Category Archives: foreign relations

Cohen headed to Cuba with Obama

For the second time in seven months, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is heading to Cuba, this time with President Barack Obama, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The Memphis Democrat will be part of a bipartisan congressional delegation that will travel with Obama when he makes a historic visit to Cuba as part of his push to re-establish diplomatic relations with the island nation.

The trip, which will take place March 20-22, will mark the first time an American president has visited Cuba in 88 years.

“I am proud to be joining President Obama on this historic and important trip,” Cohen said in a statement. “I have been a longtime supporter of re-opening diplomatic relations with Cuba and have cosponsored numerous bills in Congress to advance U.S.-Cuba relations.”

“Not only is it the right thing to do,” Cohen said, “but it will also open new trade avenues for Memphis entrepreneurs, businesses, medical device companies and health-industry professionals, as well as improve Americans’ freedom to travel.”

ECD expanding TN international operations

Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development will soon contract for a representative to promote the state in South Korea and ECD Commissioner has plans for new offices in China, Germany and Italy as well, according to WPLN.

Pending final contracts, the state Department of Economic and Community Development is planning to open a new office in Seoul early next year. The goal is to recruit more Asian companies to do business in Tennessee.

And it’s not the only part of the world the state is eyeing: Commissioner Randy Boyd also wants an office in southern Germany, to access its automotive industry, and in northern Italy, for its ceramic tile business.

“We’ve got a couple of companies already from northern Italy” in Tennessee, Boyd says. “It turns out, because of our clay and other natural resources, this is a great place for ceramics.”

Boyd — essentially the state’s chief salesman — also plans to open an office in China and possibly add a second one there to tap into more of the market.

“Businesses in Italy or in China don’t know that much about Tennessee. They may not even be able to find us on a map, so just hoping that they might show up at our door one day and decide to locate here is pretty unrealistic,” he says.

…Tennessee has had a similar office in Japan for the last decade and a half. Boyd credits the abundance of Japanese companies in Tennessee — 182 establishments employing more than 48,500 people — to the office’s success.

“We could have one person knocking on doors every day, 10 times a day for the next 20 years, in each of the markets that we’re looking at,” he says.

Roe visits Afghanistan

News release from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe
WASHINGTON, D.C. –Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) spent the Thanksgiving holiday visiting with soldiers in Afghanistan. Roe was part of a bipartisan delegation that included the following members: Reps. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) and Dr. Ralph Abraham (R-LA). While the Congressman was abroad, he was briefed on the status of the U.S. mission and met with President Ghani.

Roe released the following statement on the visit:

“It was an honor to spend Thanksgiving with our troops in Afghanistan, and to hear about the progress we’re making in the country. I am extremely grateful to our soldiers for their service and for welcoming us with so much pride and hospitality. These brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way every day, and I couldn’t be prouder of their caliber. I also appreciate President Ghani taking the time to meet with us and for hosting us at the presidential palace.”

On Bob Corker’s ‘very, very somber’ trip to Paris

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker journeyed to Paris and placed a wreath decorated with red, white and blue ribbons next to the stack of bouquets and candles that have been piling up on the sidewalk beside Le Carillon, a pub-café where terrorists had gunned down more than a dozen people as part of the recent murders.

So reports Michael Collins. A further excerpt:

“It was just very, very somber,” the Tennessee Republican said of the mood outside the café, one of various sites in Paris that terrorists hit on the night of Nov. 13. “To be there, to see the bullet holes in the windows and the walls and to know just a few days before that people were just mowed down — it was very sobering.”

Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added the stopover in France to an already planned trip to the Middle East after terrorists killed 130 people and wounded another 368 in their coordinated strike on Paris. The attacks have stoked fears all over the world and have left Americans wondering whether the U.S. is at risk of a similar assault.

Corker was in Paris less than 24 hours, but while he was there, he received a briefing at the U.S. embassy, talked with the FBI and met with French security and intelligence officials to discuss U.S. cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Part of the conversation focused on what needs to be done collectively to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

“It was a very beneficial 24 hours,” Corker said. He would not provide any details about what he learned.

Note: A related Corker press release posting (he talked with CNN about it) is HERE.

Sunday column: TN politics goes global in refugee rhetoric

Last week’s remarkable Tennessee political discourse on Syrian refugees illustrates, once again, the irrelevance today of that old adage about all politics being local. Instead, state politics revolves around national events and is maybe even becoming increasingly international.

The old adage was made famous back in the 1980s by Democratic U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill, who was known to openly collaborate with Republican President Ronald Reagan.

No partisan collaboration was readily apparent in the rush to rhetorical bombardment from Tennessee Republicans and Democrats in the aftermath of a despicable terrorist attack in Paris (France, not Tennessee), including news reports that at least one suicide bomber got into the country as a Syrian refugee.

But just maybe there was something close to collaboration, given the national and state political environment, in the cautious reaction of Gov. Bill Haslam, chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

He merely asked the federal government to suspend sending any new Syrian refugees to Tennessee while the vetting process is reviewed, stopping short of declarations by fellow GOP governors vowing to block any attempt to locate homeless Syrians within their states. President Barack Obama has proposed bringing about 10,000 new Syrian refugees into the country as a whole.
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Legislator’s letter to Haslam: Allow no Syrian refugees in Tennessee

Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, is asking fellow state legislators ti sign on to a letter she plans to deliver Wednesday to Gov. Bill Haslam, asking him to block the re-settlement in Tennessee of any Syrian refugees who haven’t gone through an extensive federal security clearance process.

From The Tennessean:

Although hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the years-long conflict in Syria, the country is also home to the de facto capital of the terrorist organization the Islamic State. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has already claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured.

…As Butt notes in her letter, there are reports that at least one of the attackers came to France along with refugees.

From July through the end of September, a little less than 600 refugees arrived in Tennessee, according to a quarterly report from the Tennessee Office of Refugees. That includes 378 refugees in Davidson County, 84 refugees in Knox County and 60 refugees in Shelby County.

Over the course of the next federal fiscal year. which began Oct. 1, the office anticipates another 1,800 refugees will re-settle in Tennessee. Roughly 1,300 are expected to settle in Davidson, Rutherford and Williamson counties, according to the report.

The office is run by Catholic Charities of Tennessee. Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, wants the state to play a more active role in regulating what refugees are allowed in Tennessee. In an email obtained by The Tennessean, Bowling argues the state is “totally unaware of who these ‘refugees’ are” with Catholic Charities running refugee resettlement in Tennessee.

UPDATE/Note: A few hours after this post, Haslam announced he has requested a suspension of any plans to bring Syrian refugees to Tennessee (Post: HERE). Butt says more than 40 other legislators had signed her letter at that point. Text of Butt’s letter is below:
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Corker eyes subpoena of Kerry

Sen. Bob Corker is considering issuing a subpoena for Secretary of State John Kerry, reports Politico, adding that this reflects growing frustration among Republicans that Kerry is stonewalling the panel in an effort to avoid testifying about the Syrian civil war.

Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, also alleges the State Department isn’t being truthful about Kerry’s schedule to avoid a panel appearance.

Corker (R-Tenn.) has been trying to secure a Kerry visit to discuss the brutal Syrian civil war for more than a week, sources said, but the chairman now claims that Kerry won’t return his phone calls, wants to send “underlings” to testify in his stead and is sending Congress signals that he is out of town when he is not.
Now, Corker says he’s mulling more serious action.

“I don’t know what steps to take, subpoenaing a secretary of state is certainly an extraordinary step and one that needs to be thought about,” Corker said at an unrelated committee business meeting on Thursday. “I don’t know what to do when you have the biggest crisis, people flooding into Europe, 100 percent change taking place on the ground.”

Responding to Corker, State Department spokesman John Kirby insisted the snafu was due to a scheduling conflict and said Kerry will “continue to discuss with Chairman Corker any and all future requests for his appearance.”

Secretary Kerry was unable to testify on the date proposed by Chairman Corker due to a previously scheduled trip overseas. The State Department offered to provide in his absence either Deputy Secretary Blinken or Assistant Secretary Anne Patterson,” Kirby said.

The GOP chairman has worked closely with the administration and Senate Democrats on processing some of Kerry’s nominees through his panel and has worked in tandem with the White House on several legislative initiatives, like a State Department reauthorization and expanding utilities in Africa. But Corker sharply rebuked Kerry in July over the Iran deal, saying he got “fleeced” in the negotiations with Tehran, and the Tennessee Republican ended up becoming one of the nuclear agreements biggest opponents after biting his tongue for weeks.

Corker talks on cybertheft

Sen. Bob Corker delivered the keynote speech at a law enforcement conference in Chattanooga Tuesday, reports the Times Free Press.

He told the officers they are his heroes while talking about cyberattacks and intellectual theft and got in some name-dropping — “citing his recent conversations with China’s President Xi Jinping and Apple CEO Tim Cook,” for example.

The chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, Corker is an advocate of the National Security Agency and an outspoken critic of the agency’s former contractor Edward Snowden, who came to fame for publicizing proprietary information about the NSA that caused Americans to question government mass- surveillance techniques.

Corker cited the recent cybertheft of information from more than 21 million former and current government employees from the Office of Personnel Management, which came to light this summer as a national instance of the challenges police may be dealing with on a local level.

“Many of you have been involved in the military, many of you have been involved in intelligence in the past, and all of you know that’s just what governments do to each other, right?,” Corker said. “I could go further, but I won’t in this setting.

“But the fact is, what matters most is what’s happening at the individual level. That’s absolute theft. You can steal people’s personal property. Ya’ll are dealing with it at all kinds of levels, and more and more [frequently].”

Corker cited recently implemented laws that allow the wiretapping of human trafficking suspects as a step in the right direction for law enforcement.

Governor reviews trade trip to Israel

Gov. Bill Haslam says Israel and Tennessee have “an obvious connection” related to health care and other sectors, reports the Times-Free Press.

“We catch heat about being low-cost. We’re low-cost compared to New York, San Francisco and L.A.,” Haslam said in Chattanooga on Thursday.

The governor, fresh off a jobs recruitment trip to Israel, cited work done at Erlanger hospital that he learned about in which surgeons are using Israeli technology to help stroke victims.

“Chattanooga has some advantages in that,” he said of an idea raised by Erlanger physician Dr. Thomas Devlin to make the city a low-cost entry point for Israeli companies to get into the U.S. market and through federal regulatory testing.

Devlin, who directs the Southeast Regional Stroke Center, said Israeli companies don’t want to go to places such as California or Boston.

“We have an opportunity to do this here. We have all the right business acumen, technology, health care research to do this,” he said.

Haslam, who took an 18-person delegation to Israel, said that’s the kind of connection he tries to make on such trips.

“One of the reasons I go on trips like this is to help enable those connections,” he said to about 100 people at the Jewish Cultural Center.

VW troubles escalate; TN legislature to investigate

As Volkswagen’s troubles escalated internationally on Tuesday, state Sen. Bo Watson called for a legislative committee hearing “at the earliest possible date” to consider possible impact within Tennessee, where lawmakers honored Gov. Bill Haslam’s request for $165 million in incentive payments to Volkswagen earlier this year.

“While all of the relevant facts may remain unreported at this time, I am very concerned as to the financial impact these violatons could present to the State of Tennessee,” Watson wrote Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally in a letter distributed to media Tuesday.

“It therefore seems prudent and responsible that the Finance, Ways and Means Committee of the Tennessee Senate consider a public meeting to hear testimony from Volkswagen and state officials as to the impact upon Tennessee’s investment in Volkswagen,” Watson said.

McNally said later, according to a Senate Republican Caucus spokeswoman, that he “will schedule a hearing as soon as we coordinate with committee members and the other parties involved.”

Watson, R-Hixson, represents a portion of Hamilton County, where Volkswagen has built a major facility and received huge payments for doing so from the state.

Here’s an AP story on Volkswagen’s troubles, filed about the same time Watson’s letter was sent:

BERLIN (AP) — Volkswagen AG’s smog-test scandal escalated Tuesday as the company issued a profit warning, set aside billions to cover the fallout and lost billions more in market value. VW’s CEO said he is “endlessly sorry” that the world’s top-selling carmaker has squandered worldwide trust in its brand.

The rapid-fire developments came as Volkwagen stunningly admitted that some 11 million of the German carmaker’s diesel vehicles worldwide contain software that evades emissions controls, not just the half a million cars that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said violate the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen also warned that future profits could be affected, and set aside an initial 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion) to cover the fallout.
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