Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Proposing A Judicial Coup Via A Tax Bill

On today's Washington Post editorial page in a column entitled "Packing the courts like a turducken" (a deboned duck within a deboned chicken within a deboned turkey, or something like that, all for Thanksgiving, thank you), Ronald A. Klain not only reports on the actual push to pack courts with lots of young, incompetent extremists that is going on after Congress sat on judicial nominees by Obama in recent years, but also a proposal coming from a co-founder of the Federalist Society, Steven Calabresi.  He both wants to expand the judiciary by 50% and have them all appointed in the next year, but to  replace the 158 administrative law judges with lifetime appointments by the president.  The latter are currently only appointed for one term and are civil service personnel passing on issues dealing with such agencies as the EPA and the SEC. 

Most particularly, he suggests that this be packed into the current tax bill, a true turducken. The only good thing about this is that it does not look like anybody in Congress is pushing it.  But if they did, this would put the US even more in the same category as nations like Turkey, Russia, and Hungary where executive authorities move vigorously to take direct control over formerly independent judiciaries.  It is bad enough the degree to which this sort of thing is actually happening as it is.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Two Powerful Women Losing Power

That would be respective Angela Merkel and Janet Yellen, both reported to have lost a lot of power in today's Washington Post.  During at least the last year, if not the last four, they have been probably the two most powerful women on the planet.

In the case of Merkel, what has happened is that she has failed to form a coalition government after last month's election, which put her and her party in the lead, but not enough so to allow her to push through to a coalition government, with the hard right Alternative for Democracy (AfD) getting seats.in the Bundestag.  She had been trying to form a "Jamaica" coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats, but the latter withdrew from the negotiations for reasons the WaPo story did not clarify (quality of reporting at WaPo has been declining steadily for some time).  Apparently she then made a last gasp effort to negotiate another "grand coalition" with the Social Democrats, but having lost a lot of support due to having been in such an arrangement prior to the last election, they refused.

It looks like she will call for another round of elections in January, and the AfD is crowing with delight for an apparent triumph on their part.  I guess we shall see.  In the meantime, aside from her personal embarrassment, EU-Brexit negotiations are now reportedly in a stall pattern as nobody wants to sign on to anything without a definitely in-place government in Germany to approve or disapprove of it.   Merkel may yet regain her power if the January elections go more firmly her way, although she may well be forced to step aside as Kanzler der Bundes Deutsches Republik and more completely and thoroughly lose power. Many fear the results of the latter, although if it were to be due to a government led by the SocDems, many hear might cheer.

As for Janet Yellen, obviously she had already taken a hit with Donald Trump violating precedent by failing to reappoint her as Chair of the Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System, even though he had praised her job performance, but claimed that he needed to "make his mark."  I fear we have had all too much of that already.  In any case, while she could have remained as a governor until 2024, today's WaPo reports that she has sent a letter of resignation to Trump and will remove herself from the board when she steps down as Chair in February, thereby giving him yet another seat to fill on the board.

It is no secret that I am and long have been a great fan of Janet Yellen's, having been the very first person to call for her appointment as Chair all the way back in 2009.  I regret this decision, but understand that probably her husband, George Akerlof, is pleased and looking forward to moving back to the Berkeley hills.  I wish them both the best, even as I regret her departure.

While there may be a touch of sexism in Trump's decision, I do not think that has much to do with Merkel's current difficulties.  Nevertheless, I think it is unfortunate that these two very capable women who have wielded great power recently will not be doing so at least in the near future.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, November 17, 2017

ARAMCO CEO Is Delusional

Financial Times reported yesterday that Amin Nasser, the CEO of the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO, currently 100% owned by the Saudi government, although originally founded by four former US oil company majors), has declared that investors should feel pleased that Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman has arrested and purged over 200 Saudi princes, government officials, and private businessmen.  This is because this was strictly an anti-corruption move, and foreign investors can be assured that there will now be no corruption in the Kingdom. Really, he said this.

Now I declared in my post title that Nasser is delusional, but I doubt it.  I suspect that he is a very smart guy. The question is whether he can convince any potential buyers of the upcoming possibly $2 trillion Initial Public Offering of 5% of ARAMCO stock that indeed this purge sends a good signal to them about buying ARAMCO stock.  Wow, the nation will now be rid of corruption, and, no, future investor, you need have no fear of being arbitrarily arrested or having your assets seized by MbS, none whatsoever, not that you were worrying about those things previously, but now you really do not need to worry about them at all.

Of course on the very same page of the FT there was another article about how MbS's purge has rattled world oil markets, with oil prices now sharply falling after sharply rising after he made his purge.  Nobody knows what the implications are or what the heck is going on, but, hey, no problem, no need to worry, Inshallah bukra maalesh (God willing tomorrow no problem, a fave line in KSA).  In any case, Nasser's public statement will undoubtedly completely reassure everybody, and all will become extremely calm before we know it.

Oh, there is also the matter of where this IPO will happen, touted to be the largest in history.  New York and London stock exchanges have actually been competing with each other to host it, but in fact in the end this may not be such a good idea and they may not be in the running for real anyway.  According to the FT the Saudis are also considering Hong Kong and Tokyo, but at the end of the article it was floated what I have all along expected and predicted: that the IPO will be handled out of Riyadh's own exchange with specially targeted sales to specially targeted individuals, with a lot of them being local big money Saudis.  So maybe Nasser's speech was not for all the foolish foreigners, but for the well-off locals: buy when we tell you to or else you can join the officially designated-to-be-corrupt 200 plus..

Barkley Rosser

Monday, November 13, 2017

Stranded Assets Rewind

There’s a Dangerous Bubble in the Fossil-Fuel Economy, and the Trump Administration Is Making It Worse...
"In reversing many of Obama’s keystone climate and environmental policies, Pruitt and Trump are conveniently ignoring these market signals in order to help out the fossil-fuel millionaires and billionaires who put them in office. Their actions could have disastrous consequences, not only for the climate but also for the global economy."
Where are the economists on this? Oh, right -- talking about tax cuts and Fed rate hikes. Using Economist's View as my sample, I found no links whose title indicated it was about the stranded assets carbon bubble in the two weeks following publication of the above article by Carolyn Kormann in the New Yorker on October 19th. Zero. 

I actually think that Kormann is unduly optimistic in her analysis. My suspicion is that there was already a massive carbon bubble prior to the 2016 election that was being wound down excruciatingly slowly. The election of the coal-guzzling orange groper stopped that winding-down in its tracks and ushered in a fossil-fueled feeding frenzy at The Last Chance Texaco.

And where are the economists?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Saudi Crown Prince Attempts To Destabilize Lebanon

Of course that is not what Muhammed bin Salman (MbS) or his mouthpieces claim, but it is pretty much what every commentator I have seen outside of Saudi Arabia thinks is the likely outcome of his most recent actions, taken on the heels of his purge/arrests of over 200 people, with apparently more possibly about to be swept up in a supposed anti-corruption drive, although as Anne Applebaum put it, "In some countries a person is charges with corruption and then arrested, while in others they are arrested and then charged with corruption, with Saudi Arabia being among these latter."  An unfortunate aspect of the current situation is that there are many loose ends and uncertainties, with many people in Lebanon making accusations that are being denied by Saudi authorities, but with no credible denials of the charges coming from those most affected and involved.

What KSA has done is invite the premier of Lebannon, Saad al-Hariri to visit KSA and then have him announce Riyadh his resignation from that position.  While he seems to have said little of any substance in his resignation speech and has said basically nothing since then nor made any public appearances that I am aware of, Saudi authorities said that the reason for this resignation was that he was in danger of being assassinated by Hezbollah or other enemies, which had happened to his father Raif in 2005, making this suggestion/accusation have some credibility.  Raif had also been premier, a position guaranteed to a Sunni as part of the Syrian government and Hezbollah, the latter a longstanding relationship.

As it is, nobody in Lebanon has accepted al-Hariri's resignation, including the members of his own party, the Forward Movement, although they have so far defended the Saudis against criticism of their actions.  All the major political figures have demanded that he return to Lebanon so that he can resign there if he so wishes, including both his rivals such as Aoun and Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, as well as the members of his party.  Those in the rival parties, although all in the coalition together, have charged the Saudis with putting al-Hariri under house  arrest and forcibly preventing him from returning to Lebanon.  What he actually can do or wants to do is unknown.

It is reported today in WaPo that the Saudis have forced al-Hariri to step down for not confronting Hezbollah and trying to reduce Iranian influence in Lebanon and its ruling coalition.  Reportedly they are trying to convince his older brother, Bahaa, to take over as premier, but Bahaa is refusing so far.  They also have urged other brothers (I do not know how many there are) who are hanging out in KSA (where their father made over a billion dollars) to return to Lebanon to support this effort and to pick a fight with Hezbollah.  So far apparently none of them have responded favorably to these entreaties.

I shall only briefly note that MbS has been making a variety of seriously dumb moves.  I guess we shall have to wait and see if his purge/arrests of over 200 high level Saudis will work out internally beyond simply temporarily cementing his power and wealth.  However, his two foreign ventures prior to this matter have turned into complete botches, with one a full-blown disaster.  That would be Yemen, where a massive cholera outbreak is happening, along with famine, both of these aggravated by the recent blockade put in place against the Houthis. MbS started a war against them two years ago, with all the noise being that they would make short work of the Houthis, but it has not come to pass, only a massive humanitarian disaster. Of course, President Obama supported this war by KSA against Yemen, if not as enthusiastically as President Trump reportedly has.

The other botch, not nearly as humanly destructive, has been the Qatar farce, with MbS leading UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt into their boycott and embargo and numerous demands against Qatar for being supposedly too friendly with Iran (who is also supposedly behind the naughty Houthis in Yemen).  Needless to say, Qatar has not only completely succeeded in not falling or giving in to KSA, and indeed has become much friendlier and more openly so with Iran.  So, MbS seems to have a terrible track record regarding foreign affairs, and this move towards Lebanon seems to be his stupidest move yet, more obviously a hopeless botch upfront even more than these other two, which many thought would succeed when he first got them going.  This Lebanon venture is hopeless, although it could bring war in Lebanon with death and destruction, just as has happened in Yemen.

Trump has supported the war in Yemen, the purge/arrests of top Saudis, and also the move on Qatar, although his top foreign policy people have tried to undo the latter.  However, so far he has had nothing to say about this Lebanon move, while SecState Tillerson has come out against it.  Maybe on this one, even he is aware that MbS is messing up big time.  We shall see.

Barkley Rosser

Addendum, 11/13: An article in Washington Post this morning reports that Saad al-Hariri gave an hour long interview yesterday in Riyadh on his own TV station.  He said he is free to move about, resigned "without being coerced," and will return to Lebanon "soon."  He said his resignation will provide a "positive shock" and demands that for him to withdraw his resignation, Hezbollah must "commit to remaining neutral in regional conflicts."  Reportedly Hezbollah has provided training for Houthi forces in Yemen, which may be of special concern for the Saudis.   Reactions from Lebanon seem to be all over the place, although nobody in al-Hariri's party seems to be fully supporting his story, while also not specifically denying it.

A curious note is the following in the article, which I shall simply quote without comment:

"At times his eyes appeared to dart away from the interviewer, Paula Yacoubian, to a man behind a window of the studio."


Friday, November 10, 2017

Freedom of Speech for Fascists?

I just finished reading the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s profile of Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.  I don’t know how accurate it is as a portrayal of Bray and his ideas, but it seems like a sober, fair-minded overview of the debate over anti-fascist tactics and freedom of speech.

What the article doesn’t say, however, is that there are two very different bases for opposing public appearances by white supremacist and similar groups.  One is dangerously wrong, the other, which Bray presents, makes much more sense.

First the wrong approach, that groups should not be permitted to express themselves in public if they cause emotional distress to me or other people I care about.  You hear this one a lot: speech that I find demeaning is a form of violence, and there can’t be freedom for it.  There’s no difference between saying something horrible to me and punching me in the face.  No freedom for one, no freedom for the other.

This argument has its roots in a mindset that has become popular in much of the left, that the ultimate political goal is equal well-being for all, that well-being is essentially having a positive emotional state (or not being in a state of stress/despair/fear/etc.), and that actions should therefore be judged by the emotional response they engender, especially among marginalized groups.  It’s a deeply subjectivist conception of life and politics, one that puts feelings above “objective” conditions like economic status, access to social or institutional networks, risk of physical harm, or other measurable outcomes.  In fact, the primacy of subjective feelings is often asserted by denying the very possibility of “objective” anything.  (Objectivity is said to be a tool of knowledge/power to silence the oppressed.)

From a logical point of view, the identification of personal well-being with a series of transitory positive emotional states is indefensible.  First, there’s more to life than that.  Second, and crucially, one’s subjective emotions at one moment are weak predictors of future happiness; those much-derided objective conditions do a better job on that front.  As a teacher, I sometimes engender frustration in students, temporarily lowering their emotional hedonometer.  If I’m doing my job well, this is more than compensated by increased learning, which will be of more benefit down the road than an extra hour of emotional ease.  Feelings matter, a lot, but not at the expense of everything else.  And speech that causes negative feelings can’t be evaluated just on that basis; you have to think about the other consequences, direct and indirect, of listening to it, allowing it but not listening, or not allowing it at all.

Politically, the ideology that subjective feelings are everything is catastrophic.  It’s a claim with a long history on the repressive right: if students don’t recite the pledge of allegiance each morning at school my feelings are insulted, or if they burn a flag, or if professors denounce America, or if athletes take a knee.  It’s the same argument, just a different group’s feelings being hurt.  The only counterargument of the left is that some people’s feelings (people of color, gender nonconforming, etc.) count more than others’ feelings, but really, do you want to hang your politics on this?

At the deepest level, the struggle for social change butts up against the force of cognitive dissonance.  People have made commitments to the existing order.  They have dedicated their lives to getting a job and moving up, if they can.  They or their parents or children have served in the military, exposing themselves to horrific risks of violence (and not just speech) with often horrific results.  They have supported politicians hoping to get a better break on some government policy.  Then a social change activist comes along and says, these commitments were wrong, or fruitless or not good enough.  You should make different commitments, to a different economic or political system.  Whatever else activists may say, they are asking the people they are talking with to absorb the psychic costs of seeing their past actions in a harsher light—to cope with cognitive dissonance.  In the extreme case, imagine trying to convince the parent of someone who has died in a war of aggression that this death was in vain.  It’s not easy.

Serious activism can’t elevate subjective feelings to an all-important position.  You’d have to hang it up before you even get started.  Activism always confronts denial, a defense mechanism of the emotions.  It’s based on a view of the world that there really are objective conditions that need to be changed, whether that makes you psychically comfortable or not.

But the second argument, the one that Bray seems to embrace, comes from a different place, the paradox of tolerance.  If we want a free society, at some point we may have to restrict the freedom of those who want to get rid of it.  Fascists, religious fanatics and other extreme authoritarians are what we have to worry about.  Complete, unlimited freedom for these groups to organize and express themselves exposes the rest of us to a serious risk, one that has resulted in tyranny in countries that were once freer.  This is Bray’s point, and he has in mind the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1920s and 30s.  Of course, since it’s a paradox we’re talking about here, it’s important to keep both ends of it in mind: intolerance for the intolerant is also a form of intolerance.  This should lead us to keep the “good” intolerance close to its necessary minimum.

And what is that?  It’s complicated.  And people can disagree.  Which specific speakers should not be given a public forum at universities?  Which rallies should not be permitted?  The answer is not none, and it’s not “everyone who pisses me off”.  It depends on how we assess the risk to our future freedom if these events take place.  The paradox of intolerance gives us a framework for talking about it rationally.

It also gives us a basis for discussing the role of direct action—what aware citizens ought to do when their institutional authorities fail to act.  But that discussion is fundamentally political: what’s right is what has the best chance of protecting and extending our freedom in light of its consequences.  That’s the context for thinking about direct action tactics.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

President Trump Must Release His Tax Returns

I know, boring boring boring old news.  But now that he has had his hind end kicked by the recent off-off election results, it is time to get real.  He has managed to cover up massive amounts of crimes and violations of ethical norms because he has violated so many.  Nobody could keep track of them. But now that he has his behind kicked, and Mueller is zeroing in on him, it is time for him to deal with his most important violations and 'fess up.

So, in my view the biggest violation of them all has been his refusal to release his tax returns.  Of all the humongously numerous violations of ethical norms and actual laws, this refusal on his part increasingly becomes clear to be the most important.  Of all the mistakes the American people made in electing this worst president ever elected, this is the worst mistake of all, electing a person who refused to release their tax returns.

There are two clear reasons why he must release his tax returns, and I call on all media to begin demanding relentlessly and repeatedly, every day, even though the media views this as a dead and boring issue, that President Trump release his tax returns. The way I see it, every day that passes that he does not release his tax returns is another day piling up that he should not only be removed oa as  president, but that  he should be put in jail for a very long time.

So the first reason is just obvious and immediate.  The Republicans in Congress have proposed a major change in the US tax system.  It is not obvious that any such change is needed, given that the economy is doing pretty well, but, anyway, we have the biggest proposal for a tax change since 1986.  I am not going to get into the details of this proposal or how it is far less worthy than the one in 1986s, which it is, but there is this screaming out loud problem that this proposal appears to  have at least five if not more provisions that personally benefit him and his family, possibly to the tune of one than a billion dollars. 

However, the American people do not know and cannot know the exact size of this massive benefit he will personally receive until he releases his personal tax returns, which he promised to do and has not done so.  This tax proposal should not be passed until he releases his tax returns and lets the American people know just exactly how much he and his family will benefit from this tax proposal, misleadingly labeled a "reform."

The second reason is one he will resist more, but it is just sitting out there and stinking.  It is the matter of just how much money he owes Russians.  This may be why he will resist really hard releasing his tax returns, and why he had done so so fervently previously.  After all, when one of his returns did get out (from 2005, I think), he jumped on bragging about how he had taken advantage f all loopholes he could to pay as little as he could.  He said it showed what a good businessman he was, and lots of people bought this, and it distracted from this more unpleasant issue of his multiple financial relations with various Russians.

It may well be that this latter issue is why he refuses to release his tax returns.  But I thin kthat the former matter is why the American people must  now demand that he release them.  He and his family stand to gain from this proposal in the billions of  dollars.  Maybe the people and the  Congress will decide that this is just fine.  But we should know how our utterly corrupt and incompetent president and his family will gain from this current proposal before it is passed.

The American people must demand that President Donald J. Trump release publicly all of his tax returns as have all presidents for the last 40 years, including even Richard Nixon when he was under impeachment proceedings.  There is no longer any excuse for him not to do so, and this demand is so supreme it must override all the ongoing minor controversies and infelicities that are constantly being put forward by this worst by a longshot of all American presidents.

Release your tax returns, Donald Trump, or resign as president!

Barkley Rosser  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

An Important Centennial

Today marks the centennial of the Great October Socialist Revolution, known when I was young in the US as the Russian Revolution, and also perhaps more accurately described as the Bolshevik Coup. On March 8, 1917, people rose up from the streets behind women marching on International Womens' Day, leading troops to refuse to fire on them, a real revolution, which led to the overthrow of Tsar Nichoalas II and the putting in place of a democratic government eventually led by Alexander Kerensky.  He failed to end the war with Germany, and riding on a peace and "land to the peasants" platform, Lenin led the Bolshevik coup on November 7 that overthrew Kerensky's regime. Peace was made with Germany, and peasants did take land from aristocrats, even if more than a decade later they would have to give it up during the Stalin agricultural collectivization.  Arguably this taking of land by peasants did constitute a revolution, and certainly a different regime was put in place, the first officially inspired by the socialist ideas of Karl Marx.  Many would say that it would fail to follow ideals laid forth in Marx's writings, especially the horrors under Stalin, although others would argue that the bad things that followed were inherent or implied in his writings, if not explicitly there.

In any case, given the many Marxist-Leninist revolutions that followed, with the world's largest nation currently ruled by a party that adheres doctrinally to this view, which has recently been reinforced officially by a party congress, the second Russian Revolution in November is of world historical significance, for better or worse.  It is curious that in Russia itself it is currently viewed with mixed feelings.  There is a special this week on TV on Lenin, which is apparently showing his life with warts and all.  There is also one on Trotsky as well, amazingly enough, although he played a far more important role in the revolution than did his great rival for power, Stalin.

Views of these figures now in Russia are not what one might have expected.  Indeed, both Lenin and Trotsky are viewed as mixed figures, partly good, partly bad.  The figure who is undergoing full-blown rehabilitation with the support of Vladimir Putin is in fact Stalin, now viewed favorably by 50% of the population. Bookstores are full of books praising him to the skies.  Of course it is not his role as a great communist or socialist leader that is emphasized.  It is his role as the leader of the nation in the victorious Great Patriotic War against Germany ruled by Adolf Hitler.

Which brings us to how this centennial was celebrated earlier today in Moscow, which ceremonies I have now watched on RT.  Putin was not there, nor Premier Medvedev.  There was no mention of Lenin or Trotsky or Stalin. Rather there was a military parade that focused on the city of Moscow itself, with the highlight and emphasis being on recreating the November 7, 1941 parade in Red Square that presaged by just under a month the counterattack against the German troops then just a few miles outside of Moscow, a successful counterattack that coincided with Pearl Harbor and indeed was able to happen because of the non-aggression pact between the USSR and Japan, which allowed the Soviets to bring troops from Siberia, who were represented by soldiers in white uniforms, along with others dressed in historical costume.  The main part honoring this counterattack was preceded by older history, with people in period costumes depicting the Alexander Nevsky resistance against the invading Teutonic knights, people resisting the Polish conquest of Moscow in 1613, also ones resisting Napoleon in 1812, and, with the only reference to the centennial itself, some depicting partisans defending Moscow during the civil war that followed November 7, 1917, and then those depicting the World War II troops in great detail.

The whole thing was overseen by the mayor of Moscow, who spoke, with some WW II vets sitting next to him and receiving flowers.  It closed with current military cadets marching, followed by some WW II  tanks and armored vehicles that parked themselves in the square at the end.

There lingers the question of what would have happened if there had been no Great October Socialist Revolution.  Presumably this would have involved either Kerensky or perhaps Kadet leader Kornilov making peace with Germany soon enough to forestall Lenin being transported by the Germans to what was then Petrograd.  It is impossible to know what would have followed, although Kerensky's own political ideology looks to have been a variant of social democracy.  But it is questionable whether he could have pulled off making Russia a Sweden, with some sort of military dictatorship of some sort probably more likely in the longer run, although probably not a restoration of the tsar.  From those who praise Stalin and really like this celebration that just happened, the question arises if this alternative history would have involved Hitler coming to power and starting World War II, and would this alternative Russia have been able to defeat him.  There might not have been as large of a steel industry to build those tanks for Stalingrad and Kursk, but there also would have probably been more people around, including leaders of the military who would not have been purged as they were by Stalin in the 1930s  In any case, we shall never know.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Saudi Crown Prince Consolidates Power With Anti-Corruption Arrests

Everybody is against corruption, so it has become the new cool way to concentrate power in dictatorial societies to engage in an anti-corruption drive, as Putin and Xi Jinping have done.  Actually corrupt people may well be arrested, but somehow included in the set of those arrested are rivals of the leader who are conveniently disposed of.

So we now see it in Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman has been leading a special anti-corruption committee approved of by the Saudi ulama, and now it has arrested 11 princes accused of corruption.   As in other countries, many of them, possibly all of them are guilty, but included among them are some rivals of Muhammed's for power, and, indeed the full set of names has not been released.

The most important in terms of being a rival is the now former commander of the SANG, the Saudi Arabian National Guard, which was long commanded by Prince Meti bin Abdullah, son of the long time former King Abdullah.  Before Meti commanded SANG, Abdullah did so for decades and had the HQ of SANG on his own palace grounds within a wall.  SANG has long been the rival military in Saudi Arabia to the regular military under the Defense Department, which has been under the control of the crown prince since his father became king, succeeding Abdullah.  SANG has a base among the tribes, and it was SANG that finally defeated the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) uprising in 1979 that had led them to seizing control of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.  Abdullah was SANG commander at that time, and he had the reputation of having excellent relations with tribal leaders.  His sone was clearly a threat and rival to the crown prince, and now he is out.  The commander of the Saudi navy has also been replaced, although not clear if he has been arrested.

Among the others who are out is the Minister of the Economy, and among the arrested is one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest men, Prince al-Waleed bin Talal.  His father was long the leader of the secularizing and liberalizing faction among the sons of Saudi Arabia's founder, Abdulaziz. 

The crown prince has also  been making speeches about how he wants to encourage a moderate form of Saudi Islam.  I wish him luck on that, and his move to allow women to drive starting next June does provide some credibility on this front, although probably with major limits.  As it is, Saudi Arabia is apparently funding the building of many madrassas in Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh and Indonesia, where the local forms of Islam are far more moderate than even a moderate form of Saudi Wahhabism would be.

In any case, under the guise of cleaning up corruption, which he may be doing at least partly, it looke like Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman is cementing his power, following in the footsteps of such role models as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Virginia Governor's Race

I rarely talk directly about specific political races, but I live in Virginia where in less than a week there will be the most closely watched election in the nation for governor.  It is very close, and the Republican, Ed Gillespie, might well win, even though his Dem opponent, Ralph Northam, leads by narrow margins in most polls.  Sound familiar?  Sure, but why am I going on about this?

It is because even the pro-Dem national media seems to have bought into inaccurate characterizations of Northam's positions.  Most specifically, Chris Matthews on Hardball just had a guest on and they both were repeating the false claim that Northam supports taking down all Confederate monuments in the state, although accurately noting that this is a tough issue in the Commonwealth that Gillespie has been using to effect against Northam.  If Gillespie wins, this issue will be part of it.

The problem is that Northam's position is not that they should all be taken down, although he has expressed dislike of the Confederate monuments.  His position is that this is a matter of local control over locally controlled statues, which is the case.  He has said he would take down those "at the state level," but there are very few Confederate monuments put up at the state level.  As a matter of fact, current state law is against local control, asserting that local municipalities do not have the right to move such monuments.  This is a live and hot issue in Charlottesville, where the city council voted to move the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson off public parks.  However, they city has been blocked from doing so thanks to court rulings based on current state law.  This effort to move the statues is what led to the demonstrations and rioting and death in Charlottesville in August.

Of course the latest is that a Latino activist group has been forced to withdraw an ad against Gillsepie since the terror attack in New York yesterday.  That ad showed minority children running from a pickup truck with a Confederate flag flying and a pro-Gillespie sign on it.  Sure,  nasty,  but then we did see somebody killed by a Nazi running a car over somebody. Yeah, the ad was pushing the edge, but the hard fact is that the GOP has been running nasty and false ads against Northam relentlessly, which I am sick of seeing, which may be why I am boring everybody with this whiney post.

So, the Gillespie ads have been charging Northam with supporting the MS-13 gang, with horrendous photos of prisoners in El Salvador covered with ugly tattoos, with charges that Northam supports sanctuary cities, of which there are a big fat zero in Virginia.  There have also been scads of ads from the NRA against Northam, although some of these look sort of silly, at least to somebody like me who does not like the NRA.  So they have one where they show Northam saying, "I have a D- rating from the NRA," with them then shattering that with "That is a lie! He has an F!" but he was speaking to people against the NRA and he has spoken strongly against the NRA, but clearly the NRA is trying to get its people out to vote.

Another worry I have is a supposed "boredom" reported by WaPo about the race, which is why I worry that this darned New York terror attack and all these statues and NRA ads will get the Trump supporters out while the Northam people sit at home going "ho hum" like we have seen in so many off-presidential years.  I admit that I shall be totally disgusted if the Gillespie wins with these ads, which are repeated three times in a row.  They even have Northam aiding child pornography.

Barkley Rosser