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With Billions at Stake in Tax Debate, Lobbyists Played Hardball

In all, more than half of the 11,000 registered lobbyists in Washington reported working on tax-related issues through the first nine months of the year, according to a report released this month by the nonprofit group Public Citizen.The tactics range from boring to brass-knuckled.When a lobbyist for the travel industry wanted to kill an amendment to the tax bill sought by Delta Air Lines over concerns it would dampen United States tourism, he emailed Republican tax writers with links to a series of posts written by consultants who have worked with Delta that were sharply critical of President Trump.The travel industry was concerned that the Delta amendment would depress international travel to the United States because it would impose a tax on foreign airlines that American carriers contend are subsidized by the governments of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.The implication from the emails — one of which arrived under the subject line, “Delta Lobbyists: RESIST” — was that Republicans should not reward a company whose representatives were bad-mouthing the party’s leaders.In fact, none of the anti-Trump posts were actually written by Delta lobbyists, but rather by consultants working for a coalition that includes Delta and other United States-based airlines.The two-page provision sought by Delta had been inserted into the bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, where Delta has its headquarters.His amendment would have assessed corporate taxes on income generated in the United States by foreign airlines based in countries that restrict access to United States carriers. The proposal would have generated an estimated $200 million over the next decade, according to an estimate by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation […]

Feature: Rex Tillerson and the Unraveling of the State Department

When I spoke to Tillerson about what caused the initial split in the administration on Qatar, he said that it boiled down to experience. “I think I started from a different place perhaps because I’ve known all the leaders involved for a long time, and I’ve seen these kinds of issues emerge in the region over the 20-plus years I’ve been dealing with the region,” he said. “So this was not new for me, and so I guess my reaction to it was perhaps immediately measured because I’ve seen it before. To those who have not seen it before” — and here Tillerson didn’t bother to name names, but it seemed he was talking about Kushner — “there are a lot of concerns expressed about Qatar that are legitimate concerns. […]

Saudis Wonder What’s Next After the King Allows Women to Drive

Built on an alliance between a royal family and the descendants of an ultraconservative Muslim cleric, Saudi Arabia has struggled throughout its history with how to reconcile modernization with loyalty to religious heritage.That debate heated up as oil wealth enriched the state, bringing in unfamiliar customs and technologies like television, public education and automobiles.Over time, competing camps dug in around women and the right to drive.For liberals, the driving ban was a blot on the national brand that was hampering modernization and weakening the economy.Conservatives, including powerful clerics employed by the state, thought that allowing women to drive would be a crack in the dam that would allow secularism to flood in, washing away the kingdom’s unique Islamic identity.The royal decree announced on Tuesday handed victory in that battle to the reformers, who had gained an advantage in recent years because of demographics, economics and the country’s young leadership, analysts said.Saudi leaders, who have been criticized for the war in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar and a range of human rights issues, clearly hoped the step would help the kingdom’s reputation.“There is no wrong time to do the right thing,” Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to Washington and a son of King Salman, told reporters after the change was announced.Continue reading the main storyThe government also worked behind the scenes to control the message.At least eight prominent women’s activists received calls and text messages from Saudi security officials warning them not to tweet or speak to the news media about the issue, according to three Saudi activists.They presumed the government did not want to give credit to activists for prompting the change and spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize the women — or themselves.Many women cheered the decision, calling it a final victory in a long campaign for social change.Manal al-Sherif, who was jailed for having posted videos of herself driving and who wrote a book about her activism, said her life had tracked the wider social changes in the kingdom.Born into a poor conservative family in Mecca, Ms. Sherif, now 38, was taught that women were to remain at home and that good Muslims were to avoid “infidels” who did not share their faith, she said by phone from Australia, where she now lives.Her worldview changed when as a university student in the Red Sea port city of Jidda, she saw women who did not cover their faces in public and even had boyfriends, though covertly.PhotoManal al-Sherif, who was jailed for posting videos of herself driving, said her experiences tracked the wider social changes in the kingdom.Credit Marwan Naamani/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThen she got a job with the state oil company, Saudi Aramco. On its sprawling compound women enjoy greater freedoms than elsewhere in the kingdom, including the ability to drive.She said that the status of women in Saudi Arabia had been used by the government over the years to placate conservatives.“Our rights as women were always used in a political game, and that is what we wanted to stop,” she said. “That really kept the country behind.”Newsletter Sign UpContinue reading the main storyThank you for subscribing.An error has occurred. Please try again later.You are already subscribed to this email.View all New York Times newsletters.She credited King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, another of the king’s sons, with making the decisions necessary for the kingdom to advance.Continue reading the main story“The government took the right decision,” she said. “Finally, they had the guts to say, ‘We were wrong.’”It was difficult to immediately gauge reactions to the rescinded ban among more conservative Saudis. The government recently arrested more than two dozen people, including prominent clerics, some of whom had criticized government policies.Three clerics employed by the government declined to comment when asked for their thoughts on the rescinded ban.“Hahahahahahaha,” one responded on Whats App, offering no further comment.Social media provided a glimpse.By midafternoon on Wednesday, the Arabic hashtag “The people reject women driving” had appeared on 335,000 tweets, while the hashtag “The king is victorious for women driving” had appeared in only 33,700 tweets, according to Twitter.But many users used the hashtags to join discussions, even if they disagreed with their message.Even longtime campaigners said they expected some resistance.“We’re a religious country,” said Fawziah Al-Bakr, a professor who has been campaigning for the right to drive for nearly three decades.But religion had nothing to do with the issue, she said, noting that women in other predominately Muslim countries like Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan have been driving for a long time.Continue reading the main story“All these women are Muslim and yet they are driving,” she said. “Not being able to drive has nothing to do with Islam.”Previous reforms have been met with great resistance in the kingdom. Conservatives campaigned against the introduction of television, fearing it would fill Saudi homes with un-Islamic images.Now many Saudi clerics have their own shows and are enthusiastic users of social media.They also tried to prevent girls’ education.Now many of their daughters are studying in Saudi universities, and even in the United States.For many Saudi women, gaining the right to drive is not the end of the struggle […]

Saudis Wonder What’s Next After the King Allows Women to Drive

Built on an alliance between a royal family and the descendants of an ultraconservative Muslim cleric, Saudi Arabia has struggled throughout its history with how to reconcile modernization with loyalty to religious heritage.That debate heated up as oil wealth enriched the state, bringing in unfamiliar customs and technologies like television, public education and automobiles.Over time, competing camps dug in around women and the right to drive.For liberals, the driving ban was a blot on the national brand that was hampering modernization and weakening the economy.Conservatives, including powerful clerics employed by the state, thought that allowing women to drive would be a crack in the dam that would allow secularism to flood in, washing away the kingdom’s unique Islamic identity.The royal decree announced on Tuesday handed victory in that battle to the reformers, who had gained an advantage in recent years because of demographics, economics and the country’s young leadership, analysts said.Saudi leaders, who have been criticized for the war in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar and a range of human rights issues, clearly hoped the step would help the kingdom’s reputation.“There is no wrong time to do the right thing,” Prince Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to Washington and a son of King Salman, told reporters after the change was announced.Continue reading the main storyThe government also worked behind the scenes to control the message.At least eight prominent women’s activists received calls and text messages from Saudi security officials warning them not to tweet or speak to the news media about the issue, according to three Saudi activists.They presumed the government did not want to give credit to activists for prompting the change and spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize the women — or themselves.Many women cheered the decision, calling it a final victory in a long campaign for social change.Manal al-Sherif, who was jailed for having posted videos of herself driving and who wrote a book about her activism, said her life had tracked the wider social changes in the kingdom.Born into a poor conservative family in Mecca, Ms. Sherif, now 38, was taught that women were to remain at home and that good Muslims were to avoid “infidels” who did not share their faith, she said by phone from Australia, where she now lives.Her worldview changed when as a university student in the Red Sea port city of Jidda, she saw women who did not cover their faces in public and even had boyfriends, though covertly.PhotoManal al-Sherif, who was jailed for posting videos of herself driving, said her experiences tracked the wider social changes in the kingdom.Credit Marwan Naamani/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThen she got a job with the state oil company, Saudi Aramco. […]

Asia and Australia Edition: North Korea, Donald Trump Jr., China: Your Wednesday Briefing

#briefing-market-module.interactive-embedded .interactive-caption { display: none; } Market Snapshot View Full Overview In the News Photo Credit Elijah Baylis/The Clarion-Ledger, via Associated Press • Sixteen U.S. military service members died when a Marine Corps transport plane crashed in the Mississippi Delta. [The New York Times] • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is using shuttle diplomacy to try to end the standoff between four Arab nations and Qatar. The dispute has pushed Qatar closer to Iran, which has sent planeloads of fresh vegetables and other support. [The New York Times] • Heavy flooding in northern India forced a herd of endangered one-horned rhinos to higher ground, where they are easy prey for poachers. [The New York Times] • A mudslide tore through a village in northeastern India, killing 16 people and leaving six more missing. [Reuters] Continue reading the main story • Mongolia’s new president, Battulga Khaltmaa, said in his inaugural address that he would build ties with Japan and the U.S. And a former sumo wrestling champion may serve as an adviser on foreign policy […]

Trump’s Business Ties in Persian Gulf Raise Questions About His Allegiances

NYT

Continued here: Trump’s Business Ties in Persian Gulf Raise Questions About His Allegiances

Trump Team’s Shifts Jolt Some Allies and Soothe Others

NYT

More here: Trump Team’s Shifts Jolt Some Allies and Soothe Others