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Political contests erupt as cities and hotel industry struggle to curb Airbnb

By Robert McCartney
Political contests erupt as cities and hotel industry struggle to curb Airbnb
AirBNB landlord, Shaun Johnson, talks with his tennant, Taylor Valencia of San Francisco, at his property in northeast Washington. He rents properties via the website instead of to long-term tenants. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton

Austin Hong of San Diego has used Airbnb and similar companies for the past five years to rent out a second home for short stays. The income allows him and his husband to cover the mortgage while keeping the three-bedroom house available for family members who visit often.

So Hong fought back when the city council passed a law in July that would ban such short-term rentals. He collected signatures on petitions at food courts and social gatherings as part of a successful campaign to block the law from taking effect until it can be put to popular referendum, possibly in 2020.

"They say it's regulation, but really it's a ban that they passed," said Hong, 34, who is creative director at a software company. "We absolutely want regulation. What we don't want is a ban."

The explosive growth of short-term rentals around the country has pushed ocal governments to rein in the practice, with help from the hotel industry, which wants to stifle a formidable competitor.

But the effort has spawned political contests that have highlighted the difficulty of managing a disruptive new industry. It has triggered a backlash in some jurisdictions from the short-term rental firms and property owners who don't want to lose a lucrative enterprise.

In June, voters in Palm Springs, California, overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure overturning limits on short-term rentals. Some state governments, such as Tennessee and Arizona, have intervened to protect hosts when legislators thought cities were setting limits that went too far.

In Washington, the tug-of-war is scheduled to reach a climax Tuesday with a second District of Columbia Council vote expected to approve some of the toughest restrictions in the country. They would ban short-term rentals of a second home--a measure that has proved to be the single most divisive provision in debates across the country.

As in many other cities, the District of Columbia bill would allow property owners to rent out space in their primary residence when the host is present, and for a specified period - up to 90 days a year in Washington - when the host is absent.

These kinds of new restrictions - in scores of cities in the U.S. and hundreds worldwide - have barely slowed the rise in home-sharing. It is forecast to continue to expand rapidly and permanently transform the lodging and tourism business.

Short-term rentals have soared because hosts like the extra income and guests get alternatives, often at a lower price, to a hotel or motel. Matching the two has become much easier because bookings can be done online on Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and other sites.

The expansion aroused fear in the lodging industry, whose companies and unions have financed and promoted tight regulation of what they describe as "illegal hotels." They have formed an alliance with citizens unhappy that short-term rentals are altering their neighborhoods'' residential character, and affordable housing activists. They make claims, based on inconclusive data, that growth of short-term rentals is contributing significantly to housing shortages and rising rents.

"The real story over the last year or year and a half seems to be the hotel industry waking up to the fact that Airbnb poses a much bigger threat to their business than they originally imagined," said Anu Sundararajan, a New York University business professor.

He noted that on the most recent New Year's Eve, more than 3 million guests were staying in Airbnb rooms, or more than the total number staying in hotels owned by Marriott and Hilton combined.

The regulations have established a legal framework for the new industry, which in many cities was operating in violation of zoning laws or other ordinances. They also have allowed local governments to collect taxes on short-term rentals. Airbnb says about 60 percent of its U.S. hosts now pay such levies.

"We're encouraged to see places like San Diego, Boston and New York moving forward with regulations holding Airbnb and their counterparts accountable for fostering illegal hotel activity, which is really affecting quality of neighborhoods and housing affordability across the country," Troy Flanagan, vice president of the American Hotel and Lodging Association, said.

But the new regulations are barely slowing down the nascent industry. Global short-term rentals grew by 82 percent from 2012 to 2017, from 45.6 billion to 82.9 billion, according to a July report by Skift, a travel industry research firm. In the same period, hotel room sales increased 27 percent, from 404.2 billion to 512.3 billion.

By 2022, Skift forecast, short-term rentals sales will jump 60 percent from the 2017 level, to 132.5 billion rooms, while hotel room sales will rise by 34 percent to 686.9 billion.

It seems likely that short-term rentals would have grown even faster without the new regulations, but no figures are publicly available about how many listings were lost overall because of the new rules. In San Francisco, Airbnb reported in January that some of the tightest restrictions in the county had cost it nearly 5,000 listings.

Regulation can actually help encourage short-term rentals, according to the industry, because it legitimizes the activity and attracts interest. Also, it's so difficult to enforce many regulations that home-sharing continues even if it's technically illicit.

"The more heavy handed and draconian the regulations that cities try to impose, the more complicated it is for them to enforce," Matthew Kiessling, vice president of the Travel Technology Association, said.

But cities accuse the short-term rental companies of making enforcement difficult by declining to share data about who is listing properties.

In Portland, a city audit in August found that nearly 80 percent of listed rentals were operating without the mandatory city permit. City officials complained their hands were tied because they lacked data.

"It's still very challenging to have what I would call smart regulation, because it depends on data, and data is largely held by the companies, and the companies are largely not super-interested in sharing the data," said Kellen Zale, a University of Houston law professor.

She and other analysts said the research is inconclusive about whether the short-term rental business is contributing to shortages of affordable housing.

"I've seen various studies, and they point in different directions," Zale said. "We haven't really got good evidence."

Despite the bitter battle over regulation, some common ground exists. The short-term rental companies agree with the hotel industry that owners should be banned from having multiple listings. The hotel industry says it's fine with what it calls "true" home-sharing, in which hosts rent space in their primary residence when they're present.

The biggest challenge has been whether to allow short-term rentals of second homes. Seattle, Denver and Phoenix say "yes," while San Francisco and New York have largely banned the practice.

The question resonates in San Diego, a seaside city with thousands of vacation homes that have been rented out on a short-term basis for generations.

Blaine Smith owns a company that manages 150 vacation homes.All but two or three of the properties are second homes, which could not be rented under the proposed law.

"As written, it would pretty much put us out of business," Smith, 32, said. "We have such a rich history of tourism and vacation rentals. It's just crazy what happened here."

CNN's Jim Acosta engages Trump Nation

By Paul Farhi
CNN's Jim Acosta engages Trump Nation
In Erie, Pa., last week CNN reporter Jim Acosta takes a selfie with Stephanie Boyd, before the start of a Trump rally. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Paul Farhi

ERIE, Pa. - Not long after Jim Acosta enters the arena, people start calling his name.

"Jim!" shouts Stephanie Boyd, who is standing just beyond the barricades that pen in dozens of reporters. "Jiiiiiiiim!"

Acosta looks over in Boyd's direction. He isn't sure whether she wants a selfie or wants to dress him down. Sometimes, it's both.

CNN's chief White House correspondent saunters over to Boyd. He smiles, and so does she. "Can I take a picture with you?" she asks, dispelling his wariness.

The encounter is one of dozens Acosta will have with President Donald Trump's supporters, who have gathered by the thousands in the Erie Insurance Arena for one of his campaign rallies. Acosta has come to town on this Wednesday night to cover the president.

Ever since he started covering Trump, Acosta has known that such events can be fraught. Acosta is both a recognizable face and a walking incitement to members of Trump Nation. He's something like the opposing team at a home game - a villain, a target.

Shortly before Acosta meets Boyd, Danny Wheeler sidles up to him at the barricade. "Tell the truth, man!" Wheeler, from nearby Fairview, Pennsylvania, lectures him. "Just tell the truth."

"We do, sir," Acosta replies, his voice level, his demeanor pleasant.

It goes like this for hours in Erie, interrupted only by the main event, Trump's speech. Throughout the evening, between on-airs "hits," Acosta politely accommodates perhaps two dozen selfie-seekers and innumerable others who are out to harangue him. Dozens of other journalists go about their business unrecognized and unmolested. Not Acosta.

To each of his critics, Acosta responds with variations of the same answer: I'm just doing my job. I'm reporting the facts. I'm holding the president accountable. Sometimes he asks them, "Isn't that what a good reporter is supposed to do?"

In the hopped-up atmosphere of a Trump rally, they don't seem to think so.

Spotting Acosta idling in the press pen, John DeAngelo stops a few feet away, points and then goes into a kind of crude Marcel Marceau routine. He raises one middle finger toward the reporter, then the other, and then begins pumping both up and down in rapid succession. Then he points again at Acosta and puts an index finger to his mouth and makes gagging noises.

Acosta apparently doesn't see the bit. He doesn't respond.

"He's horrible," DeAngelo, a carpenter from western New York, says a minute or so later. "CNN's horrible. CNN's not news. It's more like a tabloid than a news network. It's so one-sided."

DeAngelo doesn't cite anything specific about Acosta's reporting, as is typical. Among the Trump faithful, Acosta-hate seems to be more of a feeling than a particular set of facts. It's not something he's reported; it's just . . . him.

"I'm a master carpenter with a ninth-grade education, and I know" the difference between good and bad reporting, says DeAngelo, who is wearing a button depicting Hillary Clinton in prison stripes. "I listen to all the news stations and I make up my mind. The most reliable news is Fox. Tucker, Hannity, and - what's that woman's name? - Laura [Ingraham], they're great. I know that's opinion, not news reporting, but I can tell the difference. You can tell when [Acosta] is asking a question that he's doing it for the drama, not for the facts. I watch CNN for three or four minutes and I want to poke myself in the eyeball."

By Trump-rally standards, this is relatively tame.

In late July, Acosta faced a more obstreperous reception, one that he says left him "shocked and saddened." During one of his periodic TV spots, the crowd turned toward his camera position and began chanting, "CNN sucks!"

Bad enough, but what CNN's viewers didn't see at that rally was the scene at the end. A large and surly group of rallygoers gathered around the press pen to hurl more verbal abuse at Acosta. "Stop lying!" one man yells. A rallygoer proudly shows off a T-shirt reading, "(Expletive) the Media."

Acosta tweeted a video clip of the episode with a comment reading, "Just a sample of the sad scene we faced at the Trump rally in Tampa. I'm very worried that the hostility whipped up by Trump and some in conservative media will result in somebody getting hurt. We should not treat our fellow Americans this way. The press is not the enemy."

Afterward, he and his crew decided not to tempt fate. They raced back to their cars and got out of Tampa as quickly as they could, he said.

Acosta says Tampa was a more "intense" version of what he's periodically faced since he started on the Trump beat. "It felt like we weren't in America," he says during a break in Erie. "It felt like a different country."

Actually, Acosta gets a gentler reception when he covers Trump abroad, says Allie Malloy, who produced his reporting from Erie. She notes that the crowds at international events are much more polite toward the press than those in the United States.

Trump has certainly done his part to agitate against the news media in general and Acosta in particular. On several occasions, he's refused to take questions from Acosta, all the while calling him and his network "fake news."

The criticism is rich with irony. Some have suggested that CNN was instrumental in fostering Trump's rise and ensuring his election by airing extensive coverage of his campaign rallies in 2015 and 2016. It also employed his former campaign manager as an analyst, who promoted him relentlessly.

In any case, Acosta says Trump isn't the primary source of the heat now. "A lot of people view this through the prism of conservative media," he said. "If you stay on Fox, Infowars, Breitbart or Daily Caller, you'll see something [inflammatory] about us. That's what supercharges everyone."

He cites a segment on Sean Hannity's Fox News program last year in which Hannity singled him out. Under a banner reading "Jim Acosta Unhinged," Hannity opined, "Instead of looking for answers, Acosta, he's looking for ways to damage the president, [and to] prop himself up."

Acosta naturally disputes the characterization, and says he looks on the rallies as a way to engage people directly. "I don't get tired of what happens at the rallies," he said. "I enjoy talking" to Trump's supporters. "It gives them a chance to get things off their chests. But I also get an opportunity to let them hear directly from me."

He adds, "I don't have any hard evidence that I've changed any minds. But I do, from time to time, hear from supporters who tell me they don't think we're the enemy of the people. . . . My parents were blue-collar. So I can relate to a lot of these folks."

Acosta, 47, grew up in Annandale, Virginia, and attended James Madison University. His father, A.J., an immigrant from Cuba, worked for 40 years as a clerk and cashier at Safeway stores in the Washington area; his mother, Barbara, has worked as a bartender and waitress.

Not that that matters especially to people like Amy Bujnicki, a social worker from Buffalo, who caught Acosta's attention in Erie by flinging a double flipoff in his direction as the rally wound down.

"That's not very nice," Acosta told her after bounding down from the elevated TV platform. "I wouldn't go to your work and flip you off."

"I don't understand why you guys are so negative" toward Trump, Bujnicki responded.

A small knot of people began to gather to hear the exchange. One woman commented, "You're wasting your time. He's the worst!"

Acosta pressed on. "We're not," he said to Bujnicki. "How much airtime do we give to people who support him?"

Bujnicki: "I used to think that everything that came out of a news reporter's mouth was a fact. And it's not. On CNN, it's not."

Acosta: "I invite you to watch us. When [Trump] says things that are not true, we have to report that. We have to fact-check him."

Bujnicki: "I don't trust CNN. I don't trust you."

Acosta: "Google my name and 'Barack Obama.' There were many days I was tough on him. People have short-term memories. They think we're only being tough on Trump. That's just not true. I was covering the campaign in 2016 end to end. There are people who tell me, Republicans who tell me, they wish we hadn't given as much coverage to Trump as the other Republicans."

Bujnicki doesn't seem convinced. Acosta, perhaps having learned his lesson in Tampa, tells her he has to get going.

"Thanks," he says.

As he turns to leave, a group of three young men in Make America Great Again hats is at his elbow. "Jim, would you mind?" one of the guys says, raising his smartphone for a selfie.

Acosta says sure. Then they all lean in and smile.

A decade after Lehman, investors hunt clues for next crisis

By Andrew Mayeda and Enda Curran
A decade after Lehman, investors hunt clues for next crisis
A worker passes a line of oil pumping jacks outside the village of Nikolo-Beryozovka near Neftekamsk, Russia, on March 3, 2016. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrey Rudakov.

"It's something that happens every five to seven years" is how JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon once defined a financial crisis to his daughter. Queen Elizabeth II asked "why did nobody notice" the seeds of the last one.

Stung by their failure to spot the turmoil of 10 years ago and two decades since Asian markets were roiled, policymakers, traders and economists are looking at the clock as they wonder when and where the next meltdown will hit.

At its annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia this week, the International Monetary Fund warning investors may be underestimating the risk of a financial shock.

One of the axioms of financial history though is that no two crises are the same so the search is on for potential triggers in the world economy and markets. A policy mistake by the Federal Reserve, such as raising rates too fast or for too long, could sideswipe the U.S. economy and disrupt markets around the world.

Here is a rundown of potential hot spots, including some you may not have thought of.

- China: Credit fueled China's rapid rise as an economic power. Lately, Beijing has been taking steps to slow the rate of corporate debt growth, but total debt outside the banking sector continued to rise last year and remains on an unsustainable path, according to the IMF.

The odds are against a soft landing. Of 43 cases of rapid growth in debt-to-GDP similar to China's, only five ended without a major slowdown or financial crisis, according to the fund. Many economists still think Beijing has several factors in its favor, including a strong current-account position and room to ramp up government spending. But the trade war with the U.S. could force China to slow its debt reduction, driving financial risks even higher.

"While a China hard landing still remains a low-probability scenario, if it did in fact occur, it would likely unleash a tsunami of contagion across the Asia-Pacific region," according to Rajiv Biswas, chief economist for the Asia-Pacific at IHS Markit.

- Emerging markets: Interest-rate hikes by the Federal Reserve coupled with a rising greenback have sent shock waves through emerging markets, making it harder for companies that borrowed in dollars to pay their debts. Argentina is borrowing $57 billion from the IMF, the largest in the fund's history, to stem the nation's currency crisis. The Turkish lira plunged as investors questioned the ability of Recep Erdogan's administration to contain inflation.

"Emerging markets that are over-leveraged on U.S. dollar debt and large oil importers are probably the most vulnerable," said Hak Bin Chua, senior economist at Maybank Kim Eng in Hong Kong.

Some emerging markets, such as Mexico and Colombia, have avoided being sucked into the maelstrom. But as central banks raise interest rates, investors may not be so discerning.

"Emerging-market risks will likely be confined to idiosyncratic cases, but the potential for contagion is there," said Mark Sobel, former U.S. executive director at the IMF and now U.S. chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum.

- Corporate debt: Surging private debt has been the driving force behind the steady rise of global debt since 1950, according to the IMF. In the last crisis, U.S. household debt was the ticking time bomb. Consumers have since tightened their belts, but U.S. companies have picked up the slack.

Taking advantage of low rates and strong demand, American companies have issued record amounts of debt, pushing key debt ratios to near 30-year highs, according to Morgan Stanley chief cross-asset strategist Andrew Sheets.

It may be harder for the world to respond this time to turbulence, because central banks still haven't raised rates back to normal levels, leaving them less ammunition if and when they need to provide stimulus, said Jerome Jean Haegeli, group chief economist at Swiss Re Institute.

- Crisis survivors: In some advanced economies, housing prices never crashed despite the 2008 crisis, and the buildup of household debt is now raising red flags. In its latest global financial stability report, the IMF put Australia, Canada and Nordic countries in this category. Australia's 27 years of recession-free economic growth helped fuel a property boom with Sydney house prices leaping fivefold. National prices are now in decline and have fallen for 12 straight months.

- Italy, euro zone: The risk of an ugly exit from the euro zone has a new name: Quitaly.

Fears that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will push debt to unsustainable levels by bloating the nation's budget deficit have driven up Italian bond yields to levels not seen since the euro debt crisis.

Italy's public debt tops 2 trillion euros, more than any other European Union country and the equivalent of around 130 percent of its economy. Its government though is planning a wider budget deficit next year, a push which has taken a toll on its bond and equity markets.

- Oil: Rising crude prices are stirring talk of a return to $100 per barrel for the first time since 2014, hitting countries that rely heavily on imports, including India, China, Taiwan, Chile, Turkey, Egypt and Ukraine. Prices have gained more than 15 percent since mid-August and oil traded above $74 a barrel in New York on Wednesday.

While higher prices is a positive for exporters, paying more for oil will put even more pressure on emerging markets vulnerable to rising U.S. interest rates.

- Bad Brexit: Markets are bracing for the risk that the U.K. won't reach a deal on the terms of its divorce from the EU -- causing a disorderly exit at the end of March, when Britain is scheduled to leave. The fallout could be ugly for the financial sector: British banks will lose their "passport" rights in the EU, which may force them to beef up capital, for example. The IMF is warning central banks to stand ready to provide emergency liquidity.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

States are taking action on #MeToo. Why isn't Congress?

By catherine rampell
States are taking action on #MeToo. Why isn't Congress?

THE MILLENNIAL VIEW

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Rampell clients only)

By CATHERINE RAMPELL

SACRAMENTO -- A year ago, the #MeToo movement went viral.

First came the naming, shaming and ousting of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct. Then came awareness of the prevalence of such misconduct, and of the intricate methods -- the threats, the legally enforced silence -- used to keep victims from speaking out.

Then came the righteous fury.

But, to date, the expulsions and outrage have not coalesced into anything resembling a successful federal policy agenda -- to, you know, keep such problems from happening again.

In fact, over the past year, Congress has done (almost) nothing to address the systemic problems that lead to workplace sexual misconduct.

Here in California, however, where the governor just signed several laws addressing workplace sexual harassment, things look different. Also in Vermont, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and at least six other states and three localities.

As with other popular policies that Congress has been unwilling or unable to pursue -- including raising the minimum wage and passing paid family leave -- states have led the way.

The jurisdictions have taken different approaches to strengthening workplace protections, many of which are summarized in a new report from the National Women's Law Center.

Some have simply expanded the universe of workers covered by anti-harassment legal protections. Federal workplace anti-harassment law generally does not extend to employers with fewer than 15 employees, or to independent contractors, interns, volunteers or grad students. Five jurisdictions (four states and New York City) have plugged some of those gaps.

Four states newly bar or limit the ability of employers to force sexual harassment victims into arbitration, an often secret process whereby arbitrators are incentivized to be friendlier to the side that offers repeat business (hint: it's not the employee). Forced arbitration clauses can also prevent multiple victims from banding together to bring a class-action suit.

Federal law limits states' abilities to legislate issues related to arbitration, however, and these new state-level provisions are likely to get challenged in court. Indeed, on the same day he signed some of his state's #MeToo legislation, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed a bill that would have barred mandatory arbitration, on the grounds that it would have violated federal law.

Which drives home the need for Congress to actually do its job here.

Perhaps the most striking set of anti-sexual harassment laws that states have recently passed relate to nondisclosure agreements (NDAs). Some employers (including at least one political campaign) require workers to sign NDAs when they start a new job, and then much later dust off those agreements to muzzle speech about alleged harassment, discrimination or other bad behavior.

Which seems indefensible, particularly if we're talking about lawbreaking. Accordingly, five states have barred or limited the use of NDAs as a condition of employment.

Where things get trickier is in the use of NDAs as part of legal settlements.

What if an alleged victim (BEG ITAL)wants(END ITAL) to remain anonymous, given the risk of harm to her (or his) career? And if a complainant's silence can't be guaranteed, victims might get less money -- since part of what's being paid for is the silence.

Of course, that paid-for silence might benefit one victim, but it has externalities, too: It could harm future victims, who might have otherwise been warned off the employer. Or even past victims, who might come forward if they knew they weren't alone.

States have addressed these concerns in different ways. New York and California have limited the use of NDAs in sexual harassment settlements, more often letting victims decide whether to keep the facts confidential. It's unclear, though, how you make sure such a decision isn't coerced, says National Women's Law Center vice president Emily Martin.

New Jersey is considering a compelling solution that would allow NDAs in harassment settlements but give victims the right to change their minds. If a victim later decides to speak out, and says enough to identify the employer, then the employer would be free to speak as well.

As for protecting future victims, states are exploring new reporting requirements, such as mandating that employers report misconduct claims or settlements to a government office, to make it easier to identify patterns.

Incidentally, the Empower Act, a federal bill with bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, incorporates many of these features. Yet it languishes on Capitol Hill, a full year after the public learned how toxic the secrecy around sexual misconduct can be.

Voters next month would do well to remind federal officials that -- to borrow a phrase -- #TimesUp.

Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Prince Jared finds himself in the wrong fairy tale

By dana milbank
Prince Jared finds himself in the wrong fairy tale

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

(BEG ITAL)"Two princes: Kushner now faces a reckoning for Trump's bet on the heir to the Saudi throne"(END ITAL)

-- Washington Post headline, Oct. 15

[(BEG ITAL)Excerpted from: "Salmanella and the Glass Orb: How Prince Charming Met His Prince Charming"(END ITAL)]

Once upon a time in the year 2017 -- before Ulysses S. Grant was recognized as a great general, before Frederick Douglass was recognized for his amazing work and before Napoleon had his extracurricular activities -- there lived a handsome young prince by the name of Jared. Some called him Jared the Silent, but most used his preferred name, Prince Charming.

And what a charmed existence Jared led! He earned a fortune from his family's investments in commercial palaces but paid almost no federal income taxes. He made a bad investment and lost money, but lenders bailed him out. Around the world, other princes and dukes thought Prince Jared was ignorant and easily manipulated. But what others thought about the prince did not matter, for Jared's father-in-law was the king -- the ruler of the House of Orange.

But for all Prince Jared possessed, he did not have what he wanted most dearly: Saudi money. With envy, Jared saw how the Saudis spent millions at his father-in-law's hotels. Could he not obtain their money, too? "Please, father," Jared beseeched the king. "Take me to that wonderful land."

Now, Saudi Arabia was not really the paradise of young Jared's imagination but the dark kingdom that produced Osama bin Laden and his evil hijackers. The country persecuted women and made war on innocent people. But the Saudi leader, King Salman, waved a wand for Jared's royal visit, and the despotic country was magically transformed into the peaceful, reforming society of Jared's fantasy. King Salman threw a great ball, and Jared was captivated by the military bands, the fighter-jet flyover and, especially, the magic sword dance.

King Salman waved his wand again and there, at the ball, was a ball: a great, glowing glass orb -- the prettiest in the whole world! When Prince Jared touched the shimmering orb, a spell came over him. He came to believe that King Salman's heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or Salmanella, was the fairest of them all. The glass orb told Prince Jared that Salmanella, nearly as charming as Jared, was not the bloodthirsty climber some feared but rather a young reformer who believed in human rights. The orb led Jared to believe that if he embraced Salmanella, his land would be blessed with $270 billion in Saudi arms payments, Saudi investments and lots of cheap oil.

Prince Charming had found his Prince Charming. Or so he thought!

It came to pass that Jared did everything he could to make the beautiful image of Salmanella he saw in the glass orb fit reality. He looked away when the Saudi prince killed civilians in Yemen, imprisoned rivals in the dungeon of the Ritz-Carlton, kidnapped the Lebanese prime minister and made mischief in Syria. Jared and his friends did all they could to win Salmanella's heart: busting up Middle East diplomacy and tearing up an agreement with Iran, incurring the wrath of the world -- whatever it took to charm the charming prince.

But when the clock struck midnight on the day the arms deals were to be signed, there was no $270 billion. There wasn't even $110 billion. The Saudi promises amounted to rags. And when Jared presented his new Middle East peace plan -- a plan he had written himself, with love -- King Salman and Salmanella rejected it.

Just then, when it seemed the sad prince's despair could not be deeper, Jared learned that Salmanella -- his Salmanella -- was suspected of ordering 15 evil henchman to Turkey to kidnap a journalist living in Jared's own land, and kill him. Salmanella denied it, but there were, reportedly, tapes. To his horror, Prince Jared discovered he was in the wrong fairy tale: His Prince Charming had turned into a beast!

Ridicule rained on the disgraced Prince Jared for his naive trust in the bad prince. And here our story might have ended, had a revelation not occurred to Jared in the depths of his sorrow: Salmanella may be unscrupulous, but he was still super rich! And so Jared decided that, Prince Charming or not, the shoe fit.

Prince Jared and Salmanella did real estate deals together. They didn't pay taxes. They got recognized more and more. And they lived happily ever after.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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Video: What you need to know about Jared Kushner's ties to Russia.(Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)

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Video: Columnist David Ignatius, Jamal Khashoggi's longtime friend, and Karen Attiah, Khashoggi's editor, talk about the 'kind, gentle' Post contributor, who disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.(Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

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Trump's relentless lying threatens our democracy

By eugene robinson
Trump's relentless lying threatens our democracy

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)

By EUGENE ROBINSON

WASHINGTON -- President Trump's constant, relentless, remorseless lying is a central feature of his presidency, an unprecedented threat to our democracy and -- in my view -- an impeachable offense.

I realize it does not qualify as news that Trump lies all the time. I also realize it is not always possible to draw a bright line between untruths Trump knows are untrue and conspiratorial nonsense he might foolishly believe. But never before have we had a leader who so pollutes the national discourse with garbage that he at least ought to know is false -- and I fear the consequences will be with us long after Trump is gone.

At his inauguration, Trump swore to "faithfully execute the Office of President." He violates that oath when he speaks to the nation in bad faith. Other presidents have lied -- Lyndon Johnson about Vietnam, Richard Nixon about Watergate, Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky. But never have we had a president who lies about (BEG ITAL)everything(END ITAL), who invents his own fake facts, who continues to trumpet patent falsehoods even when confronted with the actual facts.

And yes, undisputed facts do exist and can be ascertained. I am not talking about subtle matters of interpretation; I'm taking about knowing falsehoods, commonly known as lies.

Here is just one example: At a roundtable with a group of workers in Duluth, Minnesota, in June, Trump said, "The head of U.S. Steel called me the other day, and he said, 'We're opening up six major facilities and expanding facilities that have never been expanded.'" A few days later, at the White House, Trump said, "U.S. Steel just announced they're expanding or building six new facilities."

Reporters called the company for details and learned that U.S. Steel has not announced plans to open any new domestic steel mills, period. Not six new plants; not even one. The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column gave Trump the maximum four Pinocchios for his patently untrue statement. End of story, right?

Wrong. More than a month later, at one of his campaign-style rallies, Trump declared that "U.S. Steel is opening up seven plants." At another rally around the same time, he told supporters that "U.S. Steel just announced that they're building six new steel mills."

Six new plants, seven new plants, what's the difference when neither is true and the real number is zero? In June, Trump's claim might have been called a "misstatement" or a "falsehood" or an "untruth." A month later, after the truth had been clearly established, that same claim could only be called a bald-faced lie.

And those are just a smattering of the more than 5,000 falsehoods from Trump that the Post has tallied since he took office. Trump clearly understands the benefit of flooding the zone. If, during the course of a rally or a news conference or an interview, he tells one glaring lie, that's where all attention will be focused. But if he tells a dozen lies, or two dozen, it is all but impossible for critics to keep up. By the time all those lies have been called out, Trump will have spewed a few dozen more.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl offered a valuable lesson in how to pin Trump down. At one point, he was trying to leave the false impression that there is serious scientific debate about whether human activity has contributed to climate change. "They say that we had hurricanes that were far worse than what we just had with Michael," Trump said.

"Who says that?" Stahl interjected. "'They say?'"

"People say," Trump responded. "People say ..." Finally he claimed, without offering a shred of evidence, that "scientists ... have a very big political agenda" -- a dodge amounting to an admission that Trump had no factual basis for the claims he was making.

When Stahl turned to Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, and Trump said "I think China meddled also," Stahl again called him on it: "You are diverting the whole Russia thing. ... You are, you are."

Trump finally got so flustered that he said, "Lesley, it's OK. In the meantime, I'm president -- and you're not."

And that is the point.

When Trump insists on his own invented "facts," he makes reality-based political dialogue impossible. His utter disregard for truth is a subversion of our democracy and a dereliction of his duty as president. The Founders considered themselves men of honor whose word was their bond. They left us the vague, encompassing phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" for just such an emergency.

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

A vacuum of American leadership is filled by cruelty without consequence

By michael gerson
A vacuum of American leadership is filled by cruelty without consequence

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)

By MICHAEL GERSON

WASHINGTON -- Whatever the eventual consequences of the Saudi Arabian regime's suspected murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, President Trump's initial response indicated much about the priorities of America First foreign policy. His instincts were commercial and transactional -- a concern that America might lose defense contracts in a confrontation with the Saudi government. "I don't like stopping massive amounts of money that's being poured into our country," he explained. Trump's reaction was nativist, pointing out that "Khashoggi is not a United States citizen." And after consulting with the Saudi King, the president seemed determined to provide an alibi, raising the prospect of "rogue killers" that brought back memories of the O.J. Simpson trial.

Trump -- drafting behind growing global outrage -- now pledges "severe punishment" if the Saudis (BEG ITAL)were(END ITAL) actually involved in Khashoggi's disappearance. But can there be any doubt that Trump would ignore the situation if ignoring it were costless? Trump began his diplomatic confrontation with Saudi Arabia by pointing out (and exaggerating) the kingdom's economic leverage against us -- the deal completely stripped of art. And the administration's conspicuous apathy was reinforced by a false, re-tweeted attack on Khashoggi by Donald Trump Jr.

It is difficult to trace causality in foreign affairs, but there is little doubt that Trump has reduced the cost of oppression and political murder in the world by essentially declaring it none of America's business. And when you reduce the cost of something, you get more of it. American indifference on human rights abuses is taken by other governments as a form of permission.

The story of a journalist killed while picking up documents for his wedding is particularly powerful. But the aggregation of such horrors -- the sum of killing and human misery at this historical moment -- is stunning. The Trump era is also -- perhaps not coincidentally -- the age of mass atrocities. And America's president is not concerned enough to be ashamed of it.

There is the Saudi war in Yemen, which has caused massive displacement, hunger and disease. The Trump administration has certified that the Saudis are taking sufficient measures to prevent civilian casualties. The U.S. military provides aerial refueling support for bombing raids. The United Nations, meanwhile, has accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of war crimes, including arbitrary detention, torture and rape.

Syria remains a bleeding wound. Hundreds of thousands have died. More than 5 million people have left the country as refugees. More than 6 million are internally displaced. During the largest refugee crisis since World War II, the U.S. has slashed the number of refugees it will admit to the lowest level in four decades. And Trump has turned these suffering people into political scapegoats, feeding unfounded fears they may be Trojan horse terrorist threats.

In China, perhaps a million ethnic Uighurs are being held in re-education camps. Human-rights groups report forced displacement, family separations and psychological and physical torture. Yet the whole of Trump's relationship with China seems determined by the level of our trade deficit. Human rights are hardly an afterthought.

Then there is the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar -- involving the burning of villages, rape and attacks on civilians -- which has caused more than 700,000 people to flee their homes. According to a State Department report, "Multiple witnesses report soldiers throwing infants and small children into open fires or burning huts." Yet the Trump administration has refused to designate this as "crimes against humanity" or "genocide."

Then there is South Sudan's five-year civil war, in which perhaps 380,000 people have died and around 2.5 million people have fled the country. Decades of American effort to help give birth to that nation are being washed away on Trump's watch.

And then there is North Korea, which is guilty of mass enslavement, torture, rape, forced abortions and the extermination of suspected regime opponents. Yet Trump recounts how he and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un "fell in love."

I conduct this tour of global horrors, not to argue that America could easily resolve each one, but to point out that they don't even register in the president's priorities. This does violence to American ideals. But it also illustrates a foreign-policy law. A vacuum of American leadership is not occupied by good and pleasant things. It is filled by ruthless power politics, aimless allies, aggressive authoritarians, gathering threats and cruelty without consequence. And the trail of evidence leads from the villages of Myanmar to a consulate in Istanbul.

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

'Going low' only validates Trump and debases America

By richard cohen
'Going low' only validates Trump and debases America

RICHARD COHEN COLUMN

(Advance for Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Monday, Oct. 15, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Cohen clients only)

By RICHARD COHEN

Eric Holder, who has never been elected for anything in his life, has some advice for his fellow Democrats. Revising Michelle Obama's mantra -- "when they go low, we go high" -- Holder says "when they go low, we kick them." All through this great nation of ours, Republicans licked their chops. Someone should check to see if Holder is on the GOP payroll.

Holder, once Barack Obama's attorney general, did a wee retreat from his "kick them" statement, saying it was not, of course, a call for violence. Of course not. Holder is not stupid. Shortly after birth, it seems, he became a Superior Court judge, then he served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and then as Deputy Attorney General during the Bill Clinton administration. In addition, that mysterious entity the storied New York Times columnist Russell Baker called "The Great Mentioner" has mentioned Holder as a possible presidential candidate. I thought I should mention that.

I should also mention that Michael Avenatti, so impatient with the Great Mentioner that he's mentioned himself, uttered a similar sentiment: "When they go low, I say hit back harder." Even Hillary Clinton joined in. "You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for," she said. Actually, you can. You just don't have to be a patsy.

The trouble with these statements is that here and there are people who don't need encouragement to act uncivilly or even violently. Already, there's been an upsurge in confrontation that has made for ugly television. The confrontation two women had with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. -- "Look at me," one of them ordered -- was difficult to watch and was used by pro-Brett Kavanaugh senators to their advantage. So, too, was the hounding of Sen. Ted Cruz in a Washington restaurant. I admit it takes some effort to feel sorry for Cruz, but even he is entitled to a sense of security.

You might disagree. But recent political history strongly suggests that bad manners make for bad tactics. Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California twice by running against student demonstrators at the University of California, Berkeley. Reagan, who is invariably lauded as a gentleman, called the campus "a haven for communist sympathizers, protestors and sex deviants." The demonstrations did little to change America, but they eventually made Reagan president of the United States.

Similarly, Richard Nixon used the anti-war demonstrations of the Vietnam era to pummel George McGovern. Nixon ran, both shamelessly and ironically, on a law and order platform that worked wonders with some of the same white working-class voters who now are in a swoon over Trump. The Democrats' fondness for the marginalized -- hardly an evil trait, by the way -- ran into a rebuttal with Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg's important book, "The Real Majority" (1970). It argued not only that elections are won in the center, but that the party needed to look beyond economic issues and toward the social issues that disturb average Americans. Take that Elizabeth Warren.

Nixon's call for law and order was hardly innovative. Throughout the 20th century, right-wing movements made headway urging an end to (left-wing) demonstrations and coupling this with an attack on modernity -- secularism, homosexuality and the usual list of prejudices. They all recognized that most voters feel uneasy with social change and absolutely abhor anything that portends violence or the lack of civility. It makes them feel unsafe and suggests, as does graffiti on a subway car, that worse will follow.

The urge to deal with Trump on his own terms is understandable, but short-sighted. Not even Avenatti, who hardly lacks self-confidence and would surely suffer horribly if deprived of media attention, can match Trump when it comes to sheer narcissistic aggression. The president's genius is reading his opponents' "tell" -- their inner weakness. He destroyed his GOP rivals with insults that were, really, encapsulations of what was perceived but not yet stated: Jeb Bush's passivity, Marco Rubio's youth, and so on. As he showed on his reality show, "The Apprentice," the president -- like any predator -- is adept at finding weakness and moving in for the kill. His show was a companion to "Animal Planet."

"Going low" is not, like proper meds, going to restore Trump voters to sanity. It will, however, only further debase American politics and validate Trump. Politics is not beanbag -- whatever that is -- and a little larceny is not only permitted but required. But an uncivil society is a dangerous place with possibly horrendous consequences. Beware. The Civil War had nothing to do with manners, but it's a warning nonetheless.

Richard Cohen's email address is cohenr@washpost.com.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The economy is crushing it - just like in 2008!

By dana milbank
The economy is crushing it - just like in 2008!

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

(Advance for Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Saturday, Oct 13, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Milbank clients only)

By DANA MILBANK

After the Dow Jones industrials plunged 832 points on Wednesday, Larry Kudlow, President Trump's chief economic adviser, walked up the White House driveway and proclaimed that there was no cause for concern. Not about the stock market, or turmoil in China's economy, or American casualties of Trump's trade fights, or the president's attempt to bully the Federal Reserve into an easy-money stance.

"Our economy and the people and the workers and entrepreneurs, they're killing it. We're the hottest in the world," Kudlow proclaimed in front of the CNBC camera. "We're crushing it right now, and I think that's going to continue regardless of China."

Kudlow, standing outside the West Wing, offered versions of this happy talk -- "I don't think this is anything resembling a sugar high ... America is on a tear" -- to any other reporter who would listen.

But the Pollyanna performance didn't play well on Wall Street. The Dow lost another 546 points Thursday. The index had a partial recovery Friday but finished the week down 4.2 percent, the third straight weekly decline.

Maybe that's because investors had heard Kudlow say such words once before.

Ten months before the crash of 2008: "There's no recession coming."

Seven months before the crash: "The economy will be rebounding sometime this summer, if not sooner."

Six weeks before the crash: "An awful lot of very good new news."

Markets rise and markets fall, and this last week's volatility doesn't necessarily mean the economy will tank. But it does show the limits of Trump's hucksterism.

Though Trump called the stock market a "bubble" during the campaign, he has boasted scores of times about new records it has set during his presidency. On Saturday, he told a crowd: "Your 401(k)s, you all look like a bunch of geniuses -- thank you, Donald, very much." So far, that has worked, because economic growth has continued under Trump, and indeed accelerated after the massive stimulus of a tax cut and spending increase. Republicans would otherwise be facing bigger losses in next month's midterms.

But now come scattered signs of trouble. The Fed has been raising interest rates -- in part because Trump's massive stimulus during an expansion threatens to set off inflation. China's economy has been unstable, in part because of Trump's trade dispute.

And though the trade deficit with China hit a record in September, Trump's tariffs have hurt many U.S. producers; Ford, claiming the tariffs cost it $1 billion, is planning workforce cuts.

No amount of fact-checker Pinocchios will stop his followers from accepting Trump's word that Robert S. Mueller III is on a witch hunt, global warming is a hoax, North Korea no longer is a nuclear threat and Democrats are a dangerous mob. But they can feel the economy personally. When the downturn comes, huge deficits, which Trump widened, will leave the federal government with little power to cushion the fall. If this happens on his watch, even Trump's ardent supporters would see it's not fake news -- and that would be the end of him.

Trump needs reassurance -- and Kudlow, the former TV business pundit, now plays the carnival barker's carnival barker.

With cameras in the room for a prescription-drug bill signing Wednesday, Trump introduced "the great Larry Kudlow, whose voice is so beautiful. ... The economy, Larry, how is it doing?"

"Couldn't be better," replied Kudlow.

And Kudlow's message couldn't be otherwise:

Oct. 7: "Right now, the American economy is crushing it."

Sept. 28: "We're crushing it, we're absolutely crushing it."

Sept. 17: "We're crushing it."

Sept. 6: "We're crushing it."

Aug. 28: "America today is just crushing it everywhere."

Aug. 17: "We are crushing it. And people say this is not sustainable, it's a one-quarter blip? It's just nonsense."

In Thursday's interview, Jim Cramer, Kudlow's former partner on CNBC, tried to temper Kudlow's mania. Cramer cautioned about a slowdown in business in key economic sectors, a peak in real estate, slower lending, declining demand for luxury goods -- "a pastiche that I'm concerned about."

Kudlow brushed off the worries. "I'm just saying there's so much good news out there that we shouldn't just try to find a couple of numbers that don't look great, okay?" he said. "This is a heck of a story. Let's embrace it."

Sound familiar? "The Bush boom is alive and well," Kudlow said before the 2008 crash, calling the soon-to-collapse economy "still the greatest story."

Until it wasn't.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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