SMITHEREENS: Reflections on Bits & Pieces

Gar Smith
Friday October 26, 2018 - 11:54:00 AM

Where's Gavin?

If you want to read how Gavin Newsom stacks up against John H. Cox in the gubernatorial race, you'll come up blank. While Cox has his statement in the Voter Information Guide, Newsom's slot—unlike everybody else in the race—is blank. Newsom was disqualified for raising too much campaign money. Turns out, if you raise more than $14.5 million, you can't place a statement in the Voters' Guide. (Note to Gavin: It might have been worth foregoing a half-mil in donations to avoid looking like some entitled twerp who overlooks important details.)

Another fun fact: Nobody gets a candidate statement into the Voters Guide until they fork over $250 to have it posted. 

Isadora Duncan for Mayor! 

In order to explain ranked-choice ballots, the Alameda County Voter Information Guide includes a sample ballot. But the example uses the same six names that have been used by voting-guide writers for generations: Carole Lombard, George E. Jessel, Billy Rose, Kate Smith, Edward ["Duke"] Ellington, and Isadora Duncan—long-gone celebrities from the 1940s and 1950s. 

The trick, of course, is to use "sample names" that readers will widely recognize and not confuse with any actual, living candidates. 

Problem is, these names are so old that today's younger voters might not identify them as fakes. So it's time to start proposing some new names—three men, three women. 

Here's one possibility: Janice Joplin, Neil Armstrong, Gilda Radner, Robin Williams, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali. 

Who would you chose? 

Will the Chronicle Publish This Letter? 

The following letter-to-the-editor was sent to the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday, October 18: 

According to a Washington Post tally, Donald Trump has uttered "more than 5,000 false or misleading claims" during his presidency. But Trump recently proclaimed a seldom-uttered truth about US foreign policy. 

Asked about imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia, Trump told CBS's Lesley Stahl: "I tell you what I don't wanna do: Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon . . . . I don't wanna lose an order like that." 

"Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon." 

This is the triad that stands at the pinnacle of the US War Economy. 

War is Washington's biggest export and Trump, like Obama before him, puts in serious time pimping for Big War—jetting around the world offering huge weapons packages to rich foreigners. 

How important are these deals? More important than healthcare, education, jobs, or crumbling US infrastructure. More important that America's moral standing. 

Trump has essentially told the world: "As far as I'm concerned, the Saudis can continue killing journalists, just so long as they continue to buy our billion-dollar weapons." 

Here is Trump's latest "Art of the Deal," as offered to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: "Go ahead and dismember your opponents. The only arms we care about belong to Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon." 

Pompeo Pontificates on "American Values" 

In an October 19 interview with the Voice of America, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to speculate on the fate of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi but Pompeo stressed that, during his recent trip to Riyadh, he personally warned Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other Saudi officials that the US does not "approve of extrajudicial killings," insisting that such behavior is not "consistent with American values." 

Tell that to the thousands of people killed by US "assassin drone" attacks in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen. Tell that to the relatives of civilians killed in attacks on wedding parties and outdoor markets. Tell that to the families of the 40 boys killed by a US bomb dropped on a school bus in Yemen. And then tell that to the stockholders of Raytheon and Lockheed, the two companies responsible for manufacturing the Yemen bomb. 

Did Trump Hasten Journalist's Death by Calling Reporters "The Enemy of the People"? 

In his last published article, Kashoggi lamented the growing victimization of journalists detained and jailed in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community," Kashoggi wrote. "Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.” 

This incident didn’t happen in isolation, it didn’t happen in a vacuum." Said Sherine Tadros, head of the U.N. office for Amnesty International, "It is part of an aggressive and escalated crackdown on dissenting voices that we’ve seen really escalate since June 2017, when the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, took up his position." 

Tadros cites a long list of clerics, bloggers, academics, journalists, and human rights activists—including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al Yousef, and Eman al-Nafjan (who advocated for women’s right to drive)—who have been arrested and "disappeared" inside the Saudi Kingdom. 

Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists notes: "There are more journalists [in Saudi Arabia] behind bars this year than last year,” and attributes the crackdown to America's failure to "take leadership on press freedom" following Khashoggi's mysterious disappearance. 

Donald Trump's continued assault on the media as "the enemy of the people" may also have emboldened the Saudis to target the Washington Post reporter. 

A Saudi State of Affairs 

Saudi Arabia is not a democracy—it is ruled by monarchy that operates under Islamic Sharia law. (Saudi women were not given the right to vote until 2015.) The US State Department offers the following assessment of life in Saudi Arabia: 

"The most significant human rights issues included unlawful killings, including execution for other than the most serious offenses and without requisite due process; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of lawyers, human rights activists, and antigovernment reformists; political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and criminalization of libel; restrictions on freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, movement, and religion; citizens’ lack of ability and legal means to choose their government through free and fair elections; trafficking in persons; violence and official gender discrimination against women, although new women’s rights initiatives were announced; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity." 

Dems Demand Data on Trump's Saudi Profiteering 

Baffled by Donald Trump's week's-long defense of Saudi Arabia in the wake of Jamal Kashoggi's murder, a team of 11 Democrat senators has demanded a full accounting of the Trump family's commercial dealings with the Saudis to examine any "conflicts of interest that may exist because of your or your family’s deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia.” Trump reportedly opened 8 businesses in Saudi Arabia since his election. 

In response, Trump tweeted: “I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia." (A statement that directly contradicts his public boast at a 2015 rally: "Saudi Arabia. I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million. $50 million.”) 

The senators cite public records that reveal "the Trump Organization for decades has maintained business relationships" with Saudi Arabia and the royal family. In 1995, for instance, a Saudi prince acquired Trump's New York City’s Plaza Hotel for $325 million. 

The Dems want answers by November 17. And, if they retake the House, they'll be asking to see Trump's tax returns as well. 

The Tip of the Speier: Taking a Jab at Trump 

In an October 19 KCBS interview, Rep. Jackie Speier openly expressed her alarm over Donald Trump's dissembling response to Jamal Kashoggi's disappearance inside the Saudi consulate office in Turkey—at one point comparing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's possible role in the grisly crime to judge Brett Kavanaugh's "fake news" alleged sexual assaults. 

"But for the fact that Turkey was leaking out all this information, we would have the president and the administration of the United States participating in a cover-up and complicit in a cover-up. . . . You do not take a bone-saw and an acid-wash to a [meeting with a] journalist," Speier said. 

We need to "recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia." Furthermore, Speier added: "I think the [House] Intelligence Committee should do an investigation to find out what we knew, when did we know it and if Khashoggi was under any threat and we had intelligence on that and he was not informed. That would be a huge problem." 

Speier said the administration appeared to be "grasping at straws because I think they have their hands in the cookie jar. The President of the United States has had financial relationships in Saudi Arabia. He still has two companies that are still in existence today that are doing business with Saudi Arabia. . . . In 2015, he had opened two companies, two LLCs, to do business with Saudi Arabia in Jedda and those have not been checked out." 

Asked about the strategic allegiance between Saudi Arabia and the US, Speier replied: "I think the relationship has been overhyped—much like Trump properties (and somewhat seedy). Don't forget: it was Saudi Arabians who were part of 9/11. We seem to forget that in this embrace with Saudi Arabia because of oil. We don't need their oil." 

Given Speier's seat on the House Intelligence Committee, KCBS asked what she thought should be done. 

"I think it's really critical that we determine when we found out, what we did know [about the reporter's murder], and what actions we took," Speier replied. "My belief is that we were part of a cover-up: that our administration decided that they were going to pursue this 'rogue group' of people that somehow took his life and that certainly is the script that seems to be coming out of Saudi Arabia now." 

"I think we need to remember something," Speier added as she wrapped up the interview. "Over 40 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia in the first four months of this year. [Note: The actual number was 48.] And there wasn't a peep that came out of this administration." 

Speier speculated that the Saudis, so accustomed to beheading its own citizens, felt no compunction about sending a delegation of state assassins to Turkey to dismember a critic of the regime. "It would be the same as beheading someone in Saudi Arabia—a miscalculation that, I think, is reason for us to pause and look at this relationship in the cold light of day." 

Here's the podcast of the Speier interview: 


Speaking of Head Counts 

Saudi Arabia, not Iran, is a leading source of global terrorism. Just look at Yemen. At home, Saudi Arabia has beheaded more victims than Al Qaeda or ISIS. The country performed at least 158 executions in 2015,[1] at least 154 executions in 2016,[2] and at least 146 executions in 2017. Saudi Arabia beheaded 48 people in the first four months of 2018 alone. 

On August 9, the Saudis beheaded a man convicted of murder and then put the victim's mutilated body on public display—a practice otherwise known as a "crucifixion." (The government insisted the act was sanctioned under Islamic law.) 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has won praise for granting Saudi women the right to drive cars. In another gesture of gender equality, the New York Times reports Royal Family "has executed many women." In August 2018, the monarchy called for the beheading of Israa al-Ghomgham, a 29-year-old Saudi activist who dared to call for greater rights for her country's minority Shite community. The New York Times reports that "calls for capital punishment for a woman in a case of nonviolent political crime are highly unusual." 

After Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute a poet was compared to the punishments carried out by ISIS, the Kingdom threatened to sue anyone who characterized it as “ISIS-like.” 

According to The Independent: "Both Saudi Arabia and ISIS are founded in Islamic law, with Saudi Arabia being the only state recognized internationally that owes its existence to the expansion of Islamic radicals." Furthermore: "Both ISIS and Saudi call for the death penalty for those convicted of blasphemy, adultery and homosexuality. Hand amputations and public lashings are also prescribed for lesser offences." Saudi citizens have also been beheaded for drug offenses, adultery, and "sorcery." 

One of those currently on Death Row is Abdulkareem al-Hawa. He was arrested at the age of 16 for "chanting against the state," and daring to "insult the leaders" on social media. 

The UN Condemns the Saudis for Beheadings 

The United Nations has complained that beheadings are "prohibited under international law under all circumstances" and accused Saudi Arabia of ordering executions "with appalling regularity and in flagrant disregard of international law standards." 

The Saudi royals contend that their state-ordered beheadings are legitimate because, unlike ISIS, they only mete out punishments after conducting trials. The UN pointed out, however, that under Saudi "justice," the accused are not provided with lawyers and their confessions are commonly extracted under torture. 

WarSpeak Lite 

This column has occasionally run examples of "militarized grammar," the kind of below-the-radar threat-infected language that subtly reinforces a culture of aggression, dominance and violence. 

Example: "The blond bombshell's explosive, high-caliber performance hit the mark, leaving the target audience shell-shocked and blown away." 

But there's another layer of language that also contains a hidden manifesto of embedded violence. It doesn't communicate with images of war but with invocations of simpler forms of physical aggression. 

Here's a short list: We can make a "touching" statement, or simply "poke some fun" at someone, or even offer a playful "jab"—but we also can escalate our language to "lash out," "strike back," and "slap down" any statement we disagree with. 

We can "blast," "attack," or "crush," an opponent. We prize activities that "pack a punch." We applaud performances that are "smash hits," especially if they include a "knock-out performance." We cheer "two-fisted" heroes who "break" the rules. And, if you're into BDSM, you might describe your ideal state as one of being "slap-happy." 

Keep your ears open for other examples.