Editors' pickPolitics

Trump on his knees to the Saudis, Republicans on the take in dark money

The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and Trump’s surrender to Saudi Arabia

If it looks like the only ones keeping this story front and center this week are the Washington Post, that’s because it’s true. But it shouldn’t be.

Jackson Diehl on who Trump’s reaction to the Khashoggi murder is his defining moment.
Washington Post

Sometimes a middling foreign policy crisis produces a presidential decision of far more consequence. It clarifies and crystallizes the executive’s core instincts, thereby establishing a road map for managing the United States that countries around the world then follow. President Trump’s decision to excuse Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman for ordering the murder and dismemberment of one of his own citizens will be one of those junctures.

Honestly, the brutal murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist and US resident on direct orders of a Saudi royal — a murder that included clipping the man’s fingers off in the supposedly safe space of a diplomatic consulate and sending a body double out to walk around in the dead man’s clothes in hopes of throwing off observers — should have been a gimme. if Trump had just demanded an apology and compensation, the whole event would likely be in the media rear view. Trump could have even “cancelled” part of his imaginary arms deal because … it was imaginary. Neither arms manufacturers nor bin Salman would care. But instead, Trump decided to do what he does always — dissemble, dodge, ignore the facts, and try to bull his way through with bull.

The United States has always tolerated human rights abuses by friendly dictators, but there were limits — as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, the shah of Iran and, more recently, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak discovered. By refusing to impose sanctions on the Saudi crown prince even after the CIA concluded he was responsible for the Khashoggi murder, Trump has set a new standard. No atrocity is too much — not even sawing up a critical journalist and then baldly lying about it to the president and secretary of state.

Trump has made it clear that dollars will paper over even the most brutal murder. And that’s a lesson that many of his friends are happy to learn.

Eugene Robinson on Trump’s ugly disgrace.
Washington Post

In Riyadh, they must be laughing at President Trump. In Pyongyang, too, and in Tehran. In Beijing and, of course, in Moscow, they must be laughing until it hurts. They look at Washington and they don’t see a champion of freedom and human rights. They see a preening, clueless clown.

Donald Trump should have to read that paragraph every morning. It should be attached to every briefing and tattooed on his eyelids. That don’t think he’s “strong.” They don’t think he’s “smart.” They think he’s their clueless patsy. Because he is.

Trump’s reaction — or non-reaction — to the Saudi regime’s brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a holiday-season gift to autocrats around the globe. It shows them that if you just shower Trump with over-the-top flattery, feed him some geopolitical mumbo jumbo and make vague promises to perhaps buy some American-made goods in the future, he will literally let you get away with murder.

Noha Khashoggi and Razan Jamal Khashoggi deserve a sincere apology from America.
Washington Post

Jamal Khashoggi was a complex man, but to us, his daughters, he was simply “Dad.” Our family has always been proud of his work, and we understood the awe and grandeur with which some people viewed him. But in our lives, he was “Baba” — a loving man with a big heart. We loved it when he took us every weekend to the bookstore. We loved looking through his passport, deciphering new locations from pages covered with exit and entry stamps. And we loved digging through the years of musty magazines and newspaper clippings that surrounded his desk.

Jamal Khashoggi was a father, a friend, and a fiancee. His murder was an act of privileged brutality, a violation of every international law at the ugly whim of a spoiled, sociopathic billionaire.  Failing to act on this murder is not just another day in Trumpland. It’s nothing short of hideous.

Throughout our lives, it was common for people to stop us on the street to shake hands with Dad, telling him how much they valued and appreciated him. To many, our father was more than just a public figure — his work touched their lives powerfully and resonated with them personally. And it still does. …

Dad certainly had a pragmatic side, but in his dreams and ambitions, he was always striving for a utopian version of reality. This, we suppose, is what inspired his critical nature. It was vitally important to him to speak up, to share his opinions, to have candid discussions. And writing was not just a job; it was a compulsion. It was ingrained into the core of his identity, and it truly kept him alive. Now, his words keep his spirit with us, and we are grateful for that. They say, “Here was a man who truly lived life to the fullest.”

Until he was sold out.

Election 2018

Leonard Pitts on the Republicans’ tainted victory in Georgia.
Miami Herald

So Georgia voters decided against Stacey Abrams as their governor. Maybe.

With all the shenanigans perpetrated by Republicans in that state, we’ll never know for sure. Had they not passed a restrictive “exact match” law that put 53,000 voters (most of them reportedly African American) in electoral limbo over misplaced commas and transposed letters in their names, had they not purged 107,000 infrequent voters from the rolls in 2017, would she have lost?

No one can say, though Abrams certainly made her opinion clear last week in the non-concession speech that ended her bid to become the first black woman to govern a U.S. state. “Democracy failed Georgia,” she said.

Republicans failed democracy. But that’s not news.

The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reports that 24 states have enacted laws since 2010 to make voting more difficult. These include Photo I.D. laws, laws cutting back on early voting, laws restricting ex-felons from casting ballots, laws requiring street addresses from voters in places where there are no street addresses.

Democrats who have taken control of state houses should get these laws off the books before moving on to other items.

Whitaker’s dark money

Ray Madoff on why it’s a bit of an issue when the Attorney General is owned by parties unknown.
Washington Post

Someone was paying acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, and we don’t know who it was.

As The Post reported earlier this week, Whitaker — who was chosen in 2014 to lead a mysterious charity with undisclosed funders — received more than $1.2 million over the course of three years before he joined the Justice Department.

We don’t know who funded this charity, called the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, or why they chose to do it. But what we do know is that the way it reportedly operated under Whitaker’s leadership raises questions as to whether the organization acted as a conservative political campaign operation. We also know that those who funded the organization were able to do so entirely anonymously while writing off their donations on their taxes, all thanks to an increasingly popular charitable vehicle called the donor-advised fund.

Whitaker surely knows who was funding this “charity.” Democrats are extremely likely to demand that Whitaker appear and tell them who was signing his paychecks. However, by the time they do so, Whitaker will have had months to hollow out the Mueller investigation, block the delivery of indictments, and direct the machinery of the Justice Department to attack Trump’s political enemies.

Just this year, two federal appellate courts ruled in favor of state regulators requiring charities to disclose the identities of their large donors. While some donors might not like the idea of having their identities revealed, these courts recognized that this information is important for regulators to have so they can ensure charities are operating for public, and not private, purposes.

Because its funding comes from a donor-advised fund, Whitaker’s organization was able to also avoid public disclosure of its large donors. If it were categorized as a private foundation (instead of a public charity), it would have been required to report to the public — not just to regulators — the names of any donor who contributed more than $5,000.

Republicans love to point at George Soros as the root of all evils, but the truth is that Republicans get their funds from many, many fewer hands than Democrats. If Whitaker wasn’t ultimately being paid by someone named Koch or Devos, I’ll eat a tax form.

Smashing the Tech Monopolies

Robert Reich is ready to bring down the hammer on trillion dollar companies.
The Guardian

Last week, the New York Times revealed that Facebook executives withheld evidence of Russian activity on their platform far longer than previously disclosed. They also employed a political opposition research firm to discredit critics.

There’s a larger story here.

America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century began with a raft of innovations – railroads, steel production, oil extraction – but culminated in mammoth trusts owned by “robber barons” who used their wealth and power to drive out competitors and corrupt American politics.

We’re now in a second Gilded Age – ushered in by semiconductors, software and the internet – that has spawned a handful of giant hi-tech companies.

The companies will, of course, go down kicking and screaming. But they really should go down.

This consolidation at the heart of the American economy creates two big problems.

First, it stifles innovation. Contrary to the conventional view of a US economy bubbling with inventive small companies, the rate at which new job-creating businesses have formed in the United States has been halved since 2004, according to the census.

Read the rest. The first mover advantages of these big companies are as enormous as their cash drawers, and for all their gloss and polish, these companies are now one of the biggest obstacles to innovation.

Jessa Crispin on how the desire for a female tech hero gave Sheryl Sandberg license to ignore problems of race and class.
The Guardian

Sandberg, of course, became an aspirational heroine among mainstream, self-empowerment feminists with her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. There, she urged women to join corporate culture, to reform workplaces from the inside, by striving to reach high levels of power and influence. While many feminists, mostly those originating from activist and not merely commentary classes, attacked Sandberg’s project of ambition and wealth from the beginning, she was defended by some of the most prominent names in feminism.

Supporters such as Gloria Steinem, former Jezebel editor Anna Holmes, Naomi Wolf, and New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg lent a feminist legitimacy to Sandberg’s work, and helped deflect legitimate criticism about her blindness to class, race, or the lived experience of the majority of workers in an age of wild income inequality and financial precarity.

This New York Times investigation is the logical endpoint of corporate feminism. Sandberg and her Lean In Foundation urged women to buy into the values of the contemporary workplace and then use their new positions of power to create a better, fairer workplace. …

One, then, should look to Sandberg’s example and see what she actually used her influence for. From her position of power, Sandberg intimidated her employees into silence and wasn’t transparent with users about Russia’s part in the election of Trump, used her influence with politicians on both side of the aisle to avoid any much-needed regulation and oversight by the government, and slandered her critics as antisemites.

Another piece worth reading in full.

Iran

Anne Applebaum on the consequences if Donald Trump gets his wish in Iran.
Washington Post

We are now more than two weeks into a new sanctions regime on Iran, and it will be a long time before it ends. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has listed 12 conditions that Iran needs to meet before that happens. They include a permanent cessation of Iranian support for revolutionary groups abroad, as well as a permanent halt to Iran’s nuclear program. By its own definition, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a revolutionary regime dedicated to exporting its form of radical Islam; it’s also a theocracy that relies on nationalist sentiment to maintain its support. In other words, these conditions are not going to be met anytime soon.

Note that Saudi Arabia could also not meet these conditions, but then, they’re Trump’s friends and as he’s demonstrated, his friends can get away with murder.

Instead of conceding, the Iranian leadership has buckled down and prepared itself for another hit to the already weak economy. Difficult times are indeed coming. Already, companies are shutting down. Unemployment is rising. Raw-materials prices are rising. Some think the government is strong enough to survive, particularly because trade with China, India and Russia will continue. But some in the Trump administration don’t really hide their hopes that the regime will fall apart.

They might be right. The anarchic, leaderless protests — women removing their headscarves, truckers going on strike — of the past six months could spread. Nearly a year ago, protests against high prices and corruption, and in favor of a secular state, erupted in dozens of cities. Iran had a revolution before, and it could happen again. But then what?

Applebaum goes on to describe the results of an actual fall of the Iranian government, and how unlikely it is that the country tumbles into a position that’s actually better for the United States or the world. But of course, Trump would get to claim “success,” and he’s already demonstrated there’s no body could that can match an ego stroke.

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