Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Last Call For Yemen To Do That

Even I'm getting tired of the descriptions of the "scandal-free" Obama administration, because they screwed up badly in the foreign policy arena multiple times, and while you can definitely make the case that Syria was Obama playing the garbage hand of cards dealt by Assad, Iran, and Russia, the entirely of the disaster in Yemen is 100% his fault.

The number of people facing starvation in Yemen could rise to nearly 12 million as conflict intensifies around the port of Hodeidah, a vital aid delivery link, the World Food Programme told CNN Monday. 
A collapsing currency and deteriorating economic situation in the Middle East's poorest country are also aggravating the situation, the UN agency said. 
The WFP said 18 million people in Yemen already do not know where their next meal is coming from and eight million of those are "considered on the brink of famine." 
"Since June, some 570,000 people have had to flee their homes from fighting in Hodeidah, while the Yemeni riyal has undergone an alarming depreciation, and the cost of basic food items has gone up by a third since this time last year," WFP Yemen country director Stephen Anderson told CNN. 
"If this situation persists, we could see an additional 3.5 million severely insecure Yemenis, or nearly 12 million in total, who urgently require regular food assistance to prevent them from slipping into famine-like conditions," he said.

No, Trump has done everything possible to make the situation in Yemen worse by the day, with tacit permission for the Saudis to bomb the crap out of the place while selling Riyadh the weapons to do it with, but let's not forget that the disaster started on Obama's watch, like the December 2015 assassination attempt on anti-Emirati dissident Anssaf Ali Mayo, which now turns out to be a joint UAE/Saudi operation with US cooperation.

The operation against Mayo — which was reported at the time but until now was not known to have been carried out by American mercenaries — marked a pivot point in the war in Yemen, a brutal conflict that has seen children starved, villages bombed, and epidemics of cholera roll through the civilian population. The bombing was the first salvo in a string of unsolved assassinations that killed more than two dozen of the group’s leaders.

The company that hired the soldiers and carried out the attack is Spear Operations Group, incorporated in Delaware and founded by Abraham Golan, a charismatic Hungarian Israeli security contractor who lives outside of Pittsburgh. He led the team’s strike against Mayo.

There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”

The UAE and Saudi Arabia lead an alliance of nine countries in Yemen, fighting what is largely a proxy war against Iran. The US is helping the Saudi-UAE side by providing weapons, intelligence, and other support.

The press office of the UAE’s US Embassy, as well as its US public affairs company, Harbour Group, did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails.

The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE. (The Saudi Embassy in the US did not respond to a request for comment. Riyadh has denied it killed Khashoggi, though news reports suggest it is considering blaming his death on a botched interrogation.)

Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”

And yes, I realize the timing on this revelation is absolutely dogpiling on the Saudis when they're already in trouble for assassinating people, but it doesn't change the fact that it happened, the Obama administration knew about it, and the US was happily helping the UAE and the Saudis destabilize Yemen to the point where now the place is a humanitarian disaster that may actually eclipse Syria in scope.

I fully understand the Republicans are going to be worse in every aspect given any chance and I'm sure when the dark history of the Trump regime's operations in Yemen become public, it will be far more gory...but I'm also getting bone weary of defending, you know, targeted assassinations by paid mercs, which is pretty much the legal definition of war crime and should be investigated as such.

Sigh.  I know, the Trump regime isn't going to open so much as a can of beer over this, let alone a DoJ investigation, not unless they can use it to lock up Obama, Kerry, and Clinton over it, but it doesn't make it right.

Of course, it's a moot point, because Republicans will think big manly Trump is sending US mercs to kill those people and that's "awesome".

Meat The Press, Con't

The Trump regime sure isn't going to do a damn thing to Riyadh and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the obvious murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but don't expect Democrats to lift a finger either.  The Saudis may be able to wreck the GOP's corporate energy giant contributors with a massive oil spike as I pointed out the other day, but Saudi royals also own a healthy chunk of Silicon Valley and the Dems too.

As international backlash grows over Saudi Arabia’s alleged involvement in the possible murder of a journalist, Silicon Valley faces a potentially unsettling fact: The kingdom is now the largest single funding source for U.S. startups.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has directed at least $11 billion of Saudi money into U.S. startups since mid-2016, either directly or through SoftBank Group Corp.’s $92 billion tech-focused Vision Fund, to which the Saudis committed $45 billion, according to a Wall Street Journal estimate of data from research firm PitchBook. The total invested by the kingdom so far in U.S. startups is far bigger than the total raised by any single venture-capital fund.

Some of tech’s most prominent young companies have welcomed Saudi money, including Uber Technologies Inc., office-sharing company WeWork Cos. and augmented-reality device maker Magic Leap Inc. For Uber, the situation could be particularly dicey: A prominent Saudi official sits on its board.

For now, the companies are preferring to keep quiet about the escalating controversy. Of the 22 startups in which the Vision Fund or the Saudis have invested, all but one declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests. Uber pointed to a recent statement from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who said he planned to pull out of a Saudi-sponsored business conference and that he was troubled by the reports about the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

For the startup community, “there are incidents where you have to look and decide which side of history you want to be on, and if this is true, this is one of those,” said Venky Ganesan, former chairman of the National Venture Capital Association and an investor at Menlo Ventures, which has invested in Uber. “It’s more than about startups and money—it’s fundamentally about what you think about human rights.”

Tech companies are in a particularly conflicted spot given the idealistic missions espoused by many leaders in Silicon Valley, where employees routinely rebel over contracts they find unprincipled. WeWork, for instance, has banned meat over concerns about its environmental impact.

“Silicon Valley has been incredibly hypocritical in accepting investments from an anti-Semitic country, [which] criminally punishes gays and de jure discriminates against women,” said Keith Rabois, a venture capitalist at prominent firm Khosla Ventures, in an email.

So should the Saudi choose to pull the plug on tens of billions in startup funding, the already shaky tech sector is going to take a gigantic nosedive, along with California's economy.  Of course, sanctions against Riyadh may make that choice an involuntary one.

Just remember that it's not only the GOP fossil fuel business that could get wrecked over the Khashoggi backlash (although there's the theory that this is a bluff).  Both parties are deep into Saudi pockets, and this is something where the Democrats should have divested themselves from this mess and from Silicon Valley years ago.

Even if the Saudis can't command the oil market like they used to, they can certainly hurt Silicon Valley, no question.  Oh, and who benefits the most from higher oil prices and Saudi oil production cuts in the meantime as the backlash builds?

Any other questions as to what's really going on here?

Weathering The Storm, Con't

Citing Donald Trump's First Amendment rights, a California federal judge completely tossed Stormy Daniels's defamation lawsuit against Trump on Monday, in a move the Trump regime is calling "total victory" for Tang the Conqueror, but the story is far from over.

U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles ruled that Trump’s speech was protected by the First Amendment as the kind of “rhetorical hyperbole” normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.” He ordered Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, to pay Trump’s legal fees.

Trump attorney Charles Harder cheered Otero’s decision.

“No amount of spin or commentary by Stormy Daniels or her lawyer, Mr. Avenatti, can truthfully characterize today’s ruling in any way other than total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels,” Harder said in an emailed statement.

The ruling is a blow for Daniels and her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, who has raised a national profile from his legal battles against the president and is contemplating a presidential bid in 2020.

Avenatti called the ruling “limited” on Twitter and said it did not affect Daniels’s primary case against Trump and his former attorney Michael Cohen, which seeks to invalidate her 2016 nondisclosure agreement.

“Daniels’ other claims against Trump and Cohen proceed unaffected,” Avenatti wrote in a tweet he later appeared to have deleted.

He said in a second tweet that any fees Trump might be awarded from the defamation case would “be dwarfed by the fees he and Cohen will be required to pay in connection with the NDA case.”

Later, Avenatti tweeted that he had appealed Otero’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The now-dismissed suit has received less attention than two other cases pending against Trump — Daniels’s lawsuit seeking to void the nondisclosure agreement and a separate defamation claim by former “Apprentice” contestant Summer Zervos, who alleges that Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007 and argues that he defamed her when he suggested she was lying.

Trump was ordered last month to provide written answers under oath in that case, which is proceeding in New York State Supreme Court.

Again, the Daniels defamation lawsuit was the least of Trump's legal worries, and the least likely to succeed given how difficult it is to prove defamation in court, least of all against a sitting federal politician, least of all the occupant of the Oval Office.

The othr Daniels lawsuit involving former Trump lawyer Michal Cohen and the legality of the NDA Trump slapped on Daniels over her alleged affair with Trump, well, that one is far more likely to succeed, and for the same reason: First Amendment rights.

We'll see how this particular storm blows.


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