Another mass shooting, this time in Christchurch New Zealand, left at least fifty people dead and many dozens wounded, proving yet again that white nationalism spreads hate and leads to the vilest of acts. Let’s call it what it is — terrorism. For some reason, when Muslim extremists attack a Western target, it is immediately condemned as an act of terrorism. But when a white man attacks two mosques and kills fifty Muslims, it is considered an isolated act of a mad man. While no one can be held accountable for these acts other than those that perpetrate these heinous crimes, let’s not fool ourselves that this is solely the random act of a nut job. He reportedly chose New Zealand precisely because it is arguably the safest country on earth. His attacks on two mosques where he ruthlessly gunned down children, women and men were not random. They were intended to send a message and to instill terror.
Western intelligence agencies work together world-wide to follow and thwart such acts by ISIS and al-Qaeda and other Muslim extremist groups. And well they should. But there is to date, no similar intelligence effort to follow and thwart acts by white nationalists. Make no mistake about it, the far right extremists work together via the dark web and other social media avenues to spread their ideology and to share ideas about how to carry out violence. As explained in a Washington Post article this weekend, white supremacists who are motivated by a right-wing political ideology committed more acts of violence in recent years than any other type of domestic extremist. It is time to recognize that these are not one time random events but rather that these extremists are connected in that they are motivated by and share the same websites, political views and understanding of world events. They feed off of each other. It is a movement, both here in the United States and increasingly in other Western nations around the world. They are connected in ways we may not truly understand. There was a reason this evil person left a 74 page manifesto and live streamed his attack on Facebook. He wanted to share with those like him and in a way, to brag about his ability to carry out with action what others only talk about.
Be aware of the language. Words matter and have meaning. Many experts start with the French writer Renaud Camus and his book “The Great Replacement” which is often referenced by the far right. Indeed, this shooter named his manifesto in homage to this book. In his book, Mr. Camus argues that whites in Europe are being replaced by immigrants from non-white countries and most of them are Muslims. He calls it “demographic colonization” and talks about a “counter revolt” to drive them away. Mr. Camus now has a second book along the same lines called “You Will Not Replace Us!” Remember that in 2017 the white supremacists in Charlottesville marched to the chant “Jews will not replace us!” Other words like “invasion” and depictions of non-white immigrants as criminals, and disease carriers and generally despicable non-human beings fills the pages of the writings and postings of these far right nationalists. They come from “shit hole” countries. They want to take away jobs. Sound familiar?
According to the ADL (formerly the Anti-Defamation League) in the United States from 2008 to 2017 there were 387 domestic extremist murders. Of those, they report that 71 percent of them were committed by right-wing extremists. 26 percent were by Islamic extremists and three percent were by left-wing extremists. Please don’t give me the “both sides” argument. It is time to be realistic about this danger to our citizens.
One might ask where the real “national emergency” is taking place. It may be that the real threat comes from those trying to “Make America White Again.”
We need to move beyond thinking of these incidents as isolated. They are not. Until our leadership realizes that this is a real and present danger these events will continue. When asked if he thought the rise of white nationalists around the world was a growing threat, Mr. Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. It’s certainly a terrible thing.” To think as the president does about white nationalism is to either condone it, or it is the moral equivalent of having our collective heads in the sand. From Saturday morning to Sunday night, Mr. Trump put out 50 Tweets or retweets about everything from formulating the idea that the government should investigate Saturday Night Live for colluding with the Russians (?!) to attacking Senator John McCain. (Still.) Not one concerned the massacre in New Zealand.
Wake up USA.
While many of us were busy with family and friends during the Thanksgiving weekend, spending time appreciating what we have and treasuring the value of those around us, the President of the United States took no time off from his argumentative, derisive, self-centered approach to his office. Whether in the White House or at his gold-plated palace at Mar-a-Lago, he hit on topics wide and far. He raged against the independent judiciary, taking on Chief Justice John Roberts in the process, he stated that no one should worry about the troops on the Mexican border missing Thanksgiving with their families, and many topics in between. His most troubling comments came last Tuesday when he released a statement about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and the brutal murder and dismemberment of U.S. resident and Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
As you remember, Mr. Khassoggi was lured into the Saudi Embassy in Turkey and tortured, murdered and dismembered by a hit squad sent to do the deed by the de facto head of the Saudi government Mohammad Bin Salman, commonly called MBS by those that want him to be a positive factor in the future development of Saudi Arabia. Those that know the truth know that he is a reckless and ruthless autocrat bent on solidifying his own power as the Crown Prince in order to ensure that he has complete domination as the future king of Saudi Arabia.
Released on White House letterhead, this is the complete transcript of the statement, a statement that could only have been written by the president himself given the syntax, grammar and punctuation therein. We would be lucky if it only exhibited poor writing skills, but instead it runs counter to everything the United States stands for during the last seventy years or more.
The world is a very dangerous place!
The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.”
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism.
After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!
The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!
That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!
I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!
There is so much wrong, facts as well as policy, that it is difficult to know where to start. Let’s start at what should have been the beginning, the death of Jamal Khassoggi. Instead of starting with that fact, he does not address his brutal murder until the fourth paragraph, coming even after he has to congratulate himself on his trip to Saudi Arabia. To add injury to insult, he repeats the canard that Mr. Khassoggi was “an enemy of the state and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Even the Saudi government did not state that he was, after a trial balloon using that as a mitigating factor was vehemently denounced by multiple countries around the world. Mr. Trump brings it in as if it was some acceptable reason for murder. One of the president’s typical tricks. He paints someone negatively and then denies doing so saying that he didn’t say that, they did.
Even more troubling is Mr. Trump’s denouncing the American media as the “enemy of the people” and then using the term “enemy of the state” to describe a murdered journalist. No subtlety there, Mr. Trump just gave every dictator and two-bit autocrat in the world the green light to eliminate any journalist that they designate as an “enemy.”
As I and countless others have pointed out, the president grossly exaggerates the so-called “record amount of money” the Saudis will spend and invest in the United States. So far the Saudis only committed to spending about 14 billion dollars for a missile defense system. The other “hundreds of billions” of purchases and investments are only possibilities, ideas or something for an unspecified future. There is nothing on paper to justify the claims made by the president. Certainly, there is nothing to support the claim that any of it will “create hundreds of thousands of jobs.” The idea that the Saudis would spend that money buying Chinese or Russian goods and military equipment is, in a word, preposterous. Since World War II the Saudis sought out and continue to use U.S. training, equipment, spare parts, ammunition and logistical support for their military. They can not and would not turn to any other country over night to spend money on military items.
Once again for the record, Mr. Trump seems to be influenced by no other world events since the 1973 oil embargo when it comes to assessing the impact of Saudi oil on the market. The U.S. is a larger producer of oil than Saudi Arabia (thanks to fracking and shale oil, but that’s another story). The entire Saudi economy (and all of those claimed purchases and investments in the U.S.) depend on oil. They can impact prices, but not to the extent that Mr. Trump claims. Indeed the crown jewel of ARAMCO refineries, the national Saudi oil company, is in the United States in Port Arthur, Texas. Would they really cut off oil shipments to their own refinery? (The products from the refinery ship to many places in the world, not just the United States.) And oh by the way, the Saudis do not work “closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.” They do what is best for them. Lower oil prices right now, according to economic analysts, are due primarily because the impact of the embargo on Iran was minimal (its oil is still mostly on the market), the world economy has not expanded as quickly as expected and thus demand is lower, and other economic reasons, not Mr. Trump’s relations with the Saudis.
I could go on and on debunking the myths and out right lies in Mr. Trump’s statement. You get the idea. Here is the worst part in my opinion. The President of the United States clearly states that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event” but that it doesn’t matter to the president because their money and the price of oil is more important than upholding human rights, American values and freedom of the press. Yet another signal to any dictator or would be autocrat that not only will we allow journalists to be killed if they are an “enemy of the state” but that if you pay us enough money, we’ll look the other way. Unbelievably, the president finishes his statement by saying “maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t!” (are we in the fifth grade?). In other words, it just doesn’t matter.
Anyone that reads the paper and follows this story knows that the preponderance of evidence is that Mr. Khassoggi was murdered and that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States calculates that there is the highest probability that the Crown Prince was behind the entire sordid affair. (That is about as close as the CIA will come to saying he all but dismembered the guy himself.) Not to worry. Mr. Trump assures us that he personally talked to the Crown Prince and to the King and that they “vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.” Just as he accepted President Vladimir Putin’s vigorous denial that Russia interfered with the 2016 election, despite the conclusion of the entire intelligence community of the United States.
Once again, as happens in case after case after case with Mr. Trump, he refuses to believe what he does not want to believe and will look for any out available be it an opinion expressed on Fox News, a piece on an alt-right blog, or “the word” of ruthless dictators and autocrats. Merely deny any wrong doing and the best intelligence agency in the world cannot convince him of anything else. If one doubts that words have consequences when spoken by the president, consider that Mr. Trump continually belittled U.S. intelligence agencies because they were wrong about WMD in Iraq in 2002. This weekend the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia used that same argument to say that the CIA’s conclusion that the Crown Prince was involved in murder was wrong.
The real reason Mr. Trump will not come down hard on Saudi Arabia and especially the Crown Prince is because he likes them. More accurately, he liked the way that they played him during his visit to Riyadh and treated him, literally, like visiting royalty. He has a misguided view of the Saudi ability, or desire, to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can act as a counter weight to Iran, but not without U.S. backing which could suck us into a war that we do not want. In particular, Mr. Trump frequently expressed his appreciation to the Saudis for bailing him out of one of his many bankruptcies. Likewise his son-in-law Jared Kushner has particularly close ties with the Crown Prince and his company was also intimately involved with Saudi bail outs in the past.
Make no mistake about it. I am not advocating for breaking diplomatic or military ties with Saudi Arabia. The world is indeed a dangerous place and we should use all assets at our disposal to promote our national security interests. That said, Mr. Trump speaks as if the Saudis hold all of the cards. They do not. We have vastly more leverage over them than the other way around if Mr. Trump had the ability to utilize the advantage. He either chooses not do so (because of his personal financial ties?) or is lost in the 70’s with a misguided view of the world, or he is incompetent.
There are numerous ways to make clear our disgust and dissatisfaction with Mr. Khassoggi’s murder. Here are only a few examples of actions we could take:
- Sanction the Crown Prince or parts of his world-wide investments and hurt him where it counts. The 17 Saudis Mr. Trump says we sanctioned include 15 relatively low-level security (hit?) men. Those assessed by the CIA as primarily responsible for ordering the murder are not sanctioned.
- Stop supplying the Saudi military in Yemen. The U.S. is providing assistance that, should it be with held, would severely limit their ability to continue the war in Yemen. The United Nations assesses the situation in Yemen as the biggest humanitarian crisis taking place in the world. Their calculations indicate that roughly 85,000 young children have died of hunger during the war. About 2 million are homeless. 22 million are in need of assistance, especially food. 1.1 million suffer from diarrhea and cholera. The war is portrayed as a proxy war with Iran to stop Islamic terrorism but in fact, Mohammad Bin Salman intervened in a civil war for his own purposes. Iran supports the opposition but the Saudi involvement is far larger, bloodier and indiscriminate in hitting civilian targets.
- Push Mohammad to actually get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and take concrete steps to help the Palestinians form a functioning government and offer substantive proposals for resolving the situation. Put some of that oil money to use providing for investment in the West Bank and to raise the average Palestinian out of the depths of poverty. (Fun fact: Many mid-level to upper-level bureaucrats in Arab countries are of Palestinian heritage. They make the countries run. The Arabs have no desire to resolve the situation because it is a convenient scapegoat for distracting their own people by providing a cause to rally around and to continue to rant against Israel.)
- Stop the Saudi economic and diplomatic attacks on Qatar. (The headquarters for U.S. forces in the region are in Qatar and it is the location of the largest U.S. air base in the region. Mr. Trump supports the Saudi assault on the integrity of Qatar.)
- Stop Mohammad from meddling in Lebanon. (Last year he kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon while he was in Saudi Arabia, forced him to resign and held him hostage until world diplomatic pressure caused his release. Theoretically this was to put pressure on Iran and to lessen the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon.)
These are but a few ideas off the top of my head. I am sure the regional experts at the State Department and CIA could come up with many more. Instead, the United States capitulated lock, stock and barrel to the murderous whims of a 33-year-old autocrat in the Middle East.
The president’s statement is really “Saudi Arabia First!” Bipartisan efforts in the Senate to make Saudi Arabia feel the pain are talked about, but only time will tell if they can get a bill together during the lame duck session coming up given all the rest of the issues they have to deal with in the interim. Realistically, it could be months before the Congress takes action, if at all. Meanwhile, the Crown Prince goes his merry way having learned the lesson that he can con Mr. Trump out of anything with a little flattery and some money.
The President of the United States betrayed American values. He pretends that the facts are unknowable but asserts that they are irrelevant in any case. He bases his decision on a widely discredited claim that they are spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the U.S. and keeping oil prices low, when in fact, the Saudis are espousing a cut in their oil production in order to try to increase prices. He disparages the victim by falsely hinting that he was a member of some terrorist network, a claim originally floated by Mohammad in a phone call to the White House and then denied when the world condemned the allegation as totally false. (Parts of Mr. Trump’s statement were clearly word for word restatements of things the Saudi Crown Prince told him.) He belittles and ignores the best analysis by his own intelligence agencies. He shows the worst of his talents and little disposition to take appropriate actions if it does not meet his personal needs, desires and perceptions. Again, Mr. Trump demonstrates that under his leadership, the United States is weak.
In short, Mr. Trump sold out the United States and our values. Dictators and autocrats around the world now know that they can kill journalists with impunity if they flatter the president and pay enough money.
The United States is fast losing its place in the world as a leader. Congress must act to rectify this situation and to set the standard that we will not forsake our values or place in the world for a few dollars more.
As we head into the final days before Election Day, and in the wake of two domestic terrorist attacks including the tragic loss of eleven lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the ridiculous claims, lies, fear mongering and fomenting of hate by the President of the United States of America continues unabated. He has no shame. When repeatedly asked about his vile tactics he offers some version of “it works — we won.” Maybe he won, but the “we” — the citizens of this great country — are losing. The president may feel no shame, but I do. I am ashamed that this is the face of the United States that the world sees.
As I have written before, the president uses words that have distinct connotations for people who consider themselves white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others. “Nationalist,” “globalist,” “international bankers,” and other similar words have distinct anti-Jewish meanings to those filled with hate. It stokes the fires raging inside of the haters. Here is one thing to understand. These people don’t just hate Jews as a religion, they see a vast international conspiracy where “Jews” rule the world. Literally. The haters see a hidden web of conspiracies and connections throughout the world that the rest of us know nothing about. They believe that the Jewish conspiracy controls everything that happens politically and especially economically. All the suffering by those that are not part of the cabal can lay their problems at the feet of those that “belong.” The nationalists unfounded hate may take the form of religious intolerance, but it is important to understand that in their minds it goes way, way, deeper. It is a world-wide conspiracy and everything is controlled by “the Jews.”
Thus the murderer that attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue (Etz haChayim in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis) reportedly picked this particular house of worship because of their well-known involvement with the Jewish charity known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) whose motto is “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee.” Founded in 1881, HIAS sought to help Jewish refugees coming to the U.S. In 1975 it expanded its scope to help Vietnamese refugees coming to the U.S. following the fall of South Vietnam to the communists. It works world-wide to help the poor and misplaced and refugees of all religions, nationalities and ethnicities. Currently they are helping the refugees coming from Central America.
Enter the “caravan.” Enter the George Soros (an internationally known Jewish billionaire) funded caravan. To the haters, it is all connected.
The synagogue murderer was incensed that the congregants were helping these poor migrants. He is said to have posted on social media that these impoverished people were “invaders” that were brought here “to kill our people.” He went on to post that “I can’t just sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”
Hmmm. Where did I hear that before? Oh, right. From the President of the United States of America.
Among other lies he tells at his campaign rallies, he claims that most of the refugees are members of “MS-13” and “Middle Easterners” coming here to spread illegal drugs, murder people, spread disease, and take away jobs. As he said earlier this week, “We’re being invaded. When you look at that, thousands of people — when you looked at that bridge loaded up with thousands of people, that’s called an invasion of our country.”
Reality check. There are currently less than three thousand people, many women and children, and they are approximately 900 miles away on foot walking across Mexico. This is one of many such “caravans” that have formed in recent years. Mostly the migrants travel together for safety from criminals and others willing to exploit them. The last one to arrive at the U.S. border was last April and resulted in the arrest of 14 people. Under U.S. and international law we have an obligation to at least listen to and decide on the merits whether these individuals and families, who turn themselves in at the border and ask for asylum, in accordance with the law, should in fact be given asylum.
They are not law breakers and they are not illegal aliens. Nearly all of them, turn themselves in. For the April caravan the president sent approximately 2100 National Guard troops to beef up the border. I am no math major, but that amounts to roughly 150 soldiers for every person arrested from the caravan. Now the president has issued an order for about 5200 active duty soldiers to move to the border this week. A few fun facts about that. This will be the greatest number of troops on the Mexican border in over a century. We will have about the same number of soldiers on the border with Mexico as we have now in Iraq and Syria combined fighting ISIS. He promises at his campaign rallies that he will send 15,000 soldiers to the border “soon.” (It is unclear whether this number includes the 5200 already ordered there.) That number is nearly equivalent to the total number we have fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Which is the greater threat? Impoverished families from Central America or the Taliban? ISIS?
Here is a couple of things to consider. He is sending active duty troops because the National Guard now there are under the control of the state governors that supplied them. Not the president. He wants troops he can control. There is a law known as the Posse Comitatus Act signed by President Hayes in 1878 that has come to be interpreted as prohibiting U.S. federal troops from enforcing domestic law. In other words, they have no arrest powers. (Of the military services, only the U.S. Coast Guard has arrest authority. There are some exceptions for the other services under the Insurrection Act and in other specified situations.)
In other words, our active duty forces that are involved in two active wars and numerous other missions around the world, will be sent to the border to satisfy the campaign rhetoric of the president. He has politicized the military and is using it as a personal tool for campaigning. As it is, they can only be used in a support role (non-law enforcement tasks) but so far have been under orders from the Secretary of Defense to have no interaction with the refugees beyond medical or legal aid. To further demonstrate the waste of taxpayer money, the caravan is not expected to arrive at the border for about two more months. That amounts to 15,000 troops sitting on their collective back sides for two months — which may include Thanksgiving and Christmas — rather than being home with their families between combat deployments or training for their next deployment. It impairs readiness.
This is not a matter of enforcing immigration laws. All main stream politicians and candidates, from any party, supports enforcing our laws and protecting the borders. This is not what the president’s rhetoric is about. It is all to stir up fear and anger among people who must be pretty unhappy about their lives.
But it gets better yet.
The President of the United States of America apparently thinks that he can change the Constitution of the United States through an Executive Order. Wow. My prediction is that his plan to do so disappears after the election — most things he promises go out with a whimper — but what if he actually believes it? Here is what he said earlier this week.
“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t. You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
So everyone has had it wrong for over two hundred years. I wonder who the “they” are that just discovered that all it takes is an Executive Order.
Specifically he wants to change the “policy” (yes — he actually said that) written in the 14th Amendment. There are five sections to the amendment, but it is the first section that he wants to change. That portion of the 14th Amendment reads:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This is the so called “birthright” amendment and the source of so much hate and misinformation about “anchor babies.” The president claims that:
“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”
Facts take a beating under this president. There are over 30 countries that have the same birthright privilege of citizenship including Canada and Mexico. The baby is not “essentially” a citizen, they are a citizen. “All those benefits” which he claims amount to “billions and billions of dollars” do not take into account that the vast majority of those babies grow up to be productive citizens of the United States that work and pay taxes and contribute to the improvement of our country.
But there is something more sinister about attacking the 14th Amendment. Not only does it continue to vilify those seeking a better life, the 14th Amendment is an anathema to those same self-styled “nationalists” that I have written about before. The 14th Amendment is there to incorporate into law and the Constitution that former slaves and their descendants are full citizens. The amendment overturns counting slaves (and presumably without this change, freed slaves) as three-fifths of a person encapsulated in Article One, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution. So picking the 14th Amendment for an Executive Order does two things. It supports the views of white supremacists and further encourages them by, in the view of many African-Americans, going after one of the most historically important amendments in their lives. It also sends a signal to many African-Americans that they are part of the “other.”
Perhaps he would like to also sign an Executive Order doing away with freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights as well. The president, like Joseph Stalin considers the press an “enemy of the people.” Come to think of it, why stop there? Just overturn any other silly amendments that get in the way.
I see a pattern developing. These are not isolated incidents. All are common to a thread of creating the “other” to hate, fear and vilify. A page from the demagogue text-book. Note that the president is not campaigning on his accomplishments. Pay attention to his rants at his rallies and you will not hear him say anything that might not have already been said during his 2016 campaign. He is trying to convince people that without him and his supporters in Congress, the apocalypse will be upon us.
The stakes are high. The soul of our country is under attack. I find it shameful and it is too high of a price to pay for “winning.”
This week at least fourteen Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs — the designation used by FBI Director Wray and the same designation given to those used by our enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere) were sent to prominent Democrats, their supporters and to critics of Mr. Trump. This was an act of domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, it also exposed the unbelievable lengths that some pundits and politicians will go to “win.”
Our country is in trouble when we cannot agree that the actions of this nut case (I refuse to use his name as these perpetrators should not be given the attention they all so obviously seek) and self-identified Trump supporter are abhorrent and should be roundly condemned by all Americans. It didn’t happen.
Prominent Conservative mainstream media personalities continued to tout the mass assassination attempt as a “hoax” or “false flag” operation put together by Democrats (say what??!!) in order to turn the mid-term election away from Republicans. Despicable. You can look it up. Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh and others with a national platform are promoting this theory, even after the arrest of the bomber.
Make no mistake about it. FBI Director Wray was very clear in yesterday’s Department of Justice news conference announcing the arrest of the bomber. He emphasized that the mailed bombs “were not hoax devices” and were made of “energetic material that could be explosive.” As to whether it was a left-wing false flag operation Attorney General Sessions stated that the bomber was a registered Republican and a “partisan.”
Actually it should make little difference what ethnicity, religion, or political party can be attributed to the bomber. No difference. He is a terrorist. Period.
As a country we were incredibly lucky that no one was injured or killed. Think how we would be reeling today if even half of those bombs had worked as intended. If the bombs got to their intended targets the assassination of past presidents, a vice president, a secretary of state, employees of a prominent news organization, and other current and former U.S. government officials would be dead. A national tragedy. Fortunately, the law enforcement officials and postal workers tasked with preventing such a scenario did their jobs and did them well. They should be congratulated and celebrated. A totally different scenario could have unfolded if those bombs had gone off in postal facilities, mail rooms or while being removed by explosive disposal units or in transit in the mail. There could have been many innocent people killed or wounded. Thankfully that did not happen, but in no way should it lessen our horror that this event reflects the use of fear and anger to promote political agendas.
The bomber is solely responsible for his actions. While he may be an unstable individual, he chose to make and mail the explosives. It is his actions that need to be analyzed and condemned. Unfortunately, my view is that the President of the United States helped to create the conditions that caused this individual to decide to act. Mr. Trump is famous for his rallies where he bullies and belittles his opponents, calls the press the “enemy of the people,” pushes his supporters to chant “lock her up” in reference to former Secretary Clinton (I point out that it has been six years since she was in government — give it a rest), “CNN sucks”, and recently called a Congressman convicted of assault after body slamming a reporter “my type of guy.” This after his campaign rallies where he actively incited his followers to beat up, “punch in the face,” “have him carried out on a stretcher” and other vile statements directed at opponents. His attitude has not changed. He has no understanding of the impact the words of the president may have on those in our country and around the world (hello Mohammed bin Salman) who act on his alleged “jokes.”
Mr. Trump dutifully read his “presidential statement” from the teleprompter about “unity” and condemning violence. He then went out to one of his rallies and mocked that his advisers want him to “be nice” and went back to his play list of greatest hits through bullying and belittling.
And then it got worse, in my view.
Friday morning at 3:14 AM — while the bomber was still at large — he tweeted:
“Funny how lowly rated CNN, and others, can criticize me at will, even blaming me for the current spate of Bombs and ridiculously comparing this to September 11th and the Oklahoma City bombing, yet when I criticize them they go wild and scream, “it’s just not Presidential!”
— Donald J. Trump on Twitter 26 October 2018
This after CNN was the recipient of two of the bomb packages.
And it got worse still.
Before the bomber was apprehended, the President of the United States sent out this tweet:
“Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this “Bomb” stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”
— Donald J. Trump on Twitter 26 October 2018
Just when I think our political and social discourse cannot get any lower, I learn that it can. Let’s dissect this statement. As prominent Americans were threatened, and first responders and others were working to keep Americans safe by putting their lives on the line, the president is bemoaning the fact that he is not the center of attention and that the news media should be focused on his “politics” and how great he is doing. In so doing, he clearly does not grasp the intensity and severity of the moment. It appears that he thinks it “very unfortunate” that no one is talking about how great the Republicans are doing politically. Not that the bombings are unfortunate, rather that he isn’t getting the attention. Simultaneously he seems to be adding credence to the “hoax” conspiracy theories by lessening the importance of the incidents and by putting “bomb” (“stuff”??) in quotation marks as if they are not real bombs. He went further last night to say that the media was “using” the bombs to “very unfairly” criticize him. When asked by reporters whether he had contacted any of the intended bomb recipients he said, “They wanted me to. But I’ll pass.” So presidential. A real leader. The bombings were all about him and not those put in harm’s way.
Mr. Trump is only focused on “winning” the mid-terms and will use any means possible to do so. Note that he has stopped touting anything positive that his administration may have accomplished and instead is totally focused on raising apocalyptic scenarios by calling peaceful demonstrators expressing their First Amendment rights “angry mobs” and creating a “national emergency” over a group of a few thousand people, mostly impoverished women and children, that are over a thousand miles away from our border, and other utterly false or misleading statements that are meant to raise fear and anger.
It worked for an unstable individual that took matters into his own hands.
And please, don’t give me any “what aboutisms.” The president’s words carry special meaning — or at least they should until they are cheapened by demagoguery. Mr. Trump is the first president in my life time that makes no, zero, nada, zilch, nunca, attempts to unify the country, even in times of national crisis. He can mechanically read the words his staff writes for him, but when on his own his true thoughts come out.
Whether after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville (“there are good people on both sides”), or the belittling of Dr. Ford following the Justice Kavanaugh hearings (“It doesn’t matter. We won.”), or the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (“the worst cover-up ever”) or the attempted mass assassination of his political opponents (“the media has been really unfair to me”) or countless others, Mr. Trump has no idea what it means to be the president of the entire United States and has no clue of how to lead.
Thank goodness our law enforcement agencies and our intelligence agencies and other dedicated civil servants continue to do their jobs despite constant criticism and belittlement. They are the ones truly keeping us safe from terrorists, foreign and domestic.
As the evidence of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi continues to grow, the President of the United States and the U.S. Secretary of State expand their dissembling and cover up on behalf of the leadership of Saudi Arabia.
It is embarrassing in one sense and appalling in every way.
Whether or not Prince Mohammad thought that he would be able to murder someone on foreign soil with impunity and without consequence or not, with the complicity and direct efforts of the President of the United States he will get away with it. The president trotted out his tag line that worked so well in the nomination and confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh by accusing the press and world leaders elsewhere of jumping to conclusions. Or as he said in an interview with the Associated Press, “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh. And he was innocent all the way.”
The preponderance of evidence, including from Turkey our NATO ally, indicates that the Saudis certainly did murder Mr. Khashoggi and given the way the Saudis govern, it is preposterous to stipulate that Saudi hit men that are known to work directly for the Crown Prince would have gone “rogue” and killed him without the Prince’s knowledge.
One element that indicates the president is involved in a cover up is the fact that the U.S. intelligence agencies were directed not to follow through with scheduled briefings for the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning events surrounding the murder. As Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn), the Chairman of the committee told reporters yesterday, the administration has “clamped down” on providing information to the committee and cancelled a scheduled briefing on Tuesday. Senator Corker went on to say that before his committee’s oversight of the Executive Branch was blocked, that the intelligence he had seen indicates that Mr. Khashoggi was murdered by the Saudis. He added, “everything points to MBS. This could not have happened without his approval.”
Once again, this administration is driven by money and money alone. Apparently they are not knowledgeable enough or competent enough to figure out how to condemn the actions resulting in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi without breaking off relations with Saudi Arabia, an important, if unreliable, friend in the Middle East. The Saudis (and their money) are important players in the region and can be a counter to Iran. Diplomacy and foreign relations require skill and knowledge of the trade craft involved in the push and pull of world events. Evidently this administration cannot pull it off.
For example, back in the day I spent a lot of time in the Middle East and in dealing with regional issues, including in Saudi Arabia. The Bedouin tradition is one of extreme hospitality, based on their origins as nomads in the desert where survival might depend on help from others. This ingrained hospitality has carried over to modern Saudi Arabia. Part of that tradition is to never say “no.” They don’t. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that not saying “no” doesn’t mean “yes.” An apocryphal but not too unrealistic negotiation would go something like this: “Will you commit to buying $110 billion in U.S. arms?” “It would be a great honor.” “So that means you will?” “Inshallah!” (God willing!) And so it goes. One walks away thinking that there was a deal until it comes time to put ink to paper.
The president is being hoodwinked if he thinks that the value of the Saudis to U.S. security interests is so immense that it outweighs human rights, and thus he needs to cover up the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. They need us more than we need them. Some examples. The U.S. is now a net exporter of oil, thanks to the expansion of the commercial viability of shale oil. We do import oil, but our biggest supplier is Canada. Oil is a fungible commodity, the Saudis need to sell their oil as their economy is nearly entirely dependent on it. They aren’t going to stop. The arms sales the president is so afraid of losing constitute a small percentage of the U.S. defense industry. More to the current point, most of the Saudi’s military equipment is U.S., especially their aircraft and the munitions they carry. They will need U.S. spare parts and maintenance contracts for years to come. They will not cut those off as it would be against their own best interests especially as they continue to interfere in the war in Yemen. Should war break out between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Saudis are toast without us. And so on. One gets the idea. The Saudis need us economically and militarily more than we need them. We hold most of the cards and a skillful administration would know how to parlay them into the Saudi’s taking accountability for a crime against humanity. Diplomatically and through intelligence sharing they can provide the U.S. some real value. However, the president argues in terms of the bottom line — money — and not in terms of their other value added.
Apparently, human rights has no place in U.S. foreign policy, a break in our traditions since World War II. That is not to say that the U.S. hasn’t looked the other way in the past in order to attain our national interests. We have, in some truly shameful circumstances. Rarely, if ever, however, has the president actively worked in favor of a foreign power to cover up a heinous crime.
Perhaps there are other motivations such as personal financial gain for the president and his family?
Over the last 18 months the U.S. has given the dictators of the world a license to kill. In addition to the unfolding events in Saudi Arabia, the president has shrugged over Russian president Vladimir Putin ordering a poison attack on British soil, congratulated Philippine president Duterte’s hit squads killing thousands of people on the streets in his war on drugs, congratulated China’s president Xi on changing the succession of government to become President for Life, as he did with Turkey’s president Erdogan who undermined democracy in his own country and installed himself as a de facto autocrat, and of course expressed his admiration for the world’s current most ruthless dictator North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. As the President of the United States said about the Great Leader, “We went back and forth, then we fell in love. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they are great letters. We fell in love.”
Meanwhile he trashes our allies in the U.K,, Germany, Japan, Canada and the entirety of NATO, to name a few of the nations we actually depend upon .
Let’s look from the outside in. Were I sitting in North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia or a host of other nations led by autocrats and dictators, I would conclude that all one needs to do to silence and paralyze the United States is to impress the president on how wonderful he is and to put some money on the line. After that, anything goes. “And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.” Maybe those despots just “gotta use some Tic Tacs” to get what they want.
Of course poor people in Africa or Latin America are a direct threat to the survival of the United States. I guess that’s why today the president threatened to put the military on our border with Mexico to stop the “invasion” coming from Central America.
Something is upside down in our country.
Roughly two weeks ago Jamal Khashoggi disappeared while visiting the Saudi Arabia Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Mr. Khashoggi, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was a frequent critic of the Saudi regime who was living in exile as a permanent green card holder in the United States and was a Washington Post journalist. Mr. Khashoggi entered the consulate, as seen on security cameras outside the building, but was never observed coming out and has not been heard from since. The Saudis claim that he left the Consulate in fine condition but can provide no proof and cannot say where he may be. The Turkish government states that it has hard evidence — reportedly audio and possibly video recordings — that Mr. Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured, murdered and dismembered inside the Consulate. The Turks report that a fifteen man “hit squad” flew in and out of Turkey from Saudi Arabia on two private aircraft before and after the alleged murder.
This incident is getting the full attention of both political parties in the United States Senate as well as freedom loving nations around the world. Demands for answers from the Saudis and a full investigation into the disappearance of a respected journalist are growing. For those nations that care about human rights, this is an egregious and blatant act of state sponsored terrorism against an innocent civilian conducted on the foreign soil of a NATO ally. It cannot be tolerated.
While acknowledging that a state ordered murder of Mr. Khashoggi (“if it’s true”) would be a problem (“We don’t like it. We don’t like it even a bit.”), the President of the United States has been clear over the last several days that restricting arms sales to Saudi Arabia should not be on the table. Or as he said on Thursday, ” I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion — which is an all time record — and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money.” (Mr. Trump keeps touting the $110 billion arms deal, but analysts say that the Saudis have only committed to about $10 billion and it is debatable that the Saudis will ever buy the full $110 billion as their military cannot assimilate all of those weapons.) So we know that Mr. Khashoggi’s life is not worth $110 billion or even $10 billion. What is it worth?
This murderous development significantly impacts U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The Trump Administration, through the president’s son-in-law Mr. Jared Kushner, has put all of their Middle East policy eggs in the Saudi basket. The reasons are many, varied and complicated, but if you can’t tell the players without a score card, a quick summary follows.
The modern state of Saudi Arabia was created in 1930 under King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud. The relationship with the United States began following the discovery of oil in the kingdom in 1938 and dates to a meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Abdul-Aziz aboard the USS Quincy while anchored in the Suez Canal. A hand shake between the two took on the force of a treaty. The kingdom would supply oil to the U.S. in exchange for security and protection guarantees from the U.S. That same basic agreement is still in force today, but with greater complications.
The kingdom was ruled for most of its existence by one of the sons of King Abdul-Aziz. As one half-brother died, another would succeed him as king. For all of this time, the main focus of Saudi policy was, and is, the preservation of the rule of the royal family (which now numbers in the thousands with uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. that can trace lineage back to King Abdul Aziz) and their wealth. As the brothers died off, there was a power struggle within the family as to how succession would be passed down for the future. Currently, the winner of that struggle is Mohammad bin Salman, at 33 the current Crown Prince, heir apparent and de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as his father, King Salman, the nominal ruler of the kingdom is reported to be in poor health.
Crown Prince Mohammad, commonly referred to as MBS, is also good friends with Mr. Kushner. Both are young and apparently bonded in the days following the election in 2016. Many thought originally that Prince Mohammad would be a reformer within the kingdom and bring it into the 21st century through economic and social reform. Recently, analysis of his efforts indicates that he is a good public relations man in pushing the appearance of reform, but in fact his efforts are focused on establishing himself as the autocratic head of state and in consolidating power for himself, regardless of who gets hurt in the process. For example in 2017 he had over 40 members of the royal family and senior government officials arrested and imprisoned along with roughly 200 other businessmen, bankers, broadcasters and others. Ostensibly this was to rid the government of corruption but it is widely viewed as a test of his power and an attempt to eliminate any competition for his leadership. Most were eventually released after paying “fines” (read bribes) to the Crown Prince worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It is widely believed that Mr. Kushner may have shared highly classified intelligence with the Prince prior to the purge naming those in the country that opposed his taking the reins .
Mr. Kushner sees MBS as the key to countering Iran in the region and as the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The prince positioned himself to be a “player” but so far the Saudis have not delivered on their promises (as anyone knowing how things work in that area would know) even as the U.S. has delivered on their end, most controversially by supporting the Saudis with arms and intelligence during their ongoing military involvement in Yemen.
Additionally, and not surprisingly, both the Trump and Kushner family business organizations have long-standing and wide-spread business involvement in Saudi Arabia. When Mr. Trump was in serious financial trouble in the 1990s, for example, he sold condos, a hotel, parts of his business and his yacht to Saudis to raise money. It is rumored that the Saudis saved the Kushner family business by taking on the loan for a prominent New York land mark. There are other business connections that have been detailed in many venues, but without the release of a certain president’s tax returns and other normally provided financial information, the true extent of the deals cannot be determined. Oh by the way, the biggest spender at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC since the election is the Saudi government.
Mr. Khashoggi wrote often and furiously about the corruption in the Saudi royal family, their business ties and the efforts by Prince Mohammad to take control of the country. Or as he said last year to The New Yorker, “It’s an interesting form of dictatorship that is being created in Saudi Arabia. MBS is now becoming the supreme leader.”
Mr. Khashoggi would never have been murdered without the knowledge of Prince Mohammad.
And all of this is the tip of the iceberg. Our relationship is a complicated one, on all levels. There are advantages and disadvantages to working with the Saudis. The alleged murder of Mr. Khashoggi puts a lot of the national and personal goals of this administration in peril should the president choose to act on punishing the Saudis. The Senate is invoking the Global Magnitsky Act based on a December 2016 law that invokes sanctions against anyone or any government implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. The president is resisting. (Ironically the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Mr. Trump, Jr. and the Russians concerned the Magnitsky Act which at the time involved sanctions against Russians committing human rights abuses. In December of that year it expanded to a global scale.)
Mr. Trump knows he must act tough, but my bet is that he hopes that it all blows over. Today he reportedly spoke to King Salman, the titular head of Saudi Arabia, who assured him that the Saudis had nothing to do with Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. He flatly denied it. Or as Mr. Trump told reporters today, “It wasn’t like there was a question in his mind. The denial was very strong.” (As one recalls, anyone or any government that strongly denies a murder by chemical attack — hello Russia — or preying on young girls — hello Roy Moore — or anything else is believed by Mr. Trump because they are “very strong” in their denials.)
To add injury to insult, Mr. Trump added to his statement by saying that “It sounded to me like it could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” Indeed. Can you say “cover up”?
I can see it developing already. No official U.S. government action will ensue as Mr. Trump says we can’t be sure who did it. The Saudis deny it. Very strongly. It could have been rogue killers. We cannot give up billions in arms sales. Too bad. I feel bad for his family. Hey, look over there!
And we move on.
There was a time when the U.S. cared about and set an example for human rights, freedom of the press and other values we held dearly as a nation. Now, not so much. Apparently all of our relations are now transactional and only get fully considered based on the financial bottom line. It only matters how much money is involved, not what is right.
Apparently a human life isn’t worth anything to the United States anymore.
It is a bad day when the television programs are interrupted for “Breaking News” for yet another mass shooting in our country. It is a horrible day when that shooting is in your home town.
The Annapolis Capital Gazette, known locally as The Capital (and to those of us in the crab capital of the world it is just as often called the “crab wrapper”) is a typical local paper that covers news in the state capital and surrounding Anne Arundel County. It fairly covers local politics, provides forums for opinions in letters to the editor (always entertaining), provides local civic information, follows events at the U.S. Naval Academy, and most importantly to some, has great local sports coverage on the high school and college level.
It is also a historic publication. Its roots date to the Maryland Gazette founded in 1727 in Annapolis and is one of the first regular newspapers in the country. Reportedly it was among the very first newspapers to publish the Declaration of Independence, but its heart has always been the local town and county news.
I did not personally know the five people murdered as they worked at their desks in an otherwise ordinary office building, but I felt like I did — especially two of them — because I read their columns and admired their style. As is usual in a small local paper, the staff had multiple assignments covering various elements of community life. Rob Hiaasen — the brother of famed author Carl Hiaasen known for his very funny books about life in Florida — among other things wrote a quirky and funny weekly column about various off the wall occurrences in and around the area. The other was Wendi Winters who wrote about almost anything one can think of but was best known for her coverage of our part of town and for the weekly “home of the week” feature. Her beat was all of the local girl scout fund-raisers, church bazaars, neighborhood parades, civic meetings and such taking place in our little piece of the world.
The other three innocent people murdered on a regular day at work were Gerald Fischman, an editor; John McNamara, a local sports reporter; and Rebecca Smith, a newly hired sales assistant. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, our neighbors, regular people that went to work like any other day and never came home.
“The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes @CNN @NBCNews and many more) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American people. SICK!” — Tweet from the president 17 Feb 2017
Just regular people doing the best they can. These people were not our enemies.
The perpetrator had a long-standing grudge against the paper and was known to the police. Several years ago The Capital reported on a story about a harasser and stalker convicted of those misdemeanors. He felt that the paper libeled him and went on a personal crusade to discredit the paper and to seek revenge. Most of it was via social media but on Thursday, for whatever reason, he decided to take a shotgun into the news room and kill innocent people. A nut case. There is no way, perhaps ever, that we will know why he decided to act in this way on this particular day. He thought that the paper was “unfair” and “biased” and not telling the truth about him.
“I use Social Media not because I like to, but because it is the only way to fight a VERY dishonest and unfair “press,” now often referred to as Fake News Media. Phony and non-existent “sources” are being used more often than ever. Many stories & reports a pure fiction!” — Tweet from the president 30 Dec 2017
Before you set your hair on fire, I am not in any way shape or form holding the president directly accountable for Thursday’s murders. I do wonder, however, what it takes for someone to be pushed over the edge because of the constant bombardment of such statements that reinforce an already sick view of what journalism and reporting is all about. To be fair, in a statement about the attack on The Capital yesterday the president said in a prepared statement he read from a teleprompter,
”Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs. To the families of the victims there are no words to express our sorrow for your loss. Horrible, horrible event. Horrible thing happened.”
I have no doubt that the president does not want physical harm to come to journalists. I do have to wonder, however, whether he has any concern that what he considers rhetoric to fire up his base may have actual consequences.
But those are discussions for another day. For now, my community, my home town is in mourning and is still reeling from the shock of what way too many communities have experienced. Active shooter drills are now a regular part of school routines. How can we accept that? No one is safe in school, church, music concerts, movie theaters, news rooms, restaurants or pretty much anywhere. As a society we cannot accept this as normal. The level of discourse and civic involvement needs to move in a positive direction. Gun lover or gun hater we all agree that there is a sickness of some sort pervading our nation that makes it okay to act in a violent and destructive manner just because of a grudge. We are a country full of smart people. We need to figure this out.
For now, may their souls rest in peace.