Why Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance will haunt the Saudi government

The disappearance and reported killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi will have many victims, starting with his family and his fiancee. But unless the Saudi government speaks and acts quickly and honestly about this terrible event, its own reputation will incur irreparable damage.

.. its central characteristic and greatest flaw was despotism: one-man rule by the young crown prince. To this critique were added descriptions of his impulsiveness, inexperience and repression of any criticism of his approach to modernization.

.. Defenders of the new regime (including me) have argued in essence that MBS, as the crown prince is known, is in the traditional and positive sense of the term an “enlightened despot.” Though he was an absolute ruler, in this reading, he was one who used his power rationally to bring economic and social reforms, modernize his country and address the many developmental problems that hamper Saudi Arabia despite its wealth. He appears, for example, to have reined in the ultra-conservative clergy, has begun to improve the status and role of women, and has adopted plans aimed at creating a productive economy not dependent solely on oil production.

.. His detention of many very rich Saudis in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel until they paid ransoms was apparently fairly popular in the kingdom, because it was widely believed few of those men had gained their fortunes legitimately. Those ransoms were equivalent to the taxes they had never paid.

.. The alleged killing of Khashoggi is a death blow to all those hopes and expectations, unless the Saudis can somehow explain what happened and accept full responsibility.

.. Second, the reported Khashoggi killing came just a few weeks after the bizarre Saudi overreactionto criticism from Canada, which took the form of a single tweet on human rights issues. Recalling their ambassador from Ottawa for a while would have been fitting if they wished to show anger. Instead, they brought him home permanently, expelled the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh, barred flights between the two countries, ordered Saudi students to leave Canada, and took several steps to diminish economic and financial relations with Canada. All that over a tweet.

.. And now comes the apparent murder, abroad, of a critic who had long been part of the Saudi establishment and was no revolutionary, no radical Islamist, no advocate of violence. I do not know Jamal Khashoggi well, but we had met and talked about the kingdom on several occasions. Any government that thinks it cannot survive his thoughtful criticism telegraphs to the world that it thinks itself shaky indeed.

.. Killing Khashoggi would be both: a great crime and a great mistake. It suggests either

  • a regime without internal procedures and controls, or
  • one in which an impulsive decision to kill a critic living in Washington cannot be contradicted or even questioned.

.. The Saudis may not realize what a wide impact that conclusion will have on governments and on investors, but it will be profound. All Saudi decision-making will come into question, and the government’s reliability as a partner will be rendered uncertain.

.. What the crown prince must grasp is that his entire modernization program, indeed every defense of his own personal power, is undermined by what all the evidence suggests was a carefully planned murder. Jamal Khashoggi lost control of his fate when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Mohammed bin Salman must act quickly to regain control of his own.

Ford runs circles around hapless Republicans, who now have a second scandal

Ford attorney Debra Katz repeatedly has stared down Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), swatting away one artificial deadline after another. Grassley told her he needed an answer by Friday at 10 a.m. That got pushed to 10 p.m., and then to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Katz rightly called these deadlines arbitrary and more importantly knew she had leverage.

.. With Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jeff Flake of Arizona saying they wanted to hear from Ford before voting, Grassley couldn’t very well cut off discussion. He didn’t have the votes to confirm the nominee.

.. If Republicans were hoping to intimidate Ford it didn’t work. Rather it revealed that there is a slim chance, more than zero, that Republicans might not have the votes after this next week.

.. Republicans have made repeated, stupid mistakes that have not helped their position.

  • President Trump attacked Ford, asserting she would have gone to the police as a 15-year-old if the attempted rape was “that bad.” Collins pronounced herself “appalled.”
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly vowed he would confirm Kavanaugh. They’d “plow through” he declared, a remarkable confession that they’ll bulldoze Ford and vote to confirm no matter what.

The public can conclude Republicans have no problem sitting Kavanaugh even if Ford’s claim is true.

.. Nevertheless, it appears someone communicated her name to Whelan before it was made public.

.. The question now is whether anyone at the White House, Kavanaugh or at the Senate Judiciary Committee was involved in the harebrained scheme to accuse a classmate of Kavanaugh’s under the bonkers theory Ford got the identity of her attacker “confused.”

.. Well, someone told Whelan what was up, and any coordination with Kavanaugh (for example, via the right-wing PR outfit CRC, who hyped Whelan’s revelation), would be separate grounds for denying him confirmation and would also ensnare the judge in the host of civil and ethical problems Whelan created.

.. As if that weren’t enough, an employee of CRC on loan to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garrett Ventry, resigned for falsifying his résumé and for alleged sexual harassment.

.. Even if they had tried, Republicans could have not done a better job demonstrating their bias, ineptitude, unseriousness, meanness, unfairness and general lack of empathy.

.. There are now at least two related scandals : 1.) Whether Kavanaugh attacked Ford and now is lying, and 2.) the identities of those involved in a reprehensible scheme to pin a crime on someone for which there is zero evidence of wrongdoing. Between Trump’s ridiculous assertion that a 15-year-old’s failure to report a sex crime (which launched the #WhyIDidntReport social media phenomenon) and the nutty mistaken identity plot (which seems to concede Ford was attacked)

.. Free advice: Cut their losses, get Kavanaugh to withdraw and promise a better nominee with no baggage later this year or next.

 

Trump Jr. mocks sexual assault claim against Kavanaugh

Donald Trump Jr. posted an image on Instagram with the caption “Judge Kavanaugh sexual assault letter found by Dems…”

The photo attached shows a crumpled-up piece of notebook paper with a scribbled message: “Hi Cindy will you be my girlfriend, Love Bret.” The note has boxes to check for “yes” or “no” and seems to compare Kavanaugh’s accuser to a schoolyard crush.

.. Trump Jr. also “liked” a tweet from conservative actor James Woods which compared the accusation to a #MeToo “lynching.” Woods later deleted the tweet.

Republican Rep. Billy Long of Missouri also took to Twitter to mock the accusation, retweeting a message from another user who posted a black-and-white photo of a little boy kissing a little girl on the forehead.

Twitter’s Flawed Solution to Political Polarization

On social media, encountering opposing views can make people become even more wedded to their own.

.. Jack Dorsey, repeatedly denied that Twitter’s algorithms are biased against conservative voices. His denials echoed recent statements he has made about the importance of exposing people to opposing political views. Indeed, he announced last month that Twitter was experimenting with new features that would actively expose people to such views.
Mr. Dorsey’s goal of reducing political polarization is commendable. But his proposed solution — disrupting our social media “echo chambers” — may actually make things worse. Forcing Twitter users to encounter political views they disagree with, my research shows, can make them become even more wedded to their own.
.. Scholars were once optimistic that social media could increase bipartisan dialogue by allowing virtually anyone to engage in public debate about politics. Yet mounting evidence suggests that Facebook and Twitter have allowed Republicans and Democrats to further segregate themselves.
.. Then we paid half of them to follow for one month a bot we created that retweeted messages from elected officials and other opinion leaders from the other political party.
.. Instead of reducing political polarization, being exposed to opposing ideas increased it. Republicans who followed a Democratic bot for one month expressed social policy views that were substantially more conservative at the conclusion of the study.
.. Why did some social media users’ political views become more entrenched after we disrupted their echo chambers? One possibility is the structure of Twitter itself. Social psychologists have long argued that positive, intimate contact between members of rival groups across an extended period can produce compromise. But that is not what Twitter offers. Its character limits — combined with the anonymous, spontaneous nature of so many exchanges on the platform — simply may not be conducive to mutual understanding.
.. a first step should be for Twitter to experiment with removing its character limits. Allowing people to voice their opinions in detail will not improve the civility of discourse by itself, but it may facilitate a better competition of ideas and increase the possibility for Democrats and Republicans to understand one another.
.. Twitter should not force its users to view messages from a political party they oppose. Instead, it should create an alert system that makes people aware when they are being exposed predominantly to one point of view. The most pernicious effect of social media echo chambers may be that most people are unaware of how much their political views are influenced by selective exposure to information.

Finally, if Twitter is resolved to expose users to opposing political views, it should focus on doing so with specific issues. Republican and Democratic Twitter users appear unready to have broad conversations about politics. But breaking up the echo chambers that prevent cross-party discussion about market-based solutions to climate change, for example, might be more successful.