Category Archives: NYTimes

How to Defeat Trump For starters, we need a patriotic Republican on the right to run as a third-party candidate.

Thomas L. Friedman

By Thomas L. Friedman

Opinion Columnist

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the magician-psychic Uri Geller, who was famous for bending spoons with his supposed supernatural powers. How did he do that? I wondered. I’ve been thinking about him lately as I’ve watched an even more profound magic trick playing out in our politics. We have a president who can bend people.

In so many cases, Donald Trump has been able to take people who came into his orbit and just bend them to his lying ways the way Uri Geller bent spoons. The latest is Attorney General William Barr, who, in only a few weeks, got bent into becoming Trump’s personal lawyer. But Barr is in good company. Trump took Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, who’d actually been bent against him, and bent them into fawning sycophants. It’s awesome!

How does he do that trick? Surely the answer lies partly in Trump’s energy source: Fox News, Breitbart and Trump’s own Twitter feed keep his base in a state of constant agitation and high partisanship, and Trump, seemingly with no hands, leverages that energy into bending so many Republicans to his will. With a few exceptions, like Jim Mattis, Trump also has a knack for picking people who are bendable.

And bendable people — people who, like Trump, were always outsiders or never on the A-team — are attracted to him to get ahead.

“Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from,” former F.B.I. Director James Comey explained in The Times. “It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

What worries me most right now is that if Trump gets a second term he’ll also bend all the key institutions that govern us. Already he’s softening the steel in many of them so they can be bent more easily.

Look at the dishonest crusade he has begun against the F.B.I. for “spying” on his campaign and how we need to “investigate the investigators.” Trump and his bent spoons are ready to wreck any institution that gets in the way of his re-election or unfettered exercise of power.

For America to stay America, Trump has to be defeated.

<p class=”highlight”>

I don’t want him impeached. He has to be voted out. Only that will restore the faith of the world that America has not lost its mind and maybe, maybe, will force a much-needed debate among Republicans, titled, “How did we let this grifter take over our party?”</p>

But defeating Trump won’t be easy, so I am hoping for three things. First, we desperately need a third party. No, no, no — not that kind of third party!

I don’t mean a third party that sits between Democrats and Republicans. We need a Republican third-party candidate who won’t just primary Trump but will get on the general election ballot and challenge him in 2020 in all 50 states — but do it from his right, not from the center.

Yes, we need a Republican who will do the most high-minded, patriotic thing I can imagine today — fall on the Trump grenade. That is, run against Trump from the right in the national election as, say, a libertarian — who could oppose Trump for his tariffs, his piling up of the national debt, his opposition to immigration and his immorality. This could siphon off just enough Republican votes for Trump to lose close races in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Florida. We need a Republican who will do to Trump what Ralph Nader did to Al Gore in Florida in 2000.

“Even if you believe (as I do) that the Supreme Court improperly stopped a Florida recount that could well have given the race to Gore, the fact remains that without Nader on the ballot, there would have been no protracted recount spectacle and no Supreme Court involvement,” noted Bill Scher on RealClearPolitics. “The official Florida tally gave Bush the win by 537 votes (48.847 percent to 48.838 percent), while Nader racked up 97,488 votes.”

Second, we need some dutiful people to bear witness. There is now a club of people who have served at the top of Trump’s administration in the past two years who either quit, because they would not bend, or were forced out after Trump could bend them no longer: Mattis, Don McGahn, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly, Jeff Sessions and Reince Priebus. (We also need to hear from Robert Mueller.)

We need them all to bear witness to the dishonesty, indecency and dysfunction they saw while serving Trump and to his unfitness for high office. We can’t wait for their memoirs or anonymous, ineffective leaks. They don’t have to take sides left or right. We need them to side with the truth. That is the essence of acting honorably.

It is high time they stopped holding their tongues while Trump lashes them all with his. If all those people bear witness at the right time, it could have a major impact. Elie Wiesel put it well: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Finally, most important, we need a Democratic candidate who can appeal not only to Democrats but also hold the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women whose votes shifted the House to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections and whose support will be vital for any Democrat to win the presidency.

I’m not endorsing anyone now, but I appreciated how Joe Biden launched his campaign by quoting from the Declaration of Independence and arguing that “the core values of this nation … our standing in the world … our very democracy … everything that has made America — America — is at stake. That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for president.”

I think that is the right broad message for Democrats, because this election is not just about who will deliver “Medicare for all” but about who can deliver “all for one and one for all.”

I think a lot of people today are frightened that the country is getting pulled apart at the seams. It starts with Trump: His extreme language and behavior, amplified by social media, fuels extreme reactions. And this is clearly heating up the society and stimulating some fringe actors on the right to physically attack people they believe Trump has identified as “enemies” of the state.

Surely one reason Trump’s favorability rating is nowhere near as high as it should be — given the soaring economy — is that many Americans are worried that another Trump term will bring us to a political civil war.

So Biden was not waxing nostalgic. He was saying in effect: “Let’s remind ourselves who we were on our best days and rededicate ourselves to doing big, hard things, which can only be done together.” To go forward together we have to look back. We have to get reattached to what we were when we were at our best.

Yes, virtually the entire G.O.P. political/media apparatus is now a Trump-bent spoon ready to serve up whatever alternate universe he constructs. But the country is not. If Democrats don’t fight fire with fire, they lose. But if they just fight fire with fire, we burn the whole house down.

You also have to summon people with a message of unity and respect; there are moderate Republicans and independents whose support is vital. It’s a tricky balance, and the Democrat who gets it wins.

 

 

Two Fake News Pieces but Must Reads

May 1, 2019

James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr

Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive this president.

(Mr. Comey is the former F.B.I. director.)
NYTimes,  May 1, 2019

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CreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times

People have been asking me hard questions. What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?
How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?
How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?
How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?

And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?
What happened to these people?
I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.
Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.
But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.
It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.

Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.
I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.
From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.
Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.
Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.
You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.
You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.
And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.
James Comey is the former F.B.I. director and author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”


April 30, 2019

Andrew Restuccia: The sanctification of Donald Trump

“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said earlier this year.

saint DonaldNicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

For his closest advisers, President Donald Trump is a godsend — literally.
Trump’s campaign manager says the president was sent by God to save the country. The White House press secretary thinks God wanted Trump to be president. And the secretary of State believes it’s possible that Trump is on a holy mission to protect the Jewish people from the threat of Iran.

Forget the allegations of extramarital affairs, the nonstop Twitter insults and the efforts to close the southern border to migrants. Trump’s allies insist that his presidency is divinely inspired.
“There has never been and probably never will be a movement like this again,” Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter.

“Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation, and only God could allow me to help. God bless America!”

Parscale’s tweet, the latest example of a Trump adviser casting the president as a savior, comes as the White House is preparing to host religious leaders on Wednesday and Thursday for the National Day of Prayer, an annual event in which people of all faiths are encouraged to pray for the nation.
The president, who doesn’t regularly attend church services, has emerged as an unlikely ally of the evangelical right, building close relationships with influential conservative religious figures. The White House screened an anti-abortion movie earlier this month, part of a broader strategy to energize evangelical voters ahead of the 2020 elections by amplifying false claims about late-term abortions.

But for observers of American history and advocates for the separation of church and state, the assertions that Trump’s presidency is endorsed by God are alarming.
“Christians should beware of a political use of the word ‘savior,’ which goes to the very heart of our faith. This particular statement is a gross expression of Christian nationalism, which I define as equating Christian and American identities,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “People of faith know that God is much larger than any one candidate, party, election or country.”
Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian, said, “What these political lieutenants are saying to the faithful is that, ‘You have no choice; God has told you how you must vote.’
“Republican administrations historically have talked about individual rights, the autonomy of the individual, preventing government from dictating political choice,” he said. “By bringing the sacred into politics, they are actually imposing a view onto his followers and depriving them of a freedom of choice.”
And even some of Trump’s most vocal evangelical backers have some qualms with the notion that God wanted him to win the presidency.
“If you give God credit for a good president, then you’ve got to blame God when you have a bad one. So I don’t think that’s the way to look at it,” Jerry Falwell Jr. told POLITICO, adding later: “I don’t think you can say that God gives us good leaders. What do you do when you get a bad one, say, ‘God messed up’? That’s silly.”…

Falwell said he would be attend a National Day of Prayer dinner at the White House on Wednesday with the president and first lady Melania Trump.

Parscale, who did not respond to a text seeking comment, isn’t the first Trump ally to make the case that Trump is carrying out God’s will.
“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network News earlier this year. Sanders did not comment for this story.
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in March that Trump might have been sent to protect the Jewish people from Iran.
“Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Pompeo during a visit to Israel.


 

Trump declares ‘country is full,’ says US can no longer accept illegal immigrants.

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“The system is full and we can’t take you anymore…Our country is full, so turn around, and go home. That’s the way it is.’

But is it full? NOT SO!!When was the last time you traveled from New York to California, by train or by car and must have remarked the emptiness of our country?

“The United States is not remotely close to being full. Far from running out of room for more people, most of this immense country is wide open and empty. [While] nearly two-thirds of the US population live in cities — those cities take up just 3.5 percent of the nation’s land area. Add in all the other places where Americans live — villages, islands, farms — and the land area still amounts to a mere sliver of US territory… some 7 percent of the total. The country, in other words, isn’t 100 percent full, it is 93 percent empty.
….
The nation’s most populous city, of course, is Trump’s hometown of New York, with 8.5 million residents and a population density of 28,000 people per square mile. Life in the Big Apple may not be for everyone, but countless Americans wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. Suppose, says Abbamonte, that all Americans lived at the same population density that New Yorkers do. He did the math: At 28,000 people per square mile, the nation’s entire population would “fit comfortably in the combined area of Delaware and Maryland.” At the even greater population density of Manhattan alone — 72,000 people per square mile — “the entire population of the United States, Puerto Rico, and other US territories could reside in the tiny State of Connecticut….Too many people? In many parts of this country, the problem is exactly the opposite. Population growth in the United States is at its lowest level since the 1930s, … America isn’t overloaded with too many people; if anything, it needs a lot more of them.
The overpopulation bugaboo is a superstition. [One more of Trump’s lies.] More Americans will mean more growth, more wealth, more power, more innovation, more influence. The way to make America great again is not to turn newcomers away, but to welcome them with open arms and no resentment. For if there’s one thing America has, it is plenty of room.”

Wasn’t it Angela Merkel who wanted to open Germany’s doors to more than a million refugees, thereby defining her legacy, a landmark moment in her career. Would that there were among our own leaders just one with that kind of humanity and courage. Instead we have a slew, most of them Republicans, of self-seeking and servile flatterers of Donald Trump.

Jeff is not at alone in his analysis and recommendations. Neil Irwin and Emily Badger say much the same thing in an article from the  NYTimes:

Trump Says the U.S. Is ‘Full.’ Much of the Nation Has the Opposite Problem. An aging population and a declining birthrate among our own native-born population mean a shrinking work force alone….”

Now the people we need are right here, at the Southern border, coming here by the thousands (that which frightens the white supremacist Donald Trump and his whisperer, Stephen Miller). They’re  coming to us for asylum having fled for excellent reasons the lawless countries of the Northern Triangle, Hondurus, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

They say they want to come in. That they want to join us. We ought to be opening our borders and welcoming them to our country. We’ve got plenty of room for their thousands and more.

 

The kind of “fake news” that our president would rather not hear.

Why is President Trump defending MBS?
Ok it’s for the cash infusions that the Saudis represent for Trump and for the Trump properties in the Middle East and elsewhere. The very best that Trump seems to come up with, to defend his friend, Mohammed bin Salman, is to play the national security card  (Khashoggi’s op eds for the Washington Post and other publications supposedly putting the Saudi nation at risk).
This is what joins our president to MBS, a lie. According to both of them the security of both countries is threatened, —in the US by refugee caravans, and in SA by “fake news,” that is real news, by real journalists such as Jamal Khashoggi, and the writers of the article below.
Once again Trump is playing the national security card, the very same one he’s been using to secure funding for his wall, his wall because the country is in no need of a wall on the Southern border, doesn’t want one. The people have said in a large majority that they don’t want it.

It Wasn’t Just Khashoggi: A Saudi Prince’s Brutal Drive to Crush Dissent

By Mark Mazzetti and Ben Hubbard      

WASHINGTON — Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia authorized a secret campaign to silence dissenters — which included the surveillance, kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens — over a year before the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials who have read classified intelligence reports about the campaign.

At least some of the clandestine missions were carried out by members of the same team that killed and dismembered Mr. Khashoggi in Istanbul in October, suggesting that his killing was a particularly egregious part of a wider campaign to silence Saudi dissidents, according to the officials and associates of some of the Saudi victims.

Members of the team that killed Mr. Khashoggi, which American officials called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group, were involved in at least a dozen operations starting in 2017, the officials said.

Some of the operations involved forcibly repatriating Saudis from other Arab countries and detaining and abusing prisoners in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman, the officials and associates said.

One of the Saudis detained by the group, a university lecturer in linguistics who wrote a blog about women in Saudi Arabia, tried to kill herself last year after being subjected to psychological torture, according to American intelligence reports and others briefed on her situation.

The rapid intervention team had been so busy that last June its leader asked a top adviser to Prince Mohammed whether the crown prince would give the team bonuses for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan, according to American officials familiar with the intelligence reports.

Details about the operations come from American officials who have read classified intelligence assessments about the Saudi campaign, as well as from Saudis with direct knowledge of some of the operations. They spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from disclosing classified information or, in the case of the Saudis, from angering the Saudi government.

A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in Washington said the kingdom “takes any allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously.”

Saudi laws prohibit torture and hold accountable those involved in such abuses of power, the spokesman said, and judges cannot accept confessions obtained under duress. The kingdom’s public prosecutor and the Saudi Human Rights Commission are investigating “recent allegations,” he said.

The Saudi government insists that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi — a dissident journalist living in the United States who wrote for The Washington Post — was not an assassination ordered from Riyadh. The decision to kill him was made by the team on the spot, government officials say, and those responsible are being prosecuted. Turkey and American intelligence agencies say the killing was premeditated.

The kingdom says that 11 Saudis are facing criminal charges for the killing and that prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for five of them, but officials have not publicly identified the accused.

 

After the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, Saudi officials acknowledged that the Saudi intelligence service had a standing order to bring dissidents home. What they did not acknowledge was that a specific team had been built to do it.

Saudi officials declined to confirm or deny that such a team existed, or answer questions about its work.

Saudi Arabia has a history of going after dissidents and other Saudi citizens abroad, but the crackdown escalated sharply after Prince Mohammed was elevated to crown prince in 2017, a period when he was moving quickly to consolidate power. He pushed aside Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who oversaw the security services, giving the young prince sway over the intelligence agencies.

Since then, Saudi security forces have detained dozens of clerics, intellectuals and activists who were perceived to pose a threat, as well as people who had posted critical or sarcastic comments about the government on Twitter.

“We’ve never seen it on a scale like this,” said Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst now with the Brookings Institution. “A dissident like Jamal Khashoggi in the past wouldn’t have been considered worth the effort.”

Mr. Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and dismembered with a bone saw. Turkey used surveillance video and audio recordings to uncover the crime, identify the team that carried it out and leak their names and photos to the news media.
Mr. Riedel said the team’s sloppiness showed that it was used to operating freely inside the kingdom and not under the watchful eye of an adversary’s intelligence service.

The Rapid Intervention Group was authorized by Prince Mohammed and overseen by Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide whose official job was media czar at the royal court, American officials said. His deputy, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, an intelligence officer who has traveled abroad with the crown prince, led the team in the field.

Another operative on the team was Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, a member of the royal guard who was promoted in 2017 for valor during an attack on a palace of Prince Mohammed’s.

Mr. Mutreb and Mr. al-Harbi are on trial in Riyadh for charges connected to Mr. Khashoggi’s death, a Saudi official said, while Mr. Qahtani is under house arrest, has been banned from travel and is under investigation, making it unclear whether the team is still operating.

American intelligence reports did not specify how involved Prince Mohammed was with the group’s work, but said that the operatives saw Mr. al-Qahtani as a “conduit” to the prince.

When Prince Mohammed locked hundreds of princes, businessmen and former officials in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton in 2017 on accusations of corruption, Mr. al-Qahtani and Mr. Mutreb worked in the hotel, helping pressure detainees to sign over assets, according to associates of detainees who saw them.

Many of those detained at the Ritz were subject to physical abuse, and one died in custody, according to witnesses. It is not known whether members of the rapid intervention team were involved in the abuse. The Saudi government has denied that any physical abuse took place there.

But it was only after Mr. Khashoggi’s killing that the extent of the team’s work began to emerge. Mr. Mutreb and Mr. al-Harbi were both in the consulate when Mr. Khashoggi was killed, according to Turkish officials. American intelligence about the team’s previous operations informed the assessment by the C.I.A. in November that Prince Mohammed had ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, United States officials said.

The C.I.A. declined to comment.

United States intelligence agencies do not appear to have conclusive proof that Prince Mohammed ordering the killing, but they have pieced together a pattern of similar operations carried out by Saudi operatives under the prince’s authority.

The agencies continue to gather evidence about Prince Mohammed’s role in the operations, and in December the National Security Agency produced a report saying that in 2017, the prince told a top aide that he would use “a bullet” on Mr. Khashoggi if he did not return to the kingdom and end his criticism of the government.

Intelligence analysts concluded that Prince Mohammed may have not spoken literally — that he was not ordering Mr. Khashoggi to be shot — but that he intended to silence the journalist by killing him if the circumstances required it.

The C.I.A. assessment has created tension between American spy agencies and President Trump, who has made warm relations with the Saudis a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

The crown prince has been a close ally of the Trump White House, especially Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Despite the C.I.A.’s assessment that Prince Mohammed ordered the operation, Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that the evidence was not conclusive.

The grisly killing of Mr. Khashoggi led to a storm of outrage in foreign capitals and a new scrutiny of the powerful crown prince, who had billed himself as a forward-thinking reformer with a grand vision to modernize the kingdom. But the journalist’s killing was just the latest in a string of clandestine operations against less high-profile Saudis, including members of the royal family.

American intelligence officials said that some of those detained in these operations were held at secret locations, including opulent palaces used by King Salman and his son, until November 2017, when many were moved to the compound surrounding the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton. At the time, the hotel was being used as a five-star jail in the kingdom’s anti-corruption campaign.

That crackdown became a cover for clandestine operations against Saudi dissidents, who were moved into detention in the Ritz at that time, according to American officials.

The Rapid Intervention Group also appears to have been involved in the detention and abuse of about a dozen women’s rights activists, who were detained last spring and summer. The activists, who had campaigned for lifting the kingdom’s ban on driving by women, included several well-known figures: Loujain al-Hathloul, who had been jailed for trying to drive her car into the kingdom from the United Arab Emirates; Aziza al-Yousef, a retired computer science professor; and Eman al-Nafjan, the linguistics lecturer.

At first, the women were not held in a prison, but were detained informally in what appeared to be an unused palace in the Red Sea port city of Jidda, according to Ms. al-Hathloul’s sister, Alia. Each woman was locked in a small room, and the windows were covered. Some of the women were frequently taken downstairs for interrogation, which included beatings, electric shocks, waterboarding and threats of rape and murder.

In an Op-Ed article for The New York Times, Alia al-Hathloul wrote that Mr. al-Qahtani was “present several times” when her sister was tortured, and that he threatened to kill her and throw her body in the sewer.

The treatment was so harsh that Ms. al-Nafhan tried to commit suicide, according to a United States intelligence assessment.

The women were later moved to the Dhahban Prison in Jidda, where the physical abuse stopped and their relatives were allowed to visit, Ms. al-Hathloul said.

Their trial opened in Riyadh on Wednesday, but journalists and diplomats were not permitted to attend, and the government did not announce the charges against them.

The Saudi official said that Ms. al-Hathloul, Ms. al-Yousef and Ms. al-Nafjan were being tried “in connection with activities that threatened the kingdom’s national security.”

In the kingdom’s effort to forcibly repatriate Saudi citizens living abroad, it was not always clear which operations were carried out by the rapid intervention team and which by other parts of the security services.

At least one Saudi who was detained in the Ritz and accused of corruption, Rami al-Naimi, a son of a former Saudi oil minister, was forcibly repatriated from the United Arab Emirates in November 2017. An associate of a senior member of the royal family, Faisal al-Jarba, was snatched in a midnight raid on an apartment in Jordan last June and returned to Saudi Arabia. His family has struggled to get information on where he is or why he is being held.

In August 2017, a minor prince, Saud bin al-Muntasir bin Saud, was sent back to the kingdom from Morocco. Last May, a university student who had dual Saudi-Qatari citizenship was arrested during a visit to Kuwait and sent home….

Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.

Mitch and Mike

These two”men,” Mitch McConnell the Senate majority capo and Mike Pence the Vice President, are terrorizing me.

While our democracy is in crisis, its very survival being threatened by our president, while we wonder if the Constitution, the rule of law, the separation of powers will survive Trump’s actions, these two, Mitch and Mike, are either in hiding, not willing to get involved (Mitch), or mouthing off (Mike) against LGBTQ people, same sex marriages, abortion and religious freedom as in the Hobby Lobby decision of the Supreme Court ruling that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraception. Religious freedom meaning for Mitch and Mike  not the freedom to worship but the freedom to exclude those holding different beliefs from “us,” that meaning as a rule white American supremacists, as in the president’s Muslim ban, and in the President’s ruling sending, yes, some 5000 U.S. army troops to stop the invasion of asylum seeking women and children on our southern border.

Whatever they are, Mitch and Mike,  these two are most definitely not prisoners of ‘traditional masculinity,’ that which the  new American Psychological Association guidelines describe as “a model of manhood marked by emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness.”

I take the above paragraph from:

Ross Douthat, In search of non-toxic Manhood in the NYTimes of 1/19/19

This forgetting of human experience, this perpetual present-tenseness, pervades the latest flashpoint in the culture war over the sexes — the new guidelines for treating male pathology from the American Psychological Association.
The trouble with men, the guidelines argue, is that they’re violent and reckless, far more likely than women to end up in prison or dead before their time. But the deeper problem is they’re prisoners of “traditional masculinity,” which the guidelines describe as a model of manhood marked by “emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance and competitiveness.” This tough-guy ideal encourages “aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict,” and tempts men toward rape, drug abuse and suicide.



What’s next? No one seems to know. And everyone is worried that these two and others like them are shaping the direction of the country.

Here below I’ve posted opinion pieces of Charles PIerce (Esquire Magazine) and Gail Collins (NYTimes) on the terrorists Mitch and Mike.


Charles Pierce on Mitch

There Is No More Loathsome Creature Walking Our Political Landscape Than Mitch McConnell

Yes, that includes the jumped-up real-estate crook in the White House.

As its first act in the new Congress, the equally new Democratic majority passed something called House Resolution 1. It was a massive anti-corruption measure aimed at restoring the credibility of American elections and safeguarding the franchises for those whose right to vote had been assaulted by 30 years of conservative mischief, both in Washington and in the states. It advocated a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. It proposed making federal Election Day a federal holiday, and it forbade both partisan gerrymandering and voter purges. It also mandated that the president and vice president reveal the previous ten years of tax returns. (Can’t imagine what gave them that idea.) All in all, it was a clear declaration of support for the right of all eligible citizens to vote, and for their votes to have meaning.

On the op-ed page of the Washington PostJesus, Hiatt, (an editor at the Washington Post) Really?—Mitch McConnell called it “a power grab.”

It would also empower that newly partisan FEC to track and catalogue more of what you say. It would broaden the type of speech the commission can define as “campaign-related” and thus regulate. Many more Americans would have to notify the feds when spending even small amounts of money on speech or else be penalized. That partisan FEC would also get wide latitude to determine when a nonprofit’s speech has crossed that fuzzy “campaign-related” line and then forcibly publicize the group’s private supporters.
Apparently the Democrats define “democracy” as giving Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate and leaving citizens more vulnerable to public harassment over private views. Under this bill, you’d keep your right to free association as long as your private associations were broadcast to everyone. You’d keep your right to speak freely so long as you notified a distant bureaucracy likely run by the same people you criticized. The bill goes so far as to suggest that the Constitution needs an amendment to override First Amendment protections.

That’s bad enough, but here comes the line that, if the WaPo opinion editors had any guts, they would have either cut from the piece, or killed it entirely.

I’m as firm a supporter as anyone of vigorous debate and a vibrant political discourse — but I don’t think Americans see an urgent need for their tax dollars to be used to bankroll robocalls and attack ads, including for candidates they dislike.

Jesus, Hiatt. (Hiatt a Wash Post editor) Seriously? Let’s ask Elizabeth Warren how firm McConnell’s support for vigorous debate is. Hell, let’s ask Merrick Garland how much he enjoyed Mitch McConnell’s vibrant political discourse.

In Closed Meeting On CIA’s Assessment Of Killing Of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi CIA Director Gina Haspel Briefs Senators.

There simply is no more loathsome creature walking the political landscape than the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. You have to go back to McCarthy or McCarran to find a Senate leader who did so much damage to democratic norms and principles than this yokel from Kentucky. Trump is bad enough, but he’s just a jumped-up real-estate crook who’s in over his head.

McConnell is a career politician who knows full well what he’s doing to democratic government and is doing it anyway because it gives him power, and it gives the rest of us a wingnut federal judiciary for the next 30 years. There is nothing that this president* can do that threatens McConnell’s power as much as it threatens the survival of the republic, and that’s where we are.

McConnell declared himself in opposition to Barack Obama right from the first day in office. There’s even video. Most noxiously, in reference to our present moment, when Obama came to him and asked him to present a united front against the Russian ratfcking that was enabling El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, McConnell turned him down flat. Moreover, he told Obama that, if Obama went public, McConnell would use it as a political hammer on Hillary Rodham Clinton. (Obama should have done it anyway, god knows.) McConnell issued a watery denial of these charges, but there’s no good goddamn reason to believe him.

He doesn’t have the essential patriotism god gave a snail. He pledges allegiance to his donors, and they get what they want. He’s selling out his country, and he’s doing it in real-time and out in the open. This is worse than McCarthy or McCarran ever were. Mitch McConnell is the the thief of the nation’s soul.

Charles Pierce is currently the lead political blogger for Esquire, a position he has held since September 2011.[8] He also wrote for ESPN’s Grantland.[9][10] He has also written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe Sunday magazine, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sports Illustrated, The National Sports Daily, GQ, and the e-zine Slate as well as the Media Matters blog Altercation, hosted by historian/pundit Eric Alterman.

Gail Collins on Mike

Impeachment isn’t necessarily the door to a happy ending.

Wow, so much Trump impeachment talk. People, how would you. feel about a President Mike Pence?
Never thought much about Mike, did you? But if Trump gets tossed out of office, he’s next in line. We’d have a chief executive who reportedly calls his wife “Mother.” Who has a rule that he won’t drink in a room where there’s mixed company unless his wife is present, or eat a meal alone with any woman he’s not married to.

The least alarming interpretation of the vice president’s rules of sexual separation is that this guy is such a wild man, he can’t control himself unless there’s somebody else there to guard a female in his near proximity.

O.K., no.

Then we’ll have to presume that Pence is living in a world of the old order, when women weren’t seen as normal employees, employers and colleagues, but as a different species entirely, defined by their gender, deserving of special treatment and special discrimination.

On a practical basis, if he became president, would that mean no private lunch with Nancy Pelosi unless Chuck Schumer came, too? If Theresa May wanted to sit down with him and confer about Brexit, would he be able to offer her a snack?

Wow, this is not beginning well.

The big Pence news this week was that Mother — er, Karen Pence — has taken a job teaching at a school that bans gay students and requires employees to declare that God does not believe in same-sex marriage.

It was a reminder that Pence spent most of his political career running against gay rights. It’s part of a larger opposition to all sex outside of traditional wedlock. In Indiana, Pence tried to drive Planned Parenthood clinics out of business. In one county, that left no free services providing testing for H.I.V. and it helped trigger an epidemic.

But hey, the Second Couple feel strongly about this, as a matter of faith. I’m sure they share their convictions with all their colleagues, neighbors and their good friend the thrice-married president. Maybe, while they’re sharing, Donald entertains them with stories about how he used to encourage New York City tabloids to run headlines about his adulterous relationships, and his fantastic ability to grab women by their private parts.

Just saying.

Religion aside, Pence is a pretty run-of-the-mill conservative Republican. He’s a great pal of the Koch brothers. He’s not any more likely than his current boss to want to do anything about climate change. When he was governor, his sympathy for immigrants was demonstrated by an attempt to prevent Syrian refugee families from settling in Indiana.

On the plus side, the Pences have a snake, a dog, a cat and a rabbit. As president, Mike would presumably put an end to the pet-free White House.

He’s been vice president for two years, and contrary to general impressions, his duties have not been limited to following the president around and bobbing his head. Although he does have a tendency to hyperventilate when his boss’s name comes up. You will remember that cabinet meeting at the end of 2017, when he gave a speech praising Trump that included 14 swoony plaudits, or in-cabinet-meeting-pence-praises-trump-once-every-12-seconds-for-3-minutes-straight as Aaron Blake of The Washington Post calculated — one every 12.5 seconds. They ranged from “You’ve restored American credibility on the world stage” to “I’m deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.”

Among Pence’s major achievements as veep was flying back to Indianapolis at taxpayer expense so he could go to an N.F.L. game and walk out when some players took a knee during the national anthem.

Also, organizing a Bible study group for cabinet officials led by a pastor who has described Catholicism as a “false” religion and who believes it’s a sin for women with children to work outside the home.

So what do you think? If Trump gets impeached, would we be in worse shape than ever? Some people think the succession would be fine. Like, um, Ann Coulter. (“If we’re not getting a wall, I’d prefer President Pence.”)

If you did an in-depth scientific study of all the American dinner-table arguments in favor of impeachment, I’ll bet when Pence’s name came up, two-thirds would include the words “Well, at least he wouldn’t bomb anybody.”

Good point! Still, we’ve had Donald Trump in charge for a while now and he hasn’t actually been all that bellicose. In fact, he seems to be wandering in the other direction, pulling troops out of Syria and bragging, albeit somewhat irrationally, that he’s ended the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Meanwhile, this week Pence announced to the world that “the caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.” We are used to that sort of loopy bragging in this administration. However, it seemed super peculiar coming only an hour after the world learned that U.S. service members had been killed in an ISIS attack in Syria.

So impeachment isn’t necessarily the door to a happy ending. But it would at least mean taking a stand against the idea that a president can obstruct justice and just keep sitting in the White House. And if Pence takes over, maybe nothing much would happen. Remember, this is a guy who spent 12 years in Congress without passing a single piece of legislation.

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist, a former member of the editorial board and was the first woman to serve as Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007.

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

Jorge Ramos: Trump Is the Wall

It’s not just about a physical barrier. He wants to hang an “unwelcome” sign on a nation built by immigrants.

By Jorge Ramos

Mr. Ramos is an anchor for the Univision network and the author of “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.”

Workers replaced sections of the border wall, left, with new sections, right, on Tuesday in Tijuana, Mexico.Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Donald Trump wants more than a wall.

The president, once again, has created his own reality, manufactured a crisis, invented an invasion, criminalized immigrants, made up facts and, in a nationally televised speech on Tuesday, argued for a new wall at the United States-Mexico border. “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?” he asked from the White House.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to ask for money for a wall. George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush built fences and walls along the southern border. Barack Obama maintained the resulting system of roughly 700 miles of physical barriers. So why don’t we want Mr. Trump to build his wall? What is different?

The difference is that Mr. Trump’s wall is a symbol of hate and racism, it would be completely useless, and it does not address any national emergency.

The $5.7 billion requested by the Trump administration to build 234 more miles of walls and fences would be an enormous waste of time and money. Beginning with the first, 14-mile stretch of border fencing, built between San Diego and Tijuana in the early 1990s, undocumented immigrants have shown they can adapt very fast and move to areas with no border barriers. Deserts in Arizona and open areas along the Rio Grande in Texas are now a favorite point of entry. The same thing would happen with a new Trump wall.

We also know that almost half of all undocumented immigrants arrive by plane or with a visa. They come legally as tourists or visitors and simply overstay their visas. The tallest fence cannot stop that.

Nor would a new wall prevent the flow of illegal drugs entering the country, as Mr. Trump claimed in his speech. Most drug seizures happen at ports of entry. And as long as we have more than 28 million Americans regularly using illegal drugs, we will have drug dealers in Mexico and the rest of Latin America moving their products to the most profitable market in the world.

The White House claims that 4,000 suspected terrorists were arrested along the southern border last year. That is simply wrong: A vast majority were detained at airports. Just six were actually caught crossing illegally by foot.

I have recently traveled to the border in California and Texas, and I can report that contrary to what the president said in his speech, there is no invasion. The undocumented population has not grown in a decade; in fact it has fallen to 10.7 million. And despite the presence of violent drug cartels on the Mexican side, the American border towns are among the safest in the country.

What is undeniable is the humanitarian crisis in Tijuana. But it is a crisis created in part by Mr. Trump. Record numbers of desperate families, fleeing violence, corruption and extreme poverty, have been arriving in caravans to our southern border. Instead of their asylum requests being promptly processed, as established by international and United States laws, only a few are allowed in every day. This policy of cruelty by design has unjustly affected children and the most vulnerable people in our hemisphere. These refugees certainly do not pose a danger to our national security.

There is no need for a new wall — except, of course, in Mr. Trump’s mind. The closest he got to building his wall was in January 2018, when Democratic senators negotiated a compromise for a wall in exchange for legislation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Then the White House unexpectedly walked away from the deal.

Would the Democrats revisit the offer? Luis Gutierrez, who recently retired from the House of Representatives after 26 years, once explained to me that it was like paying a ransom for a kidnapping. If the White House brings up the deal this time, it will put the Democrats in a moral dilemma: Protect the Dreamers — maybe including siblings and families — and, in the process, open the government. But the wall would be an essential element of any new deal.

It won’t be easy. It is no longer 2018. Things have changed dramatically. Democrats control the House and the wall has become toxic. And then, there is the racist thing.

The wall has become a metaphor to Mr. Trump and his millions of supporters. It represents a divide between “us” and “them,” a physical demarcation for those who refuse to accept that in just a few decades, a majority of the country will be people of color.

This is about more than just a wall. Mr. Trump promised it in 2015, in the same speech in which he announced his candidacy, the same speech in which he called Mexican immigrants rapists, criminals and drug traffickers. His goal was to exploit the anxiety and resentment of voters in an increasingly multicultural, multiethnic society. Mr. Trump’s wall is a symbol for those who want to make America white again.

The chant “Build that wall, build that wall” became his hymn — and an insult not just to Latinos but also to all people who do not share his xenophobic ideals. The wall went from a campaign promise to a monument built on bigoted ideas. That is why most Americans cannot say yes to it. Every country has a right to protect its borders. But not to a wall that represents hate, discrimination and fear.

No, Mexico will not pay for the wall. And it seems Congress won’t either. But the concept of America as an unwelcoming country to immigrants and uncomfortable for minorities is already here.

In a way, Mr. Trump already got what he wanted. He is the wall.

Jorge Ramos is an anchor for the Univision network and the author of, most recently, “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.”

HUIXTLA, Chiapas, Mexico — I’ve seen the ignorant, xenophobic rants on social media about the caravan. They’re terrorists in disguise. They’re criminals. They’re invaders. They’ve been sent to invade and destabilize the United States.

But in the main square of this small town in southern Mexico recently, all I could hear of the caravan were the children’s cries, and their laughter. Their faces — tired, surprised, innocent, anxious — are the best evidence against these claims by racist politicians and their supporters, propagating hatred.

Jorge Ramos

This Needs Context

“This Needs Context” from the NYTimes of January 9, 2019, the morning after the desecration of the Oval Office.

Have you heard this expression lately? Context lacking?  I read it a number of times just this morning while reading the Times (the Post also) accounts of last night’s speakers. What the president said was blatantly out of context, as in his case it almost always is.

For example, here’s the president;

“America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation, but all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.” and the Times saying:

This needs context.

Some economists argue that immigrants drive down available jobs and wages for Americans only if they are competing for the same jobs as the domestic work force. In many cases, immigrants — legal or illegal — are seeking jobs that American citizens do not want to do. Kevin Hassett, the White House’s top economist, argued before joining the Trump administration that immigration spurs economic growth and that the United States should double its intake of immigrants.

Alan Rappeport

And then the President had this to say:

“Senator Chuck Schumer, who you will be hearing from later tonight, has repeatedly supported a physical barrier in the past, along with other Democrats.” 

This needs context.


Twenty-six Senate Democrats — including Mr. Schumer — voted for a 2006 law that authorized about 700 miles of fencing along the southwest border. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump characterized the 2006 legislation as inadequate, dismissing it as “such a little wall, it was such a nothing wall.”

As part of his campaign, Mr. Trump promised to build a 1,000-mile concrete border wall. He sometimes calls the wall a fence, though he has also rejected suggestions that it is a fence.

— Linda Qiu 

And then just one more example of the president’s words last night : 

“Every week 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across our southern border.”

This needs context.

Most heroin smuggled into the United States does come through the southwest border, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest National Drug Threat Assessment report.

Fentanyl is a narcotic that is used to treat severe pain and is a key contributor the opioid crisis. It is also sometimes mixed with heroin.

But most fentanyl enters the United States from packages mailed directly from China through traditional ports of entry, according to the report, and through Canada from China. A lower-potency, lower-cost grade of fentanyl is also smuggled across the southwest border from Mexico. The fentanyl directly from China is far more lucrative for sellers because of its higher purity. The fentanyl sent through conventional mail packages has proved difficult for law enforcement to detect. Fentanyl coming from Mexico is often hidden in automobile compartments, much like conventional drug smuggling.

The president’s opioids commission reported last November that “we are losing this fight predominately through China.”

— Michael Tackett

Now the three examples above were all taken from a Times article this morning, “the morning after”, and they are telling us with understatement that the president’s words are in need of context. And “context,” meaning in these cases “history,” is what the words of this president, who tells us he doesn’t read, are almost always without. Trump is not really in the hotel and golf course business but in the business of making unsupported statements, that is, statements entirely without context, to persuade his base, the “thinking” of his base also being no less without historical knowledge.

Now those of us who think about these things, not Hélas! his evangelical heavy base who seem to no longer be thinking, have realized for a long time that this president is not qualified to be in the Oval Office. Upon hearing him speaking from that office yesterday evening it should be clear to everyone that he doesn’t belong there, in the Oval Office, let alone the White House. He is clearly an alien among us and ought not to be listened to but turned out, and turned out, impeached well before the 2020 election.

But yesterday evening, instead of turning him out our networks gave him a platform from which to speak his lies. One hopes that this august platform will not by itself persuade any of his listeners that he is speaking the truth and not simply making it up as he goes along, lying.

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Immigrants who were detained after crossing the border arrived at a bus station in McAllen, Tex., in June.Todd Heisler/The New York Times

How the United States may fall into Tyranny

The Example of Rome, or what the Fall of the Roman Republic Can Teach Us About America

RomanCredit
Tyler Comrie; Photo by Paolo Gaetano/Getty Images

Review of Edward Watts’ book, MORTAL REPUBLIC
How Rome Fell Into Tyranny,

by Yascha Mounk in  The New York Times of Dec 25, 2018

Near the beginning of the third century B.C., the Republic of Rome faced an acute threat to its domination of the Italian peninsula. In a series of brutal battles, Pyrrhus of Epirus and a fearsome parade of 20 war elephants had managed to vanquish Rome’s armies. When Pyrrhus offered Rome a comparatively lenient peace treaty, many of its senior statesmen were keen to take the deal.
It was, Edward J. Watts shows in “Mortal Republic,” thanks to the unrivaled strength of Rome’s political institutions that Pyrrhus’ victories ultimately issued in his proverbial defeat. When the Senate convened to debate the offer, “an old, blind senator named Appius Claudius was carried into the Senate house by his sons.” As the chamber fell silent, he stood to chastise his colleagues. “I have,” he said, “long thought of the unfortunate state of my eyes as an affliction, but now that I hear you debate shameful resolutions which would diminish the glory of Rome, I wish that I were not only blind but also deaf.” By giving in to Pyrrhus, Claudius warned, the Roman Republic would only invite more outside powers to mess with it. Low as the odds of victory might be, Rome had no choice but to keep fighting.
Unable to pacify the Roman Republic by treaty, Pyrrhus turned to bribery. When Fabricius, a senator widely known to be as poor as he was distinguished, arrived to negotiate a prisoner exchange, Pyrrhus offered him gold and silver so plentiful it would make him one of the world’s richest men. But Fabricius refused. “The Republic of Rome provides those who go into public life with everything they need,” he haughtily declared. Because even a poor man could accede to the most distinguished offices, his reputation was far more important to Fabricius than Pyrrhus’ money.
Taken together, Watts shows, these two speeches encapsulate the foundations of Rome’s remarkable success. At its inception, “the republic provided a legal and political structure that channeled the individual energies of Romans in ways that benefited the entire Roman commonwealth.” But over the following centuries, that foundation slowly weakened, and then rapidly collapsed.
Since the founding fathers explicitly modeled the United States on the Roman Republic, a study that investigates the circumstances of its demise promises to hold considerable relevance for our own times. As Watts puts the point, the principal purpose of his book is to allow “readers to better appreciate the serious problems that result both from politicians who breach a republic’s political norms and from citizens who choose not to punish them for doing so.” Does he accomplish that ambitious goal?
In Watts’s telling of the Roman Republic’s agonizing death, slow-moving structural transformations gradually sowed the seeds of demise. As the population exploded and the economy became ever more sophisticated, the growing share of poor citizens started to demand redress. But since the institutions of the republic were dominated by patricians who had much to lose from measures like land reform, they never fully addressed the grievances of ordinary Romans. With popular rage against increasingly dysfunctional institutions swelling, ambitious patricians, determined to outflank their competitors, began to build a fervent base of support by making outsize promises. It was these populares — populists like Tiberius Gracchus and his younger brother Gaius — who, in their bid for power, first broke some of the republic’s most longstanding norms.
Image

The transformation of Rome’s army compounded the challenge of growing inequality. In the early days of the republic, soldiers thought of their participation in military service as a civic duty. Commanders hoped to win great honors and perhaps to attain higher office. But by the late second century B.C., the army had essentially been privatized. Commanders knew that the plunder of new lands could garner them vast riches. Their soldiers signed up for the ride in the hope of gaining a generous allotment of land on which to start a farm. With soldiers increasingly loyal to their commanders, and commanders doing whatever it took to maximize the prospect of private profit, the Senate was no longer in charge.
It took a long time for these tensions to build. But once they reached a critical point, Rome’s descent into chaos and dysfunction was astonishingly swift.
During the century and a half between the days of Pyrrhus and the rise of Tiberius Gracchus, there had not been a single outbreak of large-scale political violence. Then Tiberius pushed through land reforms in defiance of the Senate’s veto. In the ensuing fracas, he and hundreds of his followers were murdered. The taboo on naked power politics had been broken, never to recover.
Over the next years, it quickly became normal for populist politicians to set aside longstanding norms to accomplish their goals; for military commanders to bend the Senate to their will by threatening to occupy Rome; and for rival generals to wage war on one another. “Within a generation of the first political assassination in Rome, politicians had begun to arm their supporters and use the threat of violence to influence the votes of assemblies and the election of magistrates. Within two generations, Rome fell into civil war.”
If we are to avoid the fate that ultimately befell Rome, Watts cautions, it is “vital for all of us to understand how Rome’s republic worked, what it achieved and why, after nearly five centuries, its citizens ultimately turned away from it and toward the autocracy of Augustus.” In a sense, the book fails in this ambition. Especially as it progresses, Watts, a professor of history at the University of California at San Diego, abandons a careful analysis of the larger trends for a blow-by-blow account of the many conflicts that divided the republic in the last century of its existence. At times, this endless onslaught of calamities — a new violation of some traditional norm, the latest commander to threaten an invasion of Rome, one more shift in the ever-fragile constellation of power — starts to numb the mind.
But in another sense, the sheer repetitiveness of the calamities that befell Rome only serves to underline the book’s most urgent message. If we were to make explicit the implicit analogy that runs all the way through “Mortal Republic,” we would most likely cast Donald Trump as a farcical reincarnation of Tiberius Gracchus. Like the original populist, Trump was propelled to power by the all-too-real failures of a political system that is unable to curb growing inequality or to mobilize its most eminent citizens around a shared conception of the common good. And like Gracchus, Trump believes that, because he is acting in the name of the dispossessed, he is perfectly justified in shredding the Republic’s traditions

If that analogy is right, the good news is that Trump will, once the history of our own mortal Republic is written, turn out to be a relatively minor character. Far from single-handedly destroying our political system, he is the transitional figure whose election demonstrates the extent to which the failings of our democracy are finally starting to take their toll.
The bad news is that the coming decades are unlikely to afford us many moments of calm and tranquillity. For though four generations stand between Tiberius Gracchus’ violent death and Augustus’ rapid ascent to plenipotentiary power, the intervening century was one of virtually incessant fear and chaos. If the central analogy that animates “Mortal Republic” is correct, the current challenge to America’s political system is likely to persist long after its present occupant has left the White House.

Yascha Mounk is a lecturer at Harvard University and the author of “The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It.”

Tom Friedman: Time for G.O.P. to Threaten to Fire Trump

Republican leaders need to mount an intervention.

Dec. 24, 2018

Doug Mills/The New York Times

Up to now I have not favored removing President Trump from office.

I felt strongly that it would be best for the country that he leave the way he came in, through the ballot box. But last week was a watershed moment for me, and I think for many Americans, including some Republicans.
It was the moment when you had to ask whether we really can survive two more years of Trump as president, whether this man and his demented behavior — which will get only worse as the Mueller investigation concludes — are going to destabilize our country, our markets, our key institutions and, by extension, the world. And therefore his removal from office now has to be on the table.

I believe that the only responsible choice for the Republican Party today is an intervention with the president that makes clear that if there is not a radical change in how he conducts himself — and I think that is unlikely — the party’s leadership will have no choice but to press for his resignation or join calls for his impeachment.

It has to start with Republicans, given both the numbers needed in the Senate and political reality. Removing this president has to be an act of national unity as much as possible — otherwise it will tear the country apart even more. I know that such an action is very difficult for today’s G.O.P., but the time is long past for it to rise to confront this crisis of American leadership.

Trump’s behavior has become so erratic, his lying so persistent, his willingness to fulfill the basic functions of the presidency — like reading briefing books, consulting government experts before making major changes and appointing a competent staff — so absent, his readiness to accommodate Russia and spurn allies so disturbing and his obsession with himself and his ego over all other considerations so consistent, two more years of him in office could pose a real threat to our nation. Vice President Mike Pence could not possibly be worse.

The damage an out-of-control Trump can do goes well beyond our borders. America is the keystone of global stability. Our world is the way it is today — a place that, despite all its problems, still enjoys more peace and prosperity than at any time in history — because America is the way it is (or at least was). And that is a nation that at its best has always stood up for the universal values of freedom and human rights, has always paid extra to stabilize the global system from which we were the biggest beneficiary and has always nurtured and protected alliances with like-minded nations.

Donald Trump has proved time and again that he knows nothing of the history or importance of this America. That was made starkly clear in Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s resignation letter.

Trump is in the grip of a mad notion that the entire web of global institutions and alliances built after World War II — which, with all their imperfections, have provided the connective tissues that have created this unprecedented era of peace and prosperity — threatens American sovereignty and prosperity and that we are better off without them.

So Trump gloats at the troubles facing the European Union, urges Britain to exit and leaks that he’d consider quitting NATO. These are institutions that all need to be improved, but not scrapped. If America becomes a predator on all the treaties, multilateral institutions and alliances holding the world together; if America goes from being the world’s anchor of stability to an engine of instability; if America goes from a democracy built on the twin pillars of truth and trust to a country where it is acceptable for the president to attack truth and trust on a daily basis, watch out: Your kids won’t just grow up in a different America. They will grow up in a different world.

The last time America disengaged from the world remotely in this manner was in the 1930s, and you remember what followed: World War II.

You have no idea how quickly institutions like NATO and the E.U. and the World Trade Organization and just basic global norms — like thou shalt not kill and dismember a journalist in your own consulate — can unravel when America goes AWOL or haywire under a shameless isolated president.

But this is not just about the world, it’s about the minimum decorum and stability we expect from our president. If the C.E.O. of any public company in America behaved like Trump has over the past two years — constantly lying, tossing out aides like they were Kleenex, tweeting endlessly like a teenager, ignoring the advice of experts — he or she would have been fired by the board of directors long ago. Should we expect less for our president?

That’s what the financial markets are now asking. For the first two years of the Trump presidency the markets treated his dishonesty and craziness as background noise to all the soaring corporate profits and stocks. But that is no longer the case. Trump has markets worried.

The instability Trump is generating — including his attacks on the chairman of the Federal Reserve — is causing investors to wonder where the economic and geopolitical management will come from as the economy slows down. What if we’re plunged into an economic crisis and we have a president whose first instinct is always to blame others and who’s already purged from his side the most sober adults willing to tell him that his vaunted “gut instincts” have no grounding in economics or in law or in common sense. Mattis was the last one.

We are now left with the B team — all the people who were ready to take the jobs that Trump’s first team either resigned from — because they could not countenance his lying, chaos and ignorance — or were fired from for the same reasons.

I seriously doubt that any of these B-players would have been hired by any other administration. Not only do they not inspire confidence in a crisis, but they are all walking around knowing that Trump would stab every one of them in the back with his Twitter knife, at any moment, if it served him. This makes them even less effective.

Ah, we are told, but Trump is a different kind of president. “He’s a disrupter.” Well, I respect those who voted for Trump because they thought the system needed “a disrupter.” It did in some areas. I agree with Trump on the need to disrupt the status quo in U.S.-China trade relations, to rethink our presence in places like Syria and Afghanistan and to eliminate some choking regulations on business.

But too often Trump has given us disruption without any plan for what comes next. He has worked to destroy Obamacare with no plan for the morning after. He announced a pullout from Syria and Afghanistan without even consulting the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the State Department’s top expert, let alone our allies.

People wanted disruption, but too often Trump has given us destruction, distraction, debasement and sheer ignorance.

And while, yes, we need disruption in some areas, we also desperately need innovation in others. How do we manage these giant social networks? How do we integrate artificial intelligence into every aspect of our society, as China is doing? How do we make lifelong learning available to every American? At a time when we need to be building bridges to the 21st century, all Trump can talk about is building a wall with Mexico — a political stunt to energize his base rather than the comprehensive immigration reform that we really need.

Indeed, Trump’s biggest disruption has been to undermine the norms and values we associate with a U.S. president and U.S. leadership. And now that Trump has freed himself of all restraints from within his White House staff, his cabinet and his party — so that “Trump can be Trump,” we are told — he is freer than ever to remake America in his image.

And what is that image? According to The Washington Post’s latest tally, Trump has made 7,546 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day, through Dec. 20, the 700th day of his term in office. And all that was supposedly before “we let Trump be Trump.”

If America starts to behave as a selfish, shameless, lying grifter like Trump, you simply cannot imagine how unstable — how disruptive — world markets and geopolitics may become.

We cannot afford to find out.

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Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award. @tomfriedman • Facebook

Why does Bret Stephens despise Ted Cruz?

In an op-ed piece,  Supreme Confusion, by Bret Stephens and Gail Collins, Bret among other things has this to say about Ted Cruz (btw he likes Beto O’Rourke, Cruz’s challenger in the Texas Senate race).

Bret:
“The big reason (that I’m drawn to the Texas Senate race) is that I despise Ted Cruz. That is “D-e-s-p-i-s-e,” in case I haven’t spelled out my loathing clearly enough. Would you like to know why?”

Gail: Oh, gosh, please go on.

“Because he’s like a serpent covered in Vaseline. Because he treats the American people like two-bit suckers in 10-gallon hats. Because he sucks up to the guy who insulted his wife — by retweet, no less. Because of his phony piety and even phonier principles. Because I see him as the spiritual love child of the 1980s televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Because his ethics are purely situational. Because he makes Donald Trump look like a human being by comparison. Because “New York values.” Because his fellow politicians detest him, and that’s just among Republicans. Because he never got over being the smartest kid in eighth grade. Because he’s conniving enough to try to put one over you, but not perceptive enough to realize that you see right through him. Because he’s the type of man who would sell his family into slavery if that’s what it took to get elected. And that he would use said slavery as a sob story to get himself re-elected.”

I too despise Cruz and any number of other Republican  Senators. My reason, being in most every case, that they are “fake legislators,”  sycophants, all of them, including among them the Vice President and members of Trump’s own cabinet,  all of them acting blatantly obsequiously toward their President, why?  in order probably in each case to gain advantage for themselves.  If I open up my thesaurus, these “men” of our government might be described more or less as yes-men, bootlickers, brown-nosers, toadies, lickspittles, flatterers, flunkies, lackies, spaniels, doormats, stooges, cringers,  and suck-ups.” In particular, the ones with whom I’m most familiar being John Cornyn, John Cotton, Lindsey Graham,  Chuck Grassley, Orin Hatch, Dean Heller, James Lankford, and the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, Mitch, right up there with Mike Pence,  the Senate leader of these masters of untruths.