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Turns out, putting a 37-year-old real estate developer in charge of US foreign policy might have been a stretch. Go know! Maybe you really do need something else on your CV besides Vanky's Babydaddy and Friend of Netanyahu! In fairness, though, how was Jared Kushner supposed to know that his Saudi BFF Mohammad bin Salman would murder people who had met actual Americans? He was supposed to confine himself to murdering nameless brown Muslim people, and in his own back yard! What a headache, right?

The Trump administration is trying desperately to save the US relationship with Saudi Arabia, which hasn't yet delivered on its promise to buy $110 billion of big, beautiful American weapons. And they're still harassing the Qataris. Oh, and they only sorta delivered on that promise to play nice with Israel. But those things could totally still happen, so even though the Saudis brazenly assassinated dissident reporter Jamal Khashoggi at their nation's consulate in Istanbul last week, Trumpland would like very much to find an innocent explanation for his death. And it's ... a stretch!


Last night, MBS -- Saudi Arabia's crown prince who has bragged about having Jared Kushner "in his pocket" -- spoke to Kushner, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and NSA John Bolton to reassure them that the 15 guys who flew into Turkey carrying a bone saw had nothing whatsoever to do with Khashoggi's disappearance. It's just a coincidence that the Saudi government dispatched an autopsy expert at the same time the reporter, who had been living in exile in Virginia, was scheduled to pick up his paperwork at the Turkish consulate.

Was the US government obliged to warn Khashoggi that he was in danger when they picked up information that the Saudis were trying to lure him back to Saudi Arabia? State Department spokesman Robert Palladino says no, and goes so far as to deny the Washington Post story that our intelligence agencies had knowledge of Saudi intentions to harm Khashoggi. But, the Post reports,

It was not clear to officials with knowledge of the intelligence whether the Saudis discussed harming Khashoggi as part of the plan to detain him in Saudi Arabia.

But the intelligence had been disseminated throughout the U.S. government and was contained in reports that are routinely available to people working on U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia or related issues, one U.S. official said.

Maybe they just wanted to talk to him and convince him to come home to KSA. Hence the bone saw. And the coroner.

In the Senate, Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham are doing their best Man of Integrity impressions. Every member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee except Rand Paul signed a letter to the president requesting that he investigate Khashoggi's disappearance under the Magnitsky Act to "determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture, or other gross violation of internationally recognized human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression." But they don't expect a response for 120 days, by which time Corker will be long gone and Lindsey Graham will have reverted to his natural slime mold form. (Also, WTF is wrong with Rand Paul?)

As usual, Trump is saying the quiet part out loud. While admitting that "it's looking a little bit like" the Saudis really did murder Khashoggi on foreign soil for criticizing MBS, the president downplays the idea of sanctioning members of the Saudi Royal family for putting out a hit on a journalist.

But later Trump told the Fox brain trust that he didn't want to jeopardize American defense spending with sanctions, because "Frankly I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country."

And speaking of unimpeachable integrity, guess who's taking a junket to visit Saudi Arabia next week?

Saudi Arabia's muscle will be on display next week, when American technology and financial titans gather at the investor conference in Riyadh that the crown prince will attend. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will represent the Trump administration at the meeting, which participants have called "Davos in the Desert" and is held at the same Ritz-Carlton hotel where Prince Mohammed jailed dozens of wealthy Saudis in what he said was an anticorruption campaign.

It's fine that America's Treasury Secretary is visiting the Saudi Torture Hotel where Mohammad bin Salman locked up his relatives for a bit of "persuasion" until they saw the wisdom of handing their assets over to the monarchy. They probably cleaned up all the blood and fingernails months ago. And, yeah, they're murderous assassins using our bombs to slaughter starving civilians in Yemen. But, you know how it is ... we gotta make that money!

YOU DANCE WITH THE DEVIL, THE DEVIL DON'T CHANGE. THE DEVIL CHANGES YOU.

[WaPo / NYT / CNN]

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We want to say right here at the outset that we hate Julian Assange. Aside from the sexual assault allegations against him, and aside from the fact that he's just a generally stinky and loathsome person who reportedly smeared poop on the walls at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, while reportedly not taking care of his cat, an innocent creature, he acted as Russia's handmaiden during the 2016 election, in order to further Russia's campaign to steal it for Donald Trump. All signs point to his campaign being a success!

So we are justifiably happy when bad things happen to Julian Assange. We are happy his name is shit the world over, and that any reputation WikiLeaks used to have for being on the side of freedom and transparency has been stuffed down the toilet where it belongs. We are happy he looked like such a sad-ass loser when the Ecuadorian embassy finally kicked him out and he was arrested.

And quite frankly, we were OK with the initial charge against him recently unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia. If you'll remember, he was charged with trying to help Chelsea Manning hack a password into the Defense Department, which is not what journalists do. Journalists do not drive the get-away car for sources. Journalists do not hold their sources' hair back while they're stealing classified intel. Assange is essentially accused of doing all that.

Now, put all that aside. Because -- and this is key -- journalists do publish secrets they are provided by sources. That's First Amendment, chapter and verse, American as fucking apple pie and fast-food-induced diabetes. And that is what much of the superseding indictment of Assange unsealed yesterday was about. (And nope, it wasn't about anything regarding Assange's ratfucking the 2016 election or Hillary's emails. Why would the Trump Justice Department prosecute anything about that? It's all about the older Chelsea Manning stuff, the stuff the Obama Justice Department considered charging Assange with, but ultimately declined, because of that little thing called the First Amendment.)

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The pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, Inc. -- heck of a name for these times -- recently announced US sales of a generic version of its HIV prevention drug Truvada would begin a year earlier than originally planned. The stepped-up schedule for the generic was at least in part the result of pressure from activists, who have made a lot of noise about the fact that Gilead's huge revenues from Truvada -- about $3 billion annually -- came only after the basic research for the drug was done at taxpayer expense, largely through grants from the Centers for Disease Control, which holds the patent on the drug.

At a House Oversight Committee hearing last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez let one of the witnesses, Gilead CEO Daniel O'Day, know she wasn't personally blaming him or his greed for the high cost of the drug, which prevents the spread of HIV through "pre-exposure prophylaxis" (PrEP). No, that's all a result of the terrible incentives that come from the fact that the US, alone among developed countries, treats healthcare as a commodity, not a right for all. Which is why a monthly supply of Truvada costs nearly $1800 here, and roughly eight dollars in Australia.

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