Texas Senate Debate: Congressman Beto O’Rourke Vs. Senator Ted Cruz

Here’s the live feed for tonight’s Texas Senate Debate at 9 PM EDT.

Open thread!

Muhammad bin Salman’s Khashoggi Gambit: The Trump Doctrine in Action

The actual Trump Doctrine, which we’ve covered here at Balloon Juice extensively since the President gave his first campaign speech about national-security and foreign policy back in April 2016, is:

America’s allies are taking advantage of our treaty and other obligations in the national security space; America’s allies and peer competitors are ripping the US off through our trade agreements; the US should go it alone if it can’t renegotiate better deals; and only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly – or else. That only a President Trump could guarantee that the US would be treated fairly, whether in national security arrangements or global trade, was simply an extension of one of the major, if not the major theme of his campaign: Donald Trump would be treated fairly or else and only Donald Trump could guarantee that Americans, especially the forgotten men and women as he phrased it, would be treated fairly or else.

That the US will be treated fairly or else, and that only a President Trump could guarantee that happening became the central, unifying theme of his national security and foreign policy approach was actually a stroke of strategic communication genius. A significant amount of the President’s initial strategic communication approach was through tying his primary opponents, the Republican National Committee, and the broadcast and cable news networks in knots about treating him fairly. This included trying to get Megyn Kelly removed from debate moderation after he felt she treated him badly, as well as actually dropping out of a GOP primary debate on Fox News and holding a competing charity event for veterans because he did not like that Fox wouldn’t comply with his demands. And if they failed to do so he’d deal with them harshly. Then candidate Trump threatened his fellow primary opponents and the RNC by making it clear that if he didn’t feel he was being treated fairly by them, then the “or else” would be his running as an independent candidate, thereby splitting the Republican vote for president, and handing the election to the then presumed Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.

By making this the dominant theme of his national security and foreign policy approach, he was able to make a singular through line for his campaign – “I, Donald Trump, will be treated fairly or else by the GOP, the RNC, and the news media; only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that you the forgotten men and women of America are treated fairly in regards to both domestic politics and foreign policy; and only I, Donald Trump, can guarantee that the US will be treated fairly or else there will be serious and severe repercussions for the GOP, the RNC, the news media, elected and appointed officials, and America’s allies, partners, and peer competitors”. Here was the simple through line to connect Make America Great Again both domestically and internationally by placing America first. It is also the essence of the real Trump Doctrine: President Trump and by extension the forgotten men and women of America, as well as America itself, will be treated fairly or else.

Muhammad bin Salman’s strategy for the wetwork operation against Jamal Khashoggi is to leverage the Trump Doctrine in order to allow him to get away with having Khashoggi to be vanished by rendition, or as is now reported and most likely to have happened, extra-judicially executed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Crown Prince, who is popularly known as MBS, like so many other authoritarian and autocratic foreign leaders, has figured out that the President makes his decisions on whether he feels he is being treated fairly. If he feels that he is, then one can pretty much do whatever they want. If he feels that he isn’t, then the President goes on the offensive to deliver the “or else”. MBS believes he can get away with this because the President has publicly made it clear that as long as the Saudis spend money purchasing his properties or at his properties, then he likes them because they are treating him fairly.

At one of his 2015 campaign rallies the President said:

Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.

The Permanent Saudi Mission to the UN is housed in Trump World Tower across the street from the UN. The Kingdom owns the entire 45th floor. The Trump Tower in Chicago is running a profit, as is the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York, largely because of bookings from the Saudis. Even as almost all the other Trump branded properties posted significant losses, especially his beloved Scottish golf courses. Jared Kushner has also been seeking financing from the Saudis for his personal business interests. At this time it appears that funding stream did not come through. The lack of funding, however, has not kept the Crown Prince from bragging that he has Jared in his pocket, which, once reported, MBS denied.

Muhammad bin Salman is gambling that because the Saudis spend lavishly on the President’s private business interests, and that because the President doesn’t understand the terms of what the Saudis have negotiated in regard to their potential purchases of US military equipment, which are really just a bunch of letters of intent that have yet to be finalized., that the President will provide him with the plausible deniability he needs to get away with having Khashoggi vanished and mist likely extra-judicially executed. Despite the fact that MBS negotiated a huge discount from Jared “The Hidden Genius” Kushner and guarantees that approximately 50% of the weapons would be built in Saudi Arabia, which means that the sale, if it were actually finalized, would not significantly increase US manufacturing or jobs.

Right on schedule this morning the President announced that Saudi King Salman, who is actually just an infirm figure head, stated the Saudis didn’t do anything to Khashoggi, but it could have been rogue killers.

You know, rogue killers who just happened to be traveling on Saudi Arabian diplomatic passports, on Saudi Arabian government jets, one of whom was an autopsy specialist who happened to pack his bone saw, who just happened to be hanging out at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul when Jamal Khashoggi walked in to get his official Saudi marriage documents signed, and who just so happened decided that Khashoggi looked like a good guy to practice a little recreational wetwork and improvisational autopsying on. Which would, I suppose, explain, why the Saudi Arabians had a professional cleaning team in their Istanbul consulate this morning, which left shortly before the Turkish police were allowed to enter the building.

As long as the President places being treated fairly, and specifically his subjective understanding of being personally treated fairly, as the central consideration of US policy, we will see more of this type of behavior from the authoritarians, autocrats, despots, tyrants, neo-nationalists, and neo-fascists that the President finds so admirable. During his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl, he all but gave Putin a green light, and anyone else who was paying attention and might have similar interests, to keep assassinating people – from political rivals to opposition figures to journalists to defectors from Russia’s intelligence services – as long as they’re not American citizens and the wet work doesn’t take place in the US.

While there is an old political science/international relations axiom that state’s don’t have friends, they have interests, the Trump Doctrine has turned the US into a transactional state. A transactional state being run by the head of an ongoing white collar criminal and organized criminal enterprise. It is no surprise that authoritarians and aspiring authoritarians like Muhammad bin Salman are developing strategies that leverage the treat the President fairly part of the Trump Doctrine to get away with whatever they want in order to avoid the “or else” response.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread!

Untreated Mental Illness is Not a Joke. Nor a Political Statement.

Kanye West went to the White House today to meet and have lunch with the President, supposedly about prison reform. Prior to lunch, he and the President held an impromptu press gaggle in the Oval Office. I watched this live, except for the final couple of minutes as I had to take care of something. West, both just speaking off the cuff, as well as taking questions from the White House press corps as if he actually had any idea what he was talking about, was completely out of control. Including referencing his mental health issues and his IQ. Here’s the video of almost the full ten minutes of Kanye ranting and raving about everything from how the 13th Amendment needs to be repealed to do away with slavery (which is what the 13th Amendment does except for, in practical purposes, convicted, incarcerated prisoners), crime and violence in Chicago, manliness, his mental illness, his IQ, and a hydrogen powered airplane among other topics. And Jim Brown was there. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure Jim Brown knew why by the time this was all over.

Warning! This is unpleasant to watch. Warning!

Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle were a bit flabbergasted…

Apparently so was someone working either for the President or in the White House press corps.

Kanye’s antics have now made him a security threat to the United States.

I would not take this bet.

Also, the Oval Office is a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. As is much of the West Wing. How in the name of anyone’s Deity or Deities was Kanye allowed to bring his cellphone into the West Wing, let alone the Oval Office? This, in and of itself, is a major security breach. Of course letting a person with untreated mental illness because he’s chosen to stop taking his medication within arms’ length of the President is a major security breach as well.

Aside from the obvious inanity on display here, mental illness and untreated mental illness is not a joke. If you or a loved one or a close friend needs help, here are some resources:

Here’s the link to the National Institute of Mental Health’s help for mental illnesses page.

Here’s the link to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Open thread!


Tuesday Morning Open Thread: We All Do What We Can

Since some people liked the idea (and nobody spoke up who hated it), let’s make it official: Every Wednesday, I’m going to do a “One Good Thing” post, where we can remind ourselves that even when almost everything is terrible there’s still some good left in the world. I plan to schedule the inaugural post tomorrow for approximately noon EDT, which should give the left-coasters a chance to chip in. Of course, since I keep vampire hours, this means I’ll be trusting the FYWP ‘schedule’ function to work… or at least hoping that one of the daylight front-pagers will notice & force-post if it doesn’t!

… “We are up to 65,000 registrations in a single 24-hour period since T. Swift’s post,” said Kamari Guthrie, director of communications for Vote.org.

For context, 190,178 new voters were registered nationwide in the entire month of September, while 56,669 were registered in August.

In Swift’s home state of Tennessee, where Swift voiced support for two Democratic candidates running in this year’s midterms, voter registrations have also jumped.

“Vote.org saw [Tennessee] registrations spike specifically since Taylor’s post,” Guthrie said. The organization has gotten 5,183 in the state so far this month — at least 2,144 of which were in the last 36 hours, she said, up from 2,811 new Tennessee voter registrations for the entire month of September and just 951 in August.

Guthrie said the site had also seen a big jump in the number of visitors since Swift’s post, with 155,940 unique visitors in the last 24 hours — second only to the number of people who visited on National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25 when there were 304,942 unique visitors (The average daily users for the site are 14,078 in 2018)…

Open Thread: Taylor Swift Is No Longer the GOP’s ‘White Goddess’

Let’s face it, a lot of professional Repubs are just 4Chan fascists with better social training…

Tears on their waifu pillows!

Sunday night… Swift broke that political silence to endorse Phil Bredesen, the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in her home state of Tennessee—and issue a damning indictment of his competitor, Republican Marsha Blackburn.

“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions,” Swift wrote on Instagram, “but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.”

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she continued. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent. I cannot vote for someone who will not be willing to fight for dignity for ALL Americans, no matter their skin color, gender or who they love.”…

Swift’s endorsement provoked anger and disappointment for white supremacists on 4chan, who have created a bizarre fandom around Swift as the ideal white conservative woman. In a 4chan thread about the endorsement, 4chan posters bemoaned the loss of their pop idol, calling her “traitorous.” One user posted an image of a picture of Swift burning, while another added a meme saying the Bredesen endorsement had cost him his “last additional bit of hope.”

“It was good while it lasted, mates,” one 4chan user wrote…

Alyssa Rosenberg, at the Washington Post:

What makes Swift’s endorsements intriguing isn’t the sense that she’s finally caught up to her celebrity peers. By the standards of Hollywood, Swift’s declaration — “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is wrong. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent” — makes her decidedly middle-of-the-road.

Rather, it was Swift’s allusion to “several events in my life and in the world in the past two years” that changed her mind about going public with her politics. Though she didn’t specify which events she was referring to, it’s entirely possible that the confluence of Swift’s civil suit against a man who groped her and the #MeToo movement provided that catalyst…

Let’s #BlameItOnBrett — see if that discourages any of his newfound ‘economically anxious’ friends.

Local Voting Open Thread: Good for Taylor Swift

I was told Swift’s real profit base is pre-teen and young-teen girls (and their parents), and it’s my impression that those girls are a lot more LGBGTQ-friendly than their Tennessee elders… Per the Tennessean:

The 28-year-old superstar took to Instagram on Sunday night to weigh in on Tennessee’s closely contested U.S. Senate race, endorsing Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen as she offered a harsh rebuke of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican nominee.

Her endorsement of Bredesen marks the first time Swift has spoken publicly about politics.

“As much as I have in the past and would like to continue voting for women in office, I cannot support Marsha Blackburn,” Swift wrote, elaborating that “her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me.”

Swift specifically noted Blackburn’s vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, versions of which Blackburn has opposed in recent years. She also condemned Blackburn’s stance against marriage equality

“These are not MY Tennessee values,” Swift wrote…

In her Instagram post, Swift said she has been “reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now.”

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she wrote. “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”…

And if she’s just broken a few Nazi hearts, well…

A Few Thoughts on Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski

While we wait for Senator Collins to finish the longest public statement of “I’m voting yes” ever given in the English or any other language, I think it is important to take a moment and revisit the two much more courageous votes and statements of Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski. Especially so in the wake of Senator Flake’s weeklong end of summer stock reenactment of Hamlet that got so much press attention.

Here is Senator Murkowski’s statement to the press shortly after she voted no this morning during the cloture vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.

And here is Senator Heitkamp’s, which I also posted yesterday:

Senators Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s votes and their statements are important for several reasons. Senator Heitkamp is in the final weeks of her re-election campaign and it remains to be seen whether or not this will help or hinder her in seeking another term in the Senate. Senator Murkowski is not up for re-election until 2022. Despite the stated and reported opposition by her Native Alaskan constituents, as well as Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor to Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, her re-election is far enough off that she could have just kept quiet and voted along with the GOP majority in the Senate and it wouldn’t have come back to bite her if she does choose to run again in 2022. Instead she now has Alaska’s premier ankle biter and matriarch of the state’s most dysfunctionally petty crime family calling out the other attack dogs in an attempt to claw out another fifteen minutes of fame.

What Senator’s Heitkamp and Murkowski have done isn’t just cast a no vote. Read their statements as to why. Neither of them are denying that the President, regardless of what they may or may not think about the election of 2016 and his de facto legitimacy as a result of what occurred in that election, has the de jure responsibility and authority to nominate who he wants to the Supreme Court based on whatever process he establishes to arrive at the nominee. Rather they are both stating flatly that the issue here is that Judge Kavanaugh is not the right nominee at this moment in political and social time in the US. Neither are saying they wouldn’t seriously consider a different nominee with an open mind. This is important. Neither Senator Heitkamp or Murkowski are doing what Senators McConnell, McCain, Cruz, and others did during the 2016 election when they stated that not only would Judge Garland not get a meeting, let alone a hearing or up and down vote to fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s death, but that if Secretary Clinton were elected that they would hold that Supreme Court seat open for as long as the GOP held the majority in the Senate or as long as a Democratic majority in the Senate kept the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees in place. Instead they are simply stating that because of the circumstances and politics around this nomination and the current state of American politics and society, for the good of the Supreme Court, the Senate, and the US, Judge Kavanaugh was just not the right person to fill the current vacancy at this time.

Senator Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s stated reasons for voting no also gets at another important point that we all too frequently ignore, if we even recognize it at all. Specifically that the purpose of the political processes that have been established and then evolved over time, and that are right now being severely stress tested, are the mechanisms that transform what may be politically unpalatable into government and governance that is politically palatable. Part of what Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski took a stand for, in addition to accepting Dr. Blasey’s testimony of what she had to endure in 1982, was the recognition that the US cannot continue going forward where the politics of might makes right, which is at the heart of all forms of fascism, regardless of whether it is a majority or a minority that has that might at any given moment in time, rules the day. They recognize that what the President, Don McGahn the White House Counsel, Leonard Leo who runs the Federalist Society and whose dark money networks bankroll the Judicial Crisis Network, and Senators McConnell, Grassley, Cornyn, Hatch, etc have done with judicial nominations – and in the case of the Republican senators done so going back to the Obama administration –  has gone way past the point where the process can be used to transform the politically unpalatable into palatable government and governance.

Senators Heitkamp and Murkowski’s statements and the actions backing them up should sound as a clarion call that the system is fast approaching, if not already at, a breaking point. The subtext of their remarks is a recognition that the majority of Americans who did not vote for the President, despite his electoral college victory, or for either the GOP majorities in the House and the Senate, are fast approaching the point where Republican minoratarian rule, despite its constitutional/de jure legitimacy, is approaching the point of no return. That the relentless pursuit of power at all costs, whether through gerrymandering and voter suppression, manipulating and breaking the rules of the House and the Senate begun by Speaker Gingrich and perfected by Senator McConnell, packing the Federal courts, and/or the attempt to govern solely to the delight and enthusiasm of the President’s electorally minority base of white, largely evangelical and traditionalist Christians in the attempt to create a herrenvolk democracy, isn’t going to simply lock in permanent Republican control over the Federal government. It is going to irreparably break the Federal government and the United States polity and society.

While Senators Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s stands will ultimately not be enough to stop Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination, the importance of their actions should be recognized nonetheless. They didn’t attempt to demonstrate just how much more moral than everyone else they are while predictably doing what they always do, like Senator Flake who always folds like a cheap suit after giving a sad speech with a crestfallen look on his face. Nor did they attempt to once again demonstrate how thoughtfully moderate they are, while always voting with the most conservative members of the Senate Republican caucus like Senator Collins. Instead they recognized that what the US Senate, the world’s greatest deliberative country club, actually needed was leadership. Not kabuki theater or crocodile tears or a political dance of the seven veils. What we’ve seen this week is a contrast between two senators – Heitkamp and Murkowski – who recognize and understand what leadership is and those who don’t – Flake and Collins. Leadership, either formal or informal, is doing the hard things when everyone is watching, not talking about doing the hard things and then not doing them because everyone is watching and someone might get mad at you.

As one of my professional forebears, Dr. Bernard Fall, so accurately observed in 1964 (emphasis mine):

Civic action is not the construction of privies or the distribution of antimalarial sprays. One can’t fight an ideology; one can’t fight a militant doctrine with better privies. Yet this is done constantly. One side says, “land reform,” and the other side says, “better culverts.” One side says, “We are going to kill all those nasty village chiefs and landlords.” The other side says, “Yes, but look, we want to give you prize pigs to improve your strain.” These arguments just do not match. Simple but adequate appeals will have to be found sooner or later.

Whether they recognize it or not, Senators Heitkamp’s and Murkowski’s actions and statements indicate that they recognize that the US has reached the point when the political arguments just don’t match anymore. And that sooner or later simple, but adequate appeals to resolve these serious problems will have to be found. Sooner or later…

A political battle has been lost, the larger political war for both the nature and the future of the US goes on. Check to make sure you’re registered to vote. Pester all your friends to make sure they’re registered to vote. Pester all your friends to make sure they pester all of their friends to make sure they’re registered to vote. Then vote. Pester all your friends to make sure they vote. And pester all of your friends to pester all of their friends to make sure they vote. 

Open thread!