Sunday, October 14, 2018
The big story of the week seems to be the evident murder of dissident
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He had moved from Saudi Arabia to
Virginia, but entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to "finalize some
paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancée." He never
emerged from the consulate. The Turkish government has much evidence of
foul play, and there are reports that "US intelligence intercepted
communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to 'capture'
Khashoggi" -- something they made no attempt to warn Khashoggi about.
Some links (quotes above are from Hill, below):
Sarah Aziza: Jamal Khashoggi Wasn't the First -- Saudi Arabia Has Been
Going After Dissidents Abroad for Decades.
Peter Baker: In Trump's Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Wins Out.
Karen DeYoung/Kareem Fahim: After journalist vanishes, focus shifts to
young prince's 'dark' and bullying side.
Lee Fang: Saudi Media Casts Khashoggi Disappearance as a Conspiracy,
Claims Qatar Owns Washington Post.
Ben Freeman: The Saudi Lobby Juggernaut: Written shortly before
the Khashoggi story broke, but important background for understanding
how it's breaking.
Evan Hill: The New Arab Winter: "The US has helped nurture a new
generation of Mideast dictators, and Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance
is just the latest result."
Fred Kaplan: Trump's Saudi Delusions: "The president's defense of
arms sales to the kingdom isn't just immoral -- it's inaccurate."
Philip Rucker/Carol D Leonnig/Anne Gearan: Two Princes: Kushner now
faces a reckoning for Trump's bet on the heir to the Saudi throne.
Will Sommer: Trump Jr Boosts Smear Tying Missing Journalist Jamal Khashoggi
to Islamic Terrorism.
Jordan Tama: What is the Global Magnitsky Act, and why are US senators
invoking this on Saudi Arabia?
Ishaan Tharoor: Trump chooses Arab authoritarianism over Jamal Khashoggi.
Alexia Underwood: Saudi Arabia won't be able to sweep the Jamal Khashoggi
case under the rug.
Robin Wright: As America's Élite Abandons a Reckless Saudi Prince, Will
Trump Join Them?
Matthew Yglesias: America deserves to know how much money Trump is getting from the Saudi
government: "His corruption is a national security issue." Subhed
assumes a meaning to "national security issue" that I don't think is in
evidence. You might think that "national security" has something to do
with preventing war and other forms of hostility which cause problems
among nations, but US foreign policy doesn't work like that. Rather, it
reflects certain business and military interests, which have effectively
formed a "deep state" -- a consistent world posture largely unaffected
by popular elections. In this context, the only "national security issue"
is one which upsets this "deep state" -- e.g., one which exposes it to
unwelcome public scrutiny. Thus qualified, maybe Trump is upsetting the
"national security": for one thing, his personal corruption threatens
to expose the underlying "deep state" interests, especially where they
diverge; also, Trump's utter lack of concern for the veneer of democracy,
human rights, free speech, etc., recasts the whole project as no more
than self-interested hypocrisy.
The week started with Nikki Haley's resignation as US ambassador to
the UN, but a week later it's hard to find any mention of it. Then the
Florida panhandle got demolished by Hurricane Michael. Then there was
some sort of White House summit between Trump and Kanye West. Meanwhile,
elections are coming.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: Superior ruthlessness isn't why Republicans control
the Supreme Court: "They had some good luck -- and, most importantly,
they had the votes." After their losses in 2016, all the Democrats could
do to derail the Kavanaugh nomination was to convince the public that he
was a really terrible pick, and opinion polls show that they did in fact
make that case. However, as we've seen many times before, Republicans are
fine with ignoring public opinion (at least as long as they keep their
base and donors happy), so they're eager to exploit any power leverage
they can grab, no matter how tenuous. Democrats (in fact, most people)
regard that as unscrupulous, which Republicans find oddly flattering --
backhanded proof that they hold convictions so firm they're willing to
fight (dirty) to advance them. Some Democrats have come to the conclusion
that they need to become just as determined to win as the Republicans --
e.g., David Faris's recent book: It's Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats
Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics. Several problems
with this: one is that there are still Americans that believe in things
like fair play and due process, and those votes should be easy pickings
for Democrats given how Republicans have been playing the game; another
is that past efforts by Democrats to act more like Republicans haven't
fared well -- they're never enough to appease the right, while they sure
turn off the left. But what Democrats clearly do have to do is to show
us that they take these contests seriously. I didn't especially like
turning the Kavanaugh nomination into a #MeToo issue, but that did make
the issue personal and impactful in a way that no debate over Federalist
Society jurisprudence ever could.
Other Yglesias pieces:
Trump's 60 Minutes interview once again reveals gross ignorance and wild
People don't like "PC culture" -- not that many of them can tell
you what "PC culture" means (only that it consists of self-appointed
language police waiting to pounce on you for trivial offenses mostly
resident in their own minds). Refers to
Yascha Mounk: Americans Strongly Dislike PC Culture, which doesn't
much help to define it either. To me, "PC culture" is exemplified by the
God-and-country, American exceptionalist pieties spouted by Democratic
politicians like Obama and the Clintons -- a compulsion to say perfectly
unobjectionable things because they know they'll be attacked viciously
by the right (or for that matter by center/leftists wanting to show off
for the right) for any hint of critical thought. On the other hand, on
some issues Republicans are policed as diligently -- racism is the one
they find most bothersome, mostly because catering to the insecurities
of white folk is such a big part of their trade. Of course, if we had
the ability to take seriously what people mean, we might be able to get
beyond the "gotcha" game over what they say.
Trump's dangerous game with the Fed, explained.
Trump's USA Today op-ed on health care is an absurd tissue of lies.
The case for a carbon tax: A carbon tax has always made sense to me,
mostly because it helps to counter a currently unregulated externality:
that of dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Two key ideas here:
one is to implement it by joint international agreement (Yglesias suggests
the US, Europe, and Japan, initially, but why wait for the US?), then grow
it by charging tariffs against non-members; the other is to start low (to
minimize short-term impact) and make the taxes escalate over time. Yglesias
contrasts a carbon tax to
David Roberts: It's time to think seriously about cutting off the supply
of fossil fuels. This reminds me that major oil players have every
now and then "advocated" a carbon tax, specifically when threatened with
proposals like Roberts'. Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to get
a carbon tax passed is to threaten the oil companies with something much
more drastic. No one has much faith in reason anymore.
Immigrants can make post-industrial America great.
Trump's successful neutering of the FBI's Kavanaugh investigation has
scary implications: Trump evidently got the rubber stamp, ruffle
no feathers investigation of Brett Kavanaugh he wanted, showing that
Comey replacement Christopher Wray can be trusted to protect his
The White House got away with stamping on an FBI investigation. Think of
it as a dry run for a coming shutdown of special counsel Robert Mueller's
It's easy to forget, but the existence of a Russia inquiry isn't a
natural fact of American life. Barack Obama was president when it began,
and then in the critical winter of 2016 to 2017, many Republicans,
particularly foreign policy hawks, were uneasy with Trump and saw an
investigation as a useful way to force him into policy orthodoxy. When
Comey was fired, enough of that unease was still in place that many
Republicans pushed for a special counsel to carry things forward.
Trump, however, has clearly signaled his desire to clean house and
fire Mueller after the midterms. And the Kavanaugh fight has shown us
(and, more importantly, shown Trump) that congressional Republicans
are coming around to the idea that independence of federal law enforcement
is overrated. His White House, meanwhile, though hardly a well-oiled
machine, has demonstrated its ability to work the levers of power and
get things done.
If the GOP is able to hold its majority or (as looks more likely,
given current polling) pick up a seat or two, a firm Trumpist majority
will be in place ready to govern with the principle that what's good
for Trump is good for the Republican Party, and subverting the rule of
law is definitely good for Trump.
Stavros Agorakis: 18 people are dead from Hurricane Michael. That number
will only rise. Category 4, making landfall with winds of 155 mph,
the third-most intense hurricane to hit the continental US since they
started keeping count (after an unnamed Labor Day storm in 1935 and
Camille in 1969) -- i.e., about as strong as the hurricane that the
Trump administration couldn't cope with in Puerto Rico.
Ryan Bort: The Georgia Voter Suppression Story Is Not Going Away.
Juan Cole: 15 Years after US Occupied Iraq, it is too Unsafe for Trump
Admin to Keep a Consulate There.
Joe Klein: Michael Lewis Wonders Who's Really Running the Government:
Book review of Lewis's The Fifth Risk, which looks at what Trump's
minions are doing to three government bureaucracies: the Departments of
Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Mostly they are shredding data, and
purging the departments of the workers with the expertise to collect and
analyze that data. Lewis explains why that matters -- a welcome relief
from those journalists who are satisfied with reporting the easy stories
about stupid Trump tweets and hi-jinks.
Paul Krugman: Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies: I try
my best to avoid political ads, but got stuck watching a jaw dropper
for Wichita's Republican Congressman Ron Estes, who spent most of his
30 seconds talking about how hard he's been working to save Medicare.
Wasn't clear from what, since the only imminent threat is from his
fellow Republicans, and his key votes to repeal ACA and cut corporate
taxes and saddle us with massive deficits sure don't count. Estes
isn't what you'd call a political innovator -- the main theme of his
ads last time was that a vote for him would thwart Nancy Pelosi's
nefarious designs on the Republic -- so most likely his ads this time
are being repeated all across the nation. Also by Krugman:
The Paranoid Style in GOP Politics.
Dara Lind: The Trump administration reportedly wants to try family separation
Anna North: Why Melania's response to Trump's alleged affairs was so
In some ways, it's a relief that the first lady is rarely called upon
to perform the thankless task of trying to convince the country that
her husband respects women. But it's also a sign of something darker:
Plenty of Americans know the president doesn't respect women, and a
lot of them don't care. They may even like it.
Sandy Tolan: Gaza's Dying of Thirst, and Its Water Crisis Will Become
a Threat to Israel.