Investors Fret Over Khashoggi Killing but Still Maintain Saudi Ties

Virgin founder Richard Branson announced he was pulling out of talks on a $1 billion deal with Saudi Arabia over the killing of a Washington Post columnist. State involvement in the killing, “if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government,” Mr. Branson said.

Days later in a text message, Mr. Branson counseled the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to release female activists his country had imprisoned.

“If you were to pardon these women and a number of men too, it would show the world the Government is truly moving into the 21stCentury,” Mr. Branson texted the crown prince. “It won’t change what happened in Turkey but it would go a long way to start and change people’s view.”

Mr. Branson was one of the first in a parade of CEOs, fund managers and bankers who scrambled to figure out how to preserve their relationships with Prince Mohammed after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul embassy in the fall.

Mr. Branson urged Prince Mohammed to change his ways. Others adopted a dual strategy of public condemnation while trying to continue to do business as usual. Some shunned the formality of Saudi Arabia’s high-profile investment conference but pursued informal gatherings instead.

The reason: Many have tied their companies’ future to Saudi money and Crown Prince Mohammed’s wide-ranging economic overhauls.

This whole Khashoggi thing doesn’t mean anything,” said hedge-fund manager John Burbank, who has been one of the U.S.’s most prominent investors in Saudi stocks. “It means much less than the big, sweeping liberalization that’s happening in the kingdom.”

MBS, as Prince Mohammed is known, politely thanked Mr. Branson for his input. A few days later, the crown prince publicly denied involvement in the murder, calling it a heinous crime. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has since concluded that he likely ordered the killing.

American investors in Saudi stocks, besides Mr. Burbank, include Peter Thiel and hedge fund Bienville Capital Management, among others. Roughly 4% of the total Saudi market is held by foreigners.

One person’s life doesn’t matter unless it’s MBS’s,” Mr. Burbank says. “Khashoggi doesn’t matter.” He adds that investors who have steered away from Saudi Arabia are hypocrites, because some of them also invest in Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Burbank was among the dozens of Western executives and investors who showed up at the home of Yasir al Rumayyan—chairman of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund, which the crown prince oversees—on the eve of the investor conference in October. Over platters piled high with roast lamb, towers of sweets in golden birdcages and champagne flutes of fruit juice, they toasted their relationship beneath palm trees tinted by purple spotlights, attendees said.

SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son backed out of the conference, but he still showed up at the lamb feast. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also pulled out of the conference, but Uber co-founder and board member Travis Kalanick was at the party, along with former congressman and current banker Eric Cantor and his boss, banker Ken Moelis, and venture capitalist Jim Breyer. Thiel Capital portfolio manager John MacMahon also appeared at the dinner, and the chief executive of Silicon Valley construction startup Katerra, Michael Marks, attended the investment conference.

Matt Barnard, the CEO of Plenty—an indoor-farming startup with $200 million in backing from a Saudi-backed SoftBank fund—flew to Saudi Arabia for the conference. But he returned home without attending, a Plenty spokeswoman says.

The cost of shunning Saudi Arabia could be high. Some business partners fear losing access to the kingdom in the future if they pull out of Saudi deals now.

Ari Emanuel, the CEO of Hollywood talent agency Endeavor, is negotiating to return a $400 million investment that the Saudi sovereign-wealth fund made in his company earlier this year, people familiar with the company’s plan say.

In the wake of Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mr. Emanuel said he was “really concerned about it.”

.. “Were there mistakes made? Absolutely there were mistakes made,” said Matt Michelsen, an associate of John Burbank and a Silicon Valley investor. “But this place is changing. I saw Starbucks opening on multiple corners. There are women walking around without abayas. It’s a fundamental shift that’s occurred.”

Republicans Despise the Working Class

You can always count on Republicans to do two things: try to cut taxes for the rich and try to weaken the safety net for the poor and the middle class.

.. G.O.P. legislative proposals show not a hint of the populism Trump espoused on the campaign trail.

.. their bill — on which we don’t have full details, but whose shape is clear — hugely privileges owners, whether of businesses or of financial assets, over those who simply work for a living.

.. Republicans exalt “job creators,” that is, people who own businesses directly or indirectly via their stockholdings. Meanwhile, they show implicit contempt for mere employees.

.. the consensus among tax economists is that most of the break will accrue to shareholders as opposed to workers. So it’s mainly a tax cut for investors, not people who work for a living.

.. The bill would reduce taxes on business owners, on average, about three times as much as it would reduce taxes on those whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. For highly paid workers, the gap would be even wider, as much as 10 to one.
..  a real estate development firm might get a far bigger tax cut than a surgeon employed by a hospital, even though their income is the same.”
(Yes, a lot of the bill looks as if it were specifically designed to benefit the Trump family.)
.. We’re pitting hastily devised legislation, drafted without hearings over the course of just a few days, against the cleverest lawyers and accountants money can buy. Which side do you think will win?
.. it’s a good guess that the bill will increase the budget deficit far more than currently projected.
.. Cutting corporate taxes is hugely unpopular; even Republicans are almost as likely to say they should be raised as to say they should be lowered.
.. Their disdain for ordinary working Americans as opposed to investors, heirs, and business owners runs so deep that they can’t contain it.
.. in 2012, when Eric Cantor — then the House majority leader — tried to celebrate Labor Day. He put out a tweet for the occasion that somehow failed to mention workers at all, instead praising those who have “built a business and earned their own success.”
.. Cantor, a creature of the G.O.P. establishment if ever there was one, had so little respect for working Americans that he forgot to include them in a Labor Day message.
And now that disdain has been translated into legislation, in the form of a bill that treats anyone who works for someone else — that is, the vast majority of Americans — as a second-class citizen.

Trump Gives White Supremacists an Unequivocal Boost

President Trump buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations — equating activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend

.. angrily asserting that so-called alt-left activists were just as responsible for the bloody confrontation as marchers brandishing swastikas, Confederate battle flags, anti-Semitic banners and “Trump/Pence” signs.

.. But members of the president’s staff, stunned and disheartened, said they never expected to hear such a voluble articulation of opinions that the president had long expressed in private. National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, who are Jewish, stood by uncomfortably as the president exacerbated a controversy that has once again engulfed a White House in disarray.

.. And of the demonstrators who rallied on Friday night, some chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans, he said, “You had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”

Since the 1960s, Republican politicians have made muscular appeals to white voters, especially those in the South, on broad cultural grounds. But as a rule, they have taken a hard line on the party’s racist, nativist and anti-Semitic fringe. Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush roundly condemned white supremacists.

.. In 1991, the first President Bush took on Mr. Duke, who was then seeking the governor’s seat in Louisiana, saying, “When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that someone can reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society.”

.. But his unifying tone, which his staff characterized as more traditionally presidential, quickly gave way to a more familiar Trump approach.

No sooner had he delivered the Monday statement than he began railing privately to his staff about the press. He fumed to aides about how unfairly he was being treated, and expressed sympathy with nonviolent protesters who he said were defending their “heritage,” according to a West Wing official.

.. Mr. Trump prides himself on an unapologetic style he learned from his father Fred Trump, a New York City housing developer, and Roy Cohn, a combative lawyer who served as an aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

.. The president was about to revert to his initial, more defiant stance. As Mr. Trump approached the microphone in the lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday, aides winced at the prospect of an unmediated president. With good reason.

.. the hiring of Mr. Kelly, who was to impose discipline on a chaotic West Wing.

.. He added that efforts by the president to equate the actions of the counter-protesters, however violent they may have been, with the neo-Nazis and the driver of the car that murdered a protester were “unacceptable.”

“There’s no moral equivalence,” Mr. Cantor said.

If Trump Fired Bannon, Would He Seek Revenge?

Friends and foes imagine his options for brutal payback.

.. leaking personal dirt on his enemies to the tabloids, using the megaphone of Breitbart News to exacerbate divisions inside the administration, and siccing an army of internet trolls on his adversaries to harass and defame them. It ends with Bannon using Cambridge Analytica data to identify and primary their vulnerable allies in Congress, then releasing a “Where Trump Went Wrong” documentary on the eve of the November midterms

.. Steve King, a steadfast Bannon ally .. the mere discussion of Bannon’s potential revenge could be enough to set off Trump while also acknowledging that it could have the opposite effect of making the White House think twice about firing him.

.. “Do you really want to gamble with this in your first 100 days?”

.. blame Breitbart coverage for stirring up a tsunami of threats and intimidation from its readers

.. Rick Wilson, for example, reportedly endured anonymous threats to rape his daughter and nearly shot a man he found snooping on his back porch

.. “The hit pieces on Breitbart will increase, for sure,”

.. one recent 24-hour period in which the site published four anti-Kushner pieces.

.. “There’s sex scandals people are sitting on,

.. identifying his enemies’ most vulnerable allies in Congress and encouraging challengers to run for their seats.

.. “It will be Eric Cantor-style warfare.”

.. unlikely to take on Trump directly, preferring instead to shift blame toward others while leaving the door open to a rapprochement

.. “In Steve’s dream scenario, he would depart, things would fall apart even more so, and Trump would beg him to come back to fix it,”

.. Bannon is more than just a man. He is honestly something of an idea

.. he represents something that both the establishment and the left-wing media hate.”

Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet

Michael Steele becomes the sixth former chair of the Republican National Committee to say he will not vote for the GOP nominee.

.. He joins Marc Racicot (chair 2002-2003), who told Bloomberg in August, “I cannot and will not support Donald Trump for president.” Mel Martinez (2007) memorably told The Wall Street Journal, “If there is any, any, any other choice, a living, breathing person with a pulse, I would be there.” Bill Brock (1977-1981) has said he won’t back Trump, and so has Ken Mehlman (2005-2007). Rich Bond (1992-1993) wrote in an email in May that he would not vote for either Trump or Clinton, and would write in Homer Simpson if need be.

.. Despite a mass exodus since a video emerged of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, some prominent Republicans have still kept backing Trump. That notably includes Speaker Paul Ryan, who is officially a Trump endorser, even though he has said he will not defend or campaign for the nominee, and even though Trump has taken to attacking him during stump speeches and interviews; and also Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Barbara Bush: NAY
.. Unlike her husband and elder son, the former first lady has publicly disavowed Trump. “I mean, unbelievable. I don’t know how women can vote for someone who said what he said about Megyn Kelly, it’s terrible
Mitt Romney: NAY
.. “I wanted my grandkids to see that I simply couldn’t ignore what Mr. Trump was saying and doing, which revealed a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world.” Romney continued: “I know that some people are offended that someone who lost and is the former nominee continues to speak, but that’s how I can sleep at night.”
Bob Dole: YEA
.. The former Senate majority leader and 1996 GOP presidential nomineeendorsed Trump on May 6. He will also be the only living GOP nominee to attend the RNC. (May 6, 2016.)
John Boehner: YEA
The former speaker, who says he and Trump are “texting buddies,” told an audience at Stanford University that he’d back Trump in the general election.
Trent Lott: YEA
Dick Cheney: YEA
The former vice president blasted Trump during the primary over his stance on 9/11, and said he “sounds like a liberal Democrat,” but he now says he will back the nominee.
Newt Gingrich: YEA
Jeb Bush: NAY
Reince Priebus: YEA
Rick Perry: YEA
The former Texas governor and presidential candidate—who was one of the first to blast Trumptold CNN that he backs Trump.

Mike Huckabee: YEA
The former Arkansas governor, who ran for president this year, says Republicans should get in line.  “When we nominated people over the past several election cycles, some of us had heartburn, but we stepped up and supported the nominee,” he said. “You’re either on the team, or you’re not on the team.” (May 5, 2016)

Bobby Jindal: YEA
The former Louisiana governor, who during his own presidential campaign called Trump a “narcissist” and an “egomaniacal madman,” wrote in a Wall Street Journal column that he’s voting for Trump, “warts and all.”

Eric Cantor: YEA