The American elite’s embrace of the Saudi Arabia looks worse and worse.

Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman effectively took command of the oil-rich monarchy in June 2017, he’s been the darling of the American foreign policy establishment and much of the media. “It’s been a long, long time, though, since any Arab leader wore me out with a fire hose of new ideas about transforming his country,” Tom Friedman of The New York Times gushed60 Minutes exclaimed that bin Salman’s “reforms inside Saudi Arabia have been revolutionary. He is emancipating women, introducing music and cinema and cracking down on corruption, in a land with 15,000 princes.” The Trump administration has been giving Saudi Arabia a free hand in foreign policy, supporting it in aggression towards neighbors like Yemen and Qatar. 

This whole-hearted embrace of bin Salman was dubious from the start but is now shaping up to be a full-scale disaster, one harmful to both America’s position in the world and the cause of human rights. 

Consider some recent events:

1. The American-support war in Yemen continues to be a humanitarian nightmare. “Dozens of civilians, mostly children, were killed or injured in an airstrike on Thursday by U.S. allies on a bus in a crowded market in northern Yemen, according to health officials and international aid agencies,” The Washington Post reports. The allies in question are a coalition led by Saudi Arabia. “In a tweet, the International Committee of the Red Cross said the attack targeted a bus carrying children in Dahyan market in Saada province, which borders Saudi Arabia. A hospital supported by the aid group has received ‘scores of dead and wounded,’ it said, adding that ‘under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during conflict.’”

2. Bin Salman has initiated a bizarre diplomatic crisis with Canada. Taking offence at tweets from  Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland that criticized Saudi Arabia’s arrest of a woman’s rights activist, bin Salman has sent the Canadian ambassador packing, cancelled trade deals with Canada, and is disrupting the lives thousands of Saudi students and medical residents in Canada by cancelling financial support for their education and calling them back to Saudi Arabia. 

3. On Wednesday, while arguing that Canada doesn’t have the right to criticize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, bin Salman’s government crucified a man.

Despite all this, America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia remains unshaken. In the dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia, the United States has taken a position of sedulous neutrality. 

August 14, 2018

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QAnon conspiracy theory was spread by social media hustlers.

NBC News has blockbuster report by Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins tracking the spread of the so-called QAnon online conspiracy theory. While the report doesn’t answer the question of who created QAnon, it does provide a convincing account of how it went from being an obscure series of internet postings to a theory with a mass following, often visible at the rallies of President Donald Trump. Although sprawling and opaque, the core of the QAnon theory is that President Donald Trump is fighting a secret war against a cabal of pedophiles who dominate the American government and Hollywood.

Key to the spread of QAnon were a handful of social-media savvy entrepreneurs. “In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board,” Zadrozny and Collins write.

A central figure in promoting QAnon is Tracy Diaz, a Youtube creator who had previously promoted the Pizzagate theory. In early November, Diaz started promoting QAnon, at that point only a few esoterica posts.

“Diaz followed with dozens more Q-themed videos, each containing a call for viewers to donate through links to her Patreon and PayPal accounts,” Zadrozny and Collins note. “Diaz, who emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, says in her YouTube videos that she now relies on donations from patrons funding her YouTube ‘research’ as her sole source of income.”

Diaz worked with the husband and wife team of Coleman Rogers and Christina Urso, who created “the Patriots’ Soapbox, a round-the-clock livestreamed YouTube channel for QAnon study and discussion. The channel is, in effect, a broadcast of a Discord chatroom with constant audio commentary from a rotating cast of volunteers and moderators with sporadic appearances by Rogers and Urso.” Like Diaz, Rogers and Urso used QAnon as a money making venture, picking up revenue from donations. Rogers, like Diaz, had a history of subscribing to conspiracy theories before QAnon. He had previously promoted the idea that Democrats worshipped Satan.

As NBC reports, some QAnon skeptics suspect Rogers as the probably fabricator of Qanon’s posts:

Still, Qanon skeptics have pointed to two videos as evidence that Rogers had insider knowledge of Q’s account. One archived livestream appears to show Rogers logging into the 8chan account of “Q.”The Patriots’ Soapbox feed quickly cuts out after the login attempt. “Sorry, leg cramp,” Rogers says, before the feed reappears seconds later.

Whoever QAnon might be, we now have a better understanding of the mercenary infrastructure that made it popular.


“It happened everywhere”: The unimaginable scale of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church.

“There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. But not on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.” So begins the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s grand jury investigation into clergy abuse, released to the public on Tuesday afternoon. The 900-page report, which investigated all but one of the state’s dioceses, identifies over 1,000 victims of child sexual abuse and over 300 predatory priests.

The report explains why abuse flourished for so long. “While each church district had its idiosyncrasies, the pattern was pretty much the same. The main thing was not to help children, but to avoid ‘scandal.’ That is not our word, but theirs; it appears over and over again in the documents we recovered,” the report asserts. Church officials kept complaints in a “secret archive,” to which only the bishop kept the key. The report also states that diocesan files repeatedly relied on euphemisms to describe clergy abuse; the files refer to rape as “inappropriate contact,” for example. Predatory priests were referred to treatment, and in the rare instance the church removed a priest from his parish, his congregants never learned the real reason for his departure.

The Catholic Church already reels from abuse scandals, some old and some more recent. The patterns documented by the Pennsylvania grand jury resemble previous abuse scandals, the most famous example being the Archdiocese of Boston’s cover-up of decades of child abuse. In July, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resigned over revelations that he abused seminarians and at least one minor; on Tuesday, Crux, a Catholic news website, reported that Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley had been informed of McCarrick’s abuse back in 2015. And on Tuesday, several hours before the Pennsylvania grand jury published its report, Chilean police raided the country’s bishops’ conference in connection to an ongoing child abuse investigation involving the Congregation of the Marist Brothers.

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Would a tape with Trump using the n-word really change anything?

Thanks to Omarosa Manigault-Newman, longstanding rumors of a recording of the president using the n-word are again circulating. The current controversy has sparked an interesting debate on Twitter about whether, if such a tape did exist and was made public, it would have any effect on public opinion. 

Some are doubtful:

Some analysts argue that such a tape would change minds, given the potency of using that particular slur:

Ultimately, those who are skeptical that the tape would make much of a difference have the better argument. After all, there is already ample evidence of Trump’s racism, going back decades. Anyone who still supports Trump either doesn’t mind that racism or shares it. Further, the fact that Trump still managed to get 63 million Americans to vote for him after the notorious Access Hollywood tape shows that his supporters are fully adept at setting aside offensive speech. 

The release of this hypothetical n-word tape would confirm all camps’ prior opinions. In an election, it might motivate some Trump opponents to vote and it might discourage some marginal Trump voters from going to the ballot. But it won’t change the fundamental dynamic of opinion about him.  

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Trump campaign files arbitration claim against Omarosa.

In a statement to the press, the president’s reelection campaign said, “Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. has filed an arbitration against Omarosa Manigault-Newman with the American Arbitration Association in New York City, for breach of her 2016 confidentiality agreement with the Trump Campaign. President Trump is well known for giving people opportunities to advance in their careers and lives over the decades, but wrong is wrong, and a direct violation of an agreement must be addressed and the violator must be held accountable.”

The filing seems follows up on a tweet the president posted yesterday, which now seems like a threat:

As The Washington Post notes, the president’s use of NDAs is unconventional. “Dozens of White House aides have signed NDAs in exchange for working for Trump, who has long relied on such agreements in his business career, according to current and former administration employees,” the Post reports. “But NDAs have not been widely used by past administrations outside the transition time between presidents, in part because most legal experts believe such agreements are not legally enforceable for public employees.”

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In his response to tape allegations, Trump remains the master of kettle logic.

On Monday night, the president continued his escalating rhetorical war with Omarosa Manigault Newman, his former aide. Among other accusations, Manigault Newman claims to have heard a recording of Trump using the n-word while on the set of The Apprentice. (Manigault Newman had previously said she only knew that the tape existed.) The tape is reputedly in the possession of Mark Burnett, the producer of the show. Manigault Newman hasn’t provided evidence for this claim and her statements have been inconsistent.

In response, the president tweeted: 

If it’s difficult to follow the logic of these tweets, it’s because they don’t follow the rules of normal rationality. Rather, they are examples of what the philosopher Jacques Derrida called “kettle logic,” where inconsistent arguments are made to prove a point. Trump is a frequent user of “kettle logic.”

Derrida coined the phrase “kettle logic” from a story that the psychologist Sigmund Freud related in two of his books.

The story goes like this. A man is accused by his neighbor of returning a kettle in a broken condition. In response to the accusation he argues: 

1. That he had returned the kettle undamaged.

2. That it was already damaged when he borrowed it.

3. That he had never borrowed it in the first place.

In the same way, Trump’s response to this controversy can be broken down into several parts:

1.  He never used the n-word.

2. Mark Burnett told Trump there is no tape of Trump using the n-word. 

3. Manigault Newman can’t be trusted because she is “Wacky” and  “Deranged.”

4. The media didn’t listen to Manigault Newman when she praised Trump.

Point number 4 seems wholly irrelevant. It’s natural, for obvious reasons, for a former White House aide who is critical of a president she worked for to get a lot more media attention than a normal White House aide. The point is also in contradiction with 3 since if she is “Wacky” and “Deranged” the press should avoid her at all times. 

Point number 1, if true, makes point 2 irrelevant and strange. After all, if Trump never used the n-word at all, he doesn’t need Mark Burnett to tell him no tape exits. Trump himself would know that no tape exists. 

In sum, Trump is in the dream world of kettle logic, making whatever arguments he think will stick, no matter their internal coherence. 

August 13, 2018

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More and more Trump allies are caught in family feuds.

Monday was a day of family quarrelling in the Trump circle as uncle turned against nephew, son against father, and husband against wife.

It began with a much-read Politico article where Dr. David S. Glosser denounced his nephew Stephen Miller, a White House advisor, as a “hypocrite.” Glosser argued that Miller’s nativism was a betrayal of the family’s history as Jews who fled persecution in Europe:

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America first” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees....I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him.

The same day, Bobby Goodlatte tweeted out criticism of his father, retiring Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, for his treatment of fired FBI agent Peter Strzok:

Previously, the younger Goodlatte made clear that he was giving money to a Democratic candidate to replace his father in congress.

Finally, George Conway, husband of Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, took the opportunity to tweet some snark at her boss:

George Conway’s tweet was all the more remarkable given that Kellyanne Conway is still one of the president’s biggest defenders, often championing him in interviews.

As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale noticed, there seems to be a pattern:

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In a signing and speech at Fort Drum, Trump again showed his disdain for John McCain.

The president and vice president both spoke at the military base, where the president signed the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. But in touting the new bill, which they celebrated for increasing military spending, neither men uttered the name of John McCain. The senator, who has been fighting brain cancer for a year, was an unperson at the event.

Trump and McCain have long been political foes, despite belonging to the same party. In 2015, Trump notoriously said of McCain, “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.” Trump later pretended not to have said McCain wasn’t a hero and never apologized for these words.

Later, after Trump won the presidency, McCain proved to be the decisive vote against Trump’s signature policy of repealing Obamacare. Trump continues to take jibes as McCain at rallies, notably when the president visited Nevada this past June:

Trump’s continued belittling of McCain speaks to the president’s pettiness and also his desire to remake the Republican Party in his image by casting aside all internal critics. The fact that Vice President Mike Pence followed the president’s lead in this matter shows that Trump’s campaign against McCain is shaping how others in the GOP treat the ailing senator.


Trump believes there are nations whose names are pronounced “Nipple” and “Button.”

Politico has published a comprehensive investigation of the president’s knowledge of the outside world, coming to some alarming conclusions. “Several times in the first year of his administration, President Donald Trump wanted to call Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the middle of the afternoon,” the news outlet reports. “But there was a problem. Midafternoon in Washington is the middle of the night in Tokyo—when Abe would be fast asleep.”

The president had a hard time being cognizant of time-zones and other basic information about foreign nations and leaders. “He wasn’t great with recognizing that the leader of a country might be 80 or 85 years old and isn’t going to be awake or in the right place at 10:30 or 11 p.m. their time,” a former Trump NSC official told Politico. “When he wants to call someone, he wants to call someone. He’s more impulsive that way. He doesn’t think about what time it is or who it is.”

Basic geography is also a problem for the president. Shown a map of Asia, he was puzzled by the nations nestled next to India, Nepal and Bhutan. “What is this stuff in between and these other countries?” he asked advisors. When informed of their names, the president took to calling those countries Nipple and Button. In the same spirit, Trump also imitated the accent of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

James Carafano, vice president for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation, defended the president’s lack of rudimentary knowledge of the outside world. “If people are looking for more polish and more kind of conventional statecraft and that’s their metric for Trump learning, I think they’re going to be disappointed,” Carafano told Politico. “I don’t think he sees those as faux pas; I think he sees them as, ‘Look, I do things differently.’ If you say, ‘That’s not how things are done,’ he says, ‘Who says? Where is it written down that I can’t do that?’”

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FBI fires agent over anti-Trump texts, fanning partisan flames.

The Washington Post is reporting that Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the agency who once led the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, was fired on Friday. Strzok became a controversial figure once  it was revealed that he had written anti-Trump text messages. After reports of those texts were made known to special counsel Robert Mueller last summer, he removed Strzok from the Russia investigation.  

As the newspaper notes, “Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing on Friday—even though the director of the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.” If the firing was done for political purposes, it could run afoul of laws that protect the free speech of federal employees.

The president used Strzok’s firing to post a tweet designed to discredit the Mueller investigation:

As The Washington Post makes clear, the firing is part of a larger pattern: “Strzok is the third high-ranking FBI official involved in the Clinton and Russia investigations to be fired amid an intensely political backdrop. Trump removed Comey as the bureau’s director and said he did so thinking of the Russia case. Attorney General Jeff Sessions later removed Comey’s deputy, McCabe, after the inspector general alleged he lied about a media disclosure related to Clinton.” 

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Ryan Zinke: There are too many trees in the forest.

After touring several neighborhoods ravaged by the Carr Fire on Sunday, the Interior secretary said large, healthy trees must be removed from national forests to prevent the spread of wildfire flames. “It doesn’t matter whether you believe or don’t believe in climate change,” Zinke said. “What is important is we manage our forests.” Zinke also blamed environmental groups for the state’s devastating wildfire season, saying their opposition to industrial logging operations has worsened the tree problem.

This is not a new argument, and it’s a hotly contested one. While America’s forests are overgrown—thus providing more fuel for flames to quickly spread—dead trees and underbrush are considered greater problems. California’s forests have more than 100 million dead trees. The U.S. Forest Service is supposed to help manage this, but historically has had to spend most of its $600 million budget on directly fighting fires. In March, Trump signed legislation to give the Forest Service an additional $2 billion to manage forests, but it doesn’t go into effect until 2020.

Last week, President Donald Trump blamed California’s wildfires on a lack of available water for firefighters. Firefighters and fire experts roundly agreed that there’s plenty of water to fight the 100+ blazes raging across the state; some pointed out that water isn’t even the main tool used to tame wildfires. This argument, like Zinke’s, is being made to advance a policy agenda. Trump has also long wanted to weaken environmental protections for endangered species, and is already using his water argument to do it. The administration is also considering loosening regulations that require the logging industry to protect the environment while cutting down trees.