Monthly Archives: October 2018

Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder

The murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, highlights the moral depravity of the Trump Administration. Khashoggi was an outspoken journalist — an exemplary member of a profession  Trump deplores.  Khasoggi opposed the Saudi rulers — friends of Trump.  Given this background, it’s no surprise that Trump is avoiding meaningful response to Khashoggi’s assassination.

In 2017, Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps the most famous journalist in the Arab world, left Saudi Arabia after being banned from publishing or appearing on television because he had criticized the Saudi rulers and Donald Trump.  Khashoggi relocated to the United States and began writing for the Washington Post.  On October 2nd, Khashoggi entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, and has not been seen since.  There are numerous reports that he was killed by a 15-person assassination team dispatched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

To understand how this killing became a major Trump scandal, we must follow three threads.  The first is the relationship between Jamal Khashoggi and his country.  In 1958. Khashoggi was born into an affluent Saudi family.  He went to Saudischools and then came to the U.S.,  receiving his college degree at Indiana State University (1982).  Khashoggi returned to Saudi Arabia and became a journalist; during the next twenty years he traveled extensively, interviewing many Middle East luminaries including Osama bin Laden (https://www.businessinsider.com/missing-saudi-journalist-jamal-khashoggi-ties-to-osama-bin-laden-islamists-2018-10 ).

In 2003, the Saudi Ministry of Information fired Khashoggi from his post as editor of Al Watan and he moved to London.  In 2007, Khashoggi moved back to Saudi Arabia and again became editor of Al Watan.  In 2010 he was fired for criticizing the government.  Nonetheless, he continued to write columns, and provide TV commentary, for a variety of media outlets.  In December 2016, the Saudi authorities banned him from writing columns or appearing on television.  Early in 2017 Khashoggi moved to the United States and began writing for the Washington Post.

Khashoggi’s new columns were sharply critical of the Saudi government, particularly Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — next in line for the Saudi throne.  In April 2018  Khashoggi wrote that Saudi Arabia “should return to its pre 1979 climate when the government restricted hard-line Wahhabi traditions. Women today should have the same rights as men. And all citizens should have the right to speak their minds without fear of imprisonment.”  He criticized Saudi intervention in Yemen and the government crackdown on media and dissent.  Khashoggi even established a Saudi political party, Democracy for the Arab World Now.

There’s strong evidence that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, on October 2nd, at the direction of Mohammad bin Salman.  The Crown Prince doesn’t like to be challenged.  Neither does Donald Trump.

Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the press.  At his campaign rallies he’s encouraged his followers to heap abuse on nearby members of the press.  He regularly calls out journalists in his Tweets.  (By the way, Trump has particular contempt for The Washington Post, Khashoggi’s employer.  He’s called out various Post reporters and the owner,  Jeff Bezos.)  One of Trump’s objectives is to diminish freedom of the press by expanding libel laws to permit more law suits against journalists (https://nypost.com/2018/09/05/trump-wants-to-change-libel-laws-in-wake-of-woodward-book/ ).  Since becoming President, Trump has railed at alleged “fake news.”  In August he began call journalists “enemies of the people.”  (More than 300 U.S. media outlets have published editorials condemning Trump’s words.)

Given this background, it’s not surprising that Trump minimized the importance of Khashoggi’s murder.  On October 11th, when queried about Khashoggi, Trump responded, “This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen.”  (Khashoggi was in the U.S. as a lawful immigrant,)

However, Trump has stronger reasons to avoid a strenuous inquiry into Khashoggi’s death; Trump has financial ties to Saudi Arabia.  During the 2015 presidential campaign, Trump boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much… They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions.”(https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/16/trump-says-no-financial-interests-in-saudi-arabia-but-makes-money.html )  By the way, Trump now denies these financial ties; on October 16th, Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.”  (There’s also evidence that Trump’ son-in-law, Jared Kushner has ties to the Saudis. (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/16/657923244/jared-kushner-faces-scrutiny-for-his-ties-to-the-saudi-crown-prince )

Not surprisingly, Trump shows no interest in putting pressure on the Saudis.  It’s been suggested that he should threaten to withdraw from his touted “$110 billion” arms deal to force the Saudi’s to cooperate.  He’s unlikely to do this.  Since May of 2017, the White House has touted “a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase … which will grow to $350 billion over the next 10 years.”  But it turns out that most of the $110 billion consists of “memorandum of intent” and only $14.5 billion are covered by the firmer “Letters of Agreement.” (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/trumps-110-billion-saudi-arms-deal-doesnt-actually-exist )  In other words, Trump is lying about this arms deal.

The Trump Administration isn’t going to do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.  Just like they haven’t done anything about the murders of other brave journalists in Russia and other parts of the world  (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/09/the-guardian-view-on-the-killing-of-journalists-the-truth-in-peril ).  They don’t support freedom of the press.

Jamal Khashoggi’s last column was published posthumously by The Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/jamal-khashoggi-what-the-arab-world-needs-most-is-free-expression/2018/10/17/adfc8c44-d21d-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html?).  Khashoggi observed: “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate… The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power.”

Donald Trump isn’t going to do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the direction of Saudi rulers, because it’s consistent with Trump’s attitude about the press.  He wants to impose his own Iron Curtain.  Who will be the first American journalist to die?

Global Climate Change Comes Home

There are many reasons to dislike Donald Trump. He’s an unrepentant sexual predator, who lies without remorse. In addition, Trump is a bigoted bully whose only moral precept is “might makes right.” Nonetheless, the most important reason to dislike Donald is that he refuses to protect our children and grandchildren.  Trump is obsessed with immediate gratification and. therefore, has chosen to ignore global climate change. Now it’s coming home to bite all of us.

If you blinked, you missed the October 8th report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/).  It’s very disturbing; if we don’t take immediate action to control emissions, we’re screwed.  More about that later.

You may have not seen the IPCC climate change report because the mainstream-media focus quickly shifted to the fight between Donald Trump and Taylor Swift.  And then to sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh’s first day on the Supreme Court — by the way, he has four female clerks.  Or, if you live in the southeast, you may have been preoccupied with Hurricane Michael bearing down on the Florida panhandle.

If you’re among the unfortunates living on the coast of Alabama and Florida, I sympathize with your situation.  Perhaps, as your considering the hurricane damage, you’ll have a moment to reflect that you, too, are a victim of global climate change.  These days, that’s the pattern: people don’t pay attention to climate change until it comes to their neighborhood.

Every American has an opinion about climate change, but few of us rank it as an important concern when deciding who to vote for.  Instead, prospective voters focus on the near term: healthcare costs, jobs and the economy, or guns.  This is the recurring pattern when Americans ponder climate change: they decide it’s too abstract or difficult and they don’t do anything about it.   Unless you are fortunate enough to live in California.

In August, Quinnipiac ran a small poll (175 respondents) that asked: “Do you think the United States is doing enough to address climate change, doing too much, or do you think more needs to be done to address climate change?”  64 percent responded “more needs to be done;” the highest number since Quinnipiac started asking the question.  (And “doing too much” or “doing enough” were at all all time lows.)  The pollsters added a new follow-on question: “The wildfires in California are the worst in the state’s history. Do you think climate change is a factor in making these fires more extreme, or not?”  53 percent of respondents believed climate change was a factor.

In California, we take climate change very seriously and a strong majority believes that climate change was a factor in our fires.  A recent Public Policy Poll ( http://www.ppic.org/publication/californians-views-on-climate-change/) found that 80 percent of Californians view climate change as a serious “threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life.”  (California Democrats and Independents view climate change more seriously than do Republicans — only 22 percent of Trump’s Party see it is a threat; they’re more worried about Taylor Swift.)  Californians have to take climate change seriously; a recent report indicated that the frequency of major fires will increase by 77 percent by the end of the century.

In California we’re taking a variety of actions to stem the tide of climate change — such as limiting our carbon emissions — because we understand that  we don’t have a choice.

Meanwhile, the October 8th IPCC report indicates that the world is rapidly reaching the point of no return:  “We are on track to cross a key threshold of danger —1.5 degrees C or 2.7 degrees F—much earlier than anticipated: 2040.”  (A 1.5 degree Celsius increase is the point at which irreversible sea level rise, massive coral reef extinctions, and food shortages begin to occur.)  In California, this would increase the severity of fires and the probability of drought.  It would also increase flooding along the coast and raise the probability that salt water would intrude into the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta — an event that would have cascading consequences, threatening drinking water supplies and impacting farm land.

California is taking steps to deal with this and it’s likely Florida will join us.  The day the IPCC report appeared, Florida got news that Hurricane Michael was heading their way.  (On the afternoon of October 10th, Michael hit the Florida panhandle with winds between 115-155 mph.)  It’s the third major hurricane to hit Florida in the past 3 years.

It’s not Florida’s only global climate change event.  For almost a year, Florida has been beset by the “red tide” (https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/8/30/17795892/red-tide-2018-florida-gulf-sarasota-sanibel-okeechobee ), which has killed: “At least a hundred manatees, a dozen dolphins, thousands of fish, 300 sea turtles, and more have died or washed along shores in putrid-smelling masses.”  The red-tide has become a factor in Florida’s election:  Republican Governor Rick Scott exacerbated the situation by cutting Florida’s water-management budget.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration chose not to respond to the IPCC report.  When queried, Donald said, “It was given to me, and I want to look at who drew it… Because I can give you reports that are fabulous, and I can give you reports that aren’t so good. But I will be looking at it. Absolutely.”  Trump isn’t going to read the report and he isn’t going to lead an effort to protect our children and grandchildren from future harm.

Response to the IPCC report will have to happen at the state level.  In the meantime, move to higher ground.

Righteous Anger: Kavanaugh and Trump

The confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh began on September 4th, quickly devolved into a demolition derby, and finally has reached it’s ultra-partisan conclusion. Kavanaugh will be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. Republican actions will live on in infamy. And Democrats are united in righteous anger.

This 33 day process established several things.  First, Brett Kavanaugh is unfit to be a Supreme Court Justice.  At first, many of us opposed him because we thought his views were too extreme — he will, I’m sure, oppose Roe v. Wade and any other law that lets women make their own health decisions.  (And he is a corporatist who will side with corporations, and the wealthy, in cases that pit these interests against working folks.)  But, as he we got to know Kavanaugh — through the determined efforts of Senators like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris — we realized that he’s a liar; that he had lied to Congress (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/09/five-times-brett-kavanaugh-appears-to-have-lied-to-congress-while-under-oath/ )  And then, because of the courageous efforts of Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and other women, we learned that Kavanaugh had (or has) a drinking problem and, when he drank to excess, assaulted women.

Finally, when Kavanaugh was asked to defend himself from the Blasey-Ford accusations, he lost control of his temper: “This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.  This is a circus.”  Kavanaugh does not have “judicial temperament.”

Watching the hearings, millions of Americans came to the conclusion that Kavanaugh is unfit to be a judge.  Among these was retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/us/politics/john-paul-stevens-brett-kavanaugh.html )

The second thing the Kavanaugh hearings established is that the Republican Party, run by old white men, will say and do anything to win.  The GOP has embraced the morality that “the ends justify the means.”  This shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, the Republican Party decided to invade Iraq because they needed a wining issue for the 2002 mid-term elections.

What’s so disappointing is that the entirety of the Republican Senate — with the exception of Senator Lisa Murkowski — has gone over to the dark side.  No longer can we find a handful of Senators — such as the late John McCain — who, on occasion, were willing to do what’s right; who were willing to declare that Emperor Trump has no clothes.  The Republican party has lost its moral compass.

The third thing we learned from the Kavanaugh hearings is that the Republican Party is Trump’s Party.  Trump pushed through a totally unfit Supreme Court nominee and, in the process, he forced the GOP to submit to his will.  With the exception of brave Senator Murkowski — and for a few minutes Senator Jeff Flake — no Republican was willing to stand up to Trump.  They will not stand up to an unrepentant sexual predator and habitual liar.

The fourth thing that was established during the 33 day ordeal is that Democrats, and like-minded voters, are angry.  The website 538 reported that Kavanaugh was the least popular choice for the Supreme Court in 100 years ( https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-final-look-at-where-voters-stand-on-kavanaugh-before-the-senate-votes/)  Kavanaugh was supported only by Republican voters.  (Overall, women were strongly opposed to Kavanaugh.)

There’s strong feeling about the Kavanaugh confirmation process.  Watching Christine Blasey Ford’s September 27th testimony, many sexual-assault survivors were re-triggered.  They were not pleased with the way the Republican-controlled committee handled Professor Ford — or Kavanaugh’s other accusers — and they were angered by Donald Trump’s mocking Professor Ford on October 2nd.

As a result of this painful process, Democrats, and their allies, are angry at Donald Trump and his Republican Party.  Now they plan to channel their anger into work related to the November 6th midterm elections.  The 538 website (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/is-kavanaugh-helping-republicans-midterm-chances/ ) just cited a poll that concluded: “more voters would be angry than enthusiastic if Kavanaugh was confirmed.”  That confirms what we’re seeing on the Left Coast.  There’s a big money and determination gap between Democrats and Republicans.

Nonetheless, two incumbent female Democratic Senators were hurt by their opposition to Kavanaugh: Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp.  Their bravery merits support.

Finally, the Kavanaugh hearings established once and for all that the Republican Party can no longer claim to represent orthodox Christians.  Surely no political Party that consistently lies and supports the moral tenet that the ends justify the means, can claim allegiance to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  On October 6th, 2018, it’s the Democratic Party that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.  With 30 days of hard work, our quest for righteousness will be fulfilled.