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The United States of Guns

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Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 12 people in Thousand Oaks, California last night. While this is an outrageous and horrifying event, it isn’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name — that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains — “besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily — sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane’s parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather’s barn.

The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

Tags: guns   USA
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acdha
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willhopkins
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history has its eyes on you

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In today’s Washington Post, Dana Millbank published an op-ed titled We have no excuses now. Our eyes are wide open. He closes by saying:

On Tuesday, voters will make a decision in what is the purest midterm referendum on a sitting president in modern times:
Will we take a step, even a small one, back from the ugliness and the race-baiting that has engulfed our country?
Or will we affirm that we are really the intolerant and frightened people Donald Trump has made us out to be?
If we choose the latter, 2018 will in some ways be more difficult to take than 2016. This time, we don’t have the luxury of saying we didn’t really know what Trump would do.

Our eyes are wide open.

I keep saying this: history doesn’t just happen. The world isn’t a story that someone tells, and we all ride along inside the narrative, unable to affect it in any meaningful way.

I am 46. I was raised in an America that claimed to be The Land of Opportunity, a place where all people are equal under the law, and anyone who was willing to do the work could make something special for themselves and their families.

That is painfully not the America we are living in now, and that didn’t just happen. This America, this country that is so xenophobic, so profoundly unequal, which treats nonwhite lives like they are disposable, which is currently lead by the most despicable, dishonest, openly racist and misogynist man to ever hold the presidency … this America didn’t just happen. This America was slowly and deliberately built by people like Ronald Reagan, John Bolton, Dick Cheney, George Bush and his idiot son, Newt Gingrich, The Koch Brothers, The Mercers, Fox News, Stephen Miller, and their malignant voice of hate and fear, Donald Trump.

Taking a look at my 46 years in America, it starts to become clear that, at least at the national political level, presidents like Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter are not our norm, as much as I wish they were. Looking at just the last 25 years, we see two presidents who were not elected by the majority of Americans, and we see a Senate that continually and gleefully abuses its anti-Democratic power to keep shaping America further and further away from the ideals of freedom and equality and opportunity that America at least claimed to stand for when I was a child.

What we are witnessing now is a fight for not just the future of America, but for her present, and for the rest of my life. Will America continue her march toward open civil war between the revanchist, paranoid, bigoted army of racists who make up the incredibly small but powerful Republican base, and the majority of Americans who are not bigots, anti-Semites, white nationalists, and misogynists? OR will we send a clear message that our voices, which are the overwhelming majority, will not be silenced, and we will not allow ourselves to be governed by Trump and people who support him?

Dana Milbank is correct in his column and in his assessment: our eyes are wide open now, and we know exactly what we get when Republicans are in power.

This election is powerfully and unambiguously clear: you are with us, or you are against us. You are with Trump and his hateful, violent, paranoid, racist values, or you are against him. This is the reality in which we are living, and you have to choose a side.

History doesn’t just happen. Every election matters and every election helps decide what our country is going to look like not just for us, but for our children and for the future. And though it isn’t just this election, (because we aren’t going to undo thirty years of right wing paranoia, voter suppression, and assaults on basic human and civil rights with just a single election any more than the Kochs and Adelsons and Mercers corrupted America’s free and fair elections in a single election) this is the first nationwide, congressional election of the Trump era. This is the first election since the Republicans stopped winking and dogwhistling and giving themselves plausible deniability, and openly embraced racism, bigotry, xenophobia, violence, and started proudly and stridently embracing the most deplorable ideas and beliefs in American politics since the Confederacy.

Put simply: if they can hold onto the House, if they can consolidate their power after they have made their intentions and beliefs crystal clear and without any doubts, they will be empowered to go even further toward taking civil and human rights away from people, because that’s what they’ve been promising to do since Trump’s election. History doesn’t just happen by accident, and what’s acceptable in America doesn’t just happen. In America, elections and the people they elect decide what history will be written, and by whom. In the past, a person could make the case with winks and nods and dogwhistles, and a voter could credibly claim that they were voting on the economy, for example. This election is different. This is the first election in my lifetime where openly racist, antisemitic, white nationalists are telling you exactly who they are and exactly what they will do if you vote for them.

It may seem like one vote doesn’t matter, or one election doesn’t matter. It may seem like “they’re all the same” or “there’s no difference between the parties” but I want you to consider that there is one main group of politicians in America (and their supporters) who don’t have a problem tearing a child away from its parents, who claim to be good, honorable, God fearing moral Christians, yet whose deeds consistently hurt the poor, the marginalized, people of color, and immigrants. There is one main group of politicians in America (and their supporters) who are appalled and revolted by the abuse of children and the destruction of any family, regardless of that family’s nation of origin. They believe that women’s rights are human rights. They believe that healthcare is a right. They believe that workers should have rights and protections, that the air we breathe and the water we drink should be clean and safe, that we can do more together than we can when we’re divided, and that all people, regardless of their gender, who they love, where they were born, who their parents are, how they pray (if they pray), and how much money they earn, deserve to live their lives in safety and prosperity.

Every election in America is a choice between these two parties. I know it shouldn’t be that way. I know that we should have more nuanced choices. But the reality is, we don’t. We can choose between a party that will tell nonwhites that they don’t matter and don’t have basic, fundamental, human rights (that are also their Constitutional rights, by the way), and a party that says their lives and their rights and their families matter. That’s the choice. In the past, they muddied things up with fear and economics, but this time is different. This time our eyes are open and we know exactly what this election is about, because they have told us what this election is about.

History doesn’t just happen. Elections have consequences. If Republicans hold on to power or — god forbid — expand it, they will make good on their antisemitic, misogynist, bigoted promises, because their voters will have told them that’s what they want.

On Tuesday, we all vote with our eyes wide open, and we have a chance to grab the pen that’s writing our history. Don’t let anyone tell you that your vote and your voice doesn’t matter, because history has its eyes on you.

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Photojournalism needs to face its #MeToo moment

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Photojournalism needs to face its #MeToo moment:

Kainaz Amaria has been thinking a lot about visual language and abuse of privilege, with strong insights:

“I hate to say white men shoot all one way, because they don’t,” said Nina Berman, an acclaimed documentary photographer and associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. “But there is a style of photography created and championed over the years that valued specific methods of working, aesthetics, and distance.”

She went on: “It’s basically an othering that comes from the belief that the man behind the camera has a privileged artistic sense, an inherent superiority despite rarely knowing the local language, or living in the region or neighborhood he’s covering, or having any sustained connection to what he’s seeing.” It’s no wonder, Berman said, that we’ve ended up homogenizing struggle with repetitive visual tropes.

That homogenization of our visual language means we have become fascinated with abjection and violence, and because those images we make have an unmistakable moral urgency, we presume that those “bearing witness” to all this darkness — to shock our consciences — must themselves be noble.

Perhaps it’s this sense of righteousness in our work that prevents us from having a consequential reckoning with the worst behavior in our field; after all, aren’t we the good ones?

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Gut bacteria recover from antibiotics, but they may take six months

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We’re still understanding the important and complex role that the microbiome plays in human health, though we do know that the trillions of bacteria in the human body influence our immune function and digestion. But beyond what we know, there's simultaneously a fascinating field of research and a lot of hype and scaremongering.

One thing we're still working out is how antibiotics affect the gut microbiome and how well it's able to recover after the treatment is finished. A paper in Nature Microbiology this week finds that, after a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, 12 men were able to recover to a mostly-normal microbiome level within six months. Nine species of gut dwellers, though, never reappeared; instead, there were some undesirable species of bacteria that managed to take hold.

Albert Palleja and colleagues first collected stool samples from 12 healthy men to see what their microbiomes looked like at the start. The small and specific sample means that the results can’t be generalized, so the study is less a statement on what antibiotics do to people in general and more an exploration of what the possibilities looks like.

Those 12 men then took a cocktail of different antibiotics used for a range of conditions from drug-resistant bacterial meningitis to chlamydia. The treatment was a modified version of antibiotic treatments used in ICUs, the researchers write, and “include[d] antibiotics given to patients with infections by multidrug-resistant bacteria.”

After a four-day treatment period, the researchers started tracking “process of eradication, partial survival, gradual regrowth and re-establishment of these gut microbial communities.” They checked in on the men’s microbiomes via their poop immediately after the antibiotics, after a few days, and again after six months.

Time passes...

Immediately after the treatment, the diversity of the men’s microbiomes was hugely reduced, but the bacteria were not entirely eradicated. After six months, they had bounced back, but there were some essential differences: the richness of the number of bacterial species that the researchers could detect was diminished, suggesting that “some microorganisms that were originally present may have been permanently lost or severely depleted due to the treatment,” write Palleja and his colleagues.

Follow-up analyses confirmed that some species had disappeared. And there were some bacteria that hadn’t been detected before the treatment but appeared in the samples afterwards. These are from species that form spores—almost like seeds for bacteria—when conditions aren’t ideal, so they might have been lurking in the gut before the antibiotics and emerged only when the other species were wiped out. Learning more about this possibility could help us control some of the bacterial infections that commonly occur after broad-spectrum antibiotic treatments have hugely disrupted the normal gut microbiome, the authors suggest.

All of these results come from just one course of antibiotics, but Oluf Pedersen, the chief scientist on the project, pointed out that most people will see multiple rounds of exposure to antibiotics. “In this case, it is good that we can regenerate our gut microbiota which is important for our general health,” he said. “The concern, however, relates to the potentially permanent loss of beneficial bacteria after multiple exposures to antibiotics during our lifetime.” Antibiotic treatment in groups like children and the elderly is also likely to have different effects, and properly understanding all of this complexity is a matter of ongoing research.

Of course, this doesn’t mean antibiotics are a bad thing—they’re responsible for one of the most dramatic public-health miracles of human history. “Antibiotics can be a blessing for preserving human health,” says Pedersen, “but should only be used based upon clear evidence for a bacterial cause of infection.”

Nature Microbiology, 2018. DOI: 10.1038/s41564-018-0257-9  (About DOIs).

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Elizabeth Gilbert on Love, Loss, and How to Move Through Grief as Grief Moves Through You

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“Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.”


“All your sorrows have been wasted on you if you have not yet learned how to be wretched,” Seneca told his mother in his extraordinary letter on resilience in the face of loss. One need not be a dry materialist to bow before the recognition that no heart goes through life unplundered by loss — all love presupposes it, be it in death or in heartbreak. Whether what is lost are feelings or atoms, grief comes, unforgiving and unpredictable in its myriad manifestations. Joan Didion observed this disorienting fact in her classic memoir of loss: “Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be.” And when it does come, it unweaves the very fabric of our being. When love is lost, we lose the part of ourselves that did the loving — a part that, depending on the magnitude of the love, can come to approximate the whole of who we are. We lose what artist Anne Truitt so poetically termed “the lovely entire confidence that comes only from innumerable mutual confidences entrusted and examined… woven by four hands, now trembling, now intent, over and under into a pattern that can surprise both [partners].”

But we also gain something — out of the burning embers of the loss arises an ashen humility, true to its shared Latin root with the word humus. We are made “of the earth” — we bow down low, we become crust, and each breath seems to draw from the magmatic center of the planet that is our being. It is only when we give ourselves over to it completely that we can begin to take ourselves back, to rise, to live again.

How to move through this barely survivable experience is what author and altogether glorious human being Elizabeth Gilbert examines with uncommon insight and tenderness of heart in her conversation with TED curator Chris Anderson on the inaugural episode of the TED Interviews podcast.

Rayya Elias and Elizabeth Gilbert (Photograph by Elizabeth Gilbert)

Gilbert reflects on the death of her partner, Rayya Elias — her longtime best friend, whose sudden terminal cancer diagnosis unlatched a trapdoor, as Gilbert put it, into the realization that Rayya was the love of her life:

Grief… happens upon you, it’s bigger than you. There is a humility that you have to step into, where you surrender to being moved through the landscape of grief by grief itself. And it has its own timeframe, it has its own itinerary with you, it has its own power over you, and it will come when it comes. And when it comes, it’s a bow-down. It’s a carve-out. And it comes when it wants to, and it carves you out — it comes in the middle of the night, comes in the middle of the day, comes in the middle of a meeting, comes in the middle of a meal. It arrives — it’s this tremendously forceful arrival and it cannot be resisted without you suffering more… The posture that you take is you hit your knees in absolute humility and you let it rock you until it is done with you. And it will be done with you, eventually. And when it is done, it will leave. But to stiffen, to resist, and to fight it is to hurt yourself.

With an eye to the intimate biological connection between the body and the mind (which is, of course, the seedbed of feeling), Gilbert adds:

There’s this tremendous psychological and spiritual challenge to relax in the awesome power of it until it has gone through you. Grief is a full-body experience. It takes over your entire body — it’s not a disease of the mind. It’s something that impacts you at the physical level… I feel that it has a tremendous relationship to love: First of all, as they say, it’s the price you pay for love. But, secondly, in the moments of my life when I have fallen in love, I have just as little power over it as I do in grief. There are certain things that happen to you as a human being that you cannot control or command, that will come to you at really inconvenient times, and where you have to bow in the human humility to the fact that there’s something running through you that’s bigger than you.

Illustration from Cry, Heart, But Never Break, a Danish meditation on love and loss

Gilbert goes on to read a short, stunning reflection on love and loss she had originally published on Instagram:

People keep asking me how I’m doing, and I’m not always sure how to answer that. It depends on the day. It depends on the minute. Right this moment, I’m OK. Yesterday, not so good. Tomorrow, we’ll see.

Here is what I have learned about Grief, though.

I have learned that Grief is a force of energy that cannot be controlled or predicted. It comes and goes on its own schedule. Grief does not obey your plans, or your wishes. Grief will do whatever it wants to you, whenever it wants to. In that regard, Grief has a lot in common with Love.

The only way that I can “handle” Grief, then, is the same way that I “handle” Love — by not “handling” it. By bowing down before its power, in complete humility.

When Grief comes to visit me, it’s like being visited by a tsunami. I am given just enough warning to say, “Oh my god, this is happening RIGHT NOW,” and then I drop to the floor on my knees and let it rock me. How do you survive the tsunami of Grief? By being willing to experience it, without resistance.

The conversation of Grief, then, is one of prayer-and-response.

Grief says to me: “You will never love anyone the way you loved Rayya.” And I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.” Grief says: “She’s gone, and she’s never coming back.” I reply: “I am willing for that to be true.” Grief says: “You will never hear that laugh again.” I say: “I am willing.” Grief says, “You will never smell her skin again.” I get down on the floor on my fucking knees, and — and through my sheets of tears — I say, “I AM WILLING.” This is the job of the living — to be willing to bow down before EVERYTHING that is bigger than you. And nearly everything in this world is bigger than you.

I don’t know where Rayya is now. It’s not mine to know. I only know that I will love her forever. And that I am willing.

Onward.

Gilbert adds in the interview:

It’s an honor to be in grief. It’s an honor to feel that much, to have loved that much.

Rayya Elias and Elizabeth Gilbert (Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert)

Complement with life-earned wisdom on how to live with loss from other great artists, writers, and scientists — including Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Charles Darwin, Johannes Brahms, and Charles Dickens — and the Stoic cure for heartbreak from Epictetus, then revisit Gilbert on creative bravery and the art of living in a state of uninterrupted marvel.


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Trump and Kushner Put Saudi's Money First

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The Trump team is standing by Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the investigation and controversy surrounding the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi deepens.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Riyadh for a photo op with the prince. In a press release, he praised the Saudi leadership for “supporting a thorough, transparent and timely” investigation into the Khashoggi affair, a full two weeks after the dissident first went missing.

Pompeo also said that Saudi leaders denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance, something his boss, President Donald Trump, let the world know on Twitter as well:

By Tuesday evening, that line became more complex to defend after the New York Times reported that at least four suspects in Khashoggi's disappearance had ties to the crown prince. A fifth was “of such stature that he could be directed only by a high-ranking Saudi authority,” the newspaper said.

Complexity has never deterred the president, however. In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, he blamed critics of Saudi Arabia for holding it “guilty until proven innocent.” Lest anyone doubt his motives, Trump took to Twitter to talk about his finances:

That statement would be easier to digest if Trump hadn't bragged publicly in the past about how much Saudis have spent buying his condominiums – and if he wasn't the steward of the most financially conflicted presidency of the post World War II era.

Trump is playing word games, of course. He says he has no investments in Saudi Arabia or Russia. But that doesn't mean money from those countries hasn't flowed into his coffers. In Saudi Arabia's case, that has meant very different things over the years.

In the early 1990s, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bought Trump's prized yacht on the cheap from the property developer’s creditors when he was on the cusp of personal bankruptcy. A few years later, one of Trump's lenders forced him to sell the Plaza Hotel, a New York City landmark also mired in debt, to Alwaleed. As David Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell noted in the Washington Post recently, this was a period when Trump was trying to dig himself out of $3.4 billion of debt, about $900 million of which he had guaranteed personally. But Alwaleed was a bargain-hunter at the time, not someone trying to ensnare a failed developer on the unlikely chance that he might someday become president.

Still, Alwaleed, who once described Trump on Twitter as a “disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America,” kept those early deals in mind. When Trump made fun of him on Twitter two years ago, Alwaleed responded by tweeting, “I bailed you out twice; a 3rd time, maybe?”

As Trump climbed out of his debt hole in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he courted Saudi condo buyers. The Saudi Arabian government bought the entire 45th floor of the Trump World Tower in 2001, and, before running for president, Trump was apparently contemplating doing business in Saudi Arabia – he incorporated eight limited-liability companies with names suggesting he planned to do business there (they were later dissolved).

After becoming president, Trump flouted tradition by declining to authentically separate himself from the Trump Organization and its hotel and golf properties. The Trump International Hotel in Washington has been a favorite venue for Saudi diplomats who have spent lavishly there, as well as at other Trump hotels.

The president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also decided to make Saudi Arabia a linchpin of their policy in the Middle East. Kushner, lacking full security clearance and any diplomatic experience, lobbied the crown prince directly in early 2017 to secure what was fancifully and inaccurately touted as a $110 billion arms sale – most of which had been agreed a year earlier, and the bulk of which still hasn't been completed.

Shortly after that transaction was arranged, Trump visited Saudi Arabia. And soon after that, the Saudis announced they would invest $20 billion in an infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone Group LP. The New York-based firm had financed several of the Kushner family's deals and its chairman, Stephen Schwarzman, sat on the president's business-advisory council. The private equity firm told Bloomberg News that the Saudi investment had been contemplated long before Trump was even the Republican nominee.

Kushner's forays alarmed members of the intelligence and national security communities, as Bob Woodward outlined in his book, “Fear.” At the very moment Kushner was throwing himself into these diplomatic adventures, he was coming under scrutiny for his own financial conflicts – in particular, his efforts to secure funding for 666 Fifth Avenue, a troubled Manhattan skyscraper his family owned.

Although the family has since sold off the property, Kushner had tried unsuccessfully to secure funding for it from a Chinese investor. His intersection with a prominent banker and diplomats from Moscow during the Trump campaign's transition into the White House raised questions about whether he was courting Russian investors (which he denied). Inevitably, the Kushner family also courted a prominent Saudi investor to bail them out of 666 Fifth, as detailed by my Bloomberg News colleagues David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby.

Late last year, Kushner made another secretive trip alone to Riyadh. He later described the visit as an effort to “brainstorm” Middle East strategies with Mohammed bin Salman. Not long afterward, the crown prince placed dozens of prominent businessmen and political rivals under house arrest in what was described as an anti-corruption drive. Among them was Alwaleed, the man who once snatched the Plaza Hotel and yacht from Kushner's father-in-law.

Earlier this year, leaked intelligence reports revealed that diplomats in Mexico, Israel, China and the United Arab Emirates had decided to target Kushner because they believed he could be easily manipulated due to “his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.”

For his part, Kushner just plowed ahead, continuing to rest the White House's plans for the Middle East on the shoulders of an equally young and untested man, Saudi Arabia's crown prince. The disappearance of a single journalist, a one-time ally of the royal family turned critic, may ultimately cause Kushner's plans to unravel – and expose his machinations in Saudi Arabia to more revealing and unwanted scrutiny.

If it doesn't, it may well be because the president – putting the lie to his dissembling about his family's financial ties to Saudi Arabia – will openly and stubbornly put money ahead of the moral and diplomatic issues at play in Khashoggi's disappearance.

As he told Fox News in an interview on Tuesday night: “I don’t want to give up a $100 billion order or whatever it is.”

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Timothy L. O'Brien at tobrien46@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.net

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