Biden, Arabs and City Councils

Photo by Lou00efc Manegarium on

Saudi Arabia chose to reduce their oil production by 2 million barrels per day at a time when energy prices are fueling worldwide inflation. The move leads to higher prices for oil and Russia will be a big beneficiary.
The action has stirred talk in Congress of retaliation against Saudi Arabia, such as stopping arms sales and removing weapons already in the country.
I think our response is myopic and wrong.
We have been buying less oil from the Saudis as we increased our gas production and now give greater support to renewables.
The Saudis, in turn, have been moving closer to Russia and China.
Like Turkey, they play both sides. India does it, too, but we’re not thinking of retaliating against them.
I think we should take the long view on the Saudis’ behavior.
They are a repressive regime that shares much with Russia and China yet wants to stay open to the West. Let’s not shut the doors. Changes are happening in Saudi Arabia which are, gradually, likely to move the country even closer to the West.
Iran is the problem in the area. Presently there is much unrest and a push to take the clerics out of government. When that happens, there will be a significant realignment of forces in the region.
An American presence that is open and forgiving will be in a better position to influence events.
Not rejoining the Iran Nuclear deal will be a positive development.
I understand Biden’s worry that the effects of the reduction in oil production by the Saudis may have an impact in the upcoming mid term elections by further increasing inflation. But this may be underestimating the American electorate.
The war in Ukraine and the Russian retreat are huge accomplishments for the West and Biden deserves a great deal of credit for it. It is there in plain view.
Are democrats selling this success to undecided voters and enlightened Republicans?
Freedom demands sacrifices and Biden may need to remind voters of it.
Inflation will top off in the near future and ending the war will play a big role.
But to get there we must keep our support for Ukraine going strong.
While a large number of Republicans remain loyal to former president Trump, even though he attempted to deny Biden the presidency and reinstate himself for another term, enough Republicans realize the damage done to the country and that their party needs to repair itself by confronting its antidemocratic side.
Under Trump, Ukraine would have been in Putin’s hands long ago, for Trump would not have objected to the invasion.

As to City Councils.
On Monday, in Los Angeles, a tape recording emerged of a private meeting held a year ago involving three city council members and a labor union chief. During the meeting, disparaging racial remarks were made.
There has been an outcry and demands that the council members step down. The union chief has already done so.
Yesterday, President Biden added his voice to the demands for council members’ resignation.
I think this response is too meddlesome.
Race is a complicated issue. The world is going through a transition dealing with it. Europe is roiled by immigration and race is a big factor.
To expect purity from our elected officials or from any of us is not rational.
People deserve chances to rectify their behaviors.
Additionally, this is a matter for Angelenos to sort out.
Mr Biden’s focus should stay on the big picture.

Market Drop on 3/9. Reversible?

Yes. There are two potentially reversible causes. The coronavirus and Saudi Arabia’s decision to increase oil supply and flood the market.

Take the first.

Imagine for a moment, that we began to see a drop in the incidence of cases. A few days of such a trend would lighten our heavy hearts. Possible? Of course.

Today I read an article in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (3/5/2020). It carried a brief report of the first case of coronavirus in the country. A 35 year old man in good health otherwise, had returned from Wuhan, China and, after a 4 day history of cough and subjective fever, presented himself on 1/19/20 to an urgent care clinic in Snohomish County in Washington state. He was tested and the next day the CDC confirmed he had Covid-19. He did develop signs of an atypical pneumonia but by 1/30 all his symptoms had resolved except for the cough which was decreasing.

In the same issue, a hospital in Munich, Germany reported that 4 people had developed symptoms after exposure to a person who had visited from China but was asymptomatic while in Germany. She developed symptoms on her flight back to China, sought help and her contacts were traced. Of those German contacts, 4 became ill. Persons 1 and 2 had been in direct contact with the visitor, while persons 3 and 4 had only been in contact with persons 1 and 2. None had shown signs of a severe illness.

So, yes, this illness can be controlled.

Of course, if you’re already ill, your chances of recovery are lower but the illness can be controlled.

What about if we had an online summary of cases, or a sample of them, with both good and bad outcomes, so we could all check in?

Maybe we wouldn’t panic so much about this. Maybe we would be more rational.

Openness is good.

We need it.

Now I turn to the second reversible cause, the drop in the price of oil.

The Saudis and Putin have feuded before and will again. This time, though, with oil demand already low, the timing is disastrous for some of our industries.

Price of gas cheaper? Sure. But what about our shale oil producers? What about all those industries deeply connected with them? How many companies will go under?

Word is that Putin has wanted to put a good bruise on those industries of ours, since we have become a major exporter of oil and thus compete directly with Russia.

Well, now the Saudi Prince, with his intemperate action, will do what Putin has wanted.

Dear Mr Trump, was this prince not the same man who our intelligence agencies have said is responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Ankara, Turkey?

You did not hold him accountable then.

Will you hold him accountable now for the damage he is doing to our economy?

Just a phone call away, Mr Trump, just a phone call away.

Human Folly – Episode 1 (Khashoggi, The Prince and Trump)

The world had been shocked by his assassination. The victim, a distinguished journalist who had been an adviser to the Saudi royal family, had decided to take a different direction in his life. If he had been a soft critic of the royal family’s injustices against the citizenry, now he would become a harsh one.  

The gradual transition from insider to outsider had been driven by the journalist’s conviction that he had an obligation, as a man and as an intellectual, to stand up for himself and for his fellow countrymen who did not have the gifts and resources he had.

The journalist had weighed the pros and cons carefully. He knew there would be risks, but never did he imagine that the end would be so brutal.

A team of Saudi Arabian hitmen had been lying in wait at theSaudi consulate in Istanbul when the journalist entered. He wanted to get married a second time and needed some paperwork done. He didn’t have a chance. Audio tapes provided by Turkish intelligence revealed that a chain saw had been used to cut him into pieces before disposing of the body.

The world reacted.

There was nearly universal condemnation of the action as calls for justice rang loud.

American intelligence agencies reviewed the facts, listened to the audio tapes the Turkish government had provided and concluded that the assassination could not have happened without the reigning Saudi prince knowing about it.

But our president demurred. He said there was no clear proof. And anyway, our nation needed the oil and money the Saudis had.

Many were critical of the president while others supported him, saying that the world was a rough place and that, in the interest of realpolitik, we all have to swallow some hard facts. In other words, if you have the power, then you get away with it.

The journalist, in his idealism, had thought that standing for principle would give a special meaning to his life. As a man of conscience, he knew he could not turn a blind eye to the suffering of his fellow Saudi Arabians. He had worked as a foreign correspondent and travelled widely. He knew his country stood as an anachronism, out of synch with the rest of the emerging nations. And it pained him.

Saudi Arabia had the good fortune of being one of the leading oil producers, but the wealth was mainly kept by the royal family. Still that was not enough. The Saudi royals also enforced a rigid code that dictated what women could and could not do. And if you objected you were put in jail and kept there.

While in the rest of the world women rose to become heads of state, leading scientists and politicians, prominent artists, intellectuals and creators, in Saudi Arabia the royal family had a code to enforce. Keep the women down.

All of us that pumped gas, paid for the oil that kept the royal family in power while they oppressed more than half of their population.

A distinguished journalist and man of conscience had been  savagely killed and our president, a businessman and father of an independent business woman, didn’t have any pangs of conscience with his decision to ignore the atrocity. If he did, he kept it to himself.

Saudi Arabia is an ally after all, his reasoning went. In addition to the oil, they are a player in the Middle East to help check Iran and they also buy their weapons from us. How can we lose? 

Realpolitik they call it.

By now the journalist’s fate is gradually fading from the headlines. Soon he will be forgotten. Fellow journalists who are sympathetic to his cause will remember him but the public at large will forget.

Our president will meet with the prince and salute him and support him, and we’ll see it on TV, both men smiling.

But did it have to be that way?

Our president could have raised his voice and endorsed the findings of his intelligence services. He could have said, “a prominent journalist who chose to stand for more freedom in his country was murdered by the leadership.” He could have added that America would not stop investigating the crime. But our man did not do that.

Here was an opportunity for a world leader to influence the course of the history of a nation and instead he settled for oil and a contract to buy weapons. Never mind that we have become the top oil producer in the world.

There’s something wrong with that stance, isn’t there?

Yes. Something deeply wrong.

The president’s supporters should pay careful attention.

The man may call his decision an instance of realpolitik and that he is doing it for you. I call it an instance of being amoral and predict it will come back to hurt us.

But it’s not the first time, is it?

No. In fact, it’s happening here at home too, in full view, and we’re looking the other way.


Trump and Jamal Khashoggi. What the Affair Reveals.

Please see for yourself the entire statement released by the White House on 11/20.

Here’s the 5th paragraph,

“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

There’s no evidence that Jamal Kashoggi was an enemy of the Saudi state. He was a critic of it, a man who wanted to help steer the Saudi leadership away from the repressive practices that stifle voices of dissent, the very forces that killed him. He had been close to the leadership but had felt compelled to speak more openly, which is why he chose to move to our country while simultaneously holding residence in Turkey.

The CIA, after careful review of all the evidence produced by Turkey, where the murder took place, concluded that Mr Khashoggi could not have been assassinated without the knowledge of the crown prince. But Trump has no qualms rebuffing such verdict and instead accepting the king and crown prince’s denials. Did the crown prince have knowledge of the event? “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” says Trump. Hard to believe.

But it sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Indeed, Trump said something eerily similar in Helsinki this last July – after a question from a reporter regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections – immediately following his summit meeting with Putin.

“… my people came to me, Dan Coats (from National Intelligence) came to me and others, they said they think it’s Russia… I have President Putin… he said it’s not Russia. I will say this… I don’t see any reason why it would be… I have confidence in both parties… I have great confidence in my intelligence people… but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

Why should Trump not trust his intelligence agencies?

If Putin and the crown prince deny strongly their wrongdoing, is that supposed to negate the conclusions drawn by teams of seasoned experts in intelligence gathering?

Additionally, Mr Trump has openly stated that he will not listen to the tape produced by Turkey containing the gory sounds of the killing of Mr Khashoggi.

What does that mean?

When Trump chooses to not listen to the tapes of Khashoggi’s murder it is not just him not listening, it is all of us. It is America not listening.

What image do we project to the world when we behave as such?

Can Trump not find the strength to face the facts?

There’s something sordid and venal about Trump’s willingness to excuse the Saudi prince.

That Saudi Arabia has signed up to invest 450 billion in our country, a sizable portion going to the buying of weapons, is not a reason to hide from the truth.

This is not to say that geopolitical considerations should not be weighed in.

Saudi Arabia is a long term ally of ours and as such a counter to Iran’s aggressive influence in the region, but giving the Saudi elite a pass in this heinous act is not compatible with the Saudi people’s aspirations to become a modern state.

Why not, for instance, call for the prince to stand trial for the offense, in the presence of international observers?

Would that be a destabilizing event for Saudi Arabia? Maybe, but it would be an important step toward introducing political accountability in the country and preventing the crime from happening again.

It may well be resented and seen as interfering with their governance, but in the end, likely to invigorate the forces of reason and enlightened civility.

As a sovereign nation, it will be up to the Saudis to do as they wish, but taking a public stand for justice leaves us in a strong position while sending a message to all of our allies.

If we were dependent on Saudi oil, the geopolitical considerations would be quite different. But we are not. Thanks to the spirit of innovation that our nation retains, we have become the largest oil producer in the world. That matters. And so does our moral integrity, for it fuels courage, creativity and vision.

So far, Mr Trump has been unable or unwilling to grasp this essence.

This is not lost in the eyes of the world. Appearing to be beholden to a ruling elite is not only detrimental to our image abroad but also, and more importantly, to the image we have of ourselves.

Either way, America loses.