CSI: Saudi Arabia | Honey, I Blew Up The Deficit | Discipline, Freedom, & Success


We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all. – Pericles commenting the participation of Athenian citizens in politics, as quoted in Models of Democracy (2006) by David Held


Saudi Arabia, a Rogue Country (Or What Happens When Autocrats Go Unchecked)Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia Tuesday to meet with King Salam and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam (MbS), to discuss the disappearance of Washington Post journalist and Saudi national, Jamal Khashoggi, who entered the Saudi consulate in Islamabad, Turkey on October 2 and never emerged. Turkish officials quickly suggested Khashoggi had been murdered in the consulate and his body hidden; just as quickly the Saudis denied any knowledge of or involvement in the incident. Last week President Trump said there would be “severe punishment” if an investigation showed that Khashoggi had been assassinated. The Saudis immediately threatened retaliation if the US imposed sanctions. But as international outrage grew, the Saudis appeared ready to admit the journalist could have accidently died during a “botched rendition” attempt. And the New York Times reported last night that “Suspects Had Ties to Saudi Crown Prince.”

Saudi Arabia is a key political and trade ally of the US, and implication in the journalist’s demise could deal a serious blow to the relationship. Considering this, remarks Trump made to reporters on Monday, that Khashoggi may have been murdered by “rogue killers”, suggested to some that the White House was willing to protect the House of Saud from blame for the diplomatic crisis by participating in a cover story that could afford MbS “plausible deniability”. Skeptics point out that Turkish officials claim to have video and audio evidence that proves Khashoggi was interrogated, tortured and murdered by a 15-man hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Turkish investigators were finally allowed to enter the Saudi consulate Monday, nearly two weeks after Khashoggi disappeared. Cleaners with disinfectant, mops and buckets were seen entering the building’s main door before investigators were let in. Despite this, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters Tuesday that police had found evidence of toxic materials and signs that some surfaces had been repainted at the consulate. A forensics team searched the garden area and garage underneath the Saudi consul general’s house, which is nearby the consulate building. The consul general himself has not been seen in public since the scandal erupted. Pompeo was expected to travel to Turkey on Wednesday.

ADDITIONAL READ: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of President Trump’s, departed ways Tuesday by accusing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of ordering the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Graham called him a “rogue crown prince” who is jeopardizing relations with the US, saying: “Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MbS knowing it.”

ADDITIONAL READ: Washington Post reporter Philip Bump writes that while President Trump may not have actual financial interests “in” Saudi Arabia, he has lots of financial interests “with” the Kingdom, which could explain Trump’s remarkably passive treatment of the crown prince.


Yemen’s Children Are Starving: Estimates of the scale of famine in Yemen made by aid agencies at the UN general assembly just two weeks ago have already been overtaken by currency decline and soaring food prices. Up to 14 million people are now at risk of starvation in what humanitarians are calling the world’s most lethal famine in 100 years. Children are suffering most, and Britain announced Tuesday it would provide further aid to tackle malnutrition among Yemen’s children. But critics say the crisis is being caused, not by lack of food, but by the three-year-old civil war; what Britain should do first is stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. (Guardian)

This Time England Spills Their Own TeaA new report released Tuesday from a retired High Court judge says the British parliament is populated by bullies, gropers and sexual harassers who are allowed to thrive in a frat-house-from-hell culture “cascading from the top down….” Women working at the House of Commons, the British chamber comparable to the US House of Representatives, were routinely verbally abused, mocked, and insulted in vulgar terms. 200 people gave testimony for the report, including some who had settled complaints or left the Commons. The report declined to name individual perpetrators, but did blame Speaker John Bercow and Clerk of the Commons, Sir David Natzler for the sordid atmosphere. Calls began immediately for 55-year-old Bercow to resign. (WaPo)

Lite On Bud Light: For people who aren’t that interested in the life-threatening impacts of global warming such as ice-cap melting, species’ extinction and lethal storm disasters, perhaps this will capture some attention: according to new research published in the journal Nature Plants, extreme heat waves and droughts will increasingly damage the world’s barley crop, in turn causing dramatic shortages in beer. “If you still want to still have a couple of pints of beer while you watch the football, then climate change [action] is the only way out. This is the key message,” one researcher said. (Guardian)


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Honey, I Blew Up The Deficit: Republicans insisted economic growth would tackle any increased federal deficit and make up for massive tax cuts enacted last year. Not surprisingly, however, the deficit ballooned to $779 billion in the fiscal year that ended September 30. Despite huge corporate profits, corporate tax collections fell by 31 percent; individual income taxes grew by 1 percent, but overall tax receipts were flat. The government is expected to have to borrow more than a trillion dollars next year. The White House argued that government spending is to blame for the cavernous deficit, even though spending rose just 3 percent during the fiscal year and spending as a share of the economy actually shrank. Senate Republicans believe they can contain the deficit by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. (NPR)

Silver Linings Political Playbook: Nate Silver has distinguished himself in the arcane field of statistical journalism. Talking about the roller-coaster ride that was the 2016 election and how surprised many journalists and political junkies were by what happened, Silver said: “Media understanding about probability, margin of error and uncertainty is very poor.” Now with just three weeks to go before the midterms, Silver is seeing some of the same tendencies in media coverage and social-media chatter that plagued 2016’s coverage. He says a lot of people think they know exactly what’s going to happen, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty. For example, he offered: “People should not be that surprised by a Democratic Senate or a Republican House.” (WaPo)

ADDITIONAL READ: West Virginia and Tennessee are crucial to Democrats winning back the Senate in the midterm elections next month. They probably need to win both to flip the narrow 51-49 Republican majority. (Guardian)

– “NPR Poll: Rural Americans Are Worried About Addiction And Jobs, But Remain Optimistic” (NPR)

– “Jim Mattis Says He and Trump ‘Never Talked About Me Leaving’: One day after President Trump suggested that Mr. Mattis is a Democrat — an accusation that in past Republican administrations wouldn’t mean much but in this one is close to treason — the retired four-star Marine general brandished bipartisan support for the American military in Congress as a point of pride, not shame.” (NYT)


– “The Japanese Man Who Saved 6,000 Jews With His Handwriting: What the astonishing Chiune Sugihara teaches us about moral heroism.” (NYT)

– “The Man Who Broke Politics: Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise. Now he’s reveling in his achievements.” (Atlantic)

– “The Prophets of Cryptocurrency Survey the Boom and Bust: Inside the ongoing argument over whether Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the blockchain are transforming the world.” (New Yorker) We are skeptics. And we are tired of hearing that bitcoin and blockchain are the new internet. And we are even more tired of startups who use all of these words in one sentence to pitch their companies and product: blockchain, crypto, AI, AR/VR, NLP (natural language processing), machine language.

– “Discipline Is What Leads to Success: Disciplined entrepreneurs have the resourcefulness to solve their problem in one way or another.” (Entrepreneur)

– “The Employer-Surveillance State: The more bosses try to keep track of their workers, the more precious time employees waste trying to evade them.” (Atlantic)

– “Why do we feel so busy? It’s all our hidden ‘shadow work’: Automation was supposed to take care of the tedious jobs, so we could enjoy more leisure time” (Guardian)


“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.” – Seneca

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