Senate votes to limit war powers in Yemen, angered by Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi

The New York Times reports:

The Senate voted resoundingly on Thursday to withdraw American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, issuing the latest in a series of stinging bipartisan rebukes of President Trump for his defense of the kingdom amid outrage in both parties over Riyadh’s role in the killing of a dissident journalist.

The 56-to-41 vote was a rare move by the Senate to limit presidential war powers and send a potent message of official disapproval for a nearly four-year conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and brought famine to Yemen. Its immediate effect was largely symbolic, after the House earlier this week moved to scuttle it, all but assuring that the measure will expire this year without making it to Mr. Trump’s desk.

But the action signaled a growing sense of urgency among lawmakers in both parties to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the brutal killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and to question a decades-old bipartisan tradition of Washington averting its gaze from human rights abuses and other wrongdoing by the kingdom in the interest of preserving a strategically important relationship in the Middle East.

Senators also approved, by a voice vote, a resolution to hold Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir to the kingdom’s throne, personally responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The nonbinding measure also calls on Saudi Arabia to “moderate its increasingly erratic foreign policy” and urges an end to American air-to-air refueling of bombers operating in Yemen.

The United States stopped refueling Saudi warplanes operating in Yemen last month; the resolution would keep the Pentagon from restarting that support. [Continue reading…]

Conservative peer Lord Heseltine on Brexit: ‘My generation betrayed the young generation’

The new authoritarians are waging war on women

Peter Beinart writes:

[B]esides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.

To understand global Trumpism, argues Valerie M. Hudson, a political scientist at Texas A&M, it’s vital to remember that for most of human history, leaders and their male subjects forged a social contract: “Men agreed to be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women.” This political hierarchy appeared natural—as natural as adults ruling children—because it mirrored the hierarchy of the home. Thus, for millennia, men, and many women, have associated male dominance with political legitimacy. Women’s empowerment ruptures this order. [Continue reading…]

How Costa Rica is pursuing decarbonization despite global inaction


Have the Democrats hit a tipping point on climate change?

The New Republic reports:

When President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address nearly a year ago, he didn’t talk about climate change. But he didn’t get criticized nearly as much as the Democratic Party did for failing to mention the topic in its official response to Trump’s speech. The omission led the Sierra Club to declare that Democrats had “a climate change problem,” while the far-right website Breitbart announced that global warming had “officially ceased being an important issue in U.S. politics. #Winning!”

But the political climate in Washington has changed since then, especially after Democrats won back the House of Representatives in last month’s blue wave. Environmental protestors have flooded the Capitol twice in high-profile demonstrations, demanding senior Democratic leaders support a “Green New Deal.” Recent polling shows that Democratic voters are prioritizing climate change as an issue for the next Congress. And Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2020 are facing pressure to support aggressive climate policies.

That last development is particularly surprising given that most Democratic candidates didn’t talk about global warming at all during their midterm campaigns. So what happened? Who is responsible for this newfound climate enthusiasm, and is it sustainable? Will it lead to meaningful action over the next two years, or peter out by 2020?

Some credit must be given to progressive darlings like incoming New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three-term Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who showed with their midterm campaigns that it was possible to mobilize voters around the promise of comprehensive climate legislation. O’Rourke lost his challenge to Senator Ted Cruz by fewer than 3 points, despite running as a staunch environmentalist in an extremely Republican state. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign centered on creating a Green New Deal, an ambitious plan inspired by FDR’s New Deal to invest trillions in renewable energy development and manufacturing. At the time, climate scientists told me that, if Democrats ever decided to mobilize on global warming, a plan as aggressive as Cortez’s could make a tangible difference in lessening some of warming’s expected catastrophic effects. [Continue reading…]

Lessons in democracy from the migrant caravan that Trump calls ‘lawless’

Jesus Rodriguez writes:

The caravan migrants who arrived at the border nearly a month ago don’t have a country. But they do have a government.

In the time since the caravan left Honduras in mid-October, the asylum-seekers have fashioned a proto-democracy out of their group of some 6,000 migrants overwhelmingly from Central America, most of whom have walked for most of the trip, at times hitching rides in the backs of cars or trucks.

To hear President Donald Trump tell it, the caravan is nothing more than a “lawless” mob of potentially violent criminals. But dozens of phone interviews and WhatsApp conversations with advocacy groups and migrants, as well as social media updates from groups on the ground, show that the migrants have organized a surprisingly sophisticated ruling structure, complete with everything from a press shop to a department of public works.

When the migrants needed to make public announcements, debate the best routes and vote on different plans, they established a nightly general assembly as a forum open to all, Athens-style. Their legislative floor was an abandoned truck parking lot or an unused sports stadium. Some of the migrants even took turns as communications directors, drafting press statements that were transmitted through a media group of more than 370 journalists on WhatsApp. [Continue reading…]

Saudi Arabia declares war on America’s Muslim congresswomen

Ola Salem writes:

Ever since the midterm election, conservative media in the United States have targeted with special zeal Ilhan Omar, an incoming Somali-American Democratic congresswoman and a devout Muslim who wears hijab. In response to Democrats’ push to remove a headwear ban on the House floor to accommodate Omar, conservative commentator and pastor E.W. Jackson complained on a radio show that Muslims were transforming Congress into an “Islamic republic.”

The Democratic Party has several rising political stars with Arab or Muslim backgrounds, all of whom have become objects of such conspiracy theories. But it’s not only American conservatives who have been indulging in this culture war. The organized attacks have also been coming from abroad—specifically, from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The midterm elections have amplified an existing suspicion in Middle Eastern media of Muslim political activism in the United States. Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Rashida Tlaib (another newly elected Muslim congresswoman), and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On Sunday, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya published a feature insinuating that Omar and Tlaib were part of an alliance between the Democratic Party and Islamist groups to control Congress. The article accused the two of being “anti-Trump and his political team and options, especially his foreign policy starting from the sanctions on Iran to the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood and all movements of political Islam.”

In another example, a talk show on Saudi-owned station MBC discussed the Muslim congresswomen and more broadly the implications of Democrats taking the House. Prominent Arab anchor Amr Adib debated the matter with Egyptian political scientist Moataz Fattah, who suggested that Trump’s successful combating of Islamists would be undermined by the Democrats’ victory. The attacks have become so ubiquitous in the Persian Gulf that the trend itself is the subject of debate, both online and on television. [Continue reading…]

The pro-Israel push to purge U.S. campus critics

Katherine Franke writes:

There are signs that we’ve reached a tipping point in US public recognition of Israel’s suppression of the rights of Palestinians as a legitimate human rights concern. Increasingly, students on campuses across the country are calling on their universities to divest from companies that do business in Israel. Newly elected members of Congress are saying what was once unsayable: that perhaps the US should question its unqualified diplomatic and financial support for Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East, and hold it to the same human rights scrutiny we apply to other nations around the globe. Global companies such as Airbnb have recognized that their business practices must reflect international condemnation of the illegality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Natalie Portman, Lorde, and other celebrities have declined appearances in Israel, acknowledging the call to boycott the Israeli government on account of its human rights violations. And The New York Times published a column arguing, with unprecedented forthrightness, that criticism of ethno-nationalism in Israel (for example, defining Israel exclusively as a “Jewish state”) isn’t necessarily anti-Semitic.

At the same time, discussions on college campuses about the complexities of freedom, history, and belonging in Israel and Palestine are under increasing pressure and potential censorship from right-wing entities. In fact, new policies adopted by the US and Israeli governments are intended to eliminate any rigorous discussion of Israeli–Palestinian politics in university settings. Not since the McCarthyite anti-Communist purges have we seen such an aggressive effort to censor teaching and learning on topics the government disfavors. [Continue reading…]

Former senators call on current senators to put national interest above party and self interest

In an open letter, 44 former U.S. senators write:

Dear Senate colleagues,

As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security.

We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the House’s commencement of investigations of the president and his administration. The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability.

It is a time, like other critical junctures in our history, when our nation must engage at every level with strategic precision and the hand of both the president and the Senate.

We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld. [Continue reading…]

Solzhenitsyn did more than anyone to bring the Soviet Union to its knees

Michael Scammell writes:

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, pundits offered a variety of reasons for its failure: economic, political, military. Few thought to add a fourth, more elusive cause: the regime’s total loss of credibility.

This hard-to-measure process had started in 1956, when Premier Nikita Khrushchev gave his so-called secret speech to party leaders, in which he denounced Josef Stalin’s purges and officially revealed the existence of the gulag prison system. Not long afterward, Boris Pasternak allowed his suppressed novel “Doctor Zhivago” to be published in the West, tearing another hole in the Iron Curtain. Then, in 1962, the literary magazine Novy Mir caused a sensation with a novella set in the gulag by an unknown author named Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn.

That novella, “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” took the country, and then the world, by storm. In crisp, clear prose, it told the story of a simple man’s day in a labor camp, where he stoically endured endless injustices. It was so incendiary that, when it appeared, many Soviet readers thought that government censorship had been abolished.

Solzhenitsyn was no youthful beginner. Born a hundred years ago, on Dec. 11, 1918, just 14 months after the Bolshevik Revolution, he was virtually the same age as the Soviet state and had experienced every phase of its development. As a youth and college student he had been swept up in the revolutionary euphoria of the communist experiment and fervently believed in the premises of Marxism-Leninism. In World War II he served as the commander of an artillery sound-ranging battalion and was awarded two medals for valor.

But Solzhenitsyn’s promising career was brutally cut short by his arrest in February 1945 on a charge of anti-Soviet activities; he was swiftly sentenced to eight years of hard labor in the gulag. His crime? Criticizing Stalin and the Soviet Army in letters exchanged with a school friend on another front.

This Dickensian reversal of fortune plunged Solzhenitsyn into despair, but it also opened his eyes to the hideous underbelly of Soviet communism and gave him glimpses of the reign of terror and lies that had kept it going for so long. [Continue reading…]