guilty of murdering two Russian journalists in 2014 in Ukraine and sentenced her to 22 years in prison.

As the Two-Way has reported, she has maintained her innocence and called the trial a “Russian propaganda stunt.” Savchenko’s defense maintains she couldn’t have killed the two journalists — because “cellphone records prove that she was captured by separatist militia fighters at least an hour before these journalists were killed,” as Corey reported.

As the judge read the guilty verdict, Savchenko loudly burst into song with a patriotic Ukrainian tune.

Displays of defiance like this throughout the trial “turned her into an unrivalled national hero,” The Associated Press reports. “A poster with her picture and a call for her release has adorned the rostrum at the Ukrainian parliament for months.”

Nadiya #savchenko looking as defiant as ever pic.twitter.com/IQMcjC91Cc

— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) May 25, 2016

During her time in Russian prison, she was elected to Ukraine’s parliament and also “appointed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,” the wire service adds.

Savchenko’s release was welcomed by EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

Nadiya #Savchenko is free and back in #Ukraine. Long awaited good news, that the EU celebrates together with her country.

— Federica Mogherini (@FedericaMog) May 25, 2016

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Native Americans Protest Planned Auction Of Sacred Objects In France

U.S. officials and members of Native American Nations attend an “emergency meeting” at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. They were gathered to object to a Paris auction house’s upcoming sale of objects sacred to Native Americans. Andrew Harnik/AP hide caption

toggle caption Andrew Harnik/AP

Native American leaders and a U.S. State Department official are urging a French auction house to call off a sale of sacred art and artifacts.

The auction is scheduled for next Monday, at the Eve auction house in Paris. Items for sale include a war shirt from a Plains Indian tribe, possibly Lakota, featuring hair from human scalps, as well as an Acoma Pueblo war shield.

The auction also includes numerous ceremonial objects with religious significance to the Hopi tribe. The items in question are so sacred to the Hopi that members of the tribe object to having them photographed or even described, as KJZZ reporter Laurel Morales explained for our Code Switch blog in 2013.

Back then, the items — which the Hopi call “Katsina friends” — were in the news for the same reason they’re popping up now: A French auction house was planning to sell them.

Then, and now, the Hopi consider such a sale a profound act of sacrilege.

In the U.S., it’s illegal to sell ceremonial Native American items. But France is not bound by U.S. laws on the matter, as The Guardian reports. It’s a point of diplomatic friction between the two allies.

At an “emergency meeting” called Tuesday at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, tribal officials, the State Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico gathered to discuss the pending auction.

The Associated Press reports that the governor of Acoma Pueblo, the tribe whose war shield is up for auction, has reached out to Secretary of State John Kerry and asked him to intervene with French authorities. The wire service continues:

“[Kurt] Riley made an emotional appeal at Tuesday’s meeting, seeking the return of the Acoma Pueblo ceremonial shield to the centuries-old village in New Mexico. Tribal leaders said it was illegally taken from the community atop a mesa southwest of Albuquerque, and that by pueblo law, it is a sacred item that should never have been removed.

“Through tears, he said seeing cultural items go up for sale has caused the pueblo emotional harm.

” ‘How it left the pueblo, we don’t know. However its mere existence outside the pueblo tells us an event occurred in violation of Acoma law,’ Riley said. ‘A black market for these cultural items has emerged in the United States.’ “

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bradley Marshall and Leilani Pole of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council described the history of their tribe’s devastation by U.S. laws, and the pilfering of their sacred items “by the wagonloads,” headed to museums and collectors against the tribe’s will.

“Over the years, we’ve searched high and low for objects that are part of our community,” Marshall said. “When we create [ceremonial] objects, we’re in prayer. We’re breathing life into the object. And so these objects are not just a mere object in some fancy collection, these objects are living beings to us. These objects are a part of our family … these objects have a sacred purpose in our community.”

An object from the Hoopa tribe is set to be auctioned on Monday; the auction house estimates it is worth thousands of euros.

“We hope one day this member of our community can return to us,” Marshall said.

The U.S. government sides with the tribes. Mark Taplin of the Department of State said: “In the absence of clear documentation and the consent of the tribes themselves, these objects shouldn’t be sold. This type of commercialization of Native American cultural property is fundamentally wrong.”

The French auction also is to include jewelry from the ancient Hohokam tribe and artifacts from Asia, Africa and elsewhere in the Americas.

Indigenous cultural items can be big money in France, the Guardian explains:

“France has a long history, tied to its colonial past in Africa, of collecting and selling tribal artifacts. The Paris-based ‘Indianist’ movement in the 1960s celebrated indigenous cultures, and interest in tribal art in Paris was revived in the early 2000s following the highly lucrative sales in Paris of tribal art owned by late collectors André Breton and Robert Lebel.”

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